To save everybody the trouble of reading or referencing Episode 3, during the mid-Oughts, I used to hang out at a joint in Fantasyland called Baltimore’s Inn.
The jukebox at The Balt was something of a conundrum. It was a situation that refused to resolve itself. Here was the rub. The owner of the bar, Earl, had final say over everything in the joint, rightly so. On the downside, he was Cosby sweater adverse to change. Very little about the bar, specifically its decor, had changed in at least 20 years.
Meanwhile, The Balt had a semi-permanent rotation of bartenders: Stacy, Al, Freddie, Big Ted – who only worked on Saturday afternoons – and Earl himself on Sunday morning during the NFL season. And this one cat named Vince would occasionally cover a shift. Anyway, for the most part they were all good bartenders and decent folk.
Freddie and Al seemed to have the most influence over Earl, and of all the bartenders, Freddie cared the most about the jukebox and the pinball games. Anyway, when Freddie was in good graces with Earl, the jukebox would be top-heavy with Freddie’s selections – they had a strange friendship that I didn’t even want to know about. But this is where things start getting subjective. Freddie had what I considered to be exceedingly poor taste in music. He liked rock, just all the stinky stuff. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Fred was stocky dude about my height with jet-black hair and Tom Selleck mustache, who claimed pure Sicilian heritage – and probably most likely had a serious _______ habit. His bartending uniform consisted of Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts. Sometimes he had a backward baseball cap, but he always wore Air Jordans. He loved Air Jordans. In winter, he wore an Orioles baseball jacket. He said been bartending at The Balt since high school, long before Earl bought the place from the original or previous owner. And I believed him.
Freddie and I were not always friendly. We eventually developed a cordial repartee – he always let me stay for after-hours – but things got off to a rough start, and it was my fault, too.
That very first night after moving into the neighborhood, I went down to the joint for a couple of beers. Freddie was working a couple of regulars at the bar – grizzly, old dudes. The familiar dive bar stink – stale beer and ammonia – wafted through the air, and I chuckled to myself when I first saw him. “Check out Aloha Guido!” I sat down and soaked in the shithole atmosphere.
“What can I get you, buddy?” His voice kind of matched his appearance, but his tone and delivery wasn’t truly intimidating. There was something almost child-like about him. Well, maybe high school student.
“Bottle of Bud, please.”
Freddie eyeballed me, “Are you over twenty-one?”
“I’m thirty-five,” I replied, slightly proud.
“That’s not what I asked you.”
“I’m going to ask you again.” He rested his paws against the bar and leaned toward me. “Are you over twenty-one?”
“That’s all I wanted to hear. One bottle of Bud. Two-seventy-five.”
Frosty introduction aside, I had really hoped to ingratiate myself at some point in the future. So I sat and quietly drank the beer. Ten minutes crawled by. Ordering another beer, I made my way over to the jukebox, and then perused the pinball machine.
Upon returning to the bar, Fred made change from the five-spot, and the beer was waiting for me. Vaguely familiar rock music came from the jukebox. The voice was something I’d heard before; couldn’t place it. Derivative blues rock with some kid screaming nonsense over the top. I wasn’t sure. Could it be Montrose? It wasn’t “Rock Candy”, which was the extent of my Montrose familiarity. But damn, I knew that voice.
Freddie was air-drumming and bobbing his head to the beat, a visual cue I should have picked up on. It’s queer how I noticed he was jamming to the cuts, but I still wound up being a jackass. And I certainly wasn’t looking to cause trouble. Most of all, I was just trying to make conversation.
“Excuse me, sir,” I called out. “But what is this [music]?” pointing at the ceiling.
“Hey buddy,” Freddie said. “I’m not your father. Don’t ever call me ‘sir’ again.”
“OK…what should I call you?”
“OK, Freddie…. What’s playing right now?”
“Are you kidding!? It’s Montrose. With Sammy Hagar.”
“Oh…” I took a long pull from the beer.
“Oh, what?” Fred prodded. The vultures were staring me down from the other end of the bar.
“Um, that explains something to me,” I mumbled, “something…sth…personal.”
“Nothing. Sorry,” backpedaling in a hurry.
Freddie did not look pleased. “You said it, pal. Explains what?”
“Why it sucks, basically. Sammy Hagar. No offense. He ruins everything. Destroyed Van Halen.”
Freddie pulled the beer from my hand, pointed to the door and said, “Get out of my bar.”
