Bars, Drinking, My Father & Les Wiseman Remembers MotorheadFriday, June 15, 2007
I would sit at the bar and Jorge, the Mexican barman would smile with a, "Que tal," and place a large glass of soda water in front of me. This was the Marble Arch Hotel, which had a stripper joint. The room was L-shaped. From my vantage point I could barely see the talent on stage. It was here that I pretended that I was Humphrey Bogart (Jorge didn't even have to ask me, "The usual?") in one of his early movies.
I could go to this bar, or the Drake, the Number 5 and Gary Taylor's and never have to pay for a drink even though my favourite was always soda water. It was at the Marble Arch with Jorge where I would glean information of Vancouver's underworld, a world that few ever read about in the newspapers.
Recently my youngest daughter Hilary reminded me (I was trying to explain to her the importance of culture) that it was not always so with me.
"You should get down from your culture high horse Papi. I remember when you used to go to listen to punk bands in bars with Les Wiseman and drank beer while Ale (my oldest daughter) and I were home watching TV." I tried to deny that I ever drank beer. But Ale did remind me that there were a few times (she remembers only two) where I arrived home late and made noisy use of the toilet.
My friend John Lekich could write and has written beautiful romantic pieces on the lore, culture and mystique of good bars. In fact the photograph of Jim Byrnes having a chat with the barman of Gerrard's is at a place (never a joint for John) that is John's favourite bar of Vancouver.
For a long time I attempted to live this lore of the bar with Les Wiseman but I could never get past the two beers that either triggered a migraine or nausea. But I learned plenty from Les. I became a musical snob and with Les I have had drinks with such musical stars as Sting and Lenny Kaye to Art Bergmann. It was with the latter that I remember once going to the Number 5 where at the time they had a most agressive waitress who asked us if we wanted more beer. We told her we had no more money. She said, "Look in your pockets and scrounge some change." We did. We put the coins on the table. She scooped them up and then placed a pint on the table and gave us two extra glasses. "Share that," she said and was gone.
I remember the first time I got drunk. I was a boarder at St Edward's High School at Austin, Texas and I was in grade 11. My room mate, Maurice Badeaux was out on a date on a Saturday night. He kept a bottle of bourbon in his desk. I removed it and drank up and then got in bed to see what would happen. It was rapid oblivion and all I remember was being pulled to the floor and then kicked in the ribs by an irate Maurice, " You SOB, you drank all my liquor!" I can safely say that I got drunk maybe four more times in my life and I remember the circumstances for each case of which I will not bore you here. But I do remember the first bar I ever entered.
When I was 9, I had my first communion at the Nuestra Señora del Carmen chapel, around the corner on Roque Pérez in Buenos Aires. When the nuns came to collect our contributions, my father who was drunk, placed a package of Volpi, tangerine flavoured lozenges in the basket. I was ashamed. A few months later my father, George, voluntarily left the house. He would come to visit twice a month. In one of those visits he took me to Schubert House on Rivera Street. That is when I first got a whiff of that smell that defined all bars from the most sophisticated to the least. I remember going up a spiral staircase on to the upper floor. A pianist and violinist were playing a tango. My father proudly introduced me to them. I was so blond then, that the pianist told my father, “Your son looks German.” My mother was furious with George when she found out he had taken me to a bar. I didn’t see him for a long time. Of all of my father’s visits I remember best when he took me to the General Paz Theater on Cabildo Street to see Beau Geste with Gary Cooper and Ray Milland. It was only recently that I saw Ray Milland in Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend with horror. The movie brought memories of my childhood. My father was an alcoholic who came from a family of alcoholics. My first cousin, Rollo Barber (who had a fondness for directing symphonic music played on his record player, much in the same way that others play air guitar) could hold a lot of liquor. It is because of this family history that I have never really enjoyed bars. But circumstances have made me go to many bars and there are quite a few memories that are pleasant.
I used to frequent Ferydoun Manavi's Uforia, across from the Gerrard Bar on Burrard. Manavi, an Iranian, did not drink but had Vancouver's finest assortments of single malt Scotch. He often offered me ice-cold juice of pressed pomegranates which we would sip while admiring Ona Grauer's charms. Ona, seen here with Freddy (as all called Manavi) worked behind the bar.
