Night on the Town, or: Untouchable Sex Chain in Tupelo

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Symptoms: anger, resentment, frustration, tension, and anti-social urges. Prescription: live music of outrageous proportions.

The Untouchables

ARTICLE: There I was, working at an ad agency whose main office was located not too far from Amoeba Records and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, not to mention a whole bunch of clubs, bars, nightspots, and everything else in that gaudy cesspool known as Tinsel Town. The ad shop was a medium-sized place with only a couple dozen employees but they had some very busy retail accounts like car dealerships and a national chain of pizza restaurants.

BOOK SERIAL: Ambient Deviant Speedmetal Polka / Chapter 19

Considering the indignities that most creative people have to endure during their “day gig,” it was not a bad deal at all. Beats waiting tables by a long shot. Still, it meant being trapped on a daily basis inside one of the steel-and-glass towers of commerce in which also resided a type of sub-humanity known as:

The Evil Suits

Businessmen. The pinstripe-and-club-tie crew. No one knows when this subspecies emerged from the primordial ooze to wreak their havoc upon the land. And no one knows why it is illegal to shoot them, although we all know why we want to do so, especially those of us in Copy and Art (the creative department of an ad agency contains copywriters and art directors, the creators of the “product” of any communications business). It was the job of the writers and artists to develop really nifty ad campaigns and it was the job of the suits to utterly destroy them.

At this particular ad agency, the creative team was just a little ahead of their time. We came up with the idea of the “split story” TV commercial, where there’s a cliff-hanger ending that gets resolved in the next spot. But the agency sales team (called the account management department or the crap-for-brains brigade or the spineless twit team, etc.) couldn’t convince anybody to buy it. But you see this type of commercial all the time now.

We came up with the idea of the “read the truth” commercial where the actors were saying one thing, sometimes in English but sometimes in a foreign or made-up language, and the actual sales pitch was in subtitles. This was rather successfully utilized in the Joe Isuzu “Liar” campaign, but by a different agency that obviously had a much better sales department and a much smarter client.

We also presented the idea for a billboard with live people and animals. They weren’t able to sell the concept to a client, but the plan was almost immediately adopted by protest groups looking for press coverage. You can’t keep a good idea down (you just might not get credit for it if you have to rely on weak-kneed peddlers and lame clients). Anyway, after we developed the good work and watched it crash and burn, we then completed the more mundane stuff that the clients ended up using. The point is that we came up with some great concepts that didn’t get any results for us or our agency or our clients. This is probably true of lots of creative departments at lots of agencies.

Fortunately, the job paid fairly well, and the suits began leaving us alone once they knew we’d keep our second-draft work as silly and as boring as necessary for them to conduct business. Yes, that meant we were joining those jerks in selling out, but after a few dozen times where you’d hear “Well sure, we think your idea is clever, but the client will never go for it,” you learn to follow the suits’ advice to “think like the average American: in other words, not much.”

In that atmosphere, by the end of each workday we were looking for an outlet where we could blow off some steam. Thankfully, not very far from the agency, rock and roll shows were being staged every night of the week. Also thankfully, one of us was a bit of a “journalist” who got invited to see the aforementioned rock shows for free as long as some sort of review was written afterward. You’re welcome.

One of the agency’s art directors, who we will call Roger for purposes of this document, was working late on some layouts or storyboards or whatever, and I was working late writing my column for a minor wire service that syndicated my music reviews, when suddenly I got an unexpected phone call resulting in:

An Invitation to a Decadent Evening

On the line was a flack who worked at one of the town’s record labels. She informed me that my name would be at the door of that evening’s Hollywood Palladium show featuring the Untouchables and Tupelo Chain Sex. “Cool,” I said. “See you there.”

“Oh no, I’m not going,” was the reply.

“Really? Okay. Why are you saying it like that?”

“Do you know anything about Tupelo Chain Sex shows? Or an Untouchables dance show?”

“No, why?”

“You’ll see.” There was a click as the connection was ended.

Ominous. But also intriguing. I sprung into action. “Hey Roger,” I yelled down the hallway. “Want to go see the Untouchables and Tupelo Chain Sex tonight?”

“Yeah!” he yelled back. “Oh, wait,” he said. “Are you holding?”

“I’ve got some,” I shouted.

“Okay then,” he hollered back. “Drinks are on me.” What followed was a short session of:

Injesting Various Substances

I wandered into the art department with my stash. Roger was removing a bottle of vodka from behind one of the bookcases. We proceeded to get, as they say, both warm and toasty.

“Let me ask you something,” I said after we sat there for what seemed to be a peaceful week’s vacation.

“Yeah?” Roger said, eventually, making it seem like at least two or three syllables.

“Do you know anything about Tupelo Chain Sex shows? Or an Untouchables dance show?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Wild shit.”

“Oh. Okay.”

The entertainment was scheduled to begin at eight o’clock and Roger wanted to wait until then before starting to walk over to the venue. He explained his reasoning this way: “Rock shows are usually late and if they start on time it’s because they want to get the opening act out of the way ASAP, which means they mustn’t be much good.” At that moment, I was experiencing the dizzying condition that occurs when the ahhh of the grass walks up and shakes hands with the oopsy of the alcohol so I didn’t continue the conversation, but his theory probably wasn’t too bad.

