Rock The Cemetery
by Dr. Derek Lamar
Punk Rock/New Wave music was a music explosion for sure. But its initial effect was more cerebral than simply fashion and ersatz POP CULTURE! The angst of any generation usually will find its way into the creative mediums. Since the 50’s, with its tame rebellion compared with the 60’s and subsequent generations of teen screams, music has become a focus of designated backlash. But there was much control behind the scenes from the “establishment” in the 60’s that saw a youth movement emerge at the behest of several rock icons. Groups with names like the Clash, the Dead Kennedys, the Sex Pistols, even Devo. In the 80’s the record companies seemed to slam the lid down hard and radio stations across the country started playing music by meek slick pop music machines instead of the angry young kids gaining strategic momentum.
Above right: Entrance to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Though it is thought of as a phenomenon that began in the U.K. in 1974-75 and often more as a fashion statement, it didn’t catch on in the United States until “New Wave” music evolved out of that initial onslaught of spiked hair and bobby pins. Groups like Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick, and Blondie in 1977 broke the New Wave ice but by 1978 with The Cars, and Nick Lowe’s “I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass”, the music industry and musicians everywhere were firmly entrenched in the beat that was pulsating through the veins of a new era. However, by 1979, along with The Knack banging out “My Sharona” (yeah, we all loved it... so what), and later to follow Adam Ant, Boy George and Flock of Seagulls, would bring a “nicer” package of pop culture which portended a less anti-establishment theme. Suddenly overnight it seemed that the radio stations which were finally locked into the great New Wave hits of the times were now playing this other marketable mellow music. A song that seemed to mark the changing of the guard was “Pop Muzik” by M. Some of the ironic lyrics were: “Radio, video, boogie with a suitcase. You’re living in a disco, forget about the rat race. Singing in the subway, shuffle with a shoe shine, fix me a Molotov, I’m on the headline, wanna be a gun slinger, don’t be a rock singer... pop, pop, pop, muzik.” The song seemed somewhat innocuous on the surface with its happy go lucky melody and Euro-rock electronic hypnotic muzak beat, beat, beat.
(Above left: Pop Muzik by "M" aka Robin Scott.)
But Carl Carlyle was still raging in the Punk Rock/New Wave as Johnny Forever and The Tweenagers tried to find the right niche to slip his musical point of view into. Carl had long been a public relations person. This proved to be a provocative asset. Shortly after we met he got a job doing PR work for Pizante and Gregg: a personal injury law firm in Beverly Hills. During this time there was a crazy television commercial showing a man that had been drinking and has a fight with his wife, gets in the car, and recklessly careens down the street while she is screaming “Don’t take that car, you’ll kill yourself!” Of course I had to write a song about it. Some of the lyrics were: “Don’t take that car, you’ll kill yourself... it wasn’t madness, it was a dream, a late night movie commercial for me, I couldn’t wake up to turn off the set, this woman kept on screaming nearly scared me to death… don’t take that car you’ll kill yourself...” It continued with “Another feature was bestowed on me, I found Godzilla on a Tokyo street, a pair of lawyers put the bar to shame, it was those personal injury claims, don’t take that car you’ll kill yourself... I was restless and Japan was in flames, every commercial would find me awake, between the monster and the heartbreak of booze, my living room became the 6 o’clock news.”
(Above left: drunk driver gets pulled over. Above right: Derek Lamar bangs out a song on his twelve string guitar.)
For a short time Johnny, (or Carl.. it was interchangeable back then), had a job working as an investigator for a company which was hired to check out the security of businesses for their owners. The agency was actually PAID to go into retail businesses and shoplift and write up a detailed report later to give the business owners a rundown on the weaknesses of their security. (I should have asked: “Where do you get these jobs?!?”) He said they almost never got caught. Later on, Johnny got hired as a public relations person for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and he worked with Johnny Grant and Bill Welch. Grant and Welch were Hollywood icons of the television community in Southern California going back to the 1960’s. All of this helped form the “on the edge” character of Johnny Forever who at this time decided that he and The Tweenagers should push the envelope a little bit more and have a concert in the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery. The cemetery had long been famous for the celebrities buried there and as fate would have it was located behind the back-lot of Paramount Pictures.
It was a crazy idea but it was Hollywood, so why not? Johnny Forever and The Tweenagers represented the idea of genetic engineering and “lmmortalist Rock”, so even though living forever might be bad for the mortuary businesses across the country, it didn’t look like it would be happening any time soon. Besides, any publicity in Hollywood was good publicity and the worst thing the concert could do, would be to raise the dead and that would, no doubt, have people standing at the front gate waiting to get in. It turns out that the owners of the cemetery at that time were having financial problems and even ended up going into bankruptcy. So... though a shock to me at the time... Hollywood Memorial Cemetery went for the idea. That week we all went to the cemetery and I took photos of the band in various poses amongst the gravestones, memorials, and mausoleums.
