Actor. Musician. Host. Writer. Dinner Guest.
The Day The Derby Became a Bank * By Zach Selwyn
I live about a mile from the building that was once the famous swing dance club known as “the Derby.” In the mid-late 90’s, when the swing music revolution twirled its way across the streets of Los Angeles and turned regular farm boys from the Midwest into Rat Pack wannabes, “the Derby” was the swing club to frequent.
In 1996, Jon Favreau was so inspired, he made a pretty great film about it called Swingers and suddenly star Vince Vaughn had the entire town looking for “beautiful babies” and saying that everything was “money.” I passed a bootleg VHS tape of the film around my college friends and soon fell in hook, line and sinker. After graduation, I dove head first into the post-Swingers madness that raised dirty martinis all over Hollywood. Lines formed around the Hillhurst/Los Feliz street corner where the Derby resided awaiting entrance into the ultimate haven of swing-cool.
I owned 15 bowling shirts, white “creeper” shoes, Cadillac-emblazoned pants, shoulder-pad heavy sport coats, a flask, three Big Bad Voodoo Daddy CDs and a t-shirt that said “It’s Frank’s World, Were all Just Living in It.” I went to Las Vegas monthly, drank gin and tonics and swept my hair up into a James Dean-inspired pompadour. I remember feeling so confident that my “swinger” image would live with me for the rest of my days, I traveled to New York City around 1999 and searched out underground West Village swing clubs to show Manhattan that a “Real Life Hollywood Swinger” was in their presence. Somehow the façade worked and after ringing up a $290 credit card bill, I managed to make out with a girl named ‘Kitty’ who had a Stray Cats tattoo on her shoulder before retiring to her floor mattress in Brooklyn where she woke up six times during the night to smoke Marlboro Reds.
It was all because of Swingers.
And then, about five years ago, it was announced that the Derby was going to be transformed into a Chase Bank. The bar where I spent my early 20’s was suddenly going to be a place where I would curse the teller for charging me a checking account fee… The club where I once dated the hottest bartender in town was turning into a place where a gal named Evelyn would inform me my mortgage was ten days late. When I heard the news, I knew this was not good. The Derby? I thought… A bank? WWJFD? (What Would Jon Favreau Do?)
Turns out, Favreau had bigger fish to fry. Even though he could have easily bought the Derby and used it to store his Iron Man memorabilia, he ignored my twitter plea for him to buy the bar and turn it into a museum. I’m sure Vince Vaughn most likely drank at “Mess Hall,” the restaurant next door, toasting the ghosts of the barroom that made him a movie star… but he was also too busy and uninspired to save the bar. I even tweeted actor Patrick Van Horn, who played SUE in the film. He at least took the time to write me back by quipping “End of an Era.”
A week before the Derby was to be gutted, I gathered my old “Swinger buddies,” – now dads who had traded in slick sport coats and suspenders for Old Navy hoodies – and we poured out some gin for Favreau and Vaughn, for Sinatra, for dirty martinis, for the incredible wooden Derby ceiling, for the memories we had shared at the bar and for the debauched nights spent watching amazing swing bands like Royal Crown Revue sing “walk right in, walk right out…”
We even quoted the movie a few more times to make sure we still knew all the classic lines. “Get there…” “This place is deaaad anyway…” “He’s all growns up… I would never eat here.” “You’re the fun-loving out going party guy, and you’re sweating some lawn jockey?” The night went on and on.
As the evening died down, we all retired a lot earlier than we had in the late 90’s and excused ourselves back to our families. The next week, the Chase Bank transformation had begun and the last remaining memories of my first few years out of college were carried out and discarded.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in line at the Chase, staring up at the exact same wooden ceiling that I had spun girls beneath in the past. The ceiling beneath which I had done shots of Crown Royal a hundred times. The ceiling that watched over me as I tried to find assimilation with a unique sect of people during those weird times when you’re not yet quite sure who you were – who you are – or where you are going.
I got up to the bank teller and deposited my meager check, taking a moment to remark that this building was once my one-time favorite nightclub.
Without making eye-contact she mumbled, “Yep, every one of you middle-aged guys who comes in here has the same story.”
“Fuck off,” I whispered under my breath.
I took another glance at the ceiling and thought of the days gone by. Hollywood is forever a town of transformation. Very few restaurants and bars make it ten years… hence the stories you read about now defunct clubs like The Trip, The Cathouse and Gazzari’s that were the most happening places to be. In my life, the Derby was certainly my place. The place where I was part of a nationwide fad that engulfed my youth when I was a mere lump of clay awaiting to be molded into the lump of Play-Doh I am these days.
