Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rockin' and Rollin' in Heaven

At the end of 1979 I was working at the Zellerbach Paper Company in South San Francisco on the office supplies order desk. I had parlayed my 2 years experience as delivery driver/store clerk at Kerry's Stationers into a more professional, higher paying job. I was commuting to work every day across the Bay Bridge with the gazillions of other nine-to-fivers, Arlene had landed a job in the loss prevention department at the headquarters of The Gap, which was in San Bruno - just a few minutes away from Zellerbach. We drove to and from work together in our red Volkswagen Beetle, "Little Keenie". We were living on McCauley street in Oakland in the same duplex we had lived in before.

We were working hard to promote Won Out to college and local radio stations while trying to get attention from the local media. I remember BAM magazine's headquarters was a block away from where we lived. I personally brought a copy over to them in hopes of getting a review. They wouldn't give me the time of day. Fuckers. Our efforts were greatly hindered by the fact that I had no desire to perform live. Still, we got encouraging responses from some stations - especially in the northeastern part of the country (for some reason). I was already thinking about the next album.

Now that we had a little more money, the first thing I did was buy my own 4-track machine: a new TEAC 3440-S. I had been greatly inspired by Greg's 2340 (which used smaller 7 1/2" reels) and wanted the freedom that multiple tracks would give me. I was determined to record the follow-up to Won Out on my own. Over the next 4 years I managed to record enough material for several albums, but the two that I completed were FSGBOC and Rodent to Rodent.

By the time I'd started to work at Zellerbach both Nancy and Malerie were no longer in my life. Malerie, who was always practical, simply started seeing someone else when it became apparent to her that our relationship was going nowhere. Nancy, realizing the same, had pulled one of the most amazing disappearing acts I'd ever witnessed. We'd had a disagreement of some kind and hadn't spoken to each other in a few months. In that time he sold her house, moved and transferred to another job in the phone company. I had no idea where she lived or worked. I decided it was time to move on. We would cross paths again in a few years with much more dramatic results.

Things start to get a little convoluted here, timeline-wise. FSGBOC was recorded from 1980 to 1983 but it dealt with a very specific situation that occurred in 1982 and had repercussions that effect me to this day...and not in a bad way. So, a little history:

In August of 1977 I was visiting Olga in L.A. where she was attending graduate school at UCLA. While Olga was in class I would putter around her apartment or "socialize" with her across-the-hall neighbor, another UCLA student named Carla. We were listening to the radio one morning when it was announced that "entertainer" Elvis Presley had passed away. I knew nothing about Elvis or the sad sordid details of his later life, so the announcement had little impact on me (Carla seemed to think that he had died in the 60's in a car crash). I didn't own a single Elvis record. That was due to change, but not for a few years.

Arlene and I used to frequent the local flea markets - the Ebay of the time - where I would look through the record bins. One Sunday in 1982 I picked up - for two dollars - the album From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee, my very first Elvis album. The cover featured the man himself in one of his famous white spangly jumpsuits and the back cover  had a list of the measly 10 songs on the record with a scrawled note from Elvis expressing his hope that you will enjoy his latest record. Well, I did enjoy it. In fact I found it to be one of the greatest records I had ever heard. I had no idea at the time that I had stumbled upon the music from his last sessions of his life - some of the starkest, most heartbreaking music anyone has ever produced. In my mind this album was every bit as good as Dylan's Blood On the Tracks and Neil Young's Tonight's the Night. There is nothing in Elvis's entire catalog that is remotely like this - and I know: over the next several years I bought nearly everything he released and most of it was crap.

While working at Zellerbach I met and fell madly in lust with a young lady named Dianne, who worked in the customer service department. She has the dubious distinction of being the person who introduced me to that most evil and insidious drug, cocaine, that would proceed to rule my life for the next 6 years. Dianne and I got involved at the end of 1980 and it lasted until the end of the following year. I wrote a lot a songs about her but, oddly enough, none made it onto any of my records. More about that later.

