The Days of Guns, & Raz's

A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s

Ch. 21

Theoretically, this book is about me, so let’s jump back to 1986 and right after Guns N’ Roses signed with Geffen Records. While they were busy conquering the universe, I was living my version of a normal life. I turned twenty-one, so Pops took me on a long-anticipated trip to Fabulous Las Vegas. It was an agonizingly slow drive, because he tried setting a good example for his reckless son by strictly adhering to the unreasonable 55 mph speed limit of the era. But no worries, I intended to drive home at 100 mph in a brand-new Corvette purchased with my winnings. We hit a gas station immediately upon arrival in Vegas, where Pops gave me some of his best advice ever: “Fill up when you get here, so you can for sure make it home.”

After forty-eight hours in Sin City, wrestling with one-armed bandits in between bouts with various games of chance, an ocean of booze, some titty-watching, and five total hours of sleep, amazingly, my wallet was only twenty dollars lighter. Well, until on the way home, a quick stop at Whiskey Pete’s on the NV/CA border cost me a few hundred trying to get even. It was my last chance, don’t you know.

That fall, I bought my all-time favorite car, a 1964 Cadillac convertible. A few weeks before painting her pink, I had me some spray-paint fun, consisting of circled-A anarchy symbols scrawled on the doors. Joe chipped in with skull and crossbones on the hood, and then headed back to jazz up the trunk deck with a huge “Kill Pig,” which I immediately blacked out. But the shit was still readable to the cop that pulled me over a few days later, and one hand remained resting upon his gun while the other wrote me a well-deserved speeding ticket. I ended up in traffic school. It was extra cool back then, because you only had to pay the fifty bucks for traffic school. Not the actual ticket cost.

Early 87, right after a Super Bowl party, my buddy and me went to see Sam Kinison at the Comedy Store. Before Kinison went on, a guy who looked like an old friend walked past. I said, “Hey, Chris, how you doin’, bro?” Dude said his name was Mike, before continuing on to sit at a table with a girl who looked a lot like Justine Bateman. I had often told my buddy Chris he could pass for Michael J. Fox, and when that light bulb went on, I waved and smile-nodded in recognition. A few minutes later, he came back over and sat with us. We chatted about his cool nephew or cousin with cerebral palsy. Michael J. Fox was very supportive of disabled causes, by sporting several rounds of drinks for this particular gimp. After Sam Kinison’s loud and hilarious set, Michael J. Fox brought the lovely and talented Justine Bateman over to introduce her, but I couldn’t handle the pressure and mumbled shyly while barely making eye contact. Dang, one paragraph, three name droppings – whew.

But wait for the shake. After the show, I went next door to the Hyatt House valet and ran into two of the dudes from Run-D.M.C. waiting for a cab. They were friendly and gregarious as we chatted, talking Aerosmith and my plan to hit the Rainbow parking lot. They liked my description of “a sea of drunk chicks looking for a place to continue partying.” But they declined my offer of a ride; that is, until valet dropped off my 64 pink Cadi convertible. I pulled the boom-box out the trunk, cranked Aerosmith’s Rocks, and crawled with the top down through Sunset Strip traffic all the way to the Rainbow with two-thirds of Run-D.M.C. sitting on the boot.

I love the quirky detective genre, and because of Bruce Willis on the TV show Moonlighting, I felt compelled to learn to play harmonica. I picked it up rather quickly, with the help of Harmonica for the Musically Hopeless. It’s a relatively cheap, handy instrument with no cords, meaning if I know a song’s key, I can wail along soulfully with Mick, Magic Dick, Little Walter, or a thousand other greats whenever the music commands. Probably the best part is, there are times when I whip it out and then work it just right with my mouth, and it makes the ladies go, “Ooh,” and, “Ahhhhh.”

In the spring, a brand-new broadcast network, FOX, was born. It had taken over independent local L.A. station KTTV, channel 11, and most experts agreed FOX didn’t stand a chance against the big three, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Soon after hitting the airwaves, FOX debuted a P.O.S. show that was so absolutely wrong we all couldn’t wait for the next episode of Married with Children to drop. I’m always amazed when I see best-of lists of groundbreaking television where “Married” did not make the cut. There’s no doubt the show changed television for the better-worse. But due to the limited numbers of FOX affiliates throughout the land, the show’s ratings suffered accordingly. But it played mega in Hollywood and, without a doubt, heavily influenced the modern comedy television template amongst the “creative” hack-class. Hell, they got Frank Sinatra singing the fucking theme song. That shit alone should put the show into the top one hundred of all time.

