Sunday, December 4, 2011

“THE FIREFLY” IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST

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Why is this blog called STUFFS ?

Anyone?

You there – in the vest, is it?  Why do you suppose this blog is called STUFFS?

No idea, eh?

Well, class, you’d better hope that I grade according to “the curve” method.

This blog is called STUFFS because most of the time I try to keep things fun and lighthearted here. There are exceptions to that rule o’ thumb, as there are exceptions to most rules, but that’s the general idea. I have another blog for darker, more serious issues, but that blog is by invitation only... and not all y’all are invited there.

However, periodically I have to dig deeper, address more serious issues, even here at STUFFS. Sometimes I even need to dive into the belly of the beast. This is one of those times. Nevertheless, I shall try to gild the Black Mariah. I will also try to keep this blog bit from expanding beyond short dog volume.

Lost already, aren’t ya? I could tell by the blank look on your faces.

Hokey-Smoke! Why do I always get these remedial students assigned to me?!

Black Mariah – a 19th Century hearse.

Short Dog – a cheap, 375 ml. bottle of (usually about) 19% alcohol wine preferred by Skid Row drunks. It goes by various names such as Night Train and Thunderbird, but is always identifiable by the words “serve very cold” printed somewhere on the label.

OK, class, are we all up to speed now?

Unless you’re a total newbie to this very popular blog [Cough!-Cough!], you already know that I am of the opinion that the relatively unknown first and only album by David & David, "Boomtown" - released in 1986 - is one of the great Rock music masterpieces of all time.

I bought it the year it was released and it caught me at a moment in time when I was utterly in sync with its themes and its characters. I was living in Los Angeles (the sometimes stated and sometimes merely implied setting for the majority of the songs on “Boomtown”) and I was at a real poor point in my life: my spiritual sense was at low ebb, I felt alone (kinda like I do now), and I was wallowing in darkness and an anger that I was even too apathetic to express.

One of the things I so love about the “Boomtown” album is that it is like no other. With most musical artists or groups, I can say he or they “sound sort of like a cross between so-and-so and such-and-such”. But David & David had such a unique sound and such original musical arrangements that I have never even been able to come up with any comparison that really works in describing them.

The best I can do is say that they painted musical urban landscapes peopled by mostly down-and-out characters – some of which still retained a slight burning ember of hope for something better. “Boomtown” contains themes like those found on the Eagles’ album “Hotel California”, but it’s more ragged ‘n’ real. Or like the themes found on the albums “Los Angeles” and “Under The Big Black Sun” by the punk band X, but with songs that are far more complex, interesting and . . . musical! “Boomtown” contains early Springsteenian-type characters, but they’re living on the West Coast and they’re much more believable.

My favorite song on “Boomtown” is probably “All Alone In The Big City” (sure wish someone would post it at YouTube).

But another big favorite is “A Rock For The Forgotten”, and that is a song I strongly identified with in 1986. I might as well have been “the cleanup kid” at the Firefly bar who came to L.A. to write but who never made it out of the fringes. Only difference being that I didn’t need to come to L.A. because I was born there:

At the Firefly we all tell lies
And the cleanup kid hangs his head
He's the quiet type, came to L.A. to write
But he never made it out of the fringes
Keeps a low profile, you kick him he'll smile
Thinks blood is his payment for losing
~ 'A Rock For The Forgotten'
by David & David

As I’ve stated on STUFFS previously, back in the mid to late ‘80s when I was listening to David & David’s “Boomtown” so often, I would sometimes drive late at night after work to The Embassy Hotel at 9th and Grand in downtown L.A. – a very seedy, dark ‘n’ dangerous area after the sun goes down – and I would have a couple drinks at The Embassy’s bar.

I don’t know why I would drive all the way to downtown L.A. late at night when there were godzillion bars closer to where I worked. With hindsight, and trying to squeeze myself into that dark psychological tunnel I occupied at the time, I think perhaps I was just BEGGING for something to happen to me. Kinda like the movie “Death Wish”, only I wasn’t armed and I was subconsciously hoping to be the victim, not the killer.

