Erica and Fang had arrived. Their stuff had been moved by Mayflower, leaving them to simply drive the Camry to California. They had plans for when they arrived. First night would be spent in a local motel. The moving company would have everything inside the apartment already, after their night in the motel, they could tackle unpacking rested, and have the whole day.
We'd done the same sort of housewarming Mallory and Jill got: a case of Anchor Steam, a package of burrito-sized tortillas, a bottle of El Tapatio hot sauce, and a gift box containing the ingredients for making tuna hot dish, in case they wanted to remind themselves why they were leaving Minnesota. Also a bottle of good champagne, with four glasses. Bekka and I would be detained in North County when they arrived, so Jill and Mallory would greet them.
A larger housewarming gift was Erica's new wheels. Fang was right: the Camry was a dork-mobile. Toyota Camrys are very reliable, offer good gas mileage, and the four-door models will actually seat four adults without too much distress. But while not completely gutless, they also aren't quick, either. Handing is dull and predictable. The Camry is designed for people who don't really like driving, and could care less about what they drive. It's not a car, it's an appliance. The Toyota Camry is as thrilling as the moving sidewalk at the airport, and its design has all the pizzazz of an egg.
So, in keeping with tradition, I'd gone car shopping. Mitch the mechanic, out in Santee, did some sniffing for me and located a 1971 Plymouth Road Runner which had the good options installed, a 440 "Six Pack" motor and four speed manual, along with power seats, air conditioning, and power steering. It was a solid blue, a color not noticeable by CHP. With a five second 0-60 time and a quarter mile stat of 13.5 seconds, it was an ass=kicker. I bought it from Mitch's contact, then gave it to Mitch so he could work his magic on it, getting the thing
The Road Runner had been dropped off a couple days before their arrival, and left in a visitor space. After Erica, Fang, Mallory, and Jill finished with the unpacking, Mallory told the recent arrivals to follow her, she had something to show them. They walked out to the car, Mallory saying, "See, that's the sort of car Bekka and Lenny like, real beasts. Do you like muscle cars?"
"This thing is killer!"exclaimed Fang.
"I remember guys in high school aspired to own cars like this," said Erica. "The ones who bought them could only afford junkers, which they swore would be in showroom condition in just a few months. Yeah, right. It's nice to see something like this in good condition."
"Well, this one's yours, here's the keys," said Jill, reaching in her pocket. "The clutch is probably stiffer than what you're used to, but it has a good long throw. Take it for a spin."
Erica and Fang looked at the other two in complete confusion. Both said "Whaaa...?"
"It's a little gift from you new boss," said Mallory. "He didn't want you driving a hobbled goat like the Camry in Los Angeles. Sometimes being able to go fast is very important. And you'll have all that steel around you."
Jill finally grabbed Erica's hand and pressed the keys into it. "Get in the damn car, woman, and start it up! It needs to warm for a minute or two before driving it."
Erica and Fang looked at each other and squealed like cheerleaders being fed into a chipper. Fang dashed around to the passenger side while Erica unlocked the driver's door. She let Fang in and fired up. It came alive from cold in under two seconds of cranking. Mallory leaned in the window and pointed at the center of the dashboard. "Lenny had the Alpine installed. We're assuming you din't want an in-dash eight track player."
Fang reached in her bag and pulled out a cassette, which she slid into the stereo. The song "I Hate Work" by MDC began playing. Erica swerved the volume up. Mallory and Jill cringed, offering weak smiles. Erica and Fang began bobbing their heads in time. Erica killed the volume briefly, yelled, "We'll be back in a few!" then launched down the driveway. Mallory and Jill went back into the apartment. Mallory commented, "That is not the same woman I knew in Minneapolis."
"Yes, she does have a certain intensity about her now," Jill observed.
When Erica and Fang returned, they called me at the mansion to shriek and squeal their thanks. "That thing is just too insane!" exclaimed Fang. "Erica is gonna let me take the wheel for a while when we're out on I-5."
"Uh.... Do you know how to drive?" I asked.
Fang got snotty. "What do you think?"
"I think it's a fuckin' fair question, tootsie. Do you? And a manual transmission?"
"Yes..." Fang hissed. "About seven moths ago, I had my dad's truck for a few weeks. I was holding it as collateral for money he owed me. I let the piece of shit get too far in the hole. Well what the hell, it'd be nice to have wheels, to I got his keys, then asked a neighbor to teach me how to drive it."
