Riding Harv’s LA Freeway

7 Dec

I’m thinking the geographical and psychosexual proximity of Jim Morrison & THE DOORS were ultimately to blame for Harvey Kubernik and his Freeway Records.

Harvey

People don’t wanna remember now, but THE DOORS once signified something more – ok, a lot more than just a cheesedick Ollie Stone flick. What exactly, well that’s for somebody else to delve into, not me. But I know this much: Jim always insisted on crooning his words ON TOP OF every damn recording he ever laid down. Whether his bandmates were behind him banging it out in time, in the next room jamming off into outer/inner space, or down the street eating burritos didn’t diminish or detract from Jim’s mission one iota. That mission being to shape, bend, and mold your entire freakin’ trip via THE WORD. And Harvey Kubernik, well, he dug that mission something fierce. And he’d eventually curate a wild series of records to prove it.  

Admittedly, Harv’s first compilation (the promo-only L.A. Radio from ’79) got bogged down by a lot of second-tier, wannabe pop-rock. Phil Spector hangers-on, bogue singer-songwriters, Kim Fowley protégées etc. – you know, the kind of dreck that’s clogged up the works out in LA for decades now.  But wordy harbingers of Harvey’s future work were already lurking in them grooves.  And it might well have been about when Harvey learned: I’m just not cut out for this NEW WAVE ROCK thing. Better just stick to what I know best: SPOKEN WORD. 

The concept for his next 3 sets went something like this: ask everybody semi-famous you know around LA to record something, ANYTHING – so long as the focus remained squarely on verbal content. And whaddaya know, but folks met his challenge, and in droves! Everyone – whether their star was waxing or waning, be they poet, author, musician, punk, hippie, freak – turned up to chat, talk, rant, yell and mumble on these records.  This created madcrazy juxtapositions, like a one-liner by Velvert Turner (2nd string Hendrix-clone during the LA glam rock daze) back-to-back with a nasty desert-bake poem from Chris D. (not long outta THE FLESH EATERS, but still a juicehead fr sure). Or ex-SURF PUNK Scott Goddard yaking about pinball (Harvey was big on guys with S.PUNK connections) right before a heavy poem about child abuse by Wanda Coleman (an actual poetess!).  It was the literary equivalent of the proverbial headfuck, but it felt good to me.

Occasionally, you’d find an actual song, like D. Boon’s acoustic “My Part” – but even these moments felt more like statements rather anything to base a rock band on.  More often, you’d find yourself drenched in a whole diverse range of beliefs, attitudes, emotions and aesthetics, all running headlong into one another at 33 1/3 rpm.  These records were fascinating precisely because they weren’t exclusive – and so what if some of it was pretentious, pompous, or just downright bad? This shit was lightyears above & beyond the drivel you’d hear on corporate TV/radio then. Even bad was AOK when it’s mixed with the startling, the vexing, the actually kinda amazing. It didn’t matter if it all stood up as poetry, or performance, or even art – cause it wasn’t specifically about THAT.  It was about a sum total of creative spoken stuff available – the collective uuummph of LA artistic wordplay and oral spell-casting available at a particular moment in time.

For what it’s worth, I reckon Neighborhood Rhythms to be the most consistently interesting listening experience of the bunch – 104 cuts over 4 album sides!  But they’re all long, winding RTD bus-journeys of the mind, guaranteed to jumpstart your LizardKing backbrain. The bits you thought you’d sold back to the used record store as a jaded teen.

Harv’s dedication to this cause certainly kickstarted the phenomena of rock-band types – Henry Rollins, Exene Cervanka, even fucking El Duce for christ’s sake – reading in front of club-goers in LA in the ’80s.  That’s something I actually miss. Would that there were this many screwball characters still wandering around LA streets/clubs interested in speaking to you and me in the context of live performance.  And if only there was still a guy like Harvey K. around, still nuts enough to record em all.

A track from each of the four Freeway Records compilations, in order of their appearance: 

PHAST PHREDDIE & THEE PRECISIONS – “Freeway Dub” from L.A. Radio 2-LP (Freeway Records, promo/no catalog number, 1979)
DENNIS COOPER – “Hello In There” from Voices of the Angels (Spoken Words) 2-LP (Freeway Records, FRWY 2-26, 1982)
D. BOON – “My Part” from English As a Second Language (Talking Package) 2-LP (Freeway Records, E-1031, 1983)
JACK BREWER – “Elysian Fields” from Neighborhood Rhythms (Patter Traffic) 2-LP (Freeway Records, FRWY 213, 1984)  

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13 Responses to “Riding Harv’s LA Freeway”

  1. Milhouse July 9, 2008 at 2:05 am #

    I can’t recall now what led me to your blog this evening, but I’m thrilled to see this post! A little saddened that there are no previous comments, but not completely surprised.

    I was hipped to the Neighborhood Rhythms lp in 1998 from a cut on a mix tape a friend gave me, which ended up being a huge influence on a lot of stuff I ended up buying and listening to later. After I ended up buying TWO copies of it on eBay, I also ended up discovering Voices of the Angels being auctioned off by someone who also had a copy of Neighborhood. I was thrilled and amazed — here was another NR-like lp on the same label with a lot of the same voice artists. Had never heard of it before that day, but ended up scoring two copies of it on eBay, too. NR is the better record, and is just jammed packed with excellent pieces. I shouldn’t even begin naming favorites, because there’s so damn many of them. (it’s also long as fuck — when the friend who gave me the mix tape taped the whole double LP for me, it was too long to fit on a 120 minute tape, as I recall).

