Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Punk Rock Stories - My Days at Vinyl Fetish

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the last 38 years. I’ve worked at fast food places early in my life (Baskin Robbins, KFC, Der Wienerschnitzel); and I hope I don’t get forced to go back to those soulless places in my latter years. I’ve built computers and ran the shipping/receiving department of a major pneumatic tool distributor. I’ve also worked in two book stores. One was the Baruck College book store in New York, one of the only jobs I feel I was ever truly appreciated at. The other was a Crown Books retail book store in Pasadena, a job I enjoyed despite our drug addicted manager, who was the catalyst for my leaving. I spent a short time at Meltdown, a comic book store in Hollywood. As most people who read this blog know, I’ve also worked as both a business manager and tour manager for various bands, touring throughout the United States and into most of the Western European countries as well as a few of the Eastern ones.

Most of my working years have been spent in a variety of record stores throughout Southern California. I’ve worked at Licorice Pizza (Santa Ana, Riverside, North Hollywood and Pasadena), Music Plus (Sherman Oaks), Moby Disc (Sherman Oaks, Canoga Park and Pasadena), Texas Hotel in Santa Monica and Rhino in Westwood. There was also a year long stint a record store in Hollywood called Vinyl Fetish, although this store came close to being more of a lifestyle store than just a record store.

Before I go further, a disclaimer about what follows is called for. This all took place back in the early 80s (I believe it was late 1981 and into 1982). I was still in my 20s and was heavily into my alcohol and drug years, although those days would come to a close in just a few years. So what follows is how I remember it. That doesn’t mean it’s exactly what happened, it’s just how I remember it now, years later through a fog of time and past drug usage. These days are really hazy in my memory and I having a hard time remembering it all, including everyone who worked for the store while I was there. I suspect a number of people who also lived through this period will remember some of these events clearer than me and I welcome all feedback correcting me on facts and adding to the story.

Vinyl Fetish was a record store on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood that was owned and operated by two local scene-makers named Joseph Brooks and Henry Peck. They were well known in the Hollywood post-punk crowd for running several popular late-night dance clubs around town. Henry was also one of the hair-cutters of the stars. The store was one of the best and most trendy in town, carrying all the most obscure punk and post-punk recordings. At the time, the so-called New Romantic movement was heating up and Vinyl Fetish was the only place to find records by these mostly unknown bands. I was hanging out there one day talking to the two guys and mentioned that I needed a job. Before I knew it, I was hired on as a full time counter clerk.

At the time, I was living with Skip in a very small, one-bedroom apartment out in Arcadia, which is about 15 minutes east of Pasadena. My years at Licorice Pizza had finally ended on an extremely bad note and I was jobless and without a car, as my piece of shit Chevy Chevette had finally crapped out once and for all. I had to take the bus to work and this was way before the days of direct Rapid busses and Metro Subways. I hopped on a bus near my apartment, which headed to downtown LA. There, I had to change buses to get to Hollywood. I think in total, I had to change busses three times. The total trip took me close to 2 ½ hours. Skip was working even further east out in Monrovia, but sometimes when he could, he would drive to Hollywood to pick me up and we’d both drive back to Arcadia. That would happen most of the time, but there were many days that I found myself sitting on various busses for close to 5 hours a day. I didn’t mind so much because I loved to read and this gave me plenty of time to catch up on books I had stacked around the apartment. I also found that I was really enjoying working at Vinyl Fetish. Joseph and Henry were easy to work for and didn’t put me through the micromanaging bullshit I usually had to put up with. So it was worth the bus time, including dealing with the various crazies who haunted the bus line. (I remember one old woman in downtown LA falling to the ground and latching on to my ankle in a death-grip, begging me to take her home with me.)

Besides Henry, Joseph and myself, I also remember working with Marcy Blaustein, Lisa Fancher, Randy Kaye (RIP), Steven Schayer, and a guy named Billy, who I believe is also RIP and whose last name I unfortunately can’t quite pull out of the fog. I know there were others as well. We quickly became known as the meanest record store staff in Los Angeles. None of us had much patience, especially for the typical record store buyer who wanted something off the top ten Billboard charts, especially since it was so extremely obvious they weren’t going to find that kind of thing at this store. But I would also get belligerent with many of the so-called scenester music buyers as well. This period was during the beginning of the dark Goth scene, and while many of those people were embracing the current bands, like Sisters of Mercy, Death Cult and Sex Gang Children, they would come into the store and complain while I was playing my own current favorites, such as Virgin Prunes and Einsturzende Neubauten. The irony, of course, is that these same people would later champion these bands once they were told to do so by their peers in the bands they listened to that were more popular. We were a know-it-all, better-than-you bunch of record store employees, but despite the meanness, people seemed to accept it as part of the Vinyl Fetish experience.