"Okay then," I responded. "Get your appointment with DMV as soon as possible, so you get your license. Being in LA and not being able to drive legally is a real drag. So, you two are headed to the Bay Area tomorrow? Any set plans?"
Erica, who was on the extension, said, "Friday we're visiting Gilman Street in Berkeley. When do they open?"
"Doors open at eight, first band at 8:30. My advice is to head into Berkeley earlier in the day, like late morning, and make a day of it. Obviously Berkeley is a smaller town than San Francisco, but Berkeley is a far, far goofier place. The residents seem to take pride in just how odd things can be there, especially the people. You could spend all day on Telegraph Avenue between Sproul Plaza and Dwight Way. In fact, people often do. If you want to add to your record stash, you've got two places to shop, Rasputin's and Amoeba Records.... Although, personally, Amoeba is the better store.
"Two warnings about being on Telegraph. First, you're gonna be hit up for spare change every ten feet. Look 'em in the eye, smile, and say 'No.' Anyone wants to press the issue or give you shit, get in their face, big time. Put up with no guff from the spare-changers, especially the crustys. Some of them develop an attitude, and they may need to be persuaded to drop it, at least around you."
Fang cut in, "'What, you have a problem with people spare-changing? They're poor, they wouldn't be doing it otherwise."
I sighed loudly into the phone and replied, "Yeah, I know they're poor, and I do't have a problem with spare-changing. I do have a problem with anyone hitting me up talking shit to me if I tell them no. See, if you're sitting on the sidewalk, occupying space and asking for a handout, you're not in much position to hurl abuse at strangers. If I walk by, and you ask me for change, and I say no, our interaction is over with at that point. You asked me a question, and I gave you an answer, there is nothing to debate. If you cuss at me, or talk shit, or razz me, I'm going to stand in front of you and offer two choices. You either stand up and back up your mouth in a big way, or I count to ten, then start kicking you where you sit. But you're asking me for a favor. I don't owe you a fucking thing, really, nobody does. If yo call me an asshole or tell me I'm a greedy capitalist fascist pig or whatever, you're vastly overstepping both the protocol for our interaction, and basic good public behavior.
"The fucking crustys are the worst. They're young, they're relatively healthy, they're not suffering any obvious mental illness.... You know what? There's a Labor Ready center in Oakland. Show up early in the morning, go out on a work crew, they give you a check at the end of the day. Wash, rinse, repeat. The crustys really are the lazy bums Republicans complain about, they refuse to work, they'd rather beg for change and drink malt liquor all day, and eat at the local soup kitchens. They're leeches. And they're that way on purpose."
"Hey, the crustys are politically active!" protested Fang.
I started laughing. "Oh, Jesus Christ. Spare me. They're worse than ignorant about the political allegiances they claim, for one. First off, they don't understand how anarchism works. You can't be lazy and be an anarchist, you've got to bust ass to survive, because your survival is up to you, and you only. There are no soup kitchens in an anarchist society. The espousal of Communism demonstrates they not only haven't read their Marx, they also haven't paid any attention to how things went in countries that attempted Communism. Look at China under Mao, or Russia under Stalin, or Cambodia under Pol Pot. Shit, the crustys would be the first to go in all three places.
"Then they compound their ignorance by thinking Communism and anarchism are somehow compatible theories! Bullshit, they're totally contradictory. One espouses total autonomy of the individual, the other views citizens as a giant collective, almost a hive mind. There is no political, economic, or social commonalities with the two philosophies. Saying there are just demonstrates you know nothing about either one.
"And don't waste your breath telling me about the radical causes they hook onto: Earth First, Animal Liberation Front, the RCP, whoever. I honestly believe they con't care about the causes, they're just happy because the rallies always give them an excuse to throw bricks through plate glass windows. The crustys are just vandals. They're lazy, childish,entitled, ignorant, drunken vandals, whose dogs are always malnourished because the money they made spare-changing was all spent on King Cobra. Fuck 'me. And they can stay out of my way on Telegraph Avenue."
I cleared my throat and paused a few moments, waiting for a response. There was none. I continued, "Um, the other caveat I'm gonna offer is about People's Park. Yes, visit. People's Park is an outdoor asylum, you're gonna meet some highly entertaining folks there, people who've turned their mental illnesses into never-ending performance art pieces. Go ahead, hang out, talk to people. But keep your purses on tight, preferably under your jackets. Anyone approaching you a little too quickly and aggressively, face 'em down. Shove your hand in your pocket like you're going for a blade. They're catch the movement and veer off. Oh, for Christ's sake, don't buy any drugs there! I wouldn't trust a dealer in People's Park to sell honest aspirin. And watch where you step, there's dog shit everywhere. And the black dudes hanging around the Free Box? They are the crackheads they appear to be, They've each got a proposal or sob story or incredible deal they want to tell you about. Avoid them, and if you do pick one up, be as rude and as ugly as you can without crossing the line into racist tirades. You're in Berkeley, even the crackheads aren't subject to n-bombs." Switching tracks completely, I said, "So where are you staying?"
