by Bessie the Cow
Chapter 10: Welcome to El Lay
Most people don’t know that robotic bovines can adapt to new situations and make the best of them. But we do.
It was 3AM in "Tinseltown." The city's newest arrivals, Kinn Konn and Silva Soulmine, had just spent 18 hours traversing the American West in a creaky cube van. Exhausted yet exhilarated, they rolled up to Crystal Sound Recorders in Hollywood.
Why head there in the middle of the night? The basic purpose was leaping and bounding around while screaming at the top of their lungs—the better to celebrate their phenomenal good luck at being selected to record a full album for free at the world class facility. That was the plan, anyway. The alluring prospect of recording our latest/greatest material at a fabled recording Mecca like Crystal had been the deciding factor in luring our troupe to El Lay. Which is why our main milking core made a beeline for it.
Gleefully touching down on Vine Street, leap, bound, and scream our troubadours did—for a grand total of maybe three seconds. That was approximately the time it took for them to notice an odd assortment of official-looking proclamations taped to the studio's otherwise nondescript alley entranceway. A padlock and a frame of yellow police tape completed the disquieting image. Uh-oh.
Jubilation morphed instantly into consternation as the duo tentatively approached the door. Drawing within reading range, both milkmates were now blinking and batting their eyes in a faltering attempt to process what was clearly spelled out in black and white: by order of the IRS, Crystal Sound Recorders was now shut down pending full payment of back taxes and penalties! Entering the studio was strictly verboten. Even with all the relentlessness in the world, the men of milk would not be recording a hit album in a padlocked building.
Welcome to LA!
They tell me that in the City of Angels, it usually takes a minimum of at least a few weeks for the latest wagon train full of wannabe stars to have their fondest dreams shattered. Ours was dashed to smithereens in the first ten seconds!
This episode effectively set the tone for our entire "California Dreaming" experience. We'd spend the next year scrambling to make the album we'd been as pumped and primed to record as any band could ever be.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I wasn't even there yet to reprise variations on the "I told you so" theme. I got the news like a month later.
As you'll recall, it wasn't like I couldn't wait to get out there. Bounce and rumble all the way across the American West in a hot, stuffy, claustrophobic cube-van? Nope. Not this gal! I was still in Boulder, patiently waiting to be summoned once the epic recording was finished and a series of live performances was scheduled to promote it .
Young Tim and Benny Seeker, our new bass player (more on him coming up) we'd picked up cause Chocolate Milk couldn't leave his wife, five kids, and three jobs, had arrived a few days before Kinn and Silva, making the trek in Tim's rusty Pinto. They'd already found themselves an apartment in Sherman Oaks.
In the immediate aftermath of their traumatic "welcome to LA" moment, Kinn and Silva had dejectedly clattered across town to Victor's ranch house in Studio City. They'd be staying with him and his wife Yumi till they found their own slice of heaven. It 's unclear whether or not Victor already knew Crystal's fate. He hadn't seemed all that stunned when Kinn reported the news, albeit at 4 AM it was hard to fathom what was real and what wasn't.
It took Kinn and Silva about a week to rent a home from a "killer queen" whose claim to fame was designing the famed floral tropical wallpaper that's all over the Beverly Hills Hotel and any number of luxury haciendas.
Once settled, The Milkmen vowed to make the best of things despite the Crystal fiasco. They bravely soldiered on without me. With recording plans on hold, troop maneuvers were limited to refining the live act. One unanticipated refinement I learned about was that our show had to be condensed from three 45-minute sets into one 35 minute "showcase" of our best material. That's like picking the best blue ribbon heifer from a bevy of them. The subtraction of everyone's personal favorites was bound to cause some hard feelings.
The reason for the abbreviated set was that theoretically you were showcasing for super-busy industry types who'd already been in the office all day. They had to be fresh to accomplish tie-honored dual goals like signing you, propelling you toward stardom, then fleecing you for everything you were worth once you attained it. Or so I'd heard tell.
What lured me out to SoCal—Air Express First Class no less, befitting my status as esteemed mascot—was the announcement that one such showcase had been scheduled. Eager to make up for the Crystal glitch, management hurriedly booked use at a club represented as “LA’s finest live showcase venue.” This was Madame Wong’s, the former Chinese restaurant whose name had outlived its prior incarnation as ... I can barely dictate the words ... a spare-rib joint.
Landing the "prestigious slot" was the handiwork of Victor and his buddy Kevin Benson, whose Next Move Productions was ostensibly an influential management firm with offices overlooking the Sunset Strip. Kevin dated the daughter of a Capitol Records VP who would briefly become our wardrobe mistress. According to Kinn, Kevin was a personable fellow fond of locker-room talk like, "She was a hardbody with a stomach so tight you could bounce a dime off it." Kinn must have really needed a laugh to chuckle at that.
