Welcome to the Monkey Pit

Pulled out fo gloom on pulleys of Chris Gaffney's invention

Perhaps you think that it is all gaiety and horseplay here at Washburn Central, that it is only because life is one big lark to me that I am so able to heap humorous shitloads of disdain upon the unworthy. It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun and in the vintage and to sing on the wagon loaded with corn dogs. It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements, to hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughterhouse moan. It is an easy thing to rip these lines off unnoticed from William Blake, since schools only turn out Friends-watching business machines now. It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity. Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me.

Rather, I spend a goodsome part of my day staring into the pit of despair.

For those of you without a pit of despair in your home, let me describe it for you. It's really not so deep. You can see the bottom. It's curved, like a swimming pool's. What it looks the most like is the sort of trench they used to have at zoos to keep the animals separate from us, except it is pitty instead of trenchy.

One of my more troubling childhood memories is of being at the LA Zoo and seeing a baboon down in the pit, scrounging for the human food there—candied apples, drying ice cream sandwiches and such. It had evidently swallowed a big wad of chewing gum on a previous foray, as it was fruitlessly trying to tug long strands of it from its pomegranate-hued butt. While the average 7-year-old would be thinking, "Ha, haw" and looking for some more gum to feed it, I was depressed, sensing even then that this was somehow symbolic of man's place in the greater scheme of things. Plato had his cave; I have a monkey pit.

It is there that I repair when life seems particularly devoid of ludic splendor. Sometimes it takes field trips with me. For instance, I spent a chunk of a recent Sunday walking around the Doheny Blues Fest in my own personal gloom. There's Mavis Staples singing "I'll Take You There." There's the Pacific Ocean. There's gloomy me, walking about thinking, "Oh, what a tragic figure I must cut," while anyone else who notices is merely remarking, "Look—that baboon has gum coming out of his ass."

Why so down? I dunno. It's just mundane white-guy stuff, nothing like turning 18 in a stinking hot Central Valley prison for a crime I didn't commit or anything.

I left the fest and headed to the Swallows, where Chris Gaffney and the Cold Hard Facts made me happy. They'd done something like a seven-hour gig there the night before for San Juan's big chili cook-off, and they were wasted. They are musicians, so of course they are pathetic. There's no respect or money in music. You probably tip your masseuse more than one of these guys gets paid for playing.

And they make me happy. There's anger and joy and all the other real things in their music. When they play, that's their day you're hearing up there. If Gaffney's hit his ankle with a sledgehammer at his construction job that morning, you'll hear it in his voice. If there's even more bite than usual in Danny Ott's guitar fills, look to his lovingly restored, just-totaled old Volvo. The band has an alchemy that transmutes crap into gold, taking the stuff that can drive you mad and instead driving it ahead of them into a better kind of madness. You could send this band to hell and they'd be okay as long as they still got to play.

They were in a particularly loopy mood on this evening, doing songs that one suspects they'd never even thought about previously, much less rehearsed, and doing them with a loose yet frenzied passion. Gaffney has a voice like a gored rodeo clown, like wet/dry sandpaper doused in whiskey, like George Jones' hair tonic poured down Eric Burdon's throat. He's pretty good. Before they were done, he and the Cold Hard Facts had me laughing out loud over the sheer crash-car joy of their music.

On Sunday, he's playing a benefit show at the Galaxy Concert Theatre for Arthur Carmona, with Esai Morales, 00 Soul, Throw Rag and some other bands who I'm sure are all the better for my never having heard of them. It is hosted by the Weekly's own Commie Girl. You should go is what you should do.

You want to know what's pathetic? On the local music scene, journalists reviewing a show are often better-paid than the musicians playing it. Yet musicians are always the first ones hit upon to help others in these benefits, and they usually do.

The performers don't know Carmona. They only know what we do from the newspapers: that he's a good kid who had the bad luck to be Latino and ensnared by a justice system in which prosecutors care less about justice than expedience and a snazzy conviction rate. (If you have any doubts about doubting Carmona's guilt, check out Bob Emmers' excellent OC Weekly story "The Kid Is Innocent" online; go to our website at, and type "Carmona" into the search engine.)

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