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Spin Cycle (2.13.07)

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Tuesday, 13 February 2007
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“Hey, I thought maybe you could come check out my band tonight.”

My friend Dan had called on a Sunday afternoon to let me know that his band was playing in Redondo Beach. I live in Silver Lake. A drive to Redondo is officially “a commitment.” And on a Sunday night, no less. After some light begging and promises of free drinks by Dan, I agreed. He waited a full two beats before mumbling, “Oh, yeah, it’s a cover band.”

If you have musicians as friends, you will ultimately be asked to support one or another of them at a show. Some of my friends are the most talented people I’ve ever seen strap on a Stratocaster. Others actually bring on migraine headaches when they play. Still, others are “technically” talented, but their music is just not my bag—some form of whiny caterwauling that makes my molars vibrate. But, they are friends. And being a friend brings with it certain obligations. My friend, Dave, coined the term “Friend Obligation Rock” or “F.O.R.” for just these experiences. Another friend and I have expanded the acronym to “B.O.R.” and “G.O.R.” (pronounced “Bore” and “Gore”) for Boyfriend and Girlfriend Obligation Rock respectively.

And so it came to pass that F.O.R. caused me to haul my Hollywood ass down to the Redondo Pier and sit through three sets of classic rock covers. The musicians themselves were pretty competent, so their versions of “Brown Sugar” and “Hard to Handle” were spot on. The music was inspirational enough to get about six white women onto the floor and shake their collective asses in a fashion so devoid of rhythm, you might have thought there were electric eels in their panties and they were attempting to shake them out.

The 3rd set did not even begin until after midnight and started off with a rousing rendition of “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. A collection of drunken college boys had stumbled in during the bridge and began shouting “More Zeppelin, man!” in between slugs of their MGD. And thus, the band obliged. In fact, the entire third set of music was Led Zeppelin: “Black Dog,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Rock and Roll”…and the list went on…and on…and on. Thankfully, they didn’t play the “greatest song in the world” (which, in fact, Jimmy Page supposedly stole the hook for, anyway). Had they trotted out “Stairway,” I truly might have projectile vomited. And even in a beach bar, I imagine that’s frowned upon.

Classic rock bands should simply not play Zeppelin covers. There’s just no reason for it. No lead singer can ever really do justice to the Plant-a-wail and very few guitarists can adequately channel Jimmy Page. Additionally, every Zeppelin song lasts about 23 fucking minutes (God forbid any cover band decides to roll out “Moby Dick”) which is just far too long to ask a drinking audience to pay attention without drooling on their shirtfronts. And when you perform not one, but an entire set of Zeppelin covers, you are just inviting the audience to throw full pint glasses and ashtrays at you. Especially if you can’t remember the words. Zeppelin has some complicated lyrics. Why sing, “Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor” if you don’t have to?

All of the above might lead you to believe that I don’t like Led Zeppelin. This is untrue. I just feel there is a proper time and place for the Zep. For me, that would be freshman year of high school, sitting on my boyfriend Randy’s lap, as we are being driven around by a strange, possibly middle-aged, foreign guy.

It was with a great amount of trepidation and exhilaration that I entered high school. I was originally supposed to attend a different school; but, after being jumped by some 8th graders on the last day of class the year before, my mother decided that I needed an entirely different scene. So instead of attending the multi-racial, low SAT-scoring, gang school near my house, I was trucked off to a nearly all-white, upper middle class, “fundamental” high school. Four of my friends accompanied me (whose mothers followed suit after my beating); but, I knew no one else. I entered a school where most of the kids had grown up together and I was worried about fitting in. Take my Science class: On one side of me, a guy named Don drew pictures of Iron Maiden’s Eddie on his notebook and drove a primered Volkswagen bus that he was always hot-boxing out in the parking lot a la Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times. On the other side of me sat Dana, a blonde, perky cheerleader with a wicked sense of humor. I was neither 420 stoner nor bright-eyed cheerleader, so where, exactly, was my crowd?

The school hosted a freshman dance at the beginning of the year. I went with my four friends and we hung by the side of the cafeteria while the DJ played an amalgam of classic rock and top 40. A cute, tall boy with a blonde mullet walked over to me (Yes, Virginia, there was a time that “cute” and “mullet” were not mutually exclusive). “Do you wanna dance?” he asked. I did want to. He was wearing a polo shirt and smelled like soap. I don’t even remember what we danced to (though, “Only Time Will Tell” by Asia is a strong possibility). Later, he came up to me and said, “Do you think you could sneak out later?”

I had been sneaking out since I was in 6th grade and had the window screen “pop-out” down to a science. I knew this wouldn’t be a problem. I wrote down my address for him and directions to my house. He said to meet him outside at midnight. As I climbed over the wooden fence and darted across the neighbor’s yard, I saw a small, shit-brown Dodge Colt idling in the street. Randy opened the door and told me to climb in on his lap. I always imagine that Randy must have felt like he had a 5’2” bag of anvils perched on his lap in that tiny car. The driver was this fellow named Leon. None of us ever actually knew how old Leon was or what country he was from. I can’t even be sure he went to our school. He was swarthy and had a mustache. My friend Tanya said she thought he was Iranian, but he could have been Turkish, Columbian or Russian, for all of our middle-class knowledge and experience. He drove like a blind asylum patient and was partial to slamming on the brakes at the last minute before a red light, causing Randy to grab me tightly to prevent me from rocketing through the windshield. Two of Randy’s friends were in the backseat: Tom and Blaine. And my friend Kim had also snuck out to meet us.

We drove around for hours, smoking pot, listening to the radio and drinking Budweiser. I don’t think we ever even got out of the car that first night. Except possibly to get more beer. Leon never got carded since he literally looked about 35. And hell, maybe he was? At 4am, when Leon drove me back to my house, I kissed Randy and we made a plan to do the same thing the following night. For two weekends, I would pop out my window screen at midnight and tiptoe out to the shit-brown Colt. Then, one night, Randy called me and asked if I could sneak out a little earlier. My parents always went to bed incredibly early (sometimes before the sun went down!), so the time of my sneakout didn’t really matter much. I popped out the window screen at 11:30 and climbed onto Randy’s waiting lap.

Leon drove us to the parking lot of the local mall, where the movie theatre played “Midnight Movies” every weekend. I had never been to a movie at midnight before and was incredibly titillated about the idea. We plunked down in the back row and Randy immediately lit up a joint. The lights lowered and the theatre filled with pot smoke and smothered laughter. As the film came up on the screen, Jimmy Page was sitting on a blanket in front of a castle with his back to the camera. Random people started yelling at the screen, “Turn around, Jimmy!” He, in fact, did eventually turn around. As I watched the movie, I was in awe of Robert Plant’s package squeezed into those tight lace-up trousers and I opined aloud on how “totally amazing” it would be to live in a castle. There were times that the pot smoke hung so heavy about the tiny theatre that the screen was partially obscured. Whenever this happened, Randy would lean over and make out with me.

Randy and I lasted only a couple of weeks more. Led Zeppelin wasn’t even Randy’s favorite band—he was a Rush fan. He once told me that the line “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” was one of the best lines in rock. Honestly, it is pretty Zen, if you think about it. But, I still associate Randy with Led Zeppelin. And driving around in that claustrophobic little car with a mustachioed man named Leon. And while I still think it would be “totally amazing” to live in a castle, I barely want to hear a Zeppelin song on the radio any more, let alone via a house band in some salty pub on the pier. No matter how good they look in their lace-up pants.

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