“TALES FROM THE LOFT”
(Note: Before continuing with the final part of my “Tales from the Loft” series of newsletters, I would first like to say to those who think that I have stretched the truth or deliberately fabricated some of the stories, that this is absolutely not the case. Save perhaps for some minor details, to the best of my recollection, everything has been described exactly as it really happened. When the 13th-century Venetian explorer Marco Polo wrote about his adventures in ancient Cathay (and other parts of Asia), because the colorful accounts seemed too fantastic to be true, he was accused by many of his European readers of embellishment. So much so, in fact, that while lying on his deathbed, the parish priest pleaded for the writer to recant all of his lies. To which the great explorer replied, “I haven’t told half of what I saw.” Similarly, with the “Tales from the Loft”, far from having fudged the truth or gone to extremes, I can assure you that what I’ve written represents only a (very) small portion of what I’ve seen over the years. You might even say that – all in all – it’s quite a tame account…)
Having recently moved out of the Ravenswood apartments, and with the extensive remodeling of his new house now complete, Danny invited Pigmy Love Circus bassist Shepherd Stevenson and myself over for some late night drinks. Sitting in lawn chairs at the top of the property while enjoying a spectacular view of the twinkling lights of Hollywood below, as Shep and I were talking about some childhood antics, we were surprised to realize that we were classmates in the second grade while living in Evreux, France in the early 1960s (Before my dad was transferred to Chateauroux-Deols). At the time, both of our fathers were stationed at the (then) front line Cold War Air Force Base (Evreux-Fauville), where they both flew C-130s. I still vividly remembered second grade at Evreux for its dreadful cafeteria fare of Vienna sausages and tepid carrot juice. The only deviation to this culinary déjà vu was a buttery, flaky Epiphany cake (Gallette des Rois) containing a plastic jeweled ring baked inside it. (Naturally, at the time, I was completely unaware of its highly esoteric meaning.) Also indelibly etched in my brain was the strange day when a woman teacher, either suffering from a nervous breakdown or having a psychotic episode, went on a violent tirade about the color ‘green’, destroying anything in the class room of that shade, and even attempting to force a young student who was a girl scout to remove her dress!
As we continued reminiscing about the school at Evreux, suddenly the ground began to shake. As it did so, birds scattered noisily from trees and deer fled quickly from the nearby woods. Turning around, we watched as distant electrical transformers exploded – lighting up the sky with green and purple flashes. We then checked to see if any of the tall buildings in Hollywood were swaying. They weren’t. The gentle rolling motion was caused by the 2005 Yucaipa earthquake which, having a magnitude of 4.9, was felt across much of southern California. Unlike the Northridge quake, though, riding this baby out was actually kind of fun, especially since we seemed to be in no danger whatsoever while seated on a nearly barren hilltop.
Although it was close to 2:00 AM, light pollution and a scattered marine layer made it appear as if it were an overcast afternoon. Through the cacophony of car alarms, barking dogs, and excited neighbors waking up, I could hear Danny’s (then) Dutch wife shouting at him from their house below. “Danny, did you not feel the earthquake!” “Yeah!” he called back. “Why did you not check to see that we are okay?” she then began repeating (meaning her and her dog) in a tone that measured at least a magnitude of 3.5. As we clambered down the hill, Danny shouted back, “We were just about to come down and make some more margaritas!” Well, even though I knew that everything was fine with the dog, I somehow didn’t think this was the absolute best answer he could have given her. Hissing, sparking downed wires or lawn furniture swallowed by gaping chasms would have both been better than the nonchalant reply that we had waited until we needed to refill our margarita glasses. But it was the truth (and rather funny). Even so, I thought it might just be a good time to head to the shabby couches at the loft…
Whether or not the word had gotten out about certain duffers, not many Thai restaurant customers attempted to cheat the parking meters by sneaking their BMWs into the limited spaces at the loft. But that didn’t necessarily mean the end to nighttime golf. Although this didn’t involve hitting flaming gutta-percha balls ala Sir Francis Dashwood and his quasi-masonic Hellfire Club, I did on at least one occasion witness some nice shots on an asphalt fairway.
