Linda's Doll Hut
Just off Highway 5 as you roll through Anaheim, down by the railroad tracks, where the closest things are thriftstores, 7-11s, traintracks and warehouses, lays something resembling the earliest compendium to Graceland. If Graceland is the tarted up tribute to the Viva Las Vegas, pill-chomping King, then Linda’s Doll Hut is closer to the spirit of Tupelo, Elvis’ birthplace where he entered the world a partner to Jesse Garon his stillborn twin. They served as dopplegangers to each other, the dead brother born in a shotgun shack and the King who died in the bathroom of his gilded Memphis palace. Linda’s Doll Hut seems to have this relationship to Graceland. Two structures that represent the nadir and the zenith of rock and roll.
Built in the 1920s as a private residence, the Doll Hut became a cafe in the 30’s, a bar in the 50s and a music venue in the 90s. While it only holds 49 people and has no stage, leaving band to set up in the corner, it attracts such vintage-lifestyle acts as the Reverend Horton Heat, Social Distortion and the Dandy Warhols. Bands like this, bands so caught up in the myth of pop music’s past underside, the flock to the Doll Hut to play late-night sets to crowds sozzled by $1.75 Budweiser longnecks. The experience of seeing a band there is like a mass collective gulping from the chalice of pop music’s seedy past. There are stickers all over the wall and a ten foot ceiling. the bar takes up most of the space and behind it, the barman operates the cash register and the sound board. the venue sits alone in a row of warehouses with a lone neon sign sitting high atop a single pole that reads Doll Hut. It looks like a roadhouse is supposed to look, and therein lies it’s success. By representing the ideal late 50s/ early 60s venue, it attracts a crowd who insure that is exactly that.
The night I was there, the Brian Jonestown Massacre played, a band that dragged the gory locks of rock and roll back to he stink laden beginnings; the Beatles in Hamburg playing amphetamined sets between strippers as the smell of smoke, puke and beer filled the room, young Elvis on stage at countless county fairs trying to ignore the hogshit steaming into his nasal passages, the Rolling Stones chanting candle lit incantations to the spirit of blues legend Robert Johnson in darkened London basements.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre sound like I wanted early Stones records to sound: heavy and bluesy, reckless. They write all their own songs, but the songs have an odd familiarity about them, as though they are forgotten Velvet Underground gems or rare Yardbird tracks that you may have hard once. On stage they resemble the Stones with their floppy hair and turtlenecks, but there is something entirely modern about them. Like Linda’s doll Hut, they have all the right things from the past. They knock off what is cool and leave the errors to the history books. They get everything a little too right. they exemplify a revisionist Stones, they steal from the myth, not the band.
This show was the last in the first American tour, a tour where their manager quit and took the van and they slept in a windowless U-Haul trailer or behind dumpsters. There were fights and drug busts. And by the time they got to the Doll Hut, they had no equipment and only four of the six original members. They took the stage with borrowed equipment and borrowed guitarists form the opening ban, singer Anton Newcomb was yelling chord changes to them. While the Stone’s first US Tour was filled with problems, the problems were less....well, less Stonesy, their hair was made fun of by Dean Martin, and were forced to share a show with a trained elephant.
A slow rumbling bluesy instrumental started the set off, house lights turned low, crowd at eye level, the stink of beer and smoke. In twenty minutes, in three chords, they played bluesy mod rock that shook the Doll Hut. Newcomb stayed in the back and played harmonica, guitar and sand, leaving tambourinist Joel Gion to be the frontman. Joel doesn’t sing, he simply leans from time to time and shakes his tambourine. Basist Matt Hollywood looks exactly like John Lennon with his round glasses and bowl cut, only he’s more lanky. They all look as though they could fall at any moment.
And by the end, singer Anton Newcomb was standing on the bar, microphone in hand, calling out "Can I get a witness?" the Brian Jonestown Massacre capture that period of 66-67, the study it and disseminate all the cool from the era and bleed it on stage for crowds of 5 to 5,000. Like Linda’s Doll Hut, they serve as an extended post-mortem coda to pop’s last innocence.