I hesitated and then briefly shuddered in shock, “Huh?”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m dead serious. You want to be a smart ass? We ain’t serving smart ass today. Take it somewhere else.” He scooped up my beer, wiped the spot where it sat, and again pointed at the door. Facing indifferent stares from the trio of vultures down the rail, I drifted toward the door. The vultures cackled as I stepped out on to the sidewalk. Apparently, in nature vultures don’t really cackle as much as they make gurgling sounds as they feast on dead flesh.
A week went by before I returned to The Balt with my fingers crossed that Freddie wasn’t behind the bar – he wasn’t, it was Stacy, a total sweetheart. We bonded almost immediately and at some point, I told her about my earlier run-in with Freddie, and she said, “That figures. The guy is such an asshole.”
Stacy clued me in to the bartender’s rotation. As long as I avoided Friday nights and weekday mornings – not a problem, thanks – I wouldn’t have to deal with Freddie. And so I became familiar with the rest of the crew. A couple of months went by and one night I walked in expecting to see Stacy behind the bar, only to find Freddie.
“Well, well, well, look who it is. You got anything smart to say about Sammy tonight, smart ass?”
It was one of those slow-motion situations – a full-body wince – and I wanted to turn around and walk out, but I’d only wind up looking like a chump – and besides, what I said in the first place wasn’t wrong. I honestly believe that Sammy Hagar is a lackluster talent. And then, any hope of escaping vanished when Vince spun around and acknowledged my presence. “Hey there.”
“This guy,” Freddie said to Vince, “had the balls to tell me that Sammy Hagar sucks. Do you believe that?”
Glassy-eyed and slurring, Vince said, “That’s…probably… something you should have kept to yourself.”
Being humble yet resolved makes a situation more or less reset itself. In a word, I was contrite. My apologies accepted, Fred brought me a Bud while Vince patted me on the back, shook my hand, and said, “Welcome to…the club. Fred has 86’d me for far less…egregious offenses.”
By the end of the night, it was me and Freddie playing pinball, arguing about which was better – the original versus classic line-up of [the] Scorpions. Personally, as I told Fred, I don’t think there is any comparison between Lonesome Crow-era Scorps (1972) and the band that made Blackout (1982), and to prove my point, I use this jam from Lonesome Crow to emphasize the disparity.
Scorpions – Action
As the years went by, music was pretty much the only thing Fred and I ever talked about. He never asked about my life or what I did for a living, and I never asked why he was riding around the neighborhood on a kid’s BMX bike with a bridal train of scratch-off Lotto tickets coming out of his back pocket at six o’clock in the morning.
Some of Freddie’s favorite bands – off the top of my head, the ones I remember arguing about – were (in no particular order, and in addition to the Scorps):
Asia, Starship, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Oyster Cult, Kansas, Molly Hatchett, Dire Straits, UFO, Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses, Dokken, Metallica, Pat Travers Band, Robin Trower, Uriah Heep, Y&T, George Thorogood, Montrose, Quiet Riot, Hawkwind, Ratt, Doobie Brothers, Saxon, Accept, Styx, Heart, Journey, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, Vanilla Fudge, Van Halen or anything else with Sammy Hagar.
And this freakin’ guy, Canada’s answer to Bon Jovi, though it was never really a question.
Aldo Nova – Fantasy
In all honesty, that’s a pretty damn good intro to a crappy MTV rock band video. They rented a helicopter! Hello, 1982!
Nevertheless, there was one band that Freddie inexplicably despised: R.E.O. Speedwagon, a band I personally loved at the age of 12, and this caused me a ridiculous amount of unnecessary existential angst. I lost sleep thinging about it, for real. How could it be possible? If a dude is onboard with Journey and Styx, he’s gotta take R.E.O. with him, too. That’s like saying you like people but small talk is not your thing.
Of course, Freddie liked the Stones, Beatles, Kinks, Who, Zappa, Zeppelin and Hendrix – he loved the Bobs, Marley and Dylan. But here’s the thing, if Freddie was going to put some Dylan on the jukebox, he always played “Hurricane”; eight minutes of Oh My God and Stop It Now For God’s Sake, Bob, Goddammit.
The pinball machine for a long time was located just a few steps from the jukebox. If I happened to see Fred make a move for the box, I could ostensibly scoot over and cut him off – we had more than a few scuffles – but a lot of the time I’d be mid-ball, and couldn’t move. In that case, I’d yell over at him, “Come on, Fred. No Dylan tonight!”
