No Business - Clawing Through the Back Doors of Show Biz

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Owe the Humanity

As Hoover’s limo disappeared in the distance I took stock of my surroundings – always a good idea standing in the middle of a busy street, in a major city, midday, holding two stolen FBI side-arms in one’s hands. A burly fellow in a Plymouth honked and decided to harangue me, but noticing the pistols, thought better of it and allowed me to get off the roadway unmolested. I stashed the guns in my backpack beneath my bindle. I had injudiciously chosen one of the worst parts of the city to debark in, the bowels of the Tenderloin, and gave my well-considered attention to some of the unsavory denizens eyeing me.

It took me a block before I even knew where I was: Market and 10th. I continued toward Van Ness looking for a phone booth when I noticed a police cruiser on the opposing side of the median scope me out then speed up to the intersection and flip a U-turn. Realizing that Hoover didn’t say he wouldn’t have other law enforcement harass me, I slipped into a dry cleaners – in my haste I knocked over their on-premises plant, a ficus – and then made my way out the back door over the protests of the establishment’s owner.

I exited into an alley and continued south hoping my evasive maneuver would be confounding to the simple cop mind. To further dash any hope of my letting my preconceptions have any merit in this, the cruiser appeared at the distant end of the alley and barreled toward me, disturbingly fast for its narrow confines. He seemed to be increasing his speed as if not content to just run me over with a warning. This was of concern to me as there was really no place to go but under, for behind me, exiting the same dry cleaners, the cop at the wheel’s partner, drawing down on me.

I leapt up onto a garbage can and then bounded toward the bottom rung of a fire escape, the speeding cruiser hurtling beneath me, brushing my boots as I grabbed the ladder. At the exact instant I leapt, the cop on foot behind me fired, hitting his partner at the wheel right in the face whereby, mortally wounded, he proceeded to crush him with the speeding car, slamming them both into a dumpster filled with flammable emollients (pre-EPA) which engulfed the alley in a huge ball of explosive flame. Dangling on the fire escape, the ladder slowly lowered me to the ground and I continued calmly down the alley, stepping into a strip club an instant before back-up arrived to contend with their fellow officers’ flaming stupidity.

The club was dark, mercifully, as the dancer was a trifle frumpy – hardly used. The room smelled of stale beer mixed with the flatulence of despair and Koko, the barely inspired performess, vamped listlessly to the brass heavy accompaniment. Strangely, the club was full of cigarette smoke, even though I was the only patron and the bartender was chewing gum. Koko blew me a halfhearted kiss as I walked by; I tossed her a buck because I had it and she was working for it. Always tip strippers and masseuses, a simple rule of social etiquette. People who work for our pleasure deserve our appreciation and little shows it better than cash.

I made the call: Jane had checked out. Skippy the valet told me that she had waited ten minutes before driving off, quite unhappy. He said that he’d seen me with the backpack but didn’t see me leave so he assumed (and postulated to Jane) that I had just wandered off. I had no way of reaching her, and had no idea where she lived, beyond Los Angeles, a city of 5 million people. She was likely still wavering with the MDMA low ebb hangover combined with her own well-founded abandonment issues and must have decided I was just a fling, in the midst of her fling. Because, even though she was operating on European sexual standards, she was still legally married. In that drive from SF to LA, I became just one more using, discarding man.

Hoover had made a powerful enemy. Well, maybe not powerful. But really pissed. Really fucking pissed. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I wouldn’t want to be him. I mean, have you seen the guy? Yikes! No wonder he was such an agroholic.

It seemed but a matter of time before cops came through Poochie’s, the unfortunately named strip-club in search of me. I could hear them on the street and knew there was no safety out there for me. After telephonically realizing that Jane wasn’t fonda me as I was fonda her, I dejectedly stepped into the bathroom and changed my clothing. Law enforcement types search for suspects based upon description. White male in blue T-shirt and ball cap and blue jeans offers something to go on. If you’re being pursued, change your shirt and facial appearance, glasses, hat, hair, as these are the first thing people look at in determining who you are. If cops are pursuing a suspect looking one way and you look another way, unless they know you, they’ll probably move on.

Engaging in an activity not directly perceived as elusive – sitting and drinking a pitcher of beer in a strip club, an excellent choice – is also advantageous. Strip clubs are dark and noisy and distracting. Busy ones are not that hard to disappear into because even cops pursuing a suspect like looking at tits. As Poochie’s was empty but for me and the fairly uninspiring Koko, there wasn’t a lot of blending in to be done. So I drank my beer and waited.

“Can you fucking believe this place?! We’re here a bloody day and the coppers are blowing themselves up to welcome us,” Robert Plant marveled to his bandmates as they paraded in, in all their long-haired, skinny-white-bloke finery. John Bonzo Bonham, the drummer, shook his head. “Oh, this place is bleeding regal.” He looked at my pitcher then addressed the barkeep, “Barman, I’ll take a couple of what he’s havin’,” and pointed at me.

