It started with a traffic jam. Young literary ladies of leisure like your editrix are rarely trapped by these workaday traumas, but in this case an afternoon visit with the grandfolks in Ventura County left me pointed back to L.A. during the worst of the afternoon commute. Trying to amuse myself through the stop ‘n’ go tedium, I opened my mind up to various fancies, and among them found this one:
Scram is almost ten years old. I should really throw a party.
From that humble impulse came the Scramarama, two nights of ridiculously ambitious rock and roll, light projections, found educational films, psychic cats, hauntings, and assorted magic. Before it was done I’d enlisted dozens of lovely folks to share my delusions, secured the use of a 90-year-old theatre and its delightful 22-year-old manageress, obtained a temporary liquor license, lured several heroes out of retirement, and even got the L.A. Times to play along. Wish you coulda been there.
The acts presented were chosen for their association with the magazine, their nearness to my heart, or both. Just as the magazine is a slice of culture filtered through the kaleidoscope of my passions and biases, Scramarama too was a manifestation of things that I think matter. Booking ten moderately obscure performers into a huge theatre in downtown Los Angeles was a risk, but once I saw the final line up, I realized that it was insignificant how many tickets were sold. It was going to be a great show, whether 50 or 500 people came.
We kicked off the festivities on Friday night with a set from Bangers & Mash, those Gallbladderpuddlian mocktops led by the irrepressible Mash Letchingsworth III. The band’s American debut was at the release party for Scram #11, and their tour diary enlivened issue #14. This early set time had nothing at all to do with Mash’s supposed resemblance to his American cousin Edwin Letcher, who ably managed the stage over the course of the festival. No, the band simply needed to go on first because they were jetlagged. Bangers & Mash made an especially big hit with the under-twelves, my brothers among them.
Then came Red Planet (interviewed in Scram #13), who drove down from San Francisco to delight the assembly with an absurdly energetic set of tunes catchier than the industrial rat traps tucked discretely throughout the venue. Scads of fun was had onstage and off.
Convincing Scott Miller (contributor, Scram #9) to appear was one of those hopeless tasks that I just kept picking away at. I’d ask and he’d remind me that he’d retired from music. I’d put it out of my mind for a while and then wake up thinking “How can we possibly do this show without Scott?!” Then I’d ask again, he’d say no, etc. Finally must have worn him down or caught him in a generous mood, because he surprised me by saying okay. We couldn’t afford the expense of a Loud Family reunion, but no one was complaining that the alternative was Scott playing solo with electric guitar. And he was exquisite, sending those brilliant shards of song out into the wings like some stagebound angel to a room gone utterly silent. Scott’s set was a highlight of the weekend, with many people coming up to tell me how moved they’d been by it.
Next up were the Loons, those mysterious psychedelic shamen from points south. They were interviewed for Scram #6, when their line-up was very different and their sound more Q65 than Love. For them we lowered the house lights and fired up the Secret Weapon. A band this atmospheric deserved a something unusual. Perched up in the first balcony before a frighteningly complex bank of digital, analog and gelatinous technology were Mari Kono, Lisa Sutton and Andy Zax, collaborating on live projections for the latter part of both evenings. Mari had prepared a series of geometric patterned slides that faded in and out like an op art daydream. Andy brought a box of weird 16mm educational films that he’d been running between bands, and now overlaid silently where appropriate. Lisa was up to her elbows in glycerin and food coloring, creating hallucinogenic washes of pulsating goo. With this backdrop, the Loons looked and sounded amazing, as they set the stage for the most anticipated performance of the festival.
The Music Machine have never been covered in Scram, because Loons frontman Mike Stax had already done such excellent work on them in Ugly Things. Sean Bonniwell’s brilliant lyrics and innovative arrangements have captivated me since I stumbled onto “Talk Talk” and (especially) “Masculine Intuition” as a teenybopper. A solo appearance in San Diego last summer indicated that Sean might be ready to return to performing, and indeed he immediately expressed enthusiasm when asked to play Scramarama. He assembled a passionate group of talented San Diegans, who learned Sean’s songs in his absence, gearing up for an intensive set of October rehearsals. It was quietly suggested that it might also be possible to lure Music Machine drummer Ron Edgar out to join Sean, and delightfully, this happened. If you weren’t there I can’t possibly convey in mere words the power and beauty of hearing those songs played at full-bore by Sean, Ron and their new Music Machine 2000. It was simply astonishing, and there was nothing at all that could have followed them, so we called it a night.
Harvey Sid Fisher (interviewed in Scram #12) turned up with his full band and charming background singers to transform his celebrated Astrology Songs into a folk-rock extravaganza. I’ve never heard him sound as in command as he did tonight. It made for a perfect introduction to the evening’s proceedings.
