BOOKS FULL OF WORDS UNDERLINED
Feature: Launch - Why I Love Minibar
By Pamela Des Barres
To put it mildly, in the world of rock 'n' roll, my reputation precedes me. Ever since Bryant Gumbel called me "queen of the groupies" on The Today Show and Geraldo stuck me on a panel with the stripper who slept with JFK, I've been forced to justify all the fun I had with various rock gods back in the golden slay-day of rock. It's true, I wrote a couple of books chronicling my swingin' relationships with Mick, Jimmy, Keith, etc. but never had any idea I would be defending my glorious escapades for the rest of my life. Who knew?
And, despite the fact that music is still what makes me (luna)tick, my past has also made it difficult to go crazy about a band with the fervor I had for, say, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Mothers Of Invention, or the Flying Burrito Brothers. One might even say I've been a tad spoiled by sitting on Jimmy Page's guitar amp or watching Tommy from the wings. But it isn't true.
Although major booze corporations and yokels with no discernable taste or testicles seem to be running the music industry these days, I'm always on the lookout for something excellent that might somehow squeak through. Being a music journalist, it's actually my job to seek out, listen to, and chat with all manner of rock 'n' rollers, so package upon package of CDs, photos, and badly written hypesheets arrive on my doorstep on a daily basis. Some of it I like; most of it, I don't. But at least the cute, dancey-prancey boy bands seem to be on the wane. I'm actually looking forward to interviewing Donny Osmond next week. At least he's the real thing.
So anyway, I was recently doing yet another interview with VH1--The History Of Sex And Music (yawn)--and I asked Amy, my interviewer, if she'd heard any good bands lately. She promptly insisted I check out some talented Brit boys playing the Mint in L.A. the following night--four charmers called Minibar. I loved the cheeky name, and since their album was about to come out and they were opening for an old (old) pal of mine, Harry Dean Stanton, I hightailed it down to Pico Boulevard.
Yes, they were good-looking, and yes, I have a weakness for "Englishness," but from the first few bars of "Holiday From Myself," I was a goner. I was jaw-dropped, agog, wide-eyed, and amazed throughout the entire set. The soaring melodies settled into my solar plexus, and the words made almost too much sense. And as the set went on, they just got better.
If I had to stick Minibar in a category (yuck!), I would say they were "early SoCal Britpop." Their harmonies are creamy and Byrdsy dreamy, and singer Simon Petty's words are wise, witty, and Britty.
I made Minibar's acquaintance immediately following the show, discovered they now live in L.A., saw a few more gigs, played the new record, Road Movies, until it became a brain-loop, and when I discovered the record company wasn't giving them a record release party, I did the cheerful duty myself. But before that magical sunny day (they played live, in my own backyard!), I invited them over for a little conversation.
It's so cool opening my door to find four tousled British rockers on my doorstep. What could be better? As we gabbed deep into the night, an array of cocktails were consumed, and later, we watched Dylan's Don't Look Back DVD. (Bob is one of their inspirations. These guys have all the right influences.)
Here are some highlights from our little chat:
Malcolm Cross (drums): Simon doesn't like to write about other people as much as he likes to write about himself and his own experience.
Simon Petty (lead vocals/guitar): Because I'm an egotistical c-nt. Thank you very much, Malcolm. I completely agree. I'm very self-absorbed.
Pamela: How do you feel about not getting your record deal in your native England?
Simon: We were totally ignored there. People said, "Well, you're good, but you're not cool." We weren't cool. We were never cool. Unless you're wearing a sharp suit and telling people to f--k off, you're not going to get noticed there.
Malcolm: I'm not precious about it. People ask if I'm glad to be in America, and I say, "I'm happy to be where the record deal is."
Simon: Very lucky, really. Sid guided us here. We make all our decisions based on Sid's dreams. We have dream therapy every morning.
Sid Jordan (bass): It took ages to talk them into it. Jung doesn't know what he's on about. Neither does Freud.
Simon: How L.A. is this? We're discussing analysis!
Tim Walker (lead guitar): He eats cheese all the time, that's why he has all these bad dreams.
Simon: We all live together in an apartment in Santa Monica. When we came over here [to L.A.] the first time, we thought, "Oh, let's all move to Santa Monica--wouldn't that be nice?"
