He always liked to play LA Woman to me. He thought it was clever, considering we had some weird glitch in the matrix which usually ended up in him picking me up from that damned city, usually near LAX, sometimes from some motel, trying to stop myself from screaming into a cheap foam pillow that a thousand other heads had rested on, and at least 80 percent of those heads were screaming, I bet. I generally frequented those kind of flea pit establishments that didn’t require ID, just $40 and a winning smile. I always appreciated the ones that had palm trees outside. There is nothing like a palm tree to make the scuzzy feel special. It is the way the light diffuses through those gigantic leaves, and their coconut fiber trunks that sprout tall and fuzzy into the ether of the Californian sunshine.
There were some strange rules around music around Billy, that went far beyond the never carry a white lighter superstition. White lighters are Death. Almost every junkie he found blue on the floor of the shooting gallery was carrying a white lighter. Case closed. The lighter did it. I once came back with a white lighter that had a yellow Mexican day of the dead skull printed on it, in Frieda Kahlo primary colors, smiling a toothy grin of haunted happiness with flowers painted on her dome. He made me throw it away, crossing himself firmly, despite hating the Catholics.
He would swear blind that 94 percent of the times he got popped by the cops, he was carrying a yellow lighter. Yellow lighters were particularly bad hoodoo shit and must be avoided. Even taking a light from a yellow lighter put the smoker at extreme risk of deprivation of their liberty. Since I left I carry a death head lighter in white. I keep it in my pocket and laugh at Fate and Chance and desperate men who threw away perfectly good lighters. Lighter magick was not a patch on the strength of the evil sorcerer ability of The Eagles, that was some seriously cursed stuff. He panicked and fled at the sound of their music.
The Eagles could never be allowed to play full way through a song, it had to be caught before the final bars, and the dial turned away to anything else. Long conversations ensued about whether Don Henley’s solo stuff was equally cursed, and it was adjudicated by the Righteous One that to be on the safe side, Don was verboten too. They were bad juju, however you cut it. They were really heavy Evil, as far as he was concerned. Even songs that sounded like they could be The Eagles had to be turned off. I had jumped and cut off the Stones, Neil Young, The Byrds, and CSNY, thinking they were about to start to break into Hotel California. Horse with No Name barely made it past the opening notes, with one of us travelers thinking it was about to turn into Hotel California with it’s forbidden smell of sweet colitas.
I always knew when he was in a dangerous mood. He would allow The Eagles to play a song almost the whole way through, while I begged him to turn it off. I asked him what Mattingly and the boys had done to scare him so. He looked at me with that scared rabbit-like furtive look. “If I listen all the way through an Eagles song, I’ll die.” There was no persuading him. No reasoning. No Eagles. One night in a snit about his demanding behavior, I picked up the guitar, and started to work out the chords for Hotel California, trying to remember the words. He stood there glaring at me. I got to the bit about ‘relax said the nightman, we are programmed to receive’ when he grabbed the martin out of my hands, scraping my fingers on the steel strings, yanking my shoulder hard, and screamed in my face. I suppose he was serious. I never tried it again. Now I play the Eagles whenever I want, but I am still nervous. I still get a sense of unfair tension and unease. I blame too much acid, he probably had a bad trip once at some shitty little mid western house party, someone put on The Eagles and Hotel California sent him spiraling into some helter skelter murder mansion terror zone hallucination. Best guess. As the other Jim (Carroll) said, “It’s too late to fall in love with Sharon Tate”, but I could see the unquiet spirits enjoying taunting a man who had just eaten the entire party’s supply of LSD. No joke, I watched him chew up twenty tabs of good strong acid, a blotter that just a single tab of, had sent me to the moon and halfway around the rings of Saturn for over 12 hours straight up tripping, and then watched him drive away in someone else’s car like nothing was wrong, not even in that sweet spot before it comes on. He must not have even been able to see the road. He turned up again a few days later with eyes like flying saucers. Being young and dumb, I was overly impressed. If I had done that I would be writing this from the nuthouse that I had spent the last twenty years making my home in.