I do dig me some soft rock, but believe concerts should be ear-shattering, loud aggressiveness. So the only reason I took Ma to see Paul Simon perform Graceland live was to get good seats. It’s a gimp thing. We buy the cheapest seats available, but then can’t climb steps to nosebleed-land. Even though the show was super mellow, it was definitely in the top five best concerts I ever saw. The back stories, musicianship, harmonies, and wonderfully powerful songs were moving, sad, and uplifting all at the same time. Ma held the doobies and, because we sat out in the open, exposed to prying eyes, she refused to give me one to light up. I kept bugging, “Ma, this is a concert. I think it’s illegal to not smoke pot.” I eventually gave up and rolled over to some nearby heads and swapped swigs of smuggled Jim Beam for hits of herb. Nowadays, you can’t smoke anything indoors, so smoking a J makes you a sitting duck. And concerts aren’t the same.

Hardly anyone owned a cellular phone in the late 80s, because phones and airtime weren’t even close to being cheap. We mostly used pagers and called people back from a payphone or landline. I just realized something. Before pagers, you needed to locate someone before you could call them. But with cell phones, you call to locate them. We mainly received our calls at home. So if you knew a dude was at work, you could call and enjoy an extended chat with his beautiful, underappreciated girlfriend; with all the best intentions, of course. I liked pagers. Say you wanted to tell someone “Go to Hell.” You’d page: “1134 5 06.”

A weed dealer I knew saw his business skyrocket shortly after my pointing out his pager number spelled AXL-ROSE.

Back in the day, payphones were everywhere. But not every payphone received incoming calls. Plus, it was a hassle to unload my wheelchair just to use a phone. I found a few phones that were the beautiful combination of allowing incoming calls from a nearby drug dealer and strategically located to facilitate driving up right alongside to make calls from the driver’s seat. Never have I gotten the “evil eye” from more little old ladies than when I was parked on the sidewalk using my “car phone” hack.

The summer of 87 was extremely dry – as in, absolutely no weed to be found anywhere. Up until then, an eighth of killer bud ran in the neighborhood of twenty-five bucks. But during that dark and dreary summer, if there was any bud to be found, the heads outbid each other to forever drive up prices. A month into weed-sanity, I got a line on a good supply and hopped into my pink Cadillac and took a hasty drive out to Marina Del Ray to score a pound of Chocolate Thai. While waiting to make a left onto Admiralty Way, I noticed two Sheriff’s Deputies, traveling in the opposite direction in an unmarked car, express an interest as they passed me by. I checked my mirror and saw them cut people off nasty to flip an illegal U-turn to head back my way.

Figuring there was no point in leading them straight to my dealer, I pulled into the Marina Info Center to wait for them to say hi. When they arrived to my rear bumper, my wallet was already on the dash and my hands rested in plain sight on the steering wheel.

As the deputies approached, one barked, “What are you doing here?”

I grinned and kept it casual. “Waiting for you. I thought I’d save you the trouble of trying to find me.”

After a few more minutes of small talk, the cop said, “Where’s your gun?” When I denied possessing a firearm, he glanced to my wheelchair, then looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I’d have a gun if I was you.”

I pondered momentarily before asking, “So you’re saying, if I had a gun, I should tell you where it was?”

He shook his head ever so slightly and smirked. “I wouldn’t do that.”

I wonder if those deputies knew that us disabled generally fall into two groups. There are the ones who regularly participate in athletics or other adapted activities. Then there are the druggies. So if I were a cop and saw a wheelchair in the backseat, I’d ask, “Do you do wheelchair sports?” If that crippled son of a bitch answered, “No,” I’d search the gimp.

