Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fancy Dress (red COFFEE Chapter 13)

I remembered that the society column in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner had the nerve to publish the guest list for the masquerade party thrown for designer King Vivian scheduled for tonight, so I planned ahead. I had a feeling a certain dangerous, uninvited guest might show up so a bit of subterfuge was in order.

Since it was a masquerade party I dressed up as a black bird, my pale blonde skin glowing luminous against the black feathers on my dress, long opera gloves and matching headdress and mask. The task at hand was disguising a half-cast black girl like Ida Parker to look just like me. If that wasn’t the hardest disguise to pull off, nothing was.

“You won’t be completely covered in white, just your face, arms, some leg, and, voila!” I helped her with her outfit, a silver angel with wings.
“I’ll be glowing in the dark”, she complained.
“That’s the point, how else are we gonna catch this creep? You have to be my decoy”.
“I don’t know why I agree to these things. I must have rocks in my head”.
“No, you’re just a good friend. Put this mask on!”
“I hardly even know you. Why am I putting myself in danger like this for a semi-stranger?” She put the silver mask on.
“You’ll be catching a killer, just like in the gangster movies. Teddy’ll be there to keep an eye on you. Here’s your blonde wig, Ida. Get a look at you! Why you’re looking more and more like me by the minute”.

I helped her into some 3” high heels so she can match me height wise since I was a pretty tall bird.
“Well, if I’m not a regular Svengali, kid. Walk over to the mirror and get yourself an eyeful. Why, your own mother wouldn’t recognize you!”
Ida reluctantly sashayed over to the mirror, and practically jumped at her image in pale skin and blonde hair. “My mother wouldn’t want to recognize me!”

We took an expensive cab ride with our wings folded up to the Lovell Health House on Dundee Drive. If you haven’t been to this house it’s a nutty kind of place: imagine a bunch of boxes on top of each other but messy like in a shoe store where the boxes are all crooked and ready to crash down on you and the whole thing’s held up on stilts. This was the joint for King Vivian's soiree.

Mr. and Mrs. Lovell were hosting the party, of course, and they’re strong health nuts. There were classy tonic bottles lined up in a row for all the guests. A very healthy, fresh-faced Nordic guy in a boiled suit handed us our bottles.
“Tonic – for your health! Healthy bodies, healthy minds for a strong America!”

We ambled over to a corner of the room away from all the rich swells. I pulled a flask out of my wings and spiked our drinks. “For our health!” we clinked bottles, toasting each other.
I lifted the beak strapped to my mouth and took a relaxing swig, and then stopped. “Do you hear that record? What are they playing?”
“I don’t know, sounds like some long hair music. Why?”
I listened closer. Drat, it was that record again.
“It’s Anitra’s Dance from ‘Peer Gynt’. Jiggers, I can’t get away from that lousy tune. I’m going to take that record off and break it!” I started towards the sound of the phonograph, but Ida the silver angel pulled me away.
“Nix, nix, that’s the rye talking”.

The room was getting more and more crowded with people. I couldn’t help thinking that our target, one Mr. Shep Rogers, was lurking about somewhere. After all, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some well-heeled big shot there. King Vivian got around.
“Lois Angelus! Back from the dead!” King Vivian ran up to Ida, resplendent in a well-tailored, spangly matador outfit. “And how fitting, as an angel!”
“Uh-hum!” Ida coughed, looking at me with fear in her eyes poking through the mask.

“Lois dear”, I lisped, flapping my wings, “You promised me you’d show me the powder room”.
“Uh-Hum”, Ida already ran towards a dark room down the hallway, her angel wings scraping against the ceiling. King Vivian stared at me.
“I thought you had to use the powder room”.
I spun around and raced after Ida.

A cowboy in a mask floated around the room and approached me. His lips looked familiar.
“Psst…Teddy”, I whispered.
“Lois, is that you?”
“Of course. Say, there’s a mighty suspicious character walking around here, dressed like a lumberjack. He looks kinda like our man Rogers”.
Detective Braintree laughed. “Boy, I’d hate to have you pick a mug in a line-up. That’s one of my guys!”
“Well, he does look like our man”.
“I’m keeping a close watch and so’s he. Are you sure he’s gonna be here?”
“Sure I’m sure. My feminine intuition’s driving me crazy”.
“You said it!”

I started for the bedroom Ida was headed to, but immediately got pulled back by Teddy. “Say, Lois, let’s have a quick kiss in between crime chasin’”, Teddy clutched me. I pecked him like a bird.
“There, are you happy?”
“Say, you don’t have to peck like a bird, even if you’re dressed like one. Make this one count!” Teddy leaned in. I glanced behind me and noticed that the bedroom door was closed.
I gave Teddy a matinee idol kiss. “Okay, Valentino? Now get back to work”.

