Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tom Waits for No One But Me

Where were these shots taken? Christ, it was at least 30 years ago, none of these people were famous yet, and I was bombed out of my mind, every night a new club, a screening, an art opening, something new to snort, smoke, or consume, another body part to commingle with someone else's body part.

It started when I went to the Troubadour, on Santa Monica Blvd. at the entrance to Beverly Hills, to see Melissa Manchester. Please don't ask me when it was. What did I say? 30 years ago? Let's leave it at that.
 
While waiting in line, I saw a big black '50s hearse pull up to the front of the Troubadour. Out popped this scrawny beatnik with a goatee and a shabby suit who went straight into the theater. I got out of line and looked in the car. It seemed that whoever that beatnik was, he was living in a hearse. There was no casket in back, just piles of junk and empty alcohol containers, while the front seat was covered with books of poetry by Charles Bukowski.
 
Then it was announced that Melissa Manchester had canceled and we were all offered our money back. The whole line took the Troubadour up on their offer, got their bread, and split. I have no idea why, maybe it was the allure of the Troubadour bar which was usually pickup heaven, but I decided to stick around and see Manchester's opening act who would be headlining for the very first time. I grabbed a waitress, guzzled a drink, snuck a joint in the men's room, snervled a toot, sat in the empty house, and watched that scrawny beatnik with the goatee and shabby suit, Tom Waits, do an hour-and-a-half solo set just for me.
 
After the set we talked because the two of us and the waitresses and bartender were the only ones there. I don't remember if I bought him a drink because he was so fucking talented or if he bought me a drink because I was the first person on earth to actually sit through a complete set of his music, but drinks were indeed consumed. He convinced me I had to read some Charles Bukowski, and I asked him if he really lived in the hearse. He said no, he lived at the Tropicana Motel up the street and that he basically hung out there all day at the coffee shop called Dukes.
Dukes became my new home. It was the greatest coffee shop on earth. Not only was the food spectacular and cheap, it was a genuine rock 'n' roll haven long before the phony Hard Rock Cafes tried to take over the world. The walls were covered with albums and signed posters of touring bands. Maybe big millionaire rock stars got put up at the Hilton by their record companies when they were on tour, but not so everyone else. Bands who weren't the Stones stayed at the Tropicana. Dukes, their coffee shop, was arranged in such a way that all the tables were pushed together like one enormous counter, so getting a private table was close to impossible. You would go there for breakfast and end up sitting next to the Cars or the Eurythmics or the Clash or Elvis Costello, but usually it was just Tom or Chuck E. Weiss because they actually lived there.

One day after a surreptitious shot of tequila and the best huevos rancheros on earth, Tom invited me to a concert that night. I wrote down the address. Do you expect me to remember where it was? Of course not. I do know this - I ended up backstage at a sleazy dive just north of Sunset, a wretched, sweaty, incandescent cellar without even a stage for the performers to stand on, bare walls making the music ricochet around the room, becoming virtually incomprehensible, only capable of holding about 80 people comfortably but packed with at least 150, circled around the performer in the middle.



 
Did I say backstage? I meant a room about the size of Snoopy's doghouse where people were crammed like sardines without the wholesome pleasure of olive oil to slide around in. Tom invited me in, then introduced me to his friend Chuck E. Weiss who said he was a musician too, and his girl friend Rickie Lee Jones, who I suppose must have performed too because her name is on the door. Tom was horrified by my Polaroids as you can see by his reaction in picture #3.

Maybe a month later there was this big hit song by Rickie Lee Jones about Tom's friend Chuck E. who was apparently in love with somebody, and the Eagles recorded Wait's Ol' 55 (Freeways, Cars, and Trucks), and suddenly they were all big stars, which must be why I took these pictures, because I knew it would happen. What were Dr. John and John Prine doing there? Despite the fact that I was the only one there at his premiere as a headliner, I guess word somehow got out that this was a guy to see.

Andy Kaufman's Last Performance


New Wave Theatre was a show on the USA Network in the early eighties, the very start of cable TV. For a brief while, it was the most vital, cutting edge show coming out of Los Angeles, showcasing dozens of local bands like the Blasters and the Dead Kennedys who didn't have a chance of exposure anywhere else. The show was hosted by Peter Ivers, a singer/songwriter performance artist whose biggest claim to fame was having composed "In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)" from David Lynch's Eraserhead. He wore outlandish clothing and spouted intellectual Zen Buddhist philosophy in between the punk bands, asking them questions like "What is the meaning of life?" instead of "Tell us about your latest recording." He came off a bit smug, so the bands tended to hate him, but his peaceful rantings lent an interesting yin to the extreme violent yang of the music on the show, which was written, produced, shot, directed, and edited by a madman named David Jove.


Peter Ivers on New Wave Theatre

New Wave Theatre came to an end when Ivers was bludgeoned to death in his home in downtown L.A. The murderer has never been caught, though many suspect it must have been a member of a band who had appeared on the show and got pissed off at Iver's hippy-dippy questions.

