The Sweet Savage Ides of March
Issue #12: The Price is Right
I love road trips and we haven’t really been on one in a while, so instead of dealing with the airport, we packed up my Jeep and drove to Colorado for Spring Break.
It was a comfortable and easy drive until Santa Fe, and then we drove into a snowstorm pretty much all the way to my sister-in-law’s house 30 miles north of Denver. Like, white-out-black-ice-holy-shit type stuff. It took us 14 hours total, and I gritted my teeth the last four hours because of the gnarly traffic. I was sure we were headed for the ditch a couple of times. I’m glad we were loaded down and had the 4x4.
Despite that grinder of a drive, we had a great time with our family. I was able to relax, write, and Sis took good care of us.
I worked from my laptop, which reminded me of why I don’t do so on a regular basis - I mean, scrolling is fine, but I’m still finding typos from my last post even though I re-read it 369 times. Ugh, the horror.
Anyways, my dad’s 72nd birthday was March 8th which hit me hard for a few hours. He died almost ten years ago. I was also appearing for the Introvert Writer Summit that very day - a date randomly chosen by the event host - so I knew it was a happy alignment and a small sign.
My mom is alive and well, and I’m lucky that I can talk to her every day. My dad and I communicate through these small signs and synchronicities from time to time. I feel lucky for that, too.
Overall it was a great trip to Colorado and a much needed break from the daily routine. We made it home safely, and my old bones are finally warming up again. It’s going to be in the mid-90's today.
Arizona is sublime.
I had lived in Arizona for six years and had just graduated from ASU when I moved back to Los Angeles for two years to get my master’s degree at UCLA.
Library and Information Science jobs are plentiful in the greater LA area, depending on what you specialize in. It’s a super-flexible degree that does well in a variety of organizations in a city like Los Angeles.
I knew digital librarians from Disney, archivists from the Huntington Institute, cataloguers at the Getty, costume historians, museum directors, database architects for law firms, and I almost accepted an internship at the RAND Institute as a library research assistant, which absolutely fascinated me.
Instead of that internship, though, I accepted a part-time job as a librarian at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica. It paid better than any job I’d ever had in my life, and the work was a breeze. Plus, I could walk one block over to the Promenade to have lunch in the sunshine near the Ocean.
For a while, I considered staying in LA for good after grad school because there were SO MANY great job opportunities.
But then one night, on my way home from Milken, I got caught in traffic.
Milken was only about six miles beyond UCLA and a pretty easy commute from there, so after classes and then going to work for the day, I’d usually just retrace my route to go home - Wilshire to Veteran and then past UCLA up to Sunset, then onto Roscomare or Beverly Glen to get back to the Valley. From UCLA, my apartment at Laurel Canyon and Riverside was exactly 10 miles away.
Traffic was heavier than normal when I left Milken at 5pm, and I was impatient trying to get back into Westwood. Everything was badly jammed up on Wilshire, so I cut up Barrington to Sunset. It took me 45 minutes to make it to that point.
Then, I sat on Sunset for another 45 minutes and didn’t move two car lengths.
I finally found a traffic report on the radio and apparently every light for every exit along the 405 north had gone down. It was a complete madhouse.
There are no easy canyon roads or shortcuts on the west side of the 405 to take you to the valley. All the routes are east of the 405.
I only knew of one possible escape, and it wasn’t ideal, but at that point it was my only option. Otherwise I was just stuck.
I pulled a u-turn in the middle of Sunset, headed west towards the PCH, went north to Topanga Canyon, and took that all the way back to the Valley. About a 40 mile detour. Traffic was bad the entire time but at least I was moving.
I was starved out of my mind by the time I made it onto the 101, so I got off a few exits early, drove through the In n’ Out on Van Nuys, and stuffed my face with a Double-Double animal style for the last four miles home - which is not easy to do while driving a stick shift with a cramped foot and very full bladder. I dripped sauce and onions all over myself while shifting gears.
I pulled into my parking garage at 9:15pm. My hips were locked and I hobble-ran up three flights of steps to get into my apartment before I peed my pants. I made it, but just barely. Sweet baby Jesus.
FOUR HOURS TO GET HOME. I felt like I’d been to war. This is where my true traffic PTSD started. As we used to say in high school (and honestly I still say it): Fuck that shit.
I was 100% certain at that point that I wouldn’t be staying in Los Angeles.
I moved back to Arizona two weeks after I graduated. No delay or doubts at all.
I haven’t lived there in 19 years, but LA traffic is the reason I still leave the house too early. The reason why I always like to keep the tank full of gas.
After moving back to Arizona, I sold car insurance for 5 months until I landed my First Big Library Job. That library job turned into almost two decades with the same employer.