Back then, I always thought of The Embassy Hotel bar as my own personal version of The Firefly bar from the David & David song “A Rock For The Forgotten”.

In my last blog bit – “Motel, Money, Murder, Madness” – concerning my recent 3-day weekend trip to L.A., I wrote the following:

Before driving into Culver City and checking into my motel room, I drove into the belly of the beast: Downtown L.A. I had planned to have a drink at The Embassy Hotel on 9th and Grand like I used to do during my dark nights in ‘86 . . . but that is a story for another blog bit to be posted here soon.

Well, “soon” has become “NOW”.

Long story sad . . . The Embassy Hotel is closed, Closed, CLOSED! Below are photos of what it looked like just some weeks ago:











[Sorry, Stephen, but we don't serve your kind here anymore. Don't take it personally, because we don't serve any kind here anymore.]

I guess it was my drinking there in the late ‘80s that kept The Embassy in business, and when my mental sky cleared up sufficiently that I stopped driving there after work for my nightly medicinals, the place just couldn’t stay in the black. Too bad.

Just before leaving on my trip, I got to seriously wondering if there really had been a bar in the Los Angeles area called The Firefly. In other words, were David & David referring to A REAL PLACE?

So I began some Google searches and discovered a wildly, fascinatingly warped website called “L.A. Bizarro” which answered my question.

Hell yes! Of course there was a bar in L.A. called the Firefly. And where do you suppose it was?

Anyone?

You there – in the vest, is it?  Where do you suppose it was?

No idea, eh?

Well, class, you’d better PRAY that I grade according to “the curve” method.

Naturally, it was in the grungy heart of Hollywood! (The only other place a bar like that could have been was in the belly of the beast itself – downtown L.A.)

Now I spent half a lifetime on the streets of Hollywood and I had no recollection of a bar called the Firefly. But according to the folks at L.A. Bizarro, it was located on Vine Street, just south of Hollywood Blvd. In other words, it was somewhere right down THIS street:



They say the bar closed sometime in the late 1980s. I was never in the Firefly (Damn! If only I had known!...), but the moment I saw the black and white photograph of the Firefly’s neon sign on the L.A. Bizarro website, I thought: Wait! Hokey-Smoke and Hoo-Wee! I vaguely recall that sign!

In that same block where The Firefly stood there used to be a small, classy Jazz club called 'The Vine Street Bar And Grill', and in the late ‘80s or very early ‘90s, I won tickets from the great L.A. Jazz and Blues radio station (then called KLON) at 88.1 FM to see Anita O'Day perform there.

To now learn that David & David’s Firefly bar was not more than 10 or so minutes from Antonio’s (my favorite Los Angeles restaurant), and that I could have driven to it any night of the week, really bums me out! Hell, it’s enough to make a guy roam the downtown L.A. streets at night . . . hoping for the worst.

CHECK  THESE  OUT! . . .

David & David ~ A Rock for the Forgotten



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JHqyZkhq8U

The L.A. BIZARRO Website’s Story About “The Firefly” Bar:
http://labizarro.com/2010/08/23/firefly/

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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13 comments:

mousiemarc said...

ya know brother oddly enough I did an internet search on these guys and they have written songs for other artists I like. Heck one of them is credited with working with Waylon Jennings according to wikipedia. These two guys launched Sheryll Crows career and they both co-wrote her debut album with her. Which happens to be the only CD by her I can actually can listen to.

Br'er Marc

Eve said...

I really like that song...I just found the cd on ebay! I know most people get their music digitally these days, but I'm a relic! I still love my cd's and dvd's.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

BR'ER MARC ~
Yeah, the two Davids (Baerwald & Ricketts) were successful L.A. studio musicians before teaming up to form "David & David".

Now to be a studio musician-for-hire you HAVE TO BE REALLY GOOD, because other groups and musicians do not pay mediocre talent to play on and write arrangements for their own projects.

Unfortunately, it seems the Davids had personality conflicts, which accounts for the reason they only released one great album. But both went on to other projects individually afterwards.

And yes, you're right that together they were major creative influences on Sheryll Crow's debut album (which I've never heard).