"The Town House Motel on Lombard Street in the Marina District," Erica responded. "I know you were saying driving is a pain in San Francisco. How serious were you?"
"Very," I chuckled. "Reilly, you could probably cope with the driving, it's the parking that's a nightmare. You've gotta leave the car somewhere. Finding legal public parking, like on the street is a pain in the ass. The Financial District, Tenderloin, and Nob Hill have private garages with hourly rates so high you'll think they're also gonna wash the car, for what you're paying. So far as driving goes, you'll notice a difference between SF and LA. In LA, drivers are incompetent. In the City, they're aggressive, and that takes some adjusting to. For God's sake, do not stop when the light is turning yellow! At least aggressive drivers are paying attention to what they're doing, they're not eating yogurt and reading a book at the wheel."
"So how do we get around?" asked Fang.
"Public transit and cabs. San Francisco MUNI is pretty damn good, light years ahead of transit in Southern California. And cabs are ubiquitous. Downtown, you can either go to a taxi stand or just flag one down. Elsewhere, call a cab, your wait probably won't be more than ten minutes. I like Luxor Cab the best, their drivers tent to have English as a first language. MUNI has both buses and light rail, there's BART, the Bay Area commuter trains, AC Transit in Berkeley and Oakland is pretty good. You'll want to drive to Berkeley when you go over, because BART stops running at midnight, so you'd have to miss the end of the show at Gilman. In both Berkeley and San Francisco, you're going to be doing some walking, no matter what."
After we hung up, I reflected on Erica and Fang. Erica had done more living n the past six months than she had in the previous thirty-one years. Some of her choices seemed reckless, getting together with Fang being the most reckless. While admitting in a divorce court that she was a lesbian took a degree of chutzpah, it wasn't reckless. From Mallory's description, Erica's entry into the dyke scene in Minneapolis wasn't a head-long dive, more like dangling her ankles in the water from the edge. Erica would show up to the bars on weekends, but would sit quietly and slowly nurse drinks, while dressed in a manner that said, "I am as sexless as a stick of gum, leave me alone."
Then she met Fang, a fifteen year old drug dealer from the suburb of Edina, another punk rock girl with more attitude than knowledge. The two clicked, got in bed together, and Fang hung around at Erica's place for five days before heading to her atrocity of a home. Erica was either having a late adolescence or an early mid-life crisis: she dove headlong into the hardcore punk scene. Her clothes went from Lutheran Librarian to Sid Vicious Swag, she started collecting facial piercings (plus both nipples) and tattoos. Given her underage girlfriend's source of income, Mallory was concerned Erica would dive into chronic drug use, too. Erica had confidently assured both Mallory and I that yes, of course she'd tried Fang's various wares, but wasn't impressed enough with any of them to develop a habit. (She liked meth the best, though, which put her at risk.)
Fang, now sixteen, was someone I'd met before. In fact, I'd met dozens of Fangs, and dated a few of them. The shortest and driest description of her personality was "extroverted." What sort of mood she was in at any point would be immediately obvious to those present. She had more than her fair share of guts, which was a problem: she also had the standard amounts of teenage rashness and sense of invulnerability. Teenagers rarely hide their feelings about the world around them from everybody except their parents, punk rock kids even more so. And like everyone else her age, she had the world figured out and didn't want you fact-checking her. Really, she was right on schedule behaviorally, and that behavior was magnified with the lens of hardcore punk.
When I first heard of hers and Erica's relationship, I'd figured it would be over any day now. They'd been together about three and a half months, or several lifetimes when you're a teen. Fang would surely drop Erica just out of fickleness. Then Erica would have to find another punk rock lesbian, as she'd altered her appearance both drastically and permanently. Even the dyke bar denizens would be a bit put off by the facial piercings and ink (at least in Minneapolis). Laser tattoo removal wasn't a thing yet, and removing large-gauge piercings would leave dimples in your face, like deep acne scars. Erica would be looking punk rock for a while, whether she wanted to or not.