LA traffic trauma was too steep a price to pay for an LA paycheck, at least in that income bracket.
I got a bargain over here in Arizona. And I don’t ever have to deal with traffic.
Armored Saint and WASP are playing a tour date here in Tempe in October, and I can’t wait to go.
I’m pretty sure I’ll be rolling solo like I usually do to metal shows, and I’m very sure that I’ll be meeting up with my old friends in the band and from Metal Blade.
The last time I saw Armored Saint play live was at Metal Blade Records’ 30th anniversary party, at the House of Blues. It was also the last time I was in Los Angeles.
I can’t believe it’s been almost ten years. Holy cow.
My good friend and former roommate, Karen, is also a Metal Blade alum, and she was between tours and staying in LA for a few weeks. While she was there, she had arranged to sublet one of the Charlie Chaplin Cottages down on Formosa, just north of Fountain. When our schedules and geography aligned and this party popped up, we made a quick plan and I flew over for the weekend.
I had never been away from both of my kids, even for a few days. I’d never done a ‘girls weekend’ or any of that stuff. My babies were 3 and 5 years old at the time and I felt a little guilty, but Hub had me covered.
Karen picked me up at the Burbank airport, we had lunch in NoHo at Poquito Mas (GOSH I MISS THAT PLACE), then we stopped off for a piece of pie and coffee. We drove over Laurel Canyon into West Hollywood just like we did all those years ago when we broke curfew during the LA Riots to go have dinner at The Rainbow.
Gosh it was so nice to be back in Los Angeles, especially with my dear friend. She was my roommate both times I’d lived there. I missed SO MUCH about LA. Just not the traffic.
The Chaplin Cottages we stayed at are now 100 years old, inhabited over the years by Hollywood legends such as Douglas Fairbanks, Judy Garland, and Rudolf Valentino and I’m sure many, many others.
We had the back right cottage, a two bedroom two bath unit with a real turret and a circular staircase. It was really, really lovely, an artifact from a past time. Everything was original - the woodwork, the leaded glass in the windows, the cupboards and countertop, the funny doors with a triangle on top. The entire property belongs on the historic preservation register for protection, but I don’t think it is.
And, yeah - it was haunted. Way haunted.
I knew it the moment I stepped in the place. It wasn’t necessarily evil or nefarious, but this unit had a vibe, like I was being watched. I started getting sick immediately - that headachy, sinusy, slightly feverish feeling. Like, it came over me within ten minutes of arriving. I took some Advil and drank more water, thinking it was just airplane funk.
Karen and I got settled and visited and ate snacks and got caught up like old friends do with deep belly laughs, and then we got ready to go to the Metal Blade party.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching my old friends in Armored Saint rock the place. We saw everyone we wanted to see and had a great time.
Afterwards, we stopped at PinkBerry on Sunset for a treat and we took it back to the cottage. As I sat there eating my froyo with Karen, I noticed that my bed was near this weird air-return vent in the wooden floor, and peering through the vent grate into the void, I swear to God there were dead bodies down there whispering to me.
Cold damp, dank air floated up and surrounded me like a death vapor while I slept and I woke up as sick as I’ve ever been in my life.
Karen had some codeine pills from Canada which helped. We drove to Santa Monica for lunch at an old favorite, Ye Old Kings Head, and then up to Point Dume for some beach time even if it was gray and drizzly.
We made it back to the cottage in the late afternoon for a nap. Afterward, instead of losing our good parking spot, we walked the two blocks over to the Ralphs on La Brea so I could get some Nyquil, Gatorade, and tissues.
It was chilly and dark and it had started to rain pretty hard. Hoofing it those few blocks almost did me in - I could hardly breathe. There was a Thai restaurant on the corner, so we ducked in for an impromptu dinner to get out of the rain. My feet were already soaked and cold despite my thick Doc Marten boots. The Sicilian mother in me was worried about myself .
I ordered the Tom Yum Goong soup as spicy as I possibly could hoping it would help the congestion. It made me feel better for a bit, but when I flew back to Phoenix the next morning, I was sicker yet, and exhausted.
When I got to my house my sweet little girl greeted me at the door with her first lost tooth and a big brave story to go along with it, and I was bummed, so bummed, to have missed the event. Her dad got pictures. But still.
I had a great weekend, but I cried a little. Being so sick and medicated didn’t help the Mommy guilt at all. I was out of it all week, trying to recover.
LA always makes me pay a price.
I think it makes everyone pay a price.
Bobby Joe Crabtree was born in hillbilly country, down along the Ohio River, bordering Kentucky and West Virginia in the heart of Appalachia.