It was and still is a great cemetery to visit. Nancy and I took Johnny there for a walk one day and showed him Douglas Fairbanks’ grave which was huge with a coi pond about 50’ long. Also you could find Cecil B. DeMille, and Rudolf Valentino among others. So it had long been one of our many cemetery haunts. About half of the plots had appointed markers set into the ground but the rest were these grand old monuments which stood frozen in time and memoriam as testaments to lives no longer lived... yet their memories continued on. Forest Lawn was a famous cemetery in the Southland but it didn’t have the eclectic eccentricities of a “graveyard” like the Hollywood Cemetery that was filled with entertainment history of a by-gone era including many unknowns who lived and died a dream and were buried in the soil of their destiny. I remember one of the cemetery monuments we came across. It was about 8 feet tall and had a cement replica of a NASA missile as a tribute to the space program. On the plaque it stated that the man buried there was a pioneer in his field as well and contributed much to the graphics industry. On his side it read: “Retired by God” while his wife’s said: “Too bad, we had fun.”
(Above left: Hollywood Forever Cemetery entrance. Above right: Interior cemetery view.)
Johnny and the guys were ready and they got all plugged in and ready to perform. There were a few of the cemetery handymen in attendance helping with the electrical lines and making sure it didn’t get out of hand, no doubt. People began to show up for the unlikely venue and though it wasn’t a big crowd it was a fitting turnout for an unknown rock icon who in his own way would put a secret stamp on an era filled with dreams of the Goths yet to be, a Generation X on its way as well as a precursor to the birth of an industry of genetic engineering which would promote life extension all the way to the bank. The Tweenagers started playing and Johnny belted out the lyrics that became the signature song for the event: “Rock, rock, rock... rock the cemetery... rock, rock, rock... ‘til there’s no one left to bury... rock, rock, rock... rattle your cages... rock, rock, rock... the rock of ages.” The guitars sliced through the lyrics like the scythes carried by the Grim Reaper. The drums pulsated and the grounds of the cemetery shook as Johnny held onto the microphone occasionally jumping up to ironically land directly on the ground that covered the bodies of the Hollywood dead.
He continued: “Me and Christine... crawled into the cemetery... to drink and touch where the bodies are all buried. We looked around… we heard a sound... where the bodies should be layin’... across the graves on top a crypt there was a zombie band playin’.” I continued to take more photographs as the concert played on, clicking in time to the music, lost in the composition and sound. Johnny screams: “Look around... the cemetery’s such a cage. Look around... you’re living in the Stone Age. Rock out! A zombie’s life ain’t very hard... Rock out! You’re living in the graveyard!”
(Above left: Cecil B. DeMille grave. Above right: Tyrone Powers, left and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., right.)
Long before Michael Jackson came out with “Thriller”, Johnny Forever and the Tweenagers would ROCK THE CEMETERY! Most of the songs played were a part of their general repertoire. Songs such as: “Downtown Love”, “Growing Up Dead”, “Rock Around The Biological Clock”, “Future Sex”, “Suburban Screams”, “Youth Drug”, “Propaganda”, “Sugar Crystal Eyes”, “Wirehead”, “California Clones”, “Tweenage Wasteland”, “Tomorrow’s Nostalgia”, and “Brown California Sun” plus many more. Johnny didn’t do a lot of ballads so it was pretty intensive rock with a power trio backup sound. There weren’t any church organs playing with any of these songs. Images of The Doors performing “Riders On The Storm” come to mind for a cemetery setting but this was constant pulsating doses of “raising the dead rock and roll” performed in a daylight setting.
(Above left: Rudolph Valentino's crypt. Above right: Johnny Ramone memorial.)
Like a ghost in an old Victorian house, Johnny Forever and the Tweenagers seemed to have left their imprint on the cemetery grounds. 1998, years later, after much red tape, a new owner took over the cemetery and renamed it: HOLLYWOOD FOREVER. They even use the “mobius” symbol as part of their logo... this is the figure 8 often viewed sideways and in a ribbon like manner which is twisted so that an “out and back” activity is placed in the presentation of the symbol. Predating this symbol's mathematical origins, it has been discovered in Tibetan rock carvings, the infinity snake, and in the tarot representing the balance of forces and is often associated with the magician card. From Johnny Forever to Hollywood Forever... Immortality is revealed in the Infinity of life itself.
(Above left: Mobius symbolizing Infinity. Right: Mel Blanc's grave, Nelson Eddy's grave in the distance on the right.)
Check out Johnny Forever on YouTube
Saga continues: Marcia Clark Meets Colonel Klink
© Copyright Derek Lamar 2006
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