Sid: The first time we saw the Pacific [Ocean]...
Malcolm: ...you'd done a dub of Best Of The Beach Boys for the car, and we came down out of Topanga Canyon...
Simon: Aahh, and I remember the first time we drove down the Sunset Strip, "L.A. Woman" was playing.
Tim: My favorites are the Byrds.
Pamela: Most of you are pushing 30, right?
Simon: That's right, most of us. That is the official answer from now on, lads.
Pamela: When did you discover Dylan?
Simon: I was given Blood On The Tracks and Blonde On Blonde for my 19th birthday. It rocked my world.
Sid: I like Freewheelin'. But Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" is the best song ever.
[SIMON STARTS SINGING THE CHER SONG.]
Sid: Name a better pop song!
Pamela: So, what do you miss about England?
Sid: Pubs. The pub culture.
Tim: The National Health Service. My teeth are falling out, and I can't get it sorted out here. It's cheaper to fly home.
Malcolm: Public transport here really bugs me. We share a van, and it's rubbish. I miss that about London--you can jump on a train and never once think about a car.
Pamela: What are your wildest hopes and dreams?
Simon: It's changed a bit; we're much more realistic about things. When you're not signed, you have this necessary illusion that all your problems are going to be solved and satisfied, and it's just a matter of course that you'll sell records.
[SID SHAKES HIS HEAD, DISAGREEING]
Simon: Simon is now speaking for himself--what he says in no way reflects on the rest of the band. Mal and Sid have played with other bands, which was great...
Malcolm: That opened up ties and friendships on the musicians' side--your contemporaries care passionately about the same stuff you do, and that helps bridge missing friends from home.
Sid: All the good music I've heard over the last year as been played by people I know.
Simon: There's more of a musical community here. In London, bands are more clique-ish and stand-offy. You're defined by being more "f--k you" than everybody else. That's just the way it is. All the English bands that have made it big are like that, which is fair enough, but it's not the same here.
Sid: In England, you aspire to be something other than nothing, and here you just dumb-down from, "Everyone can be President."
[MUCH RAUCOUS LAUGHTER]
Pamela: Are you waiting for some big band to say, "Open for me"?
Simon: What we'd like to do is open up for Pete Yorn, who would open for Ryan Adams. That would be fantastic. Ryan's got this huge history and buzz, but he still wants to sell records. The market that we're meant to be aiming for, we're fighting Christina Aguilera and Slipknot. Seriously, how the f--k are we going to get radio play?
Pamela: I believe a lot of people want to hear some real music.
Simon: I believe that as well. I hope there's some way of turning it around.
Pamela: My friend Cynthia Plaster Caster is in town. How do you feel about her artistry?
Simon: Oh my God. It depends on how perfect you are.
Pamela: Jimi Hendrix was ballsy--he was the biggest star she'd ever approached.
Simon: In every way. It's famous. There's this row of garden gnomes, and there's this thing in the middle...it's Jimi Hendrix, a giant amongst men! It's a very cool thing.
Pamela: He probably wouldn't get signed today. Why is the most popular music the most mediocre?
Simon: People don't hear as much music as they used to. People aren't encouraged to make music in the same way. The record companies are huge conglomerate corporations, and we belong to that...
Malcolm: They're scared to take the risk, and the more inventive and brilliant and not-like-everything-else, the bigger the risk it is. There are people making decisions out there who have no f--king clue about music.
Pamela: Liquor salesmen.
Simon: Most of American radio is designed for an appetizing market research program: "As long as we play a certain type of music between 12 and 3--we know from the people who phone the radio station at that time--we can advertise specifically towards them." It's gone too far, because people are listening to the same thing over and over again. It's just f--king horrid. It's bringing it all down to the lowest common denominator. But I don't think it's gonna last. I think they severely underestimate the taste of the general population.
Malcolm: Still, we were dead lucky to get where we are.
Sid: You have to find your niche.
Simon: We're not cool, avant-garde, and trendy. We're not "pop" as it's known today in America. So where the f--k are we? You've witnessed some good bands in your time, Pamela...
Pamela: Yeah--and you're one of them.