Shannon Johnson

The Fate of the Fates: a Hollywood Memoir

Our first gig never happened. It was supposed to take place at an underground club called The Galaxy, the cops busted the joint the night before our gig while some band called L.A. Guns or Guns and Roses was playing. That meant our drummer and I had to hit the clubs again peddling our lousy little tape.

 “You’re an all-girl band; that’s novel,” the sleazy club promoter said, adding, “We can probably give you a try.” The Go-Gos were back from “Vacation” and the Bangles would soon “Walk Like an Egyptian.” An all-girl band was uncommon, but not all that novel any more.

“We write our own songs and play our own instruments,” we assured the guy, although some of us had been musicians for only a few weeks. I was desperate to become famous; I would have signed us up to play a hoochy-koochy bar just to get started. We had been sure the punky, avant-garde Anti Club would call us. They never did.

Our real first gig was at the FM Station which was a fairly big and reputable place to gig in North Hollywood. Our guitar player and self‑proclaimed white witch was away in Boston when our premier came around. Her feelings were hurt, but, you know, the show must go on because there are thousands of bands playing at any one time in Los Angeles. And you’ve got to promote yourself. Flyers, free passes, photos—all self promotion. You don’t make any money trying to become famous, but we figured we could hold out the couple of years it would take to get there.

We were billed as an all-girl band. However, for the Fates’ premier a guitar player with Velvet Buzzsaw, stood in for our guitar player. He was just uninhibited enough to have fun. The rest of us were petrified bunnies with stiff bitch facades. Later we would really become precious.

Fortunately, that show went well, unlike the gig where I suddenly heard myself playing a tear-jerking ballad out of tune. That was also the fateful night when our keyboard player’s instrument became a Ouija board conjuring the demon spirits of the tone deaf as its sequencer moaned an arpeggio that sounded like Lucifer talking backwards on a Zepplin album. We went on at 2 a.m., and our groupies were locked out. These earth children never carried IDs so they protested by rioting for The Fates outside the club. Unfortunately,  there were five whole customers inside the place, so the sound man unplugged us long before MTV unplugged Clapton or Nirvana.

 “Hey, man, we’re not finished with our set.” Did he not know who we were . . . destined to be?

“You’re finished alright,” said hairy Goliath.

Anytime we had a gig, anxiety would drain the blood from my fingers and make me shiver, sometimes uncontrollably. Even a run of scales and my best white girl attempt at slap and pop didn’t bring warmth to my digits. I made mental notes to wear fingerless gloves, to soak my hands in hot water before going on, or to get drunk. But it was sort of a silent agreement that we would not drink or do drugs when we were gigging. Our drummer was a recovering alcoholic; our keyboard player was a druggy; our guitar player was a very small-time dealer; our singer, while drug free, was a self-deluded prima donna covering up low self-esteem; and I, the so-called leader of the band, was naive yet cynical and gutless.

 As the leader, I did work to get us gigs. Why, I nearly convinced the girls of the importance of rehearsal time. I even purchased some of our instruments with my own fast depleting savings. Oh, it was such a struggle, constantly. The ones who needed it most thought they were above rehearsal. The most creative one was too screwed up for two-way communication.

Our second gig was worth something. The white witch was back from Boston. It was a “battle of the bands” at The Central. I don’t remember where we were slotted, but by the time we went on, I’d seen a few of the bands and they could actually play their instruments ... but we were all girls, novel. Maybe that’s why we took second place. I like to think it was because we were real contenders.

 I took several odd jobs to support myself on my quest for stardom. I cleaned an eye doctor’s office on the weekends. He had me clean his office on Saturday and then again on Sunday. He was a sweet, old, Jewish man. His secretary, who told me she had attended high school with Jane Russell—cross my heart, and her daughter came to some of our shows. A lot of our straight-laced friends were very supportive. An old black man dressed to the nines, who had just a smidgen of senility, would come to see me play. He brought me presents: an umbrella, a cake, a bottle of wine. I served him everyday at the deli where I worked.

Zipi Deli was a block away from Capitol Records. The New York-style deli was owned and run by Su and May, a young Korean couple. They had three kids, and they were my family away from home. I was their punky, often moody, damned hard-working American girl from Awkansass. “Leenda, you my besta friend. I love you,” Su would tell me. Linda? Su had an endearing sense of humor, and he disliked New Coke so much that he switched his fountain over to “Pepchi.”

May and Su made sure I ate every day, and, at least once a week, they invited me to their house for supper. Korean food is good ...once you get used to it, except for that soup. It looked like it had been scooped right out of the ocean and heated up. Those tentacles, eyes, bones, shells, suckers were fiery hot. I would rather stick pins in my eyes than be rude to nice people, but I had a hard time with that soup. “Leenda, you don’t likey this‑a Korean soup?”

Quickly, I made something up about being allergic to eyeballs.