I'll tell you what I know about the cast of characters comprising our "management team." Basically, it was understood that Victor and Kevin would nurture us for a while, then we would be passed on to the "high octane" management team of Artie Kornfield and Don Rubinstein, at which point Victor and Kevin would receive a hefty finder's fee since we were sure to rake in some big bucks. We'll get to Artie—one of the main Woodstock promoters with a lot of face time in the film and the author of classic AM radio fare like Jan and Dean's "Dead Man's Curve" and The Partridge Family's "I Love A Flower Girl"—but now an insufferable cokehead and "Uncle Don" a bit later.
Needless to say, The Milkmen were salivating over the opportunity to wiggle their tight little bums on a California stage, especially cause this ostensibly was a premiere California venue which not everyone is connected enough to play at. Naturally, plans were being hatched to spring me from suspended animation and to collect me from 1,000 miles away. The Victor/Kevin management branch insisted that it just wouldn’t be much of a debut without little me. I must be flown out post haste. That all seemed sensible enough. I liked that sort of thinking. Kinn liked that sort of thinking. No problem, right?
Things started getting a little touchy over deciding who got to incur the monster expense of crating me and flying me out last-minute Air Express. Since it was their idea, and since there had been no promised recording, did Victor and Kevin graciously offer to pick up the tab? Er, no. They convinced Kinn and Silva to finance the $900 (in 1982 money) expedition, arguing that they had called in favors from well-placed dealmakers all over the LA scene to secure us the influential gig. Therefore, they reasoned, they'd done their part and the expenditure would be well worth it for us.
I wasn’t going to argue either way. I was itching to rejoin my milk-mates.
Meanwhile, refinements for the truncated live act were taking place at a tiny rehearsal hut we shared off Victory Blvd in the Valley with two other bands. One of them was Ambrosia, a bunch of really accomplished players with a slew of massive hit singles to their credit, ear candy like "How Much I Feel" and "You're The Only Woman." These were fantastic songs which boasted top notch, perfect-for-radio production back in the days when Pop ruled the roost. But something was awry in their world. David Pack, their lead singer and an unquestionably advanced tunesmith, was a heroin addict. We never saw him once in six months. Neither did his perfectly cordial band mates, despite the fact they kept expecting him to show up at every rehearsal. He apparently kept telling them that he would. They kept diligently rehearsing their parts anyway, preparing for the great day when their unit would once again be whole—which never came. Ambrosia generally rehearsed right before us.
The band that rehearsed right after us, Autograph, was less stellar. They were nice enough to shoot the breeze with, albeit they seemed kind of lackluster musically. On the other hand, what it turned out that they were really talented at was picking a niche and mining it. That niche would be heavy metal. This metalhead hair band also sported a hot look, which at the time meant going heavy on the spandex, scarves, and teased hair. Sure enough, they were rewarded for being good at playing the game when they struck gold with "Turn Up The Radio." Radio has always rewarded songs about radio. Autograph were cannier than they looked.
Lacking a singer in the David Pack class, Kinn figured we couldn't quite compete with Ambrosia's serious stuff, although he felt we had a bunch of upbeat and entertaining material they didn't have, not to mention our dairy schtick which gave us an edge for certain audiences. He definitely figured we were a lot better than Autograph, although he balked at playing the game like they did. In any event, we were right there with Ambrosia and Autograph. They both accepted us as pretty much on their level. Ultimately, those bands were a lot easier to fit into sellable niches for human publicists to exploit. We were still somewhere between hard rock and new wave ... which left us very entertaining with a lot of appeal ... but also without a clear cut category pragmatic record company executives could slot us neatly into. Not that any of us had reached an inescapable conclusion like that at that point.
Meanwhile, we'd managed to whittle our three hours of material down to the requisite 35-minute set. Musically, we were locked and loaded. The big showcase loomed. There was only one "thing" missing from the picture. Take a wild guess what that would be!
The anticipated reunion took place when the band swung by a remote cargo area at LA International to pick me up on the way to Madame Wong’s. It was great to see the bulls, I mean guys, again. It was not so great to find myself squeezed in an equipment van with all the instruments pressing against my soft, papier-mâché flanks. I had a vested interest in seeing the band succeed if only for purely selfish reasons like seeking a more deluxe mode of transport (my personal vintage truck didn't make the journey), procuring a more rigid structure with impervious cowhide, and getting outfitted with more advanced robotics which would enable me to live out my fondest dream, dancing on stage.
But at that moment, my personal discomfort was a small price to pay for a golden opportunity to convert Angelenos who had no idea that a talking and anatomically correct bovine exists into a surging, pulsating, adoring congregation. Wasn't that my purpose on this planet?
Most people don’t know that robotic bovines can adapt to new situations and make the best of them. But we do.
Chapter 1: Dashing Dairymen
Chapter 2: Rick Plays The Snare Drum With His Head
Chapter 3: Tim Takes The Stage
Chapter 4: Meet Mr. Watts
Chapter 5: We Open For Missing Persons
Chapter 6: Conquering Colorado
Chapter 7: Ric Sees His Successor
Chapter 8: Westward Ho!
Chapter 9: A Cow Writer Co-Writer
Chapter 10: Welcome To LA
Chapter 11: Madame Wong's or How Quickly They Forget