The Plugz on New Wave Theatre

David Jove Reacts to Peter Iver's Murder
 

Ivers was a Harvard graduate, and in memory of him, they initiated the Peter Ivers Visiting Artist Program. He had many powerful friends in Hollywood, including Harold Ramis. Harold wanted to see the spirit of New Wave Theatre live on, so he agreed to executive produce a show called The Top for local TV, once again produced and directed by David Jove, and featuring many of the New Wave Theatre gang, including me. He also supplied Chevy Chase as a host, with guest stars Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd.
The Peter Principle immediately came into play, and I'm not talking about Ivers. Jove, who worked well with his underground crew and punk bands, editing in his own private bay in his cave-like home, was totally out of his league in the real world of television. New Wave Theatre was shot guerrilla style, and he was in charge of absolutely everything. Faced with an actual production staff, he found himself completely incapable of delegating authority, preferring instead to boss everyone around, telling them specifically what he wanted them to do, and ordering them not to do anything else. He literally ran around stopping people from doing their jobs. It was nuts. Everyone hated him.

I was hired as head writer because Ramis insisted that he hire a head writer. Jove made it quite clear to me that every single word uttered by anybody on the show was to be written by him and him alone. I pointed out that Chase, Dangerfield, Murray, and Aykroyd were pretty funny guys, and he might want to give them some leeway to do their own material, but he would have none of it. No one would do any of their own material. They would only say what Jove told them to say. I was welcome to attend every conference so that it would look like I was earning my pay, but I would not be allowed to actually write anything. Thus I got to personally witness one of the greatest self-destructs I've ever seen.

At the first writer's meeting, there was me, Jove, Chase, and Ramis. First Ramis introduced everybody and told his version of what the show should be, the version he thought would make the network happy. Then Chase got up, walked around the room talking, and for fifteen minutes was the funniest human being I had ever seen. At this point he hadn't done any television since Saturday Night Live, and he clearly found his role as movie star stifling. He was simply bursting with hilarious ideas. I took copious notes and saw my career ahead of me in bright lights as the head writer of Chevy's comeback show, which would clearly be one of the funniest on television.

Then it was Jove's turn. One by one, he shot down every single one of Chevy and Harold's ideas. He made it very clear what the show was going to be. Despite what Ramis had told the network, it was going to be the David Jove show. He then ran through HIS list of ideas, like constantly cutting back to the control booth, which would be run by animals. Like the talk show portion of the show which would feature nothing but baby ducks. Like his wife and child performing a song. One by one, Chevy and Harold shot down every single one of David's ideas. There was a horrifying silence. Chevy threw out another idea. David turned it down. David threw out another idea. Harold turned it down, throwing out another idea of his own. David turned it down.

Finally, Chevy said "Why don't we satirize Thriller?" which was Michael Jackson's latest video that had just started airing that week. This was my cue. Just before the meeting, I had told David my idea for satirizing Thriller with Chevy Chase, replacing the words "it's a thriller in the night" with the words "it's a Chevy in the night," and having Chevy turn into a Chevy instead of a werewolf. Chevy and Harold looked at me and I said "That's a good idea," but just as I was about to tell my concept and justify my presence in the room, I felt a kick under the table. I looked at Jove, who surreptitiously lifted up his shirt to reveal a revolver in his belt. The message was pretty obvious: if I told my idea, which Chevy and Harold would clearly like, he would shoot me. I kept my mouth shut. The meeting ended in stalemate and a death threat. 

Angry Samoans on New Wave Theatre


Finally, it was time to shoot the opening episode with a live audience. The rehearsal with the bands had gone well. Jove had scored quite a coup getting Cyndi Lauper to perform Time after Time. She was fantastic. The audience packed in, full of punks who were fans of the original New Wave Theatre, and expecting more of the same. Jove, who was used to actually being on the stage as the main hand-held camera operator, found himself stuck in the booth in back, having no idea how to give orders to the crew on the stage. As it turned out, he wouldn't need to.
There was a fanfare, an announcer said "Ladies and Gentlemen, it's THE TOP!" I had written Chevy several opening monologues. Chevy had written himself an opening monologue. But right before he went on, Jove had gone up to him and made him put on a punk costume with a spiked wig, telling him to just go on stage as a punk and wing it. Chevy came on stage in his punk costume, looking pretty uncomfortable since he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do next.

The opening music kept playing. He stood there. A bunch of punks in the front row, aroused by the music, jumped on stage and started slam dancing.

A word here about slam dancing. Slam dancing consists of jumping up and down like you're on a pogo stick while bouncing off of those near you. That's it. It works particularly well on a VERY crowded dance floor with VERY loud music; everyone caroming off each other like a million balls in an insane punk pinball game. Unless you know that slam dancing is a dance, you would have no idea that you were witnessing something other than a riot.