Then I met Erica and Fang. One thing I noticed was the look in their eyes both of them would get when looking at the other. It showed genuine love and adoration, not just lust or infatuation. Seeing that look on Fang relaxed me greatly, my new writer wouldn't be getting her heart broken by Minnesota jail bait. It was also clear that Erica didn't talk to Fang like another idiot teenager, and Fang didn't treat Erica like Some Old Person. Their communication was very good, especially in private. The best part, Fang would defer to Erica, especially on the subject of real world matters. It wouldn't bother Fang to drive with no license if she was dating someone her own age. Erica told her she'd save a lot of headaches if she played by the rules, and Fang simply took her at her word, not debating the subject. Fang would also obey Erica when Erica told her to calm down and mind her manners.
So Fang was an emancipated minor, which would help things. However, if push came to shove and their sexual relationship was revealed to the general public, Erica would be looking at prison time for statutory rape. Erica was literally twice Fang's age. And Erica didn't look young enough, or Fang old enough, for people to not notice the difference in ages. They'd already agreed that random strangers would be told Fang was nineteen if they asked. Both had made it clear that there was plenty of ardor in their romance. While not providing gory details, both would mention having an entire day go by when neither put any clothes on at all: Fang was a drop-out, and Erica lived on a hefty alimony, and sometimes they didn't need to be anywhere, so.... Crank up some Vice Squad, grab the lube and toys, and go to town in as many creative ways they could think of.
They knew enough to cool their ardor in public, however unwillingly. As they made friends, the friends would initially be informed they were just Good Friends, nothing more. Once someone had been felt out a bit, and there was more trust, they'd be honest. There was no real concern about LAPD kicking their door down. This was Los Angeles, not Salt Lake City. The neighbors weren't about to ring Johnny Law because, goodness, that one girl looks awful young, and it's obvious those two are, you know, funny for each other.
A current concern for me was what Fang would do with her days. She had too much energy and too much intelligence to become a TV addict. Okay, she's a fifteen minute walk from Venice Beach. There were good and bad points to this. Sure, she'd have someplace to hang out all day, but given her previous career, she might be tempted to go back in business.... Which would mean making new connections, and take money to buy from those connections, then establish herself on the boardwalk and let her wares be known. Too easy to take a bust, from too many directions.
Everyone she'd spoken to in California had impressed upon her the importance of, if not completing high school, at least getting her equivalency. Fine, dandy, she'd take the crash courses and test out.... But the local community college only offered courses that were a semester long, so Fang would have to wait until spring semester to start.
I'd finally just asked her, stright out: What are you going to do with yourself now? Erica is going to be spending a lot of time staring at a computer screen full of text, writing scripts. Do you have any hobbies? What the hell do you want to do? What would keep you occupied?
Fang gave this some thought --- a positive sign --- and replied, "I wanna learn how to play bass. I wanna be the female Rob Wright." (Rob Wright is the bass player for the band NoMeansMNo.) "It sucks, all the time I was dealing, I always had people wanting to barter crap. If it was something I could use, I'd do it. Usually it wasn't. I always hoped someone would have a bass and practice amp they'd want to trade for product, and no one ever did. Edina doesn't have any pawn shops, they're illegal there, and the ones in Minneapolis.... Oh my God. Who decided that a fucking pawn shop should be all fancy and high class? Those places were, it was so stupid-looking. Their prices were ridiculous,too. I pointed out to a couple of 'em that what they were asking for a bass was the same price as a new one. Both of 'em tried to lay some lame bullshit on me about their products being 'vintage.' Bullshit, it's a fucking Fender Mustang, they still make the damn things.
"'But oh yeah, I want to learn bass. I've got the natural hand strength, and I can tune by ear. If I can find one out here, I'll be so stoked."
"Are you going to be a pick player?" I asked.
"Oh, fuck yeah," Fang assured. "Rob Wright, Leemmy from Motorhead, the dude from Pit-bull Babysitter, Riley from Big Black...."
"Chris Squire from Yes...." I inserted.
There was a pause, then Fang said, "I hate that prog-rock shit.... But yeah, okay, he's got a good sound too, and he's fast."
"If you're gonna ape Rob Wright, you want a Fender Precision bass, and play through Marshall amps. Unfortunately, Rob has said a lot of his sound is just the result of playing really damn loud." I thought a moment. "You like Big Black?"
"Oh, fuck yeah."
"Well.... Instead of a metronome, save your nickels and buy a Roland TR 606 drum machine. Haw, Spin Magazine once said, in rare moment of me agreeing with them, that Big Black was the only band in the world to get an interesting sound out of a Roland drum machine. I'm not sure how to pull off the distortion without blowing major bread on a full size tube amp, and unless you have practice space, cranking one of those up in an apartment building is an express trip to eviction-land.... But I know David Sims of Jesus Lizard uses a good ol' Rat distortion pedal, and he's got a gnarly sound."