When I was cutting my teeth on Motley Crue and Metallica in Columbus in the mid-80’s, he had changed his name to Joey C. Jones, moved to Los Angeles, and was playing the Sunset Strip with his band, Sweet Savage.
They were an early and much-copied template for hair bands of that era, and at one point Sweet Savage were managed by Riki Rachtman of Cathouse fame. Dana Strum produced their EP, which went on to sell a ridiculous amount of copies for an unsigned band.
When there was label interest, Sweet Savage turned down a recording contract with Enigma Records because they didn’t think it was a good deal.
They were holding out for a major label package, but it never came through. The Enigma contract that they turned down happened to be the same contract that was offered to Poison who signed it just a few months later. We all know how that turned out.
By the time I was old enough to start going to shows at clubs, Sweet Savage was done. Joey had moved to Dallas, and he was fronting a band called Shock Tu based out of Columbus. I saw them for the first time right around my 17th birthday.
Joey was an engaging and funny frontman, a legend around our parts - the closest most people in Ohio would ever get to the Sunset Strip. He and Shock Tu wrote some great songs.
If you’re curious, here’s one: Shock Tu - "Thinkin' Bout Ya"
The production is a rough demo, but the song? SO EFFING SOLID. Top 40 radio solid.
And look, it’s a total chick song so please - don’t get judgy for the keyboards or harmonies.
It’s not metal, or really even hard rock. It’s hair-band rock with a good hook. It sounds like a movie closing-credits theme. Rom-Com for sure. It’s midtempo, sexy, catchy. Nice guitar run as it fades out.
I’m not ashamed. I like what I like. Sometimes it’s Slayer. Sometimes it’s Shock Tu.
Here’s a brief bio I found online from Demon Doll Records:
In October of 1988, Joey C. Jones of Sweet Savage, Rick Soga and Danny Boyd of the Godz along with wunderkind Jim Miller created such a buzz that their first show as Shock Tu sold out the legendary Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. Later they would add Ken Koudelka (Lillian Axe) on drums and Les Farrington (Sugarbomb) on keys and vocals to round out the lineup. As a unit they performed over 300 shows in 3 years.
All of the attention landed the band a management and recording deal with Marshall Berle (Ratt), who wanted to bring in legendary producer Tom Werman (Motley Crue, The Cars, Poison) to take the reins behind the board. When given the choice of musicians to work with, Jones jumped at the opportunity to work with his childhood idols, Cheap Trick; shortly thereafter financial negotiations with Werman broke down and Jones requested that the 16-song demo be sent directly to Cheap Trick's management. As a result Rick Nielsen & Robin Zander loved the demo, took over production and recorded 10 songs, including two penned by the Cheap Trick duo and Fee Waybill of the Tubes.
All that, and Shock Tu still never “made it.”
I’ll say this easily: I know LA crowds are tough, but when I moved to LA in 1990, I never saw any unsigned band in Hollywood that could outplay and/or delight an audience like Shock Tu.
These days, I’m friends with a bunch of old Columbus rockers on Facebook, and I follow an Alrosa Villa memory page (since the Alrosa was bulldozed for new apartments recently) and then I saw it last week:
Joey C. Jones passed away on March 15th at the age of 60 from cancer.
I hadn’t even heard he was sick.
I only met Joey a couple of times around the Alrosa and with mutual friends, and he always had an entourage headed up by his sweet brother Benny.
My good friends were better friends with the band than I ever was, and one of them dated a member of Shock Tu for a while - so while I’ve known certain stories for years - it’s not my place to tell them. I really was mostly just an onlooker and a fan from what seems like a lifetime ago.
When I first started writing Metalhead Librarian I reached out to Shock Tu bassist Jim Miller and he helped me put some Columbus music history in perspective and offered a lot of encouragement for the book project.
I was vaguely aware of a Shock Tu reunion show, but I really hadn’t thought about Joey much at all since connecting with Miller. I knew he was still gigging with different projects. I knew he played with C.C. DeVille at some point.
He’s gone way too young. He entertained multitudes of people over the years. He never gave up or quit doing the one thing he was really good at:
Being Joey C. Jones.
When I heard the news of his passing, I went back and watched a few old Sweet Savage and Shock Tu performances on YouTube and read a couple of old interviews with Joey.
(I’ve loved Metal Sludge for two decades for salacious metal gossip and funny, juicy interviews)
One thing is for sure - I really should have connected with him for my book. Or for a future book. Small regret, there, no doubt.
I have no real reason to eulogize him other than to officially note the historical record: he was one of the best I’d ever seen, and his music and performances meant something to me.
