Buffy the bartender (above) likespeople and metal. Clubbers Laura,Justine, Nora and Nesha wannarock & roll all night, and partyevery day.
NIGHT 3: PEACEFUL, EASY FEELING Driving home from West Hollywood Park on Sunday afternoon, I turn right onto Sunset from San Vicente. I point to the Whisky in the bright sun and say to my 3-year-old son, “Hey, Mojo, that’s the Whisky a GoGo. That’s where Mommy goes every night when the cab comes.” “Oh,” comes the unimpressed response from the back seat. By night three, I am fried. I feel like I’ve been here every night for a month. More than anything, I dread another marathon of Cookie Monster bands. I long for a melody, a chorus, lyrics I can identify as a language I speak. Tonight it’s “Rock the Whisky for RBI,” an L.A. Dodgers–affiliated benefit for inner-city kids. The club is crowded, and the crowd is uncharacteristically healthy-looking. There are lots of families, and onstage is a band called Private Reserve with a lead singer who in my day would have been described as “foxy.” He’s got Jackson Browne’s shiny hair that looks just like it walked off the set of a shampoo commercial. The sound is classic, Eagles-ish rock. To my pummeled ears, it sounds refreshing. Private Reserve launch into a cover of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and I want to cry. Harmonies! On-key actual singing! I never even knew I liked this song, but I love it now. When Private Reserve finish, I work up the courage (at $4.50 per shot) to approach foxy Jackson Browne–alike and ask him what it means to play the Whisky. I awkwardly muscle through his circle of admirers and show him my card. I look into his beautiful brown eyes. Me: “You guys were really good. Could I ask you a couple questions?” Foxy JB: “Well, okay.” Me: “What does it mean to play the Whisky?” Foxy JB: “We’ve played here before.” Me: “Oh, well, you were really good. Um, thanks!” Okay, so I fumbled that one, but he was really cute. Don’t drink and interview. Buffy’s back working the upstairs bar. “It’s you again — pretty different music tonight, huh? Get to give our earplugs a rest.” She hands me my second of several plastic cups of beer. The crowd cheers for the DTW Band. They’re a bunch of late-40s white guys who do cover songs. They met at a Dodgers fantasy camp, which I think is really taking the whole fantasy/tribute thing a little bit too far. By 9:30, during a credible version of “Centerfield,” many parents are carrying out sleeping kindergartners. I know that tonight is a little oasis of comfort rock and that the rest of the week will likely range from uncomfortable to excruciating, so I welcome DTW with open ears, even the Goo Goo Dolls song and “867-5309,” which comes off like a golden nugget. “Most of you are not old enough to remember the Whisky,” says lead singer Rob Glushon as the band breaks into “So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star.” “This one was redone by Tom Petty,” he adds, and I stop myself from shouting back, “And Patti Smith!” In the ladies’ room, I corner two 8-year-olds, Lauren and Ava. “Have you ever heard of the Doors?” That gets a “no,” as do Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Van Halen, all Whisky alumni, whose ghosts are lost to our future generations. I ask Buffy how much a shot of Patron tequila is. “It’s $8, which is pretty pricey, but if you go to the Standard, it’s $10.” The DTW Band are now doing “Wonderful Tonight,” and for the first and only time, the Whisky feels like the last dance at the yacht club, albeit a dark yacht club — with parents and kids dancing together. Rob Glushon, the DTW lead singer, introduces the Green Day hit “American Idiot” by saying, “This is our attempt at reaching you under 25.” A cover band with a singer who looks like Huey Lewis, a bass player who resembles Paul McCartney, and a guitarist who could pass for Bill Clinton: How can you not love these guys? And their “Roadhouse Blues” is family-friendly, top-notch and stripped of all sexy raunch. Full disclosure: Tonight I break Rule No. 5 of the list of rules I made for myself to follow while on this assignment. Rule No. 5 states that I must stay out until midnight each night. Tonight, I tiptoe into the house at 11:45. NIGHT 4: MORE BEER! MORE REVERB! It’s Monday night. At 8:45 p.m., there are maybe 40 people here. More than lack of sleep, I’m feeling a reality deprivation. It’s not the real world at the Whisky. Like Disneyland or Las Vegas, this is a place you come for escape, except there’s more frisking here. By now, everyone knows me. I stride though the front door with barely a glance from security man Ricardo. I head straight upstairs, where Buffy or Ruth pours my beer before I hit the bar. I feel like the Whisky has become my Cheers and I am its Norm. A band called the Richards are playing, and they soon live up to their nickname. They’re trying for a New York Dolls–y sound. Between songs, the young, behatted lead singer makes demands — to whom? — for beer and “more reverb.” The Richards have a lot of attitude for a band playing to maybe 50 people on a Monday night, and rip off every lick from the Stooges and the Dictators. At one point, Johnny Thunders Jr. calls the audience “faggots,” then breaks into a faithful “Tequila.” A pillow’s worth of smoke rises from the stage, which must mean it’s their last song, and Jet Lag drains the last of his coffee, with a long night in front of him. But I have to wonder: Don’t all bands suck when