Archive | November, 2011


29 Nov

Hello Everyone,

Welcome to my new website. Self promotion is a tricky business these days, but unfortunately a necessary evil. Growing up as a punk rocker I could never imagine the world would come to this, but I guess this is just like a more in-depth button or a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. My name is Justin Maurer and this is my website. This is where I am compiling my music and writing. I would greatly appreciate your comments or feedback. Generally I am a kind and empathetic person. Lately I’ve become a bit of a curmudgeon, but get a few drinks in me and I will awaken. I love my girlfriend and dog, my family and friends. I speak/sign a few languages. I am observant. I want to drink in the world, but often my great thirst is parched due to financial burdens. Here is my music and writing. I hope you enjoy.

Yours truly,

Justin Maurer


Wed. Nov 30th L.A. Drugz in Fullerton at Burger Records

28 Nov

Hello Everyone!

Fullerton, California is the birthplace of Fender Guitars as well as some of the finest early 80s So. Cal punk bands (Agent Orange, Adolescents, Social Distortion). Most recently, a few kind souls from stoner power pop group Thee Make Out Party opened up Burger Records, a fine record store.  They have been injecting culture-starved Fullerton with some excellent vinyl finds, and from time to time, they host live music inside the store, beneath a swinging chandelier.

This Wed the 30th of November, my new band L.A. Drugz (with James Images, Johnny Reyes, Cezar Bad Machine/Clorox Girls) will be playing alongside South Bay juggernauts White Murder at  fabulous Burger Records.

Burger Records: 645 S. STATE COLLEGE BLVD., FULLERTON, CA 92831

If you’re in the mood for some punk/powerpop from L.A. Drugz (we employ some cool 60s harmonies like our heroes The Nerves, The Who, Love, Buzzcocks) and then getting thrashed by the 2 girls and 3 boys of White Murder, come on down. It’s their record release and it’s free! Also special guests from Mexico City LOS HEADACHES will be opening up the show so you can get down to their Chilango jungle beats.




“The Actress” from Vol 1 Brooklyn’s Sunday Stories

14 Nov


Sunday Stories: “The Actress”

The Actress
by Justin Maurer

Mel and I drove down Sunset Boulevard to meet an actress friend of hers on Friday afternoon. It was pleasant out, traffic wasn’t so bad. Mel finally passed her driving test at the D.M.V. in Glendale, so she was driving.

“Is there a liquor store on the way?” Mel asked. “I want to get some wine.”

“Yeah, there’s one coming up on the left, right as we hit Echo Park.”

“How am I supposed to get there?”

“Follow that red car in front of you; see how he’s turning left? Good. Now take another left into the parking lot.”

I waited in the car as Mel went into the dingy corner shop to buy a couple bottles of wine. Outside the liquor store was a tattooed young woman who picked up a feral cat off the sidewalk. She cradled the feisty little beast in her arms as it attempted to escape. As she pivoted towards me, her red polk-a-dot dress billowing in the wind, I noticed that the furry mongrel was quite cute. A Mexican family pushing a stroller stopped to coo, and one of the young girls made a high pitched noise that sounded like, “Awwwwww.”

With Mel back in the driver’s seat, we took a left on Sunset and kept going.

“Do you remember where Allie’s house is?”

“Yeah, it’s just in between Echo Park and Silverlake, up the hill a little bit to the right. Don’t you remember that cliff where that mud boulder almost fell on you when it was raining?”

“Oh yeah,” Mel said.

We took a right turn and another right up the steep hill off Sunset. Mel parked behind an old pickup truck and pulled up the emergency brake. We walked up the sidewalk with the wine bottles clanging in a plastic grocery bag. A few houses down a big grey tomcat ran across the road and gave us a roar, “Merrrrwwwww,” the cat said. “It looks like he’s starving to death,” Mel said.

The cat followed us up Allie the actress’ impossibly long staircase up the side of the hill. At the top of the stairs was a great view. We could see all the way to theHollywood sign and Griffith Observatory. The brown hills seemed to glimmer in the distance. We knocked on the door and the tiny young actress came to the door greeting us with a hug and a kiss. She led us into the kitchen where we opened the bottles of wine, and then we went back out the front door and sat on some wicker chairs. The girls lit cigarettes and began gossiping.

Mel said to Allie, “So, how is that new movie you’re in?”

“Well, it’s going great…oh my God; I just shot my first sex scene!”

“Really? What was it like?”

“Well, they oiled me up with this slippery stuff so that I would look sweaty on camera. The actor is just a kid; I can’t tell if he’s scared or just aloof. We haven’t had a conversation longer than three words and now we’re shooting a sex scene. I mean, I feel bad for him, he has to wear a cock sock.”

“A cock sock?”

“It’s a sock in front and a thong in the back.”

“Oh my God.”

“I know, the director was like, you have a good ass Jeremy, so we want you to show it. Allie has to show her tits and ass so we might as well show your ass too.”

“Is the director respectful at least?”

“Oh yeah, he’s totally respectful. It’s a closed set when we’re shooting the sex scene, so there are only three people in the room besides the director and the actors. When we’re done shooting the scene, I still have my tits hanging out the bottom of my t-shirt, right? So one of the gay guys working on the set is like, ‘Allie, I can’t talk to you with your tits hanging out, please pull your shirt down.’ Ridiculous, huh?”

“Oh my God, completely ridiculous.”

“I know, they’ve already seen everything anyway. I mean, I have to wear a flesh colored thong, and I’m all slippery. Literally as Jeremy is thrusting and dry humping me, I’m sliding up the wall and they have to yell cut! You’re out of the shot!”

“Sounds intense,” Mel lights another cigarette and I fill up her wine glass.

“It is, and so after shooting this scene for like two hours, finally we’re done and I can go. I came home and just started crying, I felt so dirty.”

“You poor thing.”

“But I guess they are pretty respectful, they gave me this code gesture, so if I’m ever uncomfortable and I want them to stop, I just brush my nose like this, and they yell cut. I did it once just to see if it would work, and the director came in and took me aside asking me if I was okay. I told him I was just testing to see if it would really work. He just gave me this confused look, patted me on the head and walked away.”

The feral cat that had followed us up the stairs mewed again, “Reearrrrwwww,” the cat said. Breathing out a purple tuft of cigarette smoke, Mel said, “Honey, will you please go to the shop and buy it a can of tuna? Look, its ribs are sticking out; he looks like he’s going to die any minute now.” I asked Allie where the nearest grocery store was and drove down the hill. There it was on the corner, El Tomatillo. Inside, I found an inexpensive can of tuna. The can had a dent in it, but I didn’t think botulism mattered, it being a feral cat and all. Stray cats don’t have to worry about anaerobic bacteria. Clostridium botulinum, I say to myself. The cheap white wine Mel bought was pretty God awful, so I bought a tall can of beer to tide me over while the girls chattered away. Modelo Especial, I say, talking to myself again as I clutch the ice cold 24 ounce can.

I found the same parking spot, behind that old pickup truck on the hill, and meandered up the sidewalk. It was starting to get chilly out as the sun was setting, and I wished I had brought my jacket in from the car. “Fuck it,” I muttered to myself. An old Asian man wearing a sun visor cap was watering his front garden. We nodded at each other in the way that men sometimes do.

