Steely Dan - from Greatest Hits album cover.
  • Steely Dan - from Greatest Hits album cover.
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In 1980 I still had this punk-rock show, “Hepcats from Hell,” KPFK, L.A., “listener supported radio,” I was a volunteer. I’d been doing it about a year, 2:00 to 6:00 a.m., Saturday night, whatever you call it, into Sunday. By now I hated it. At first I loved it. It was my second or third or fourth wind with rock and roll, although actually, the only reason I was doing it, why I felt a connection to punk-rock, is -I didn’t think of punk-rock as rock— it was something different. A different animal. It wasn’t long, howev, before it reversed its field and became the same animal, the same marketplace, same audience, or a subset of the same basic audience — before the killer stakes of profit, celebrity, and boogie-till-you-puke superseded those of, um, expression, creation, “art,” “fun,” whatever you wanna call it. By 1981 it was all over. And I unplugged from punk, and from rock, and I’ve never looked back.

But in ’80 I was tired of just the show. The hours were killing me, it threw off my whole week. I wasn’t the same till about Wednesday. I was sick of even the hangovers from the less than a six-pack per show I would normally ingest. I was 35 years old, older than any of my guests, who would show up after gigs with full youthful heads o’ steam — I had trouble keeping up with them. The show itself was great, the people and the music, the “experiences” — John Doe dancing Exene around the room while I played “Waltz Across Texas”; Johnny Rotten, in town to promote the first Public Image tour (and doing my show, not my rival — L.A.’s only other punk DJ — Rodney Bingenheimer’s), saying on mike, “Hey, Mr. Deejay, what’s that powder on your face” (somebody had given me a hit of crystal meth); letting a total stranger play drums over the phone along with Nervous Gender live in the studio — it was enduring it that was getting tough.

I asked them to give me an earlier slot, and finally I got it. This guy who did the show before me, “Tesseract” (a four-dimensional rectangle or something), an “experimental music” show, was leaving. Midnight to 2:00, oh boy, great. Would I mind taking over his show for one week, its last week, before doing my own — a six-hour haul — then the slot was mine? No problem.

So I bring along my usual stack of stuff, new records each week, I never liked playing anything twice. A massive assortment of all kinds of shit — not just punk (per se) but Sun Ra, the blues, dub, sound effects records, beat poetry, bird calls — everything except mainstream rock. I figure I can play his show like I’d play my own: entire sides of Throbbing Gristle (industrial noise) and Leo Smith (minimalist trumpet burblings), then I hand-cranked the first side of A Love Supreme (my least favorite late Coltrane) backwards.

Toward the end of the two hours — what the hey — I put on something from my waning days on the rockwrite dole, ’75, ’76, back when I was still plugged into the food tube of the record industry, anyway still on mailing lists, Royal Scam by Steely Dan, which I’d saved for one cut: “Don’t Take Me Alive.” Good lyrics I thought, from the p.o.v. of this cornered rat, a cocky bozo about to be nailed by the cops, reminded me of, I dunno, High Sierra or The Killing, Asphalt Jungle. “Agents of the law, luckless, pedestrian / I know you’re out there, with rage in your eyes and your megaphones.” Some later line about “the lies and the laughter” and another about “the mechanized hum of another world.” Basically just benign rockroll, fuzz guitar, nothing especially quirky or unusual, I mean I wasn’t listening to the shit anymore, the genre, but this was a cut I did once like, harmless.

Then I get these calls. First, while it’s still “Tesseract,” some woman phones, one of that show’s seven or eight faithful listeners, why am I playing such crap? I’m kind, I don’t even tell her that next week the slot will be mine, ha, just said, well, it didn’t kill you, did it? Then during my own show, just after it officially starts, I’m playing some cuts and one of my listeners calls, same deal. Why had I played it? My listeners I often just insulted outright — part of the territory — punk territory — so this one I simply told fuck off, Jack.

Ten minutes later my guest arrives, John Cale, never my favorite member of the Velvet Underground, always struck me as a method actor, ugh, though some people thought of him as a progenitor of punk. Depends on how you define punk, right? (To me punk was Mark Smith of the Fall or Darby Crash, who wasn’t dead yet.) Even older than me.

From word one he comes on all commie-baiting — Afghanistan or some such, Cuba — “Soon there’ll be only one flavor, and that flavor will be cherry red.” Fuck you, man (what a wheezy act). After a while I played records simultaneous with him talking, at equal volume or louder (the monitor was off so he never knew). One of the things I later played — natch — was “Don’t Take Me Alive,” and before it was even over I got another bullshit call, why am I playing...oh, shut up.