Perhaps the most pleasant of all memories involved seeing the look on my friend Sean Rossiter's face. I was assigned by Equity Magazine to take photographs of exotic dancers getting ready in the dressing room of the Number 5. The article je was called Sex Sells. Once I had finished I came down with my equipment, assisted in this task by one of the most beautiful dancers of the day. I was spotted by Sean Rossiter who has never forgotten this incident.
In many of those bars, while I only drank water I still had conversations with many friends. In the photograph here with the exotic dancer as background at the Marble Arch I am sharing a table with Paul Wilson Brown, a musician and intellectual of note.
The language of drinking makes me think of some of the differences between the languages themselves. While it is one for the road in English in Spanish we say, "la del estribo," which includes the idea of finishing the last of your drink as you place your foot on the stirrup (estribo) of your horse. Let's have a drink usually means just that. In Argentina a "copetín" (a little wine glass) means a drink served with finger food. A beer in Mexico is a "cheve" which somehow evokes the sound of the z sounding c of cerveza.
A bar is a bar and only John Lekich would beg to differ as a good bar transcends all definitions. My friend Les Wiseman has risen to the occasion (on demand and with no lead time) to explain to us that perhaps a bar can even be a hotel room at the Holiday Inn on Howe Street before 9 am. Here is what he says:
AW-H mentioned in a phone call that he was blogging about drinking with celebrities. I immediately broke in and said you must mention the time with Motorhead and started rambling on the salient points of our lubricious intercourse with the kings of metal.
Scene: We walk into the hotel room and there are Lemmy and Philthy Phil. Lemmy with full wartage; Phil spiked and moustachioed. As we go to shake hands, we notice that our shoes are splopping through the carpet. What the hell happened here? Lemmy says, “Oh, an ice bucket got overturned and we never bothered to clean it up.” Must have been a heck of an ice bucket, about six square feet was underwater. Then Lem cracks a quart of Smirnoff and puts a couple fingers of orange juice in some tall tumblers and fills the rest with vodka. Throughout the interview, Lem keeps topping up the drinks, though the orange juice is never touched again until we are pulling on about eight inches of relatively clear fluid. I mention that it seems a touch early in the day of the gig to be hitting it with such enthusiasm. Phil pipes up, “We’re alcoholics, this is nothing for us.”
When we are joined by Robbo Robertson, the former Thin Lizzy guitarist who was replacing the departed Fast Eddie Clarke on the Another Perfect Day tour, he was completely out of sync with the black clothing and facial hair of Lem and Phil. He was also noticeably suffering the effects of the previous night, to which the others were conditioned and showed no such effects.
I asked what sort of groupies Motorhead got. Lem opened the door to an adjoining room and called for a young lady to come in. She was rail thin and stringy haired, mumbling incoherently. Lem nodded his head to her. “She’s from Philadelphia. She has no idea what city she’s in or where we are.” Then he motioned for her to remove herself and she shuffled back into the room and closed the door.
Robbo held his head and said nothing. Lem was effusive. Going on about amphetamine sulfate, his Canadian bust, and was egged on by Phil to talk about the fact that his father was a preacher and hence his longstanding dislike of organized religion. Phil pulled out a picture of his girlfriend, showed it to me. She was an ethereal type with a resemblance to Kate Bush. Not the brassy metalhead babe one might assume. Phil got a bit maudlin about being away from her.
Time for A W-H to take the shot. The guys were great, though the black and whites likely do not show Robertson’s somewhat greenish hue. After the shoot, we all waddled off and it was only on trying to sight myself through the door that I realized maintaining my verticality might be a touch of a challenge for the next few hours.
That night, the show at the Kerrisdale Arena was awesomely loud. The best acoustics were to be had at the MacDonalds a block away. Inside, the volume of air displaced by the speakers was large enough to press my clothing to my body. The band was tight and showed no deleterious effects from the breakfast libations. The only downside of the show was that, just before it began, news circulated that the greatest of rock crits, Lester Bangs had been found dead in his apartment. July 15, 1981.