Back up at the house, I gave the big grey tomcat his can of tuna and cracked my beer open. The cat mewed in appreciation and began delicately nibbling at the tuna, licking its lips in between bites. A hummingbird hovered over the front porch, quickly took a drink of nectar out of a large purple flower and buzzed away. Doves on a telephone wire above Sunset Boulevard cooed and groomed each other’s grey feathers. The sun appeared a neon orange and it slowly sank into the distance, off into the Pacific Oceanby Malibu. The girls were still talking but I wasn’t listening anymore. The cat finished its meal and jumped onto my lap. I wondered if it had fleas, but thought, “Fuck it,” and began to stroke the nape of the purring cat’s neck. The cold beer flowed down my throat and into my stomach. God it was good.

Justin Maurer’s debut chapbook, “Don’t Take Your Life”, was published in 2006 on Future Tense books. His second book, “Doctor I Don’t Wanna be Crazy Anymore”, is set for publication in 2012. He came of age in the Pacific Northwest where he recorded 3 albums and embarked on world tours with his punk band Clorox Girls. After working as an English teacher in Madrid (DJ by night) and a band manager (bartender by night) in London, he relocated to Los Angeles. He currently works as an American Sign Language interpreter and is failing to sell his screenplay to Hollywood. He sings for the punk/60s pop band L.A. Drugz. His writing and criticism have appeared in Faster Times, Vice Spain, Maximumrocknroll, Razorcake, and other publications. The last thing he ate was a chicken burrito drenched in Tapatio and salsa verde.

FASTER TIMES “Wooly Bully” Guest Column, Love and Music

14 Nov
The Faster Times

Wooly Bully by Justin Maurer

(Guest essay for Chloe Caldwell’s “Love & Music” Column)

Chloe Caldwell
September 9, 2011
justin1 GUEST POST: Wooly Bully by Justin Maurer

Wooly Bully by Justin Maurer

When I was a kid growing up in a little blue house in 1980s Los Angeles, my mother would place a plastic salad bowl over my head. She would snip a symmetrical 360 degree trim of my chaotic blond locks, transforming me into a mini surfer monk. I loved going with my father to work, and after my haircut, we would pile into his beat up grey two-door Datsun. When his hand wasn’t on the stick shift, he’d crank the radio, usually The Doors, Beach Boys or the Rolling Stones. Into the San Fernando valley we’d roll, windows down and hair flowing wild.  We were full of fast food burritos, chewing spearmint gum, manically delivering wholesale dental supplies to grinning Latino warehouse workers with gold caps on their teeth.

I don’t remember hearing  “Wooly Bully” on the erratic Datsun car radio during these balmy trips with Dad to the San Fernando valley. After we became estranged and I moved up to the eternally drizzling Washington state after my parents divorce, I became a punk rocker, hooked on Minor Threat and the Buzzcocks.

As a teenager I discovered the film Animal House. John Belushi, Donald Sutherland and company were fabulous at capturing that early 60s energy, that  camp yet anti-establishment vibe that emanated out of diner jukeboxes and car radios. I still long for a fictional past watching that movie. The Otis Day and the Knights scenes are classic. I dated girls because they reminded me of the sorority girls in the film.

I wanted to party with Belushi, pound Jack Daniel’s out of the bottle, smash hippies acoustic guitars at parties, score with chicks, shoot BB guns at Neidermier’s horse. Fuck…I still do. To me the sincerely ludicrous sentiment of “Wooly Bully” and Animal House are one and the same. In our post modern technological purgatory that we’ve created, like many others, I long to go back in time to when things were more pure, when teenagers had that glint in their eyes like a Ford Falcon headlight… looking hopefully to the future while discarding the pent-up sexuality of their parents’ generation.

What in the world do I love about “Wooly Bully”? Is it Sam the Sham’s turban or his shit eating grin? It’s like he’s smiling about an inside joke that only he knows. Maybe he was smarter then us all. That hypnotic organ just sucks me in, and I know I’m about to go from purgatory to heaven as soon as I hear him shout, “Uno, dos, one, two tres cuatro!”

Despite my rootlessness, love lost and love discovered, I never lost my endearment for Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ 1965 grand slam “Wooly Bully.” With its unstoppable swagger and charming yet indecipherable lyrics, “Wooly Bully” is the most perfect 60s frat-rock anthem. Sam the Sham did it, and he still does it for me. I will never get sick of it.

I wish that every time I walked into a corner store to buy a beer “Wooly Bully” would kick in as my theme song.


It’s motherfucking relentless. It’s the catchiest most irreverent, anti-establishment bunch of gibberish ever sung alongside the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” or the Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” Some said that the song was a thinly veiled reference to lesbian sex or a woman’s vagina. My grandmother told me that she remembered the mid 60s #1 hit annoying her second generation immigrant parents to no end. “It’s just a bunch of noise,” they would sneer.

In my mind there is nothing more punk rock then a turban and robe wearing Mexican dude with a few pasty white dudes touring around in a black 1952 Packard hearse in early 60s Texas. My own punk band, Clorox Girls, covered “Wooly Bully” as our encore while on numerous North American and European tours. We managed to play the song in 20 countries. The song was usually performed amongst broken bottles, hails of beer, spit, and sometimes blood. I enjoyed spreading the gospel because a greater party anthem has yet to be written.

Get Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully” on its proper medium, 45 RPM 7” vinyl, or if you must, a 12” Greatest Hits vinyl LP on 33 1/3 RPM. Feel the analog, feel Sam the Sham’s voice coming through. And like me, enter from purgatory to heaven.

Here’s some great tidbits about my favorite song:

“L-seven” was an old expression for being square – or to be out of step with modern fashion. But for the following reasons, it was thought to be a veiled reference to being Lesbian. “Wooly Bully” would be a female’s private anatomy – the horns and wooly jaw would be imagined by Mattie’s looking down in self-examination. And finding a “filly to pull the wool with you” would therefore be an endorsement of Lesbian sex.

The bestselling album for the year (1965) was Mary Poppins, the bestselling single Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

In the intro he sings “Watch it Arnie Ginsberg”. This is directed at Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsberg a very popular disc jock on WMEX Boston who hosted his “Night Train” show during the 60′s.

In Memphis Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs recorded their first and biggest hit, “Wooly Bully”, which sold 3 million copies and reached Number 2 on the Billboard charts on the 5th of June 1965 at a time when American pop music charts were dominated by British Invasion moptops.

As the Pharaohs prepared to write their debut album, lead singer Domingo Samudio wanted to write a tribute to the Hully Gully dance. His record label’s legal department feared using that title due to the existence of another song with a similar title. The song was given the green light after Sam rewrote the lyrics and replaced “Hully Gully” with “Wooly Bully”

The lyrics of “Wooly Bully” were difficult to understand, and scores of radio stations banned the song. The lyrics describe a conversation between “Hattie” and “Matty” concerning the American Bison and the desirability of developing dancing skills. The warning, “Let’s not be L-7′s”, means “Let’s not be squares”, from the shape formed by the fingers making an L on one hand and a 7 on the other. Sam the Sham underscores the Tex-Mex nature of the song by counting out the rhythm in Spanish and English, and of course there’s the characteristic simple organ riffing.

