Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We've Been Good, But We Can't Last

“God damn it, stop the tape! What the fuck are you guys doing?” Hot anger poured out, his voice getting squeakier and squeakier. “Get your shit together, right now!”

The other band members looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and put their hands in the air. Here we go again, another tantrum. What else is new?

“I can’t take it anymore, really. You guys want to cut this record the right way, MY WAY? If not, we can stop right now, because this is bullshit!”

“Alvin,” Dave spoke quietly, soothingly, from the engineer’s booth.

“No, Dave, no. I’m the star here; I’m the one that carries all the weight.”

“Alvin.” A hint of testiness emerged in Dave’s voice.

“Fuck it, man, just fuck it.”


“You know what Dave, this time it’s not okay!” Alvin threw his headphones on the ground.

Dave left his seat behind the mixing board and came down to talk, face to face. He and the boys had been put through the wringer lately by Alvin’s unseemly behavior. Simon and Theodore were aware that their brother was into some hard stuff. Sometimes, when they sat down together to eat, a pill would fall out of the shell instead of a nut. Alvin would glare at them, daring them to start something, but they wouldn’t. Simon was too smart to provoke a fight, Theodore too sweet. But now they both had the sense that it was all going to blow up right here, right now. Simon removed his round frames and rubbed his eyes.

“Dave, if I may interject for a moment,” Simon offered professorially, prepared to help clear the air.

“Come off it Simon, you four-eyed fuck. I don’t want to hear any more of your ideas or your clever plans.” Alvin was unreachable, his enormous front teeth menacing. The Chipmunks had been together for over a decade. Though uncredited on David Seville’s number one single “Witch Doctor,” it was their background singing that caught the public’s ear and, a few months later in the fall of 1958, they broke through with “The Chipmunk Song.” Hit followed hit and, unlike most of their peers, they survived the British Invasion of 1964. Hell, they were so big they could cover The Beatles’ hits and still sell a pile of records.

Simon was undeterred. “If you look back, you can plainly see that Alvin changed dramatically during the recording of Chipmunks a Go-Go in 1965.”

“Hmm, Simon, I believe you’re right,” Dave agreed, as Theodore enthusiastically nodded his head. It was true. Four years before, when the band was recording “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Alvin began acting strangely. It was the mushrooms. It wasn’t odd that a chipmunk would eat a mushroom, it’s part of their diet, but Alvin was dipping into fungi of a distinctly hallucinogenic variety. No big deal, Alvin thought, everyone was doing it that summer. Not Simon and Theodore; they were too straight, real squares. It was then that the three began to drift apart.

They managed to hold it together for their next album, The Chipmunks See Doctor Doolittle, but the band was coming apart at the seams. In an attempt to regain their sense of unity, the three went on a spiritual retreat to Indiana, where they sought to find their inner rodent through meditation. It was pointless and they found themselves going around and around in circles, spinning their wheels. They learned nothing.

Arriving back in L.A. late in 1968, Alvin separated further when he began to spend all his time with a new girlfriend, Cathy Bara. She was trouble, always telling Alvin how he was the only talent in The Chipmunks and that he didn’t need the other two, or, for that matter, David Seville. Worse, she was into serious shit and introduced Alvin to poppies. It became more and more difficult to get Alvin to concentrate, his upper lip often dotted with residue. It proved to be a habit that would trail him for years to come.

After Alvin promised Dave he would be a good chipmunk, the band decided to try it one more time in 1969, and, it was during the recording of The Chipmunks Go to the Movies, that everything unraveled.

“I don’t have to take this shit from you two. You’re nothing but dead weight.” Alvin hastily grabbed his long red sweater with the large capital “A” on the front, and his red cap, and began to leave.

“See you in the funny papers,” he snickered as he pushed open the door.

Devastated, Dave looked at the other two. “What do you think we should do next?”

Simon spoke first. “This is an utter disaster, Dave, an utter disaster. First, Alvin gets into drugs, and now he has this horrible Cathy telling him what to do. It’s terrible.”

Theodore looked towards the ceiling, and then spoke. “I think she’s nice.”

“Theodore, just because she brings you food doesn’t make her nice. Plus, she’s not even a chipmunk. She’s a Mongolian gerbil,” Simon argued.

Theodore thought about that for a minute. “Well, I think bringing me food does make her nice.”

“Speaking of food,” Dave pressed forward, ignoring Theodore, “Alvin is the front man for the group and, without him, I’m not sure we can still be successful. Do you guys still want to perform? Simon, would you want to do the singing?”

“Oh no, Dave, no.”


Looking nervously from left to right, then right to left, Theodore quickly said, “Me neither, Dave, me neither.”

Dave sighed. “Well then boys, I think we’re through. What will you do?”

Simon was cool as ever. “Dave, don’t worry about me. I have lots of other things I can do in the music business. In fact, I recently invented a tiny silver disc that contains music that is read by a laser beam.”

“That’s great Simon, just great.” Dave was proud of this boy, a genius who gladly went along for the ride to help his brothers achieve their dream. He wondered if Simon had been held back from doing great things. “And you Theodore?”

But Theodore was already gone, chasing after Alvin in the hope that there would be food.

The Chipmunks broke up in 1969 after the recording of The Chipmunks Go to the Movies. David Seville died in 1972. For most of the 1970’s, Alvin would battle his addiction to psychedelic drugs and go in and out of rehab. Finally clean by decade’s end, Alvin emerged on TV with The Alvin Show, a midseason replacement on NBC. The show was a return to form and garnered Alvin his best reviews in years. Talk of a reunion ensued and, in 1980, Alvin, Simon and Theodore recorded Chipmunk Punk. Hailed by critics, it was a huge success and The Chipmunks were back on top. They’ve been together ever since, on record, on Simon’s patented invention, the compact disc, and on television and movies.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maybe Baby Needs Your Vote!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Let’s Go Away For Awhile

As he sat on the bed, head down, thinking about the day, Brian Wilson sobbed, a torrent of tears streaming down his doughy face. In the solitude of his Houston hotel room, Brian couldn’t bear the thought of performing on stage in a few hours. Not in the state he was in.

