-March 2001-

Other Fein Messes

Mess Mar 01

Don't Hate Me ...

because I laugh at some obits. I can't help it, the newspaper's choices tickle me: publicists' wives, newspaper owners' relatives, cousins of movie stars.

Similarly, the recent (2/3/01) fatal crash of the Angels Flight aerial tramway had me in stitches because it got such big coverage in the L.A. Times: front page banner, double-truck jump-page, and a box thanking twenty five writers.

Why twenty five reporters in addition to the six byliners? Because Angels Flight is across the street from the L.A. Times.

Picture this: On a loudspeaker in the LA Times bldg, "Angels Flight has just crashed." Seconds later, thirty people pour out like the Keystone Cops. They swarm over the scene, tripping over survivors and each other, run back to the office and file thirty reports.

The death at Disneyland last year got good coverage, but it didn't rate thirty reporters. It's a long drive.


Speaking of loudspeakers, recent improvements in public address systems have made my shopping life unbearable. Where previously "Attention K-Mart shoppers" was a muddled din, today's clerks screech "I need a price check on register ten" at a volume previously known only at Grateful Dead concerts. My recent visit to Pavilions grocery store on Melrose and Vine (Never again!) had shrieking calls every twenty seconds. Echoey hangars like Home Depot* are nightmares for me, with end-on-end shriekage and tank-like vehicles crisscrossing aisles and honking.

This noise thing is nothing new. I am an old crank, but I was a young crank too. In college, as later in life, I chose my apartments for their distance from main roads. But from 1981 to 1994 I lived on a residential street with nightly car alarms. I would go out in my bathrobe and write a complaint on the offending car in black permanent felt-tip, on the paint. "Fries are ready" computer beep shoots like pencils through my ears. I call the police about low-flying choppers.**

So where does music fit in? I am loath to say anything bad about "music today" bec when I was growing up I heard the complaints of idiots who didn't understand what was going on. But here I go anyway.

It's women. There is the Christine Aguilera School of Soul-Yodeling, modeled, my friend Doug Fieger points out, on Stevie Wonder in the 70s. This epidemic of strangling notes (apparently pioneered by Mariah Carey) digs into me like a knife. Other people like it, that's fine, but I wish, how I wish, they wouldn't play it in stores. Likewise, country/pop. I can name Cheryl Crow, but it seems that every gal song I hear in the grocery store starts out softly then builds til finally she is shouting like an air-raid siren. The strain of their vocal cords makes my nerves wrench. I am not mildly annoyed, I am emotionally devastated. I keep a Walkman in the car for self-defense. When such music is played I run out and strap on the headphones and return to the store listening to Louis Prima or Elvis.

It ain't easy bein' me.

Real Life Puns

Denise called on her cell phone. "I'm on a walk. I have weights with me." Since everything in my life revolves around music, I said, "Oh, Tom's with you?" Yes, she said factually.

I'd forgotten her boyfriend's name was Tom.

Take Heart

If you didn't get that last one***, I am happy. You see, I too often miss the joke****. Like when Jerry Garcia sued Ben & Jerry's over their Cherry Garcia flavor, I thought "Geez, does he think he's the only person in America named Garcia?" Then someone explained to me that Cherry sounds like Jerry. Likewise, New Years Eve I noticed that a movie channel was running the film "2001" twice, 9:00 and midnight for both coasts. I said "Why are they showing THAT film? It isn't a party movie. Why not Animal House or Hellzapoppin?" Someone then hipped me what the upcoming year was.*****


 Speaking of Tom Waits, he was part of my inadvertently achieving a childhood goal.

In the fall of 1977 I hung out every Monday night in front of the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Hoot Night, their showcase for newcomers. Three friends of mine worked at the club -- doormen Paul Body and Rick Dubov, and dishwasher Chuck E. Weiss -- and Chuck's roommate Waits was also part of our sidewalk gang.

It was exactly the streetcorner I dreamed of when I was a kid -- a place to hang around and talk about records. I would park my VW convertible in front and blare my latest Jump music discoveries****** from the speaker on the open passenger door. People would dance! And more than once Doug Weston came out and asked me to turn it down bec it was leaking into the club. It was paradise for a superannuated kid.


Oops Again

From A&E's 2-hour Presley bio.

"In January, 1963, the Beatles arrived in America."

Embarrassing Critic Moments*******

I have been a reviewer. Once or twice I made wisecracks at others' expense, but in the overall I kept a positive attitude, especially after seeing people I liked, and didn't, hurt by nasty reviews. When an act is struggling, bad reviews hurt, so if you have a heart and a brain you simply don't review them.

In mid 1973 Variety sent me to review 15 or 20 comedians at the Comedy Store. I lauded the ones who had any glimmer, and avoided saying anything bad about the others. One of the performers did a "balloons and patter" act. It bombed. The awkwardness was awful, and the performer milked his discomfort. I wrote that he was "unusual" or "enthusiastic." Then in 1997 I was talking to my friend and somewhat-idol Mr. Morrison, the balloon man from Public Access tv. "Fein, Fein, Fein -- Wait a minute, did you review me at the Comedy Store in 1973?" I checked, and indeed I had! Luckily, I had minced words. "Yeah, I really stunk" he said. "I liked how you avoided that in your review."

A similar problem came up a couple years later when my friend Larry Laser (that's Lazar, misspelled and re-pronounced), who billed himself as the Lone Rocker, invited me to review him in a show. As showtime grew closer and nobody was there, I told him "Just give me everyone's name and I'll write something nice." No, he said, the show must go on. I sat in a bank of eighty seats alone. A woman came out and told me jokes. The light guy laughed. Another came out and sang songs: I listened. Then Larry came out and did his set and I fiddled with my program, hoping the show would end. One person had stage fright that night, and it was me.