According to Sam:

“The name of my cat was “Wooly Bully,” so I started from there. The count down part of the song was also not planned. I was just goofing around and counted off in Tex-Mex. It just blew everybody away, and actually, I wanted it taken off the record. We did three takes, all of them different, and they took the first take and released it.”

“Wooly Bully” lyrics:



Woolly bully

Watch it now-watch it

yah girl—watch it

Matty told Hatty

About a thing she saw

Had two big horns

And a woolly jaw

Woolly bully-woolly bully-woolly bully

woolly bully -woolly bully

Matty told Hatty

Let’s don’t take no chance

Let’s not be L -7s

Come and learn to dance

Woolly bully-woolly bully-woolly bully

woolly bully- woolly bully

Watch it now-watch it-watch it-watch it

Drive Drive Drive

Matty told Hatty

That’s the thing to do

Get you someone really

To pull the wool with you

Woolly bully-woolly bully-woolly bully

woolly bully-woolly bully

Watch it now-watch it-watch it

You got it-you got it-you got it.

 Justin Maurer’s debut chapbook, “Don’t Take Your Life”, was published in 2006 on Future Tense books. His second book, “Doctor I Don’t Wanna be Crazy Anymore”, is set for publication later this year. He was born in California, but came of age in the Pacific Northwest where he recorded 3 albums and embarked on world tours with his punk/pop band Clorox Girls. After working as an English teacher in Madrid and a band manager/bartender in London, he relocated to Los Angeles where he currently works as an American Sign Language interpreter and screenwriter. He currently sings for the punk/60s pop band L.A. Drugz. His writing and criticism have appeared in Vice Spain, Maximumrocknroll, Razorcake, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and other publications and websites.

The Defenders Razorcake Interview

14 Nov

Interview with The Defenders
By Justin Maurer

I grew up in early ‘80s Los Angeles and remember my Dad’s band The Defenders practicing in the living room of our little house. The guys were surfers and skaters who grew up in L.A. around the famed Dogtown area of Venice and Santa Monica. Kenny, Dave, Lawson, and my dad Paul, started The Defenders in 1980 with an equal love for raw, wild punk and British new wave bands like the Police. Like most of the original L.A. punk bands, they looked to England for inspiration. Locally, they looked up to bands like X, Black Flag, Love, and the Doors.

My Dad was into theater. He played Gollum in an L.A. production of The Hobbit and Snoopy in the musical, Charlie Brown. This gave the band’s unique vocals a very pronounced, theatrical feel. In high school he played drums in a Kiss cover band called Dreams, and, yes, he wore the full-on Peter Kriss cat makeup.

From 1981 to 1986, The Defenders played venues like Madam Wong’s, Filthy McNasty’s, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, a few college shows, and a ton of parties. When I popped out of the womb, the band became less of a full-time project and, sadly, never released any recordings. Kenny, the bassist, moved north and became really involved in the EastBay punk scene in the late ‘80s. Years later, Kenny discovered some old Defenders demos. I began harassing them to release their two best tunes on vinyl. I personally loved “Animal Eyes,” which my band Clorox Girls used to cover. Finally, in 2010, two unreleased songs from a 1982 recording session saw the light of day. Pretty flabbergasted and surprised by the release, I caught up with my dad Paul and the rest of the Defenders. Below is what transpired.

Paul Maurer: Vocals
Kenny Zaak: Bass
Dave Dal Ponte: Drums
Lawson Ward: Guitar

Justin: How did you guys get into playing music?
Kenny: I grew up in Culver City and got into rock music specifically because of the Beatles. The minute I saw their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I remember jamming in the summertime with Dave in his family living room in Los Angeles in 1981. We were soaking in sweat with our shirts off, jamming, playing some British faves from the ‘60s and ‘70s. We had no idea about starting a band. We were just jamming for fun.
Dave: I started playing drums when I was six at a party that my parents took me to. One of the people living in the house had a drum kit. He brought out a snare drum and gave me a crash course on the spot. It was a lot of fun. I was hooked. I pleaded with my mom to sign me up for lessons. She was reluctant, due to the noise and the fact that she wanted to maintain her sanity.
Paul: I remember coming from work and wearing a suit to our first rehearsal. The guys must have thought I was pretty lame. We met at Dave’s garage at his parents’ pad. Lawson, the guitarist, strolled in late, and that became habitual for him. I was a bit pissed off for having to wait. They goofed around a bit before finally playing something I knew, probably a Rolling Stones song. I sang in my normal choirboy voice.
Lawson: I was the party animal out of the whole bunch. I still toke bud every day. Most of my time on the weekends back then I was performing on the boardwalk in Venice with my Pignose amp. I actually had a space and an act called “Faces of the Times.” I would wear old president masks, like JFK, Nixon, and Reagan and sing funny rock covers. When I wore the Nixon mask, I would sing and play, “I’m going down… down… down to the ground.” When I used the Reagan mask, I played a little boom box with Pink Floyd’s “Money” and played the guitar solo note for note. The JFK mask character’s soundtrack was “I Feel Good” by the funk master, James Brown. I was one of the first guys to have the spot in front of the Sidewalk Café, next to the guy who juggled chainsaws. Back then, I used to make two hundred dollars a day on the weekends in Venice.
Paul: As a kid, I was in the church choir and another orchestra. I would always jump at any excuse to get into a female environment un-chaperoned. My mom thought it was cute to have my other brothers and me play together: my brother Steve played the accordion; my brother Mike the guitar; and I was on drums. She would dress us up in the same style clothes. I accepted this because, otherwise, I would not have been able to jam on my drums at my parents’ house. I was allowed to make the attic my drum room. I assembled my set facing the window and my bass drum did a great job of hiding a medium-sized marijuana plant in full sun.
I dumpster dove this very large, purple-cushioned arm chair, and there was a record player in the room, too. It was really cool.
I only had a couple of records—a Rolling Stones 45 and a few other albums. By listening to complicated bands in the seventies, and not being very good on the drums, I thought it was impossible for me to be in a rock band. However, in high school three guys were desperate for a drummer and I could sing pretty well. We called ourselves, Dreams. We dressed liked Kiss and our audience would poke fun at us by shouting, “Wet Dreams, Wet Dreams!” Really positive first experience.