With buckets of Titleists (probably retrieved from some murky pond in Kansas) placed on the sidewalk, Danny and a friend were teeing off along the neon-splashed boulevard. After a few whiffs with their woods, during a particularly well-driven shot, I noticed the brake lights and a quick U-turn of a black and white unit. As the officer inside gunned the engine, most of us made it to the relative safety of the brick fortress. Danny and his friend didn’t. However, they did manage to hide the buckets of balls and clubs before the cops pulled into the parking lot with their lights flashing. When questioned by the police officers about somebody whacking golf balls on the boulevard, Danny mumbled something about once seeing the ghost of Seamus MacDuff on Lucifer’s Rug at Blackheath. When they didn’t buy this, he said that he and his friend weren’t causing any trouble – they were just releasing some stress, and were about to go inside the “clubhouse.” Well, as it turned out, one of the officers knew who Danny was, and had even been inside the loft on one occasion. In being somewhat of a Tool fan, himself, he certainly didn’t equate golf balls bouncing off car roofs and store awnings with the firing of an UZI or MAC-10.
I had the good fortune to meet a lot of people at the loft over the years – most of them being old friends of Danny’s like Chris Pitman and Kent Brisley, who had been band mates with the Tool drummer back in his earlier Kansas City club circuit days. Ben Sherazi from Canada was certainly aware of “Thirsty Thursday”, not to mention “Why not Wednesday?”, so we immediately hit it off.
Add to the mix Sash Popovic (from Australia), Vince De Franco (from Philly on a parallel earth), and Rich Estrada (who couldn’t even speak Spanish in K.C. Misery), and you had to take a number to spatter piss on the gold record awards. Along with these musical transplants, one of Danny’s close friends was an actor named Angelo Spizzirri, who unlike the rest of us was a native Angelino.
Danny had befriended Angelo when the aspiring actor was still in his teens, having met him at the YMCA where they often played basketball (Later, both would play on the same team in the Hollywood Celebrity League). Though he had acted in numerous television series, Angelo’s most well known role was his portrayal of a high school baseball catcher (named Joel De La Garza) in the film “The Rookie.” This Disney picture was based on the true story of Jim Morris, a high school science teacher with a great pitching arm who finally makes it to the major league at an age when most players were calling it quits. Oddly enough, just when our friend’s career as an actor was taking off, Angelo told us that he was over the whole thing. Whether or not this was due to his role in “Underclassmen” I’m not sure, but the talented actor admittedly took the money and ran with that one! As if to make sure that he wouldn’t be tempted to go to any further auditions, he covered himself with tattoos (frowned upon then by the Disney moguls), and took to Jack Daniels chased with Budweisers. One of his favorite lines after hard nights at the loft was to leave a voice message the following afternoon saying that “With friends like you, who needs enemies.”
Being also good friends with Tim Mahoney (guitarist with 311, and another often seen face at the loft), Angelo decided that he wanted to be part of the music business. Soon, he’d become the tour manager for “Incubus”, and really seemed to be enjoying the road. It was around this time that he was found dead in his Studio City apartment. Although I am aware of the cause of his death, in reading anything about it on the Internet, it always says that the former actor died from undisclosed causes, a mystery that I’m happy to leave at that. Angelo was one of the funniest people that I’ve ever met, and we had a great time hanging with Tool during one of their European tours (where in the Netherlands we both had a very difficult time finding that condiment known as mustard). To this day, as a memorial of sorts, there is still a bottle of Budweiser in the rusted Pepsi cooler at the loft that is never to be opened.
