TALES FROM THE LOFT
I had left my leather jacket at the loft the night before and thought I should grab it before going to the Tool show that was set to start in less than an hour at the Olympic Auditorium (which I believe was the L.A. venue back in 1995). Strangely enough, when I pulled into the empty parking lot, I noticed that the loft’s heavy door was pushed open. Although I had my own set of keys, it was obvious that someone was inside. Pulling the screeching door further open, I proceeded into the darkness, glancing up a television flickering in the actual loft area. “Hello?” I called, noticing the silhouette of a figure that appeared to be transfixed by the opera that he was watching (this was either Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” or Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten” – I can’t remember which.) “Hello!” I shouted again over the dramatic music, until the figure turned to his left and peered down at me. “GodDAMNya, Blair!” rang Danny’s familiar voice. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised by this video detention. “Don’t you have a big show tonight”, I asked? “Yeah!” was his enthusiastic reply before turning back to the operatic pageantry that had so entranced him. After glancing at a digital clock, he then added, “I should probably get going before too long.” “But isn’t your car in the shop?” I reminded him. “Yeah” he shrugged… “Want me to give you a ride?” After a moment’s hesitation: “Yeah, that would be cool.” While waiting for my laundry to dry or getting my oil changed, I sometimes still wonder how he was planning to get to the venue had I not decided at the last minute to retrieve my jacket. One thing’s for sure, though. He would have figured out a way. For all the close calls over all the years – and there have been… dozens, torturing many a tour manager (not to mention band mates) - Danny has NEVER been ‘late’ for a show (often sitting down behind the kit with seconds to spare).
It was around this same time that I became friends with the members of Pigmy Love Circus. I met Shephard “Shep” Stevenson first (even though we were in the same 2nd grade class in France – more about this later). Danny and I had been up most of the night debating what might have happened if there hadn’t been a lack of jet fuel for all the Messerschmitt Me 262s in production during WWII. It wasn’t until the sun was about to come up that I plopped down on a worn couch and he climbed up to his cold waterbed. Seconds later in stormed Shep, totting a 12 pack of Budweiser. He shouted up at Danny, who squinted over the railing to see who was there. As Shep offered him a can of Bud, I watched in horror to see what he would do? The one thing about Danny is that he hates beer in cans. The other thing is that he dislikes all domestic beer, always preferring imports. But it seemed that he had no choice. Reluctantly, he accepted it, at which time Shep handed him another one, so that Danny (at 5:55 in the morning, and still unsure exactly how many Me 262s had been put into production) was now holding two miserable cans of warm Budweiser, one in each hand. Shep then tossed a couple at me as I feigned sleep on the couch. And so that’s how I met Shep (again).
The next time I saw Shep wasn’t at the loft, but it was the one time that Danny and I almost didn’t make it back to the place. While visiting the Pigmy bassist at the Hollywood apartment that he shared with his girlfriend, I was admiring some of the paintings that she had done. I was particularly impressed with her use of interference acrylics, and asked Shep about it. Even though it was very late at night, and his girlfriend was asleep upstairs, he advocated that I go ask her about it. Accordingly, I headed up the stairs and walked into the bedroom where she was lying completely naked on top of the covers. Awkward situation? Evidently not. When I complimented her on her artistic output and enquired about the pearlescent effects, without the slightest hesitation or least trace of bashfulness, she began to explain about applying the transparent glaze, viewing angles, and optical characteristics. Wow, Shep had a cool girlfriend! (Or… was she merely his roommate?)
At any rate, it was while returning to the loft in the wee hours on Danny’s decrepit motorcycle that we encountered one of the most surreal (and terrifying) scenes that we could ever imagine. Somewhere between the “El Compadre” Mexican restaurant and the loft, Danny’s bike (with me seated on the back) stalled out. Looking around in the darkness, through a slight layer of early morning fog, we could see two Hispanic street gangs slowly approaching each other, with us stuck right dab in the middle. As I remember, there were about six to eight dudes on each side – all of them brandishing crude weapons, including chains, clubs studded with nails, pipes, tire-irons, cudgels, and I swear what looked like a medieval mace. (Only razor-brimmed sombreros and flaming margaritas would have made the scene more Tarantino-esque!). Forming a straight line, they continued towards each other, silent and expressionless, seemingly oblivious to our presence as Danny frantically attempted to start the motorcycle. When they were only several feet away, and I thought for certain that we were going to be stabbed or bludgeoned to death, with Hollywood screenplay timing, the damn bike started, and we squealed away in a cloud of smoke, never looking back. For a couple of products of mid-western suburbia, needless to say, the entire episode was quite bizarre.