Justin: What was prompted you to write originals and play out? The Defenders played a lot of gigs for the deaf community. How did that come about?
Paul: Kenny was hard of hearing and taught me sign language. He suggested that I volunteer at a camp for deaf kids in the mountains. The bennies were that it was also an all-girl’s camp, which hosted the deaf camp. That means lots of young women counselors. I got more than I expected, however. Before the deaf camp began, this yellow VW Bug pulls in, and this fine booty exits with a cute blonde head on top. I began to flirt heavily with this deaf counselor with a great smile.
A few days into the week, one of the counselors told me that she did not like me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was secretly her boyfriend. I was very depressed. She showed up a few months later at the trailer I was living in, wanting me to help her find a place to rent. We were married by Kenny a few years later, and I got really good at sign language. Kenny was always doing things differently, and he felt that there was a niche for us to get gigs by playing for the deaf community, which was pretty big in Northridge. We played at Cal State Northridge, deaf parties at different clubs, and I often signed and sang at the same time when we played regular shows.
Kenny: Dave’s family belonged to St. Bernard’s in Los Angeles, the parish that housed a deaf ministry at the time. The deaf love to socialize and they needed music for a spring party. Yes, they can feel the music, so rock is good! We got word of their need for a band. It was all covers, whatever we felt like doing. We didn’t think anything of it, but we were immediately tight, despite this being the very first time we played together.
Justin: was there a particular show or band that kicked you guys in the ass to start playing? What pushed you in that direction?
Kenny: In the early ‘80s, L.A. was struggling to find a new scene. There was something called “new wave” that was nebulous, undefined, and blatantly commercial. Van Halen was beginning to reach their zenith. I remember reading in the LA Times about a new Irish band that was coming to Los Angeles in 1982 to play at the Hollywood Palladium. The reviewer couldn’t stop gushing about them, so I went with a friend to check them out. The band was U2 before they hit it big. They had a definite punk vibe and yet they were more than punk. I liked them immediately and bought their first album, Boy, at their show. It was a cassette, and I kept playing it over and over in my car. Equally important for us as budding songwriters was the way U2 sang about the world and the mess it was in. U2 inspired us to start singing about political and social justice.
Dave: It wasn’t any one show for me. I loved all kinds of music. I remember sometimes playing for hours, listening to bands through headphones while sitting at my drum kit. If I was low on money, occasionally some friends and I would sneak up into the hills above the Greek Theatre to listen to bands. We were escorted off the premises a couple of times, but it was all part of the music experience. I remember Mötley Crüe was just starting to play the Hollywood clubs. I wasn’t into the whole burning pentagram thing, but I did like the hard-driving guitars and drums.
Kenny: Dave, Lawson, and I used to cruise over to the Sunset strip on Saturday nights to check out bands at clubs like Gazarri’s and the Roxy. Occasionally, we would see some arena shows at the Inglewood Forum like David Bowie, and Van Halen. Hey, it was the ‘80s! At the Hollywood Bowl, Lawson and I saw the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’s final concert. He died a few weeks later. I don’t remember too much about that show because we were definitely in party mode, but I remember how special it was to be there.

Justin: How has L.A. changed from the ‘80s when you guys started out compared to the present?
Paul: I never went to downtown L.A. at night. L.A. was a pit. I am shocked to say that now. Downtown seems like the place to be. There are nice restaurants and lots of activity now all over downtown.
Kenny: I moved to San Francisco because of a job opportunity in 1986 and never looked back. My move was one of several reasons why The Defenders broke up. I was actually glad to leave L.A., with its sprawl and smog and celebrity veneer. I would return for occasional holidays and that only confirmed my disdain. But, today, I do notice that L.A. is cleaner and less smog-ridden, with snazzy public transportation. The celebrity vibe has gotten worse, though. I now live in Portland but, really, my heart is still in San Francisco. In the early ‘90s, I was very involved with the EastBay punk scene. I was bass player for a band called Ringer, and we hung out with Screw 32, AFI, Schlong, Operation Ivy, and so many other great groups. We even opened up in an underground club for the band that would become Green Day.
Justin: My Dad has claimed that The Defenders were the first band to sing about World War Three and nuclear war. What is your reaction to his claim?
Paul: I know other bands played a song or two about war, but I do not know of any band dedicated to trying to help save the world from self-destruction with song. We probably had close to ten anti-nuke originals. The TV movie, The Day After, which was a realistic portrayal of life after nuclear war, really fueled our cause and made our music all the more real for us.
Dave: I remember playing a gig with several of the nuclear proliferation-type songs in one set. It may have been the mood I was in that day or World War Three lyric overload, but I was ready to change it up.
Kenny: In the ‘80s, bands weren’t really singing about nuclear proliferation. I’m not really sure if our audiences got our message, but everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Justin: The early ‘80s in L.A. were known to be notoriously violent, at least as far as the clash between the police and punk rock fans in L.A. and OrangeCounty. It was called “Black Flag violence” in the LA Times and was national news. My Dad has told me plenty of times that violence at punk and hardcore shows was a huge turnoff to him. Do you recall people slam dancing at your shows or doing the “HB Strut”?
Dave: No violence, really. But I do remember some friends having some fun slam dancing a few times. No injuries or trouble, just fun. The cops made an appearance at a gig or two to tell us to turn it down.
Kenny: Although some of our songs had a definite raw punk edge—“Animal Eyes” is the prime example—we weren’t really a part of the L.A. punk scene. Our music was diverse, and that may have worked against us. Audiences weren’t sure if we were punk or what. But our followers liked us, and I guess that’s all that counts.
Paul: I remember a high school gig we did and a few kids were slamming and bloodied a few other kids. I stopped singing and wanted the band to stop playing, but Dave the drummer called me over to play drums for him while Kenny and Lawson kept wailing away. I’m a drummer, too. After I took over the drums without skipping a beat, Dave jumped off stage and joined with the crowd. This became a tradition every concert after. It was not until I took you to a punk gig ten years later that it occurred to me that slamming could be a crude way of hugging and showing affection. Then I got into it myself and had a lot of fun.
Justin: You guys had a few ballads to mix things up. Was more sex or lack of sex a factor for the band?
Kenny: We had a couple of dreamy weepies called “Dear, Dear Lisa” and “Another Time, Another Place.” That was the pop influence on our songwriting. Sex? If it was happening, Paul was very discreet about it, at least to us. Dave had a steady girlfriend who came to all of our shows. Lawson was a party animal, and I guess I was too, but contrary to stereotypical band myth, we weren’t cruising the streets of Santa Monica looking to score.