Chevy had apparently never seen slam dancing. All he knew was that a bunch of punk assholes were jumping up and down trying to bounce off him. He pushed one of them away. They pushed back. He pushed back. Chevy got cold-cocked and knocked off the stage. He got up, walked to his dressing room, and didn't come out. The show was over after a full thirty seconds of production.It was a disaster and everyone blamed Jove. Chevy blamed him for not letting him do the monologue he wanted to do. He quit and refused to work with Jove again. I blamed Jove for not doing MY opening. Harold blamed Jove for inviting the punks in the first place and seating them in the front row. Jove blamed the system for not letting him be on the stage where he could have stopped it from happening instead of being cooped up in the booth.

The network was still owed a show. Harold Ramis took charge. He arranged for a second taping a week later, getting Andy Kaufman to fill in as host. He threw out Jove's script and got a pair of handcuffs to keep him in his seat in the production room during taping. During one production meeting, he took a phone call, walking around the room, stretching the cord of the phone as he walked. When the conversation ended, he was on the other side of the room, and he simple let go of the phone, which flew across the room hitting David Jove smack in the middle of the forehead. It was the funniest moment of the whole production.

45 Grave do "Evil" on New Wave Theatre
The second shooting was much more controlled. No punks allowed. Backstage before the show, Kaufman was as friendly as could be. There was not a hint of star ego as I hung out with him in the dressing room, taking his picture as they put on his make-up. As head writer of the show, I had absolutely nothing to do with the words that were to come out of his mouth, so I asked him what routines or characters he would be doing. "None," he said. "Just myself."

There was a fanfare and Dan Aykroyd's voice came over the loudspeakers: "Under no circumstances attempt to watch this show without a working television set." The monitors showed rapid, one frame cuts of star fields (one of Jove's specialties), then cut to the control booth, which was manned by three guys wearing big paper mache animal masks. A deep announcer's voice filled the room. "And now, from Hollywood California, the entertainment capital of the world, we welcome you to The Top!"

The list of guests followed: Cyndi Lauper, The Romantics, The Hollies, special guests Dan Aykroyd, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray, Lili and Lotus, and Robert Roll as George Gerkon. "This is your suicidal announcer, Bill Martin," he concluded as the screen showed a baby duck walking around a miniature talk show set. Cut to a living room full of aliens watching a TV set. "And now your host, Andy Kaufman."

 Finally, he went on stage, doing an opening that wasn't written by me, but contained remnants of Jove reworked by Ramis. It was nothing special. "Hi everybody" he waved.

"Hi Andy" the whole audience replied. Then a phone rang and Andy answered it. On the monitor, we saw a tape of Rodney Dangerfield on the phone saying "Andy, what's going on? When are you going to show Rappin' Rodney? I gotta go to the bathroom."

Andy did a double, a triple, a quadruple take looking at the phone. The screen cut to a little old lady saying "Now you stay tuned to The Top." A multi-colored fright wig appeared on her head. "Do you hear me?" she said shaking her finger at the screen. Cut to commercial.

During the rest of the show, Andy did little more than introduced the guests and take calls from Rodney. Aykroyd and Murray were wasted in a pre-taped segment which looked like Jove just got them stoned and babbling at each other. Dangerfield's segment consisted of the phone calls to Kaufman and his Rappin' Rodney video. The closest thing to comedy was supplied by Robert Roll doing a totally incomprehensible commercial satire written by Jove. 

When the show was aired, there was no writing credit. During the final credits, which were shown over a rather sweet performance of a song about heaven by Jove's wife and daughter, Lotus Weinstock and Lili Hayden, I was called a "Creative Consultant."

Kaufman's performance in The Top seems to be unique in his career. He wasn't playing a character. He wasn't putting anyone on. He wasn't trying to be funny. There was an absolute lack of irony. It actually wasn't a performance; he was simply being himself, doing a favor for a friend, dropping every facade he had ever used, dropping any attempt at being clever or cute or even entertaining. Other than the remarkable circumstances leading to his filling in for Chevy Chase, it wasn't even worth writing about. He smiled a lot and just came off as a totally nice guy, without pretense, someone you could share a beer with. Anyone tuning in to see any of his trademark idiosyncrasies would have been pretty disappointed.  

At the time, I saw it as a complete waste of his phenomenal talents, but looking back now, I see it as a moment of incredible clarity. He probably knew he was dying. He didn't have anything else to prove to anybody. He could afford to just be himself, and that was good enough. "I'm sorry, but that's the way it goes," he said. "Good-bye from The Top." He put his hand over his heart, looked at the audience, wide-eyed and innocent, and said "We love you" before walking off the stage. He died four months later. It was his last public appearance.

All of Andy Kaufman's Scenes in "The Top"


The following reply to this article was posted to alt.fan.andy-kaufman.
 
