“Every lifetime we’ve been together,” says Thorn, whose boyfriend is out of town. As McCombs drives through the city, she recounts trips to the Buck Owens Museum and produces bent up photos of the busted oil rigs outside Merle Haggard’s hometown from her purse. “They fucking hated us therrre,” she says, locking her jaw ajar and dragging the last syllables in a sarcastic valley girl send-up so natural it’s not a joke anymore. As a pair, they tone down Kurt and Courtney, and plan their afternoon over a melt and a Mexican Coke at Tang’s Donuts on Sunset Boulevard. “I haven’t seen Brian in a while, let’s go to Pasadena,” McCombs suggests. Walking out, they pass the mural featured on Elliott Smith’s Figure 8, and marvel at a life-size stencil of the artist somebody has sprayed on top. “Pasadena: home of Van Halen, Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard,” Thorn smartasses in a radio voice, getting into the car. “Just drivin’ around LA waiting to be something,” McCombs answers.
The Corolla rumbles up the Arroyo Seco, America’s first highway, with Hanoi Rocks’ “Magic Carpet Ride” buzzing through the burned-out speakers. After a quick stop for avocados, they pull up to Brian King’s Pasadena ranch house and unload a gift of tiki coasters from the trunk. King is a career subversive and sometime associate of Satanists and serial killers, who is creeping up on 50 and serving guacamole in his backyard. A single, starter-log burns in a steel mesh teardrop that looks like it fell off Sputnik, and a second bottle of bourbon has just been fetched from the kitchen. McCombs and Thorn talk loudly in patio chairs, drunk as they are, and revved up on King’s contagious sarcasm. Inside, floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with true crime, pulp sci-fi and perverted art books line the spotless mid-century space he shares with Eva, a brainy Israeli half his age. Maybe a third. “She’s Jewish,” he deadpans, “so it’s like fucking a dog.” He gets a laugh that says this kind of cruel, off-color humor is his usual.
King and McCombs met through their ex-wives who worked together in the TV soundtrack business. Proximity and a shared interest in seedy mystical subcultures made the husbands easy friends. If you google their names together, you’ll find a YouTube video of King and McCombs, improvising a mock poolside interview around the time of the release of Wit’s End (Domino, McCombs’ record label, had to hire a private investigator to get his publicity photos). In the clip, King does a comically vicious rapid-fire, McCombs, stoic in Ray-Bans, silently endures his questions while Thorn does her best to tan away a hangover in the background. The current scene in Pasadena is not so different. Thorn disappears into the house for suspiciously long stretches, while King smirks at McCombs and Eva, deflating their debate on the merits of Nietzsche. “He’s not a philosopher,” says McCombs, “His art didn’t reflect his life!” Wild piano jazz pipes through the screen door. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Eva fires back. “He took eyes out of the metaphor for knowledge because he couldn’t see! Don’t fuck with me about Nietzsche!” McCombs gives a shout that is almost a scream. “This is really scintillating,” King snorts. “Anyway, Cass, your art doesn’t reflect your life. (McCombs: “Yes it does!”) First of all, you’ve got this carbuncle called Liza attached to your leg…” At this everybody but Thorn, who’s been the butt all night, falls apart laughing. “What is a carbuncle anyway?” McCombs asks. King grabs his hand and yanks it toward his balls, “Here, let me show you.”