The Wilton Hilton
At the beginning of the twenty-first century I moved to Hollywood to become a rock star. At least, that was the plan.
There were three of us, Brits who had had enough of Britpop and looked to the Americas for respite from the incessant jangling. We played loud guitar rock - admittedly, not that well in retrospect - but at least we had ambitions beyond sounding like Oasis. Our singer had met a supposed manager in Hollywood who was making big promises. We were getting nowhere in London so we figured we might as well get nowhere in Los Angeles. At least the weather would be nice.
So I put my things in storage and left England with nothing more than a suitcase, a bass guitar and a healthy dose of naivety. In fact, naivety is a greatly underrated virtue. Without it the statistical unlikelihood of ever succeeding in this vicious and shallow business would overwhelm all but the most insane and/or wealthy. Common sense doesn't like risk taking, it pushes you towards the safe options, the cosseted life. Of course that doesn't mean you shouldn't look both ways when crossing the road but, deployed correctly, naivety (or idealism or stupidity - call it what you will) can be a useful tool for breaking free from the horrors of normality.
Like so many others sucked into that vortex of cannibalistic narcissism I found the reality of Hollywood life to be quite different to the self-mythologising celluloid projections. At that time the area was still rundown and dangerous, gangland graffiti marked the different territories. Step away from the tourist traps of Hollywood Boulevard and you had to keep your wits about you.
But how to survive on our path to rock n roll glory? We had no work papers and our contact out there, the 'manager' who had promised so much completely flaked on us. We rented a cheap one room apartment and the drummer slept in a cupboard. The little cash I had soon vanished and life became difficult. But the weather was indeed very nice.
The first job I found was sitting in audiences for awful TV shows, applauding and guffawing on cue for the princely sum of five dollars an hour. I lugged Art Deco furniture around for Leonard Cohen's daughter, did the door at a glam rock nightclub, made life-size fibre-glass superheroes, lackeyed, laboured and in short did whatever I could to get by as we gigged around town trying to catch a break.
Managing the block we were living in was a stern German lady with a solid gold heart who gave me some decorating work. Basically I had to slop whitewash over dirt, grease and the occasional blood stain in low rent apartments so they'd be vaguely inhabitable for the next unfortunate tenant. It was on one of these jobs that I found a type-written sheet of paper lying crumpled on the floor.
"The Wilton Hilton
When I left La Brea my parents had followed me down here, so I moved in with my father (Mom lived in Hollywood but had moved to Santa Monica) and daddy had found an 80 year old new rich wife in Florida, somewhere along the way my parents got a divorce and Margurite was my new alkie step mom. It was a beautiful 2 bedroom apartment and in my room was a sunken bath tub. Dad took a lot of ambers, an upper with a pheno barbitol and was into conspiracy theories, he claimed to have saved Ann Margrets life, when she delved in Marilyns diaries and took them as well as an overdose of sleeping pills. My dad was a handsome suit wearing (loud colors) with a cowboy hat, who drove a Lincoln to the horseys often and I went along for the ride popping desoxyn from our family doctor.
Some how Yacubian came down from from S.F. and we found a new home with Donna Divine and Greg in the now famous Wilton Hilton with its now reputation of witchcraft cursed with the beginning of punk (Blondie and the Screamers resided there in the mid 70's.) Yacubian and I were engaged another platonic affair. Donna was a nude dancer and got me into it, so that was my employment until Sandy, a Jewish woman manager of Stax's acts, yes the Bar Kays and Carla Thomas asked me to be her secretary. I took the opportunity and took Carla to the Johnny Otis radio show to get closer to Shuggie, we all even went on a date, actually that's when I got employed by her. I finally got Winston, the Bar Kays keyboards player in bed and he used his feet, he was something like an Egyptian Cleo. Our acts were doing Soul Train and they wouldn't let me dance cause I was white. Oh but those shows (T.V.) were great, The Bar Kays, Carla, The Emotions and the one and only Bobby Womack, who Chi Chi Connie had picked up and he sent a limo to Wilton to take us to a session. His overdubs on I Can Understand It were amazing. We ended up at his house in his bedroom snorting coke and he proceeded to tell us that Sam Cooke had said "Bobby I have a feeling that I may die soon, please marry Barbra if I do" That was Sam's wife then and Bobby's now."
I can't help but wonder what became of the unknown author behind this tale. Was she just another lost soul drawn to the illusory promises of Hollywood, dreams of success slowly dissipating in a haze of self-medication? Or had she found a way out of those less-than salubrious surroundings whilst I was still busy with the whitewash? And what of Chi Chi Connie, Donna Divine and the other forgotten characters?