they’re new? Is it possible that the Richards could be as revolutionary as the Stooges or White Stripes in a few years? I really like Dead End Jane before their first song is finished. The thundering riffs I’ve loved since my first boyfriend, and a lead singer who’s a little bit Jack Black, a little bit that singer from TheCommitments,warms my blackening heart. And he uses his long blond hair as a whirling prop, which, though it’s been done a million times, I can never get enough of. There are three people, including me, standing on the floor. Dead End Jane are the first band I’ve seen that look like they’re having fun. The lead singer’s goofy swagger and “Thank you all! God bless you! Goodnight!” to all three of us are charming. Their logo is even a lipsticked mouth with a cigarette hanging from it. Suddenly, this better-than-okay heavy metal has stolen my heart. I gladly accept a demo CD from the singer’s pregnant girlfriend. Lead singer Bourke Armour, in a proper post-rock sweat after his set, sits down upstairs and says the Whisky treats the bands “the best” here of all the clubs he plays, which include the Roxy, the Key Club and the Vault 350. “Guns N’ Roses played here,” he says, “and I always wanted to play where Axl played.” But the crowd doesn’t exactly measure up to the Strip’s heavy metal heyday. “Yeah, I’m kinda pissed,” he says about the turnout. “We never play Monday nights, but they told me there would be label people here tonight to check us out.” Armour says they don’t have to pay to play anymore, since he knows the booker, Gena, and the band usually draw a good crowd. After majoring in classical performance at Loyola University High School, Armour enrolled at the L.A. Music Academy and met his drummer from Germany, bassist from Sweden and guitarist from Norway. Armour, 21, is married and expecting his first child in a month. He and his wife, Kate (for rock-cred reasons, he prefers that she tell people she’s his “girlfriend”), both have day jobs at Burke Williams spa. Armour’s been in plenty of other bands, but is now thrilled to have found fellow musicians who share his discipline and big-time dream. “You can tell the world this,” he says with youthful sincerity. “By the time I’m 27, I will have sold out Madison Square Garden for two nights in a row.” When “the kid pops out,” Armour has no intention of sidelining his goals. “My wife understands that my music is equally important as family,” he says. “She’s made a million sacrifices. We’ll probably wait a year after the baby’s born and then move to Germany.” Jet Lag tells me I may like the band coming on next, a female three-piece from England called R.E.D. “They’re really good — Chaka Khan–ish,” he says. “They were on the show with that Virgin Airlines guy.” Seeing men in suits escort the ladies into the club raises my hopes even higher. The three black women of R.E.D. are knockouts, dressed in thigh-high Hollywood Boulevard boots, with star-quality giant hairdos and glamour to spare. The club is starting to fill up a bit. God, I want to like their music. Meanwhile, Room 2012, with their synthesizers, bravely try to sound like New Order trying to sound like Gang of Four circa Manchester, 1983. “Pet Shop Boys,” says a voice out of nowhere into my right ear. It’s Jet Lag, who has appeared at my side like the Roadrunner. “They built those keyboards in the ’80s. That emulator weighs like 500 pounds,” he offers with a sneaky grin, and disappears back to his post at the soundboard. Tonight I am drinking like a groupie: four beers, and it’s only 10:20; must remember to take Hangover Helper before sleep (two Tylenol PMs). While Buffy eats potato skins and reads a magazine at the upstairs bar, R.E.D.’s manager, Mike Walker, introduces himself to me (it must be because of my supercool rock-journo pen that lights up). Looking like models with instruments from the Victoria’s Secret catalog, R.E.D. take the stage, sexy as hell. “What’s up, Whisky, L.A.?” lead singer Chenette greets. The first song is a rudimentary rock song. The singing is mediocre. I was so hoping R.E.D. would be my personal discovery, but they’re no better than any of the other bands and I’m really tired and the club smells rank and way too familiar and this is supposed to be a place you come to have fun and it feels like work and I’m cranky and I’m past the point where I can avoid having a hangover tomorrow morning when the alarm goes off at 6:55 and now R.E.D. even remind me of Journey and why am I here? I oughta have my head examined, not banged. Manager Mike’s growling that the “sound engineer is horrible” and goes off to tell him so. Finally, R.E.D. play a pretty groovy song that incorporates “I Love Rock & Roll” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and the crowd’s getting into it. A bombastic ballad follows, and I think how mediocrity comes in so many forms. Maybe I’m too tired to judge. Sure enough, when I wake up the next morning, I smell like the Whisky: dank, like drummer sweat and too many spilled cocktails. I selfishly turn off my alarm to give myself an extra half-hour of sleep. When I finally go downstairs to wake my son, I see he’s lying in bed, wide-awake, with a leaky diaper, jammies soaked in pee. He gives me a look the way I imagine a toddler Mackenzie Phillips would give Papa John when he stumbled in after a rough night. I’ve broken Rule No. 1. Rule No. 1 says that I can’t let this project interfere with being the Mother of the Year.