My family gang were breakfasting in Palm Springs at a Tinseltown-themed sidewalk eatspot a few days ago when somebody called my name. I drew my Glock and crouched behind a waiter, but it wasn't the SWAT cops, it was the honorable roots-music publicist Cary Baker, who had just sat down next to us with his mom. "Well," said Cary, "I guess I'll see you tonight."
Neither of us frequents Palm Springs. I didn't know Cary was in the desert. I had not seen him in months. But he figured we'd catch each other twice that Sunday in two non-adjacent cities. The reason was an Echo Park memorial for Don Waller, who died in November of lung cancer.
Which tells you something about Waller's ability to connect people, especially people who love music.
I never saw the Imperial Dogs, the band Don formed in 1973 when the breakup of the Stooges left an insanity gap in the rock scene. (On Sunday I did finally meet the I-Dogs' Hermosa Beach guitarist, Paul Therrio -- swell dude, still playing.) During the '70s I read Don's writage in the Back Door Man zine, and later in L.A. Times and lots of other publications; his slangy, hypercharged prose made it seem permissible to sound excited when you were writing about stuff you dug.
In the '80s I talked (or listened) to Don at numerous parties, including mine. No event was a failure if Don was there. He could not have been boring if he tried.
Don embodied rockitude, but he had plenty of other dimensions. Once I mentioned that I had trees full of rotting loquats, a little yellow fruit with great big seeds; the proportion causes picking and preparing them to expend more calories than eating them draws in. But never at a loss for energy, Don showed up in a floppy gardener's hat and cleaned us out. He was determined to make loquat jam, a product of which I had never even heard.
Many humans showed up to celebrate Don's life at the Short Stop, a historic baseball bar near Dodger Stadium where he deejayed semi-regularly. DJ teammate Phast Phreddie greeted me, and I could not decide whether to weep on the shoulder of Don's life-light Natalie Nichols, or Richard Cromelin, Maria Cromelin, Peter Case, Mark Wheaton, Weba Garretson, Robert Lloyd, Sarah Folger, Europa, Paul Body, Gary Stewart, Jane Cantillon, John Tottenham or I don't know who else, because I don't like to cry in public and couldn't stand to stay long.
I stuck it out long enough to hear a miniature New Orleans funeral band led by trumpeter Todd M. Simon boom out "St. James Infirmary," "Ain't No Sunshine" and other appropriate selections. Whoever hired those guys knew how to make us feel Don beaming that generous smile down on us from his new gold-leafed booth in the sky.
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Read John Payne's Waller tribute here.