Justin: What was the craziest thing to ever happen at a Defenders show?
Paul: I remember that after we played at the Hollywood Biltmore Hotel, one of my co-workers from Missouri came with me. He met the Tiparillo model—the woman who did commercials for the cigar brand—during the gig, and wound up going home with her.
Dave: At one of our shows, a friend of mine got a hold of the trigger for the fog machine as we were finishing up our set. He pressed the button repeatedly until visibility was about two inches on the stage and dance floor.
Kenny: We were doing this gig at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Lawson and I wrote a drinking song called “Have Another Round” and, for a special effect, Paul had a pitcher of beer that he chugged as he sang. During the guitar solo, Paul dumped the whole pitcher over his head, splashing the beer all over the stage floor. I don’t think the bar owner was pleased.
Justin: The late ‘70s and early ‘80s were a time of unparalleled widespread distrust of national government in the U.S. You guys wrote a lot of songs about nuclear war—obviously being children of the Cuban missile crisis—JFK’s assassination, civil rights, and Vietnam. But the ’70s and ‘80s seemed to be less about politics and more about partying, in general. Being young men during this time period, what was your personal experience like, growing up here in L.A.?
Kenny: I lived a somewhat sheltered life. Most of my summers were spent at the beach, either ToesBeach in Playa del Rey or Santa MonicaBeach, near the pier. A lot of my friends surfed, but I never learned how to swim, which is why I became such a good skateboarder. In 1975, I had an apartment right near the Venice Boardwalk, and that was a good scene. So, yeah, my teen and college years were basically tied to the mellow SoCal lifestyle. Of course, the tumult of the ‘60s and the narcissism of the ‘70s swirled around me and influenced my life. I have a strong sense of social justice and empathy for the oppressed, but I also know it’s important to take care of myself. Ultimately, L.A.’s laid-back narcissism pushed me away from Southern California.
Dave: As a kid not old enough to vote at the time, I tried not to get hung up on all that political stuff. I do remember going down to the post office and registering for the draft. Fortunately, it never came to any more than that. Music was a creative outlet and escape for me, to some degree.
Justin: Did The Defenders have some sort of united social conscience or political attitude? I’m assuming most of you guys lean towards the left. At the time in the ‘80s, what were your political leanings? How did you find Ronald Reagan’s America?
Kenny: I think during The Defender years we all shared a similar vibe as far as politics go. In the 1980s, the Cold War seemed to be heading down a path of nuclear proliferation. I wasn’t a big Ronald Reagan fan, but he did seem to instill in Americans a sense of pride that was lacking from the Watergate years. I’m still a flaming liberal Democrat, but marriage, children, and mortgages have a way of bringing out a more conservative outlook.
Paul: I think our message and song themes speak for themselves. The songs clearly portray an urgency to stop war-like rhetoric and thoughts, get the word out that, “Nobody wins at war,” and do something before it is too late. Like, you know that a baby is produced by parents, but once out of their bodies, it becomes an individual. I think our songs were fertilized and borne by us, but they seemed to take a life of their own focusing on peace and love.
Justin: Would you say that Los Angeles has a specific “sound?” Would you say that Love, The Doors, The Eagles, Van Halen, X, and Black Flag all have some sort of common thread, or do you think the urban highway spread and feeling of individuality had something to do with why these bands sounded differently?
Kenny: If there is a classic L.A. sound, I think it resides in the tight vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys, the Eagles, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, America, and other groups, all of who have had some kind of L.A. connection. The sheer aural pleasure of their harmonies masked the often-contentious relationships between band members, and isn’t that what Los Angeles is about? Image over reality. I think the punk scene reacted against this “sheer veneer” and was very successful at it, gaining a faithful following without succumbing to mainstream success.
For example, the Knack was from L.A. and had punk roots, but once “My Sharona” hit number one, their careers were over. Punk and mainstream success go together like oil and water. With that in mind, I think the L.A. sound truly represents the diversity of Los Angeles. There is no “one sound,” just as there is no “one community.” The trick as a band is to break out of the pack with something that is truly unique.
Paul: The mainstream bands at the time were all complicated. Great performers, great skill, great delivery, and a complicated style. Growing up, it seemed unthinkable that I could ever be that good. Therefore, I felt a bit depressed that I would never be in a good band. St. Monica’s Catholic school was totally integrated.
Justin: In the early to mid-‘80s, you guys straddled a lot of scenes, but The Defenders didn’t really fit into any of these scenes: hardcore, new wave, new romantics. How did you see yourselves?
Kenny: No, we didn’t fit into any category or genre. We tried to do many styles and, in the process, mastered none. Part of the problem was that we were basically a party band, and party-goers like to hear whatever songs are popular at the time. If we only ditched the covers and focused on our originals, particularly in the “Animal Eyes” mode, we might have been more successful.
Justin: How did you find playing Madam Wong’s?
Paul: I remember that Madam Wong’s West was still playing disco.
Kenny: Y’know, I’m not really sure how we got booked at Madam Wong’s. I think it was through a friend of a friend. It was on a Sunday night, so the crowd wasn’t that big, but it was Madam Wong’s and that was really something back then. There was an opening act, but I can’t really remember who they were.
Justin: Worst place to play?
Kenny: One of the worst places we ever played was for the old L.A. club for the deaf in some seedy part of downtown L.A. Late night, inner city, dark alleys, the whole bit. The club itself was in some rundown building that had a depressing aura, but it was a good gig. The only gig we did outside of L.A. was in Riverside at the school for the deaf. We did a lot of parties and shows for the deaf community, mainly because Paul was a sign language interpreter. I think we were the only band in California to do that. I’m still not really sure how Paul managed to sing while signing so fluently. American Sign Language has a whole different syntax and word order than spoken English. To speak and sign simultaneously is hard enough, but to sing and sign—Paul was awesome!
Justin: What for you, personally, is your fondest memory of The Defenders?
Kenny: I think doing Madam Wong’s West was definitely a high point. In the ’80s, that was one of the premiere music clubs in the L.A. scene. We were very excited about playing there. The gigs at Filthy McNasty’s in the Valley were good, too, because of their excellent sound system. Funny thing was that place was also a Chippendales-type of club for the ladies, with male strippers. I remember one time we actually went onstage an hour or so after the floorshow, so there were all these ladies screaming at scantily clad gentlemen right before our set. Paul was laughing his head off.
Another high point was when we played at a rehearsal dinner the night before Paul’s wedding! It was a pool party on the west side. It was a blast. Just about everybody ended up getting thrown into the pool, too.
One of the last things we did as a band was to record the theme song for a deaf children’s TV show called Festival. Lawson and I wrote the song, which was upbeat and innocuous. The producers had apparently seen us perform—maybe at the school for the deaf—and thought we would be perfect for the theme song. So there we were, in a Hollywood television studio, recording “Festival,” and then lip-singing and playing to our own recording in front of the TV cameras, camouflage and all. Paul sang and signed and the producers would later insert clips of deaf celebrities signing the word “festival” when we got to the refrain. This was shortly before I moved to San Francisco, so I have never seen the show. Surely, a tape exists somewhere out there.
Paul: This is a two-part answer, as we kind of had a short comeback. The Hollywood Biltmore Hotel gig was our best performance, and I think one of our last. However, twenty years later, after your band Clorox Girls played some club in L.A., LA Weekly did an article on you guys and Kenny happened to see it. Kenny noticed my son’s last name and got in touch asking if you were related to me. You responded yes, and Kenny and I got back into contact. Kenny knew where Lawson and Dave were, and we planned to all have dinner together. After dinner, we started goofing around with a piano and guitar. We remembered almost every song. Because we never professionally recorded before, Kenny—always the leader—suggested that we practice for a couple of months and professionally record afterwards. The experience of recording, for me, was unreal. In the studio, I sort of was a human metronome for the others, trying to keep them together.
Kenny had been practicing all along and was still playing bass and writing songs. Lawson was still teaching and playing guitar, but Dave had not touched his sticks in twenty years. Then, with thousands of dollars of equipment that I sang into, and crystal-clear headphones, I sang by myself. It was a combination of memories of past youth, current emotional release, hearing my own voice as never before, and the excitement as a virgin recording that made this an exhilarating experience and something I will never forget. And, who says The Defenders’ career is over? Now with a 7” and professionally recorded CD called Early Warning, maybe some of us will get more action in the future. With all these wars going on, I am sure there will be war movies. Maybe our originals will be discovered.
Justin: What happened after The Defenders breakup in ’86?
Kenny: I moved to San Francisco. The Maurer family started traveling the country in their mobile home. Dave and Lawson graduated college and started job hunting. Life moved on.
Justin: What do you do now?
Dave: I’mmarried and have two great kids—boys, spend time at little league games, football, track, and still listening to music daily and playing drums occasionally.
Kenny: I’m trying to crank out a living as a songwriter and author.
Paul: I am single and an entrepreneur philanthropist. I am trying to save the world by developing a plan for poor farmers in Argentina to make more money under the trees than they would make cutting them down and planting grass for cows or other monoculture. If we can show them how to earn more money by planting profitable crops in the shade of rare, giant trees, these trees and animals will not go extinct. The trees will begin to suck back the CO2 contributions to global warming, saving all humanity.
Justin: What do you think about the first-ever release of “Animal Eyes” on 7” vinyl? Did you ever think it would see the light of day?
Kenny: The release of “Animal Eyes” on vinyl is such an awesome surprise. We recorded the songs as a demo to help us get more gigs. It was 1982, at the height of our gigging. We talked about releasing a 45 single, but that enterprise was so expensive back then and we had no way of financing it. We were lucky just to find someone to record us at all. That “someone” was Pat Woodland, a friend from Pacific Palisades who was trying to establish his own career as a singer-songwriter. He had a professional four-track mixing board and we recorded in the basement of his family’s house. But the finished product was a studio reel-to-reel and none of us had a way to play it. So the demo just sat in a box in my apartment for many, many years.
Meanwhile, I had lost touch with Paul, Dave, and Lawson. In 2007, I had just moved to a new house and discovered the old reel-to-reel in a box of stuff. The label was worn out and I wasn’t really sure what it was. At the time, I was working on another music project at a Portland studio and I asked the engineer if he could play the tape on his equipment. I was overwhelmed by what I heard! Pat Kearns, who had engineered the Exploding Hearts, ended up doing the mastering.
It was Paul, Dave, Lawson and me, cranking out “Animal Eyes” like it was yesterday. The Defenders were back! The release of “Animal Eyes”/ “Time to Say Goodbye” on vinyl is the culmination of a project that we never got around to finishing. So people are discovering The Defenders all over again. I couldn’t be more surprised or happy.
Justin: Any words of advice to young musicians today?
Kenny: If you’re gonna be a musician, the only advice I can give is “enjoy it!” Be a musician simply because you enjoy making music. Forget about fame and fortune. Those will only come if you work hard at your music and enjoy it, but fame and fortune shouldn’t be your reason for being a musician.
Paul: Don’t sweat over the little things. Have fun. Practice a lot, but do other things too, like sports and volunteering for worthy causes. Be kind to everyone. Remember that no matter what you firmly believe, consider that you may be wrong. 99.9% of arguments in relationships are due to misunderstandings, so shut the fuck up and listen more. Question your beliefs way before reacting on them. Go with the flow. Use condoms and ear protection!