As I looked down at my bank receipt and realized how far this journey in Hollywood had taken me, I thought of the dreams I had at age 22 that were still somewhat unrealized. When places that mean so much to you as a kid disappear, you fail to immediately recognize that they will be gone for good and the memories will fade or melt into new ones until all you have left are a few photographs and some journal entries. I look back at my two years as a pseudo-swinger as important remembrances that I will take with me through all of my life. At the time I thought I’d be 22 forever, twirling cute tattooed ladies across slick wooden floors only pausing to sip drinks and wipe the sweat from our brows. I never thought I’d be 40-years-old and in the exact same room looking down at a bank statement stressing about the fact that I barely had enough money that week to cover my DWP bill.
Again, my thoughts turned to Jon Favreau. As the worlds most in demand director, he probably never imagined he would achieve the level of success he has back when he was simply searching for familiarity amongst the Hollywood night-crawlers of the mid 90’s. I reached back out to my old swinger buddies and arranged another drinking night to sit back and reminisce about the Derby days gone by, and we all agreed to get together on a following Tuesday night.
Of course, by Monday morning, everybody had flaked and the plans were cancelled so we could spend some time with our families. We all agreed to try again later, and I thought about how a little piece of all of us died the day the Derby did…
And a part of me knew, that somewhere, high up in those Malibu Hills, Jon Favreau was feeling the same thing…
Buy Zach’s Book “Talent Will Get You Nowhere” on Amazon.com!
Zachariah & the Lobos Riders are set to release their newest 6 song EP “Cloud Road.” Z details how this surprise record came about…
Cloud Road EP * 2020 By Zachariah & the Lobos Riders
In December of 2019 I blew out my knee playing basketball. I vowed to return to the court within a year and elected for surgery in January of 2020 – Following the surgery came the Norcos. As a decent wine drinker, painkillers were never my thing and I have been able to avoid them after major surgeries – of which I’ve had my share… But this time, things were a little different. Lying in bed, unable to walk or barely get up to use the bathroom, I would play a lot of music and drift off into the spacial tranquility of a few pain pills. At first it was 2, then it became 3 and I was pretty soon out of my bottle… The doctor had told me it would take about three days to not need them anymore, I was on day 11. What came to me during these lost moments was a lot of lyrics about childhood memories, dreams dying, and the main street that I grew up on in Tucson Arizona in the 80’s and 90’s… Cloud Road. The first song is the raw file you hear “Cloud Road Painkiller Freestyle.” That was done in one take off the dome. I quickly understood why so many artists get involved with Vicoden, Percoset etc. These five songs came to me in three days. The sixth was written for the TV show “Breaking Bad” but ultimately not chosen.
CLOUD ROAD (CLICK FOR SAMPLE)
A different approach for me for sure. A nod to my teenage years in Tucson dying to go anywhere… now looking back and realizing I have gone everywhere. What’s next? I need another motivating factor to push me into whatever is next…
PRAY TO THE LORD
Back in high school, my friends and I would drive around all night and break into unlocked cars and steal stuff. We then took the stuff to Zia Records for trade money, Play it Again Sports for cash and second hand shops… One night a few guys broke into my old football coach’s truck and he was watching us from his window. At one point, one of the guys said he saw him flash a gun. We ran. The part about dropping my high school ring at the scene of the crime is based on a separate incident involving a girl’s bedroom when her boyfriend stopped by – but combining these two incidents into this song made sense.
MY MIND GOT MIXED WITH WANDERING
Yeah, where does the motivation go? I think I speak for a lot of young people here when I talk about how we all want to find that one comfortable place but then see something else a little more appealing just around the corner. I wasted a lot off my 20’s looking for something else and not recognizing what was in front of me.
JUST A LITTLE INTERMISSION
Again, painkillers had me rapping to myself a lot. And for some reason I was doing it in a Humpty Hump – Special Ed voice… This is a nod to the 90’s hip-hop I loved – and it’s really just a joke – as most of my rap songs are.
CLOUD ROAD PAINKILLER FREESTYLE
When putting this EP together, I came across this a week before releasing it. It is the seeds that grew into the title track of the record as well as the “Intermission” song. I was rapping into my phone on a galaxy of pain meds… In a studio this might actually be dope.
THE BALLAD OF JESSE PINKMAN
Since I rhymed about Jesse Pinkman in “Intermission,” I felt like this fit on this record as well. I wrote this before a season of breaking Bad and sent to the EP’s, tweeted about. And had a lot of show fans RT it as well. Ultimately, someone heard it and said they did not need any new music. So FUCK THEM. This song deserves to be heard, even if the show hasn’t been on for six years.