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Circus of Losers (Redacted)

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 13 Dec 2022


One of the greatest regrets of my life is missing the Iggy Pop show at the Vic Theater in Chicago in 1999 or 2000.  I was strung-out on a chick at the time, and spent the night with her, instead of going to see Iggy Pop with my rockabilly friend.  The consequences were light in comparison with other mistakes I've made, but it still stands out as one of the stupidest things I've ever done.  Or not done, in this case.  Though other mistakes have taken years off my life, and the expenditure of energy and time I've wasted on other things was enough to start a thriving civilization on a small moon, still, whenever I think about skipping Iggy Pop for some Jewish-American Princess in an apartment full of rabbit crap, a rich girl from New York who thought microwaving Hot Pockets was cooking, I wince at the stupidity of the decision.  To this day.

Iggy Pop just posted some tour dates for April of next year, none of which are anywhere near me.  However, even if I was across the street from the venue and could get in for free, I'm not sure I would attend.  He has an all-star band made up of various music-industry luminaries, yet has decided to call his band "Iggy & The Losers."  Yeah yeah, I know.  I get it.  Among other things, it's also Iggy.  And also, yeah, sure.  I love the guy.  Whatever. 

I still wouldn't go.  And I'll tellya why.

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In a different season of stupidity and mistakes, thousands of miles from Chicago and my Jewish-American Princess, I was living in my car in L.A.  I was writing, trying to keep a band together, and booking and promoting shows at night while sleeping in Griffith Park during the day.  It was after the initial junky season, and I no longer had a Fear & Loathing-esque copycat drug collection.  I was still pretty stupid, but I felt like a survivor.  They didn't get me.  The city and its sun-dried criminal minions failed in their attempts to grind me to powder, distill me into some ridiculous, diluted punk-rock solution, and inject me into the veins of the powerful.  I was still kicking, and in fact had acquired a small amount of street cred, which I wore like a temporary tattoo from a vending machine in an Echo Park taqueria.  L.A. is a hard, transient place; it chews people up and spits them out as a matter of natural course, and the lifers tend to ignore you until you show a modicum of staying power.  I left L.A. a few years later out of boredom, but for the time being, I was an Angeleno.

I had become friendly with some owners somewhere, a bunch of program guys who owned a bunch of non-alcoholic, punk-rock coffee shops in Hollywood and The Valley.  They booked me at their place on Sunset, which was like a retro horror show of bad-ass rock & roll kitsch.  They didn't sell beer or alcohol of any kind, and the barista was a Bettie-Page burnout with big boobs and a bubbly smile.  It was way down on Sunset, a good spot, almost to Laurel Canyon/Crescent Heights.  They had a cool jukebox, an obvious appreciation of racing, rockabilly, and muscle cars, and there were a bunch of postcards of pulp novels under the glass of one of the booths.  My bass player at the time said I should cop the title from one of them, and write a song about it.  So I did.  This is the result:

I played there a few times, and had a good rapport with the place.  Here's a flyer I made for one of the shows.  I used to make flyers at a copy shop on Sunset, standing over the copy machine with a pair of scissors and a gluestick.  It was a lot of fun to get stoned and make flyers at the copy shop.  I would stand there sometimes for hours, organizing the puzzle pieces by hand in a stoned, inspired daze before gluing them into place, old-school style:

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Oh yeah, right.  I forgot.  It's been awhile.  I used to call my band the "Nathan Payne Memorial Service," which was a joke designed to make people laugh at my actual memorial service, making them think it was a show.  They would show up at the funeral and order a drink, dig the tunes, maybe buy a handmade T-shirt, ask the sad guy in the suit, "so, when's the band start?"  That was the plan.  I used to think it was hilarious, and in fact met a girl who became my girlfriend for awhile, because she saw the flyer for the "Nathan Payne Memorial Service" and was pissed she'd never heard of this Nathan Payne guy before he died.  She showed up at the show asking who I was, or rather, who I had been, and the door guy points at the stage and says, why don't you check it out.  He's playing right now.

She became my bass player for awhile.  We didn't have a place to practice, so we'd go to Guitar Center and pretend to be interested in amps, and practice in there.  We'd run through "California Hills," "Sin on Wheels," and other tunes, with the music-store din crashing down like a thousand loud cymbals all around us.  It was loud and hard to hear each other among all the different guys playing "Freebird" and "God Save The Queen," but nobody ever bothered us, and we worked up our set and never had to pay for a practice space.  It worked pretty well.

