My Favourite Head Of State “Review” So Far

A few people on a Faction Paradox group on Facebook have said nice things — and the Faction Paradox fans have all picked up on the ending (which I hope works for non-FP fans but will mean more for those who know the background), so I’m interested in seeing what people who don’t know Faction Paradox will make of the book. But my favourite post about it was this, from a Tumblr user and Faction Paradox fan I follow:

Freelance Jake saying '    Two-thirds through Head of State now (Ch. 29), and… it can’t be. But it is, isn’t it? It has to be. I mean, it has to. Oh, you glorious bastard! Finally!'

Yeah. I think that’s one to be proud of…

California Dreaming: The Captain’s Fat Theresa Shoes

You may have noticed something about this book. There are very few women mentioned.

And this is even after I have made a conscious effort to redress the balance, because I wanted to recognise the efforts of as many women in this book as possible. The problem is, though, that the LA music scene of the 60s was viciously sexist. For the most part, there was only one role for women, and that was “groupie”.

But just because women were being shut out of positions of power does not mean they were not being creative. The groupies in LA in the 60s were in many ways the prototype of today’s Tumblr fandoms; teenage girls creating a language, a culture, and a community around a shared love of music and musicians who, frankly, often didn’t deserve that love and were vastly less interesting than their fans.

Thanks to Frank Zappa, we have a record of at least part of that culture. In 1968, Zappa and Herb Cohen were starting two record labels — Bizarre, to release Zappa’s own music, and Straight, which would release work from the LA freak scene. Straight released records by, among others, Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper, and the homeless schizophrenic street singer Wild Man Fischer. And it released Permanent Damage by the GTOs.

The GTOs (initials which stood for Girls Together Outrageously, Often, Only, or anything else that started with an “o”) were a group of groupies who had come together as dancers at Ciro’s during the Byrds’ residency there, hanging out with Carl Franzoni, Vito, and the other leaders of the LA freak scene. The names they took (Miss Pamela, Miss Sandra, Miss Cinderella, Miss Christine, Miss Mercy, Miss Sparky, Miss Lucy, and Miss Johna) were given them by Tiny Tim, who referred to everyone as Miss or Mister followed by their first name.

The women (especially Mercy) wrote songs about their life and the people they knew, and sang them in unison rather than harmony. These songs were often absolutely cutting, as in their song about Rodney Bingenheimer, the famous LA scenester whose main job at the time was as Davy Jones’ stand-in (he’s now a DJ). They impersonated Bingenheimer, portraying him as an egomaniac latching on to more famous people and using their fame to get laid: “The Hollies are my best friends/And I ate lunch with Grace Slick yesterday/You can ball Ringo Starr if you ball me first”, before singing at the end “Oh, Rodney, if you introduce me to Mick Jagger/I’ll let you meet my little sister/She’s only twelve years old”. Amazingly, when this song was recorded, they got Bingenheimer to join in, playing himself.

The album Zappa produced for them, Permanent Damage, is a fascinating record of this culture. Part of it is spoken word — the women either chatting (a phone call to the Plaster Casters is particularly interesting) or reciting chants they’d written together — much is a capella unison singing, and there are some fully-produced songs, produced either by Zappa (with members of the Mothers of Invention backing), or by the Mothers’ new rhythm guitarist, Lowell George, who brought in friends such as the Jeff Beck Group (including one “Rodney Stewart” who provided backing vocals on one song), Russ Titelman and Ry Cooder. The album featured songs about characters around LA, about not liking to shower in gym class, about “soul brothers with processed points at the tips of their foreheads”, about being brought up by television, and about other concerns of women in their late teens and early twenties.