Another time: “Leenda, you too quiet. You don’t likey this‑a Korean food?” They truly were concerned about my welfare and were always telling me “you need-a eat more; you need more rest.”

“I love this food!” I said, with much conviction. Indeed, I had truly acquired a taste for sushi, kimpop, kimchi, everything but the soup.

“You makey noise.”


 “You likey food, you makey noise.” Su was explaining something very culturally important and I wasn’t getting it. “In Korean it good etchiquette, you makey noise.”

Ahh... I had wondered at the cacophony of smacking the five of them were making. I never was able to make myself eat with my mouth open in front of them, though I reassured May that

Korean food was one of my favorite cultural cuisines. And it is.

I realize now that I also erred in not removing my shoes upon entering their house, which, to this day, I deeply regret. At the time I’m sure it was all about the unknown condition of my sweaty feet in cheap shoes.

They overlooked my ugly American blunders and were going to put a sink and a toilet in their garage and move me in. I was sharing an efficiency apartment with two band mates, their sisters, other people, various street people, and a couple of cats. No wonder the Koreans worried about me.

I haven’t mentioned the Thanksgiving I spent with three street boys while my two main roommates left to save a friend from suicide? Well, they saved the guy, but he succeeded in his endeavor the next year around Christmas time.

Starting out, the Fates  went on really late or too early. That’s what you do when you’re unknown. You don’t get prime time until you’ve attained a following. We had about five fans. Well, one time we had more–60. And that’s how many dollars we got–a dollar a head. Truthfully, the Fates did actually start gaining in popularity and in talent when it all ended. The thing is our keyboard player, who probably had the most potential, was a brick wall. Hindsight and Psychology 101 tell me she was bi-polar, and she liked to take the wrong kind of medication and then sleep for a couple of days. I know we could’ve been contenders.

The Fates headlined a time or two. We could feel it when we clicked. Like hounds hot on a trail, we could smell vinyl being cut, but we weren’t hounds, we were more like Pomeranians. We were starting to feel precious. Preciousness  is a feeling of arrogance one believes is appropriate because one is in a place where people want a piece of the celebrity one believes one has become, and after one sizes up these cling-ons one surmises that most of them don’t deserve to breathe the same air one does, so one thinks to oneself (or says out loud if one is really precious): “I’m too precious, fuck off.”

Our drummer resembled a cross between Rik Ocasek and Patty Smith. We were sort of callous toward her. At 30, she was really old we thought; she was thin; she was masculine; she had a bad attitude sometimes. But she had a fondness for me ... for awhile. But the world was often against her.

We were headlining at Filthy McNasty’s when some older foreign dude bought champagne for the band. We humored him a bit, but mostly we blew him off. We schmoozed from table to table. Bono supposedly was there. Mario Van Peebles was dating our singer, so he was there. Yes, I’m name dropping. Johnny Colla, of Huey Lewis and the News, was sweet on our keyboard player, but he wasn’t her type. Lucky for him.

Johnny became a friend and tutor of the band’s until a couple of the most precious told him to fuck off. Who needs a Grammy award winning songwriter’s advice anyway? The stupid bitches. They also told the Bangles’ manager, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” What the hell were they thinking? They also loved picking fights with the sound men right before a show. Hello ...?

Mario was impressed with my bass playing, I guess. He came to the apartment and asked if I’d help write a song for a movie he was doing with Clint Eastwood—Heartbreak Ridge. I never had much confidence in my bass playing, but I figured this was one of those rare opportunities. So, I went to our singer’s apartment to work with Mario. He was cute and sweet. He had already recorded a basic bass line. Idiot me told him what he already had was just peachy dandy. Blown opportunity; what an idiot.

Oh, back to that gig where the guy bought us champagne, he also gave us all roses after our encore. All of us except our drummer. She stormed out, took her drums, loaded them into the  old, primered Nova, and left us stranded. We asked the guy why he’d do such a mean thing. He was very apologetic. “I thought she was a guy,” he said in a sort of sexy Arab accent. Later, during one of our after-the-gig meetings, we told the drummer she had just better start dressing more feminine.

We all worked at this novelty shop on Hollywood Boulevard and one day  the owner asked us to play a party he was giving. I’m backtracking a bit. This was one of our very early gigs–when the only song in our repertoire was “Our Lips are Sealed” by the Go Gos. We were embarrassingly bad. I mean we might as well have been tap dancing because we couldn’t do that either. This is the first time the Bangles’ manager was blown off by the precious girls. He could have molded us ... Somebody connected with Fleetwood Mac was supposedly there as well. All these opportunities.  

I remember thinking, “these Hollywood Hills party people are spoiled, rich, and air-headed.” Their noggins were nowhere near earth that night. I was very uncomfortable. The band was like a two-year-old unleashed on a toy drum set—we were so bad, though I don’t think anyone noticed but me. I went inside to use the restroom and found out why everyone was smiling despite our making a discordant noise pool side: piles of white powder on the coffee table. That’s Hollywood.