Here we are, at the St. Moritz Hotel in Hollywood, which was a foul, rancid place full of prostitutes and bugs I used to live in on a regular basis in all states of sobriety.  Including actual sobriety:

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I always wanted to buy the St. Moritz, so I could burn it down.  I wouldn't even bother trying to commit insurance fraud.  I wouldn't insure it; I would just burn it.  I know it would have been the itchiest fire in the history of Los Angeles, and the thought preoccupied my dreams while I was lying on the black mattresses listening to some guy snoring through the wall, trying to write a song, or find a vein while scraping the dead bugs off my feet, but somebody bought it and turned it into nice apartments.  The last time I was in L.A. I drove by it, and it had a key code and nice front door.  I couldn't believe it.  Did they walk through the halls with unshielded plutonium, to scrape off the patina of street bugs and shit, to clear out the aura of eternal waste that permeated the place?   I don't care what they did to it, or how much nukular radio material they used to scrub the walls, it always was and will always be a hellhole.

It also happened to be my favorite transient hotel in L.A. 

As bad as the St. Moritz was, it wasn't the worst.

So anyway, back to Iggy and the Idiots.  Or Stooges.  Which is another word for idiots.  Whatever.

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I showed up for a show at the Top Fuel once, but the owner had relapsed, and the place was in a shambles.  The stage was literally disassembled in the corner, and there was nobody on staff, and everything was unplugged and put away.  Monitors, cables, microphones, tables, barstools, pinball machines, coffee cups, the stage itself, everything was as far away from where it was supposed to be as possible.  I had to play in less than an hour.  What was going on?

I walked into the bathroom to take a leak but the toilet had been ripped out of the floor and was lying on its side.  Some guy walked in to see who was there.  Hey man, what's up?  Did you bring the shit?  I don't remember if he was the owner, or just some kind of drug fly buzzing around the joint waiting for another freebie, but whoever he was, he didn't have much to say, and was as insubstantial as a cloud of tweek smoke.

"Where's the owner," I probably said.  I don't remember much else, but it became clear that if I wanted to play, that it was going to be necessary to carry the stage out of the back room, where it was either disassembled or leaning on its side, hire somebody to serve coffee, and replace the toilet.

My bass player showed up (not the chick), and it was obvious that the show wasn't going to happen.  Did we hang out to turn people away?  I don't remember.  Probably.  But it wasn't the event of the century anyway.  I have never been "cool" in the sense that hipsters and other people who live in a state of fearful conformity mean when they say that something is "cool."  When they say, "cool," they mean "acceptable to cowards like us."  When I say cool, I mean cool.

 

"Hipness is death to the individual, and only the individual is truly hip."  Pablo Smog

 

One reason I got bored with L.A. and finally left, peeling my street cred off like the temporary tattoo it always was, before tossing it out the window on my way out of town, is that at the level I always operated at, everybody is a slave to lukewarm cool.  There are all kinds of tiresome gatekeepers, hipsters with jobs at Amoeba who pride themselves on their encyclopedic knowledge of mediocre 70s rock, French new-wave horror films, and, of course, their sex lives.  Those people have always seen a threat in me, and I have always been bored with them.

Remember the beginning of this article, when I said I regret wasting my time and energy on all these non-issues?  It's true.  Instead of gunning for the stars, I spent a lot of time scouring the gutters for meaning and menthol cigarette butts.  Or perhaps I was looking for a lack of meaning, and a void within the obvious purpose, the purpose I was hiding from, God forbid, like a hipster from the truth.  I don't think so.  Whatever the case, it was a huge waste of time.

A huge waste of time.  Pull this sentence out from the page like a piece of bubblegum until it sticks to your forehead, or the bottom of your shoe.  Anywhere you won't be able to ignore it.  A HUUUGGGEEEE WWWAAASSSTTEEE OOOFFFFF TTTTTIIIIIMMMMEEEEEEE.

That's why I can't see "Iggy & The Idiots."  Or "Losers," rather.  Worse.  I've spent enough time hibernating on the infinite journey between nowhere and failure, the endless hypersleep between distant, empty moons in which nothing cool ever happens, to find even the slightest amusement in anything dead, stupid, or loserish.

Iggy & The Losers.

What a horrible, horrible name.  You even have to enter the "presale code" EVERYLOSER to get tickets.  Don't do it.  I'm tellinya.  Don't.  Hang out with the Jewish princess instead.  Even if Iggy dies soon, God forbid, and this is the last chance to ever see him, don't type EVERYLOSER into anything, to receive tickets for anything to do with it.

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I get it; it's a joke.  We're all mean and punk-rock and hardcore and talk about ourselves like stupid zombies who roil in puddles of dope and failure, because we have "no future," and we gain power from owning it, because normies are boring idiots.  I get it.  It isn't powerful or funny.  Let me tellya why.

I don't remember what the place was called, but the Top Fuel guys had a place in Valley Village as well, some punk-rock coffee shop at which I'd been tasked with booking the night.  I billed it as the Circus of Losers, and found a handful of willing participants.  The one girl hated the name of the event.  She was an old-school punk-rocker who knew the power of stupid words, but she wanted to do the show anyway.  I will never forget her look of disdain, her scowling at me like I was the personification of her own time wasted on such dead-end tripe as a "Circus of Losers."