Way too many folks have told me a “I almost broke my neck” sob story. I have no idea why someone would tell a dude who more than almost broke his fucking neck about a comparatively minor boo-boo. If they’re trying to make me feel better, they need to go back to the drawing board. Others will start conversations with, “You inspire me. I don’t know how I could cope…” I don’t want pity. Wait, let me clarify. Unless I will receive monetary benefit, or pussy, I can live without anyone’s pity. We all have our challenges, and I believe we are all here for a reason. So sometimes I ask myself, “What is my reason to suffer?” Wow, in one sentence I say I don’t want pity, but then right after it surely sounds like I’m begging sympathy for the cripple. It’s either schizoid fingers, or words stubbornly refusing to properly relay my “it is what it is” attitude.

At times, it might appear that I am struggling, probably because I am. Generally, people are quick to offer aid. Even when I smile and say, “No thank you,” there are some who stubbornly refuse to accept that their immediate assistance isn’t wanted or needed. Occasionally, they’ll ignore my wishes, swoop in, and grab the chair as I have it passing swiftly over my face into my car, thus altering its path to send it knocking upside my head. I learned to not attempt loading a wheelchair car-ward with one of those overly concerned individuals standing too close. But some of those types will remain nearby, hovering, eyeballing, and waiting for me to relent. Occasionally, that will break my routine, causing me to whap myself without them actually touching the wheelchair. The “I knew you needed help” look on their face is priceless.

There have been instances when folks will just pretend they’re helping to avoid scrutiny of their own. Like the day I went shopping at a JCPenny’s buy-one-get-one-free Levi’s event. That’s when I’d put two pairs of jeans under my chair’s cushion and purchase two others. After I finished up with the cashier, a chatty brother about my age began walking beside me. He tagged along all the way to the exit, and then insisted on holding the door for me. I noticed security watching and stopped a few feet shy of the door. Technically, it’s not theft until merchandise leaves the store. I wondered if they were just watching my new “helper/buddy” because he was black, and if I would end up getting busted by accident. After a prolonged pause, I headed to my car with brother-man still at my side. As I slow-rolled it next to my car, dude kept insisting on helping, so I straight-out told him, “Look, man, I can’t load my chair until security goes away.”

He took a quick look back to the store, then wished me well before hurrying to a car parked three spots over. Security then rushed him and his girlfriend. It turned out those two stole far more shit than me. Not too long after that incident, I began getting credit cards, so I mostly quit shoplifting.

My yearning to attend film school, since discovering the concept almost a decade before in The Doors’ bio, led me to Los Angeles Valley College for the start of Fall Semester 1987. Thus, I embarked on a star-studded journey which eventually led to my three academy awards, supermodel girlfriends, and a spectacular mansion high in the hills above Los Angeles. If you care to look it up on IMDB.com, you’ll discover that it’s all bullshit. You see, even though I was two years in and three quarters of my way through the last class required for my certificate, I dropped out due to a crazy, slave-driving, verbally abusive professor. Plus, I learned that if you want to make films, the best way is to make films. That is exactly what I planned on doing the night I told Professor Asshole to “Fuck off!”

Ma’s birthday was early August. As customary, we went to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. There we were enjoying the lions, tigers, and bearded clams when some clown started talking with me. He wasn’t a full-fledged clown, just face paint. We chatted for a while, and I heard tons of intriguing backstage cheese about circus life. It just so happened we were almost exactly the same age, and when I asked how he got into the circus business, he said, “When I was fifteen, I ran away from home to join the circus.” I had heard the saying many times, but didn’t know someone could actually do it. It made me wish I did that shit at age fifteen, instead of breaking my fucking neck.

Pops lived an hour away in Huntington Beach. I’d drive down a few times a month to hang out with my brothers and feast upon gourmet eats. One night, while returning home from a visit, I realized I was the same age as Pops when he had me. I knew I was not even close to being ready, willing, or able to raise miscreants of my own. That realization had me unconditionally forgive Pops, as well as Ma, for all the bullshit – real and imagined – they had put me through during my youth. They were learning as they went, while keeping me fed and sheltered. So it was all good.

