MP3 Ladies and Gents - Are You the Rabbit or the Headlights?
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5 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Rock & Roll, ROCK: Garage Rock
Ladies and Gents are a band from Norco, Ca. The California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, CA to be exact. A prison.
Ricardo âCoreyâ Hernandez had a penchant for gardening. âMy grandfather had a small farm out near Delano, which I worked on during the summertime growing up. Ten acres of Broccoli, a couple acres set aside for raising Christmas Trees, and a fairly elaborate grow room in the cellar for three different kinds of weed.â A small smile crosses his face. âMy grandmother felt that the government had made many decisions that put the small farmer at a severe disadvantage. He looked to nature to even up the playing field.â
Corey brought his developed green thumb back to his South Gate neighborhood at the end of the summer. The thumb, and also a few hundred Indica seeds. âGrowing at home was not an option. My parents had no idea about the secret to my Grandfathers success. They though Broccoli occasionally went for $60 per pound. I had to find a safe place for the seeds to grow where theyâd go unnoticed but still find water.â The solution, Corey decided, was to plant the seeds in places that were very much out in the open, places that everyone can see but no one looks at. âMy thought was that maybe 5 of the seeds would grow, and that those plants would be written off as, well, weeds.â
Nature however, intervened. The Spring of 1998 was one of the wettest on record in California. âThey all grew. Every last seed â the ones in the planters boxes around the library, the bushes in front of the hospital, most everywhere in the community garden, 3 different vacant lots from curb to alley, the center median on Rosemead Blvd from 162nd to 169th, and, damningly, over half an acre on Mt. Sinai at Forest Lawn.â Corey, who was tried as an adult despite being only 15, was sentenced to 72 months incarceration.
âNorco wasnât so bad really,â Corey says. âMost of the guys in F Block watched out for me. I was never hassled or threatened. During the riot in â99 that left 2 inmates dead and a dozen shot a bunch of guys surrounded me, shielding me from the Aryan Brotherhood wit their homemade blackjacks and the rubber bullets flying from the towers. I had showed them how to raise lettuce from seed.â
Coreyâs musical talent was well appreciated. âIâd constructed a crude guitar out of mattress springs, human hair, and bed sheets hardened with organic matter.â He managed to learn three chords before the guards discovered the instrument.
Norco is the only prison in California with both male and female inmates. âAfter the riots, reforms were put in place to open a dialogue between the administration and inmates. The male inmates wanted to interact with the female inmates â the administration said no. The inmates wanted televisions that showed sports - the administration said no. The inmates asked for longer visiting hours with family â the administration said no. The inmates demanded longer showers â the administration said no. The inmates asked for stereos and music â the administration said âweâll get back to you.â Thatâs how I met Houda.â
Houda Zakeri was born into contention. Her father, as she best recalls, was an exterminator who specialized in small to medium size mammals; ârats, squirrels, feral cats. Once he claimed to have run off a small band of orphans.â Her dad also enjoyed hunting. âBarehanded though, no weapons that he couldnât pick up during the pursuit. He missed my 4th birthday party because he was somewhere in Canada wrestling a Caribou.â
Houdaâs mom never approved of her husbandâs war on animals yet had no choice but to accept it. She was a petite Opera singer â a minor celebrity in Chile. âI mean, dad stabbed Elk to death with sharp sticks and ate their flesh. Mom sipped Chardonnay and debated Marxist theory. Animal Magnetism only gets a relationship so far.â Her parents split up when Houda was 6. âDad came back from a trip insisting we call him âDigests with Bears.â Mom left him when he sent in their tax return referring to her as âShe who succumbs to pure man.â
âWe scraped by,â Houda continues, âIâd worked after school to help out with the bills on our apartment. In school I best in band. It became an escape and a reward at the same time.
In early April 1996 Houda was given 3 years probation for stalking her neighborâs pets with a broom handle. âThey were taunting me. Boston Terriers are cruel little things.â In late summer she was found outside the Lynwood Animal Shelter with a fence post, a fork, and a photograph of her father. Norco became her new home.
âThe female blocks at Norco are pretty rough. There was a medium scale rat infestation â actual rats, not stitches. Iâd turned the corner though â no more hunting.â To pass the time she fashioned a crude French horn out of several toilet paper tubes, two worn sandals, some soured milk, and a bubble gum wrapper for a reed. âHard to tune really, but it did the trick.â
The horn was discovered during the shakedown after the riots. Houda was given a choice: either have her sentenced extended, or have extra classes added to her GED prep classes. She took the classes. âBest decision I ever made. They stuck me a room with some other inmates â all young, a couple of guards, and this civilian girl with dark hair, a clipboard, and a list. âWelcome to Songs In The Key of Penal,â she says. Thatâs how I met Juan.â
Juan Arias is a quiet man. Itâs difficult to get him to open up about his past, or to actually talk at all. He chooses his words carefully, the way a girl with fifty cents to her name shops at a candy store â deliberately. âItâs my life. Iâve lived it without regret,â he states.
