Saturday, October 5, 2019

Jay and the Americans - Tom Waits and the House of Pies

The House of Pies
My grandmother was all about The House of Pies. It was what you did. You did your chores, your due diligence, then you treated yourself to the banana cream or the rhubarb and a cup of coffee. She liked the one on Sunset. We'd spend a lot of time there, sitting in a pink and orange booth. It was when my mother was in Synanon. I didn't know what that was; just that she was getting her rest.

The House of Pies closed in 1974. My grandmother's philosophy was that nothing good survived. It affected her adversely. "Nothing's good like it was."

Famous Amos
In '75, in the fanciful building that was The House of Pies, Wally Amos opened Famous Amos Cookies. It was there that I went to some big deal soiree in the parking lot. Andy Warhol was there. He looked hot in his wig. Patti Smith was there in a Guinea T. Everyone was talking about her. I didn't know who she was. When she began to release albums in the mid-70s, Patti seemed to have eluded the shackles imposed on women in rock 'n' roll. She was neither angelic muse nor bad-girl sexpot; she was instead a tomboy willing to be photographed in a pale pink slip, flashing a patch of unshaven armpit hair that shocked the record-store boys more than just about anything any girl had ever done. So afraid of her was I at Famous Amos, that I avoided her all day. (Several years later I turned out to see this intimidating person at an in-store appearance at Tower on Sunset, only to have my copy of Easter signed by a soft-spoken urchin with a luminous smile.)

In the hallway at school the next day Max Ten said, "Jay, picking you up Saturday."  It wasn't a question, it was matter of fact.  "Tom Waits.  You've gotta hear this guy.  Got a voice like an emery board.  Fantastic."

Max Ten had a 1969 gold Austin America.  Max could have driven a four door Datsun and it would still be cool, but the Austin America was over the top.  It had a Deadhead sticker on the back window.  Paige was in the back seat and at first I was a little taken aback.  I sat in the passenger seat and we picked up Belinda Pocket and Paigeboy.  The girls sat in back.  Belinda wore a mini dress that was pretty indescribable.  Imagine a gypsy-style white top, pretty see through, then below the elbows and below the waist it was a black and white paisley print.  It was pretty stunning, and I’ve got to admit, Paigeboy looked like a million bucks in a pale green knitted dress, real short, her hair parted in the middle, curled real nice. 

We headed out over Sepulveda Pass into Santa Monica to a venue that wasn’t much of anything but a converted storage space in the back of McCabe’s Guitar Shop.  It looked like the kind of place that would catch fire.  There were a hundred guitars hanging on the walls, Gibsons and Fenders and Rickenbackers.  There was a makeshift stage and a wall of amplifiers.  Tom Waits was crazy and drunk and sang songs like "Ol' '55" and "Rosie."  Leave it to Max Ten; the music was absolutely diabolical.  It was always 2am in Waits’ music and a bottle of Jack was paying you back, whispering loneliness.  I wrote that in my red journal.  Long ago I’d bought another journal and then another, but I kept that first one, the one from Gaia for the stuff I never wanted to forget.  I don’t know if I said it or if it was Max Ten, but I at least was the one who wrote it down. It was 1974. Patti Smith was there. She scared the shit out of me. I wrote that down too.

I never mentioned my father dancing.  We were in Joe and Aggie's CafĂ© in Holbrook, Arizona.  We had chili con carne with onions and my father had a couple Coors.  We were playing a pinball machine called Gottlieb's Bowling Queen and my father went to the bar for another beer.  A pretty lady in a cowboy hat started talking to him and the next thing I knew he was out on the floor dancing a cowboy line dance.  He didn't know what he was doing.  I was so distracted that I let the fifth ball slip down between the flippers without enough for a replay, but I matched numbers and still got a free game.  I didn't play it.  I went and sat in the booth and watched my father dance.  He was laughing the whole time and carrying on and when it was time for everybody in the line to tap the tip of their boots, he thought that was grand.  It was the only part he really got down, otherwise he kept doing the wrong thing.  It was real nice to see him have fun.

Tom Waits didn't sing cowboy music, but there was an accordion and a cello in a couple of the numbers and I couldn't help but think about the dance my father did so poorly.  Music can transport you places, so I was like back there in Arizona with my father.  Tom Waits can take you places.                                                                 

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