Not long after Slash joined G N’ R, when Axl and Joe moved out of my house, I had begun hanging out with Mike Jagosz again. Our friendship dated back to high school, so after his L.A. Guns’ tumultuous tenure and the dismissal tension dissipated, we became close friends again. Seeing as he had steady unemployment, Mike was always down for whatever wacky adventure I dreamt up. Plus, his excellent bud connections and insanely hot bartender girlfriend – who regularly bought us pizza, beer, and blow – added to his charm.

One night, Mike and I were enjoying cocktails at the Troub, when I noticed an oh-so-familiar switch flip behind his eyeballs. And a millisecond later, he got his non-reasonable-wasted-drunk look on. I’d seen it often enough to know it best to steer clear. A few minutes later, he was gone. I eventually located him at Cedars-Sinai emergency room. He had been slightly tapped by a valet driven car at the Rainbow, and gravity-enhancing rum pulled him to the ground. The X-ray revealed a slight crack in his pelvis. But in my non-expert medical opinion, he was far more drunk than injured. Yet, my diagnosis did not stop him from hiring a lawyer to sue the Rainbow.

I rented a house, planning on growing huge piles of hydroponic buds in a spare bedroom. While doing my research and gathering supplies, my original business partner flaked. I quickly cobbled together a backup plan involving Mike. Most times, he was a drain on my wallet, and even if we were out all night drinking on my tab, or he spent days on end at my house – smoking, drinking, and eating – he’d want to be paid for helping me out in the slightest way. I’m talking even taking out the trash. So I tricked Mike by hiring him as a semi-handy man to finish building my grow room and ultimately help with the grow. I’d have him bust out about forty bucks’ worth of work three or four days a week. Then, at night, we’d hit the clubs, where he’d spend his own money on food and drinks.

After a month of him working, we had a dispute over forty bucks. When I held my ground, wickedly and sarcastically taunting while steadfastly refusing to agree that I owed him a damn thing, supreme cocksucker Michael T. Jagosz called the cops and reported me for growing pot. Even though I was almost positive he was bluffing, I jettisoned thirty seedlings. Boy, was I glad that I followed my instincts, because days later, I arrived home to discover my house tossed and an L.A.P.D. detective’s business card atop my dresser. I only rented that house to grow pot and, with cops watching, I thought it wise to immediately relocate in the dark of night. Retrospect told me I should have just paid Mike the forty bucks to save myself thousands that ignorant motherfucker caused me to eat due to a hurried move and abandonment of my weed-making scheme.

Even though my high hopes of hemp horticulture fell through, I did have a decent revenue stream to supplement my settlement income: selling “quality” used cars. I excelled at finding low-mileage, cool, older cars and often scored them for a lowball price. I’d then drive a stylish, big American V-8 or three around town until someone overpaid for it. Back then, you didn’t have to have insurance, and the DMV didn’t check ID when registering a vehicle, meaning I could make up a name and register my fleet to Ma’s address, so the city knew where to send the parking tickets. Right after bailing out on my weed scheme, while trying to scrape up twenty grand to buy a house, I liquidated almost all of my cars, including my sweet, pink pussy-magnet 1964 Cadillac convertible, a 1969 Firebird, 1975 Datsun, 710 wagon, the L.A. Guns’ van, as well as few other not-so-cool cars.

One afternoon, I got a bite on the L.A. Guns’ van, in the person of talented nature photographer Jeff. He was in the market for a larger van to travel the art-show circuit with his growing family, and I was happy to oblige. The more I got to know him, my whole preprogrammed worldview began unraveling under logic’s light. Up until that point in time, most Vietnam veterans I had met either didn’t talk about their experience or were fervently anti as they passed the joint. So I was well versed in the anti-war rhetoric. Because of Jeff’s three purple hearts, and total run-around from the V.A., I assumed he fell into the anti-Vietnam-War camp. But hearing an opposing point of view made me understand that Jeff and hundreds of thousands of his fellow soldiers are American heroes and politicians’ scapegoats. If I can ever become close to as honorable a person as he is, it will mean I’ve evolved tremendously from the urchin that once owned my brain.