“You don’t want Dylan? OK, whaddya want?”
“I want you to step away from the jukebox.”
And so, our arguments would generally start with me saying, “Dude, you gotta do something reasonable about the jukebox.”
“Asia? Come on, man. We don’t have any Yes, King Crimson or ELP, but we have Asia? That’s low class.”
“Asia? That’s Earl’s record, but I freakin’ love ‘em. Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, John Watson, and uh, what’s his name, from the Wiggles?”
“First of all, it’s John Wetton. The keyboard player was Geoff Downes, and the band was the Buggles. ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’? ‘Member?”
Our conversation is interrupted by the intro to “We Built This City”.
“Jesus Christ, did you just play Starship?”
“What’s wrong with Starship?”
“What’s right with Starship? Name one thing. I dare you.”
“Aw man, Mickey Thomas…”
“’Fffffhhhh. Maybe ‘Jane’ is a great track, but that’s Jefferson Starship. We have Knee Deep in the Hoopla. Man, everything they’ve done since 1978 is awful, horrible stuff. You realize that if you have ‘We Built this City’ on the jukebox, some jackass is going to play it? That jackass being you. It happens, man. All the time. Why not put Rick Astley in there?”
“Ah, you’re just bitter. OK, I’ll play ‘Peaches en Regalia’ for ya on the next round. How ‘bout ‘Willie the Pimp’?”
“No, man. We’re lucky enough to even have Hot Rats in the box and all you ever play is ‘Willie the Pimp’. Play ‘The Gumbo Variations’.”
Five years of that, people.
Now about Sammy Hagar, and this is almost verbatim of every jawbone Freddie and I ever had about the subject. First and foremost, Hagar’s a Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer, and who the hell cares what I think of him, his music, or his tequila? In the manner and style of Wesley Willis, I say, “Rock on, Sammy Hagar. General Electric, we bring good things to life.“
Next, I’ve gone through every phase of Hagar’s career from Montrose to Chickenfoot and I can’t find a single song that I would ever want to hear, under any circumstances. When he was in Van Halen, I did not participate. That 5150 record is nonsense. Pure shit. I hear that and all I think is, “Cocaine is a hell of a drug.” When Sammy left VH, my heart felt a little lighter.
And then one night in the middle of an argument with Freddie, it hit me. There is one Sammy Hagar song that I think is quite funny – in its banality. “(There’s Only) One Way to Rock” is one of the most vapid, stereotypically “rock” songs in the pantheon of rock music. This song speaks to the lowest of the lowest common denominator. Sammy wants you to know that he’s traveled the world, banged a bunch of chicks, did a bunch of drugs, and now holds the Secret to Rock. He knows there’s “a million ways to make love” but only one way to Rock. He just never gets around to saying what it is. There’s just one way though, man. Make no mistake.
Perhaps the absence of self-awareness – the delinquency of logic – is what availed Mr. Hagar to rock so hard, for so long. Please look at these lyrics:
Crank out the drums / Crank out the bass / Crank out my Les Paul, in your face
How about we don’t crank anything in my face, Sam? That’s hilarious to me because I’ve written some pathetic lyrics. We don’t even need to point out the implications. Next thing you know, I’m going to start talking about Loverboy. So, here on my jukebox, the closest I could ever come to playing anything related to Sammy Hagar – as the antagonist – is a song that name-checks him. And so, here’s one of the essential Southern California punk bands, Circle Jerks.
Circle Jerks – Heavy Metal Weekend
While we’re in somewhat of the neighborhood, let’s check out seminal Northern California punk miscreants of roughly the same era, Flipper.
Flipper – Talk’s Cheap
The pure, amateur delight of Flipper may never again be duplicated. Every now and then, we need to lighten the mood. Anyway, we saw Flipper at Cabaret Metro one time in like 1986-ish(?), and they were easily the most fucked-up band I’d seen to date. These dudes made the Replacements look like Latter-Day Saints. Flipper also holds what I believe to be the record for Most Original Members to Die of Heroin Overdose, with three (Will Shatter, John Dougherty, and Kevin Williams).
Aside from disco, the only other type of music that Earl refused to put in the jukebox was rap and/or hip-hop. We had tons of old school soul, R&B, and funk – Little Richard, Sly Stone, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, The Temptations, and Ohio Players – they were all represented – but the closest we came to rap and hip-hop was the Aerosmith/Run D.M.C. collaboration from a best-of compilation. At the same time, I was thankful that we didn’t have Saturday Night Fever, so I considered it a wash.
