Minstrels Anonymous on Bandcamp

Thursday, February 28, 2013

How To Stuff A Wild Poodle

It started with a phone call, a call from an art director who specializes in gigantic pieces whom we’ve worked with in the past. The new project assigned to Rebecca was for a Dole television commercial, to dress a monster truck up as a huge white poodle. Why not? When it comes to Rebecca all things are possible, except cooking. I do all the cooking. Otherwise with Rebecca all things are possible.

If anyone had the chops to dress a monster truck up to look like a Fifi pooch it was her, who built an electronic dog for the Nick Swardson show, a raw meat outfit for the Weird Al Yankovic parody of Lady Gaga, and even a 7 foot tall pot head cat mascot for a music video. No job is too weird or too small for Viva Rebecca (staff of two: Rebecca and me, her assistant).

Construction on the outfit would be made in a small loft in Eagle Rock. The studio looked very similar to a body shop or car paint garage. Rebecca had her Juki industrial upholstery machine moved in towards the back. For pattern and fabric cutting we employed a large ping pong table because we required a lot of space. We also brought grommets and grommet setter, a Pfaff portable machine and a large flagpole of endless pattern paper, which we were going to tear through for drafts and re-drafts.

And drafting we did. The monster truck lay in the middle of the loft in pieces. We measured the fenders, the roof of the cab, the hood, the truck bed and the height of the cab in proportion to the bottom of the chassis. After taking all our measurements we then applied them to pattern paper, scaling to suit the coach and then cutting the gigantic pattern pieces.

Before I go any further I need to mention that this was early January, temps were in the forties and the loft had no heating so everyone toiled all day in coats, heavy boots, scarves and gloves. While it wasn’t Siberia it was cold as fuck. The intense cold of the operation made me learn a little sumpin’ about myself. Just like a body can be preserved in suspended animation so did my basic body functions in this glacial environment. In other words, my exposure to the cold was so prolonged that I hardly went to the bathroom, felt hunger or got tired. It’s like I was a jar of pickles kept in the freezer!

In addition to cutting the patterns with Rebecca I cut the fake poodle fur which spread all over the place and got all over my clothes, in my eyes and even in my mouth. Protective eye wear sometimes worked but wasn’t always effective because it was the spreadingest shit I’ve ever worked with! In order to pad the dog fur I spray glued the fur to foam which was a very sticky (ouch!) process. Precision was very important to line the two materials up together. Rebecca sewed one segment and then another until they became so enlarged I had to hold it up while she ran it across the machine. It’s a bitch to sew over ten feet of material without dragging it all over the floor, and this fur was supposed to stay as white as possible.

Another obstacle was stuffing the poodle’s big white pompadour on top of the cab, which necessitated stuffing tons and tons of fiber fill and foam into a big poof ball pyramid type thing. Simple, right? Well if it’s not stuffed equally around the head you’re stuck with a lopsided quiffle, so careful attention had to be paid in filling out the dog’s topper properly. Rebecca also supervised the construction of the truck’s chipper pom-pom tail, which had to be large enough to be caught by the camera without being too heavy and falling over.

After all the poodle fur pieces were sewn together we had to install them on the chassis, so grommets had to be set so cables and bungee cords could tie them around the truck. Since the truck was going to rock a few jumps we had to be damn sure the cables could withstand any rocking and reeling. Rebecca also stuffed the dog jowls and made them nice and furry. After six long and cold days we had the truck to resemble a perky, white poodle.

A month after we completed the assignment we were watching “Project Runway” seeing all these young, aspiring hopefuls grapple over designing a dress made out of popcorn or license plates or whatever. When the show broke for a commercial we saw it in the flesh on TV: the poodle monster truck, 30 seconds of dementia just to sell Dole fruit drinks. And the commercial was shot in The Mojave Desert all night. Now that’s cold!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Astro-Afro Style


February is Black History Month, and if there’s one thing I’ve always enjoyed about black culture is that early Seventies phenomenon of Astro-Afro style. This was a fashion trend that really hit its stride after the psychedelic glam of the Sixties. Some of the great style icons of this genre were Miles Davis, Parliament/Funkadelic led by George Clinton, Labelle, the OG space man Sun Ra, and a host of others too numerous to mention. I’m pretty sure that if Jimi Hendrix had survived 1971 he probably would have jumped that Space Ship.

There’s even a movie that showcased Astro-Afro style, George Armitage’s insane “Darktown Strutters”, featuring a gang of female bikers dressed in their flashiest space drag. It was a sign of the times, a new style shoe-horned somewhere in between the psychedelic and disco era. What brought on this bizarre trend? Well:

1. An escape from the prejudice and stereotyping run rampant by society in search of a freer fantasy land. As Sun Ra expressed so well in his poem “Imagination”, “We came from Nowhere Here – why can’t we go Somewhere There?”
2. Next to blaxploitation the most popular films that played in black theaters were science fiction films like The Omega Man (starring the great Rosalind Cash), Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes – all starring Mister Moses, Charlton Heston!, THX-1138, and a little bit later Logan’s Run and Capricorn One, all movies that employed more black actor and actresses than any other genre at the time. 