From: Mel Morgan
 
I PERSONALLY HATE TO SEE A GOOD MAN MALIGNED
PARTICULARLY IF THE GUY HAS HELPED A LOT OF PEOPLE
(ME BEING ONE OF THEM)
AND SOME PRIK LIKE THIS DARE GUY
-who wrote that BS "kayfman's last performance"
I KNOW THAT scammer FOR A FLANNEL-MOUTHED LIAR
SAYIN BAD STUFF ABOUT THIS FRIEND OF MINE
who the liar makes look like a whacko in his stupid delusion
--far from it!!!--
SO IM POSTING THIS TO SHINE A BIG WHITE LIGHT OF TRUTH ON
THIS scourge MICHAEL DARE
TO REPUDIATE
to unmask
THE FRAUDULENT B.S. HE MAKES UP
CUZ HE'S SUCH A TOTAL LOSER
BUT HE'S WAY WORSE
HE'S A SQUEALER,
Y'KNOW A RAT...
AS IN TREASON!!
.
THIS SCAB-FACED DARE IS
THE SAME RAT-SCUM WHO SOLD OUT PRIVATE INFO TO BOB WOODWARD- (the book
WIRED about BELUSHI) years back
AND SCREWED SO MANY INNOCENT CAREERS
ITS PURELY EVIL-
THE GUY DOESN'T CARE WHO HE HURTS OR RIPS OFF
BUT LOOK WHERE IT'S GOT'M huh??
THIS Lyinphk HAS GOT AWAY WITH CONVINCING A LOT OF PEOPLE OF HIS
DELUSIONAL RAMBLINGS--for a long time
BUT NOW --OH YEAH!!--NOW
THIS TIME
IT'S CRIMINAL LIBEL,defamation etc etc
(for which this a-hle is currently being PROPERLY set up for)
THIS PACK OF LIES
ABOUT ANDY'S LAST SHOW"-TOTAL BULL!!!
I WAS THERE-
-LISTEN UP!
HE HAD PHKALL TO DO WITH THAT SHOW PERIOD
I CAN PROVE IT!!
I CAN PROVE IT TO ANYONE WHO REALLY WANTS TO KNOW--
cuz my best pal was the main guy-
end of story
MICHAEL DARE IS
THE SAME RAT-SCUM WHO SOLD OUT PRIVATE INFO TO BOB WOODWARD- (the book
WIRED about BELUSHI) AND SCREWED/ruined SO MANY INNOCENT CAREERS
enough to make ya cry
THIS LOW-LIFE ACTUALLY RATTED OUT SO MANY PLAIN HARDWORKIN PEOPLE IN
H'WD THAT THE DIRT-BAG HAD TO RUN FOR HIS LIFE AND NOW HIDES OUT IN
THE HIGH DESERT.
-i mean seriously dont most people have a life to lead without harming
others-????-
THIS GUY IS A VERY VERY BITTER ANIMAL
AS ANYONE CAN SEE BY READING THE ARTICLE CLOSE--
TAKE
A CLOSER LOOK FOR YOURSELF
THEN TELL ME!
HOW MUCH ACTUALLY is there in the article about andy??
like WHAT??...one paragraph???
--the rest is just vengeful and viscious lies..whoops..sorry--forgot
to mention his pretending he had something to do with the the thing--
IT WAS IN FACT ACTUALLY ANDYS LAST SHOW
that's the extent of truth in the piece)
BUT FOR SURE THAT DICK NEVER SPOKE A SINGLE WORD WITH ANDY-
HE WASNT EVEN THERE--
HE WAZNT PART OF IT AT ALL PERIOD
NOR (like his stupid delusionary raps with the heavies)
DID HE
EVER SPEAK WITH
CHEVY,
HAROLD,
AKROYD OR MURRAY
OR LAUPER ETC
.
I WAS THERE AS THE BEST BUD OF THE DIRECTOR