The boys grabbed the booth and Koko finished her set, setting the stage for Ruby, 10 years her junior but easily 20 pounds her senior, who bounded out enthusiastically to Tom Jones “What’s New, Pussycat?” This the boys found fairly amusing and their volume rose with their volume consumed. All but Jimmy Page, who listened to the progression of the song, learning it in his head. Although a terrible piece of shit, it was disturbingly popular and pop is pop. Jimmy knew what he liked.

“You should buy our album.” Bonzo was drunk but fairly affable. I looked over at the booth; I didn’t recognize them. “Oh yeah? What’s your band called?” Plant jumped in, as a good lead man should, “Led Zeppelin.” I smiled to myself; what kind of name was that? “Doesn’t sound like it’ll get off the ground.” Jimmy smiled while the others mulled this. “No, Led as in L-E-D.” It seemed an odd name and I wasn’t going anywhere. “Oh, like you can point a dirigible to airspace but a zeppelin must be led?”

“Very cheeky,” John Paul Jones smiled, “I like that.” Bonzo slammed the table, then fixed me with an amused stare. “I’d like to buy you a drink.” By the time the cops made their pass through, I had joined the band in the booth and we were getting along famously. As the cops sought one guy looking one way and we represented a bunch of guys, all looking other ways, they wrote us off as more Market Street freaks, then gawked at Ruby a minute before continuing their search for another victim of law enforcement elsewhere. Poochie’s waitress, the ever late Crystal, had arrived and was keeping the table flowing.

“So, what kind of music do you do?” I had heard some of the Yardbirds, but I hadn’t heard the band in this particular incarnation. Jones, a bit stiff, responded snarkily, “Other people’s.” This generated a wave of ugliness between Jimmy and him, resolved in the short term by Plant. “Rock and Roll.” Jimmy clarified, “Blues driven rock. Hard. Hard and fast.” I let Jones’s comment pass. “What’s your album called?” They all answered in sloppy unison, “Led Zeppelin.” I smiled at Crystal who had just replaced yet another pitcher then looked at the boys. “Original. I’ll pick one up.” I leveled Jimmy with a stare. “You are good?”

This animated them, Bonzo first and drunkerst, “The bleeding best!” Jimmy responded very seriously, “Exceptional,” while Plant offered, “fookin’ astounding.” Jones smiled and said, “We know what we’re doing.” Then Bonzo insisted that I needn’t take his word for it. “Come down to the show. We’ll get you backstage.” The band agreed that I should see them play, to which I queried, “Where are you playing?” Plant responded, “The Fillmore West.”

The Fillmore West was the old Carousel Ballroom at 10 South Van Ness on the corner of Market. Bill Graham had moved there from his old location up on Geary and it became the West Coast launch pad for many acts that would go on to achieve hugiosity and splendorisiousness, while others merely settled for fame and fortune. It was the first place Zeppelin would play in California and was about a block away from Poochie’s. I found the amount of drinking engaged in prior to performing of concern, but as I was engaged in it as well, the concern washed away in time and everything sounded pretty damned good. Koko looked fucking beautiful. Crystal was the best fucking waitresh ever, really. A real sweetheart….

So by show-time we were all fairly well lubed. Koko even brought her kid along, Petey, who was 22, which made Koko’s claims of being 34 highly dubious.

Zep opened for Vanilla Fudge, who by the end of the tour would find themselves eclipsed by the boozy upstarts and relegated to ‘60s Music status and sad reunion tours with fewer attendees on both sides of the fourth wall each go round. How tragic, former glory. Bullshit. It still beats none at all like most of us get, so shut the fuck up! Zep performed admirably, though Plant has an annoying tendency to lose his key and really scrape the brain pan, as it is referred to nowhere. Most of what I heard that night was blues standards run through a metalizer, Jimmy cranking it loud and hard as he could. His music was easy to fall into, having a familiar ring to it.

After, in the dressing closet/green room, we gathered to ignore Vanilla Fudge and drink some more, now with the coke brought forth for all. Apparently they had been using it for bumpage throughout the day, keeping that edge that I, in my purely drunken state, could only dream of. After a decent rail per, the band, their female fans and I got visity: a lot of conversation and some affection between some of the more lubricated participants. All was right with the world when the buzzkill darkened our doorway: an enraged Jeff Beck, gripping a copy of the newly released Led Zeppelin album, Led Zeppelin. Catchy title.

“Page!” Jimmy looked up startled. He was being blown by a 17-year old from Vallejo. “Jeff?! Oh, bollocks.” Jeff stormed in, furious. The room got less visity and Jimmy had little Miss Vallejo put a cork in it for the time being. “How could you release this?!”

Plant fielded that one. “Oh, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” He on the other hand continued getting blown, by Koko I believe. Beck was livid, waving the album about as he railed, ‘You Shook Me,’ Jimmy? Really?” Jimmy put himself back into his pants, Koko eyeing the action, fully engaged. “What? What?” Jeff moved closer in the tight room, thoroughly enraged. I moved my pack into arm’s reach and studied the dynamic, slipping open the catch. “Unfuckingbelievable--” looking at the album--“there isn’t an original song on the whole bloody thing. Look at these fucking credits: Page, Page, Jones, Page, Jones, Bonham…Nice of you to share other people’s credit with your mates.” Jimmy was busted. And very publically. All that was left for him was to own it and let the healing begin.