âThen share it with us,â I prod. âWe wonât judge you,â I add somewhat judgingly.
âWhat business of it is yours?â he yells.
âLook, YOU guys put me up to this. Answer the questions, donât answer the questions. Make some shit up. Do back flips, I donât care.â I was over it.
âFine. At age 6 I was sent to prison for writing crappy band bios. I was incarcerated until the age of 18 during which time I was repeatedly raped â both orally and anally â by staff, fellow inmates, my defense attorney, and three visitors who came for my birthday. At age 9 I had to lob off my left pinky toe to pay off a gambling debt over a game of Marbles that didnât go my way. While a ward of the state my brothers and sisters grew up without knowing me, Aunts and Uncles started families and moved away, and two of my grandparents moved to Florida. Iâm a stranger within my own family. Iâm the guy who gets lied about by people who value honesty above everything. Iâm either off at a Military Academy or studying foresty in Canada. But the truth is that Iâm the guy getting Poo Jammed because my writing was junk AND MY BIOS WERE LIGHT YEARS BETTER THAN YOURS!â
âUm,â oh boy.
âWhere am I from huh? Itâs a bio basic. ASK ME WHERE IâM FROM!â
âWhere are you from?â
âFUCK YOU, thatâs where.â
âAsk me how we all met. Ask me how we decided to play music together. ASK IT!â
âHow did you all mee-â
âFUCK YOU, thatâs how.â
âAsk me what our influences are! Ask me what were trying to get across with our music?â
âFuck me sideways?â
âNo actually, weâre into the Pixies, late 70âs Bowie, and Fleetwood Mac from the Rumors period when they were all getting it on with one another. We lean liberal and advocate responsibility to self, the environment, and fellow man. Also, fuck you sideways.â
The tape recorder gets turned off.
Avtar K was the girl who created âSongs In The Key Of Penal.â Born in the old Jewish Haitian section of Miami as the daughter of a world renowned Marine Mammal trainer, Avtarâs childhood was spent around the water.
Her family moved far from the sea to a small town east of Los Angeles called Norco. âFather became a dog trainer. He ended up doing a lot of work with law enforcement. He was the first to train a Beagle to differentiate between cocaine and Snausages.â
Norcoâs not exactly a thriving metropolis. âI listened to a lot of records really.â Happy Mondays. A-Ha. Tears for fears. Culture Club. âI had a massive crush on Boy George. Yeah,â she sighs.
Her own singing lessons started off in her bedroom. âMy parents would encourage me, but my dad had this extremely annoying habit of trying to feed me a treat after every song. Eventually I just went off on my own.â
In her senior year in high school she decided to get serious. âIâd gotten as far as I could as a self-taught singer.â It was time for some band mates. âI put up fliers and asked around but the most I ever turned up were 2 banjo players and a guard from the prison who claimed to be a Tongan Throat singer. Turns out he was just morbidly obese and struggling to breathe.â
He did mention the many musically gifted inmates he lorded over. âDad made some phone calls. We put together a proposal for the prison officials and were off to the races.â
The idea was that the group would perform a small selection of Christmas songs for the A through E Blocks and a handful of dignitaries during the holidays which were a handful of months off. Rehearsals were limited. Every inmate had to be x-rayed and body cavity searched before and after practices. âMost of the performers were ok with it. You get used to it. I think Corey actually enjoyed it. Even now before shows I sometimes catch him doubled over in front of a mirror with a couple of gloved fingers in his rectum.â
âWe got along really well. There were hiccups sure, like the time Juan had to spend two weeks in solitary for sending a flaming roll of toilet paper raining down onto several child molesters. Off the record the guards told him heâd done a good thing and brought him his drums. We pulled through.â The Christmas show turned out well.
As inmates were released âSongs in the Key of Penalâ grew smaller and smaller. âWe kept playing together though. My dad didnât much like the idea of me hanging out with convicts. Heâd lock up anything worth over twenty dollars when everyone came over for band practice.â
As a whole, the group moved to Los Angeles. The big city offered a future where Norco was little more than a reminder of the past.
âWeâre more than just a band now,â she states. âWeâre family. Weâve all got Norco tattoos. Mineâs a bit smaller than the rest and I had it done with a fresh needle and ink that wasnât a mixture of notebook paper ash and urine, but my heart is here.â
âWeâre in this because itâs what we enjoy. Itâs more than an art. Itâs a therapy. Itâs a recovery. Itâs us.â
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