Gang types sometimes also hung out in the loft’s parking lot. These were mostly young Armenians, and they usually didn’t bother any of us. However, one night as Danny was returning home, he was approached by several figures who, intoxicated and antagonistic, were attempting to initiate some kind of violent confrontation. Before things got ugly, Danny managed to stick his key into the heavy padlock, and quickly slipped inside the now impenetrable fortress. A day or so later, Danny recognized the main instigator at a nearby gas station. Still irate about having his life threatened by a group of street thugs, it was now Danny’s turn to confront the guy. Without all his buddies, the dude backed off, repeating over and over that he didn’t want any trouble. Fortunately for all, Danny maintained his composure and restrained from pulling out the sawed-off shotgun that was in his trunk. Back then Danny was still more Kansas than Hollywood, and with or without any Hershey squirts, the guy was lucky to get out of Dodge…
After this troubling incident, there were a few more showdowns of sorts with the Armenians, but these were mostly harmless pranks involving stink bombs (albeit, industrial strength stink bombs!). As we entertained ourselves inside the loft, our mischievous friends would strategically place a small vial containing ammonium sulfide in the door hinge so that once opened the glass would break, thus releasing the unpleasant aroma. This worked once or twice, but soon we recovered an intact vial. Not to be outwitted, or perhaps just to break the July lethargy, latter that night, Marko (“Die Eier Von Satan”) crept over to one of the perpetrators’ brand new Jeep Wrangler and finding the canvas door unzipped, doused the fresh interior with the abominable funk.
When the Pigmy Love Circus was in town, as I recall, the loft became quite boisterous. When not guzzling brew and working on new riffs, they kept Danny’s little slice of Arcadia in check – helping to police the area from any crack addicts that might be breaking into cars, or harassing shady characters loitering near the entrance, and scaring off transients crapping behind the dumpster. The mere thought of big Mike Savage using a chain link fence as a human cheese grater should have kept most troublemakers away. Of course, most often, the Pigmies preferred to fight one another – that is until a new rule was instituted that stated before any roughhousing commenced, those involved first had to remove all of their clothing. This was a rule that was not to be breached.
As Tool became bigger and bigger, there were lots of parties at the loft, but as to exactly who was racking up points on the Tempest machine or losing badly to Danny at foosball, I wasn’t sure. At the time, I didn’t know Lollapalooza from a sousaphone, and I certainly wasn’t acquainted with who was and who wasn’t an alternative metal luminary. All I knew was that if one of them happened to crash at the loft, and they were a sleepwalker, it wasn’t okay for that person to pull out his dick and take a piss in the noisy Pepsi cooler. I do, however, remember one night seeing Jaz Coleman of “Killing Joke” playing a terribly out of tune piano in a dark corner, and his band mate Geordie Walker holding court at the smoky makeshift bar. Tom Morello, Mike Patton, and Danny Lohner also frequented these gatherings, but, again, most of those who dropped by were unknown to me at the time. (Note: After Danny’s treasured PLC leather jacket was stolen by someone during one of these blowouts, those who gravitated to the loft were more carefully screened.)
While on the subject of parties at the loft, my absolute favorite story happened on a night that I may or may not have even been there. Such was the number of revelers spilling drinks that I’m not really sure. Yet, I’ve heard the story so many times that I don’t believe it to be apocryphal. During said party, when it came time to make a beer run, Marko pointed to a certain person that he vaguely knew from some job, and whom he believed to be a bit of a slacker. “It’s about time for YOU to BUY some beer!” Marko commanded. Without making any fuss, the person obliged, leaving the loft and returning about a half hour later with a more that adequate supply of the sudsy stuff (imports, even!). When Marko saw him return in a shiny new Range Rover, he was surprised to say the least.
“How in the FUCK did YOU get a Range Rover?” he demanded to know. Well, as it turned out, the guy who Marko believed to be such a Ne’er-do-well wasn’t really that at all. In fact it wasn’t even the same guy – this person merely bearing a slight resemblance to the slacker. The guy was actually David Gahan, singer for Depeche Mode, who, for whatever reason, good-naturedly went on the beer run without saying a word.