"Ooh, cool idea." Then, in a blue voice she said, "Then I have to convince my honey to lay out the dinero for all this stuff. I'm sure I can find a used Fender Precision in LA, the pawn shops here gotta have better prices than back in Minnesota..."
"An LA pawn shop will have better prices, I'm sure. And the neighborhoods they're located in will keep you on your toes. Shop by phone, don't just start cruising pawn shops. So does Erica know of your interest?"
"Yeah, I've mentioned my interest in playing bass several times. And when we're listening to music, I'll point out the bass lines in songs, cool stuff. Like that opening bass line in the song 'John Wayne Was A Nazi.' So she'll know it's not just a whim."
That night I went to Guitar Trader on Clairmont Mesa Blvd. and went shopping. Fender Precision, Rat distortion pedal, a fifty-watt Marshall practice amp. These were set up front. Then I asked about drum machines, specifically the Roland TR 606. The look of supplication I was getting from the sales drone (a new Fender bass surely had a good commission) evaporated into a cockeyed visage of confusion, amusement, and contempt. "You're looking for a drum machine, sir?" he asked. "Why?"
I gave him a stare. "What the hell sort of question is that? You carry 'em, right?"
"Yes, we do.... The people buying them usually aren't buying instruments, they're interested in the synthesizers. They want to make doop-doop noises with a beat, dance music junk. What will you use the drum machine for?"
Drawing in air for patience, I replied, "Initially, as a metronome. Never having used a drum machine, we'll have to learn how to program one, then we'll have a bit more lively accompaniment. So, the TR 606 by Roland, you got 'em?"
"I'll have to check, it won't take a moment. Why that particular model?"
"The 606 is what the band Big Black used, and they had a great sound. In fact, it's their sound which inspired picking up the distortion pedal. You know them?"
"I'm not familiar. What type of music are they?" asked the drone.
"They were a proto-industrial band from Chicago," I explained. "Two incredibly distorted guitars, one distorted bass, and the Roland. Excellent stuff."
"Um;.... I'm not familiar with that, uh, genre of music, sir. What does it sound like?"
I gave a sharp grin and said, "Let's just put it this way. No one listens to Big Black so they can calm their nerves. They're as relaxing as an acetone lollipop. You'll have to just check them out, personally it's worth it."
We went to a section of the store which seemed to be sequestered. Here lay the electronic equipment, the keyboards, synthesizers, and drum machines. The way this section was situated in the store, it was like they were ashamed they had the stuff. One other person was browsing, dicking around with a Korg sampling keyboard. The drone walked over to a partition with a couple dozen drum machines mounted on it. He looked, then pointed. "There it is, sir,"
"Okay, great. Pull me one out of stock, and that'll be it, except for a handful of picks."
The drone gave e a strange look, then went to a locked cabinet, searched through it, and pulled out a box. Coming back he asked, "You don't want to try using it first?"
"I don't know how to program a drum machine, and I already know what it sounds like. No point in me farting around with the thing. It's a gift anyway."
We went up to the cashier, where my stuff was waiting. I grabbed about five each of guitar picks of varying weights, and told the cashier to start ringing up. The drone said, "Hey Nick, have you ever heard of a band called Big Black?"
The cashier rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Yeah."
"What do they sound like?"
"Oh, Jesus. They're, like, really really loud and distorted, totally atonal stuff, like they're purposely playing their guitars wrong. The singer is a total dork from what I heard, some pencil-neck from Chicago. Why?"
The drone's eyes had narrowed. "This gentleman is interested in recreating their sound," he told the cashier.
Looking at me, the cashier said, "So long as you don't live on my block, go for it, sir. Whatever. You really like that stuff?" He had shifted to a contemptuous sneer.
I gave him a silent stare briefly, long enough for him to look up from the register at me. I said, "Yeah, I do. Do you always editorialize on the musical tastes of customers?"
"Only when it's necessary. Sir."
"So, what do you listen to? Who are your favorite bands?"
"Let's see.... Fate's Warning, Mercyful Fate, Queensryche, Opeth...."
