Monday, April 01, 2013

Thinking about VDP

When I first met Van Dyke Parks it really wasn't all that long after his first great Warner Bros Records period. I was writing for the rock rag, Fusion. Or maybe it was Zoo World, or ROCK, or Rolling Stone or. . .?  I was to visit VDP's abode for an interview with him (I'm not sure it was ever published). I asked him on the phone where he lived. He told me, "Melrose Hill," of which---being fairly "new" to L.A.---I had never heard. (He doesn't live there anymore.) See link.
"Where's that?," I asked. He replied: "Oh, just a shriek away from rape at high noon." Which was the sad truth and yet couldn't have been a more apt set of directions. For when I turned east off of godforsaken Western Avenue, I found myself in an almost rural (and beautiful) back country, mile square (or so) section that I could never have dreamed existed in this otherwise totally low-beat, slummy area of Hollywood. In other words, just "a just a shriek away from rape at high noon." I still remember his description from all those decades ago. Parks and his wife even had a small working farm in their large backyard. Talk about anomalous!
Some time earlier in this century I spoke with Van Dyke on the phone when I interviewed him about arranger, the late (let's call him) Michael Drink, for a Japanese music mag. Parks was completely open about Drink's homosexuality which was, it turned out, a closely guarded secret on the part of the latter's family. Van Dyke volunteered the info without my even asking. Up until then, I had no idea. I didn't write about it in the mag. That sort of thing is still not done in Japan, but it turned out to be the key that unlocked a number of other mysteries about Drink, who is a bit famous in Japan, but not in the U.S. For example, Drink arranged many hundreds of tracks, but only conducted on a handful of occasions. Turns out he was fearful of  being "spotted" as gay by the old boy network of mostly men's men studio players ("How about those Miami Dolpins!?" Nudge nudge.)
Parks wasn't outing ('member "outing"?) Drink. It just never crossed Van Dyke's mind to be secretive about something that was so crucial to Michael's artistic inscape. A couple of years later, in a U.S. mag, I DID allude to Drink's death of HIV and the family went totally nuts. Threats of lawsuits and (stopping just this side of implied) violence, i.e. "We know where you live."
Van Dyke called my house a few months ago and even though I had not spoken to him on the phone for several years, he immediately recognized my voice, i.e. he asked: "Bill, may I speak with David." He is the only person I've ever encountered telephonically who can tell our voices apart. Talk about having a good ear!

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