Over the coming years, Jeff and I spent countless hours discussing varying subjects: history, politics, culture, religion, or the news of the day. And like me, even if he disagreed with a person’s point of view, he didn’t think it a character defect. However, he would vigorously make a case and defend his position with facts and historical perspective in an attempt to have one rethink their position. A conversation we had early on made me start to question things I believed. It was the whole boys-and-girls, nature-versus-nurture argument. Specifically, girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks because they are conditioned to do so. I had heard that falsehood recited so frequently, and with such sincere certainty, I had never doubted its truthiness. Even though male and female – of every damn species in the entire animal kingdom – are obviously different in several significant ways. But up until he said it out loud, I never gave it a critical second thought.

That was the seed leading to me wondering which other of my firmly held beliefs were based on repeated claims created from thin air and easily contradicted by opening my fucking eyes. It took me another decade to get to the point of realizing that being politically “Liberal” is vastly different than being a liberal thinker. And that I am actually a “don’t tread on me and I won’t even think about treading on you,” gun-loving capitalist liberty-arian. I steadfastly refuse to treat politics as a team sport. I merely root for my country – the greatest nation in history – and its brilliant constitution. Far too many folks, whether D or R, will root for their side, all the while turning a blind eye to the endless shenanigans, lies, and misdeeds by their team as they get fat at the government trough. But then they’ll hypocritically call foul on the other side for even the most ticky-tack shit. It never ceases to amaze me all the illogical and unbelievable caricatures of their political opponents fans willingly treat as gospel.

A year after we met, Jeff and I worked out a trade, with me getting a 1964 Mercedes and him a jacuzzi. To say that Mercedes needed work would be a gross understatement. It’s three-on-the-tree manual transmission lacked the ability to reverse, floorboards were rusted through enough to get a clear view of the road below, plus she had several other major issues. Of course, the beyond-honorable Jeff told me of all her flaws and assigned a fair trade value. I, on the other hand, was in full buyer-beware, used-car-salesman mode and bought low with the plan of selling way too high. I rigged some plywood over the rusted-out floor pans and covered them up with mats, poured a bunch of those liquid repair products in every Mercedes orifice, cleaned her up, and then parked at the curb so reverse gear wouldn’t be necessary. I unloaded that Mercedes on the sweetest older woman for five hundred dollars more than it was worth, and actually felt a slight twinge of guilt as she tooled away.

That sweet little old lady called me a few days later, not even slightly angry, to tell of the car breaking down on her way home. After her mechanic went to look at it, he reported it was a “junker.” But she actually seemed to believe that I knew nothing about the car’s mechanical shortcomings. I felt pretty shitty, but kept telling myself I had done nothing wrong. Aren’t car dealers supposed to separate people from their money? About a week later, on my first visit to a new girlfriend’s apartment, there was that 64 Mercedes sitting right across the street to remind me of my wickedness. It remained in the same spot for weeks, dirty, collecting tickets, and my guilt only grew. So marks the last car I ever sold as a profit-seeking endeavor. Conscience had done killed a beautiful revenue stream.

As 1988 came to a close, I listened to KNAC a lot more. I don’t know why; could have just been more memorable bands getting airplay. I particularly dug Danzig from the very first crunch. So when they played the Country Club in early 89, I had to see them. It was an outstanding show, with an audience full of a who’s who of industry types and celebrities alike. With Glenn Danzig’s commanding presence and solid, street-tough power growling, you can’t go wrong. John Christ could coax some of the tastiest and meaty-aggressive tones possible from a guitar – except for that show, when I thought he sounded much more talented on the radio. Over the years, I heard him play live several times, and he’s actually quite an excellent shredder. I once got the chance to ask him about that Country Club show, and he laughed because he actually remembered being a little off that night. I really believed Danzig was going to be huge, but they’ll just have to settle for legendary.

That February, the Grammy Awards “jumped the shark” after adding a Hard Rock/Metal performance award. I knew those Grammy folks had no clue the moment I read the L.A. Times’ list of nominees, because the best metal album of the year, Operation Mindcrime, wasn’t even nominated. On second glance, I was shocked to see Jethro Tull’s ultra-mellow Crest of a Knave nominated in the metal category. Though rooting for a Jane’s Addiction win, I predicted to Ma that Tull would receive the award because they didn’t even belong in the category.