I snorted. "So, basically, you like rock and roll, so long as all the catharsis and spontaneity have been removed, and replaced with complex scales, adagios, and beats that require a thirty-two count. Fuckin' art metal, Jesus. Because the world really needed pretentious wank-a-thon guitars and lyrics that read like story outlines from JRR Tolkien.... If Tolkien had fetal alcohol syndrome. I guess you're working in the right place, I'm sure San Diego has plenty of Yngwie Malmsteen pretenders around who'll take a quick head job form any fan they can get, regardless of gender. It wouldn't matter anyway, if those dudes are like their hero, they can only come if they're looking at a photo of themselves from their high school yearbook."
The cashier sniffed, "I'm not surprised you don't enjoy progressive metal, the complexity of it would be...."
Interrupting, I said, "The complexity is the biggest problem, you jackass. If your genre of music values extreme technical skill over passion and balls, then you'd better stop saying you fall under the umbrella of rock and roll. don't call yourself heavy metal, no matter how big of hair your band has, or how high the Marshalls are stacked. You wanna write complex, symphonic music great, fucking learn musical notation and start writing symphonies. That way you can have seventy or more instruments at your disposal. Cut your hair and go to Julliard. People who wanna actually have fun when they play are more than happy to take over your cancelled club dates, believe me. But stop jerking off in public and calling it art. Prog metal eats shit." I waited a tick then said, "And before I forget, fuck Rick Wakeman, too."
"So, if it doesn't sound like 'Louie Louie' it's not rock and roll?? came the sneering response. "Maybe 'Diddy Wah Diddy' by Bo Diddley was the high water mark for rock and roll, and it's been downhill since." He looked me over. "Until punk rock came about, right? I guess rock and roll was getting too smart, so punk came along and brought back the stupid."
"The high water mark of rock and roll was 'Rocket 88' by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, featuring a very young Ike Turner on guitar. Do I need to explain about 'Rocket 88?' I'd better not have to."
"Oh, enlighten me."
"Fucking moron," I muttered under my breath. Then, "'Rocket 88' was recorded in the spring of 1951, and is generally considered the first true rock and roll song ever recorded. Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats were actually Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm. It's a standard twelve bar boogie, but had the first example of guitar distortion. Ike was playing through an amp that had been damaged, to patch damage to the cone they stuffed newspaper into the gash, which gave the guitar a fuzzy, distorted sound. The band decided they liked the sound, and recorded with the damaged amp. 'Rocket 88' hit number one on the Billboard R&B charts in June 1951 and stayed there for five weeks. You'd never heard any of this?"
With a mock-despairing sigh and an eye-roll, the cashier said, "Really, sir, anything that happened in 1951 is irrelevant today. I mean, you're talking about something a blues band...." He inserted a tone of sarcasm when he said that. "... did way back then? This song was supposed to be the firs rock and roll record ever made? Good God, blues is even more contemptible than punk rock. The blues is music for dimwitted alcoholics, who don't notice every blues song uses one of the same three bass lines, and wanna hear about how some guy's 'baby done left him.' I prefer music with some intelligence. At this point, sir, you're demonstrating your own lack of intellect, you think if it has more than three chords, a song gets all confusing, I suppose."
I drummed my fingers on the counter briefly, then told him, "Okay, we'll be coming back to the personal insults in a moment. Tell me, am I fair in saying you claim to like rock and roll, but hate the blues?"
"Yes sir, that would be a good assessment," the cashier smirked at me.
"And you see no contradiction there?"
"Yes you should, jackass," I told him. "Rock and roll wouldn't exist if R&B had existed first. Jesus, look at the song structures, lots of 3-4 drums, twelve bars, and a sound that grew more and more reliant on electric guitar as time went on. Electric guitars were pretty much invented for jazz and blues players, so they could be heard over the rest of the band in an auditorium. Since you're so fucking dismissive of rock and roll's history, I'm guessing you're totally ignorant about the invention of the electric guitar. You know, the things you sell?"
The cashier made a disparaging sound and said in a bored voice, "Of course I know where electric guitars come from. Telecaster, 1951, Leo Fender. Everybody knows that."
"WRONG!" I yelled. "You're off by twenty yeas, jackass. 1931, George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker invented the first electric pickup for the guitar. They built a lap guitar called the 'frying pan,' the first commercially available electric guitar. Various people dicked around with mounting pickups in Spanish guitars, but everybody had trouble with distortion and feedback. In 1940, Les Paul made a solid-body guitar to try and take care of some of the problems. Leo Fender started experimenting with solid-body guitars in the Forties. In 1950 he built the Fender Esquire, which became the Telecaster in 1951. The Telecaster was the first mass-produced,solid-body electric guitar. It had two pickups instead of one, and you could strap the damn thing on like a regular guitar. Easier to tune than early electrics, too.
