Derek Lamar Meets Johnny Forever
by Dr. Derek Lamar
We finally made our decision and left the safe confines of the quiet beach town of Santa Monica and moved to Hollywood. A friend of Nancy's and mine from Santa Monica moved to Hollywood about six months earlier and was working as a waitress at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. I love Canter’s. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water: bagels, cream cheese, chopped liver, pastrami sandwiches with great French fries, open 24 hours, Jewish, the clank and crash of dishes, and anyone who was someone had eaten there.
(Above: Los Angeles skyline. Left: Canters Deli/Restaurant. Below right: Pink's Hotdogs on La Brea.)
Our friend Mary helped us find an apartment. It was on Sycamore East of La Brea where we could almost see Pink’s Hot Dog stand. Pink’s has a long list of customers including Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Bill Cosby, Henry Winkler, Celine Dion, Rosie O’Donnell, Martha Stewart, Ellen Degenares, Kirk Douglas, Mike Ditka…. the list goes on.
The odd thing was that the school we had gone to had been on La Brea near Pinks. Nancy came all the way from New York to take classes and I was in Hollywood. She arrived in September of 1971 having met Thane about a year before at a lecture in New York City. Now here we were together in California’s version of New York in 1977. I was hoping to be a rock and roll star and Nancy was hoping we could pay the rent. I had already composed a little over 100 songs and yet was not ready to step in that spotlight.
(Left: The famous Hollywood sign: originally a land development promotion and read "Hollywoodland".)
Nancy was working for a public relations company in the San Fernando Valley and I was temporarily out of work. I had been the assistant manager of three apartment complexes in Santa Monica and the crazed elderly lady who was the manager wanted me to be her adopted son. She was already so much like my own mother I could hardly breathe. The difference was my mother and I seldom saw each other and Ruth lived upstairs from me. I worked six days a week, had to take her dog out when Ruth was sick and basically suffered the continual reminder that I was a man-child almost living at home with a surrogate parent. I never really accepted responsibility for her as a manifestation of my unresolved issues with my mother until later. She had a son who years earlier refused to communicate with her that oddly had the same initials as myself: D.L. Just a nice Cosmic touch I guess. Well, even fate makes its apologies and I was set free after she fired me a second time.
The apartment we found seemed great at first. A two bedroom, 2 bath with a patio. But we were soon to find out that the walls were paper-thin squeaky floors like you wouldn’t believe. We had just gotten a mixed Siamese kitten and even when she walked you could hear the floor squeak. The retired lady upstairs was always at home. She would stomp on the floor almost anytime I would sing and play my guitar as I rehearsed or wrote songs. It was so reassuring to again have a crazy lady living above me. We wanted out so badly we didn’t bother to buy a refrigerator or a stove. We had an electric skillet and a water cooler with a small built-in refrigerator that held some milk and a sandwich or two. I only wrote one song the whole time we were there but I started a lot. I finished them as soon as we moved to our next apartment: after our one year lease was up.
(Above right: The Coasters performed at The Copa some of their hits, such as: Youngblood, Searchin', Yakety Yak, Along Came Jones, Charlie Brown and of course Poison Ivy.)
But we made the best of the longest year of our lives. A lot of time spent going to bookstores and eating at McDonald’s. Three months later I was reading Billboard magazine, pretending I was a real rock and roll star, and I ran across an article on bootleg Beatle records. A man named Jimmie Madden had been indicted for distributing them. I knew Jimmie back during my Teen Screen days. He had played saxophone with a group called The Champs and owned a club called the Copa in Glendale. I gave him a call and he invited us to his club one night to see The Coasters. Jimmie also had a mail order business and that is how I knew him from Teen Screen. He sold Beatle, Elvis, and various types of memorabilia. We renewed our friendship and I began doing graphics advertising work for him. It didn’t pay a lot but it kept us going.
Though the year was long a lot happened: Nancy dislocated her knee in our move, I had to go to the labor board because of “disagreements”, met with Barbara Kimmelman, marketing and media person and friend of Helen Reddy, who listened to my then project: a musical biography of The Beatles called “A Cellarful of Noise”, went to the ballet to see Mikhail Baryshnikov at the Music Center, vacationed with friends at Running Springs, read Christian Science by Mark Twain and other books, drove around the L.A. area photographing Frank Lloyd Wright houses, got word that Ruth was no longer managing “The Zoo”, those apartment buildings in Santa Monica, and finally we would be moving.
(Above: Helen Reddy of "I Am Woman" fame, Mikhail Baryshnikov, ballet dancer, and something even more moving at that time, the U-Haul truck getting us from here to there.)