It was not until years later that I experienced the exception to this rule when someone took me to see Nanci Griffith headline a show at the Wiltern and they insisted we arrive on time. And oddly enough, at eight o’clock the lights went down and Nanci hit the stage to general consternation in the still-filling-up parts of the auditorium. “That’s right,” she said with a grin, “I’m the opening act.” (She did about 40 minutes of material before turning things over to the second-billed Crickets and then returned to do an hour’s worth of songs with them during the second half of the evening. Anybody else break up their shows like that? Just askin’.)

Roger and I sat and smoked and drank while the stereo blasted out a mixtape of Pere Ubu, Devo, and Richard Hell & The Voidoids. After about nine or eleven or seventeen songs, Roger checked the time, nodded at me, and we got up to leave.

“Here ya go,” he said, pouring a nice stiff shot into a Styrofoam cup. “For the walk over,” he said.

“Okay, right,” I said. Although since I was already feeling the effects of the two competing substances it probably came out closer to “Oak, rye.” We killed the power to the stereo and the lights and headed out to the:

Mean Streets of Darkest Hollywood

The night air felt good, even with its mixture of exhaust fumes from the constant traffic and the restaurant cooking grease from several nearby establishments. We ambled along the sidewalk, often debating whether to cut through the city blocks via the alleyways between some of the buildings. We would peer down the badly-lit and garbage-strewn lanes, glance at each other, shake our heads “no,” and continue the stroll toward the Palladium while sipping our drinks.

Every now and then Roger would say something out of the side of his mouth. “Keep it down.” After a few seconds or an hour (as you have probably surmised, it was getting difficult for me to assess the passage of time) he’d then say, “Okay,” and take a sip from his drink. I didn’t understand the need for secrecy. There’s nothing suspicious about sipping from a Styrofoam cup. Except that he hadn’t brought one. He was holding a highball glass taken from the bar in the agency president’s office. Yeah, that did look a bit suspicious.

“What’s he gonna do with the glass?” I thought to myself. At the next alley, I got my answer. He downed the rest of the vodka and tossed the container into the alley as far as he could. There was a pause while we heard the sounds of the city followed by a crash of splintering glass way off in the distance. Just another good citizen showing the proper amount of regard for his fellow man as well as respect for the surrounding neighborhood. I shook my head. I would have argued with him about it except that I was having difficulty forming words, much less whole sentences. Which led to an odd moment or two dealing with:

The Will Call Window

“No, it’s just the one letter: G,” I explained about two or five times until they found the Comp Tix with my name and the name of the weird little wire service for which I wrote my often-crazed commentary on the musical noises of the day.

Once inside the theater, we went upstairs to sit at one of the tables reserved for press dweebs and record company drones, one of whom came over to chat and give us a couple of “laminates,” the All Access passes that often turned out to be relatively meaningless but which sometimes would enable you to go backstage. Roger was hoping for an All Access to an Open Bar but no such luck. After a moment or nine, I said, “Come on, let’s see how far these can take us.” We couldn’t get to the artist’s dressing rooms but we did manage to talk ourselves past a slightly inebriated security guy so we could toke up in the relative privacy of the loading dock.

“What if we can’t get back inside?” Roger said between puffs.

“Pound on the door,” I said, not overly concerned about it.

“What if that doesn’t work?”

“Go around front and walk in again,” I said, demonstrating how to brandish the laminate as if it was some sort of magical totem containing rare and beatific power. He cracked up. We practiced waving the laminates at imaginary ticket-takers and security people.

“Out of my way, peons,” he cackled. “Bow down before me!”

“I am the great and terrible Ozard of Wiz,” I said.

“I am the Lord of the Laminate,” he said a bit too hysterically for my taste. But now there was no stopping him. “I am the Pasha of the Pass. I am the Buddha of the Badge! I am the Keeper of the Flame!”

“Wait, the ‘Buddha of the Badge?’”

“Whatever.”

“Oak, rye.”

The opening chords of a band were heard through the walls so we headed back to the auditorium. The door was locked. Uh-oh. But then the door was suddenly opened and three people burst through, nearly knocking us down. One of them proceeded to engage in the most incredible display of projectile vomiting I have ever seen. “Awesome,” Roger said. I tapped his shoulder and cocked my head toward the venue. He nodded and we went back inside to experience the drama, the outrage, the overkill, and the cacophony of:

Tupelo Chain Sex

Here is a group that’s just a teensy bit perverse. These guys appear to be able to play songs that the average person would like but they choose not to do so. Instead, they assault you with a mixture of avant-garde theater, distorted jazz, crushing rock, jagged rhythms, and a sort of Bartok-meets-garage-band ethos that rolls over anything in its path. Saying that they approach their stage show from several directions at once is a bit of an understatement. They’re a circus parade full of escaped convicts, a marching band comprised of animatronic adult toys, a steam calliope connected to eighty-seven gazillion watts of amplification.