So, FSGBOC stands for From Sparky Grinstead Boulevard, Oakland, California and is my tribute to one of the greatest albums of all time. It's a concept piece (of course) dealing with lost love (what else?) - but this was a special kind of love and a special kind of lost.

My best friend at Zellerbach was a guy named Steve Hay. His desk was next to mine and we spent most of our work clowning around and having fun. Our supervisor, Jaylene, was greatly amused by us and pretty much let us do whet ever we wanted as long as we got our work done (of course that all changed after Jaylene and I were briefly involved) . Steve was a few years younger than me and was an aspiring songwriter and musician so we socialized frequently after work and on weekends. We wrote and recorded several songs together and he was slated to appear on an album, Go for the Juggler, that was, sadly, never completed. It was through Steve that I met the girl I'll call Sara White.

One Saturday night in late 1982 I was visiting Steve at his apartment when he decided to invite a young lady over for the evening, Since I was there he asked her to bring a friend (I remember him whispering into the phone: "He's black", making sure that his girlfriend brought an ethnically-appropriate partner for me. That friend turned out to be beautiful, half black, half Spanish and barely 18. I was 29. When she shook my hand and introduced  herself, I was completely smitten. We spent the evening together in Steve's spare bedroom, drinking, talking and finally making love. It was her first time. I called Arlene and told her I was too drunk to drive home.

When cocaine came into my life, things began to spiral out of control. After 2 years at Zellerbach had I moved to a local dealer, Litton Office Products, located in the same city. I was working at Litton, trying to forget Dianne (who had seriously broken my heart by refusing to be my mistress forever), when I encountered Sara. She was smart and talented, with a wicked sense of humor. Like me, she was Catholic but had a very cynical view of the Church. We spent much of that first (and only) night together laughing. I remember that she brought along a sketch pad and drew very detailed off-the-cuff portraits of herself,  me, Steve and Steve's girlfriend. She put cat ears on everyone. I loved her.

There was a LOT going on in the years 1980 through 1984. I will try my best to trace these threads of events, activities and relationships as I move through these songs. The fact that I was ingesting superhuman amounts of booze and drugs means that some of my recall is patchy.

"Rockin' and Rollin' in Heaven" leads off FSGBOC, but it was recorded in 1983, near the end of the sessions for the album. It is a recounting of the day in L.A. when I heard that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, had passed away. I still perform this song with the Backorders - it's  good little rocker and a great way to kick off a set. A standard I-IV-V progression (though without the traditional turnaround on the V chord) in the style of some of Elvis' early hits like "Ready Teddy", "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Tutti Frutti". I recorded it in one sitting at the Family Compound, first singing and playing Young Neil and then overdubbing electric lead guitar. A simple yet very effective recording.

Well, I woke up this morning and I got out of bed
Turned on the T.V. and the newsman said:
    A                                                     E
In Heaven, they're rockin' and rollin' in Heaven
Didn't think God would let'em
                   A                          E
But they're rockin' and rollin' in Heaven

And I went in the kitchen and I fried up an egg
Hoping that man wasn't pullin' my leg
In Heaven, they're rockin' and rollin' in Heaven
You better get up and go get 'em
They're rockin' and rollin' in Heaven

And I called up my lawyer and I said: "Is it true?"
And she said: "Boy you better start believin' it, too
In Heaven. they're rockin' and rollin' in Heaven
They're down at the 7-11
They're rockin' and rollin' in Heaven"

I'm gonna get out of town, get out of state
I'm gonna get out of debt so get out of my way
I'm going to Heaven, I'll be rockin' and rollin' in Heaven
If somebody asks just tell 'em
That I'm rockin' and rollin' in Heaven

Many people looked at the title of this song and assumed that it was Christian Rock!

This picture was going to be the insert for the FSGBOC LP to cement the connection to the Elvis album. 

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