I used to sit on the steps of St. Peter’s Fireside Church on Robson St. during my down days while filming in Vancouver and read. There was a Chapters bookstore on the opposite corner and I used to love going in there, taking the escalator to the second floor and trying to read as many names as I could that graced the wall on the way up to see if I knew any of them. Dozens of great Canadians authors and actors most of who
m I didn’t recognize (although I believe I saw Chester Brown’s name but I only knew of him tangentially and I believe I am including his name here to drop someone that makes me sound smart). And I would usually spend some time in there, buy a book to read on those steps, take in the street performers and somehow feel reconnected to my younger days when I did the same in Washington Square Park at NYU.
It’s how I was originally introduced to Chuck Klosterman (Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs & Fargo Rock City, seminal Gen X reading) and Simulacra & Simulacrum (made famous by the Wachowski brothers as a basis for The
Matrix and a book that spent 3 years on the back of our bathroom toilet and never once cracked open) and this odd curio that I devoured called Sonic Cool: The Life and Death of Rock and Roll.
While it tried to be a condensation of all things rock into neat synopses, much of it disappeared into ephemera for me, stuff I already knew or that the author kind of got wrong or sort of right but not quite exactly. But Harrington kept mentioning a few bands that he seemed to love that no one else knew and one of those was a band from Sweden called The Hellacopters. Garage rock heirs to Radio Birdman with one foot mired in classic rock and the other in Kiss, from the ashes of the speed metal band, Entom
bed, The Hellacopters were, besides having the coolest rock n’ roll band name ever, a kick ass return to Rawk! if I ever heard it.
Harrington would name drop The ‘Copters so often that it was a no brainer that I would look them up at my next trip to Amoeba and that’s where I found their CD “Supershitty to the Max”, a compilation that was mostly from their early days when they were more of a “punk” band than what they would transform into. But more important to me was the guilt they tapped into when I read the liner notes.
“Ever got the feelin’ you’ve been cheated?” was the title of the screed on the back of the CD cover. Written in 1995 by Jan Julia of Your Own Jailer Records, the title was a lift of what Johnny Rotten yelled out at the crowd in the infamous last Sex Pistols concert at the Winterland Theater 1978.
The essay was an assault on CDs and the purchasers thereof. I’ve included a shot of it here so I don’t have to rewrite it or even
paraphrase because I won’t be able to do it justice and it’s pretty relentless. (Also I don’t seem to be able to locate it anywhere, Google is not my friend)
In short: If you love music and you bought said music on CD you are actually a bad person who hates music.
To me this was a challenge. Ok. Hellacopters, put your money where you mouth is. Or my money, actually.
The Hellacopters’ High Visibility was the first new music I purchased on Vinyl with the record player Beth bought me for my birthday. From the opening acoustic guitar intro by “Strings” Dhalquist which exploded into assured classic rock (I think there’s a cow bell in there) through the super-taught bass/drum break of Baby Borderline to the R&B infused “Toys & Flavors” and easy, laid back rock of “No Song Unheard” all the way to the two guitar attack, piano fueled closer, “Envious”, High Visibility
was a revelation in a sea of Boy Bands and Girl Pop of the early aughts. I didn’t know anyone was making music like this anymore.
And I would talk about it to no end. I burned a copy for my friend and band’s producer Robbie (and yes, I recognize the irony of that action but, hell, mix tapes are okay, right?). I wrote emails about the band to old friends who also thought rock was dead. I brought it up to anyone I could.
“You mean this?” my apartment neighbor, Shanti, said as he pulled out the same album from his collection that ran the gamut from Django Reinhardt to, well, The Hellacopters. I was stunned. I guess I wasn’t the only person who knew that rock wasn’t dead.
Shanti was perhaps the kindest person I knew in that apartment complex. It was called “Haven Villa” and it was where I landed after my divorce and short stay in North Hollywood. After 8 years at sea
as a rancher, step dad, loner, accused criminal it took me that long to get back to that side of the hill. A journey that found me 60+ miles north in the High Desert finally found my way back to where I wished I never left.
I almost didn’t get there. My potential roommate decided at the last minute that he didn’t want to move, it was Christmas time, no landlords or managers were home to show me any units. I looked at 5 one night and resigned that I would probably be stuck in that crappy nondescript place living next to the sixty something Russian couple whose bedroom was adjacent to mine but instead of the music of focused lovemaking the sounds that filtered through my wall were more like a slavic Archie and Edith only with more eastern European contempt and to be honest, I wasn’t sure who was Archie and who was Edith by the time I moved out.
In an effort to avoid the traffic build up on Fountain that Friday night I made a left turn on to a street called Havenhurst and stopped short in front of the very first building on my right. An apartment complex called “Haven Vil
la”, the sign out front said “vacancy”. I called. The managers were home and offered to show it to me on the spot.
A cozy first floor unit with a kitchen out of 1955, the back door opened to the courtyard where residents were sitting by the gated pool, smoking, laughing. Playing guitar. This was very different from the place I was living in. The design wasn’t dissimilar but the vibe was different.
These people were happy.
I went back to the managers’ home, sat in their kitchen and explained where I came from. Who I was. Why I was a father living alone and almost never seeing his kid. I never mentioned Liz’s condition because I didn’t want to trade off on her illness. I did that once to get out of a speeding ticket and, while the cop let me go, it felt awful getting away with that because of her and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to get an apartment that way.
“How often will your daughter be with you?” the wife asked.
“Not much. Every other weekend.”
“How old is she?” Jack, the husband asked. “Where does she live?” “Why did you get a divorce?”
Before I could answer the last his wife stopped him. Pulled him aside and they came back and said, “We like you. We promised the place to someone else but we are going to tell him no. But, no parties!”
Haven Villa saved my life. It was Shanti’s friend, Ramtine, in the apartment on the other side of the courtyard that encour
aged me to start a band. Shanti gave me basic guitar lessons. Their friend, Andre, was Throttle Back Sparky’s drummer for a minute and a half.
The people who populated this complex knew they had a good thing. The rents were way below market value and everyone knew each other, looked out for each other, laughed with each other. Our little corner of West Hollywood had shitty parking but great people who loved each other.
And to the constant anger of my upstairs neighbor, I would blast The Hellacopters so I could hear it from the back patio as I smoked myself blind and contemplated my next move.