After our clutch the creepy song from Peer Gynt started playing, "In The Hall Of The Mountain King". I glided over to the bedroom and tried the door. It was locked. The next thing I heard was a weird, scuffling sound with things banging around inside. Nobody really heard much because the music was loud and the room was set far from the living room area. I jiggled the door knob and got nervous.
“Ida! Ida! Open up! Come on, open the door, it’s me!”
No answer.

Since the door wouldn’t budge I finally gave up and decided to find Teddy. I collared him while he spun a six gun in his hand like a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy.
“Teddy, Ida’s in the bedroom, but I’m locked out”.
“What do ya mean?”
“Ida’s in the bedroom with him!”
Braintree signaled to the lumberjack across the room, who joined us towards the bedroom, attracting everyone’s attention for a few seconds, which predictably passed back into their socializing.

“I hope the home owners aren’t anywhere around. I caught hell for doing this the last time”, Braintree pulled out a long file from his holster and jimmied the door open, not without tearing out some of the door sill along with it.

Braintree and the lumberjack jumped into the room and pulled out their guns to an unoccupied but messy bedroom.
“Look, chief, there’s signs of a struggle”, the lumberjack pointed to a fallen dresser and torn bed sheets.
“Yeah, she put up a fight”, he scanned the wreckage, running over to the open balcony. “Get a load of this!”
We ran out to the balcony and saw a line of torn bed sheets knotted together in a link for escape out the back.
“Well, Lois, your feminine intuition paid off”.

I broke out into a cold sweat. “Teddy, what are we going to do? We have to find Ida. She’s my only friend”.
“What about me?”
“Why, you’re more than just a friend”, I wrapped my wings around me.
“That tears it”, the lumberjack grunted. “I’ll get the car, but pronto!”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Give Booze A Chance

This is a promotional sticker for Suzi Quatro's album on Bell Records in 1974. That alone is funny because Bell Records was known for having wholesome, bubblegum acts on their label like The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. Once glitter rock hit America Bell Records cashed in on The Sweet, dropping them after one album, Gary Glitter, picking up Mud and Showaddywaddy for singles only, and Ms. Quatro.

You'd never believe it nowadays but there was a time when a girl pictured in a leather jacket and leather trousers was automatically dismissed as a "dyke" regardless of what her sexual persuasion was. Somehow her appereance dressed in something less than girly was threatening to the arena-rock sensibilties of some. When I looked around for the latest Suzi Quatro single at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip the artist file card said "Suzi 'Dyke' Quatro". Gee, I wonder why they went out of business. But Suzi had the last laugh; her first LA appearance at The Whiskey A Go-Go was sold out and she was awesome.

Here's a flyer from a memorable punk gig at The Masque featuring The Skulls. The late Marc Moreland used to have his clothes torn off him while he played wild, screaming psycho leads on his Gibson Flying V. Sometimes it got so bad all he had left on him was a pair of shredded boxer shorts and sneakers. Once even the shorts came off and he ended up draping himself in the US flag previously standing in the corner proudly. I got to sit in with The Skulls for awhile and it was a great experience.

It was also one of the very first shows played by my band, Arthur J. and The Gold Cups. We were a punk-rock big band that played skewered covers of all kinds, like The Soft Machine's "We Did It Again", which we played ten different times during our 30-minute set, pissing punks off in ways they thought they were too impervious to be irritated. Some of the other boys in the band included Geza X on guitar, Brendan Mullen on drums, Hector Penalosa from The Zeros on bass, and a host of others.

I remember reading the fine print on the Creem Magazine masthead where it said they aren't responsible for returning unsolicited contributions, which to me meant they didn't exactly refuse them, so I sent a few album reviews to Creem in 1972. It seemed pretty important at the time, because back then Creem Magazine was the best rock magazine around, reporting on bands like The Stooges and Roxy Music, which their larger counterparts Rolling Stone Magazine refused to acknowledge. Well, maybe my reviews weren't the greatest  ever written, but they couldn't be any worse than a lot of the in-joke nonsense they used to publish. At least I got this rejection letter from them that was sent on cheaply xeroxed stationery. What a bunch of skinflints. I guess they needed the money to buy dope for the next J. Geils Band arena concert. I wondered what kind of stationery they used at Circus Magazine.
(Click on image for enlargement)