“You’re going to like one of the new tunes”, Maynard said to me at the loft one afternoon as the band was putting the finishing touches on a certain song that was to be included on their next record. The song he was referring to turned out to be entitled “Rosetta Stoned”, and, once again, the vocals that Maynard added really enhanced the music, with the rapid-fire narration at the beginning being decidedly ingenious. In the years since “10,000 Days” was released, many have wondered what the lyrics to “Rosetta Stoned” are really about. Although only Maynard knows for sure (perhaps the true meaning/message is left up to the individual’s own interpretation?), the following story might have, at least, in part, inspired the cryptic wording of what would seem to involve a rather disturbing encounter with an alien presence:
"All righty then… Picture this if you will:" Danny and I are fooling around with his new Paiste rotosound #2 one night at the loft when, over the loud, sustained bell-like tone, there is a knock on the door. Opening it, we see “Green Jello” mastermind Bill Manspeaker standing there holding a small photo album that he is anxious for us to take a look at. What the book contained were photographs of desert landscapes in California’s Yucca Valley, along with the interior of the famous 16-sided domed structure that housed a mysterious device called the Integratron.
Upon closer examination, each photo also contains what appear to be strange glowing orbs that Bill claimed were not visible when he took the shots. Whether or not these were merely an artifact of the film process, debris on the camera lens, or, for those who are inclined to believe such things, alien intelligences known as etherians who are rendered nearly invisible by crystal batteries, I do not know, but Bill was still freaked out by them and had a whopper of a tale to tell in connection with the photos which Danny and I were eager to hear:
While visiting certain parts of the Yucca Valley, friends of Bill’s claimed that they witnessed anomalous lights in the sky, as well as experiencing a strange physical sensation that was associated with them. Strangest of all were telepathic commands that directed his friends to a grid of what they perceived (or were told) to be some kind of geo-mystical “safety zones” that would protect them from being abducted by the possibly malevolent entities. The story got even more bizarre in that the anti-abduction measures might not have worked, and that’s where the “Rosetta Stoned” connection possibly comes into play. After showing us the photos with orbs, I asked Bill if he knew anything about the iconic Integratron or the ufological history of the Landers area?
When he replied that he didn’t know much, I first informed him that there had long been rumors in the area of cattle mutilations and human disappearances. I then told him that the Integratron was conceived by George Van Tassel, one of the most famous of the 1950s UFO contactees. During the golden years of the saucer-ride boys, Van Tassel had hosted huge UFO conclaves on his property at Giant Rock Airport (named for the tiny desert air strip that was built near an enormous boulder). Prior to the annual saucer gatherings, Van Tassel had been contacted by an extraterrestrial comity known as “The Council of Seven Lights” – typical 1950s Space Brothers who warned about the evils of atomic weaponry and of man’s depleting of the earth’s natural resources (metals in particular). As a metaphysical crusader, following the etherians’ instructions, he later constructed the Integratron (without using any metal it should be noted) as an energy condenser for both cellular rejuvenation and an acoustically-perfect meditation chamber whereby one is able to tune into the “omni-beam” and telepathically converse with benign otherworldly entities (such as Knut!). Any questions?
On the days that I was invited to hear the progress being made on the new songs, at times there seemed to be a lot of tension in the room. This disquiet was sometimes broken by Maynard joking around in his makeshift vocal booth (Pretending that he was munching on potato chips during the off beats being a real crowd pleaser). Yet on other days, the band really seemed to be enjoying the process, even firing up the old Weber grill outside during lunch breaks. During the writing of what would be the “10,000 Days” album, there also seemed to be better bottles of red wine at the loft, although some of those bequeathed by whomever contained messages written in silver ink advising the recipient, “Don’t share this with your idiot friends!” That’s okay, THEY had their own… Oh No! – There’s only one bottle of Bud left in the Pepsi cooler!
