197. When I’m Driving In My Car

chapter 197

My glamorous job in the world of premium cable television consisted mostly of driving around Los Angeles. In the mornings I was off to Deluxe to pick up the dailies, the rolls of film prints from the previous day’s shooting. Then it was off to the cutting rooms of those editors who still cut film, or over to the Post Group in Hollywood where the prints were transferred to video for editing on a cutting edge digital system futuristically labeled the CMX 6000. The final result was a stack of 12-inch laser discs that were loaded into a wall of playback devices that fed the video monitors in the Tales From the Crypt editing rooms. All day long the editors cussed and fussed while the CMX 6000 froze, loaded slowly, or mysteriously deleted hours of hard work.

Throughout the day I drove back and forth between the cutting rooms in Hollywood and the production office/set in West LA. I dropped off stuff for the sound editors at Soundelux and picked up reels from the optical house, the special effects guys who dissolved one scene into the next or added the black matte to a scene that gave the sense that the the viewer was looking through binoculars or a rifle scope.

Sometimes I sat in a composer’s studio, waiting for him to put the finishing touches on a piece of music so that I could rush it over to the music editor. One night I sat quietly and watched Al Kooper work, the man who played organ on Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” Occasionally he’d look over and raise his eyebrows at me in a “that was a killer riff, wasn’t it kid?” manner. I loved my job.

Everything was a rush, all the time. If I was sent to Trader Joe’s for a can of nuts it was a rush. John gave me a pager, and I carried a roll of dimes with me so that I could return his call from the nearest pay phone.

“Hey, John.”

“Where are you?”

“On the way to Modern Video, like you said.”

“They’re waiting on you. Hurry!”

“Then stop calling me and making me pull over.”

“Okay, call me when you get there.”

Three blocks later: beep beep beep.

I learned to navigate LA like a shark, always moving. I drove the same streets so often that I knew which lanes to avoid from block to block and how to time the lights. When traffic backed up or I missed a light, I cut through neighborhoods and alleys nobody bothered with.

Everything was a rush, but today in particular. Jody and I had big plans.

“James, I need you to take these tapes to Dick’s and Joel’s offices,” John said.

“In Burbank?”


“Now? At rush hour?”


“Can’t I drop them off in the morning?”

“They’re waiting. Hurry!”

“But tonight is the Rolling Stones show,” I said.

“Go. Hurry,” John said.

The Rolling Stones booked Guns N’ Roses as the opener for their four night stand at the LA Coliseum. Rumor was that Axl broke the band up the previous night after a rant about Slash’s heroin addiction. I did not want to be late for the show and miss whatever insane bullshit Axl pulled on my night.

I zigged and zagged my way through Hollywood, climbed the hill that separated the 213 from the 818 and coasted down the backside, all the way to the Burbank Studios. The gate guard waved me through, and I abandoned Jody’s big gray Cordoba near Richard Donner’s bungalow. I sprinted up the walkway and threw open the door.

“May I help you?” the receptionist asked.

Tales dailies for Mr. Donner.”

“Oh, he’s not in today. I’ll take them.”

I sprinted over to Joel Silver’s office — same story. I’d broken every conceivable traffic law to urgently deliver videocassettes to empty offices.

Back over the hill to pick up Jody and her friend, and off we went to see the Rolling Stones.

WIMbot_Web_BW_smThe biggest show I’d ever seen was U2 at the Omni in Atlanta, maybe 20,000 people. This was a football stadium, home of the LA Raiders. The Coliseum held over 90,000 people. An usher led us onto the field and pointed to our front row center seats. There couldn’t have been more than 200 other concertgoers in the stadium.

The stage alone was bigger than most concert venues, but the amps and drum kit were pushed close to the lip of the stage towering above us. A few minutes later, Living Colour came out and blistered the paint on the stadium walls. They may have been playing to an empty house, but they rocked as if the place was packed. Corey Glover was a neon blur in his Body Glove wetsuit, braids flailing while Burnin’ Vernon Reid shred his way through the material from debut album, Vivid.

It was like our own private concert. I half expected Corey to lean over and ask if we had any requests, or flip me five bucks and tell me to go buy him a hot dog. I looked at all the empty seats and thought, “What the fuck is wrong with these people? They just missed brilliance.” But that’s LA. My Music Plus buddy Pat and I often bought $8 tickets to Dodger games and made our way behind home plate by the sixth inning. Angelenos are flakes when it comes to arriving to an event on time or staying for the whole thing, mostly because they’re trying to beat traffic.

The sun set while the roadies cleared away Living Colour’s gear. Next up were the Gunners, and they tore it up. Axl was the most magnetic front man I’d seen since Perry Ferrell, sprinting across the stage, spinning and doing his little Tiffany dance. Slash ran the length of the stage, too, making sure that everybody got a chance to see his heroic guitar poses. At some point during the evening the two reconciled, and sanity was restored to the rock and roll universe until Axl’s next meltdown.

By the time the Stones came on, the place was packed. The first six rows were a sea of white, rich, middle-classed faces. Jody and I stood out like a pimply blemish, mostly because we stood and whooped and screamed while the old folks sat there with their arms crossed like they were watching a Boston Pops performance.

Front row is not the place to be for a Stones show. Everything is on such a huge scale that standing that close is like searching the refrigerator with a pair of binoculars. The stage was so high and deep that we could only see the band when they stood at its lip, which Mick did often. He’d long mastered the scale problem of stadium shows by treating about the 20th row as if it were the front. Every gesture, prance, and taunt flew over our heads. Keith and Ronnie did their walking around and smoking thing that looks so fucking cool. Bill and Charlie probably looked calm and bemused. I don’t know — I couldn’t see them.

They knew their audience, too. Of the 28 songs they played that night, only a couple came from their newest album, Steel Wheels. We were there for the hits and the classic deep cuts, and the Glimmer Twins delivered from set opener “Start Me Up” through their “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” encore. For me the highlight was “2,000 Light Years From Home,” with Mick looming over the edge of the stage, shirt flapping in the Southern California breeze.

We stayed until the house lights came up. Traffic was a bitch.


modified photo johndoeforty1 /Flickr Creative Commons

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