(Of course, these days, I have little tolerance for that kind of record store employee and refuse to shop at any store I get that attitude from. More irony, I guess.)

This attitude stretch out to even visiting celebrities who either frequented the store as customers or were there doing an in-store appearance to promote an upcoming show or album. I think I was a tad more enthusiastic about putting the “stars” in their place than the other employees and there were a few times that Henry and/or Joseph asked me to tone it down, to no real effect. Following is a few incidences that I remember.

Depeche Mode did an in-store and brought their girlfriends with them. These girls were the loudest, most obnoxious group of females I can ever recall experiencing. My answer to them was the toss them out of the store. This didn’t sit well with these girls and before long I was facing the (road) manager and after a short talk, the girls were sent to the hotel. I expected all sorts of anger, but one of the band members told me after the in-store that they were embarrassed as well and planned to send their women back home the next day. I had lots of respect for that.

During a Duran Duran in-store for their first album, I did something I seldom do. I asked for the band’s autographs. I’m not star-struck enough to ask people for autographs, although I did make an exception for Ringo Starr year’s earlier. But my sister was a big fan and I wanted to surprise her with a signed photo. All the band members happily signed, until I got to Simon Le Bon. When I asked him to sign, he asked my name. I told him it was for my sister and her name is Rhonda. But he wanted to know my name. So I told him it was Jet, which was the name I was still going by at that time. He laughed and said that Jet didn’t sound like a legitimate name. I shot right back that Le Bon didn’t sound all that legitimate to me either. That made him mad. He threw the picture back and told me to “fuck off” and that his name was very legitimate. (It was. I just wanted to get under his skin. And I did.) I muttered a “whatever” or something back at him and left him alone. By the end of the day though, one of the other band members asked for the picture and came back a moment later with his signature on it. He still wouldn’t talk to me though. (My sister has lost that picture and I wish I had it. It would probably be worth good money these days.) By the way, I loved Duran Duran at the Roxy that night. They reminded me of Slade, a band I always had a soft spot for. I wish their albums could have sounded so powerful.

Siouxsie and the Banshees did an in-store and Siouxsie arrived in her usually state at the time, drunk. While drinking, Sioux spilt her wine and picked up a towel and threw in it my face. “Clean this up”, she demanded. I threw the towel right back at her and told her to clean it up herself, which caused a bit of tension between me and her lackey/drummer Budgie. Steve Severin and the wonderful late guitarist, John McGeoch, later apologized to me. (Siouxsie was later denied entry into Disneyland because she was wearing a leather miniskirt, although I suspect alcohol played a part in that as well. She mentioned the incident last year when I saw her show at House of Blues Anaheim, which is on Disney property. By the way, the show was really good.)

Billy Idol, who lived in town at the time, came in one evening while I was working alone. I loved his early punk band, Generation X, but had little time or patience for his solo material. He started the conversation with, “What’s this shit you’re playing? You need to listen to this”, handing me a cassette tape he wanted to me to play. He had immediately gotten on my bad side with that comment. I started the cassette only to be accosted by his new recording, a song called “White Wedding”. He was dancing around the store, singing the song loudly while it played. I was appalled. After the song was over, he said, “Isn’t that the greatest song you’ve ever heard?” I replied with, “No. It was about the biggest pile of shit I’ve ever been exposed to.” (I wasn’t just being mean, I was being truthful.) He sputtered a few times and then stormed out of the store, yelling an angry “Fuck You Mate!” to me as he left. Not too long later, the phone rang. Joseph was on the other end and asked me what had just happened. Billy Idol had called him and was mad as hell. I told him exactly what had happened and all I heard was a sigh. I don’t know how Joseph was so patient with me, but he once again explained that I needed to try to be nice to these people and I told him once again that I would try. And that’s the last I heard about that incident. (Billy Idol left town shortly after that when too many people started to realize that he was a sexist, racist drunk. I have no idea what he’s like these days. Nor do I care.)

But not every in-store was like those. Steve Strange, of Visage, did an in-store one day. I was dreading it, but he turned out to be one of the greatest, friendliest, most fun people who ever came into the store. We spent some fun time drinking with him at the One Bar, a gay bar across the street from the store that a pre-out Freddie Mercury (Queen) used to frequent.

One day, a large, black limousine pulled up outside and Billy Gibbons, from ZZ Top, came into the store to buy punk singles and leather wrist bands. He was a great guy and even gave us all tickets to their Forum show that evening (which I didn’t go to for reasons I no longer remember).

I became friends with New Music musician Harold Budd after he stopped in to talk and was amazed I knew who he was. (I always knew anyone who had worked with Brian Eno.) He came in a lot to talk and listen to records. (I still talk to him on and off these days, although with his illness, it’s been awhile.)