Vol 1 Brooklyn, “Insanity and the Russian Doll Conundrum”

14 Nov

Sunday Stories: Insanity & the Russian Doll Conundrum

Insanity & the Russian Doll Conundrum
An excerpt from Doctor, I Don’t Wanna Be Crazy Anymore

by Justin Maurer

Good afternoon, Doctor, nice to see you too.  How am I doing?  Well, last night I watched the film American Psycho with my girlfriend and it really got me into a rut.  Why?  Well, first off, the screenplay seemed smug.  I could tell that the film was based on the book, and actually I’m sure the book is alright, but the film really bothered me.  First off, I have been to the brink of sanity, or I’d like to think that I have nearly gone insane.  Let’s just be honest, I have been very close to going insane. Girls have driven me crazy, and I drive myself crazy. Inside my mind I’m my worst enemy.

Christian Bale, the young, buff, sanctimoniously cool guy was not convincing as a crazy man.  As Batman, Christian Bale did alright, but to really be insane you have to despise yourself.  You have to look in the mirror and hate everything you see.  You have to be thinking, Oh my God, I can’t stand my face, I can’t stand myself, so I should kill myself or kill someone else. Christian Bale’s character loved himself but despised others; I suppose that’s what was supposed to make his character so despicable.  The thing that makes me sick was not the movie; but that all fiction is based on fact.  Guys like that really exist.  Real motherfuckers who work in finance, snort coke, go on holiday to Thailand where they fuck twelve-year-old prostitutes.  It’s depressing.  Maybe I’m paranoid. I know there are good and bad people in all professions. I am desperately trying to restore my fading belief in humanity.

A couple years back I lived down the street from one of the financial centers of the world, the square mile that’s known as the City of London.  The amount of money that some of these people earn would really make you sick.  I’m not against a well-paying profession, I’m just against five point five billion people starving while the other point five jet set off to Dubai to drink cocktails and seal the deal with some hotel baron.  It’s disgusting, Doctor.  And while I know I can’t do anything about it, it really swells in me like a tumor on the inside.  I don’t want to be disappointed in the human race; I really want to believe in it.  I’d like to believe that the shadow cannot exist without the sun, and that we are sixty percent good and forty percent evil.  We’re made up of all these common elements, like water and hydrogen, so how can a ball of water, hydrogen, oxygen, and bone grow up to be an acquisitions attorney?

I try not to be judgmental of others; I don’t want to be a monk in a remote cave somewhere.  I like civilization, I like cities, I like people; there being six billion of us, surely there will be people and professions that I don’t like.  I don’t want to oversimplify my beliefs, because for example, it really scares my girlfriend.  She thinks that I don’t ever want a career, one job that I choose for the rest of my life.  She knows I was happy as a musician, traveling the globe and earning nothing, but playing every night, meeting people, drinking, experiencing other cultures.  Of course I loved it.  But it wasn’t a sustainable life to lead.  I fell really badly in debt.  I drank too much.  I couldn’t hold down a job or apartment or relationship, at the expense of being addicted to adventure.

Sitting in an office for me is such a downer.  It’s such a measure of defeat; for me it is an act of submission to the way things are. To be ineffectual and actively pursue something that you don’t believe in, prostituting yourself while someone you probably haven’t even met gets all of the profits from the time you have sacrificed forty hours a week for your entire life.  I guess the only way to beat your enemy is to know your enemy, and yes, I’ve read The Art of WarKnow your enemy better then you know your friends. That’s the problem, though.  I’m such an adaptable person that I’m worried I’ll start to act like my enemies, walk like them, talk like them.  I’m a skilled actor.  I could infiltrate enemy lines, but I think they could always see in my manner, my tousled hair, my ripped up clothes, the madness in my eyes, that I could never be one of them. But what if I was? What if I am one of them?

Now Doctor, we all have had fantasies that involved some kind of violence.  Especially males with all the testosterone flowing.  As cavemen we used to be able to beat and maul our opponents.  As civilized human beings restrained by laws created to protect ourselves we can only imagine our adversary being hit by a bus or having his face smashed into a thousand pieces by our fists.  I’m not a violent or angry person, but the other day I imagined a saw blade spinning through the air and decapitating scores of these horrendous people. I have fantasies like that on a regular basis.

