“This body never goes to the beach,” he smirked as he unbuttoned his flamboyant shirt and laid it carefully aside. Underneath he wore an ordinary white T which revealed—more than anything else—that his body did in fact never go to the beach. Or the gym. No matter; the way he lounged back into Sandy’s sofa cushions—leggily, armily, snakily—suggested he had no need of such stimulants as sunshine or barbells to have a plenty adequate social life.
Kim Fowley is kind of a Hollywood icon—although Hollywood has wall-to-wall icons so that isn’t much of a description. Okay, in the music world of Hollywood, Kim Fowley is one of those people that when you say his name people will raise an eyebrow, snicker, whistle, bow with pressed palms or in some other manner show recognition of his iconery.What has Kim done? (You see, I know that among my readers, not many have heard of him.) Well, I really don’t know. It’s a funny thing but I’ve never run that down. He hit the world as a boy genius and didn’t stop running. He truly is a brilliant and creative mind. Recently there was a long article honoring him in the Los Angeles Times; if I’d read the article I would know so much more. It was his birthday, so I saw he was 2 months younger than me. But you really should Google him. I pretty much guarantee it will be worth the effort.
It was Kim who organized and produced THE RUNAWAYS, I know that much. Wasn’t JOAN JETT one of them? And LITA FORD?
He has also written a lot of hit songs. He’s produced other famous people, like HELEN REDDY. Perhaps MEAT LOAF—Good God, I’ve got to start checking my facts pretty soon.Moreover, he has cultivated the smarmiest possible reputation for kinky acts in kinky situations; mayonnaise and whips are often mentioned in this context. And whether truth or hype, he emanates the air of a person who knows no limits whatsoever, except maybe to his patience.
It was with Kim that I signed a contract giving away the rights to “God Bless the Hippie.” He was buying and selling songs in those days, matching up artist and material. So guess who was matched up to play “God Bless the Hippie”? THE BYRDS! That’s because Clarence White was now with The Byrds, and Kim had naturally thought that this nifty flat-picking number would be perfect for Clarence. (According to Kim, when Clarence heard the tape of me doing it, he smiled outright.)
And so The Byrds would buy it, and Clarence would play it. But who would sing it?? I kept trying in my mind to reverse the roles—male hitchhiker and female hippie?—or to think of the story in third person, but I couldn’t make myself like it. Selling a song is as bad as selling a child. But Kim had said it would work, and one thing is for sure, if Kim says something will work artistically or commercially, it will work.
This piece of luck was Sandy Getz’s doing. Her doing, too, that Kim was now on her couch eyeing me straightforwardly across the coffee table, and I was sitting primly on a straight-back chair with my guitar, eyeing him with similar directness, and one thing we were recognizing in each other was a lot of intelligence. [Is this a grandiose thing to say? That I might be even remotely on a mental level with someone like Kim Fowley? Sure. But I give myself such low marks in so many areas that it might get really boring if I didn’t have anything going for me. So if I rate low in social skills, awareness, courtesy, self-discipline, confidence, bra size, modesty, and money matters, let me boast an abundance of talent and brains, eh?]
He set a running cassette player in front of me and said, “Go. Play me all your songs.”
“All that would be of interest to me—as in, would make me money.”
So I sang. And sometimes he’d cut in after one line, no, this is basically a folk song, or no, this is about nothing. Sometimes he’d hear an entire song. At “Banks of the Yangtze” he said, “Yes. This is great; Nixon’s just gone to China, so China’s big right now. And drop the last verse, it’s just more of what you already said.”
This project didn’t really take all that long, as I’d only written maybe twenty songs then—and as I said, a few were only on stage for ten seconds. I felt really sorry for the ones that were so summarily dismissed, since I like them all equally and have no favorites. But it was a crash course in songwriting. After that, I’ve never added a last verse unless it takes the song somewhere new and nails it down. I hope this is so. And I can see that while I love all my songs, others don’t necessarily, unless I’ve made it somehow worth their while. Meaning, it’s not about my personal sensitivity, it’s about commonality of experience—and a tune that sticks. If I really think about it, I probably learned more about songwriting in two hours with Kim then at any other time.
We signed the contract (“G.B. the H.”). I signed with my customary slap-dash, as if I were far too busy signing contracts to take this one seriously. He signed slowly, methodically, mounding the tops of the ‘m’, looping the tall ‘l’ as if his 3rd grade teacher were watching. “Wow,” I said, “you really have neat penmanship.” “Yes, I do,” he answered. Then he gave me that look, the look anyone knows who’s ever been lookedat by Kim Fowley, and said, “I don’t want any mistakes. I want everything to be absolutely clear.”
So there was another mini-lesson, and the fact that I’ve never taken it to heart doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Therefore I pass it on. The mileage you get out of illegible handwriting and unintelligible, off-the-wall comments mostly isn’t worth that much. If you write and speak clearly, you will save yourself an incalculable amount of grief. Have I made myself clear?Alrighty then: The Byrds did not do “God Bless the Hippie.” Instead, Clarence died.
And what would be the fate of my song? And what about “Banks of the Yangtze,” that only weeks earlier had been so promising? I tried to call Kim. This was hard to do, as I didn’t have a phone. Every day or so I would trudge up the steep, poison-oak lined path to my neighbor’s house, put through a long-distance call to Hollywood after using the hand sanitizer left by the phone for that purpose, and hear Kim pick up. As soon as he realized it was me (no caller ID then) he would start disappearing, as, “Can’t….crrrwwk….breaking u……cccptk…..nother time……ghhhhhh………gotta g…………………………” Then the line would go dead. (At first I would actually try the call again, but I learned.) Then I would ask the operator for the charges and jot it down on the pad provided for that purpose. After an amazingly long time, I finally stopped calling, so to this day I don’t know anything about my song.
Well, yes, I do know something. I know that I own it Montana-style. This means I have a berserk husband, two fanatically loyal sons, some rifles and a shotgun. Now all I need is a running car and GPS. Although, if someone did steal it I’d feel kind of proud.