He was a big part of my personal mythology about Los Angeles, of the Sunset Strip, of the music I loved. He was the cautionary tale along the boulevard of broken dreams. Joey paid his dues. Alot of dues.
There are no guarantees, no bargains, and we may not know the cost of our choices for years.
Whatever price he paid, Ohio has lost another talented rock n’ roll son. I wish I’d known him better even if just to hear the stories.
Safe travels, man. See you at the next gig.
I left my job last year - a job that paid me well, but kept me in a cage of unhappiness and exhaustion and burnout. Eventually, I outgrew the cage. It was pressing into my flesh, crushing me. I had to reach around and pop the latch on it, because no one else would or could.
I paid my dues at that job, and the price of my freedom was losing a reliable paycheck. But the cage door was wide open and I flew straight out and didn’t look back.
This month, I’m working on a couple of big freelance assignments with deadlines, and while the money is nice - it’s taken my focus away from my own work.
I’ve had to slow down a bit because I’m working for other people and I only have so much capacity - but it feels a little scary to say no to money when you aren’t earning much from your own actual writing yet.
I mean, I consider this a career change, not a hobby in retirement, you know?
I think every working artist has this dilemma at some point, whether it’s your day job, freelance assignments, whatever - when we trade too much of our time for money, we feel bad about not doing our own creative work.
So, the way I look at it and why I said yes to these freelance gigs is that - these two jobs will cover my writing expenses for the next four months.
I’ll get back to my work next week, after I’ve met my deadlines for my clients. And you know what? Both projects excited me. It’s fun to help other writers, if I’m able.
I’ll pay the price in my time so I can fund my future writing. The goal is to eventually create passive income from my intellectual property. But it takes time to do that, and I’ve got expenses that shouldn’t come from the household budget.
I mean, they could, but I don’t want them to. I’m trying to get this thing to float on its own.
I’m thinking of upgrading my computer. Maybe adding another monitor to help my eyes. And I need to purchase some screenwriting software.
[OK, a BIG side note: I’m even more inspired to explore screenwriting after watching the first episode of an HBO show called Minx. Written by a woman, good story, snappy dialog, funny premise - or maybe I was just distracted by the three dozen full-frontal penises. YES THAT’S RIGHT FRIENDS - DONG ALERT. I repeat: DONG ALERT. I don’t know if they were real or prosthetic - but it was a sausage-fest either way and was funny as heck. Aside from a few adult movies that I’d seen decades ago, I’ve never really seen a full penis on a TV screen before. I didn’t realize it was a thing these days. I mentioned the new show and the penis-factor to my daughter who is now almost 15 and she says “Oh, I guess you’ve never seen an episode of Euphoria.” I choked on my coffee. “I didn’t know they showed penis in that, sweetie. I thought it was just drugs. Does it bother you or make you uncomfortable?” She rolled her eyes at me, as if, and then we laughed. I love my teenager. So classic.]
Anyways, all that to say - saying yes to freelance projects when they make sense for me is a fair price to pay for getting to do my work guilt free and paying my own business expenses.
I mean, I just pulled fresh banana bread out of the oven.
A load of whites is going in the washing machine.
The windows are open, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the citrus blossoms are exploding with perfume and it smells beautiful.
Someone in the neighborhood is playing 70’s rock music. I don’t mind.
My cat is sleeping on the back of my chair, all cozy.
I’ve sent off some material for The Papa Project to my uncles who are thrilled to have it.
My beautiful, healthy, smart, funny children are in their rooms, doing their thing. Those kids are the two very best things that have ever happened to me, along with moving to Arizona.
The warmth, the sunshine, the sky. Arizona has been my refuge. I’m glad I’ve raised my kids here. That I’m growing old here. I’ve written two books here. My mom is here.
I still think of Los Angeles all the time. I read stories and history and blog posts about it, I subscribe to real estate feeds so I can see beautiful houses, and LA is usually the geography in my sexy, vivid dreams. It’s imprinted on me forever, my first city. My dark city.
I can’t afford the spiritual or financial cost of living in Los Angeles. I’ll gladly visit again and be a tourist - but I’m not sure when. When I need to, I guess.
Phoenix doesn’t feel like a big city at all, even though it’s the 5th largest. It’s comfortable. It’s slower. It’s beautiful. Easy, light, sparkling energy. I love the heat. It feels luxurious to me. Purifying.
No darkness here.
Phoenix has everything I could ever want in a city, and it asks nothing of me. No Devil’s bargain. No cautionary tales. No hunger games. No pay to play. No traffic.
Just wide open beauty and a mostly hassle-free life.
Arizona has cost me nothing at all but has paid me back with dividends.
In Arizona, the price is always right.