He told Marilyn before they got in the car that he had a bad feeling about the day, dark visions clouding his mind. Maybe some of the bad vibrations were caused by his usual dread of standing before a crowd of screaming kids. Maybe some of his anxiety was a result of the constant fighting with his new wife. Either way, Brian wanted to quit, again. He knew he didn’t relate well to people and would shell up, but today he burst from his defensive armor and exploded. What a scene!

With only two days to go until Christmas, he should have been happy, but the pressures of writing, recording and touring were sucking all the joy out of his life. Even his new marriage wasn’t providing any peace. He and Marilyn were constantly at odds. They were so young; they shouldn’t have married at all. Brian hated being on the road in general, but especially now. He and Marilyn wouldn’t have the time to work things out if they were apart.

When they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport for the flight to Texas, Brian was thankful that Marilyn didn’t drop him off, but parked and went inside with him. It was the usual holiday chaos: insanely huge lines nearly impossible to get through, screaming kids, angry adults, surly workers. Brian’s head was swimming. The mob was turning into beasts and demons before his eyes, flashing pointed teeth and snarling as he passed by nervously.

Fidgety and agitated, the sight of the Beach Boys near the gate gave him some comfort. They greeted him warmly. Wait, what was that? Was Marilyn staring at Mike? Was Mike staring back? Brian was getting juiced up by the black thoughts seeping into his skull. Were Marilyn and Mike in love? Brian was crushed, but, hanging on to his ego, he went off.

“What’s going on here with you two? You two want to fuck?”

Marilyn and Mike were stunned. Marilyn tried to calm him down; “Don’t be silly,” she said sweetly, but Brian was not in a position to be stilled. It sure wasn’t how Brian wanted to leave Marilyn, but that’s how it went. Thinking about it now from so far away sunk him deeper in his depression. Then came the plane ride. Oh man, it was awful!

Five minutes out of LA, Brian stared vacantly at the back of the seat in front of him. He counted the stitches in the seams, some of them coming apart. The hum of the plane’s engines sounded to his one good ear like a cacophony of animal screams. His hair felt as if it were pulling away by the roots. Suddenly, Brian pounded his white knuckled fists on the headrest facing him. His face was contorted, beet red.

“I want to get off this airplane,” he shrieked. “Right now.”

“Cool it Brian,” begged Al, the smallest member of the band, frightened by the imposing figure of Brian Wilson totally out of control.

With terror in his stark, wide eyes, Brian turned and looked at Al. “I’m going to crack up any minute!”

Al passed a pillow to Brian, who pressed his face into the soft whiteness and began to cry and howl.

A stewardess hearing Brian, rushed over. “We just took off sir. You need to calm down.”

Brian bolted out of his seat, knocking the slim blonde aside with a forearm. Now tearing down the aisle, screaming “She doesn’t love me,” over and over, he passed his brothers. Carl and Dennis had heard his outburst but were not prepared to see Brian run past. They both jumped up and chased him down, wrestling him to the cabin floor.

“My God! What’s wrong, Brian? Please tell me what’s wrong!” Carl implored.

“I can’t take it. I can’t take it. Don’t you understand? I can’t go on.”

His brothers restrained him long enough that he eventually quieted down. Brian sat back next to Al, still shaking. He wouldn’t eat, a further sign that something was seriously wrong. He never passed up a meal.

As soon as the plane touched down in Houston, Brian wanted to go right back to Los Angeles. Instead, he was taken to a nearby hospital and given a tranquilizer. Though groggy, he still insisted that he needed to get back to Marilyn right away and patch things up, but the band wouldn’t let him. There was a show that night, and they needed him, so they brought him to his hotel room, gave him another sedative and placed him gently at the edge of the bed where he remained with all his worries and his fears.

It was impossible to regain his composure, and added to the constant crying was a painful knot in his stomach. Everything was coming apart, that much was clear. He couldn’t perform any more, the demands on him to write hit songs were becoming too great, his family depended on him too much. It was a dream of Brian’s to sing with his brothers and cousin, but now that it was happening, there was too much pressure. Carl was sweet and supportive, but Dennis was a hot head. And Mike? What kind of cousin was he, always out to hurt Brian? Thoughts returned to the airport, and the possibility of Mike and Marilyn together.

No more. What was the point? He was distressed at playing his music, disappointed with his family and distraught about his marriage. No more.

His movement slowed by the double dose of barbiturates, Brain staggered toward the bathroom. Sluggishly he removed his belt and buckled it around his neck, looping the other end around the shower curtain rod nearest the wall where it was fastened in the tightest. Once it was secure, Brian Wilson sat down hard, pulling out his legs from beneath him. The screws popped out a bit from the brackets but held.

The sound of someone pounding frantically on the double-bolted door gave way to the strains of a teenage symphony from God.
Two days before Christmas 1964, The Beach Boys flew to Houston for a concert. After “seeing” his wife Marilyn and cousin Mike Love exchange intimate glances, Brian flew into a rage. Soon after the airplane took off, Wilson suffered a breakdown. After arriving in Houston and performing that night, he returned to Los Angeles. Doctors informed Brian that continued touring would cause additional damage to his left ear (he was deaf in his right) and irreparable mental damage. Brian broke the news to The Beach Boys who, except for Carl Wilson, reacted angrily. Over the next 17 months, Brian Wilson suffered two more severe breakdowns. He would not tour for over a decade.