So, last night I found myself rushing downtown to a gig that I ended up not even playing (a story for another time–let’s just say “fuck the Down and Out” and leave it at that). I was in my Scion xB going south on the 110, and for some inexplicable reason when I turned on the stereo, KCRW popped on instead of a CD, and this song from half a decade ago was playing. And suddenly I was transported through time and space to another point in my life, very different from where I am now, yet not much different at all.
There was a time during the second half of the George W. Bush administration where I went through the second most painful breakup of my life: the girl I was living with left me and almost immediately took up with a far handsomer, younger, and incredibly richer guy. The life we’d just started together in a fancy-schmantzy loft in Santee Court downtown went belly up. And yet wouldn’t you know it? Somehow my ex sublet another apartment in the same building, which meant she moved out but didn’t really move out. I had to get out of there and find better accommodations before I wound up torturing myself over whether I did or didn’t see her car in her parking space every night.
In hindsight, I might have landed on my feet even better than she did. I had just conned my way into a lucrative tech job, and then I immediately earned a bunch of money in a weird stock sale thing. Theoretically, I was a single man, young, okay-enough looking and with a bunch of money in my pockets.
But I was depressed as only a 20-something in love can be. I ended up frittering away a lot of that money on boozin’ and random purchases and partying and bad car choices. And then one afternoon, I jumped over a friend’s fence on a goof and broke my right foot, which meant expensive cab rides all the damn time, even to work in the morning. Downtown L.A. to Pasadena every morning in a cab costs something like a million bucks.
But there was one feather in my cap that I never failed to appreciate, and that was the loft apartment I moved into on Santa Fe and 7th. This was the best home I have ever had. It wasn’t a mere loft apartment with tall ceilings–it was a warehouse, made out of bricks, with a real bathroom and hardwood floors and couches and nice partitioned rooms, but also the scuffiness that comes with converting something industrial into something homey. It was a ground floor space that was as convenient for functional warehouse behavior as it was for living; my roommate frequently brought his car in to work on, which you could do easily, since there was a huge metal garage door on one wall. This had once been the kind of place where train cars pulled up and unloaded cargo, where men got to work and punched a card to prove they’d been there. And now it was a haven for a would-be artist trying to quit smoking, a blisteringly precise drummer who bartended the Standard at night, and me.
My room, semi-partitioned off from the meat and potatoes of the loft, was over 1000 square feet, a huge cavern all to itself. There was no doorway to it, just an entrance so big I had to commission a seamstress friend to make giant curtains to provide a little privacy. Cleaning was a snap: just push stuff over to one wall and run a broom through things. Over the bed area in that room were two giant black metal beams that came to a point above my bed, like something straight out of Metropolis, or maybe a Ronnie James Dio video. For the girls who came over and ended up having sex with me, climbing into my bed must have been like climbing into some cushiony corner of the Blade Runner set, with a bit of the live-action He-Man movie and Larry Clark’s Kids thrown in (me being a mix between Tully and, I dunno, Chloe Sevigny, but when she’s all drugged and talking to gross cabbies).
That was an era when, by my meager standards, I had incredible success getting women to sleep with me. Bear in mind, I was a complete wreck, with a weird page boy haircut and a bunch of goofy hats and no sense of style—and due to the broken foot, I was on crutches a good portion of the time. Clearly it wasn’t my own charms that seduced these ladies: it must have been the apartment.
I mean, even the exterior of our building was cool! There were fake double-doors in front, since it had been the exterior of Rolling Stone Magazine in the movie Almost Famous!
Actually, our neck of the woods was kind of like Exterior City. This being the Toy District, we were near a lot of industrial looking facades, including our own building, and the L.A. River was basically our backyard. Every other week we’d have bulletins on our doors letting us know that they’d be shooting an episode of 24 or an action movie, and to expect “helicopters and gunfire.”
But it took us until one of our roommates moved out to find out how badly people wanted to film inside of our warehouse. One of the first responses we had to our Craigslist post for a new roommate was a music video director: “I don’t want to live there, I want to film there!” One Russian pop group video later, a lucrative side business was born. Another, then another, then another music video was shot at our warehouse on Santa Fe Ave, each one leaving tons of free craft services and a bunch of gouges in the floor.
And so it came to pass that one morning I found myself lying in bed, me and my current amour unable to keep sleeping, because this song was playing over and over again just outside my bedroom. Even compared to all the bands that had been there before, this video shoot was loud. FUCKING loud, like louder than a metal gig, loud enough that I was afraid the cops might come, even though it wasn’t even a live recording; the band (think they were called Colorforms at the time) were just lip-synching to their own loud song and hitting drums over it.
Given what I know about myself at that age, there was a strong chance that I’d drank a lot and partied a lot and had probably been up until the wee hours the night before, doing god knows what with the angel next to me. I was NOT pleased with this volume situation, not at fucking all. And worse, the band kept playing the beginning part of the song over and over again, the part where her voice starts up at the top of her range and twists its way down, like a sing-song, Regina Spector nursery rhyme: “IIII think that we make a pretty good team/don’t think we should break up, nooooooo...”
It was a fucking terrible experience to snuggle your way through, groggily, from the other side of a flimsy wall. And as you can see in the video, the singer kept changing outfits, and each new outfit change meant a run through the song about ten more times. In my memory, the shoot only lasted until mid-day, but they must have kept recording for a while to get all that footage in all the permutations.
Eventually we got up and wandered around the borders of the house, just off-screen of the giant white background they brought (or was it a green screen?), bemused with how many people it took to make this video that didn’t have a lot of things going on in it, and yet how few people and little money it seemed to be requiring.
You know, suddenly it didn’t seem so terrible that this was going on. What fun to see people baring their souls to a camera in your own house! It was clear that the singer really wanted this to work: there was confidence in her eyes, but I also detected something like desperation, that this shoot had better work because she had invested so much time and probably so much money, and that all the people around her might very well disappear if this video didn’t lead to even bigger and better things. The other guys in the band—well, they looked like serious nerds to me, which in my utter exhaustion, I found both hilarious and humbling. I wasn’t a nerd at all! And yet no one wanted me to be in their videos (well, not yet, but that’s another story).
Years later, I can listen to this song with much different ears. I can hear the craft in it, and the bouncy bass lines care of the long-haired “nerd” I now realize was Bram Inscore, who went on to play with Beck and Coco Kixx and a ton of others, including my personal fave, Electrocute. And of course, there’s Alex Lilly’s wonderful voice. Yes, only now after hearing the song and looking her up do I realize that it is this Alex Lilly who is in the Living Sisters, where her melodious voice blends with some of my other favorites of the modern era). It looks like she and Bram have a new incarnation, Touché, and I’m excited to hear more from them.
It’s a wonder what seven years and a good, non-hungover night’s sleep can do to improve your sense of enjoyment. Now when I hear this song (and I’ve been playing it all day) it makes me smile. It makes me remember being in a bed, the noonday sun coming in around those metal beams, a lovely young woman with me to curse the loud music and yet laugh at how fun life is, how ridiculous it can be, in a world where people would pay money to put a screen in someone else’s house because it was kind of like a warehouse, on the ground floor, near the L.A. River.
And now we don’t live there anymore, and it’s a real warehouse, and the company that operates out of our old place smashed out that bedroom wall. Even if somehow I could kick out the guy whose desk now sits below my metal beams and get the keys for myself, there’s no wall anymore to put the green screen on one side of, with sleepy hungover lovers on the other side to grimace and grouch and grin. The way I’m headed, I might never be woken up by a band recording a video again.
But I doubt it.
-D. M. Collins