Some of you might know that I’ve been working on an autobiography. I have been for the last four and a half years in fact. And for the last couple of years I have chosen not to mention much about it on my blog, but I am going to make an exception this time, as yesterday RollingStone reported that the infamous Los Angeles music fixture, writer and producer, Kim Fowley, has died. So…a little something from my life.
If you don’t know who Kim is, read the RollingStone article to get yourself up to speed. Better yet, see the Runaways movie. It will show you just how outrageous he truly was – his tenacity and ambition, his originality, punk-rock, I-don’t-give-a-shit style, and outlandish vulgarism.
Or, if you want to get an even better idea about his character, rent the documentary by former Runaways bassist, Victory Tischler-Blue, entitled Edgeplay, where you can get a little bit better perspective on the way Kim could be downright abusive. Especially to very young musicians – girls in particular. Actually, maybe not girls in particular. I know for a fact he was just as hard on the boys and who is to say which one of us were more vulnerable? We were all desperate to become successful in music and would do just about anything to get there.
Does it sound like I knew Kim Fowley? I did. Pretty much any young band in Los Angeles would have something to do with Kim sooner or later. If you played the Sunset Strip as frequently as my band did in the early 1990s, and if there was any kind of “buzz” happening for you, Kim would come and swoop in on you like a hungry pigeon – because all you were to him was a wasted MacDonald’s french fry lying in the gutter waiting to be swooped on. That’s who he gravitated towards most — the unloved. Kim had a way of embracing the rock n’ roll hopeful and empowering them to new heights by bringing them under his wing of twisted love and compassion to make you part of his lonesome family – a family that included everybody – but nobody that wanted to work with him.
He lived alone in a small, one bedroom hotel-like apartment when we met him, just below Wattles Park. He began inviting us there at night after gigs and band practices to begin what wound up to be a full education in the music industry – Kim Fowley style.
His apartment consisted of very few pieces of furniture, and we never saw the bedroom, but I always imagined it to be loaded up with a ton of sexual paraphernalia and with some kind of sex swing hanging from the ceiling, but the door was always closed. The main piece of furniture he had in there was a big desk, a ton of papers with a phone, and the walls were jam-packed with gold, silver and platinum records. In fact, he had so many gold records that there wasn’t enough wall space for them. Many were stacked on the floor and/or leaning against the walls and some pieces of the furniture. It was so ridiculous that I was convinced they were all fake the first time I went there. I don’t think anyone in the band had ever seen a gold record before, so we all looked around kind of shocked, as they ran a gamut of dates from the 1960s to the 1990s, and a lot of it we had never heard of before.
The truth is, Kim was a genius. A bonafide brilliant genius. Definitely a promotional genius. I hate to say that he was actually a musical genius, but he was able to write hit after hit that made the top 20 everywhere but America. Ha! It’s true though. He’d play his records for us that went number 2 in Guam, or some such place. He was most proud of the tracks he performed himself which were absolutely un-listenable, but Kim usually wrote or co-wrote songs for other bands and he seriously didn’t get credit for most of it. He certainly talked about this and he wasn’t bullshitting us either. I believed every word of it, and not because he had all the gold records. It was because he was one of the smartest people I think I had ever met in my life, certainly the fastest in wit and the most original (in a rather sickening way).
For weeks we were indoctrinated by Kim’s rantings, night after night, until the sun came up. We were transfixed on him. He knew everything about everyone in rock history, in Los Angeles, at every record label, and the inner workings of every band that “made it” from their beginnings to their failings, and on to their successes. And I mean all the juicy bits and pieces. He knew all of it because he was there during various scenarios, or should I say during various dramatic scenarios. There isn’t a scene with Kim in it without some drama. His presence alone is full of life and full of dramatics. He would wear a brightly-colored plaid suit to an industry meeting, no matter who was there, and speak his mind more than freely. He would tell the head of Sony Music to fuck a dog if he felt like it.
Kim had me pin-pointed within the first hour and a half on the first night we all sat in his apartment for the first time ever. I hadn’t spoken but a couple of words to him. Most of us (there were five of us in the band) didn’t really say much, as he did all of the talking. He had seen us perform multiple times and had already summed us all up. He said to me, “You, the brooding one back there. You are the oldest and you should tell everyone you’re the youngest (I was 23 at the time), and I can see that you read a lot of Bukowski and feel sorry for yourself because you’re dark and you’re probably a painter too. You probably paint dark pictures about your terrible, piss-stained childhood.”
Yes, he did. He said something to me along those lines.
And we did work with him for a while, until we learned that working with him meant that no one would want to work with us. We were forewarned too, by close friends at record companies that told us that they wouldn’t put it past Kim to throw a typewriter through a plate glass window for no good reason, or perhaps put a snake in an executive’s home mailbox if he didn’t get his way.
So after a very short while, we decided not to let him produce our demo.
We used to call him our “crazy messiah.” At least Jen and I did. Jen was one of the singers in the band and my closest friend. Now she is now a manager for a big management company. We are both thinking about going to Kim’s funeral next week.