It was with much more subdued expectations of the great American road trip than that portrayed by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in his tome "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" that I stepped off the plane in Fresno. I did not have a head full of acid, nor was I accompanied by my long suffering Samoan attorney, nor was I attacked by imaginary bats on my epic journey, but I was about to cross the great desert southwest in a legendary American built convertible, sample the rise & fall of American excess in California, and along the way have an epic journey of my own.
It all started with my online search for one of the icons of the American auto industry, Chevrolet's classic Corvette. I had had my mind on getting one since I was 10, was finally in the market for a new used car, and so began scouring the online sites. It took a month, and 9 separate deals, before I located my car on EBay, 1700 miles away in Fresno, California. After arranging to meet the buyer at the airport, we went back to his house to look at the car, do the paperwork, and hand over the keys. The car, a screaming yellow beast that defined the best of the American automotive design in its day, is considered a symbol of gross excess in my home town but would garnish nary a look as we headed south to Los Angeles where Maybachs, Ferraris and Porsches flourish.
The pink and white blossoms of the almond trees began to thin and give way to great mountains as we closed on Los Angeles and my phone started ringing. Pulling over at the next rest area, nestling my car between a Porsche Carrera 4s and a Toyota Prius, I checked my messages. The first was from my sister in West Hollywood, the next was from Kerry King of Slayer.
Although ostensibly I was in California "on vacation" to pick up the car, I had become entranced by the whole Hollywood sub-culture, a victim of too much self-inflicted TMZ, and was excited by the prospect of hanging around in L.A. for a few days with no fixed plans. With my sister to run interference and act as a guide I hoped to sample a little Hollywood before heading East back to Texas. The first step was to pi up my sister and meet Kerry King for dinner.
I am in an awkward position when it comes to Kerry. As a journalist I am not supposed to be friends with my subjects (something about maintaining objectivity) but Kerry and I knew each other long before I re-embarked on my music industry career. Though Kerry has given me the go ahead to write about my experiences with him I always feel funny writing about it, but never let that get in the way of a good Slayer story.
I hit L.A. at rush hour but as I was going into town, against the flow, and traffic was relatively light. I made the downtown area quickly and the names of streets made famous by the media scrolled by, Wilshire, Melrose, La Cienega, Sunset, and as I picked my way through the traffic it was hard not to glance at the sidewalks looking for
the rich and famous. After stopping at my sisters place to pick her up we made like 4 turns before I was handing the keys over to the valet at Brodericks, a reasonably priced Italian restaurant about equidistant from her house and Kerry's hotel. After hanging around in the bar just long enough to be castigated by my sister for using the word "celebrity" to the bartender, Kerry rounded the corner. In L.A. to record his next album, Kerry brought some of his management team along so that I could meet the people I had been emailing back and forth over the past couple years and together we headed back to our table.
Joining Kerry my sister and I were Rick Sales, Kristen Mulderig, and Andrew Stuart, all of whom had been working with Kerry at the studio. I hadn't met any of them before but Kristen and I had emailed each other a lot so I didn't feel as much like an idiot, but after the introductions we all felt like friends. It was interesting to hear about some of the business issues they go through day to day. We talked about the upcoming Slayer tour, the tour props, opening acts, and why you can't buy Slayer at WalMart and other interesting topics. I couldn't help but smile and think about the infamous scene in "Spinal Tap" where Nigel tries to describe the Stonehenge stage kit as Kerry and Andrew talked about the design Slayer's next stage backdrop. Kristen and I tussled verbally in a friendly way over Tool, their live show, and it's secretive frontman Maynard, while Kerry laughed at both of us in the corner. Rick and I got engrossed in a conversation about exotic cars that was really fun as he gets to play with a lot more Ferrari dealers than I do these days. My food was cold by the time we wrapped up the evening and it ended with Kerry inviting us to the studio the next day.