Some nights were quieter and honestly I preferred it that way. During these hangs we would listen to Terence McKenna, Bill Hicks, and all the kooks that called in to Art Bell’s “Coast to Coast AM” while discussing our latest occult book acquisitions. If things got too quiet, we’d talk Danny into playing the drum solo from ELP’s “Tank”, which he usually did to perfection. There were also pull-ups contests, shotgun antics, and feeding the feral cats with leftover Thai. And, of course, Jumbos…
Again, I don’t remember seeing much of Maynard when not creating music or rehearsing for shows, although he would occasionally drop by to talk about various topics of interest (I don’t believe wine was one of them – floods, earthquakes and asteroids, perhaps). Sometimes we’d go over to his house and watch the mixed martial arts of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (Gracie, Shamrock, Taktarov, Abbott, etc.), or to nightclubs where he performed in comedy skits. On the other hand, often times Adam wasn’t that far way – laboring through the night on the band’s videos in the adjacent building. Knowing that all of those involved in the claymation process were doomed to a hellish eternity, it only seemed humane to give them a break every now and then. So, that’s when we brought out the potato bazooka. Aerosol powered by either Lysol disinfectant or AquaNet hairspray, a well placed shot would shatter an upper story window and generally disrupt any stop motion animation. After a brief period of inactivity, those at the loft who were foolish enough to approach the other building would invariably be drenched by the 7-11 Big Gulp cups of piss that rained down from above – the video crew’s most effective form of retaliation.
And then one day I learned that Paul (D’Amour) was thinking about leaving the band. Wow! I didn’t know what to think about this, but I sure hoped that things turned out better than the time that he (or a friend of his?), while employed at Arby’s during his formative years, made the decision to feed a stray dog an entire roll the fast food chain’s salty mystery meat (roast beef, that is). With Paul’s departure, several excellent bass guitarists auditioned for the band, with, as everyone now knows, Justin ultimately being chosen. This, I thought, could change things considerably. Paul could hang with the best of them. Did this Justin guy even party?
“Aenima” was the first Tool project that I was asked to contribute something to, although this was merely a small part of the art design for the import, which I collaborated on with Shep’s talented girlfriend. (Or… was she merely his roommate?) Another thing about the “Aenima” recording that I remember, was a plan devised at the loft to create the ultimate hidden track. This was inspired by the whole Klaatu/Beatles thing, but the problem of actually pulling it off would take a lot more thought.
“Aenima” was also around the time that I was introduced to the good folks at “Retinalogic.” Besides all the gatherings up at Dr. Timothy Leary’s house, under careful supervision, several experiments involving dissociative anesthetics were conducted by certain Lodge members at the loft. However, for me personally, rather than encountering any sagacious glowing ketamentals in the Bardo, black squatamaudars waltzed between the walls of my seemingly detached skull. At other times I felt as if I’d simply been given the “Himalayan Suspender” by Von Zipper, himself (as taught by Professor Sutwell). Even worse, once, while immobilized on a threadbare saggy couch that had become my velvet-lined coffin, I could make out Adam standing over me with his Silverburst, weaving a droning, nightmarish soundscape. The best way for me to describe these dissociates, was that they turned my Curly into a Shemp.
Without any air-conditioning, on particularly hot nights, Danny would often leave the loft door cracked. On one such evening, over pints of Theakston’s Old Peculiar, “Aenima” engineer and co-producer David Bottrill, Justin (so, Justin did occasionally partake of a drop of the creature), Danny and I were having a friendly debate about guns in America. The Brits considered the cons, while Danny and I (Midwestern transplants that hadn’t kicked all the sod off our boots) focused on the pros. Midway during the calm discussion, I happened to notice that one of L.A.’s finest had entered the building, and was quietly approaching us with his gun drawn. Realizing that I saw him, he put his index finger to his lips, indicating that I remain silent. Both Bottrill and Justin had their backs to the police officer as he suddenly grabbed David by the shoulder. Now, I’m not going to say that one of L.A.’s finest (a good friend of ours) pressed his Beretta (or was it a Glock?) against Bottrill’s head and shouted, “Get me a beer from that cooler before I blow off your motherfucking bald head!”, but I will say that the officer’s actions (whatever they might have been) didn’t exactly help our pro-gun argument…
TO BE CONTINUED...