Call Me Irresistible

That leads to my wife, and that leads to our family.

My courtship of Jennifer was very unusual. I was a public access producer and she was a director. Generally these are sworn enemies; by each other's assessments, the former are crazed egotists and the latter are hired for their hostility. The first time we got together she helped me videotape the Untamed Youth, who had driven in from Missouri, at the Anti Club. The next time she accompanied me to cemeteries to find dead rock and blues stars for "The L.A. Musical History Tour." Those dates didn't drive her away, but the third was a real test.

A guy called saying he did a Louis Armstrong show. I said great, but that's not my style. "No, please, you must come see my show." Nah, really, I can't do anything for you, I'm not writing reviews anymore, just have a small tv show. "Fine, come see me" he said. I caved. He told me to meet him on La Cienega in front of the car wash at 7:00. When me and Jenn got there, we were alone with him. "Oh, you showed up, I'll go get the others." He ran over to a coffee shop and retrieved another pair of taste-makers, then pointed to the car wash, where he normally shined shoes, and said "I was hoping to use the office, but my boss won't let me, so I'll have to do my act behind the place." We accompanied him to the alley. Lit by a street lamp, he put a Louis Armstrong tape in his boom box and proceeded to sing and grimace to "Hello Dolly." We were all frozen in amazement; I grew dizzy wondering how I'd get away. The four of us applauded, then he started "It's A Wonderful World," but the batteries started to fade. As he sang, the tape slowed, and he slowed with it. "This darn thing" he said, apologizing for cutting it short. The next day he called me to ask me how I liked his show. "Great," I said. By the way, he asked, What is it you DO? I told him I had a public access show.

"PUBLIC ACCESS?" he said. "I thought you were IMPORTANT!"

Despite these first dates, Jennifer married me.

Elvis At My House

Which leads to the fact that my daughter is related to Elvis.

Sometimes I glimpse a Presley-family look in photos of my daughter Jessie, 9. It is an unexpected resemblance******** that is not supported in my genes (I do not look like Elvis) or my wife's (she doesn't -- well .....). I had for years ignored this strange apparition. I am not a guy who sees Jesus in the mist on my bathroom window, nor have I been abducted by aliens. Her little touch of Elvisness lingered with me, but not to any effect.

Then a couple of years ago I saw it. I said something ridiculous to my wife to provoke a humorous response. Instead she sneered, and the Elvis universe came into focus. That angle, and that sneer, were identical to Elvis's in a 1956 photo where he's wearing a dark sport coat and a polka dot shirt. (As a youngster I spent endless hours staring at Elvis photos. My internal Elvis-look database is huge.) My wife does not look like Elvis, but has something in common: eye to nose to mouth ratio, bone structure, lip-curl, I don't know. Her dad's parents' parents came from Sicily and Wales, her mother's from Germany. Hmm, Elvis is supposed to be Scottish with a little Cherokee. Not much to go on.

Then I saw an ish of the National Enquirer tracing Elvis back to a Welsh family. (It also cited places in Wales with Elvis names, and a St. Elvis Church.) WELSH? Like Jessie's forbearers!!!********* All these Welshmen and Welshwomen immigrated and mixed in the South in the 1800s. Some bloodlines overlapped. A little bit of whatever created Elvis was mixed in with whatever created Jessie!


I be's teaching a class on rock & roll history at UCLA extension starting in April.

Once a week, for 3 hours, for twelve weeks.

For more information go to epa@uclaextension.org or call 310-206-1542.

- 57 -

* Only one store is free of loudspeaker intrusion: silent Costco.

** The helicopter problem in L.A. is deep in my craw. Buildings shake, conversations stop, tv and radio sounds are missed so a few people can get from here to there. Every one of them is a noise criminal. We must have mufflers on our cars because unchecked car noise would be maddening. Why, then, exempt whirlybirds? They travel day and night with impunity over hospital zones, schools, and homes.

*** The key to the joke is Tom Waits.

**** Other times I get jokes that aren't there. Like when I congratulated the guy at Rhino for forming the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra. "A great Jewish joke" I said. Temple City, though a real town in metro Los Angeles, would be the place where all the Jews live, a funny play on words from the label that put out Mogen David & the Winos and Kosher Club. "That never crossed my mind" he said. "One of the guys was from Temple City." Likewise I have misconstrued "all told" as "all tolled," which is equally right, and thought that "the die is cast" meant that one die, from a pair of dice, was thrown so the outcome was fixed.

***** By the way, if you did a lot of drugs when you were younger and now are losing your memory, don't regret it. Or regret it, but not because you're forgetting things. I am suffering the short-term brain crash that everyone else is, and I hardly touched a drug in my life.

******* Speaking of crits, I'm sure the movie Almost Famous is fabulous, just haven't seen it yet. But they shouldn't load the ads with critic raves. After all, even a BAD film about the warm, humorous, sensitive, and sexy side of a journalist would be a hit with crits.

******* The big "sidewalk hit" was "Sittin' On It" by Wynonie Harris. Brian Setzer covered it in the 90s, no thanks to me.

******** As an adopted kid, I am fascinated by resemblances. I look like no one, though parts of Tony Dow, Mickey Rourke, Gregory Harrison and Lindsay Buckingham match. My lower face, mouth and chin, are identical to Conway Twitty in his latter years.

********* My wife's Welsh maiden name has two syllables, starts with a P and ends with a Y, has an E and an L and an R in it.

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