Bloody Americans and Their Impeccable Customer Service
My turn. This called for some Steven Berkoff. Specifically it called for Berkoff as Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop. He plays the part with casual, teacherly nonchalance, garnished with the wild-eyed intent of a serial killer about to tuck into his latest victim (always addressing Foley as ‘my tough little friend’). Think Hannibal Lecter presenting ‘D for disembowel’ on Sesame Street and you’re halfway there. I stepped into character.
‘The problem, sir, is that you’ve had six months advance warning of these two ‘gentlemen’ walking in here with a credit card and a desire to drive out in a car with no roof. You’ve failed. What are you going to do about it?’
OK not exactly up to Berkoff’s standards, much less Anthony Hopkins’, but this kind of thing doesn’t come at all naturally to me. I’m just not good at making a scene.
‘I’m really not sure there’s anything I can do sir,’ he squirmed. ‘There are no convertible cars available today.’
Berkoff would never have settled for this.
‘Now listen to me,’ I whispered (I wanted to call him ‘my tough little friend’, but resisted). ‘We’re staying in LA for two days. That gives you precisely forty-eight hours to deliver a convertible Chrysler Sebring, as ordered, to the Four Seasons Hotel on Doheny Drive, and then we can forget all about this sorry episode.’
‘Let me see what I can do for you sir.’
Crikey, it was working.
Off he went and returned with a pretty blonde in possession of a smile even wider than his and a Master’s degree in customer service. She asked us to give her ten minutes while she ‘looked into the situation’ for us.
Sure enough, eight-and-a-half minutes later she returned (we timed her), and we were dispatched to the lot once more to find a gleaming, silver, convertible Sebring waiting for us with the keys in the ignition. Bingo. I flashed a smug, self-satisfied smile at the lot attendant as I unlocked the boot, placed the luggage inside and slammed it shut. The attendant offered to give us a tour of the controls, but we had no time for that. These jokers had kept us hanging around for long enough already. It was time to hit the road.
I reached for the key. Nothing there.
‘Joe, key please. Let’s get the hell out of here.’
‘I haven’t got the key, you have.’
‘Mate, I’m not in the mood for jokes. The sooner you
give me the key, the sooner we can be sitting by the pool at the Four Seasons sipping a margarita.’
‘I honestly don’t have the key. You had it last. You put the bags in the boot.’
Shit. I had locked the keys in the boot. In a little under a nanosecond I felt less Victor Maitland and more Frank Spencer. I called the lot attendant over.
‘We, er, appear to have locked the keys in the boot.’
‘Excuse me?’ ‘Trunk. I mean trunk. I’ve locked the keys in the trunk.’
‘Absolutely no problem sir. We’ll have you a new one cut in no time.’ His bubbly efficiency made me feel even smaller than I felt already. Bloody Americans and their impeccable customer service.
In under five minutes we were on our way. Finally, this was it! Santa Monica Boulevard, destination Beverly Hills. The roof was down as planned, but we needed some music to lift the mood. I searched the CD wallet for something to mark the occasion, the auspicious beginning of a momentous journey, a search for the beating heart of rock and roll America. Something that would summon up the spirit of Americana and help us on our way. Something that would send a message beyond the grave in a language the spirits would understand, to say that we were here and we meant business.
Huey Lewis and the News.
Two pasty tourists driving a convertible through Inglewood, one of LA’s most notorious neighbourhoods, listening to ‘The Power of Love’. Chris was living the dream. I was trapped in his nightmare. We checked into the hotel and resolved to hit the town immediately. Hoping to beat the jet lag by staying up well past LA bedtime (whenever that is), we needed somewhere fitting to raise a glass and give ourselves a rousing send-off. So rock stop number one on the itinerary was the celebrated Chateau Marmont Hotel just off Sunset Boulevard, which competes with the nearby Hyatt for the crown of ‘most rock and roll hotel in the world’.
It’s a close-run contest. The Hyatt has seen more than its fair share of wild antics over the years and for sheer, clichéd, rock and roll point-scoring it probably has the edge. Television sets thrown out of windows? Check (Keiths Moon and Richards). Motorbikes ridden along corridors? Check (John Bonham). Scenes from famous rockumentary films shot there? Check (This is Spinal Tap, Almost Famous). The Hyatt was about as rock and roll as it was possible to get without making three seminal albums of its own and falling down dead of a drug overdose after twenty-seven years.
But for all its irrefutable rock credentials the Hyatt was just a little too obvious for our purposes, posturing and posing as it does on the edge of Sunset Strip like an older, more grandfatherly version of the concrete excrescences that squint out over the Costa Del Sol. It’s big, dumb and unimaginative. Aesthetically the Hyatt is the hotel equivalent of the muscle- bound blockhead pumping iron on the front at Venice Beach.