The same thing happened with John Belushi, who walked in one day just to check things out. We got in a long conversation about his movie “Neighbors” and the differences between it and the book it was based on. He started coming in once or twice a week when he was in town just to talk with me about things. We would also laugh about the fact that I was always wearing a black suit and tie at the time with a porkpie hat and I would always get “John Belushi” or “Blues Brothers” yelled at me. It turned out that he was walking around one day when someone yelled “Jet” at him. He thought that was pretty funny. I was on vacation when he died. We were at Bryce Canyon in Utah when I called home to make sure our cats were okay and a friend checking in told me that Henry was looking for me. So I called the store to find out what was going on. Henry said that some reporter had found out that Belushi enjoyed our conversations and he wanted to talk to me about the man. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and extended our vacation for a week. By the time I got back, the guy had stopped calling. To tell the truth, I saw no signs of the drug abuse that killed him, at least during the conversations we had at the store.

And Matt Groening, who was just a local cartoonist and music writer around town at the time, used to come in to talk often. He didn’t own a car and would frequently miss his bus, so Skip and I would give him a ride home. A few years later, “The Simpsons” was on the air and he didn’t have to worry about busses ever again. I still see him now and again, and we pleasantly exchange hellos, but I don’t really know him anymore.

There were two incidences I remember with Henry that still bring smiles to me whenever I think of them. One day, the two of us were working on a slow day. Not many customers had come in and Henry was not in the best of moods. We were getting bothered because two drag queens kept running by the store over and over again, causing a commotion out on the street. Henry finally got tired of it and said he was going to put a stop to it. He stormed out of the store and was gone for a fairly long time. When he finally returned, he was laughing. It turned out that the drag queens were actually actors filming an upcoming TV series. The series was called “Bosom Buddies”. Henry had gone out and yelled at future movie star, Tom Hanks, when the crew had intervened to explain the situation.

The other incident had to do with a local musician, Rick Wilder. He was a member of a group called the MauMaus. He was also a terrible junkie who was annoying as hell to talk to most of the time. One afternoon, Henry was looking out the window when he saw Rick approaching. He told me that he didn’t want to talk to him and asked me to get rid of him. With that, he hid behind the counter. When Rick stumbled in, he immediately asked for Henry. I told him he wasn’t there and that I didn’t know when he was going to be there. But Rick wasn’t to be deterred. He plopped down on the couch and slurred to me that he would wait. Henry was signaling to me from behind the counter to get rid of him, but I couldn’t convince the guy tom leave. No matter what I said to him, he persisted. Suddenly, Henry grabbed a brown paper bag. He drew a smiley face on it and put it over his head. With that, he stood up and walked past Rick and out the door. Rick never even seemed to notice. I think Rick stayed about an hour before giving up. Henry came back shortly after and all was right with the world once again.

Joseph and Henry were also running the Veil Club at Club Lingerie at the time. That was a New Romantic dance club and we would all fill the place. It was always a lot of fun, but I remember less about that then I do about the store.

I had a blast working at that store, but the time finally came for me to leave. A local band named Choir Invisible was going out on tour and had asked me to road manage for them. That was something I always wanted to do, so I put in my notice at Vinyl Fetish and hit the road with the band. The details of that tour can be found somewhere in the archives of this blog. My time at the store was great and left me with many fond memories. I just wish I could remember more of them. After the Choir Invisible tour, I went to work for another up-and-coming, trend setter record store called Texas Hotel, but that’s a story of its own. I’ll get to that some day.

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Last blog, I gave a shout-out to Iowa for passing gay marriage rights. Now I want to do the same for Vermont, which made history by becoming the first state to pass gay marriage rights through its legislature instead of through the courts. The list of States I can move to is becoming larger and its looking like a few more States might be added to that list before the end of the year. It’s about time. Now all I can hope for is that my own State of California doesn’t become an embarrassment due to its own lack of progress. We’ll know in a month or so. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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I’m leaving town again. First a week (actually 5 days) in Arizona visiting family and then a week (actually 4 days) in San Francisco to see Throbbing Gristle play live. That means there won’t be another blog until the end of April or the first of May. At that time, I hope to get back to my usual weekly schedule. I hope you enjoyed the stories above. Thanks for reading and take care of yourselves. -ML

15 comments:

  1. You really made me laugh Mel. Thanks for sharing. You write so well.

    Ya know, about the worst thing you can do to a music store employee is to complain about the music. I also find you can't do this with bartenders or waitresses either. Somebody who works someplace always likes whats coming out of the speakers.

    I used to work at Zia records in Tempe and Phoenix as everyone's favorite little teenage punk nicknamed Doogie (for a short period). It indeed was asshole training.

    One memory I have was during a Husker Du in-store. Bob and Grant suggested everyone leave our kitchen area... except me. There was food and beers spread out everywhere for them. I was kinda flattered they wanted to hang out and talk.

    All the sudden, Brad, the owner of Zia, called me out into the warehouse which was next to and connected to the kitchen. I run out there all young and giddy, anxious to get back to my new buds.