    It was just awesome to see these records even mentioned here. There is so little info about either of them on the web. The last time I did a search on NR, most of the relevant hits that came up were from me mentioning it on my blog.

    I would absolutely fucking love to be able to hear LA Radio (which I never knew of before reading this post) and English As A Second Language one day.

  2. mrowster July 9, 2008 at 6:12 am #

    Thanks for reading. I no longer live in Southern California but one spin of any of these splashes 100s of little forgotten subcultural aspects of that unique place right in my face.

    The ESL comp. always seems to command the highest prices (is it the Raymond Pettibon cover artwork?) and it’s a good one. LA Radio is no doubt the rarest, but also the least relevant, since it’s mostly bad LA pop/rock rather than spoken word. Good luck finding them!

  3. Milhouse July 9, 2008 at 10:27 pm #

    I’m making it a point to keep an eye out for ESL on eBay in the future. May take a while to turn up (not a single copy of Neighborhood Rhythms came up for almost a year after I started searching for it there), but I imagine it will be worth the wait if it ever does.

    Jack Brewer sent me a message on myspace one time asking where I got the name Milhouse from (obv. from the Simpsons charachter, bestowed upon me as nickname by friends, adopted as zine writing / internet pseudonym thereafter). Because, you know, some of the old Sac Trust records had him credited as Jack Milhouse Brewer or some such (which I was aware of, though I’ve never actually listened to any of their stuff). I wanted to reply back to him and say something like “wow, this is the first time I’ve been contacted by someone on the Neighborhood Rhythms lp!” and ask if he had any particular memories about participating in that record, but never got around to it.

  4. mrowster July 10, 2008 at 9:08 pm #

    Jack seems to be pretty self-effacing about everything he does. I once asked him where I could find a then-recent single he’d done with the Chicago band Kava; he responded: “well it’s kinda shitty, but if you must . . .” before reluctantly giving me an address.

  5. H. Michael Karshis August 4, 2008 at 4:37 pm #

    I was just going through my vinyl looking for some more segues for my HMK Mystery Stream: http://lamusic.blogspot.com when I rediscovered one of my prized possessions – a minty, sealed lp, the first Surf Punks release on Day-Glo – before Epic picked it up. Feeling like a lucky punk, I hit the internet and found contact for Mark “The Shark” Miller who’s now living in Hawaii as is Drew Steele, another original Surf Punk. Anyway, I scored the SP lp in 1987 by writing to one of my favorite designers, Tommy Steele, the senior art director at Capitol at the time, who not only wrote me back, but hooked me up with the lp, a Surf Punk pick and some Beach Boys CDs! One of the most amazing and generous encounters I’ve ever had. Fast forward to last night – I heard back from The Shark who’s quick reply included a ‘Yes, I’ll sign your lp for you.” Sweet. So, being the super geek autograph fanboy that I’ve always been, I mentioned that I also had a copy of a double lp called Patter Traffic (the subtitle to Neighborhood Rhythms) that had an awesomely sick, Mothersbaughesque cover that I though was done by Drew Steele. Sure enough, I found it and indeed it was. As we speak I’m waiting to hear back from The Shark about getting that signed too. Neighborhood Rhythms is still amazing and excerpts were on every mix tape I made throughout the 80s and 90s and it’s still a surreal experience to listen to. I’m converting the lp to mp3 this week and dropping bits and pieces into future Mystery Streams! Stoked to finally find something, anything about Kubernik’s gem online – thanks!

    Peace,

    H. Michael Karshis

  6. mrowster August 4, 2008 at 6:12 pm #

    H.: Thanks for the Surf Punks info – though I’m still finding it hard to believe there’s an adult walking around someplace in California who answers to “The Shark” on a regular basis. It’s straight out of Gidget – or maybe WKRP in Cincinnati.

  7. chardman November 4, 2009 at 4:43 am #

    Would kill to hear English As A Second Language again. I used to go gaga over it on KBOO, where they played it lots in the eighties. Thanks for the tracks! Much appreciated!

  8. creepy jackalope eye April 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    I just found a copy of “English as a Second Language” in a used book store in Rockwall, Tx. I’d never heard of it, but noticed the Raymond Pettibone art immediately and grabbed it to see what it was. There’s a ton of tiny text on the back but a quick scan revealed the names Exene, John Doe, Mike Watt, Chuck Dukowski, Charles Bukowski, etc… I snatched that sumbitch up and gladly paid the $10 they wanted for it. (Suckers!) I stumbled onto this site while trying to find some information on it. I’m planning on digitizing it at some point and will try to host it somewhere if there’s sufficient interest.

  9. kthnxbye July 14, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    jackalope eye – I for one am certainly interested. I bought it when it came out and now one of the discs is missing.

    Also, it’s really hard to explain to people why “after the revolution there will be no irony” is funny without being able to link it for them.

  10. Dee Conner June 12, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    I have been looking for a copy of neighborhood rhythms for years and years any idea where I can get myself a copy???

    • mrowster June 13, 2012 at 6:22 am #

      Dee: Can’t help, although I am aware a friend of mine downloaded it for free a while back over at the http://www.ubuweb.com/ – a sound archive that’s apparently under construction at the moment! Check back there in a few months, I’ll bet you’ll find it.

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