THE PRODUCER WRITER AND DIRECTOR OF THE SHOW (DJ)
WAS THE ONLY PERSON (OTHER THEN THE EXEC-PROD WHO ARRANGED HIM TO COME)
TO EVER SPEAK WITH ANDY
AND THAT, VERY BRIEFLY
BECAUSE THE GUY WAS SERIOUSLY VERY ILL--
I WATCHED FROM A DISTANCE--COUGHING EVERY FEW MINUTES
HE ONLY ARRIVED 5 MINZ B4 THE SHOW AS A FAVOR TO THE EXEC-PROD
BUT I SAW HIM AND MY FRIEND SEZ HE WAS BEAUTIFUL AND HOLY TILL THE END
IN FACT MY FRIEND HAS SOME OFTHE LAST FOOTAGE SHOT OFHIM
SLOWLY DISINTEGRATING AFTER ALMOST 20YEARS!!..
IT'S TRULY UNFORTUNATE THAT SCUM LIKE DARE HAVE NOTHING FURTHER TO
OFFER OUR DWNWARD SPIRALING WORLD
BUT THE PROBLEM OF THEIR OWN INSIGNIFICANT UGLY EXISTENCE.
THIS PITIFUL SAD POSEUR AND IMPOSTER...
THIS
SCAMMING PUBLICITY JUNKIE INTERLOPER,
THIS LIAR IS
ABOUT TO BE SUED I HEARD
BY THE DIST ATT. OF RIVERSIDE CNTY, CALIF.
FOR CRIMINAL LIBEL
WHICH WITH SOME LUCK WILL PUT HIM AWAY AND OFF THE WEB.
NO MORE TO SAY EXCEPT
I'M GLAD TO SPEAK UP IN DEFENSE OF MY PAL WHO THIS DARE GUY HAS
MALIGNED ALL OVER THE WWW--
but i believe this stuff comes around to visit-
but he's a scorpio I heard and they like to off themselves
ANYWAY--
ANDY WAS A DEEP CARING MAN AT HEART
AND FOR THE VERY BRIEF MOMENTS I WITNESSED
FROM A SHORT DISTANCE AWAY,
HE TOOK A REAL LIKING TO THE BEAUTIFUL GUY WHO PUT THE WHOLE THING
TOGETHER--IT WAS A 'HEART' THING
THEY EXCHANGED A LONG HUG TILL ANDY STARTED TO COUGH AGAIN
THIS GUY HE HUGGED--IS THE SAME GUY THAT THIS SCOUNDREL DARE HAS MADE
OUT TO BE A WHACKO --WHAT A TOTAL DIK!
nuthin cld be further from the truth--nuff sed
SO THANKS FOR LISTENING AND allowing me to clear this up
Everlasting Peace to Andy and let us take what we loved about him
into our own hearts
to keep his memory with us always..
SIGNED MM--- someone who cares about the truth.
Further Communication from "Mel Morgan"
you're TOAST
heyo derryo phatphuk probobly you thought you'd never get around to REALLY stinging yourself reallly bad burn daedalus melt 3rd degree-- but you were ALL wrong---you just drowning started--DED starting up bleed yourself in show really gonna with spades
were toast warned you now are you all pleasure yours is
they're academy love gonna you best all and places too scrap keep better you're book off sprang
hell enjoy me self-undo

Yet Further Communication from "Mel Morgan"

YOU UGLY VISCIOUS SCUM
u blight--you scourge on all that is good and graceful
--you low insect motherphkn son of a bitch--
may god preserve me
long enough
to find a way fitting to
smash
and
crush
u out of existence-
METAPHORICALLY speaking of course
please god
strike this beast
michael dare
down
u DARE are the embodiment of all that is wrong with this world
you bloodsucker cheating rip-off prick-- i pray this is the year you contact a fatal illness and die a horrible and agonizing death commensurate with your lies.
i really hate you - you bastard
you ugly n'eer do well--you phoney untalented low life buffoon scum of the earth--my wish for u is for u to get what u deserve--a slow and horrendously painful death just like lotus experienced--
you have shit in my life one time too many and may all harm come your way you interloping gutter rat.
god i fear will not help u in the heavy karma you have invoked---
in the name of the powers on HIGH please cripple this sob the sooner the better---
may this year be filled with sorrow and the worst of all things possible for you---
you have singlehandedly prevented me from WORKING on now a half dozen 'could have been's because of your lying article--you have killed my future--hard to believe one lying article by a scumbag like u could do this but there it is--
people are fickle and u have
BLACKENED MY NAME EVERYWHERE
DO U REALLY THINK U ARE GONNA GET AWAY WITH THIS
YOU DIRTY FUK?
please die
BY THE WAY THIS IS THE YEAR I AM TAKING U TO COURT and i'm told for what you've done i can put u behind bars where u belong


The Circle Jerks do "Wild in the Streets" on New Wave Theatre

The Life and Death of Captain Preemo



The Life and Death of Captain Preemo
or
Bob Woodward vs. John Belushi and Me



There was a knock at my door in 1978, I opened it, and there stood John Belushi. One moment earlier, I had been playing guitar on the sofa, writing a funny song, and if you had asked me who was the one person in Hollywood I wanted to meet, it would have been John Belushi, the man at my doorstep, smiling broadly.

"Are you Michael Dare?" he asked.

"Yeah?" I replied.

"Can I come in?"

"You bet."

Turned out that day was his first on the set of 1941. It was his first big Hollywood picture after the success of the low-budget Animal House, which had just come out. He was in a great mood, having spent the day on the set with Steven Spielberg trying on costumes and developing the character. Turned out a friend who was also working on the film had bummed a joint from me the day before. Turned out he shared it with John. Turned out John was used to New York brown Colombian dirt weed, full of seeds and sticks, and had never had anything like fresh green pungent sparkly California sensimilla. He grabbed my friend by the lapels, pinned him to the wall and said "Where did you get this?"

At this point, my life could have turned out quite different, but my friend dispensed with all the standard drug protocol and just told John all about me. Armed with my address and phone number, John ignored the latter and headed towards the former. He knew he didn't have to call first. He was John Fucking Belushi and he knew he was welcome anywhere, especially somewhere that was a source of fine bud. He was right.

I whipped out the bong, we both took a couple of blasts, and John headed for my record collection, complaining I didn't have enough R&B. We found stuff to listen to anyway, I sat at the piano, and he started singing, picked up the guitar and banged at it, we played together for hours.