No, the Chateau (as it’s known to its friends) was altogether more exclusive, understated, refined. Modelled on the Château d’Amboise in the Loire Valley, it sits above and slightly away from the Strip behind neatly tended hedges and gardens, turning its nose up at the vulgar and frankly rather sordid goings-on down below. Granted, Led Zep had ridden their Harley Davidsons through its lobby and, yes, Jim Morrison had performed the ‘window dangling trick’ which became the mainstay of his Hollywood hotel sojourns. It even boasted a bona fide rock death in the form of John Belushi’s drugs overdose in 1982. The Chateau’s proprietors are still a little miffed about all the fuss and bother to this day.
Yes, what went on behind the closed doors of the Chateau Marmont was an altogether more sophisticated variety of rock and roll depravity.
Most exciting of all, for me anyway, was the fact that the Chateau offered the chance of glimpsing the spot where the cover art for Gram’s 1973 album GP was shot. It’s an iconic image: Gram sits alone in a huge, elaborately carved wooden armchair wearing a pale blue shirt, pinstripe trousers and Cuban heels. A Stetson hangs on the back of the chair behind his head. To his left an enormous arrangement of flowers sits on a wide mahogany table in what looks to be a reception area of the hotel. Yellow light spills in from the left of the photograph, casting an amber glow onto the side of his face. With his long, dark hair he has all the trappings and appearance of the LA rock star, but exudes a kind of lord-of-the-manor air that suggests he all but owns the place.
Which isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. He didn’t own the place, but he did live there for a time in the early seventies. Not bad for a struggling country-rock aspirant whose efforts to date had failed to trouble anything more than the lower reaches of the hit parade. Gram’s family money and privileged background (he was the grandson of the Florida citrus fruit magnate John A. Snively) enabled him to maintain a lifestyle more or less on a par with the contemporaries whose record sales he was so desperate to emulate – the Stones mainly – but had so far failed to match. Many held that this trustafarian spending power was precisely what stopped him from achieving this aim, which is to say he lacked the naked ambition which drove his peers to ever higher heights. Whatever the truth, he was a regular among the circles of the LA rock aristocracy, and that was enough for us. The Chateau was definitely the place to start.
The Chateau was also the scheduled rendezvous for the first hook-up of the tour. We had arranged to meet an Internet superstar by the name of Terra Naomi, a musician and web celebutante who was beginning to attract the attention of the music industry in both London and LA. Her fame so far came from the millions of hits to her YouTube channel, which featured a weekly show chronicling the trials and tribulations of a superstar in the making. She and her producer-manager Paul Fox had offered to show us around LA the following day. Paul was something of an authority on the Laurel Canyon area which, along with the legendary Troubadour live music venue, had been pivotal in turning the West Coast folk scene from a backwater cottage industry into a unit-shifting hit machine responsible for some – in fact most – of the era’s biggest names. By bringing her camera crew along, Terra would make us the subject of one of her hit web shows, generating some much-needed traffic, not to mention content, for our own site.
I’ll admit it. Arranging to meet Terra at the Chateau felt pretty good. We were two high-powered media execs flying in from London to meet the Internet’s newest star. We were staying at the luxurious celebrity bolthole that was the Four Seasons hotel, and despite a touch of jet lag and a sore throat between us (either that or an elaborate ruse on Joe’s part to avoid talking to me), we were ready for a taste of the Hollywood high life. A quick call to the hotel concierge was all that was needed to secure a place on the guest list of one of the most exclusive hotel bars in the world. This had been my responsibility, as Joe was doing all he could to save his throat by not speaking. At all. We pulled up outside. I had made that call, hadn’t I?
‘Hello, you should have received a reservation from the Four Seasons,’ I lied, hoping that by saying the words with enough conviction it would somehow make them true. It was the same combination of hope and misplaced confidence that Joe had injected into ‘you should have our details on file’ at Dollar Car Rental.
‘I didn’t receive a reservation from the Four Seasons, no sir, I did not,’ said the doorman.
‘Well not to worry, there’s obviously been some mistake. Pop us down at that table over there and we’ll forget all about it.’
‘That table is reserved. Yes sir, it is,’ he insisted, agreeing with himself. It was like Rain Man. Not only were we being denied access, it was happening twice every time the fellow opened his mouth.
‘Oh dear. Never mind. Well, anywhere will do, we’re expecting a friend along in a minute. Find us a table if you can, old chap.’ (If at first you don’t succeed, turn the Englishness up to eleven and hope that does the trick instead.)
‘There are no tables available tonight. No sir, there are not,’ replied the doorman, one hundred per cent in agreement with himself once more.
‘Would it help if I told you we come with a message of peace and reconciliation from the Belushi estate?’
‘No sir. No it would not.’
This was going nowhere. Rather than be turned away another six or eight times, we elected to cut our losses and leave. Our chance to add a few rock and roll antics of our own to the list of Chateau-related bad behaviour would go no further, this time, than gently taking the piss out of a doorman who had no idea he was having the piss taken out of him. No sir, he did not. Finding a suitable meeting place a little further along Sunset, I sheepishly called Terra to redirect her, explaining that there had been a terrible mix- up at the hotel and by golly there was going to be one hell of a stink when we got back there.1
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