My sister, unfortunately, had to work and wasn't going to be able to make it to the studio. Luckily Kerry wasn't going to be there until 2pm so she invited me to her office so I could meet some people she worked with. I had no idea what she was doing for a living, other than she was in the entertainment industry, so I was a little surprised to find out that her company was located on the grounds of the former Warner Brothers Studios. Nestling my car in between a Bentley and a BMW I sat in awe of the machines parked around me. If Southern California is home to America's car culture, Hollywood certainly takes it to extremes. Aside from a handful of hybrids nothing parked in the lot cost less that $50k new and European luxo sedans and sports cars predominated.
After locating my sister's office in the writers building, and going through another round of introductions, she introduced me to music producer Russ Regan. Described as the "Man with the Golden Ear" Russ worked with many superstars in the 60's and 70's including Elton John, Barry White, and The Beach Boys as well as supervising the soundtrack to "Spinal Tap". He should probably be known as the "Man with a Thousand Stories" and he spent some time telling me one of them involving Manson and some demo tapes. Not Marilyn Manson mind you, Charlie.
It seems Brian Love of the Beach Boys had introduced the two and one day Charlie Manson shows up at Russ's office to lay down some demo tracks. Pulling up in a VW van with a rainbow painted on the side and with Squeaky Fromme and Susan Adkins in tow, it was a strange day indeed. I am hoping Russ will let me record an interview with him so he can tell you the rest of the story, stay tuned for details.
My phone rang, and I looked down. It was time to go. I said my goodbyes, and headed out into L.A.'s notorious rush hour traffic.
It was only 4 miles from the office over to the studio where Slayer was deep into their next album, but it took an astonishing 45 minutes before I pulled up and parked in front. From the street it was a non-descript building on West Cuheunga and it wasn't until the door opened before I could hear Dave Lombardo thrashing away on his drum kit that I knew I was at the right place. Kerry's guitar tech Anton ushered me upstairs to what looked like for all intents and purposes the kitchenette and living room of a middle class house with a huge tinted window overlooking the studio. Offering me my choice from a well stocked snack table and refrigerator I chose a water from the fridge and settled down on a couch to wait for Kerry.
Picking up a copy of the local alternative newspaper off the coffee table I browsed the live music ads and grew green with envy over L.A.s live music scene. Austin may bill itself as the "Live Music Capital Of The World", the L.A. area could give it a run for the money. As I thumbed through the ads various people came and went, mostly staffers bringing in dinner, moving this, shuttling that. Finally I glanced up to see Jeff Hanneman standing at the sink. Kerry came up the stairs and they started discussing Lombardo's drum tracks while Dave pounded away in the studio below. Glancing my direction Kerry nodded and said hello, then headed back down the stairs leaving me and Hanneman standing in the kitchen. Feeling awkward I turned to Jeff and said "Your Jeff Hanneman, right?" He replied in the affirmative and I offered that he looked taller on stage. He laughed and said he got that a lot.
I told Jeff my story, that I was Kerry's friend, that he had invited me down, and that I had shot them on their last 2 U.S. tours.Somehow we got into talking about Kerry's snake collection, and about hobbies on the road. "Kerry tells me your quite the military historian."
"Yeah I am really into World War II history. I kind of specialize in tanks and armored vehicles." said Hanneman a little guardedly. An avid military historian myself (I have a 1500 book military history library I have been building since I was 12) I understood his aloofness. Soon we were engaged in a deep conversation about tanks, and tank museums, and TV shows. We talked about Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson cruising around in a Russian T-34 on The Military Channel's "Tank Workshop". He noted that no one had invited him to drive any tanks but he would be happy to oblige. I asked what his favorite museum to visit when he was on the road. Hands down it was the Imperial War Museum in London he said. "I could spend days there". We talked for what seemed like 30 minutes and found that we had a lot of common interests and experiences before Kerry crested the stairs again this time followed closely by Slayer frontman Tom Araya.
As Kerry introduced me to Tom I mentioned that I was from a small town in Texas too. Tom's eyes seemed to light up as he recognized me as a fellow Texan "Yeah, whereabouts?" . I went into the story about where Walburg was and explained that it sounded a lot like his town Buffalo, Texas. He laughed and explained that they had just got their first traffic light in Buffalo not too long ago but that the people were really pretty cool, and for the most part he and his family kept pretty much to themselves out on the ranch. I asked him if he preferred ending this years tour in San Antonio because it was so much closer to home and he agreed. "I love San Antonio" he said with a broad grin breaking out his face.