At one point, he asked me if I could get more of that pot. I said sure. He pulled out a wad of hundred dollar bills two inches thick and handed them to me, saying "Take what you need," turning his back to look through records, showing not a care in the world for how much I took, an astonishing display of trust. I peeled off a couple bills and handed back the rest.

The next day, I went to my dealer and told him all about my visitor. He flipped out, took the money, gave me some pot, then asked "Do you think he might want some mushrooms? How about some hash?" before fronting me his entire inventory which I gladly accepted.

The next day John came by again, this time with Dan Aykroyd. I got my first glimpse of the Blues Brothers, who didn't really exist yet, when John picked out a record and they goofed off singing to it. They bought my entire stock.
 
The next day, John brought by another actor from the film (not Toshiro Mifune), then another actor, then an Eagle, a couple of directors, the head of a studio, and basically everybody he met in Hollywood. My house became his hangout during the whole shooting of 1941. Clearly a friend's living room with musical instruments and a record collection and piles of dope was infinitely preferable to whatever high-end hotel the studio was putting him up in.

Dan Aykroyd and Treat Williams on the set of 1941

His stamina was astonishing. I've narrowed it down thanks to Michael Palin. On Friday, April 7, 1978, he came by after shooting 1941 all day, hung out till way too late, took his limo to the airport, flew to New York, went straight to Rockefeller Center, saw the SNL script for the first time, rehearsed all day, and I watched him live that night doing THIS sketch...



... and the very next day he was banging on my door.

Captain Preemos, on Poinsettia above Sunset

There was never a point at which I actually decided to become drug dealer to the stars. I just couldn't say no to all the fabulous people I was being introduced to, despite the fact that what they were after was more drugs than my companionship. Within months, I had to move to a bigger house which became known as Captain Preemos, a hippie Algonquin speakeasy where stars not only got high but hung out. Any paranoia I would normally have had concerning strangers appearing at my door looking for drugs was obliterated by the fact that I recognized them all. They were my heroes, people I admired, people whose doors were closed to me during the day just showing up at my house at night.

Me inside Preemos in John Belushi's hat
Before Preemos came along, most drug deals consisted of clandestine meetings where cash and a baggy were quickly exchanged. Preemos was different. It was like a deli. Nothing was pre-measured out. I functioned like a maitre d', offering a menu and samples. Instead of just handing over $50 for a bag of something, people would order $30 worth of Hawaiian, $10 of Afghani hash, and a couple of Quaaludes, very much like a modern dispensary minus the ludes. I had an employee in the back who did the measuring while I hung in the living room keeping the party going. People rarely split after their purchase, preferring to stay and share a bit with the rest of the crowd. With guitars, piano, and other instruments available, I was host to some mighty fine jam sessions. One particular star who found themselves simultaneously on the cover of three major magazines was so embarrassed by the public attention they spent the whole week hiding out on my sofa. 
 
On the set of 1941

John invited me to the set of The Blues Brothers where I took a Polaroid of him in his dressing room. I got to be in the movie as one of the soldiers chasing them through Daly Plaza. He showed me Chicago. We jammed at the Blues Club, across the street from Second City, John on drums, me on Keith Richard's guitar. On the day The Blues Brothers album came out, John brought it over and sang along with the whole thing in my living room.
 
A year and a half later a jilted ex-lover of mine wrote an anonymous letter to the LAPD telling them all about me, including bodies buried in the backyard. Two detectives showed up to check it out. They barged in and busted me, taking everything, including pictures of my cat.

I was charged with five different felonies, including possession of drugs, possession of drugs with the intent to sell, and maintaining an establishment for the purposes of selling drugs. If I'd been found guilty, I'd be getting out of the slammer just about now.

There was an interesting look on the judge's face when the evidence against me was presented: Bags of pot, mushrooms, hash, coke, boxes of every conceivable size of Ziplock bag, dozens of gram bottles, and a sign saying "Welcome to Captain Preemos" with a menu listing "California Sensimilla: $10 a gram, Hawaiian Sensimilla: $15 a gram, Colombian rock: $100 a gram, Peruvian Flake: $120 a gram, mystery grab-bag: $20." It would have been difficult to claim it was all for my personal use.

But the most damning pieces of evidence against me were the pictures of my cat, who was their only excuse for conducting a search in the first place. They said they heard a noise. For officer safety, they had to search the house, including a tiny room hidden under the stairs where I kept my inventory. Turned out to be the cat. Pitiful. The judge called it an illegal search, threw out the evidence, and the case was dropped.

Brad Davis tears down Captain Preemos

It still took a while to get out of the drug trade but Captain Preemos was torn down and I got on with my life, writing scripts, becoming a film critic for the L.A. Weekly, and a successful freelance journalist. I ran into John all over the place over the years and we remained friends.

My scandalous past gave an interesting spin to my new life as a film critic. Hardly a week went by that I didn't see a movie or TV show in which the bad guy was not a drug dealer, and I always got momentarily annoyed because I was a drug dealer and I was not a bad guy. I didn't sell to youngsters, I didn't carry a gun, I didn't sell heroin or crack, I didn't kill anyone, and neither did anyone else I knew in the business. They were all pretty nice and honest folk. We got people high, just like a good bartender, and I made as honest a living as any of your standard vice-presidents at the WB.