D-U-M-B, everyone's accusing me.

She was right.  I don't have the poster of the actual show (I don't consider it worth keeping), but I used this image for it, which I still like, but which is also oddly creepy.  Sexy, and wasted:

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So, I get to the show in Valley Village, and yep, you guessed it.  The owner was off on a drug binge and had abandoned the premises entirely.  He was nowhere to be seen.  Nobody was anywhere to be found.  How did I get in the front door, if no one was there?  I don't know; maybe there was a spare barista hanging out on a dope-nod somewhere.  Maybe the guy just forgot to close the door.  It was open.  But nobody was there.  At least not anybody who could move.

Could I cancel?  Not this time, not so easily.  People were depending on me.  So I did what I had to do:

Everything.

I was the soundman.  I took money from people at the door.  I made coffee.  I introduced bands.  I adjusted mic stands.  I served blueberry muffins.  I sold cigarettes and soda.  I even got to play, somewhere toward the end of the night.  I did everything.

It wasn't so bad.  It was actually kinduva fun night.  But it was definitely a circus of losers. 

Not because the people involved were losers.  They weren't, and aren't, and neither am I.  But if you gather under the banner of failure, and are willing to participate in it and laugh about it and make fun of it, and think there's something paradoxically powerful in doing so, you will eat the consequences of your decision. 

The fruit doesn't become less deadly because you know there's poison in it, and scrunch your face up against the knowledge of the poison. 

That's just stupid.

 

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”  Proverbs 18:21

 

It's possible I would know.  I used to name my band after my own funeral, and called my record label "Alcoholic Clown Records" for years.  One of my emails used to be "[email protected]" who cares dot com.  It was true.  I was genuinely dangerously stupid.  Genuinely.  If you love it, you will eat the fruit thereof.

Even if you're Iggy Pop. 

Forget the Queen.  She had her chance.  God save Iggy Pop & The Losers.

Thanks for listening.

 

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Sin on Wheels

Babe, I gotta tellya
I wasn't thinkin' about yer safety
when I threw ya off that roof
I'm gonna find out who did it
if it turns out that your dead body's the only proof!
So are we going back to Reno
or are we gonna make a deal?
Just get me out of Cleveland
before I kill myself for real
the cops are right behind us
so try to stay awake
keep your foot up on the trigger
keep your finger on the brake
take me off to the asylum
while I'm still good enough to go
cuz I'm out of my mind
but don't let anybody know


Now my tongue is turning purple
my face is turning white
somebody give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
don't be so impolite
you don't need to call it like you see it
just call it how you think that it should look
I never read the movie
but I saw your brother in the book


My baby she's like a Cadillac
she drives just like a dream
a basket full of butter
a bucket full of cream
she's the Tallahassee chassis
she never asked me once if I could stay
but I think she's kinda classy
in a fucked-up kinda way
she might be a little lower
on the totem pole of brains
but she knows when to hit the gas
and when to change the lanes
that's her on the corner right there
clickin' her high heels
she'll tell you that she's innocent
but man,
she's sin on wheels


Now her tongue is turning purple
her face is turning white
somebody give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
don't be so impolite
you don't need to call it like you see it
just call it how you think that it should look
I never read the movie
but I saw your brother in the book


Well she used to have a boyfriend
but he ran off with her purse
the cops they never caught him
so she killed him with a curse
she'll be the first to tellya
you better keep your distance
far away at best
at least if self-preservation is an instinct you possess
if you wanna make her laugh,
start talking about Jesus
and tell her ya seen the light
"If you're gonna do something stupid, boy,
at least you should do it right!"
One-a these days darling,
if I ever do get rich
I'm gonna buy you a bayou
and throw ya in a ditch


Well the wages of sin is death
but what's the wages for doin' something dumb?
Just bring me back a pack of cigarettes
and another fifth of rum
it ain't gonna kill me too much, baby
if you decide not to come back
that's just the way the cookie crumbles
that's the way the chicks are stacked
and anyway, I wasn't thinkin' about your safety
when I threw ya off that roof
I gotta tellya I don't like ya,
if I gotta tell the truth
so are we going back to Chicago,
or are we gonna make a deal?
Just bring me back to my baby, man
ya know she's sin on wheels

Now her tongue is turning purple
her face is turning white
somebody give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
don't be so impolite
you don't need to call it like you see it
just call it how you think that it should look
I never read the movie
but I saw your brother in the book

 

 

©Nathan Payne
December 2003-January 2004

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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket. http://www.pablosmoglives.com


pablosmoglives
pablosmoglives

Replacing my blog at http://pablosmoglives.wordpress.com

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