“Wings” was taking a long time to complete (its working title at the time was “Lost Keys” – having nothing to do with Albert Hofmann or LSD bummers – but with the rather more mundane circumstances involving Justin misplacing his car keys), partly because, after initially feeling that it was finished, one of the band members thought it could still be better. Therefore, the guys spent nearly a month trying out different parts until it was finally decided that the song was better as it had originally been written (with the dissident justifying the additional time spent by saying that at least now we KNOW that it couldn’t be improved upon). Ah, to be so passionate about something! (Note: With the level of success that Tool had already achieved, many bands have the tendency to get complacent. I wondered at the time if the members of Tool would be just as enthusiastic when writing their next record, or would they be content to just go through the motions and quickly churn out something of a more banal nature?) Owing to the complexity of the arrangement, in what must have seemed to be a highly challenging “What am I supposed to do with this?” scenario, I believe that the vocals to “Wings” exceeded any band member’s highest expectations. It is worth considering that the extra time spent in an attempt to make changes might have been partly responsible for this? As for the other songs, I still can’t help but wonder if some mischievous action on my part – that of making certain alterations to the song notations and mnemonic triggers on the band’s Dry-Erase board during one night’s festivities might have had something to do with a particular arrangement on “10,000 Days?” Probably not, but you never know…
The loft was now going through many changes. Colorful Malevich and Lissitzky murals flaked away, scattering like dust on a carpet spotted brown from the suds of numerous midnight gatherings. Air-conditioning cooled a large mixing console that once belonged to Rick ‘Super Freak’ James (which Volto! recently used for their soon to be released recording). Around this a state-of-the-art recording studio was built. The vintage arcade game and foos-ball table were cleared out to make way for several large modular synthesizer cabinets, along with other analogue toys dimly flickering but still full of lots of oomph. And with all these changes, the rusty, yet venerable Pepsi cooler remained in place, rumbling away as it kept beers properly chilled. And because it continued to do so, a security system was installed that would make a junkyard dog frown.
Although I had many good times at the loft – one party that I missed was the shooting of the Pigmy Love Circus video for “Drug Run To Fontana.” I’m not sure about some of the props, but the strippers (exotic dancers, rather) were real – probably procured by John Ziegler who, before PLC, Volto!, and Bubbatron, supplemented his guitar teaching income by working as a DJ in some of the city’s finer gentlemen’s clubs. Yep, had I only been in town…
In the first part of this series, I mentioned that every Tool recording was written and arranged at the band’s storied loft. Well, about a month ago I heard it mentioned that the guys were thinking about possibly packing up the gear and going to some isolated location in order to finish writing the next album. As of now, this hasn’t happened, and hopefully they will get the job done in the same place as they’ve done so for all these years. It was probably a good sign then, when Danny recently took on the bi-yearly cleaning of the Pepsi cooler in order to remove the greenish-brown sludge at the bottom. It is likewise a good sign that while in the process he scooped some of the viscous slime into a Styrofoam container and heated it in the microwave before offering it to Adam (or Justin?) as some leftover Thai soup. Needless to say, when he got a whiff of the foul stuff, he almost – I said almost – puked. Now, that’s what I call harmony!
Not wishing to be a distraction, I haven’t dropped by to hear any of the new material yet. However, while at the loft the other night, Danny pointed to the Dry-Erase board and said, “There’s our newest song… No, that one’s finished.” Having pointed to another board on the other side of the room, he corrected himself, “That’s the new one!” Looking at the magic-marker scrawls, the only thing that I could make out that was somewhat helpful in determining the precise nature of the arrangement were the words: NOSE BLEED RIFFS. Now, that should give you a better idea of what’s to come…
Before concluding, I’ve decided to share with you one of my favorite stories that occurred at the loft. This involved a historical collectable (an example of rare exonumia “from the realm of Alabama”) that someone had given to Danny, knowing that he collected weird shit, especially if it was something really unique. About an hour after receiving it, for whatever reason, Danny’s (then) wife showed up. Upon seeing the numismatic curio lying on the couch – highly offended by its intended purpose and symbolic nature – she grabbed the silver dollar sized award token and rushed out of the building. I later learned that she had jumped on her motorcycle and tossed the thing into a dumpster somewhere in Hollywood on her way home. When Danny found out about this later that night, he was understandably pissed. When she wouldn’t reveal the location of the dumpster, he told her that he was going to find it even if he had to search through every dumpster in the city. Moments later he took off on his own motorcycle. Returning the next morning – looking like he’d been up all night (which he had) - Danny opened his palm and showed her the numismatic treasure that he said he’d found after going through several dumpsters. Staring at it with disbelief, she was astonished that he’d managed to retrieve it. How was this possible! Well, what she didn’t know was that the person who had given Danny the historical collectable in the first place, didn’t give him just one… but two identical pieces…