"The Telecaster first became popular with country and western guitarists, then were picked by R&B players.... And then by rock and roll musicians. But the electric's roots were in jazz and big band, they needed guitars with more volume. See, you gotta know the entire history of something to understand it, not just its popular history. Study your history, or the world is a mystery, jackass."
Now the cashier had installed a smug, tight-lipped glare. He sniffed, "I'm not sure what was invented in 1931, but it wasn't the electric guitar.... Sir. Leo Fender invented them." He looked across the showroom, then said, "In fact, we can settle this right now. My manager would know, he'll back me up. In fact.... I'll make a bet with you. You say some guy in 1931 invented the electric guitar, and that's nonsense. I don't know what you're thinking of, but it's not the electric guitar...."
"Robert Beauchamp invented the electric pickup for guitar in 1931, and built a guitar called the "frying pan' with Adolph Rickenbacker. It's real simple."
"Okay, sir, if you're right, I"ll pay for your purchases tonight. How does that sound?"
I raised my eyebrows and said, "I hope you've got good credit, jackass."
"Stop calling me that," he grumbled, then called across the store, "Excuse me, Benjamin, could you come here please?"
A guy who looked like a weather-beaten Mick Fleetwood drifted up. "What's up, Daryl?" he asked.
"We need you to settle an argument. Do you know who invented the electric guitar, and when?"
Benjamin frowned and rubbed his nose, then said, "Um, it was a guy named Beauchamp, more or less. He invented the electric pickup. Then, him and Eddie Rickenbacker built a weird-ass-looking guitar to mount it on, it was a lap guitar. Hawaiian guitar players loved it."
Daryl the cashier stared at his manager wide-eyed, then loudly shrieked, "What!?"
Benjamin the manager started to patiently repeat, "In 1931, a man named Beauchamp invented the....."
"No! It was Leo Fender, in 1951!"
"Uh, no. Fender was the first mass producer of modern solid-body guitars, yeah. He's the one who created the first versions of what we think of as modern electric guitars, and mass-produced them so everybody and their brother could get one easily. But he didn't invent electrics."
"No way...." Daryl looked pale. Then he smacked his hands together and said, "Okay, Leo Fender invented the modern guitar, he invented the solid-body!"
Looking slightly peeved, Benjamin said, "No, he didn't. Les Paul did, in 1940. He made a guitar out of solid pine he called 'the Log.'"
I grinned at Benjamin and said, "Thank you, sir. You just saved me a shitload of money."
"What? What's going on?"
"Well, Sparky here started off the transaction by talking shit about one of my favorite bands. That's okay, I don't care for what he listens to. Then he decided to demonstrate how proud his is of his ignorance by.... Okay sir, what is generally considered the first rock and roll record?"
Pursing his lips, Benjamin said, "Hoo boy. Hard to call that. I mean, R&B has been around a long time, and that's where rock comes from. Um, what is considered the 'first' rock and roll single was a song named 'Rocket 88' by Ike Turner's band, also in 1951." He frowned at Daryl and said, "I thought everyone knew that. How do you get to adulthood as a rock music fan and never hear that story? I heard what happened was, the band was driving to the studio and the guitar amp fell off the roof of the car they were in...."
"And the fuzzy, distorted sound associated with rock guitar was invented," I filled in for him. "No, Daryl didn't know that, nor does he care, since blues is irrelevant to modern rock and roll, according to him. Blues players aren't cranking out mad arpeggios over complex time signatures, so the blues suck. A guy who sells electric guitars for a living, and he disses the blues? What's the world coming to?"
Benjamin drew himself up, and put on his Serous Manager face. "Daryl, are you debating with the customers again? Deciding you want to contradict any comment they make? God dammit, I've talked to you about this, I'm sick of you pissing the customers off by running your goddamn mouth. Nobody wants your fucking opinions, Daryl, just shut up, smile, and ring them up. You want to share your opinions about music, get a job writing for Spin.."
"Hey, I was glad he wanted an argument," I chuckled. "He saved me a bunch of money."
"What do you mean?" asked Benjamin. Daryl looked really pale now.
"The question about the invention of the electric guitar was our topic. He said 1951 and Leo Fender, I said, 1931 and George Beauchamp. He bet me the cost of what I'm buying he was right. Well, shit, that means I'm getting a new Fender Precision bass, a Roland drum machine, a practice amp, an effects pedal, and some picks all for free. Damn, I"m gonna come back tomorrow and argue music history with some other idiot who works here, I'll be able to fit out an entire four piece combo!"