So last night I got the feeling that I used to have as a boy. The same feeling I used to have at six years old, “meditating” under the kitchen table when my parents were arguing.  Last night I got all tight in my chest and very distant from my beautiful girlfriend.  I so wanted to tell her how I felt, but I couldn’t say it without explaining all of the dismantling of Russian doll upon Russian doll inside my turbulent mind.  I merely said that I didn’t like the movie and I thought the screenplay was smug.  You’re getting in a mood, she said, quite accurately.

It doesn’t bother me if my girlfriend finds Christian Bale attractive, but it does bother me when she enjoys women being mistreated by men in films.  Sometimes girls subconsciously want to be ordered around and talked down to, so they love seeing other women treated like shit.  I don’t think they realize that if someone close to them were to treat them in this way, they would be quite upset.  But they find a male egomaniac in a film attractive.  It’s a fluctuating sensitivity. Wish it would go away.

All that I know is that I want to understand.  I want to get in and out of my own mind, I want to know why I am the way I am.  I can tell you these things, Doctor, because you’re a professional.

Justin Maurer is a writer and musician living in California.  His first book, Don’t Take Your Life, came out on Future Tense Books.  In March his next book, Doctor, I Don’t Wanna Be Crazy Anymore, will be published on the Vol. 1 Brooklyn imprint, Julius Singer Press.

Vol 1 Brooklyn, “Untitled” (I hate giving readings)

14 Nov

Untitled, by Justin Maurer

I hate giving readings. It is one of the most uncomfortable, embarrassing, and awkward moments for me as a person, a human bug living in an ant farm of six billion writhing maggots. That’s not really how I feel about humanity. I love people.

The last time I was asked to read was at an art gallery in Portland, Oregon. It was to present a recently published book of short stories on a local micro press called Future Tense Books. I was of course, a nervous wreck. I picked out a nondescript blue dress shirt to wear, and a pair of plain black dress shoes. While flossing, my neglected gums bleeding, I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘You look nothing like a writer, you faggot.’

A jekyl and hyde like take over coated me with green bile on one side of my face and clownish girl make up on the other. The mean one continued…

‘That’s right you whimpering baby. You’re going to read them a true story. Boo fucking hoo. You’ve published your shitty vignettes and now you’re going to read them to a bunch of toilet drinking queers who will clap politely when you’re done, then a fifteen year old girl and a fat gay man are going to ask you to sign their copies. Brav-o my boy. What a champ.’

The clownish girl took over, ‘Hey, I’m trying to stay positive here. Everyone else just gets of work and drinks. They drink themselves into a stupor and complain about how they wish they could quit their jobs and travel. Well, I travelled a little; wrote a couple of things. It’s better then not doing it. My humble exploits surely were worth cataloging.’

Green bile man took over, ‘Fuck off, you pussy. Why don’t you write a real story? Like someone with balls would write. Something Bukowski or one of the Russians would write. Come on, Carver, Hemingway, those guys had balls. What do you have? A giant pussy. ‘

‘Easy tiger,’ the real me came back and I recognized myself again in the mirror. ‘Hey now, you beautiful man, let’s go get us a cup of coffee.’

I strutted into my favorite coffee shop feeling good about myself. If the cute girl with tattoos was working I would surely invite her to ‘my reading.’ Love the sound of that, ‘my reading.’

‘Hi there. How are you doing? Long shift, huh? Well, I’m reading down the street if you want to come and have a drink after you get off work? Yea, I’m pretty nervous, but I’ll be fine. Oh yea, I’ll have the same thing, double short latte, thanks. Naw, no soy for me. I’m a milk man. I breast fed until I was about fifteen years old did you know that? Naw, just kidding. Alright, see you down there. Your hair looks good by the way. Of course I noticed.’

I jangled the bell adorned glass door ajar and pushed it forward with my free right hand thinking, ‘Great you idiot, now she might come. Way to go.’

I booked it down the street and the coffee overflowed out of the mouth hole on the black plastic lid onto my left hand.. I hadn’t fastened the lid with enough gusto. ‘Motherfucker,’ I mumbled to no one in particular.

I got to the art gallery and there was already quite a few people there. They had read the writeup in the excuse for a weekly newspaper that some pretentious cock declared I was Portland’s best young writer or something pathetic like that.

I downed the coffee not caring that my tongue was becoming increasingly scalded. The roof of my mouth also felt the backlash of my wincing tongue, it’s tip gorging into the strange valleys that exist for some reason on the ceiling of the mouth.

A smiling friend appeared, patting me on the back. ‘Dude,’ he exclaimed. ‘Ready for your big debut?’

I said something to the effect of ‘No.’

At book readings everyone is seated with a drink in their hand, some of them with crossed legs. They stare intently at the reader or check text messages on their mobile phones. Their laughter is the only solace that you are doing something right, and most of the time it’s unpredictable because your comic timing is far from well oiled.

People in different regions of the United States tend to laugh at different parts of the same story. I have tested them. This makes me uneasy. For that reason I do not like standing in front of people when the sound of my voice is the only noise in the room besides a cough or mobile phone ring. Perhaps the tick of a clock or a bartender dropping a plate of glasses that causes everyone a welcome disturbance because they are allowed to look in another direction at the same time and give a knowing look to their neighbor.

I explained this in a spew of incoherency to my companion and friend and he assured me that everything is going to be alright. I told him I disagreed, and I hated to tell people personal details about my life, people that I do not know, people that are trying to pry into my conciousness and soul. He told me ‘You need a shot of tequila my friend.’

We popped around the corner to the bar where the bike messengers hang out wearing their man purses and flaunting their facial hair. The bar was indeed full of young men with beards and matching nautical star tattoos. Their keys were fastened to their belt loops with some sort of mountain climbing device, and their bike locks were fastened to their messenger bags, which was strange because all of the bicycles were parked outside. In Portland, people foolishly trust others.

‘Ok man, one shot of tequila and you’ll be fine. Good to go.’

We downed the clear liquid with the ritual of the salt and the lime, and I did feel a noticable improvement to my psyche. I don’t usually drink before readings, but today was an exception, the presentation of my new book. Yes, I was going to be fine. Just fine.

We walked around the corner and the art gallery owner found me.

‘There you are, everybody’s waiting, you better get up there.’

And so there I stood, in front of gazing expectant eyes. A herd of animals staring into the headlights transfixed to my incoming jalopy; a piece of shit Toyota Corolla.

‘This guy looks like Jeff Daniels or Owen Wilson. Surely he’s going to make us laugh. DH at the weekly paper said Justin Maurer is this town’s best new young writer. Oh, that Dave Humperdink never lies.’

There it was. Go time. Do or die. Read or stutter or vomit. Unfortunately my body was going through some sort of strange internal turmoil. It wasn’t my mind this time, but it was my walking corpse, my oyster, the insides of my digestive system.