We knew most of our fans intimately. Our one and only roadie, Mr. Wild, became like a brother to me on one sun-baked, cervesa-soused ride home from Mexico in the back of a pick-up. He smelled like my dad that day. I met Todd at an ice cream parlor. We both had the fashionable “tail” haircut. He was working at Bonnie & Clyde’s, and I was applying for a job. He was living on the streets, so I introduced him to the band and he became part of the family. He partnered up with the singer, pre-Mario.

Velvet Buzzsaw members also were avid fans of ours. Their lead singer took a liking to me. He broke it off with his fiancé, bought me dresses, a leather motorcycle jacket, and a ‘69 Peugeot. He wanted to make me over ala Siouxie Sioux. He was a great guy, and we worked on music together and became good friends.

After our keyboard player really talked us up, Poison’s drummer, Rikki, asked us to go on a little tour with his band. By now we had more than one song on our set list, but we were not ready for a tour. An all-girl band opening for a glam band would have been marketable. But oh, well; we were not ready and I hate to be incompetent.

Working at the deli, I met the girl who would do our flyers. She worked a few doors down at a trendy clothing shop. One night, I invited her to go with me to watch a particular band play. We went to the Club Lingerie. She got drunk, and I got a little blotto on banana daiquiris. But I was not too numb to be terrifically embarrassed when she began sucking on my neck right there at the bar. She said she’d been with at least 100 people, guys and girls. This doesn’t turn me on. She said she had gotten down on her knees for her chiropractor boyfriend in front of his buddies, but her latest affair had been with a Russian girl. The girl was femme, and they played at S&M games. I got the feeling the Russian girl was not so willing a participant.

The artist obsessed over the keyboard player. The keyboard player knew how to play mind games and relished torturing the artist, as she did me and whomever else would let her. The artist turned to drugs, and I think her mother pulled her out of Hollywood.

We hired film and photography students to take pictures of us for publicity. And our photo appeared  in the LA Weekly a couple of times. The keyboard player befriended an amateur videographer. Have I mentioned Dwight Yokum? Anyway, this videographer filmed a couple of our early rehearsals. We all dressed up for it. I looked like a Thompson Twin; the keyboard player looked like Howard Jones; the drummer looked like, well, I already described her; the singer looked a little  like Jamie Lee Curtis all in black; and our guitar player–the one before the white witch—looked embarrassed. She quit before we ever played out. I wonder if she ever got to be a contender?

Videographer Bob taped us headlining at FM Station. The video begins with our music playing over a shot of FATES on the marquee. As our music plays, the camera glares off of a street light, then pans down to a shiny convertible with white leather seats. There’s a bushy-headed woman in tight leopard skin clothing slinking around the interior. That’s Mrs. Videographer. They were great people, very ‘80s, fantasy, wizards, crystals kind of people. The tape is fun, a memento.

The guy who played our first gig with us, guitarist for Velvet Buzzsaw, also worked at Capitol Records. He was an engineer, and so we got to go in and record. But, wait, here’s some angst I left out: The drummer quit because I couldn’t make the keyboard player and the singer behave. We had really been riding her about her timing anyway. We got a new drummer, a large Hispanic girl. She was really pretty good. As a bass player, I really enjoyed playing with her. So, I fired her. I didn’t know how to fix the band so I, at the urgence of other members, began firing people. I fired the guitar player and blamed everything on her. By now the keyboard player was getting harder to handle. Tensions were taut. I saw no way out except to destroy the band. I didn’t know I was destroying the band. This hindsight is fourteen years in the making.

So, now we’re at Capitol Records with a guy sitting in on guitar, the original singer, the original keyboard player, me, and a drum machine. We were laying down tracks over the course of a couple of days when the singer and the keyboard player got into it...again. The singer pulled her, “I quit” routine. I said, “I quit too.” She laughed. The keyboard player told me her side. She quit too. “Me too,” I said. She laughed. “...You’re serious?” “I’m serious.” Phone call.

Phone call. Phone call. Some people called to tell me I was making a big mistake by quitting music. Blah. Blah. Blah. I’d had enough self-destructive behavior in MY band. The magic one feels, I suppose, when one has hit upon one’s calling was gone. I thought that’s what music, what being in a band was for me–the thing I wanted more than anything, but it went away—a cold shower rained down on my passion.

I have never thrown myself so deeply into something as I did with my quest for fame through music. I was naive and naiveté is good for going against stiff odds. Absolutely, I was doing it for the wrong reason. But I did enjoy playing; it was euphoric when we all came together. I have not contemplated starting another band since I walked away from my dream, but I keep my bass nearby, just in case.




Fates poster 1











Fates poster 3










Fates poster 3










Fates Ticket