    Brad put both hands on my shoulders and goes, "Hey, I want you to have fun. You guys seem to be hitting it off." I answered, "Yeah, those guys are great." Brad goes, "You do know they are gay, right?"

    Dude, I was so naive, I had no idea and you should have seen my face because I missed the fact I was wounded prey being stalked by lions. It seems stupid but I was! Bob Mould right? Brad walked off with a smile and said, "Have fun Doogie."

    I walked back into the kitchen and hung out. We talked, ate and laughed but the mood kinda died when they realized I was going to remain a straight kid. They were totally nice though. They got me in to their great show that night. And, I was their smoking buddy during outside breaks. Good times.

    In other news, don't worry about these Prop 8 bigots. This is their last cry before a well deserved death. Did you catch that "Marriage Rights" commercial they have running? If that isn't desperation, I don't know what is.

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  2. Good story ML, and we are expecting TG show report! :)

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  3. i am one of those meanest record clerks that worked with ml. if only i could remember events with such vigor.

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  4. and thankfully you were affiliated with the punk rock scene or i would NEVER have met you and all the wonderful other people in my life.

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  5. Really enjoyed your blog. Vinyl Fetish used to make the cassette tapes that we played at American Rag and also DJ'd in store for a big event in 1986. I really liked Henry and Joseph.

    I was denied entry to the Magic Kingdom using an employee pass in 1979 for wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt. They made me buy a shirt at the outpost behind the old ticket booths and Igot written up for it when I arrived for my next shift. Times sure have changed there.

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  6. Billy Fucile is the name you were looking for and yes he is rip.

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  7. I built a number of record bins for Henry and Joseph and the Vinyl Fetish on Melrose during a weekend trip to LA, with Romeo Void, and my gal at the time, Christine.

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  8. So sorry to hear about Billy's passing. I hung out with him and Elise Farber, Syd Curry and Richard ? back in the day when they lived next door to each other upstairs on the corner of Fairfax and Santa Monica.

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  9. Sounds like you started at VF just around the time I stopped shopping there, mostly because of my horror at the advent of the New Romantics. I think the last thing I bought there was a boxed set of Throbbing Gristle albums, which would make it sometime after the 'final' TG show in San Francisco.

    I'd started going to VF at the original location (pre-Melrose, on...La Cienega...Cahuenga? One of those) a year earlier, when they were the best source for post-punk & experimental stuff coming out. I remember they had really cool bags for your purchases - an image of a guy's hands cuffed behind his back. Just kinky enough to be thrilling to this then 17-year-old.

    I think it may have been just the owners and maybe 1-2 other people working there at the time because it was pretty small. They were a bit cool to customers, but not actively mean or dismissive - as a kid driving in from 60 miles just to shop there, I appreciated it.

    When I walked in one day & heard Adam & The Ants, I realized that an era had passed (I also saw the first Duran Duran video during a set break at Wolf & Rissmiller's Country Club around this time...it made me a little bit ill). I remember VF as the first of the 'hip' Melrose stores, before Flip & the other used clothing store. Maybe Aaron's Records was already there?

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    1. Hey Anonymous, when you went to VF on La Cienega was that where Flippers used to be and it was upstairs on a balcony? I remember there was a used record shop around there in 1980 but I never caught the name of it. I think it was on Santa Monica going parallel from La Cienega.

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  10. Great stories, Michael, especially the one's about Siouxsie, Billy Idol, and Rick Wilder! Would you happen to have any stories about Michelle AKA Gerber?

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  12. Henry and Joseph had the best clubs. I frequented Fetish/TVC15/Transformer. I also went to Scream a lot but if memory serves, they weren't a part of that. It's so great to read this, I know so few people who went to those clubs and to Vinyl Fetish back then.

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    1. I remember Joseph and Henry. I was the security guard for their Fetish/TVC15/Transformer club when it was located on Washington Blvd. inside a local stage theater owned by a former actor who played 'Thunder' from the old 'Amos n Andy' TV show. There was also a blues bar as part of the theater which gave the club even more 'cool points'.My ride was a lil white scooter at the time which got me tagged as 'scooter-boy'lol. Joseph and Henry were the coolest and nicest people I have ever worked for and with and although it was short lived it was an experience I will always appreciate.

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    2. I remember Joseph and Henry. I was the security guard for their Fetish/TVC15/Transformer club when it was located on Washington Blvd. inside a local stage theater owned by a former actor who played 'Thunder' from the old 'Amos n Andy' TV show. There was also a blues bar as part of the theater which gave the club even more 'cool points'.My ride was a lil white scooter at the time which got me tagged as 'scooter-boy'lol. Joseph and Henry were the coolest and nicest people I have ever worked for and with and although it was short lived it was an experience I will always appreciate.

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