While I’m a big fan of glam fashion I’m also a huge fan of progressive, stretched-out music and many of the musicians listed above did not disappoint. It’s this pursuit of exploring new sounds that almost seems quaint in this day and age of crass and calculated junk that calls itself music.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Series 7: The Contenders (Canada, 2001)

The opening scene to Series 7: The Contenders shows a pregnant woman with poorly dyed hair marching into a convenience store with a pistol in her hand shooting an old man to death. After blowing him away, she turns to the cashier and asks, “Hey, do you have any bean dip?”

Looking like a cross between The Hunger Games and Trailer Park Boys, Series 7: The Contenders is a comedic faux-reality show about six contestants killing each other for mysterious prizes. The longest reigning contender is Dawn (Brooke Smith), a pregnant woman expecting to pop any second going after random strangers picked Powerball lottery style. The six contenders include a professional nurse, a 72 year old shut-in, a teenage girl who’s a gun nut, an unemployed family man and Dawn’s high school boyfriend Jeff (Glenn Fitzgerald) from their goth club days.

What Dawn doesn’t realize, of course, is that killing Jeff is a futile effort because he’s seriously ill from testicular cancer, biding his time until the virus claims his soul. But somehow that doesn’t seem to be terribly important because Dawn has to uphold her champion killer status.

Series 7: The Contenders carries the slogan “REAL PEOPLE in REAL DANGER in a FIGHT FOR THEIR LIVES” filmed in that garish “Cops” style we’ve come to know and love so much. Guns are handed to all six contenders by production crew members in ski masks. If the contenders refuse them, as in the case of family man Tony Reilly, they’re hunted down in an OJ Simpson-style high speed chase down the freeway and beaten mercilessly.

Series 7 takes place in Newburg, Connecticut, Dawn’s home town. We see her being driven into town in a cab looking at the Motel 6 with its cheery light box cheering her on, “GOOD LUCK DAWN!” While she’s in the cab she asks the driver to take her to all five contenders’ homes, where she crank calls them, “I’m watching you right now. You’re dead meat”.

Returning to her mother’s house where she’s refused entry until she pulls out her piece, her mother reprimands her by saying, “How dare you show your face around here? You wouldn’t even shave your armpits for your sister’s wedding!”

Lindsay Berns, the 18 year-old gun nut won’t give Katniss any sleepless nights, in fact she’s pretty air-headed (“My boyfriend picked out this bullet proof vest for me. I’m still a virgin, by the way.”) After almost experiencing death in a golf course shoot-out with Franklin the grizzled old shut-in she rebels against her parents by finally putting out for her boyfriend.

And by the way, all the usual gross reality show clich├ęs are in full force: “I’m doing this for my kids!” “TURN THE CAMERA OFF, DAMMIT! TURN IT OFF RIGHT NOW!”

When Dawn finally meets up with her ex-boyfriend Jeff she tells him that she won’t kill him, but ironically Jeff asks her to kill him by lethal injection to put him out of his misery. Before their reunion we’re treated to a bad student film of the couple in their goth finest acting out to Joy Division’s smarmy “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. I thought they looked a lot cooler in goth drag, but there you go.

In the meantime, an anonymous note is sent to all of the contenders suggesting that they can be freed from the TV show if they all meet at the Wicks ‘N Sticks booth at the local shopping mall. Franklin the shut-in sees Lindsay and clubs her to death with his metal cane as her parents and boyfriend passively look on. After he’s done beating her he’s shot sniper style by Connie, who set the trap in the first place. Pissed that she's been scooped on several kills, Dawn chases Connie to her condo. Unfortunately, once she traps Connie and closes in for the kill her water breaks, placing her in a compromising position. Connie the nurse ends up assisting Dawn in the birthing process, saying, “I’m going to save the baby and then I’m going to kill you”.

Once the baby’s born, however, it’s taken away from Dawn by the show’s producers and told she can’t get her baby back until she kills Connie and Jeff. Connie goes to the hospital where Dawn’s staying at and goes to Jeff’s room to kill him with another lethal injection, not realizing Jeff has a gun by his bed. Once Jeff has finally killed his first contender he loses his death wish and decides to have a final showdown with Dawn.

But hold the phone, instead of killing each other, Jeff and Dawn beat the crap out of the camera crew – yay! – and run away, becoming fugitives reunited by love. The final climax falls to shit, though, completely ruined by a shitty re-enactment sequence where Dawn’s killed in a movie theater (???) by Jeff’s ex-wife. Why the final scene was played by different cast members doesn’t make a bit of sense and totally ruins the climax. Oh well, most of it was pretty good anyway.