Occasionally, I would come in on Sunday morning to watch NFL and have a chat with Earl, specifically on my part about either the jukebox or the pitch on the new pinball machine. Though I lobbied really hard for at least one record by Public Enemy or A Tribe Called Quest – for chrissakes, De La Soul would have been acceptable – my pleas fell on Earl’s deaf ears. There was one time when I had Freddie convinced that it wouldn’t hurt to have Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. When that fell through, I pushed for Body Count, Ice-T’s metal band. Never happened.
Ice-T is one of music’s all-time great storytellers. The next jam comes from Original Gangster (1991), which was remains his biggest album, and one of those tracks I like to play for people who say they don’t get, understand, or otherwise like gangster rap. This is about as gangster and articulate as you can get. I mean, yeah, Chuck D. and Public Enemy were spitting truth, but Ice-T is spinning yarn, baby – he’s knitting a goddamn sweater. Public Enemy was never gangster anyway. The point I’m trying to make is no matter how many times I hear this jam, I have to listen to it all the way through, just to find out what happens at the end.
Samples: “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath, “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, “9mm Goes Bang” by Boogie Down Productions, and “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. & Rakim
Ice-T – Midnight
Regardless of its veracity, Ice-T tells one hell of a tale, and I’m inclined to believe him. Kind of. Most of the time. Likewise, there are some lyrics that need decoding.
Midnight chillin’ at A.M., P.M. / Coolin’ drinkin’ apple juice / In Evil’s BM
Evil’s BM = BMW
The sounds up loud to attract attention / Armor-All’d tires on a lowered suspension / Nardi to steer with / Alpine deck was glowin’ / Bumpin’ Big Daddy / And the n—- was definitely flowin’
Alpine = Stereo system
Nardi = Steering wheel by Officine Nardi, an Italian automobile and racing car maker, named for Enrico Nardi
Big Daddy = Big Daddy Kane. Here’s what Ice-T had to say about Big Daddy. “To me, Big Daddy Kane is still today one of the best rappers. I would put Big Daddy Kane against any rapper in a battle. Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, any of them. I could take [his song] ‘Raw’ from ’88, and put it up against any record [from today]. Kane is one of the most incredible lyricists… and he will devour you on the mic. I don’t want to try to out-rap Big Daddy Kane. Big Daddy Kane can rap circles around cats.”
I was ridin’ shotgun / Donald and Hen in back / Look thru the tint recognized a jack
Jack = Car-jacking in progress; (v.) to take something from somebody at gunpoint
Two brothers strolled up / Talkin’ bout get out / Donald D blazed / Shot one fool thru his fuckin’ mouth / Why would they step / When they know we’re strapped? / I never cruise L.A. / Without a Gat in my lap
Step = Attempt to jack another brother
Strapped = Armed
Gat = Pre-Prohibition name for any type of gun, in reference to the Gatling gun, a Civil War-era rapid-fire precursor to the machine gun. Seems like common knowledge, but a lot of fools think it’s a reference to the sound a gun makes.
The other fool shot / Caught the E in the shoulder blade / I busted thru the car door / That’s where the n—- laid / Hen jumped out / Dropped two nines in his forehead / Evil was bleedin’ bad / The car seats were turnin’ red
Dropped two nines = Shot the dude in the head twice with a 9mm pistol
Looked to my left / There were two more carloads / N—-s in hats and hoods / In an attack mode / And they hadn’t yet begun to fight / E hit the gas / It was one past midnight!
We boned down Vernon / Right on Normandie / Left on Florence / Gettin’ thru the E.T.G.s / Spun out on Vermont / Made a left on Colden / Right on Hoover / “E, where we goin’?” / He didn’t even answer that / Checked the rear view / They were still out back / Where were these brothers from? / What made these brothers come? / Bang! our back window was removed by a shotgun
E.T.G.s = The 83 Gangster Crips (ETGC) also known as Eight Tray Gangster Crips, are primarily an African-American street gang located in the area formerly known as South Central, L.A. Their neighborhood spread from Gage Ave to 79th Street, between Western Ave and Vermont Ave. Named after a popular residential street called 83rd Street in the heart of their neighborhood. The E.T.G.s are considered by everybody on the planet to be one of the most violent street gangs in all of Los Angeles County, with over 300 active members. They originated from the Original West Side Crips, led by Stanley Willams (Tookie), in the early 1970’s.