A fucking auspicious change of time slots. I’m dead tired, drinking too much just to ignore Cale, or sidestep him, and he gives me a copy of his latest LP, the one with the A-bomb cloud on the cover — how hip — which I sold that week, no, traded it for more shit to play on the show, which lasted another six months before they threw me off for saying fuck-shit-piss on the air without reading the Sensitive Language Disclaimer. FUCK ’EM ALL.

Yes, I always took it so personal, so serious, so my-ass-on-a-mission, though I didn’t even use words like “mission,” not then, but still I had the inclination. Right, whoops, ME again — Gay Talese I’m not. It’s hard being just an observer. New Journalism — remember that one? — sure took a heap o’ lying, y’know to write much of anything, anything “objective,” to lie yourself a story — just a story — by lying yourself out of it. It can be done, I’ve done it; lemme try and lie you one now. Stephen Stills. The Sting of his time: fatuous, self-satisfied whitebread (or cardboard). Montreal, ’74, August. I was there, but I’m not in it. His wife is, though.

Veronique Sanson, this French person, French Europe not French Canada, they were married at the time. Both were in town for a performance, hers, a superstar import chantoozy; marriage means travel (for stars). It also means, if you’re Stephen, both parties parlez in English — tout le temps. His rule, he’s got bigger bucks —not to mention a bigger duck, er, dick — and at the school he attended, i.e., the old one, a man’s dick was still his castle. She wants French, does she, well she’ll just hafta phone her ma. Months and months of which — the pressure builds — and here they are in (pronounce it right) Kaybek. French being kind of SPOKE here, it is inevitable the dam will break. As her contracted backup group, the Ville Emard Blues Band, the 17-piece (no lie) “Grateful Dead of Quebec,” tends like many/most here to regard English as its back-burner tongue at best — a sick remnant of limey imperialism — ’tain’t a minute before she’s Frenching like a Frenchman, linguistically speaking. After which hubby — shaking, quaking, fire in his eye — stomps over to bass player Bill Gagnon, grabs his shirt, tells him (loud enough for all the Province to hear): “Don’t you ever speak in French to my wife again!!!”

Loads o’ laughs — that’s part one. The Sting of his time was real far out. He then goes and hires, no, that’s the punchline, he’s seen everywhere at show time, backstage. onstage, in the wings...anywhere where French and the missus run the risk of extroprofessionally intersecting. Singing it, fine, ’s one of those occupational givens. Unfortunate perhaps, and since we’re on the Good side of the Atlantic a tad shameful, but the locals, many thousand turned-on happyfolk, the fucks, are actually buying this shit — mother-tonguish ooh la la Vamour— so chalk one up to anti-imperialism. Or something; anyway he’ll survive. Meantime he’s nervous and hovering. You can’t look left, right or take a piss without noticing the creep in his Cleveland Browns (22) jersey like off the cover of the Stills LP. Finally it’s over, the set, the show, there’s a party. At which appear not one but two Stephen Stillses!! Like he’d hired some guy, or enlisted, a look-alike/dress-alike so four eyes could do double the spywork of two! What a dork! (They are no longer hitched.)

“The Great Lie,” two versions.

(1) Wardell Gray, recorded in Hollywood, 11/23/46 (three months before the “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” session with Charlie Parker), originally released as “Parts 1 & 2” — two sides of a 78. Of all the black first-line tenor players descended from both Lester Young and early bop, Wardell had the most decided bias for Lester: lightness of tone (as opposed to what so many white guys borrowed: the tone itself), roundness of form, easy flow, fluent lyricism. A little darker-sounding than Lester, but not really by way of Coleman Hawkins/Chu Berry, not directly — more like he might’ve picked it up from (let’s say) Don Byas.

An R&B-ish intro, some R&B swells and runs — this at a time when the swing era was still in the process of birthing both R&B (with major contributions from, again, Lester) and bop — a dandy solo. Some nice piano by the undersung Dodo Marmarosa (ten months after his own work with Parker on “Moose the Mooch,” “Yardbird Suite,” and “Ornithology”), who shared with Thelonious Monk a proclivity for stride-ish left-hand patterns (but otherwise sounds nothing like him).

(2) The Woody Herman recording of 7/21/49 is pretty tepid in comparison. By then the Second Herd was "down to the dregs, with only Jimmy Giuffre left from the Four Brothers (speaking of Lester players). Vibes solo by Terry Gibbs, clarinet by Woody (ho hum), trombone by possibly Earl Swope (doesn’t sound like Bill Harris), tenor by probably Gene Ammons (who had replaced Stan Getz, and could very well have sounded this way then, before his tone got big as a house, though the last few notes are on the light side) — the CD discography is not very useful. Hollywood? It doesn’t say. Shorty Rogers, arranger? Dunno. I’m probably supposed to know these things.

Sounds like the tune is based on the chords of “Just You, Just Me,” from which Monk later derived “Evidence,” although maybe (as a tune) it predates it.

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