As Harvey left the stage, Leo Vaisman was setting up his booth in the lobby, where his well-trained psychic cats Nostradamus and Cassandra offered fortune telling and atmosphere for a small donation. Are the cats really psychic? You tell me. Here are the partial contents of the scroll Nostradamus selected for me: “You’ll have a delightful time with good friends at mutually liked amusements.” Eerie, eh?
Brute Force (celebrated in Scram #3 and again in this issue) was the most unlikely Scramarama performer, more so than even the Music Machine. Who would believe it would be possible to lure this mysterious sixties auteur out to California, or that when we did he would deliver a performance powerful enough to captivate every soul in attendance? I tracked down Stephen Friedland early in the planning stages of the fest, meeting with him and daughter Lilah in a NYC jazz bar. My pal Keith Bearden came along for moral support, because I was frankly intimidated and somewhat starstruck by Brute! He quickly put us at ease with his charming conversation, and demonstrated his people skills when a drunken East Indian joined our party and shared a lifetime of pain and resentment. Brute patiently drew this troubled person out, calmed his outbursts, and sent him on his way. A couple days later I met again with Brute and journalist Dawn Eden, and tentatively asked if he’d be interested in playing Scramarama. To my delight, he immediately agreed. While financial concerns and the events of September 11 inserted some snags in the works, this was one artist that I didn’t want to let get away. Special thanks go out to Andy Zax, for all his encouragement when it seemed least likely to fly. I knew it was all worth it from the moment Brute sat down at the electric piano and started playing those weird and wonderful songs. His performance, encompassing music, prop comedy and audience participation, was incredibly moving and hilarious. We didn’t want him to leave, and now we all want him to come back.
Nikki Corvette (interviewed in Scram #14) had recently made a triumphant return to performing at the Bubblegum Ball, a wild evening of roller skating and rock and roll that doubled as the release party for David Smay’s and my Feral House book Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth. Once again backed up by the fabulous Pinkz, Highland Park’s favorite girl band, Nikki showed that she remains the undisputed queen of teenage pop. Britney and Christina wish they had an eighth of her sass.
Deniz Tek–contributor to Scram #12 and #14, and subject of the first interview I ever conducted–should need no introduction to readers of this magazine. The one-time Radio Birdman leader remains a vital performer who continues to tour and record while maintaining his career as an emergency physician. Tonight he appeared with the West Coast Deniz Tek Group, featuring twins Art and Steve Godoy. They immediately settled into a glorious groove, enhanced by the inspired imagery projected from the balconies. This set was another highlight in a weekend of astonishingly good music. Deniz was also one of two artists harassed by the theatre ghosts, when he tried to take a nap in the spooky understage area (Brute Force claims to have seen a spectral child near the gents).
The Cynics have never appeared in Scram, in part because their long hiatus has kept them off the road during most of the magazine’s existence. (They did play on my college radio show in 1990, though.) The times I’ve seen them have been almost unbearably exciting, and I was thrilled to secure the band for the festival’s closing slot. It was really late by the time they went on, but from their performance you’d think the night was just beginning. Singer Michael Kastelic, who’d been dancing up a storm all weekend, somehow managed to summon even more energy as he led the band through a blistering set of savage nuggets. Although I was nearly comatose by this point, they sent a jolt of pure adrenaline into my veins that had me dancing like a goon up in the balcony. The Cynics sent Scramarama out with a beautiful bang, and then suddenly it was time to go home. Sniff.
Heartfelt thanks go out to all the swell folks who helped, especially MC Michael Lucas and the rest of the San Francisco contingent, who paid their own way south only to work like little doggies all weekend long. It really meant a lot to have my founding co-editor Steve Watson in attendance. My dad, stepmother and grandparents tirelessly looked after the box office and merch table, and charmed everyone. P. Edwin Letcher kept things moving on stage. Dawn Garcia from the Palace was always available to fix problems and fire up the scarily antiquated lights. Doug Miller not only tended bar, he negotiated the whole set-up with the surprisingly nice folks from Ace Beverage. Paul du Gré‘s sympathetic sound mix made the best of the peculiarities of a Vaudeville-era theatre.
It was great to have old Scramsters, family and friends together for this celebration. I know there’s no way this could ever have happened without all the amazingly generous people who contributed their time, energies and expertise in helping me realize a dream. In my exhausted state around 4 o’clock on Sunday morning I found myself saying, “I am the luckiest girl in the world!”–thank you to everyone who helped me form such a notion.
I’m going to try get stuck in traffic more often. And yeah, I’m pretty sure this won’t be the last Scramarama. See you next time?
For more Scramarama photos, see this link.