It began to rattle. I began to sweat. The coffee pooled with the tequila and declared world war three. With technology and advanced weaponry, this world war was far more lethal and terrifying then the first two world wars combined. It was official. North Korea had pushed the red button. Nukes were flying towards Tokyo and impending doom was near. The border of South Korea began to mobilize and US forces were ready to go in, but first we had to fire nukes of our own. Bish bam boom, the nukes soared off of the aircraft carriers and destroyers. Out of the submarines, nukes shot out of them too. We’re going to use all of our capabilities to blast Kim Jong Il into utter submission. His people are going to be burned alive.

In my lower intestine, it rumbled. Kim Jong Il’s missles were nearing Tokyo. The well dressed young audience did not know what was occuring inside my body. Noxious gasses, heartburn, fire and brimstone. This was armageddeon, judgement day. The angel of death was gonna fly in at any moment with his corn harvesting device and harvest some heads. Some heads are gonna roll tonight. It’s here, impending doom. You are done young author. You are finished young musician. You are executed. You look just like your dad. You sound like him too. You’re uptight and serious. You are a loser. You are about to shit yourself.

In the end, I finished the story. The crowd applauded politely. I said thank you, copies of my book were available for a mere five dollars at the table minded by the guy with glasses and his girlfriend, also bespectacled.

World war three never happened. Crisis was narrowly averted. I saved the world, I got the girl, and most importantly; I didn’t shit myself.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn, “Something Useful”

14 Nov

Something Useful by Justin Maurer

This morning I awoke with my girlfriend Minnie, both of us hung over beyond belief. She was off to Sheffield for work, and I had to drive a bright blue Ford Transit minibus with a broken window on the left sliding door to a place called Snaresbrook, a suburb of East London. I took the tube with Minnie and I disembarked at my transfer point, kissing her goodbye.

Twenty minutes later I was in the southern borough of Lambeth.

“English, Irish, Spanish, Gaul, drive like mad to dear Vauxhall.”

When I came upon our beloved mode of transport parked on Aveline Street across from the Tesco’s supermarket, I grinned, finding the humor in the inscription on the side of the blue bus.
Inscribed in white is “Language for Life,” a positive school slogan of some sort. I turned the ignition eleven times to kickstart the cold and neglected diesel engine. As soon as it was fired up, an orange light appeared indicating the van was out of fuel.

To remedy this problem, I put three pounds towards diesel fuel and one ninety nine towards a chicken and ham pasty that was kept in a warm glass case inside the neon lit petrol station. This left me with three pound coins in my pocket, zero in the bank account, and me romantically pondering, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The orange light irritatingly flashes on again after five minutes of driving. Running on empty, running on fumes.

Traffic in central London is a bitch, as it is in any major city, but traffic coupled with an empty gas tank, can mean high levels of stress for an American driver with an expired drivers license conducting manually a bright blue bus probably originally intended for transporting the mentally retarded on the wrong side of the road through an ancient city constructed by the Romans but now populated by businessmen with smug pointy shoes and no regard for red or green lights, they’ve got to “shift some units,” credit crunch and all, and power walking ruthlessly across the road in front of my van with a broken window that I’m trying to park in a safer place because the Lambeth County parking permit is expired and if the van is impounded or stolen then I can’t sell it, and then I’m left to my three pounds, expired drivers license, and half of a chicken and ham pasty.

When one heads east and passes the neatly dressed businessmen of Liverpool Street and the asymmetrical hairstyles of Shoreditch High Street, then one finally hits the real east London: endless road construction, fried chicken carcasses on the sidewalks, mosques, street vendors selling fruit, Arab women in fully covered traditional garments, Are they called burkhas?, and African men in bootleg designer clothing crossing the road with no regard for their own safety or of the mental well being of a crazed American driver behind the wheel on the right front side of a fourteen seater Ford Transit Hi-Cube minibus with a broken window on the left sliding door and an empty gas tank.

I made it to Snaresbrook at last, and parallel parked the blue steamship in a residential neighborhood that I’m sure will be happy to house my precious eyesore for just ten days or so. I left a cordial note on the dash that reads amicably: “Hello! If there is a problem with parking me here, please contact my owner on his mobile phone: 0795 – xxx-xxx. Cheers!”

My friend Jim’s girlfriend Alegra is home alone on her day off and lives down the street. She works for the BBC and is a pleasant little thing. Jim encouraged me to stop in for tea with his girlfriend, but my dehydrated brain encouraged me otherwise, as I didn’t think I could keep up with her well educated banter. A central line tube stop frigidly awaited me above ground just up the road, and I approached the station with a shiver. Wearing a scarf and black stocking cap that could be dubbed “a burglar hat,” I carefully paid two more pounds sterling onto my Oyster Card, a piece of plastic with an electronic chip that enables me to ride the public transport for a few pence cheaper then common people who do not have a plastic card with said chip.

It was a short journey to Liverpool Street where I once again was among the pointy shoe wearing businessmen. They are ambling reasonably slower in the afternoon after a long lunch meeting, and they don’t seem to care about sealing the deal any longer.

One pound coin in my pocket, I am happy because I realize that inside the apartment shared by Minnie and myself lies a piece of chicken breast that was not consumed the night before. In America we call these foodstuffs remaining in the fridge “leftovers.” I returned home hastily. Amongst said chicken breast lay four eggs (hmm… expiration date was a few days ago), and three lifeless mushrooms purchased from the Tesco supermarket chain.

In a black nonstick frying pan, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic were thrust together with a black spatula commanded by my dominant hand, and the mushrooms diced and placed amongst the robust melee of flavorings. The cheese and scrambled eggs and chicken breast and mushrooms were consumed ravenously in the living room with a glass of Tesco brand concentrated orange juice and a cup of PG Tips English tea with a splash of milk and no sugar.

For the rest of the day I festered in sweatpants reading. Usually, this would bring me a great deal of pleasure, but when Minnie rang me from Sheffield on her important business trip, I was lying in the same place on the couch wearing my green sweatpants and my neck sore from reclining in the same position for hours. I drank three cups of tea and attempted to satisfy my male directness and goal setting to no avail.

I fear of becoming English, defending British food, drinking tea, trying to create an empire, feeling guilty once my empire has been created, pulling back all forces, then sitting at home accomplishing nothing groundbreaking drinking more tea and complaining about the weather.

I have a beautiful blonde girlfriend, shouldn’t that be enough? Who needs an empire when you’ve got an aryan sex goddess?

I just successfully navigated a blue elephant on wheels through central London on an empty tank of gas.

I’m starting a pop band with a wonderful young man from a place called Shrewsbury, and we’re booked to play a festival in Spain regardless of the near daily threats from my ex girlfriend who lives there,
“I’m going to fuck up your time, don’t come to Spain, you have friends in other places, go to Sweden instead, why are you trying to humiliate me.”

I pick up an acoustic guitar, I call it a “girl guitar,” since it’s the token acoustic guitar in the estrogen soaked apartment I’m so comfortable in. I try to write the perfect pop song, but to no avail.

Minnie calls me again from Sheffield and asks me what I have been doing all day.
I tell her sadly, “All day I have been trying to do something useful.”

Justin Maurer is currently living the life of an American expat in England. He sings in the band Clorox Girls and published a book of stories called Don’t Take Your Life (Future Tense Publishing).