“Bollocks, bloody bollocks, Jeff! We gave Willie Dixon credit for “You Shook Me.” Jeff scowled at him. Truth, Jimmy. I have it on Truth. I released it, what, eight months ago. And you bloody well know it.” Jimmy maintained his defensive posture but Bonzo hated being interrupted during after-show reward fun-time and interjected, “Crikey Jeff, can’t you see we’re havin’ a party here?!” Plant stared at Jeff (little Miss Blow Pop, still busy, but watching him equally intently) and suggested, “Don’t know what your bloody problem is. Lots of bands do covers.”

Jeff rubbed his face in frustration. “It’s not a cover if you claim that you wrote it, for fuck sakes. Virtually every lyric in the bloody thing is from somewhere else.”

Plant frowned as did his busy paramour, Koko. “We bleedin’ assembled them.” Jimmy continued the thought, “That’s right. Writing is just assembling words in a certain order. We just used some pre-existing chunks.” Jeff was as distressed as he was angry. He was beginning to see why these guys couldn’t write their own material. They were morons. “It’s plagiarism, Bob.” He looked at Jimmy. “It’s plagiarism.” Jimmy responded, “It’s homage.” Plant and the others liked that; even Koko mouthed it in her way, all choked up there, “Yeah, homage.”

Homage: stealing out of respect.

Jeff went off, “It’s not bleedin’ homage, it’s bleedin’ thievery. It’s claiming work that’s not yours and talent that’s not yours. You’re making money on other people’s work…For fuck sake, we played ‘Dazed and Confused’ with the Yardbirds. Jake Holmes released it 2 years ago. It’s a direct lift!”

Owing to placement and groupie crush there wasn’t a lot of room for movement in the Fillmore’s green room. We were all pretty wasted and Jeff was extremely perturbed, understandably, as Jimmy was supposedly his friend. Jimmy shifted about, young Miss Vallejo beside him. “What’s this really about, Jeff?” Jeff displayed the album, ready to speak, then forgot the song title and had to find it, kind of killing his dramatic tension. How Many More Times, Jimmy. You know exactly what this is about. ‘Beck’s Bolero.’ ”

“You forget that I wrote and produced that, Jeff.” Jeff shook his head in amazement. “That why it’s calledBeck’s Bolero?” Jimmy was defensive, trying to get up but trapped by drunkenness and groupie pressure. “Bollocks Jeffrey, bloody bollocks! I played the guitar that everything was added to. My music!” He was adamant. Jeff pointed out something else he had appeared to have missed, “It was Maurice Ravel’s music. You just played it in another key.”

Flustered, Jones finally joined the fracas, “This isn’t the time to do this.” Jeff, beside himself, sat down and let himself deal with it. “What do you mean? I’m standing here holding your fucking album – seems like a bloody opportune time to me.” Jimmy decided to deal with it diplomatically, as the band was entertaining. (Guests, they were entertaining guests.) “Fuck you, Jeff.” Jeff flung the album across the room, nearly blinding an airline hostess from Martinez. “Come out from behind those groupies and face me like a man.”

At the time I didn’t realize what Jeff was on about; it seemed he was being needlessly aggressive about a band that basically released an album of covers. But upon closer examination I discovered that he was right, they weren’t paying tribute, they were claiming other people’s songs as their own. As Jeff characterized it, plagiarism. And what really pissed Jeff off was that in the middle of the song “How Many More Times,” lifted from Howlin’ Wolf’s “No Place to Go” from 1959, was a section lifted from Jeff’s solo song, “Beck’s Bolero.”

“Beck’s Bolero” was released as a B-side single in ’66 as a showcase for Jeff and promotion for the Yardbirds sans Clapton. He released it on his 1968 solo album Truth. Jeff, Jimmy, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins and Keith Moon expanded on the basic Ravel 2-chord progression as played by Jimmy in A instead of the original C-major. Jimmy’s brilliant key change allowed him writing credit on a song that is one of Jeff Beck’s defining works. There had been contention over writing and production credit between many of the principals; it was good enough that everybody wanted a piece.

But then to have it appear in the midst of another stolen song, all credited to Jimmy, was more than Jeff could endure. And to add insulting injury to it, to have these thieving bastards deny it, then claim it as a sign of respect for the original artists they just happened to forget to mention, was eclecticism run amok. They knew they were decent musicians, which of course flies in the face of reason, as decent musicians don’t steal from other musicians regardless of tradition or feigned reverence.

This is not to suggest that Jimmy or the others had no talent, because they did – in some regards considerable. But their talent existed as players and performers, not composers. These are necessarily different talents. Jimmy and John Paul Jones were session musicians before going big with Zeppelin; they were hired to play other people’s compositions well. Which they did, as evidenced by their first couple of albums. But capacity to interpret someone else’s work does not make it yours, no matter how good you interpret it.

I was disgusted. I put my pants on and left. Jeff was right. These guys sucked….

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