A few weeks ago, I decided to pull my face away from my desk and take a break from writing. My wife had arranged to drive in to the Los Angeles County Fair. Never having been, it seemed like a good time to go. After hastily grabbing gear and packing up the car, we all got up early Saturday morning and barreled in toward the Fair Grounds located in
Pomona to make a long day of
First point to make is that anyone that knows anything about
Los Angeles, knows that Pomona
isn’t really in Los Angeles.
While it is in , so is a certain
portion of the Moon. The only thing that ever grew legs and got the hell out of
County Pomona was Tom
Waits, and his struggle was as arduous and fraught with failure as man crawling
from the primordial ooze. Pomona is really the
arm-pit of Los Angeles County
and having the County Fair their just struck me as a bad omen. This was a point I kept
making during the entire drive in.
My wife quietly sat listening as I pushed hard on the gas pedal and let me talk as she usually does. She’s said many times that I definitely deserve my own radio show on NPR or I could double as a living audiobook. I never shut up, and I’m always pulling out some strange forgotten tale.
Most of my conversation, non-Pomona, was centered around my current book which is set in
in 1993. Still no title. I decided to bring up a subject which she really
doesn’t like talking about: Dr. Zhivago, The Doors and Jim Morrison. The night
before I had re-watched Doctor Zhivago for about the hundredth and
seventy-fifth time and I was headlong in admitting the following five truths:
1. As I’ve aged, I look upon Dr. Zhivago with a different set of eyes than I did when I was much younger.
2. I used to see the film as a fever-pitch romance, where the main character Yuri Andreavich Zhivago would go to the ends of the earth to be with his one true love.
3. However, I had realized everything I thought about the film was short-sighted.
4. Yuri was a coward who abandoned his family during the time of war, while his wife was pregnant, just to be with another woman so he could indulge in personal escapism. This is pointed out several times in the film by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
5. Every time he had his so-called love of his life in his arms, Lara, he quietly stepped aside and let Komarovsky (Rod Steiger) run off with her to carry on with his sordid and ensemened May-December relationship. Just gross. So lame.
My wife has little patience for womanizers who try to romance their way through life, charming the pink panties off girls like continuous, pounding waves against a beach. She gets irate anytime she hears me playing the Doors, and will turn the radio off the moment she hears Morrison’s voice. She forbids me from watching Zhivago if she’s home as she says "even the theme song is sickening to hear even from across the house."
While messing with the cruise control, sipping coffee and glancing at the windmills slip past next to the freeway, we spoke about Jim Morrison for about thirty minutes. I did my best to extol his virtues with his contribution to poetry and rejection of commercialism. She wasn’t having any of it. She said he only wanted to abuse himself, live in selfish excess and likely had little respect for Pamela Courson, his long-time girlfriend, who had apparently later been driven to suicide by his own passing. Both he and Zhivago were “asshole men” and “intolerable scoundrels.”
I told her about 1993 and how I had come home to
Alaska from the Marine
Corps and the Persian Gulf War and was trying to adjust back to real life and
was making a real fucking hash of it. It was during this period that I had
listened to a lot of the Doors music and had found a certain piece of my own
identity in Morrison and his poetry. The endless feelings of isolation,
loneliness and world weary cynicism. To me, he read like some long lost family
member who was writing me letters that had taken twenty years to reach me.
One story I recounted, in particular, was about a band called Wild Child. A Doors cover band that I had seen perform at the Summer Solstice street party in downtown
Anchorage. The show was
hosted by a local strip club / saloon called Chilkoot Charlie’s, which was more
of a commercialized, low-end, tourist trap, shit-hole than it was an
Alaskan bar or whatever it was supposed to be. It was the place where shitbirds
like Komarovsky from Zhivago might’ve dragged Lara to for another abusive
session of ungratifying sex. I avoided the place like the plague. At the time I
was working as a bartender, but never once thought about applying. I actually worked at a place called The Gaslight on the other side of town.
Out on the street in the middle of the day, listening to Wild Child, I was immediately blown away and hypnotized as not only did they sound exactly like the Doors, but the lead-singer looked like a young, fit, vital and vibrant version of Morrison, sans beard. It was uncanny. His singing was impressive to boot.
Like an idiot who had imbibed on too much beer and was likely a little stoney that day, to use the parlance of our time, I danced to the music in the street like everyone else enjoying themselves, but in between songs screamed out requests, also like everyone else. Unfortunately, my voice was a little louder than most, and I kept screaming out the same damn thing:
“Play Rock Is Dead! Play Rock Is Dead”
I did this over and over until the front man, Dave Brock, saw me and told me take it easy. I talked about writing this story somehow into the book and what an integral part of the book the Doors were to my story and that period of my life. Greyhound focused on Hall and Oates, and
centers on U2. It only makes sense that I root this book in something equally
powerful. Fugue State
During the early 1990’s, the Doors were enjoying a resurgence within the culture due to Oliver Stone’s film which immortalized Morrison forever in the public eye and reignited his passion like the phoenix he was. The band was definitely his holy tree. Dave Brock and his band Wild Child seem to come along at just the right time. I had mentioned to the missus that I had seen them a few years later, once after I had moved to Los Angeles in Santa Monica, and then couldn’t resist seeing them perform again, around 1997-1998 at the Whiskey on Sunset. My life had gone full circle. My experience with the Doors was meaningful and complete.
