On false memories in the age of the Internet
“No healthy man, in his secret heart, is content with his destiny. He is tortured by dreams and images as a child is tortured by the thought of a state of existence in which it would live in a candy store and have two stomachs.” — H.L. Mencken.
WHAT HAPPENS when the backstory is the complete story, because it is the only element of the story that you are allowed to catch a glimpse of? This is the situation we find ourselves in when presented with the CD, ‘L’Amour’ by Lewis (Light in the Attic Records, 2014).
If we address the first possibility, we have the story of one Randall Wulf, a young man who tipped up at the Music Lab Studios in Hollywood during 1983, driving a white Mercedes convertible, and with a girlfriend on his arm who “looked like a model”. He was (at this point I am going to have to point out that every part of this first possibility should be addended with an “allegedly”) staying at the Beverley Hills Hotel, and wanted to cut his self-written and self-produced LP which would be called ‘L’Amour’.
Let’s remember that the early Eighties was a very different world to that of the second decade of the 21st Century, especially the early Eighties of LA and Hollywood. The history of pop music is littered with vanity projects such as ‘L’Amour’, and the LA area attracted the damaged and deluded, crackpots and deadbeats, hustlers and con artists who peddled vainglorious dreams and preyed on the dreamers. Into this feverish melting pot sashays Randall Wulf, like a bit-part player in ‘Dynasty’, or an extra in a Daryl Hall and John Oates video-clip. Cash in hand, and girlfriend on his arm, he records what Charles Taylor in the LA Review of Books so accurately calls an “untrustworthy” record (lareviewofbooks.org/essay/let-whisper-ear).
From the cover photograph, which looks like it could well have been filched from the mood-board of a men’s hairdressers with pretensions above its flyblown station, to the haunting lack of any discernible tunes, ‘L’Amour’ more than anything else is a recording of heart-breaking absence.
The vocals are murmured over what could kindly be called upmarket-noodling, whose effect is strangely hypnotic — it’s the sound of an eternal lapsarian pre-dawn, of the penultimate scrape of a razor-blade across a coke-smeared mirror, of the crackling of the last cube of ice in a whisky and water. It is a dream of what happens when the high life is about to turn sour. It is, in fact, almost apocalyptic, but it accepts the dawn of the apocalypse. Randall Wulf, or Lewis as he calls himself on the record, actually seems to embrace the idea of apocalypse.
The cover shot for ‘L’Amour’ was taken by Ed Colver, a photographer working the LA punk scene; better known for his work with Black Flag, Wasted Youth and Circle Jerks than for the over-stylised portrait of Lewis.
Lewis (as we shall call Wulf from now on), is not cut from the same cloth as these disaffected youth, in fact he may well have been a member of the gilded aristocracy they so despised – having perhaps made a pile by playing the Eighties stock markets, or he may have been an heir to the Duke Power fortune. Lewis “always had a nice car and a beautiful girl on his arm. Visiting his apartment, I remember all-white leather furniture and the same hot girlfriend taking myself and my brother swimming in their pool.” Lewis’s nephew remembers in the liner notes for the CD reissue.
Beyond this, the only other people involved in the making of ‘L’Amour’ either have absolutely no memory of the proceedings (the engineer at Music Lab, Bob Kinsey), or have disappeared from sight (the synthesiser player Philip Lees; although this could be the same jobbing musician as Philip “Philosophy” Lees who produced some tracks on 2009’s duff soul LP ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ by Darien).
So, the first possible story involves a wealthy socialite with cocaine and cash to spare, who happens to make a record that encapsulates the lazy sense of paranoia that lapped at the Californian shore in the early Eighties. Lewis just happened to channel a beguiling sense of ennui, through a soundscape that embraced Tim Buckley, some of the more ethereal moments of Roxy Music, and Angelo Badalamenti’s film scores to produce a record of displaced heartbreak.
This story then has Lewis disappearing into a Tequila-infused sunset in another white sports car, with another hot blonde on his arm, and a string of bad cheques and broken hearts littering the phospherence of his wake.
The white Mercedes and hot model-girlfriend? The swimming pool and nephews that don’t speak with him anymore? His next destination being Hawaii or Mexico? The apartment with all-white leather furniture? Recording an album in a cheap studio like Music Lab, known for hosting Cheap Trick and Black Flag? Making like a big-shot playboy with small-town dreams? Stiffing a punk photographer for $250?
A vanity-pressing of a record of this period would not enjoy a luxuriant gatefold sleeve (nor would it have been pressed on a limited-edition grey vinyl that you can buy on eBay for $41 — plus $19.77 shipping). A vanity-record of the early Eighties would look more like this …
With all due respect to Pete Meginnis, it is not an LP that suggests rescuing from a bargain bin at the local charity shop. Whereas the cover of ‘L’Amour’ has been invested with a similarly cack design, and poor choice of font tosuggest that it belongs in the same bargain bin — but at the same time it is somehow a cut above its neighbour.
But what cracks has it slipped between? Supposedly the record only came to light in 2007, in a flea market in Edmonton. More copies were then discovered in Calgary. Self-styled “vinyl hounds” then began to distribute the disc across America to like-minded souls. It became, as John Le Carré would put it, treasure.
Then the etymology of the name and the title: Lewis and ‘L’Amour’. When contracted, it is not a million miles away from Louis L’Amour, the nom de plume of Louis Dearborn LaMoore, the author of Western fiction who sold 200,000,000 books. It is either the largest act of wish-fulfilment in pop music, or a joke.
Speaking of jokes, the liner notes to the “re-released” CD version are frankly hilarious. Written by Jack D. Fleischer, they are so overblown that they are actually beyond parody — it’s as if Comic-Book Guy from ‘The Simpsons’ has been given a new lease of life. One wonders whether they were actually carefully, and deliberately badly written to give the project a certain sheen of reality.
‘L’Amour’, as a work of art, could only be executed in the age of the Internet. For it is only in that huge playpen where endless possibilities of re-invention are available, in this case the manufacturing of a person, their desire and dreams, their fractured lifestory, and making it appear real. In fact, making it appear all the more real because of the deliberate and glaring omissions.
It is as if the (sadly deceased) Pop-Artist Richard Hamilton had chosen to work with the avant-garde musician John Maus; or a Warholian acolyte had discovered, and encouraged a bedroom wünderkind; or simply an untutored, but savvy teen is just having a laugh. Not at our expense, but with us.
The potential out there on the world-wide-web is limitless, to create a false memory of a time and a place that never truly existed. It is the idea of the suite at the Beverley Hills Hotel, littered with the detritus of a drugged orgy, muslin curtains floating on the breeze, room service just a call away — the nagging coda of The Eagles in the back of your mind: “You can check out, but you can never leave”.
Donnie and Joe Emerson are crooning ‘Baby’ in the corner. Bianca is stuck in the lift with a Chilean polo player. The light is neon-soft. The dream is about to end. Or is it just begining. It doesn’t matter, you are living in a permanent now.