I have people ask me how I got started as a guitarist.
After all, to make it big, you have to gain entry into a very small club. I tell them that it’s serendipity at it’s most bizarre application…
Here’s a case in point;
It was probably meant to be…
I started out in Rock ‘n’ Roll early. In fact, my first gig was as a walk (crawl) on in a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic called “World’s Greatest Sinner.” My big brother and I were being tended by my mother’s sister (otherwise referred to as “The Commie Aunt” by my father), while both my mother and father (card carrying killers) were out “hunting,” pillaging the landscape in the US Government’s attempt at making the world safe for Democracy. 🙂
We’d been stationed at El Toro, a US Marine Air base that lived in the middle of orange groves that went on for thousands of acres.
El Toro was a weird place. The base’s logo ( a “Flying Bull”) was actually designed by Walt Disney. We actually knew Lee Harvey Oswald, who was stationed there from December of 1958, to the spring of ’59. Supposedly there’s a photograph floating around of him holding me as a baby. We also knew counter-culture guru Kerry Wendell Thornley, who was in the same radar unit as Lee.
My aunt had come to stay with us, due to a “domestic dispute” involving her, her soon-to-be ex, and a butcher knife. Oh yeah, an ambulance and the police were also involved…
But, no charges got pressed, the “ex” healed with a nasty scar, and Ginny came to live with us. She was a 6′ Amazon of a woman allergic to bras, totally caught up in the celebrity of Southern California, and deeply embedded in the surf “Rock” scene. And, as male children, we were enamored by her. (That came later, though…)
She was friends with Frank Zappa, who was a young college kid writing a film music score for Timothy Carey, a Hollywood bad boy turned director, who recorded low-budget films for the masses. Now, we’re talking late 1960 or 61…
I forget, because frankly, I was about 2 or three years old.
One day, she took us to Long Beach, CA, and we got our first taste of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hollywood fame… The cinematographer took one look at us, and stuck us in front of that camera, and our future was revealed… 🙂
I suspect that she did it simply because my parents couldn’t stop her. I suspect that she thought it would give my father an aneurysm. I suspect that she did it because SHE was trying to get in front of that camera. I even suspect that she might have been a “commie.” But, we didn’t care. We loved her anyway.
Why am I bringing this up, after all these years? Because I just watched it again on late night TCM. I wasn’t aware that any copies still existed! 🙂
Damn, I was a cute kid…
We have a photograph in our family archives, of me being held by the young Frank Zappa, who looks like he’s holding a hostile alien…
The film, just in case you haven’t seen it, is a sorry Timothy Carey tale of a demented “Elvis worshipping” insurance salesman who tires of a traditional life, and wakes up deciding he’s God.
It’s undeniably one of the most bizarre movies ever made, and I’ve gotta tell you that even over forty years later, it’s STILL way ahead of its time! It’s a grotesque parable that’s as innovative and subversive as any film ever made. Carey sticks himself in the lead as Clarence Hilliard, a middle-aged insurance agent who goes insane and decides to become the “rockabilly messiah.” Abandoning his normal life, he changes his name to “God” and stands on street corners, handing out flyers, recruiting white-trash greasers to his fire ‘n’ brimstone “Life is Hell” doctrine.
To raise money for his cause, he seduces old ladies for cash, and performs in an Elvis-like silver-lame suit. He even starts his own “Eternal Man” political party, which promises to make everyone a “superhuman being.” Their creedo is:
“There’s only one God, and that’s Man.”
This is seriously whacked stuff, folks… Carey pulls off one of the most intense, overwrought performances of all time (putting novice scenery-chewers like Dennis Hopper to shame, sorry Dennis!), ranting, crying, dancing, and looking wasted, his eyelids at half-mast throughout. Eventually, Clarence’s followers begin rioting and vandalizing, but that type of social upheaval has to be expected when a new God emerges–especially one promising “No Death.”
When the political machines get wind of his Rock ‘n’ Roll charisma, they run him as an independent candidate for president, but Clarence is corrupted when his dogma takes on fascist overtones and he starts seducing cute, 14-year-old volunteers. Though lacking in little things like coherency, Carey packs this volatile tale with venom toward modern politics, the media, dried-up religion, and the entire sorry state of the human race. It’s even narrated by The Devil, represented by a big snake!
You won’t believe Tim’s performances. He just starts shaking and his hair falls down… He must have watched Jerry Lee Lewis or something. He starts rolling around on the stage, he’s just shaking all over. It’s a live performance and he’s just smashing his guitar, he’s really beating on it real loud. This is one of the greatest rockabilliy movies ever made. If you get a chance to see it, it’ll just change your life.
Carey is dead serious with all this craziness (even the heavily religious finale) and his outrageous direction is beyond belief! Most of the extras were simply pulled off the streets (I know, because my brother and I were among them), and the score was provided by a young musician… Frank Zappa.
See? The post went “full circle.” Remember the “Commie Aunt” connection? 🙂
Even its theme song is hilariously unforgettable:
“As a sinner he’s a winner,
Honey, he’s no beginner!
He’s rotten to the core,
Daddy, you can’t say no more!
He’s the world’s greatest sinner…”
If I ever move to an underground farm, stock it full of big-breasted goth girls, and start a cult… that’s gonna be my theme song… In fact, I should probably have the lawyers start working on the music clearance now, just in case…
There’s more… so stay tuned… because playin off-key really sucks! 😉