LA Woman was another matter. He loved the Doors. He loved the Doors the way I love The Velvets. He loved Jim Morrison in a way that was curious for a straight dude. He always played that track to me as I climbed into the passenger seat of whatever beater he was driving. They always had good sound systems. He once got rid of a gorgeous California Special, (fuck knows how he got hold of that car, we operated on a strictly don’t ask, won’t tell basis), because it’s engine was too noisy to hear music clearly. I suppose you have to respect such dedication to The Sound. It would have been ok, but it’s replacement had no floor in the back. Billy was always crooning at me “just another lost angel, city of light”. He pleased him greatly, to time the track to my sliding into the seat. “If they say I never loved you, you know they are a liar” he boomed in that sweet voice of his. He could always sing. Such a waste of a man Such a waste of talent. Such a waste of a life.
“Never saw a woman so alone”, he said, as he reached over to hold my hand, the uncanny circus organ grinding magic tricks of the minor licks of the song, the heat of LA, the dark and the neon, the desperation and the strange attraction to something I could never put my finger on. Not his body, not his face. Not his delicate musician’s hands and the way he held them loosely in front of himself, the most relaxed part of his body on any given occasion. He was not a man who held tension in his hands. All his tension was gathered in his mind, mental lithium. Bright chemical spark off. Metallic and fast. I wasn’t sure I liked being seem as some motel honey, just good to make Mr Mojo rise. I didn’t see myself as some sunset strip baby, some bad juju sweetie who could wiggle as she walked to her death or doom on Skid Row. I was not some flamingo shirted darling, with bright yellow big hair and long multicolored finger nails. I was not one of those magpie girls who collected other people’s earrings, nicknacks and handbags, stealing for the sake of it, for the methy kleptomanic compulsivity of it. They sucked on their glass pipes, sucked down depravity. Hunter said there is nothing more depraved then ‘a man on an ether binge’. I must protest. Hunter obviously never had to deal with Candy and Bambi in the Motel 6, begging the guy with the drugs for another little taste, wearing some poor chicks favorite earrings, and carrying a curiously middle aged handbag or five that they didn’t have before they went for pancakes at Denny’s. There is nothing as depraved as a woman pushing 30 on a meth binge, desperate to hook a guy, without realizing that the guys who were around only wanted to hook up with more speed and their younger sisters. Brittle peanut brittle, fragile and scabby, wheedling and begging, desperate and aggressive, and increasingly a pain in the ass. A sad state of being that only intensified the longer they did the speed. Eventually, they either go to jail, get clean or die. Not much fun on any account.
I was always vaguely offended that I was playing ‘little girl’ to Billy’s Morrison. Heck, I wanted to be Morrison. He could be the ‘little lady’ in the ‘city at night’. I always had a cure for the LA Woman Blues: Iggy Pop. Iggy can cure just about any sick fantasy with his position of an even sicker cooler state of affairs. I think I would rather be Iggy than Jim. I prefer survivors. I don’t fetishize death and waste. I would hunt around in the cardboard box of CDs and pull out The Popster, and put on The Passenger.
I am the passenger. I would rather sing lah lah lah than ELLE AY. I only even drove into LA to get out of it as soon as humanly possible without breaking speed limits and having a run in with the infamously piggish LA Motorcycle cops. There is something about a motorcycle that makes a cop come on all sling shooting cowboy, that makes them feel as if they are Wyatt Earp in Deadwood, hunting public enemy number one. They swagger as if they had just dismounted a red dead redemption quarter horse, John Wayne has nothing on them. All mirrored glasses, and nazi strut in their clean uniforms and terminator cool. I wonder how much the department pays for polish to shine those badges. I wonder how much time it takes for them to feel clean. You know I know that dirt, that dirt that you can’t wash off, no matter how many showers you take. They know it too. Two sides of the same coin. How many girls have been caught working and paid their freedom in blow jobs and anal sex for these motorcycle pigs?