It was 34 years ago, March 5th, 1982, and I was riding through the tulip fields outside of La Conner, Washington with Tom Robbins when the news came over the radio that John Belushi had died of a drug overdose at the Chateau Marmont. I started crying. It was the worst thing I'd ever heard. Here I was on one of the coolest writing assignments of all time, adapting a Tom Robbins novel with the man himself, and I was blubbering like a baby. It must have seemed a bit extreme.

"Did you know him?" asked Tom.

"Yeah," I said, "I did."

When I got back to Hollywood from La Conner I was anxious to find out what really happened to John, so I started asking around. Through my old drug connections, I found that the drugs that killed John had come from the LAPD, that it was a sting operation gone bad.

Apparently Cathy Smith, a snitch with drugs from the LAPD evidence locker, was getting high with John at the Chateau Marmont. She had told her police connection that Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro might be coming by. This bit of information tantalized them. Smith was told to keep getting John high till Williams and DeNiro showed up so the bust could be bigger and higher profile. Three for the price of one.

Williams and DeNiro showed up briefly and at different times, splitting out of disgust with the presence of Smith. Cathy kept getting John high till he overdosed right in front of her. She immediately called her connection, a woman who was sleeping with the officer who supplied the drugs. He got on the phone and told Smith not to do a thing, to just wait for him. He showed up at the Marmont, told her to leave and come back in an hour. He then prepared the scene the way he wanted it to be found, then went down the block and waited for the body to be discovered. Basically, if the LAPD hadn't gotten piggy for the big bust instead of just arresting him alone, John Belushi might still be alive today.

Smith's early release, plus the total lack of police investigation into the source of the drugs, seemed to back this story, but with my drug past, and with none of my sources willing to go on the record, I sure as hell wasn't going to write about it.

A year went by.

The phone rang and it was Bob Woodward.

"Sure it is," I said.

"Hang up," he replied, "call information, ask for the number of the Washington Post in Washington D.C., call the main number and ask for me." I did. Got the same guy. He told me he was writing a book about John Belushi and had heard that I knew him. I told him I did, but expressed justifiable reticence in telling him my story. He told me everyone was cooperating and I should talk to Judy Belushi, then call him back.

Judy and Jim Belushi
I called Judy. She confirmed that she had personally asked Woodward to write the book, and that she was asking everyone to cooperate with him. She wanted the whole story to come out, and if I was scared to mention drugs, I shouldn't be because John did drugs with everybody. I'd be part of the crowd. I should just tell Woodward everything I knew. Bad advice.

Maybe I kept picturing Robert Redford in All the President's Men. Maybe I had this fantasy of being the new Deep Throat. Hell, maybe I just wanted to be in the book. All I know is that I called him back and told him "Follow the drugs. You won't believe where they lead."

"How do you know all this?" he asked.

In order to prove the reliability of my information, I told him the whole back story of my drug escapades, including how I met John and the life and death of Captain Preemo.

Who knew he would turn the assignment around and destroy John Belushi with the same fervor he used to destroy Richard Nixon? When Wired came out, it mysteriously included absolutely none of the story about the sting operation, not even as a wacko theory. It was a vast compilation of "just the facts, ma'am" that managed to totally mistake lists of information for truth.

I later found out that my version of events had been corroborated by several other sources. "It was going to be the story," one of Woodward's research assistants told me, "but Bob went to L.A. to meet with Daryl Gates, came back and killed it." (A trip where he had promised to take me to lunch but didn't.) Woodward did manage to include all of the back story concerning Captain Preemo, which did me no good to put it mildly. He somehow structured it so that I looked like the bad guy. John's life was going along just fine until he moved to Hollywood and met me. The very first excerpt from the book was printed in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. It was the story of Captain Preemo, naming me by name, clearly one of the bad guys leading to John's demise.

How come the man who took on Richard Nixon refused to take on Daryl Gates? My theory? He's an alcoholic. He's never done drugs and knows nothing of the scene. Thinks booze is good and pot is bad. He's an anti-drug warrior, eager to point out that "the scene" killed John, not just the drugs. His book subtly proposed that people like John deserved to die. My picture of him as Robert Redford was quickly replaced with one of Satan.

I was actually out the door on my way to the first day of a new job as film critic for the Z Channel when the phone rang and it was them telling me not to bother coming in. They never explained why I was fired. I only found out hours later when I saw the Herald.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when the opposing attorney in the custody case for my son walked into the courtroom with Wired under his arm and tried to introduce it into evidence, claiming it showed I was a drug dealer, therefore an improper caregiver for my children. "I've read the book," said the judge, "and you may not introduce anything from it into evidence unless you have Mr. Woodward here to corroborate it." Right on, otherwise you could bring in a Jackie Collins novel or a National Inquirer to use as evidence against someone.