Immediately sensing the magic of these moments, we headed for the dance floor to mill around with the longhairs, skinheads, slumming goths, leather-clad bikers, and other assorted geeks who enjoy this sort of horror show. As the set progressed, the crowd grew more frenzied until it was downright dangerous. The phrase “discretion is the better part of valor” popped into my head and I went back upstairs to watch from the relative safety of the press and record company seats, most of which were now vacant. I pretended to be King Louis XVI overseeing a command performance. Evidently, the possibility of physical harm seemed to intoxicate Roger and I spotted him dancing with various groups of guys and gals and in-betweens.

Up on the stage, Limey Dave, lead singer (shouter?) for Tupelo Chain Sex, used his voice in such a way that it often seemed to be more like a tenor saxophone, which fit into the TCS presentation nicely with their line-up of guitar, bass, drums, baritone sax, and electric violin. About one-third of the way through the hyperactive set they switched from stutter-step-punk to funk-shock-rock. As before, everything was performed with wall-of-sound hysteria.

Taking lead instrumental duties most often was Don “Sugarcane” Harris who played his violin through an assortment of electronic distortion devices, managing to make his instrument sound at various times like a keyboard, guitar, trumpet, and even once in a while like a (wait for it) violin! Or like a whole string section of a symphony orchestra. If, you know, the orchestra was playing through a bunch of Marshall stacks and echo effects units. And if they were, you know, insane. Harris played like a dervish, just as he did on a number of Frank Zappa albums, including the magnificent “Hot Rats.” His sound was the extra-special gooey-good gravy atop the layers of turkey, potatoes, and creamed corn that is the Chain Sexers. It was quite wild and lovely in an explosion-in-your-head sort of way. And then suddenly things got weird with the addition of the:

Backup Singers from the Islands

Yeah, you wouldn’t think that backing vocalists would change the whole program around, but they did, probably because the singers were Gregory Issacs and Peter Tosh, two of the bigger names in reggae. So okay, now you had this monster musical machine playing rock funk jazz symphonic punk reggae. Outstanding! These folks are loud, proud, rude, crude, neat, sweet, and a total trip past the outskirts of reality. Calling Tupelo Chain Sex eclectic is like calling the ocean wet. Their onslaught left me totally unprepared for the relatively friendly excitement of:

The Untouchables

SKA - The UntouchablesHere is a ska band of unmatched skills. And what is ska, you inquire. “Ska is just reggae played faster,” Roger assured me and damned if he isn’t correct. Not that this helps you understand it without hearing it. Tap your toes to a steady beat, then start drumming your fingers in-between each toe-tap. Slowly change the emphasis from one set of beats to another. If you can easily do so, you’re not going fast enough for ska.

Did that make things clearer? Probably not. But whatever the true methodology that lies at the roots of the genre, the fact is that these guys had it down solid, man. Within seconds of launching into each song, the entire place was in motion. Every square inch of floor space was filled with bodies swaying, hopping, bopping, bobbing, shimmying, and skanking. And with each number, the level of audience participation got ratcheted up a few more notches. If the main floor was dangerous during Tupelo’s set, it was call-out-the-paramedics time as The Untouchables performed. Body slams and head butts were the order of the day. Happy people bloodying themselves on one another.

I remained upstairs where it was possible to see the band and the sweaty mass of humanity at the same time. Everywhere you looked there were people throwing themselves into careless abandon. Seen from above, the mob of dancers resembled dance sequences from 1930s Busby Berkeley movies, where the choreography made human bodies look like images from a kaleidoscope. Except that in this case the bodies were often caroming off each other and falling down. It was group dancing with human bowling pins. In the center of it all was Roger, going like gangbusters. He seemed possessed but was often grinning. Next day at work, he had only two or three visible bruises but he was groaning with every movement. I told everybody a different tale about the evening. To the receptionist: “Roger got out of line last night and I had to slap him down.” To the production manager: “Roger went back to his old elementary school and fell off the monkey bars.” To the sales people: “Roger saw a woman being mugged by two jerks and he beat the crap out of both of them! We’re working with a genuine bad-ass hero, man.”

It may be that a few of them actually believed my stories. One thing is certain: Roger and I had been quite successful in letting off a bit of steam.

Video of The Untouchables singing “Free Yourself” – http://youtu.be/57OZDh6VrJY

 

“Ambient Deviant Speedmetal Polka” … to be continued next chapter. You can subscribe to John’s articles and column via RSS (click this link), or read more from JSG here. You can also keep up with all our content on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Music-Industry-Newswire/153142491477967 .

This original article is Copy. © 2013 by John Scott G, and originally published on MusicIndustryNewswire.com – all commercial and reprint rights reserved.

About John Scott G

John Scott G is a writer of non-fiction and fiction appearing in print, broadcast, and digital media. He frequently works in communications, which means marketing, advertising, and various forms of hype. His articles on music are being collected for the forthcoming book, "Ambient Deviant Speedmetal Polka: Rock Writing, 1990s to 2010s, Los Angeles." Visit JohnScottG.com for more information.

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