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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Lonely Goddess

I have no friends. I don’t talk to anyone, ever. I don’t need to talk to anyone. That’s not what I’m paid to do. All that’s expected of me is to look beautiful, stand up straight and act like a Greek goddess. I may not be a goddess but I am Greek. Louisa Angelopoulos; nobody can pronounce my name so they call me Lois Angelus, like the city. Haha, I want to laugh but I can’t because I have to stand up straight while the man with the Zeiss Ikon takes my picture or the art student sketches me or the sculptor studies me before he strikes the marble.

Which is how the scene played itself out that day. While some girls typed in wooden, boxy offices and taxi dancers hoofed it with lonely guys and waitresses ran around carrying breakable china all day I was here with the old German. His art studio was on the top floor of a three-story walk up in Bunker Hill. I held a jug in one arm and held onto a collapsing toga in the other, exposing one breast.

The German, a short, bald man who stammered a lot had a short temper and smelled badly. He stammered a lot except when he yelled, “DON’T MOVE!” over and over again while the only phonograph record he owned, a 78 of “Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt” played over and over again. The only thing he could do was chip away at his marble as I kept that deadening pose for hours. The only reason he hired me was because he thought I was German. I am just one inch under six feet, have blonde hair and gray eyes. When I showed him my modeling pictures he periodically asked me. “Are you sure you’re not German?” Right continent, wrong country.

His tea tasted like an incontinent cat so I told him to sit down and I will brew the tea, after I turn over his scratchy copy of “Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt”. He would nod his head quietly, scratch his flaky scalp and ask me how a Greek woman could be blonde. I told him I was half Albino but he didn’t laugh. He only nodded his head seriously, see, I’m not paid to talk because nobody’s listening anyway. At least he doesn’t leer at me while I walk around his studio with half my chest hanging out of a toga.

Mr. Wechter paid me to pose for five hours a day, the money came from a rich old matron benefactor from Pasadena , the wife of some publishing magnate. He never spent the money on clothes or cars or floozies. He’d spend it on art supplies and models like me, although I was the one that kept coming back. The others ran away because he always yelled at them or would vomit up schnitzel because things weren’t turning out according to plan.

“I’m a very lucky man”, he quietly said, hammering away. “I have money for my art. There are many people who have lost everything from the Crash, and you, young lady, you stand there yawning!”
I stifled a yawn because we were halfway through the third hour with only one tea break and I wanted to lie down.
“Helen of Troy never yawned!”
“If you brought her to Bunker Hill she would”. My left breast was freezing
Wechter sighed. “I’m tired too. Put on your clothes, go home and get some rest. Tomorrow we will really create some art”.
“Ah, heh, ahem, Herr Wechter, I can’t model tomorrow. I have a Department Store job at 11:00 am, Bullock’s”.
“Bullock’s?” Wechter whined, “Modeling for Department Stores isn’t art”.
I kept my mouth shut but every few minutes he mumbled something angrily about Department Stores. Tough turkeys, I’m a model.

By the end of the fourth hour my arm was aching and Wechter’s muse had left for dinner, lucky girl. He dismissed me early, tiredly waving me off with his hand. It was dark when I left and the moonlight was exceptionally bright this time of year with clouds threading through it so the sky looked like crushed velvet. Walking by the three-story apartment houses on long beams against the moonlight it reminded me of long-legged models draped in dark bolts of crushed velvet. The Fall Collection in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, California, 1935.

My legs were too long and tired to go bolting down Fourth Street so I ran quickly towards the gate at Angel’s Flight. I grabbed the nearest seat, sat back, crossing my legs and lit up a cigarette. As I was picking out some tobacco leaf stuck to my lipstick I caught a bitter looking fat woman in a sensible hat, huge overcoat and gloves giving me the old fish eye. Her six year-old daughter stared at me open-mouthed with her eyes real wide. Cute kid.

“Don’t stare at the cheap lady, Margaret”, the woman frowned. I blew cigarette smoke in her face. She angrily got up and dragged her daughter to the other side of the coach. “Real ladies don’t smoke. She’s one of those PROFESSIONAL WOMEN!”
This only made Margaret stare at me even more so I winked at her. By the time the old battleaxe was ready to say something even worse about me we finally landed down on Hill Street, so she yanked little Margaret’s arm and raced out of the coach.
The train operator gave me the once-over and said, “Whatta ya know Slim, ride here often?”
“No, but my husband does”, I tilted my head past him and tried hard not to drop my smoke.