The judge was Stanley Weisberg, who went on to judge the McMartin Preschool case, the Menendez Brothers, and Rodney King. A guy with a future history of letting people off. He ordered that any mention of Woodward's book be stricken from the record, but obviously it wasn't stricken from his brain. Opposing council got what they wanted. Weisberg now knew I had a drug history, one he could look up at home. I got custody anyway, no thanks to Bob Woodward.

Then the film of Wired came out and it had one scene that wasn't in the book. John would have loved it. In the scene, John's dead body is wheeled into the morgue by an attendant who accidentally leaves a half-eaten ham sandwich on the body bag. The temptation is too strong. John unzips the bag from the inside and reaches out for the sandwich. Finally, he crawls out of the bag and says "What happened? How did I get here?" His guardian angel comes down in the form of a Puerto Rican taxi driver and gives him a tour of his life that thankfully did not include me.

Meanwhile, John's widow hires Bob Woodward to do some quick detective work and try to discover the truth about her husband's death. The film is a race between Bob Woodward and John Belushi's ghost to discover why John died, building to a final showdown between the two of them.

I like that idea, and there are moments in the film of "Wired" that are under-appreciated. Woodward is accurately portrayed as the Sgt. Friday of journalism. In the movie, John gets the opportunity to tell Woodward off for only writing about the bad things. Good for him.

Unfortunately, the prevailing message of Wired, the book and the film, was simple, do drugs - die. This may be a popular thing to say but it is a lie. Everybody who does drugs does not automatically die. Some people do drugs and then get on with their lives, like I did. If everybody who did drugs died a horrible death like John Belushi, illegal drugs would be a very small industry. What is the growth potential of a consumer item that guarantees certain death? Obviously SOMEBODY is doing drugs and living or the enormous drug trade would have no repeat customers.

I wouldn't expect a film about James Dean to be an endless diatribe against Porsches, though speeding around in one is indeed what killed him. When I remember James Dean, I like to think of that black and white poster of him walking down a wet New York street, not his mangled body in a sports car. I don't want to see a film called Speeding about Dean's obsession with driving fast and his determination to own faster cars. I would feel cheated. I would want a film about Dean to focus on his life, not his death.

But Wired was almost exclusively about John Belushi's death. Without the death, there's no movie. What Woodward and the other perpetrators of Wired were inferring was that John Belushi's life was meaningless and not even worth exploring. His only use was as a momentary anti-drug poster child. They reduced a complicated man into a wretched cliché in order to further our country's ludicrous anti-drug campaign.

It's decades later and I can't help but think if somebody who never heard of John Belushi looked at Wired, they would wonder why anybody bothered to make a movie about such a pathetic human being. So let me reiterate. Wired, the book and the movie, got it wrong, even though they kept sporadically reminding me of a man I loved. A man I remember.

At Sunset was a secret nightclub next door to the Whiskey on Sunset Blvd. The front was boarded up, but there was a back entrance that hosted a party every weekend. The meat locker in the kitchen was the hippest place to hang out. Loud music would be playing and the kitchen would be packed. It was where you went to do drugs, so that was where you normally found John, and anywhere you found John immediately became the hippest place to be. He gave validity to a whole scene that was screaming out for recognition. Members of such obscuro L.A. groups as Fear and Black Flag would go home bragging that John Belushi had been in the audience.

John's west coast wake was held at At Sunset. Somebody scrawled BELUSHI'S ROOM across the meat locker wall in crayon. Years later, At Sunset closed and it became the new Dukes Coffeeshop, where I have as yet to order any meat dishes.

The last time I saw John, he was obviously tired. He was sitting at the back of another club, the Zero Zero, watching people dance, listening to very loud music, aware that his presence in the room was known by all. He was on the cover of Rolling Stone and TV Guide that very week, so he was royalty.

He was sitting in a chair near the dance floor when somebody dancing accidentally spilt a beer on him. John did nothing, just sat there, neither indignant nor angry, no reaction at all. The dancer laughed and spilt more of his beer on him, obviously hoping for some sort of response. He got none. A bunch of others joined in, and pretty soon it turned into "Let's Spill our Beer on John Belushi Night."

John became soaking wet but he took it like a Buddha. When he spied me through the crowd, he simply reached out, put his hand on my shoulder, and I led him through the rain of beers, out of the club, to his limo, and on to my place where we listened to music till four in the morning, both of us whacked out of our minds, singing songs, listening to records. These are good memories that can't turn sour just because I got high with the guy. Even before he died, John could drift off into space and become an angel, a tribal God of comedy, and I worshipped him. 35 years later, I still do. Bye-bye John.

I took thousands of Polaroids but I only took two of John. I didn't want 
to be another fanboy so I waited for him to say "Hey Michael, take my 
picture," which he did, once, in his dressing room during the shooting of The 
Blues Brothers. The dirt on his face was painted on to match a previous 
shot. This was take one before I got it right in the photo up top. My heart 
explodes when I look at these because the only pictures I have of him 
are me looking in a mirror and seeing John Belushi.