Seething quietly, Benjamin addressed Daryl. "So tell me, how did you plan on paying for all this?" He pulled the receipt off the register and looked at the total. Then he glared at his cashier. "Answer me, Daryl."
"Um.... Hey, I have my in-store credit card here," Daryl sweated.
"Which I know for a fact is maxed out. It was declined the last time you tried to use it, you didn't have enough credit left to buy a set of strings. So how are you paying for this gentleman's purchase, Daryl?"
"Um.... Uh, I guess I could have the limit on my card increased...."
"Your card is at the fucking limit now," growled Benjamin. "Do you know how embarrassing it will be for me if one of my own employees is sent to collections?"
I stuck my nose in and said, "Don't sweat it, I came here with the intention of spending the money to begin with." I pulled out my wallet, Daryl looking grateful.
Benjamin turned to me and asked, "Out of curiosity, how did Daryl begin his little bit of debate club bullshit with you?"
"He didn't want to debate at first, he just wanted to insult me and a band I like. I don't suppose you're familiar with a Chicago band called Big Black? They broke up a few years ago...."
"Oh yes, Steve Albini's band," smiled Benjamin. "Good stuff, very challenging." He looked over at my purchases, picked up the drum machine, and smiled. "A TR 606, huh? Are you starting a tribute band?" This surprised me. He looked like the least likely type of person to be a Big Black fan.
"Not me," I replied. "Actually, all this crap is for a friend of mine up in LA, it's a gift. I've got a sixteen year old girl who wants to learn bass. She cites Riley from Big Black and Rob Wright from NoMeansNo as influences. Well, Rob Wright plays a Fender Precision, and I figured buying her a drum machine would be more fun than a metronome."
"And the Rat pedal?"
"Dave Sims from Jesus Lizard uses a Rat. She likes his sound, both Riley and Sims have that heavy distortion, you know....Haw, Daryl knows who Big Black is, and hates 'em. He thinks Steve Albini is just some pencil neck."
Benjamin focused his attention back on Daryl and said, "You know, boy, you're working on my last nerve tonight. You don't know who the fuck Steve Albini is? You don't know what he's done?"
Apparently Daryl was feeling fed up. He said, "Yeah, I've heard that band Big Black! They're just noise, they're a joke!"
"Okay, first of all, Daryl, this man here will be the last customer you ever express your goddamn opinions to on the subject of music. Nobody asked for your fucking opinions, so stop handing them out for free, save your brilliance for the letters section of Rolling Stone. Also, I can promise you've heard music that Steve Albini has produced. Albini is a genius in a recording studio. He engineered Nirvana's second album, he's worked with PJ Harvey, the Pixies, the Breeders.... Steve Albini is goddamn brilliant."
I snickered, "Well.... He is kinda geeky."
Benjamin gave ne a grin and replied, "He can't be too much of a wuss. Do you know the city of Chicago at all?" I confessed my ignorance. "I know which neighborhoods Albini was living in when he first started Big Black, when he recorded the EP 'Lungs' in his bedroom. He's no pencil neck if he could hack lining in those places." He glanced over at Daryl, then back. "Sir, I apologize for any annoyance you've had do deal with because one of my employees has no sense of tact. In fact, you know what? Wait right here." He walked off. Daryl and I shrugged at each other.
He returned a few moments later with a roll of duct tape. Stepping inside the cashier's booth, he said, "Daryl, stand still. Don't you dare move." Then he pulled out a good length of tape.... And began wrapping it around Daryl's face and head, covering his mouth. Benjamin went around Daryl's head three times with the tape. Daryl was now muzzled. "Problem solved for now," said Benjamin. "Daryl, that stays on until you clock out tonight. I'm going to be keeping my ears open around you. You're going to do what the fuck you're paid to from now on, which is ring up purchases. You will be polite with the customers, you will exchange pleasantries. You won't start arguments with them for your own amusement. And if you trash talk any of them again, the best you can hope for is getting taped up. The only reason I'm not firing your happy ass right now is that I'd like Guitar Trader to get the money you owe. I'll take it on faith you're making your monthly payments." He turned to me and said, "Sir, may I halp you carry your purchases out to your car?"
"Most appreciated," I replied. "It's the black Fleetwood."
Benjamin grabbed the bass and the bag of picks, I got the other stuff. He turned to Daryl and said, "Don't even think about pulling the tape off, Daryl. If that tape leaves your head, you're leaving your job." We headed out. Daryl stood and stared at his register blankly.