Through the years, I had talked excitedly about Dave Brock, Wild Child and having seen the live show. I likely spread the word to a few hundred people. Most of them always went to see them out of curiosity and were never disappointed. The interesting part of the equation is understanding that where Jim Morrison walked away from what he had built, Dave Brock picked it up while walking across some of the same ground and really made it his own. Brock would spend the next twenty years rebuilding something equivalent to the pyramids of
partly by himself and partly with his friends who had an equal interest. Let’s
be clear, most people that engage in cover-bands are base hanger-ons, but Dave
Brock and Wild Child are on an entirely different level.Cover bands often create a certain amount of eye-rolling, but here, you'll find none of that.
When we got the fairgrounds, we spent the day on the rides, eating some really good food and after a few moments of panic, from yours truly, regarding taking the chair lift across the park, which I shouldn’t have, I decided to have a beer and buy a straw fedora for my head which was slowly roasting in the afternoon heat. The best and most surprising aspect of the fair, was that strangely, even for a Saturday, hardly anyone was there. The early afternoon and pre-dinner-time rush was negligible and getting on the rides was no sweat -- and eating wasn’t like trying to cash a check in
queues. It was quite nice. If you’ve never been, I recommend going. It puts
most County Fairs to shame. For a temporary set up, I was surprised.
It wasn’t until around 7:15pm when I was standing under the Ferris Wheel drinking a yard glass of ice cold Modelo beer that I heard something vaguely familiar off in the distance. At first, I thought I was just a bit buzzed and hallucinating. As I cocked my head to the West, I realized I wasn’t.
About 100 yards off, behind some carnival games, obscured, I could hear live music. I could hear the Doors. I knew right away that it had to be Wild Child. I thought the Universe was surely trying to intimidate me or play chess with me once again. I swore out loud, something I rarely do and my wife looked over at me and frowned.
“Lemme guess, you’re going to go listen to that music, aren’t you?” She asked, kind of defeated, but giving in at the same time. Marriage is like that, by the way.
“Yeah, give me twenty minutes or so. Okay?” I asked.
Next thing you know, I was standing in the back row, and sure enough Dave Brock was up on stage – and honestly – it looked as if he hadn’t aged a single day since the last time I had seen him. It was both uncanny, and shocking. They were in the middle of Five to One and then led into Whiskey Bar. It was rousing and everyone was having an incredibly good time. The crowd was packed thick, mesmerized and everyone had an ear to ear smile. There’s just something indescribable about hearing the Doors music live. This was really the best way to do that in this modern age.
Awhile later, they had an intermission and broke for bit. The crowd dispersed and I happened to see Dave Brock standing over in the back by a table that was selling CD’s with his wife and kid. I had read every article regarding him and Wild Child that had crossed my daily reading through the years, and every one of them described Brock as a very down to earth family man with little to no pretense and genuinely warm and a very sincere guy. I had to take a chance and have a chat.
If you’re someone who reads my blog posts, you’ll know of the few times I’ve had the opportunity of conversing with a few celebrities or ‘persons of public interest.’ I wandered over, bought a CD and introduced myself. He was very casual and even seemed happy to see me. I told him the whole story about
Alaska – and he recollected
that concert clearly and told me a few stories of his own about Alaska and we both
laughed about some of the silliness regarding Chilkoot Charlie’s. It was
honestly surreal. Nervous, I swore a few times -- and immediately realized I
probably shouldn’t have, as I could sense I was coming off like a nervous ass.
It was too much, but I often blow it at the most important moments as it is.
I’m used to me by now, so I just went with it.
After a long chat, he shook my hand and broke away. He had to get back up on stage and the whole time, he spoke to me as if I was a long lost friend or someone who mattered. I thought my Doors experience was complete and it actually was. I was now a fan of Dave Brock and my understanding of the Doors, the music and hearing this music had progressed into something else. My only regret was not asking for a photo together. He did sign the CD I bought, but I wasn’t thinking clearly and dropped the ball.
A few days later, driving across the desert floor, listening to Wild Child, the misses was upset and said:
“I don’t want to hear the Doors, Steffan! Turn it off.”
“It’s actually not the Doors. It’s Wild Child, and it’s quite different. Dave Brock, the lead singer, is actually a really good guy and has a wife and kid. So maybe know you can actually redefine how you feel about this music if you give it a chance.”
“It’s the same music. It sounds the same.”
“No, it’s not. It sounds better. Just being honest. Quietly, we both listened to his live version of ‘Not To Touch The Earth.’ Maybe I'd finally made some headway.
Dave Brock is currently touring the East Coast of the United States and Europe with the original members of the Doors: Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore. Manzarek and most of the press has stated that of all the singers that have been in the band since Jim Morrison's death, Dave Brock far outstrips them all with just sheer talent and serious commitment. If you can go see them -- do so.
Steffan Piper is the author of several novels including Greyhound, Yellow Fever and Fugue State. He was once kicked out of Nome, Alaska due to a minor misunderstanding. He has a blog, a Facebook page, a favorite film and lives in Palm Desert, CA. Currently hiring for an experienced get-away driver.
And for the record ... Pomona isn't really that bad of a place to hang out.