Hill Street was jumping, cafes still serving the day’s Blue Plate Special, music from the dance halls echoing up from Broadway. My stomach grumbled as I looked forward to a few carrots and oranges. I walked by one, two, three cafes and I finally broke down. To hell with carrots and oranges. I needed a cup of coffee.

I sat at the counter, crushed my cigarette out and studied the menu. A High Yellow waitress took my order. Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Black Coffee, growl. My stomach almost drowned out my voice. I caught a pasty-faced guy leering at me several stools away but I was too hungry to give him grief so I just looked into my coffee cup.

“Mmm-mmm-mmm, look at that, girl”, a black waitress pointed at the front page of the Herald-Examiner to the High Yellow waitress. “Some rich man hung dead last night. I didn’t come out here from Mississip for no Klan business”.
The lighter skinned waitress shook her head. “The Klan don’t truck with any rich folks. This is a whole ‘nother situation”. While the dark girl sounded Southern country the lighter skinned girl was more East Coast and had processed hair. Y’know, fancy.
“Let’s pitch our tips into a cab tonight, I-“
The fancy girl poked the country girl in the ribs looking at me. “Shhh!” She grabbed the grilled cheese from the counter and brought it to me. “There you are, ma’am. Anything else you like?”
“No, that’ll be it, thanks”, I bit into my sandwich as she refreshed my coffee. The coffee pot knocked over some strawberry pancake syrup and it poured into my cup.
The country girl’s eyes opened wide. “That’s a bad omen if I ever sees it. Red coffee!”
The fancy girl and I looked at my cup and the coffee was red and thick like blood.
“Pshaw, girl, don’t go and scare the customers. Look, why don’t you go out back and check if the chef needs help. I’m so sorry, ma’am, I’ll fix you a fresh cup right away”.
“Oh, yeah, that would be grand”, I said, staring at the bloody cup and dipping my sandwich in some ketchup.
“That’ll be twenty-five cents. You can pay any time you like”. I gave her a dollar.
“Keep the rest”, I finished my sandwich, “That should cover cab fare”.
“THANK YOU!” she beamed at me. “Say! Don’t you need this for getting home?”
I got up and grabbed my purse. “I’m walking. I’d like to see somebody try to hang a woman 6 feet tall”.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

You Are Beautiful And You Are Alone

The sunniest song to pour out of my mp3 player in recent memory is Nico’s first single on Immediate Records, “I’m Not Sayin”. In true Nico fashion the arrangement is very pretty and happy but the vocal and lyrics are melancholy. For someone recording their first single it’s a startling performance, her delivery is assured and mature. Nico may be the only artist whose style hasn’t changed or evolved a bit since the start: “I’m Not Sayin” could have been recorded right after “Desertshore” or even “Drama of Exile”; that’s how brilliant she is.

Nico was born Christa Paffgen in Cologne, Germany and modeled since she was a teenager. A fashion photographer christened her after his Greek ex-boyfriend, hence Nico. She followed up her highly successful modeling career with roles in films, the most famous being Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”, acting sunny and breezy running around a castle in the dead of night.

The turning point in her career was when Andy Warhol amped up the Velvet Underground’s non-existent sex appeal by bringing her to their rehearsal, inserting her into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable Show by telling the band in his calm, almost flippant way, “Oh, here’s Nico, wouldn’t it be great if she sang a song with you?” Conflicting reports of the Lou Reed vs. Nico relationship exist, some saying he felt she imposed on his band, on the other hand he wrote a song and played guitar on her “Chelsea Girl” album.

I was first smitten by Nico in 1970 when I saw a photo in Rolling Stone Magazine of a tall supermodel slumped over a tiny organ (her harmonium) playing a composition called “Janitor of Lunacy”. For a troubled teenage boy raised on Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart records this was my dream girl personified. A few weeks later I went to my favorite thrift store and found a radio station promo copy of “Desertshore” for fifty cents. I put it on and felt like I was being transported to a dark planet. A very Germanic woman sang very mournfully, “You are beautiful and you are alone” was like an ancient goddess sending me messages from beyond the grave, “Meet me on the desertshore”. Joni Mitchell’s fluty whinings of being dumped by Hollywood cocaine cowboys was a joke in comparison.