But you sure as hell caught me by surprise with that info about a Waylon Jennings connection - I sure hadn't heard THAT before. Do you know exactly what they collaborated on with Waylon?

If there was any justice in this world "Boomtown" would have won a Grammy or something and would be a very well known recording today... instead of the obscure masterpiece that it is, known only to the hippest cats on the planet... like you 'n' me.
[;o)


EVE ~
Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

I'm with you... I don't even own an iPod. If I buy something, it's still going to be in the compact disc format. But heck, I'm such a dinosaur that I'm still listening to my old 8-track tapes!

Nah. I jest. However, I do still have a collection of cassette tapes that I occasionally drag out and listen to.

If you really like "A Rock For The Forgotten" then I can give you my ironclad guarantee that you will dig the rest of the album too!

They had a minor FM hit in the title track "Welcome To The Boomtown", and as good as it is, it's still only about my 4th favorite song on the album.

There's not a bad track on the whole thing. If you get a copy for yourself, I would like to talk with you sometime about how you interpret the song "Swimming In The Ocean". That's got a very odd arrangement with some bizarre lyrics, which I think I've figured out. But if my interpretation of the theme is correct, I still don't quite see how the image of "swimming in the ocean" fits into it. Would love to see how YOU interpret that song.

Say, you are the true A-List DOORS fan around here. Did you make the DOORS connection with the title of my previous post, "MOTEL, MONEY, MURDER, MADNESS"?

Yak Later...

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Eve said...

Hey Stephen...I have Sheryl Crow's album 'Tuesday Night Music Club' and I really like it. The Davids did write some of the songs with her, but I wouldn't go as far to say they 'launched her career', like you say, Marc.. Before that album she had recorded commercial jingles and sang with a bunch of different people, most notably touring with Michael Jackson for two years ('87-'89),as a backup singer and performing the duet 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You' with him on stage for those years. Some would say MJ launched her career...in reality though, I think she probably launched her own career, cause she's the one that went out and made those connections to hone her craft and meet the people that could help her out...
I listened to D & D's 'Swimming in the Ocean' on youtube and it only confirms that I want to buy that album! I haven't sat down and tried to decipher the lyrics yet, but I will! Maybe later, after work..I'm looking forward to hearing the whole album....
Yes, I did make the connection of 'motel, money, murder, madness' to the Doors! I love them....'we take a trip from glad to sadness...Mr. Mojo Risin'...What do you think of 'Horse Latitudes'? my musical tastes are so diverse, my favourites are the Doors, the Beatles, MJ, Andrea Bocelli, George Harrison's solo stuff, the Who, Billie Holliday, the Bee Gees, Crash Test Dummies....to name a few!
Have you ever heard the Crash Test Dummies? They also have a song called Swimming in the Ocean...I think...or maybe it's Swimming in Your Ocean..they're a Canadian band, I'm not sure how well known they are outside of this country...I never know if Americans know about our bands! lol! Unless it's like, Bryan Adams or someone super big like that!

julie fedderson said...

I remember hearing "Welcome to the Boomtown" when it was on the pop-40 channels. Always thought the upbeat chorus was deceptive when you listened to the lyrics.

Strange to be so close to your musical fantasy and never know it was there. Although at least you had a surrogate--even if it is no longer open. Reminds me of how I felt when the Balinese Room in Galveston was destroyed by Hurricane Ike, I think. Hubs and I used to go there and just relish the seedy vibe and imagine what it was like in the 50s when it was the place to be.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

EVE ~
I checked about a month or so ago and found that all of the songs from "Boomtown" are posted on YouTube except for the closing number, "Heroes", and - unfortunately - my favorite, "All Alone In The Big City".

I asked a guy there who had posted a number of their songs (including a good video for "Swallowed By the Cracks") if he would put together a video for "All Alone In The Big City" but he never responded to me.

"Horse Latitudes", eh? That's some weird stuffs, and probably what prompted me to learn the meaning of the word "jettisoned" when I was a young pup. Have you any idea what that piece means?

By the mid 1980s I was listening almost exclusively to Jazz and Blues (or Jazz/Blues-influenced musicians like Van Morrison), and only the occasional straightforward Rock group... like David & David.