Pops had moved away to Carmel, California. Whenever visiting, without fail, I’d bring my lil’ bros stacks of rock ‘n’ roll cassettes to broaden their musical horizons and keep them from listening to gay-ass shit like L.A. Guns. I hipped them to The Who, Zep, Jane’s Addiction, Stones, Aerosmith, Elton, Sabbath, and so on. One day, my little brother Hassan was strutting about Pops’ living room, wearing headphones and rocking out, when he shouted out, “Suck it! Fuck it! Liiiiiiiick it!” It was obvious I had made a major mistake by giving Nothing’s Shocking to an eleven-year-old. I needed to make it right, so I took him aside to explain right from wrong.

“Dude, don’t sing those parts out loud, or they won’t let me give you anymore tapes.” Glad I caught him before he got to the “Sex is violent” part. So when Pops and Barbara bought the kids Appetite for Destruction for Christmas, I was off the hook when Omar crooned, “You get nothing for nothing, that’s what you do. Turn around, bitch, I got a use for you.” That shit was even more precious coming from a ten-year-old.

From the moment Guns N’ Roses first played the Cathouse in 86, well through the 90s, Rikki Rachtman’s club was the only place to be on a Tuesday night. Rikki possessed the lucrative combination of a great ear for talent with connections to get huge bands, the “next big thing,” or the coolest groups from the local scene to rock his clubs. The acts only got bigger and bigger as Rikki became a star in his own right. As part of a winning marketing strategy, Cathouse probably comped as many folks as they had paying customers. If you were on the guest list, you and a reasonable amount of friends could bypass a plethora of premium pole queens who stood looking sultrily delicious, lined up sixty-nine deep outside, waiting to pay for the privilege of partying alongside all the cool kids and rock royalty who got in free.

Rikki remained ultra-cool and always let me into Cathouse for free. His right-hand man, Keith Cooper, also treated me like a bro, and whenever he saw me rolling up the block, he’d come help me bypass the line via a side door. Over the club’s lifespan, Kyuss delivered hands down my absolute favorite, most intense powerhouse jam and left me slack-jawed, gasping for beer. Next best show had to be Soul. Though usually quite entertaining, one extraordinary night, they hit the Cathouse stage and rose to another level as guitar player Rudy White delivered one of the most amazing combinations of talent, tone, and attitude wrapped up in a magical performance rivaling the best I ever saw. I could drone on, but instead I’ll just say that G N’ R, Alice Cooper, STP, The Mimes, The Wild and – probably the coolest unknown foxy harries of the hair-era – Brunette all deserve a mention and much respect for their Cathouse rock shows.

If there wasn’t a live act, and I wasn’t drunken-chair-dancing to “Wig Wam Bam,” I camped out in the WABAC room, smoking and shooting pool. One of the regulars at the billiard tables, Frank Starr, a great singer and frontman – owner of a solid New York “Fuck you, Raz” attitude – always seemed to be teetering right on the edge of stardom. Until something shitty happened to jam up the works. One night, Rick Rubin came back there looking for him. And soon after, Frank’s band, The Four Horsemen, had a record deal. When he first told me the group’s name, I said, “But, Frank, there’s five of you. Someone’s going to have to take an alternative form of transportation.” A few months after the band’s debut album was released, Haggis, the band’s founder, foolishly let Frank get away. Frank Starr then went on to record an amazing CD with his next band, Mad Reign, but a fatal motorcycle wreck tragically ended his dreams within weeks of the album’s release.

For a minute, there was another very cool club, held on Sunday nights at a gay ice factory, X-Poseur 54. Unlike the Cathouse, the guest list was a total nightmare. It’d take forever and a grovel just to get me + 0 in. At least five bands performed every week, which at times included a national act. But most times, the club showcased shitty local bands interspersed with outstanding world-class acts such as The Wild, Sam Mann and Thee Apes, Back Alley Sally, Love Hate, Black Cherry, Imagine World Peace, Saigon Saloon, and Feast of Joy. That joint had a huge stage, great lights, and a powerhouse of a PA. There was also a “Video Pirate” broadcasting live videos – of the stage as well as the coke whores and hair farmers stumbling about the venue, longing for lust – to monitors scattered throughout the club. It was awesome while it lasted. But all good things must come.