Duty Now For the Future
During a slow moment at my glamorous day job in the entertainment industry, I found myself surfing the website of the musician Brad Laner. Difficult music aficionados might know him as the maestro behind the beautiful noise issued under the monikers Medicine, Electric Company and Amnesia, among many others.
To me, however, he’s still a longhaired 12-year-old Zappa and Yoko freak from Sepulveda, two years younger than myself, with whom I shared a fair number of memorable adolescent musical adventures.
As I explored Brad’s site, he revealed on a message board that he’d traveled solo to see Devo at the Santa Monica Civic on the Duty Now For the Future tour in June of ’79. Hello? I hadn’t spoken to Brad in several years, but I felt compelled to set the record straight: We both were on that RTD bus bound for Santa Monica (via the 88 from the Valley to Westwood, before transferring to the beachbound 83) to learn the truth about De-evolution.
His emailed response came quickly: “ouch! god , yr right about that... sorry, I'm a nincompoop. i've been really haunted by that gig lately for some reason...I used to have a bootleg cassette, would kill for it now. things are good...[My wife] and i are expecting our first child in May.. I'm so damn thrilled I can barely express it. what's up w/ you lately sir?”
I was floored. I can’t say that I know Mr. Laner very well, and the period of our hijinx was short (probably no more than a year), but as a fairly new parent, I was moved by this news. This little kid I once knew -- a kindred spirit who could intelligently discuss the genius of Devo’s “Jocko Homo” while also appreciating the majesty of Paul McCartney and Wings in a nonironic way -- was himself having a child.
Though he’s still a sonic freakazoid, Brad’s now 37, and he rubs his sticks together in suburbia, on quiet Encino street. I was also 37 when my son, Emmett was born, and I too find solace in the Valley’s comforting invisibility.
Weirder yet -- I still possess a copy of the bootleg cassette of the Devo gig in question. It was purchased at the Capitol Records swap meet, a dead of night candy shop for Valley music geeks during the nascent moments of L.A.’s punk scene. Brad and I would create a suitable smoke screen for our parents (at least I did), hop a late-night bus to Hollywood and Vine, and troll through vinyl and cassette delicacies from midnight till dawn. It was heaven.
We were also aspiring rock stars (at least I was). But we were foiled at every turn. Our failures included a rejected submission for a Devo tribute record, and a laughable audition for The Gong Show – performing Elvis Costello’s “Mystery Dance.” I sang and Brad played piano.
Our love of music was equally intense, but our collaborative debacles spoke volumes about my musical abilities; that is, I had none. I was merely riding the kid’s coattails. Life don’t lie: Brad grew up to be a working weirdo composer, and I’m writing this silly column.
Still, it was a great time, before my own adolescent stupidity cast our friendship adrift. And though we lost touch, the legend of Brad Laner continued to linger in my little world. College pals swore they’d seen him play an entire gig at Reseda’s late Be-Bop Records using only kitchen appliances as instruments. Later, I became friendly with some of Laner’s former Medicine mates. During booze-soaked barbecues I was regaled with stories, mostly about why they were no longer in the band.
I arrived at his home a few weeks ago with the battered tape in one hand, Emmett in the other. My son bounded through the house, harassing a variety of instruments, showing a musical acumen at 20 months that I lack at 39. He gravitated toward a Schecter guitar, decorated with a big blue Star of David. (That’s my boy!)
“We had a contingent of neo-Nazis show up at a show in Denver circa 1993,” Brad explains. “During the more intense noisy/feedback-y sections they would start seig-heiling us to show approval, which, of course, I found disgusting and spent most of the show flipping them off rather than playing properly.” The star made it quite clear the side of the fence on which the guitarist stood.
Music had once again brought us together. But for the first time, our connection was based less on melody than the quirks of life. Emmett is a Taurus, and Brad’s son is also due in May. And like my own mother, Brad’s father, Don, died recently, too young at 58. I remember Don Laner as a straight-looking guy with excellent musical taste, who allowed me to tag along to some amazing local shows before I could drive. He seemed like he set a great example for his son to follow.
When I left his house, the Devo cassette was an afterthought. I thought instead of our parallel duty now for the future. I sense we will stay in touch, and, when together, our inner music geeks will surface. But with kids
in tow, Brad and I may also be comparing different kinds of notes, those of our own personal truths about de-evolution.