So, I don't know most of the Rock/Pop musicians who came along after 1984 or so. But I have definitely heard OF Crash Test Dummies. They are actually fairly popular here and one runs across their name frequently.

Bryan Adams? Who's that? [;o)

I once saw something posted on your blog that made me cringe. ...You mocked The Carpenters! That's a hanging offense in my world, Sister! (But I forgave you, music being such a subjective thang an' all.)

But did you know that Richard Carpenter has been credited with having invented the "Power Ballad" format and that it cost the Carpenters some of their earlier fans when they found all that fuzzed-out electric guitar as the coda to "Goodbye To Love"? Richard was a musical innovator, and Karen's voice... oh, such sweet pain!

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

JULIE ~
Yeah, "Welcome To The Boomtown" ain't exactly an upbeat song, is it? Uptempo but not upbeat.

Your comment about the Balinese Room reminded me of a great old episode from the Moonlighting TV show. It was the famous black and white episode (introduced by Orson Welles) about a nightclub that had once been the hot place to be during the '30s and '40s at the height of the Big Band era.

But then a puzzling murder takes place there - the jealous lover thing - and the dying off of the Big Band era leaves the ballroom abandoned and in disrepair. Enter David Addison & Maddie Hayes, black and white images, and hot Jazz.

It's a great episode and worth looking for if you've never seen it. I'll bet someone has posted it at YouTube. It was called "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice."

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

Someday when I have money again I'm going to have to get that DAVID X 2 album. It sounds like a lot of other albums I used to like to listen to back in the 80s, not to say that the Davids aren't unique, but they were playing a prevalent style for the times.

Too bad about that hotel. I could use a few drinks. What I really need is a bar within walking distance where everyone speaks English. Yeah, right.

Lee
Coming soon: Your A to Z stories and the official A to Z Badge is now revealed
Blogging from A to Z

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

LEE ~
Yeah, well, the Davids were playing straightforward Rock - it wasn't that New Wave/Electronica crap that was so popular at the time.

But then again, it wasn't QUITE straightforward because they were doing stuffs with their arrangements that still - twenty-five years later - reminds me of no one else. There was this heavy, steady drum beat, and all kinds of unique instrumental vamps in their songs.

It was sort of Grunge sensibility meets actual MUSIC.

A good, seedy bar within stumbling distance is always an asset to every community!
[;o)

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Anonymous said...

Loved the Firefly used to go there when I was a student at CalArts

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

ANONYMOUS ~
Hokey-Smoke! I am totally jealous of you. I DO remember THE FIREFLY, must have passed it a godzillion times, but I never went in. Now it's years too late - gone, Gone, GONE!

Had I known it would be featured in one of my very favorite Rock albums of all-time, I damn sure would have visited that bar.

My buddies and I had our "usual" nightspots, and The Firely, from the outside, just appeared to be one more of a thousand bars in the Hollywood area.

I doubt you have any photographs of the interior, but if you do, I'd be mighty grateful if you'd share 'em with me.

I really blew it when it came to THE FIREFLY, but I'm truly glad that YOU didn't.

Can I assume you also like David & David's 'BOOMTOWN' album?

~ D-FensDogG
'Loyal American Underground'

Indie Unbound said...

Ah, the Firefly. I spent many a night there. More famously, for me at least, it is where I professed my love to a girl over the house phone while sitting at the bar. That did not go well, but at least we're still friends 30 years later.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

INDIE UNBOUND ~
How very cool that you were in the Firefly! I wish I could say that. I think I vaguely recall seeing the sign at night while driving by a few times, but that's the best I can personally do.

I was in Hollywood a lot but that wasn't one of my regular nightly hangout places. I sure wish now that I had gone to the Firefly at least once or twice. I saw a lot of bands in Hollyweird - The Whisky, The Roxy, The Troubadour - but on the rare times I drank there it was more likely to be The Rainbow or somewhere up there on The Strip.

Professing your love over the house phone at the Firefly bar. Man, that's funny! That would fit right into a David & David song.

What years were you hanging out there?

~ D-FensDogG
'Loyal American Underground'