No, I am the passenger, I am not the baby driver. I look at the traffic and the signs, and the walkers and the pimps, the girls and the dealers, the shooters and the enforcement of morality upon the city of sin and shame, where the sin is prescribed and forced into certain allowable areas of operation. Sell coke at the ______ Lounge and a killing will be made. Yes, sir, there will be some cash being earned and some people getting high without interruption. Sling rock on the Boulevard to a less white crowd and Terminator will be waiting to throw your ass in jail and theirs too, depriving families of loved ones and people of freedom for the same damn thing the faces and movers, the shakers and snorters are doing just up the road.
Iggy sings “Let’s take a ride and see what’s mine!” and I long to own it all: to lay claim to the gutters and the corners, the strip bars, and the dives, the cheap motels, the yellow fog that is repelled by the fame and fortune of the stars and the publicists and the machinery of success. I long to lead the whores and the strippers, the gang bangers and the sidewalk sleepers, the dirty little furtive corners of fear and futility that hold the inspiration in their desperation and dirt. No, I ain’t no driver. I am no wheel turner. I am no pedal pusher. I ride. And I ride. I ride and I watch from my side window, my elbow resting on a door that refuses to stay closed, desperately holding it with one hand, pulling against gravity as we zip around corners on our moonlit nighttime ocean drive.
If I close my eyes, I can still see him reach into the glove compartment and pull out the foil and the shoe polish tarry smack, pull his lucky black lighter from his pocket and pass it all to me. I wish I could chase the dragon as he drives, the ridiculously dirty tar high melting the LA Sunset into a thing of beauty, the ocean into a lulling nod through a whisp of smoke. There is an art to smoking heroin, I never much bothered smoking it unless I was out west. West coast smack was a grubby jalopy compared to the east coast ferrari. I tell him so as we swing into a parking lot for a mega staples, and pull into a dark corner. Sometimes things that sound good are impossible in reality. I had to make do with Billy swinging that old Dodge around and heading off down East Roosevelt slowly, the up to my down, the smile to my junk serene grin, the dripping of the distant sound of life retreating and the city pulling me closer. I would make some joke about waving the flag, about leading the forward charge, but there isn’t time. There is no time left for any of this. No time left to play him Hotel California and show him that the world won’t end, no time left to pluck the strings, no time left to replace my mason boogie amp or my 69 mustang and lay some lead onto whatever is playing on the radio. That was how I learnt that riff to walk this way, a radio, too much time still on my hands and a plugged in guitar. I might decide that no one can play a Doors song through all the way, maybe that is where the bad juju resides?
The bad juju is in the rear view mirror, not in notes and words and music. That is where the power is, the power to create and destroy, the power to uplift and crack, to release and to constrain. I have had my life saved by three chords and a hook, by Lou telling me to put ‘jelly on my shoulder‘, by Michael whispering that ‘everybody hurts‘, by Patti wailing about levers and brains and radios, and Kurt warning me about the abortative Pennyroyal Tea. I have woken up in a cold sweat and death on my eyelids written in gold pen and eyeliner only to press play and find Dylan there warning me about mixing up the medicine. The bad luck isn’t in the color of the lighter, nor in the chemical make up of the drugs, it’s not in the bricks and mortar of LA, nor the way the sea hits the shoreline. If I ever find where it actually lives I promise to tell. If I ever find the source and fountainhead of evil I will give up the ghost and broadcast it from the San Franciscan hilltops, even if I have to steal a loudhailer and be accused of crying wolfie.
I still won’t buy a yellow lighter. I still wonder if I am tempting fate with a white death head bic. I might be anti superstition, but I am not quite that convinced. Can you imagine emptying your pockets as they book you in, and that yellow lighter there laughing at you as you strip and spread for California’s finest pigs.
Someone needs to help the chick in pink. I wondered about throwing down a joint in a zip lock. I have a little to share. Take the edge off. I hear her screaming and taunting some hobo. She is harassing cars and standing in roads. Something bad is gonna happen to her if she can’t get it under control. Something bad is going to happen to us all if we don’t get this bad juju off our backs. Just don’t blame The Eagles.