TALES FROM THE LOFT
The loft in which the members of Tool create all of their music – spanning over two decades now - was known as “the loft” even before it became the starting point for the band’s artistic complexity. Back then it was Danny’s new digs - a grim brick structure in a seedy part of Hollywood where the Midwest transplant could play drums and prog-rock music as loud as he wanted. (Well, almost. The L.A.P.D. paid him numerous late night visits, and on some occasions Danny even opened the heavy bolted door to see who was ready to party.) When not pounding on the drums, there was a microwave oven to re-heat spicy Thai curries, and a vintage Pepsi cooler (with a self-contained refrigeration system) to keep plenty of beers chilled. Above a rickety makeshift bar, accessible by an even ricketier ladder, was a tiny loft where the future Tool drummer would crash out on a waterbed in the flicker of a television as mice (rats?) nibbled on his exposed bony toes. Having lots of time to kill on hot summer nights without any air-conditioning, the whitewashed interior walls were soon adorned with large reproductions from the Russian Suprematism art movement that were painted with staggering exactitude by Danny himself. Together with the geometric forms of Malevich and Lissitsky, strange aluminum foil creations hung from the ceiling, reflecting the glow of dozens of candles. Someday Danny planned to lay down a discarded carpet (along with other lofty ambitions), but for the time being the cement floor remained perpetually sticky from spilled Nukey Browns. This was “the loft” as I first knew the place. However, things would quickly change.
Given the amount of unused space, and knowing that there was earth right beneath the hard surface, it wasn’t long before a certain small group of practicing ceremonial magicians moved their Lodge headquarters from another loft (this one above Frederick’s of Hollywood) to Danny’s new place. On certain nights, while seated within the Circle of Protection and Obedience, the practitioners carefully followed the strange requirements of various medieval grimoires. Anticipating changes in the neural-matrix during the Praxis, some were still a bit apprehensive of astral turbulence and unwanted tangential phenomena. If followed to the letter (meaning no haphazard substitutions or other liberties taken), the Barbarous Words of Evocation might result in a bountiful harvest provided by certain spirits brought to physical manifestation from the relativistic space-time continuum. To produce the desired result while manipulating hidden forces (i.e. intelligences) listed in the old grammars of magic, once rare ingredients were procured from a nearby occult marketplace, one merely had to understand exactly what are (and more importantly) what AREN’T traps for fools. “Coincidently’, abandoned in the ‘Frederick’s’ loft was a large circular wooden board that had been painted with sigils from the “Heptameron” (as appended to Agrippa’s “Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy”) which the current occupier had found amongst some junk left by the previous tenants.
It seemed that someone (or something) was looking out for us! (Note: This still exists on the reverse side of Danny’s Enochian “Sigillum Die Ameth” board – a talismanic stage backdrop that should be familiar to most Tool enthusiasts.)
When not meddling with the Goetia or other ‘black books’, entheogens were employed as visionary tools (often combined with ceremonial mechanics) to facilitate daring sojourns to the outposts of ‘reality’ and, hopefully, vivid encounters with the denizens that populated this hyper-spatial topography. These entities might include the various tryptoids, tikes, and mantids described by the psychedelic theorist Terence McKenna and other intrepid (or foolish) neuronants. And, indeed, at times, there were fleeting glimpses of those that exist behind the scenery: haunting tryptamine jesters with outrageously complex appliances, electric flesh guides, silver fire babies and vortices of jeweled phantoms. Did I mention the cartoonish squatamauders? Eventually, attempts were made to shatter certain biological safeguards via simulated death techniques in order to access the endogenous tryptamine dimensions, with the operations carefully timed to coincide with the plummeting brightness of the eclipsing trinary star Algol (Beta Persei). (Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home, kids. Professional psychonants. Mindscapes closed. Otherwise, you just might end up as a Christian fundamentalist or, even worse, composing esoteric verses that billions of apathetic souls will never recite.)
Of course it is merely a coincidence that the exact spot were the magical rituals were once performed would be the future launching pad/rehearsal space for a group of musicians that would eventually incorporate occult principles and magical imagery in their artistic endeavors. Anything that may have materialized in the corresponding perfume of the Art was dutifully given the License to Depart (appropriate banishing procedures) in order to eliminate any potential mischievous, nay, dangerous residue. And this included shadowy apparitions from half-assed summons, aborted astral constructs, and any other aerial spirits that escaped the curse of chains due to ineptitude on the part of the Operators.
Other than a few monstrous sentinels to watch over things, and wall paintings of vibrant DMT entities, today there is little evidence of the “Lodge” days. Should a visitor to the building happen to glance up at the ceiling, he or she might notice the complex pulley system that was once used to hoist and lower wrought-iron chandeliers in which a multitude of green candles glowed in the hope of bestowing prosperity to all those involved in the Workings. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if the esoteric arcana worked? Or, if a crack appeared, and the Devil slipped through it?
Most Tool fans already know how the band that wasn’t sure that it really wanted to be a band was created in the early 90s, and how the “loft” played a crucial role in its unlikely formation and enduring success.