While many of her fans swear by “The Marble Index” as her magnum opus I have to say that “The End” (1974) was a better work, following her legendary performance of “Deutschland Uber Alles” at a show co-billed with collaborators Eno, John Cale and Kevin Ayers. Her reading of the German national anthem shocked European concert goers at the time, still traumatized by the damage following the Second World War. Nico’s vocal is sad and imploring at the same time, proposing that the Germany of 1974 was vastly different than the Germany of 1937, a Germany of Kraftwerk, Fassbinder and Werner Herzog. She got booed, and simply stated her choice by saying, “It’s just a song”. Von Sternberg would have understood.

Eno’s synthesizer work on “The End” is a revelation, creating moods and textures that highlight the drama and sadness of her songs, like “Innocent and Vain” – listen to the eerie shrieking bird sounds, “It Has Not Taken Long”, and the mournful crying music concrete on “You Forgot to Answer”. Both Eno and Nico’s genius are at their pinnacle on this album. The most priceless moment is her reading of “The End”, especially during ‘The killer awoke before dawn“ segment.

Five years later the post-punk boom hit with Nico playing shows in the United States. I saw her at the Whiskey A Go-Go in 1979 and she was very drunk. She dedicated a song to Sid Vicious and got quite indignant on stage when nobody would buy her a drink. She threw a bottle at me, thanks former dream girl. Nevertheless, it was a good performance, there was “Janitor of Lunacy”, “Genghis Khan”, and “You Forgot To Answer”, so sad even she cried, dabbing her eyes at the end of the song. “I can’t help it, it’s such a sad song”, she remarked.

Three years later she came back with a full band and had a little trouble singing over them. Her songs were still evocative but they were unfortunately bookended by average covers of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and the Velvet’s “Waiting For My Man”. It was still exciting to see her perform, anyway.

In the summer of 1988 in Ibiza, Spain, Nico died in a bicycle accident. She was a few months’ short of her 50th birthday. The legacy she leaves behind is one of the most uncompromising musical visions the music world has ever seen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's After The End Of The World

The second half of 2010 was more eventful than the first and I made some important decisions, most importantly to retire from soul-crushing work at Los Angeles County in late 2011. After I retire I will probably dedicate myself to designing and making clothes for Viva Rebecca, a great and promising future. Here is the Top 10 events that happened for me in late 2010:

10. I took some great artisan bread baking classes at Sur La Table. I also got a bread maker and made all kinds of great bread.

9. Los Angeles was cold and wet for most of the year, even during most of the summer so I had a two-month long virus that could only be cured by getting in the sun in Palm Springs and staying out there until I burned it all out.

8. Rebecca designed a great red leather cooking apron with Splatterpunk stitches sewn in. I love it!

7. Since a year has passed since my tattoo I donated blood again. Everyone should do this; it's painless, doesn't take very long to do and benefits everyone, even all you misanthropes. I even got some great Cold Stone Creamery coupons for my trouble.

6. For Rosh Hashanah I bought a shabbos menorah (candelabra) that looks like it belongs in some Barbara Steele movie, like "Castle of Blood" or "The Long Hair of Death".

5. Designed a pair of striped dress pants with a cool leather waistband and belt loops sewn in (pics to come in a future blog).

4. Saw Mark Sultan (aka BBQ from King Khan and The BBQ Show) at Spaceland. He played a great set doing his ultra-mega powerful one man band act. I stood by the exit and saw more people angrily storm out of the club than I'd seen in a long time. I don't know what they expected, but they looked so fuckin' mad it was weird.

3. A segment of "Hell's Kitchen", the food truck challenge, was taped at the LA County Hall of Administration (my workplace) it finally screened in November, and footage of me walking ten feet in the background while Gordon Ramsey's talking to his nimrod contestants can be seen within the first 15 minutes of the show. Yeaaahhhh!

2. Captain Beefheart died at the end of the year, and although he hadn't played music in almost 30 years he lives on as the patron saint to all uncompromising musicians everywhere. With the passing of icons like Beefheart and Sun Ra an era of trailblazing avant garde music is gone.

1. My very first serial, "Crash Walker", modeled after Quinn Martin Productions-type "Man On The Run" television shows from the Sixties (The Fugitive, Run For Your Life, Coronet Blue, The Invaders) successfully published on my blog, and will soon see trade paperback publication. Watch this space. An even newer serial begins later this month.

Well, that's it. 2011 shows lots of promise and I'm absolutely, positively sure it's gonna rock harder than 2010. Anything would! Batten down the hatches - full speed ahead.