NIGHT PEOPLE Excerpts
Excerpts from NIGHT PEOPLE, Book 1
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA 1967
There were two reasons why I felt like a clown after our eleven o’clock set at Gazzarri’s. From one perspective, this felt like a sad little club where a bunch of loser bands played one right after another. The place was hypocritical and mean-spirited, taking advantage of struggling musicians and the doped-up high-school drop-outs who came to see them alike. Here we were, clothed in our suits and ties and Las Vegas attitude, as out of place as a swing band. We must have looked like insurance salesmen to these people in bandana headbands, torn jeans, and rainbow tee shirts. We were as out of place as Tony Bennett opening at a Rolling Stones concert. I was embarrassed for us, and didn’t think we deserved to feel that way about ourselves.
On the other hand, someone there had called us a “cover band.” Though I don’t think the comment was meant to be derogatory, only descriptive, I was embarrassed. We didn’t have any of our own songs to play, not even an original arrangement. We played the music we loved listening to, priding ourselves on sounding like the people who’d recorded the songs because we respected and honored them. For the first time, I considered the concept of us as cheaters, copying other artists’ hits to make our own living, unwilling or unable to risk our own musical creations to an audience. For the tiniest of moments, I questioned our musical spirit.
These two dissonant viewpoints seemed to focus my attention on how far we’d drifted from the fabulous dreams the Reflections had gotten a taste of back in Indiana, an uneasiness that we were somehow losing our way. The perception stayed with me the next day like a bad stomachache.
When Dave and I got into the car to drive to Gazzarri’s, the lights along Sunset tripped a rush of emotion in me. I made a sudden U-turn back to Highland and turned toward Hollywood Boulevard. I was surprised Dave hadn’t said a thing. I pulled to the curb in front of a pizza place and idled the car. We sat in companionable, if somber, silence for a minute.
“Can’t go in that place tonight, Dave.” I stared at my hands on the steering wheel. “I just can’t deal with it. I don’t know if I can even explain why, but I can’t go there tonight.” I stuttered in my intensity.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice plaintive. “I know. Do you want to get a pizza?”
“That’s exactly what I want to do.” We used some of the cash we’d gotten from Gazzarri’s, where they paid us each night, five twenty-dollar bills we split six ways. We took our pizza and soft drinks up to Mulholland Drive on the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, where a carpet of lights spread out over Hollywood and off to the ocean to the southwest. The muted rumble of the great engine driving this mammoth city, unnoticeable down below, reached us up here. By the time we’d parked, it was eight o’clock and we should have been on stage with our band brothers. We hadn’t even warned them, but then we hadn’t known we’d crack.
We shared pizza out of the box and drank our Cokes, watching the night deepen and the cloud cover roll in until the lights below were more like a blanket of stars fallen to earth. It was quiet, and I felt drained and empty. I pulled out a couple of tightly rolled joints, thanks again to Trish’s generosity, and handed one to Dave.
We smoked until I’d distanced myself enough to try and sort out what was bugging me. I sighed. “What are we doing, man?”
“I’m eating pizza.”
I tried to make sense of my confusion. I began talking in a stream of consciousness, not knowing what would come out.
“I feel like we’re doing something wrong, but I don’t know what. I feel like it should be obvious to me, but I still don’t know what it is. It’s like, well you know, the place behind your eyes, in back of you, the place you never see because whenever you turn your head, it’s always behind you. Well, I think it’s like that. I mean whatever’s wrong is right here with us, but I can’t see it, even when I turn to look for it. Figuratively speaking, of course.”
“Uh-huh.” Dave opened the pizza box and tilted out another pepperoni and sausage slice.
“What are we doing in Las Vegas, Dave? I mean, for real? We were so excited about recording in Indianapolis and . . . I don’t know. I mean we’re doing fantastic, of course, well not right at the moment, but I miss just singing. I miss singing our own vocal arrangements. Like when we played around with and came up with our own version. That was fun and exhilarating, Chuck Tunnah just riffing on a bass line, me and Perry playing with the harmony and then you throwing the melody on top . . . Even when we rushed to make sound like a Four Seasons song, so we could get it released right away. I loved that.
“I just wish we were writing and singing our own music.” I thought about that for a moment. “I hate that nightclub down there, you know, I despise the place, the whole cheesy pretend-artsy kind of atmosphere.”
THE COLONIAL HOUSE
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA 1967
“I want so bad to tell you something but I’m so afraid you’ll be angry or disappointed, even though there isn’t any reason to be. I can’t stand the idea of you being mad with me.” She is so cute, I thought, but I could tell she was serious. I smiled. I had to admit to being glad she cared about what I thought.
“Kathy, I don’t own you. I’m not going to be disappointed no matter what you tell me.”
She got off the bed and turned partly away from me, smoothing out her dress.
“I had to go out to meet a man tonight.” She glanced over at me and my open mouth.”I know him, and it wasn’t to have sex or anything. Nothing like that. But he does give me money.” I closed my open mouth and tried to give her a brave smile.
“Now stop it, Larry. You said you wouldn’t be disappointed. I can tell you’re not going to be angry, but you are also not allowed to look like a kicked dog. I would’ve much rather been here with you, but I’d given my word. Plus he gave me a thousand dollars.” This time, I was unable to get my mouth closed.
“Not to get sidetracked. And, believe me, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but I can’t help but be curious. Why did the man give you all that money?”
She went to her purse and fanned out a bunch of one-hundred-dollar bills.
“He gives it to me for going out to dinner with him and his friends. He’s an Arabian prince, and his religion doesn’t let him have sex with infidels. That being me. Usually it’s just dinner, but tonight he and his friends decided to go see Shecky Green at the Riv, and he wanted me to go. I could have come back here to you after dinner, I guess, but gee, I mean,a thousand dollars.”
“Right, right.” An Arabian prince. “Well, I’m glad you’re an infidel. I’ve been considering infidelity myself. Just been waiting for the right opportunity.”
“I didn’t used to be an infidel, but there are these pills that can help.” She nodded cheerfully. We were back on more comfortable ground.
“But you’re not a hooker though, right? Because technically, if you don’t have sex with people for money, I don’t think that’s a hooker. You’re being sort of, I don’t know what exactly? Maybe an escort?”
She thought about it. “Well, maybe,” she said as a small frown line appeared just above and between her eyes. “But I think escorts tend to have sex for money, too, only I don’t think you have to unless you’re okay with it.”
She sat on the side of the bed. “It could be that’s what I am, an escort, I’m not sure. I came to Las Vegas looking for something and I haven’t figured out what. I kinda sorta fell into this, and though I don’t know where you apply for this exact position of dinner partner at a thousand bucks a night, if this keeps up, I’m likely to stick with it.”
North Hollywood, April 1967
Nothing compared to sitting behind my Hammond B3, starting the motor and feeling it purr to life like a giant, breathing creature. The power of the organ came from the sound produced by the draw bars, or the stops. Ever hear of “pulling out all the stops”? The harmonics and beefy volume depended upon these sliding levers.
The B3 sounded so cool it made me seem like a far better player than I was; even a mistake could sound pretty damn good. Spin up the vibrato from the Leslie horns’ in their separate six-foot high cabinets, the other half of the B3 sound, or slow them down, and the lazy Doppler effect on the notes made them sound so damned sexy no matter what I played. With the drawbars set to a hard edge, I added rhythm to the drums and bass when Les took off on a solo, or I could adjust them to fill out the vocal harmonies with rich organ chords. I never became an accomplished soloist or gained much independence with my left hand, but I’d achieved a meaningful role in the musicianship of the band by owning the right instrument.