Now Hen G was shot / Don caught a ricochet / These motherfuckers was ill / They didn’t come to play / Bust a right turn, parked / And then we got left / Hid in the bushes / Shot the gas tank to fake death / But would this really keep them psyched? / Three of us bleedin’ / It was ten past midnight!
Keep them psyched = Fooled, tricked
Shot the gas tank = Here’s where the story begins to slip just a little bit. See, I’ve seen this on MythBusters
Myth: A gas tank will explode when shot by a bullet. (From Episode 15)
“It has already been proven that when shot by a normal bullet a gasoline tank will not explode. However, if a gasoline tank is shot by a tracer round from a great enough distance so that the round can ignite with air friction, it will cause the gasoline to catch fire. By the time this happened the tank was so riddled with bullets (from previous tracers that were fired too close to ignite) that there was no contained pressure, but the MythBusters surmised that had the tank been properly enclosed, it may have exploded; but overall it remains extremely improbable.”
So I believe all the stuff about getting shot, but the chase part is on shaky ground. They didn’t blow up Evil’s BM, that’s for sure.
I really didn’t like how this shit was goin’ down / Wrong night, wrong time, wrong fuckin’ part of town / Ya see we was deep in the Hoover’s hood / Three n—-s bleedin’ / That shit don’t look good! / See over there red don’t go / Some places red’s all they know
Hoover’s hood = Ice-T and his crew appear to be in Crips territory, and though he doesn’t mention any gang affiliation, according to his bio, he associated with Crips – who wear blue. Bloods of course wear red. It’s unclear what he means other than a couple of guys bleeding in the hood: no bueno. Nobody is coming to help them, basically.
But not our luck / Tonight we was real fucked / Broke down an alley and we instantly had to duck / Fuckin’ police on a gang sweep / No time to deal with one time / So we had to creep / Broke thru a back yard / Ran thru a vacant lot / E, Hen and Don kept up / To be some n—-s shot / Shit was gettin’ crazy / So I had to get busy / Hen was bleedin’ worse / And Evil was gettin’ dizzy / Looked in a parking lot / I needed a snatch bar / Had to hot wire / So I moved on an old car / It was a bucket, but fuck it, it had to do / Started it up and scooped my whole crew / Two blocks later / We saw fuckin’ blue lights / The pigs were behind us / It was half past midnight!
Bucket = old, beat-up car. A rust bucket. The rest of it is all pretty self-explanatory, I think.
When they pulled us over / Shit got worse / I waited till they got out and then I hit reverse / Fucked ’em up, I seen one cop fall / Threw it in gear, yo I’m outtie y’all / Don’t know how but somehow we got away / Lost the jackers, the cops, dumped the G.T.A.
Outtie = Run from the cops. All right, now Ice-T and his crew are in some real trouble. The felonies are multiplying exponentially here. Would L.A.P.D. pull over a stolen vehicle in the heart of South Central without their weapons drawn? I dunno. That’s a little sketchy, too, but even more unreliable is the part about not knowing how they got away.
G.T.A. = Grand Theft Auto. The stolen car. What they would have been charged with had they been caught.
Made it back to the hood / Fixed the crew up / And even though Evil’s car blew up
Evil’s car blew up = No, it didn’t, Ice. That didn’t happen. I’m tellin’ you.
We made it home and then I crashed out / Thinkin’ bout my all-night death bout / Then somethin’ woke me up / From my dark sleep / The sound of fuckin’ police / When they’re tryin’ to creep / Broke thru my door with no goddamn warning / Looked at my watch / It was six in the mornin’!
Yes – South Side of the Sky
Progressive rock is the stinky French artisan cheese of the rock world. A lot of folks don’t appreciate it, but those who’ve acquired the taste are fabulously in love with the stuff.
If King Crimson is the Camembert de Normandie of prog rock, one of the most pungent and yet savory of all cheeses, then Yes is the Brie de Meaux; a very mild creamy cheese that should appeal to anyone who says they don’t like cheese.
Personally, I can take about 20 minutes of Yes in one sitting, and then Jon Anderson’s voice starts grating on my nerves. I’ll say this about the band: They had some of the most trippy album artwork of all-time, by Roger Dean.
“South Side of the Sky” is from their most popular album of the classic era, Fragile (1973), but was overshadowed by massive radio hits “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround”. If for no other reason, I’ll put this on just to hear Steve Howe’s amazing guitar parts. That kid could really play.