My phone rang, and it was time for me to go again. The band was wrapping for the weekend, Kerry was headed back out to his house and I had dinner plans. As he walked me out Kerry invited me out to his house the next day to check out his snakes and chill out before I started the long trip home. Since his place was literally only 10 minutes off my planned trek home, I readily accepted.
Showing up at the gated entrance to his neighborhood the next day I handed over my ID as the guard called Kerry's house to confirm my entry. The guard handed me my license back with a big access card to display on my dash. The gate swung open and I gunned the car through, up a hill and then pulled in and parked in front of Kerry's house. Meeting me at the door with his huge dog Kerry invited me in and no sooner than I was through the door and we were off on a whirlwind tour of the house. They had made much more progress than I had anticipated from my visit in the fall, and Kerry proudly showed off the results, with such accouterments as a a huge chandelier made of what looked like a gigantic ball of yarn that made his entryway appear to have textured walls. Other neat fitments included cool skeleton graphics on his kitchen appliances.
Eventually we ended up in his snake room and I found myself almost literally knee deep in pythons. After a successful breeding season last year and with cages full of swollen gravid females ready to lay this season eggs Kerry will have his hands full. After a careful review of his neater snakes of the season we heard his wife Ayesha come home. Getting my hello hug under the chandelier we quickly caught up and she filled in all the missing pieces on the other home improvements they had done and that Kerry hadn't covered. After showing her the car Kerry and I hopped in to run to the local Best Buy so I could buy some CD's for my trip home.
It was amazing how many people wanted to help us when we got there, I think we had 3 associates following us around while we looked at CD's. I pointed out the new U2 disc and he threatened to punch me if I bought it. I couldn't find what I was looking for so settled on something I needed to replace, Blind Melon's debut disc. Knowing that Kerry was libel to punch me, I hid my purchase until we hit the checkout counter. Once there I bemoaned the fact that I didn't find what I wanted and had a long trip with little to listen to but the radio. "Didn't you find something here? " asked Kerry. I sheepishly held up the Blind Melon disc and Keryy gave me a disgusted look and rolled his eyes."Dude - I can loan you something better than that".
Back at the house Kerry and Ayesha had a surprise for me a HUGE coffee table snake book, filled with gorgeous pictures of my favorite reptiles. "Ayesha got one for me and I thought you'd like one too". Hugging Ayesha again I thanked her and thanked Kerry for the fist full of CD's for the trip home. It was dark outside and time for me to make that long, long drive back to Texas. As I slid in the car I had to laugh when I pulled the first CD out of the stack, the latest release from Megadeath, and as I left Kerry's neighborhood Dave Mustaine's raspy voice was quickly drowned out by the growl of the vette as I wound my way through the hills.
Ok I slogged my way through the rain and cold to get my platinum badge and my 3 bags of swag. Back in the warm dry I went through them to see if there is anything interesting. With the platinum badge you get a bag for each part of the festival, film, interactive and music. This years bags are considerably lighter than last years. Most noticeably absent from the bags were the major music mags like Blender and Spin, and there is a distinct dearth of free music CD's. I counted only 2 in my bag, usually there are 10 or 12. One thing I found humorous is that apparently only the music bag rated a set of condoms this year, so interactive and film people your on your own! There is some neat stuff, including a nifty holster for my iPhone, but not nearly as much as years past.
I have been so swamped lately I haven't been able to keep up with the will he/won't he rumors about James Hetfield & Metallica, or the many other rumors about Janes Addiction or even Motley Crue, but the newest rumor to cross my desk deserves comment. Yes I think it is possible and likely probable that SXSW will see a drive-by visit from some or all of U2. They are currently on a whirlwind press junket of the United States, and in fact appear to be playing some small unannounced club dates testing what appears to be a mini-style SXSW set (5 songs or so) and are popping up in very unexpected places. I have had a couple birds tell me it's in the works, but no hard confirmation yet. I have all my sensors out and let you know when something substantial trips one. Until then, see you next week at SXSW!