We found a one bedroom apartment almost at the top of the hill high aboveSunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. It was on Horn Avenue and was graced by Tower Records and the Kavkaz Russian restaurant at Sunset. Kavkaz would soon become Spago’s doubling the traffic and the excitement. One evening while going for a walk I embarrassed Nancy by yelling “da plane, da plane” as Herve Villechaize was getting out of a limo with a 6’ blonde at his side. It was a busy neighborhood full of notables. Connie Chung, still doing local news lived there on Shoreham Drive, a side street along with David Niven, Jr., and Ed Begley Jr. Our building was right across the street from Shoreham Towers: the location where Art Linkletter’s daughter took acid and jumped off a balcony to her death. That same building stands where Humphrey Bogart once had a house. As it turns out we were probably about a half a mile from Blue Jay Way as the crow flies. We were also about the same distance from my old house across the street from Ray Manzarek in one direction and equal distance in the opposite direction as Jim Morrison’s old house in Laurel Canyon on Kirkwood. The area was ripe with energy and yet the noise of the Sunset Strip never made it up the hill except for a siren or two.
(Above left: poster from the film, Sunset Boulevard as we get ready for our close-up with life, Above right: the famous Tower Records on the Strip, Lower left: Spagos as seen from Sunset and Lower right: Herve Villechaize of Fantasy Island fame standing without the tall blonde.)
Two weeks after moving into our new home, Ruth, my former boss and manager of those apartment buildings, killed herself. She hadn’t been manager for about a month. That and the pain of her osteoporosis clinched the deal. She downed a bottle of Codeine and “she turned her face to the wall”, as my mentor Betty Cuff told me at the time. It was the end of an era and my life seemed somewhat removed from that. It was all very anticlimactic.
My music was bursting in our new location. All those bits and pieces of songs were finally coming together and forming a collection of potential hits. It was an exciting place in exciting times. But still, there was a lull in the market and music was just beginning to recover from Disco. The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Kool and the Gang, KC and the Sunshine Band, and of course, The Village People were reminders of the pounding glittering episode of commercial hysteria. The only evidence of something new seemed to be Cheap Trick. Punk had already had its hey-day and had sunk to a small cult following but its energy still pulsated in the undercurrent of rock history. Out of this vibration and Elvis Costello emerged Nick Lowe with “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass.” Two days after buying Nick’s LP I started finishing those half-written songs with a renewed sense of musical hope.
(Above left: Saturday Night Fever as Travolta dances to the end of an era, Above right: West Hollywood... shattered glass and broken dreams.)
I had a visit from Joan Bryan of underground newspaper Open City days along with her daughter Shauna and son Jason. We talked about old times, my music and my time in a Fourth Way School. Shortly after her visit a friend of hers in San Francisco contacted me. His name was Carl Carlyle. We hit it off right from the start. He was a singer and a composer. He played us some of his tapes and we were quite impressed. He was working on a rock opera at the time with songs like: “Propaganda” and “Youth Drug (Johnny Johnny GH3)”. His band, not yet formed, would be known as “Johnny Forever and The Tweenagers”. He was into “Immortalist Rock” which was “beTWEEN birth and death” and based on genetic engineering.
“Johnny” quickly formed a band with three guys: Tony, Tim and Ron. They were an ethnic blend of Italian, Irish and Jewish with Johnny being an odd mixture of Italian and German just for angst. New Wave music was full blown by now and Blondie, Police, The Cars, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Boomtown Rats, Joe Jackson, Talking Heads, and the B-52’s brought about a “back to the basics” rock movement which invigorated musicians like myself and Carl. Both of us began feverishly composing music and exchanging ideas. It was far more the need to share than being competitive. This was back when the expression, “cutting edge”, really meant something and you could feel what it was like back in the “old days” when Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground hit the scene and divided the 60’s into two camps: love and flowers and leather and chains. You could say it was the extremes of teenage rebellion and sexual tension.
Check out Johnny Forever on YouTube
(Above left to right: Johnny Forever and the Tweenagers are out there. Johnny "...had to fight for the microphone", a punk rock takeover reminiscent of the Beer Hall Putsch of Nazi Germany in 1923. Finally, my guitar of choice at the time, a black and white Rickenbacker. Below: A poster from the film "Things To Come" reflects Johnny's "Tomorrow's Nostalgia" as I keep my "...Finger On The Trigger." Everything at the time was depicted as rough and abrasive to contrast the "flower power" of the 60's during this transition between Punk and New Wave Rock.)
Saga continues: Where Do You Meet These People?
© Copyright Derek Lamar 2006
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