Possibly the best track on the album, and certainly the one that’s the most interesting clash of cultures, is The Captain’s Fat Theresa Shoes, a song with lyrics by the group and music by Davy Jones (who also wrote music for I’m In Love With The Ooh-Ooh Man, a song about Nick St. Nicholas of the band Steppenwolf, which also appears on the album). Over a Mothers of Invention backing, with tack piano reminiscent of a silent film soundtrack and boinging Moog noises, they sing about the shoes worn by Captain Beefheart (who was a notoriously dapper dresser) and try to persuade him to tapdance for them. After hearing “The T of his T-strap stands for Tippie-Toes/His Tippie-Toes fit him to a T/Oh C.B. do a tap dance for me/With your bigga fat Tippie-Toe Theresa Shoes” it’s impossible to think of Captain Beefheart as a genius on a different plane from us mortals — he was a bloke wearing silly shoes with stacked heels and a pointed tip.

Parts of Permanent Damage have dated badly, as one would expect from an album by girls in their late teens and early twenties talking very openly. Bits are homophobic, or borderline racist. But in a culture that was built up almost entirely around the solo, male, antisocial genius creating Great Works (and it’s notable that almost everyone I discuss in these essays is male, extremely talented, and somewhere between “a bit difficult to work with” and actually psychopathic), this is practically the only work that got created that was a celebration of the genius of a culture — a female, collective, culture. Girls together only.

The Captain’s Fat Theresa Shoes

Composer: Pamela Miller, Linda Parker, Christine Frka, Sandra Rowe, Cynthia Wells, and Davy Jones

Line-up: Miss Pamela, Miss Sandra, Miss Cinderella, Miss Christine, and Miss Mercy (vocals) Craig Doerge and Ian Underwood (keyboards), Roy Estrada (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (drums)

Original release: Permanent Damage, The GTOs, Straight STS 1059

Currently available on:
Out of print

This blog post is available as a podcast thanks to the people who donate to my Patreon.

And an announcement…

OK, so it looks like my Patreon just reached its goal of $100 per month, and so, as long as it stays at that level or higher, I’ll be doing a podcast of all my non-linkblogging blog posts. Sometimes they’ll be a day or two behind, but I’ll do my best to catch up every week…

Since I don’t have a proper post ready today, and since my novel came out the other day, today’s podcast will consist of this, followed by me reading the prologue of the book

(The first podcast can be heard or downloaded here, and you can subscribe to the podcast here

Linkblogging For 30/6/15

You *will* get the Batpost tomorrow, but this heatwave has completely messed my ability to think up, and I’m having to get up early and write in the morning before work, before everything heats up, rather than at 10PM when I normally write. I can barely breathe, in fact. So for now, links. Sorry. You’ll have proper posts every day for the rest of the week. Sorry again.

Jack Graham on Hannibal

The Atlantic on a world without work

Lady Mark absolutely destroys a proposal from Liberal Reform. I usually find myself in agreement with Joe Otten, who defends the proposal in the comments, but not this time.

What is code (in the computer sense)?

Leonard Pierce on streaming services and the impoverishment of culture

Sadly, while the US Supreme Court made some very good decisions this week, it also made some bad ones. One was reaffirming the constitutionality of the death penalty. Here are some excerpts from the dissent, showing why this was wrong on legal, as well as moral, grounds.

And finally, Head Of State is now available to buy as an ebook, as well as pre-ordering in dead tree

Head Of State up for Pre-Order

Cover for Faction Paradox: Head Of State

The new Batpost is going up tomorrow, instead of today, because I can finally make an announcement. My first novel, Faction Paradox: Head of State is available for pre-order in dead-tree format. I don’t have details about when the ebook will be available, yet.

For those who don’t know about the Faction Paradox series, it started off as a spinoff from the Doctor Who novels of the late 90s and early 2000s, but rapidly became much more — there’s a whole series of books, comics, and audio dramas, by some of my favourite writers. I’m very, very proud to be able to add my own book to the range.

The book is set in the 11th, 19th, and 21st centuries, and in a space out of time, and it features vampires, djinns, a serial killer, Sir Richard Francis Burton, a talking frog, a talking decapitated head, a blogger, the invention of the Indian rope trick, and fifty-three footnotes. May contain trace elements of postmodernism.

I think you might like it.