Although Danny was playing gigs with L.A. club rowdies, “ Pigmy Love Circus”, doing studio session work with Carole King, drumming with various sitcom in-house bands, and had adopted the persona of “Danny Longlegs” with the punk cabaret “Green Jello”, there was still time to jam with a few others, though how serious these new guys were about playing music for a living was definitely up to question. In one way or another, all were involved in the film industry (or aspired to be), and it wasn’t certain (even to themselves) exactly where their hearts truly lied.
Danny introduced me to Maynard while using his new space (located right next to Danny’s) to gain access to the large brick building’s roof. It was a warm spring night, and after a few leisurely cocktails some of my fellow Lodge Brothers thought it might be amusing to throw an arsenal of water balloons down on the dressed-up prom couples standing up through the sun-roofs of limousines moving slowly up and down the crowded boulevard. (Note: I had meant to add earlier that only very well-balanced individuals should ever attempt the ritual mechanics necessary for releasing post-mortem tryptamines during the minima of the Algol ternary.) Now, where were we? Oh yeah, tossing water balloons down on unsuspecting high-school couples. Direct hits there were, with expensive hairdos soaked, teaching these foolish youngsters that it’s not safe to hang out of limos. Anyway, I vaguely remember that Maynard’s new place looked like a habitat for exotic lizards. At the time, the budding world class multi-tasker was working as a pet-store chain’s interior designer, but he had recently added falsetto background vocals to Green Jello’s indie smash, “Three Little Pigs,” According to Danny, his new buddy was “a DAMN good singer!”
As Adam, Maynard, and Paul D’Amour jammed in the loft, whenever a auditioning or potential drummer flaked, Danny would sympathetically fill in, charging each of the guys $6.00 an hour to help pay the rent and utilities. During this time, these jam sessions were usually described to me in less than flattering terms, although this was probably because Danny knew that I was a prog-snob, and his latest band was alternative metal. Despite whatever he had to say though, I actually had the feeling that he felt that there was a good chemistry with the new quartet, and that this just might be the group that he was diligently searching for. But could it really be that easy? Musicians who just showed up on his doorstep because he had available space? The exact right pieces needed to fulfill the drummer’s dreams? Well, this was L.A., and those candles were green…
It wasn’t until they (I still didn’t know if they had a name yet) had finished with afternoon rehearsals that my friends and I would show up at the loft with grocery bags full of cheap alcohol. Sometimes it seemed that we were losing more and more valuable partying space as the place was becoming cluttered not only with the equipment of Danny’s new metal band, but with that of Pigmy Love Circus and Rage Against The Machine as well. On those long nights of reveling, sustenance usually consisted either of greasy Tommy’s chili burgers, Thai food, or, my favorite, the chicken burrito combo (#5) from the open late “Shig-Shack.” The “Shig-Shack” was actually a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint called “Dos Burritos” that we called “Shig” as a shortened form of the medical condition shigellosis due to the place’s perceived unsanitary conditions.
To be fair, however, the little diner has always received the high letter grade of “A” by inspectors of the L.A. Public Health Department. Even so, after consuming a burrito with a liberal dousing of the painfully hot (yet, shigalicious) hot sauce, one tended to pray to any god that would listen that Danny had an extra roll of toilet paper stashed away in that rumbling Pepsi cooler of his. Some nights we attempted to fire up the tiny Weber grill outside, but it wouldn’t be long before everyone’s eyes were stinging from the gassy, chemical fumes of glowing Kingsford, and the even more toxic bum piss that permeated the parking lot and dirty alleyway.
When the loft got too stuffy, there were drunken excursions to Jumbo’s Clown Room, a Hollywood landmark of sorts where wannabe starlets and over-the-hill strippers pole danced as patrons stuffed dollar bills into their g-strings, and the more sensible merely applauded the burlesque. That’s right, we were broke. No, actually, sometimes in the Jumbo’s of old, one even felt fortunate that the previous night’s brugmansia tea recipe (Tree Datura) had partially blinded some of those who partook of the bitter concoction. I knew that great jazz bands often played at a club called “The Baked Potato” over the hill in Studio City, but who in the fuck could afford to go there! What with the high cover charge and two drink minimum. At least there was no cover at Jumbo’s.
Other field trips were taken to Mount Pinos in the Los Padres National Forest. From the high elevation with its glittering infinity of stars, we had fun with the dozens of geeky amateur astronomers with their powerful optics trained on distant celestial objects. I remember one illustrious and quite beshroomed Lodge Brother would politely ask to take a peek through a person’s telescope, at which time he would shout at the top of his lungs, “FUCK!!! LOOK AT THAT SHIT!” He would then move over to the next guy’s telescope and quietly ask if he could take quick look into the viewfinder? No matter what astronomical feature the telescope was positioned on and tracking, our smirking friend would once again (jokingly) shout, “GODDAMN!!! WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SHIT!” Soon, all of the geeks were inviting him over to show him the nebula in their own viewfinders, evidently oblivious of his mocking antics. SHIT!!! THAT CAN’T BE REAL! THAT AIN’T FUCKING REAL!!!
