By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Altruda bought the studio, originally opened in 1936, from the legendary Gold Star cat Stan Ross. And the likes of Dimitri Tiomkin, Victor Young and Henry Mancini used the studio, as well as the hillbilly noisemakers Maddox Brothers & Rose and T Texas Tyler, the marijuana-puffing Man With a Million Friends. Even singing cowboy Tex Ritter recorded and broadcast a live radio show from here.
Later in its run, rock & roll acts flocked to Electro Vox; doo-woppers the Shields cut “You Cheated, You Lied” among many other street-level classics that now live in all of our heads, welcome or not. As jazz/session veteran Plas Johnson says, “It was a cheaper studio for rock & rollers and song publishers doing song demos. It was where the little guy without a lot of money could come and get it done right.”
Most of the original gear is now gone, but the musicians have returned, and Altruda can shape most any sound desired, from the opalescent reverb of old-school slapback to a sharp, severe modern presence. R&B shaman Big Jay McNeely has blown up a storm here with a local combo, Altruda’s done sessions with the Bonebrake Syncopators, and rockabilly bands flock to the site. It seems this is only the start of what could represent a full-circle union of Los Angeles’ history and future. For now, Altruda and Money Mark sit in the green room, a high-ceilinged spot ringed with framed thrift-store oil paintings, lurid 1950s lobby cards and a Radio Flyer wagon stocked as a bar. The conversation — about old-time clubs, reverent jazz fanography and the current state of popular music — is bittersweet.
“I know these things are supposed to be cyclical,” Money Mark says, “but this [cycle] seems to be taking a very long time.” Then he looks around and smiles. “This is my third time in here, and now I’m hooked,” he says. “It happens to everyone I bring here. Must be the ghosts.”
The 15 Minutes of Shame
Fifteen minutes has always been a terrible number — the Liar’s Number.
I took my young daughter and her friend to a bowling alley a few months ago. The place was jammed with birthday-party kids; bad music blared. (You can’t just go and bowl on a weekend anymore.) I went up to the counter and asked the punk how long it would be.
The punk had learned well the lessons of American public life. So he looked me straight in the eye and lied. “Fifteen minutes,” he said. My blood froze, but I maintained. I went and dropped 20 bucks on food and drinks, which of course was the purpose of the lie. When one of the kid parties clocked out, the punk and his shithead attendant cronies dawdled over the cleanup, gabbing and flirting. One time he glanced over at me and smirked, like, “Gotcha, sucker.” Then he set up for the next kid party.
Forty-five minutes from entry, our comestibles were trashed, we had exhausted the topic of what losers boys are, there was no hint of an open lane, and we got up and left. Driving away, I offered my daughter a Life Lesson.
“When they tell you 15 minutes,”
I pronounced, “they’re always lying. If they tell you 10 minutes or an hour, that might be right. But 15 minutes is the infallible indicator.”
I remembered the first time I tapped this axiom, decades ago in a pizza hole off Hollywood Boulevard. I asked for a pizza. There were four big orders before me. The woman behind the counter knew this; I did not. “Fifteen minutes,” she lied, calculating that if she told me the real duration, I’d
vanish. “You can wait here.” It took over an hour. Now, she must have assumed I was a tourist, and we all know that tourists exist solely to be deceived, tortured and poisoned. She didn’t realize that I was a local who would never come back.
Still, the whole thing has become reflexive. You simply lie. You never tell the truth unless no other option is available.
The lesson has been reinforced many times. The cable jerks told me 8 a.m. when they knew it would be 4 p.m. The writer told me she’d turn in Wednesday when she knew it would be the next Monday. The guy at the body shop told me three days when he knew it would be three weeks. The carpenter said he’d be here tomorrow when he knew he wasn’t coming at all. And hundreds of “15 minutes” infested the spaces between.
Then, shortly after Bush was forced to cop that there weren’t any WMDs, things got different.
I went to a medical center to have my blood drawn (literally, for a change). Stepping up to the window, I asked how long it would be. “Fifteen minutes,” said the receptionist. I sat down, took off my left shoe and began jabbing a toothpick under my toenail, just to pass the time. I had hardly begun to bleed when, after 15 minutes, I was brought in and drained professionally.
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