Rebecca's friend Jane painted her house in San Francisco as a shrine to her favorite band The Beatles. She obviously loved every phase that these talented chaps from Liverpool went through, as you can see. First of all I just want to say that her parents are the hippest people on the planet for allowing her to paint this amazing tribute all over their home. What makes this piece so brilliant is that the band image placement is proportionate to every phase of their careers, so you have the early "Hard Day's Night" Beatles down by the basement (early period), the 1966 Al Brodax - King Features Syndicate cartoon show Beatles (complete with crocodile) towards the middle, and then the 1968 Yellow Submarine Beatles way up on top, complete with "Paul Is Dead" reference. Three of The Beates look healthy but obviously Paul's face is painted red because it's all bloody from that alleged car crash.

After awhile the house missed a few upgrades and even The Beatles started to look shabby, so the neighbors began leaving notes on their front door offering to paint over this shrine, even offering to supply the paint for free. And to think, I thought people from San Francisco loved great art. By the way, don't bother trying to find this place in SF because it's long gone, just like the boys themselves.

BTW, if this was my home I'd have a few quadrophonic speakers set up in front of the house blasting Beatles music all day, every phase of their careers from the Tony Sheridan - Cavern days to the Sgt. Pepper period to the Dead Paul Vs. Yoko Husband period (1970). I'd even throw in Ringo's "Sentimental Journey" album and the "Don't Worry Kyoko" masterpiece from Toronto. That would really give the neighbors something to talk about.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians

The Skirball Cultural Center is a museum located far up the Santa Monica Mountains, so high up it’s located beyond Bel Air and The Getty Museum. The museum is located in an area is so remote it defies credibility but there is nothing so incredible as the world of magic, which is why I went there. The Skirball hosted an exhibit on Jewish magicians of the early 20th century titled “Masters of Illusion”. I thought it was a wonderful show.

In addition to beautiful show posters for magicians as diverse as Kellar, Jean-Eugene Robert Houdin, Goldin and the great Houdini there were props from the original acts, including magic wands, trick cards and balls, restraints and the inevitable strait-jacket. Magic as a form of popular entertainment was at its peak around the late 19th-early 20th century thanks to Vaudeville, Music Halls and Carnivals. Their greatest rival was this new thing called movies, which eventually signed up Harry Houdini who starred in several mystery-sci fi serials, which were screened at The Skirball that afternoon.

A lot of pieces were on loan from Ricky Jay, a great magician who’s worked in millions of movies like “House of Games” and “The Grifters”, the ultimate sleight-of-hand movies you need to catch up on. Others were loaned out from The Magic Castle, an invitation-only club that exclusively showcases magic acts.

Many anecdotes on Houdini were posted at the exhibit, but my favorite was the one about Houdini’s attendance at a séance at writer Arthur Conan Doyle’s home. Doyle’s wife was a big fan of the occult and conducted a séance where Houdini’s mother supposedly contacted him from the grave. Houdini was skeptical of the ceremony and patiently sat through the whole bogus affair. Needless to say, the ceremony reached a new pitch of outrage when after the séance Mrs. Doyle handed him a letter “written” by his mother from the great beyond. It was in English; strike one, Houdini’s mother only spoke to him in Hungarian, their native language. It also had a crucifix scrawled on it; strike two, Houdini was a rabbi’s son, so he came from an orthodox Jewish home. Houdini exposed Mrs. Doyle as a fraud and doubled his efforts at exposing fraudulent séances, many at the time targeted at bilking rich widowers of their money, as fictionalized in the great movie “Nightmare Alley”.

I don’t think magic will ever leave us as a major entertainment form. We still have conjurers like Penn & Teller and that weird TV goth guy whose name escapes me still doing the sleight of hand, and some people are dumb enough to believe Harry Potter’s a real magician, so the art of magic still lurks among us.

Another exhibition recently attended was the “Beauty Culture” show at the Annenberg Photography Space in Century City.  I thought the Annenberg was a gorgeous space to view photography. On display were diverse images from the past century with icons either represented by movie stars, i.e. Marilyn, Bardot, Harlow, Audrey, etc. or supermodels, i.e. Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Lauren Hutton, Heidi Klum, etc.  I enjoyed discovering photographers I was previously unaware of, like Horst P. Horst and the amazing Marvin Sokolsky = check out his floating balloon series, absolutely amazing. And as I said there was diversity in images of beauty, whether it was photos of tribal beauties, mid-century models still working into their seventies and plus-sized beauties, to name a few. The show runs through November, admission is free, and is highly recommended.