Often times though, we couldn’t make it out of the loft’s clusterfuck of a parking lot. Before the sun came up, we would actually spend hours moving and repositioning cars just so that one person could leave. And if some unfortunate soul parked their luxury car in the restricted loft parking lot because they couldn’t find a space (or were too cheap to valet) on the boulevard, Danny’s doorstep QUICKLY became a driving range with teed-up golf balls. I recall a loud, sickening thud as a Lodge Brother once sliced his shot directly into the door of a new BMW, much to the horror and utter disbelieve of its owner and his fashionably dressed, attractive dinner date. Too bad he didn’t read the signs posted?
Meanwhile, Tool (so that’s what they were called!) began to play the L.A. club circuit, attracting an ever-increasing audience and thus gaining more exposure with each show. Though I personally only attended a few of these shows at clubs called “The Gaslight”, “Raji’s” , “Club Lingerie”, and “The Opium Den (?)” , I was there when the band signed Ted Gardner to be their manager. I also happened to be at “Coconut Teasers” on Sunset when they got their first record deal with Zoo Entertainment. (Ah, the good old 72826-SATAN demo cassette!)
I still remember when, after the show, as the band members loaded their equipment into a rental van, Ted flaunted a twenty-dollar bill, handing it to one of the guys for all of them to go “get a cup of coffee.” One of guys wanted to go to a nearby Denny’s. “No one plans or thinks about going to Denny’s”, I chided him. “You just materialize inside Denny’s. Hey, did you know that some Denny’s used to be “Sambo’s – before the chain was forced to close due to non-Qabalistically-based pressure and lawsuits from certain activists in the black community. How long do you think it took to make the changeover to become a Denny’s? Maybe six hours? Five? Today, only one Sambo’s is left, and not in a parallel continua, but in Santa Barbara.” It was probably right then and there that at least one of the guys thought that I should probably someday write the band’s newsletter.
Touring and record sales from 1992’s “Opiate”, and 1993’s “Undertow” enabled Tool’s skinman to add a few nice touches to the loft. First came a foosball table, and then a video arcade game. I think it was called “Tempest”, but it might have been “Polybius.” New carpet was laid down, with exactly who we thought it would be spilling the first beer (much to Maynard’s chagrin). Out in the parking lot gleamed an emerald green beamer from the 1970’s that actually started… most of the time. There still wasn’t any air-conditioning in the loft – even performing on the main stage at Lollapalooza couldn’t make that happen. However, the inside of the rusting Pepsi cooler had finally been emptied out so that the layers of viscous greenish slime that had accumulated over the years could be scrubbed clean prior to being filled with twelve-packs of imported beer left over from the rider. While drinking these delightful things we listened to cassettes of Buddy Rich threatening his band members with blows to the head if he heard anymore clams. There were also the taped prank phone calls of old friends from Kansas (similar to the Jerky Boys), the KKK rants of singer Johnny Rebel, and the schizophrenic paranoia of Francis E. Deck. If we ever got bored, sometimes Danny would turn out the lights and whale on a golf ball inside the loft’s back room. Whenever this happened, I would immediately dive on the closest couch and cover my head with a cushion as the ball ricocheted for what seemed an eternity off the brick walls with their murals of non-Euclidian geometry.
Tool bassist Paul D’Amour often attended these gatherings, Danny having bonded with him during the tours. I didn’t see much of Maynard at night, though any sarcastic wit was certainly appreciated (and I’m not being sarcastic). Adam also didn’t hang out at the loft after band rehearsals, though he did occasional throw parties at his rented house in Burbank – a place where daily realities were veiled by layers of blue crushed velvet draped over most windows.
One day I was invited by Danny to attend a party thrown by the president of Zoo Records. There would be plenty of booze and great food he assured me. Shortly after arriving at this mansion in Beverly Hills (or was it Benedict Canyon?), while taking Danny up on the free drinks and catered grub, the label honcho tapped a glass with his fork and began to tell everyone just how proud he was of Tool for achieving gold record status. What? I had no idea. Danny was so modest that he never mentioned this. “You have a gold record”, I asked? “Yeah” he replied with a look of disgust while sneaking some food stuffed in a napkin inside his pocket. “No good bands have gold records”, he added. So, that’s why he didn’t say anything. Suddenly, though, it seemed a bit strange that he was loading his pockets with left over food. Even so, I quickly followed his lead…
And then one early morning (4:31 PST to be precise) on January 17, 1994 (January 17 having long been a date of great importance to the Lodge), the dusty, piss-bespattered gold record award for “Undertow” that was hanging crooked in the loft’s tiny bathroom was violently shaken from the wall and clattered onto the floor amid a deafening roar.
The Northridge earthquake had just occurred, and the old brick structure rocked and swayed in pitch-blackness for at least 15 terrifying seconds after the initial jolt. In the building next to the loft, Adam and his crew were shooting Tool’s next video. When everyone finally made it out safely and gathered in the parking lot with frayed nerves, Danny couldn’t help but wonder if this was the end of the loft? Was it up to code, or would it be red-tagged? Indeed, would another crack appear for the Devil to slip through?..
TO BE CONTINUED…