Series 7: The Contenders is the perfect antidote to all those shitty contest shows we’ve all been subjected to. Once you see it you’ll never hear “Love Will Tear Us Apart” the same way again.


Hollywood biographer David Stenn’s documentary “Girl 27” is probably the most disturbing film I’ve seen in awhile. It’s the report of a true incident in 1937 of movie extra Patricia Douglas raped at an MGM Pictures sales convention. Because MGM at the time was to Hollywood what General Motors was to Detroit, there were a lot of people who didn’t want to step up and admit any wrong-doing by MGM.

What makes “Girl 27” so disturbing isn’t the rape itself but the behavior by everyone following the incident, which is shockingly abusive and negligent. Everyone around her did everything in their power to wash their hands of Douglas, from the defending attorney – who ducked out of not one, not two, but three hearings for his client, to her mother, who was paid off in money, property and even horses to shut up. Douglas died during the making of the film, and even her estranged daughter callously recalls telling the crematorium that she didn’t want her mother’s ashes in an urn and didn’t even want to pay $25 for a cardboard box to put them in. Even after death the ugly disrespect continued.

When Douglas does speak to the camera about her rape, a word she wouldn’t even use, and its aftermath, she explains her manic depression, made all too justifiable in light of the fact that absolutely no one cared to stand up for her at any time in her life, or even death, save Mister Stenn. “Girl 27” is the ultimate horror film, where corruption prevails and the victim is abused by selfishness and greed even within their own bloodline.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

20 Years of Him, 20 Years Of Her

This week marks our 20th Wedding Anniversary, a marriage built on love, support and unlimited creativity. In the twenty years we have spent together we have supported each other and inspired each other to do our best work. My marriage to Rebecca has seen so much in the past 20 years: a band together (Cockfight), collaborative work together in clothes design, TV show appearances and videos, the worst earthquake in Los Angeles’ history, paintings I couldn’t finish so she completed them for me and it goes on and on. The creativity never ends. More importantly she’s the nicest girl I’ve ever met.

People ask us what do we do to stay together and the answer’s so simple it’s ridiculous. I wanted to marry someone who understood me and I didn’t have to explain myself every five minutes to her. She didn’t have to do that to me, either, because we both got it. I didn’t want to be involved with someone different than me. I guess it was the old punk rock tribe mentality; you keep to your own people and never stray too far from the camp. Once you do you’re fucked.

It was ironic that by the time I met Rebecca I was through running after girls in bands, whom I found to be all selfish, stupid and worthless, so it was funny I didn't realize she was the same Rebecca from Frightwig. She was so different from the idiot Hollywood girls that I’d wasted my time trying to be friends with. She was smart, she was funny, and she drew better cartoons and comics than anybody I’d ever met.

I liked Rebecca right away because she was the classic punk rock tomboy girl I’ve always liked, the kind Jaime Hernandez always championed in his Love & Rockets comic, which not surprisingly, Rebecca turned me on to. I’ve always had a theory that frilly girls were New Wave and tomboys were punk rock. She was also the only girl I met that seemed impressed with my punk rock record, video and comic book collections. She knew more about superheroes than I did! In 1992 it was still considered uncool for pretty girls to like comics, so she was definitely special. Actually, I first saw her at Golden Apple Comics in March of 1992. One year later we were married.

Our wedding was at the LA County Superior Court building where the Registrar-Recorder’s office was located. Weddings were held in the building at the time, not anymore, but since it was the Friday before Valentine’s Day the crowd of people waiting to get hitched was huge. A judge called us in his office with two witnesses, and just like a Justice of the Peace in the movies pronounced us husband and wife. I got her an awesome ring with colored stones, an Amethyst, a Blue Topaz, and a Citrine with a gorgeous setting. We were married on Lincoln’s Birthday, and it guess it was symbolic cause we freed each other by getting married, haw haw.

The following night we had a big party in Culver City and all our punk rock pals were there. It even made the gossip column in the LA Weekly, so that week we were punk rock news. Our marriage split Hollywood hipsters straight down the middle: some said we’d never last and some admired the fact that our marriage was so solid and that they could rely on us being a couple forever. One of the most memorable moments I can recall was when we sat in the darkness of Bar Deluxe in 1999 and seated across from us were Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, holding hands like an old couple and being happy because nobody noticed them. At that moment I understood how great perseverance was for two people who’ve been together forever.

All nerdiness aside, I don’t recall us ever having more than a small handful of arguments, pretty minor over the course of 20 years, and she’s even less boy crazy than I’ve been girl crazy, so infidelity has never been an issue. Some couples act like they’re always looking for someone else, but we never did. As far as I’m concerned Rebecca’s always been the perfect girl for me.

Top photograph by Carlos Serrao.