Sunday, April 13, 2014

KING OF THE URBAN JUNGLE


 
  Appetite For Destruction:  Nutter says "Welcome To The Jungle"



  I have a stalker.

 He stands outside my house lying in wait, biding his time until I step outside. Sometimes, if I leave my door open, he barges into my house, demanding attention.  His behavior is alarming and aggressive…but I think might be in love with him.

My stalker’s name is Nutter; he’s a tame squirrel that lives in the ancient ficus tree that canopies my yard. He’s from a multigenerational family of tame-or nearly so- squirrels that have lived in my tree for nearly a decade,  His great-great-great-great grandpa was Leonard, the pioneer  who decided my  Unlike Nutter, Leonard wasn’t brash enough to actually come into my house…though he could’ve if he wanted to! Leonard and his pregnant common-law wife set up housekeeping in my yard, making a huge nest in the ficus tree, padded with the innards of a cloth  Halloween dummy that was out on display.  For years, Leonard's  progeny has kept  my neighbors and me  highly entertained, but Nutter is my special friend.

In most major cities, wildlife is something to be seen in a zoo- unless you’re counting pigeons, rats and cockroaches. But in Los Angeles, it’s different:  the wealth of stubbornly wild flora and fauna is proof that that nature prevails even in the most urban areas.  Mountain lions prowl through Griffith Park, close to the densely populated Hollywood Hills where I live. One time, directly above my driveway, a hawk soaring over my head with a snake held in its talons.  Not two weeks after that, I was sitting on my porch and a hawk - possibly the same one- dive-bombed into my garden, picking up   a hapless mouse that I hadn’t even noticed, and flew off before I could even gasp. There are flocks of feral parrots in nearby Silver Lake.  Evidently, back in the 1930’s, a few Macaws got loose from a “Tarzan” movie shoot and took up residence all over East Hollywood.  It’s not an urban legend- I’ve seen them. I was alerted by a raucous screeching from above and stared in disbelief at the riot of giant birds in psychedelic tropical colors filled the sky. I've spotted deer grazing in yards not   300 feet from where someone who was out for a good time could purchase both crack and a hooker.  A neighbor recently had a peaceful encounter with a bobcat.

The abundance of creatures living among us in LA gives new meaning to the term “urban jungle”.  Sometimes our city-slicker animals are dismissed as vermin ridden, disease-carrying pests who destroy gardens and knock over garbage cans.  Though that is true, I don’t care about those things; I believe it’s the right of those animals.  Unfortunately, a good number of the “Lost Pet” flyers dotting the Los Angeles canyons can be attributed to the coyotes who come down in packs looking for food and prey on our domestic animals. They rule the streets so pervasively that Neighborhood Watch groups have formed because of them, posting  “coyote sighting” notices on the street and the Internet. I’m a cat owner and once lost a beloved kitty to a coyote, but I grudgingly believe it is actually us- not them- who are the intruders. They wouldn’t be attacking our pets if we hadn’t displaced them from their habitat.  

Aside from the coyotes, I love all the animals that share my neighborhood. I live in a canyon situated mere blocks from Hollywood Boulevard in a Craftsman bungalow built in 1917, with a spectacularly over-grown courtyard. Our three cats Sphinxie, Tab, and Ni-Ni love their home, sharing it with strays from the ‘hood. There’s Dr. Spookus, a sway-backed feral tabby tomcat who’s lived in my yard for almost two years. He lords over his domain, lounging on a weather-beaten picnic table, in between days-long forays to hunt. Two fluffy black cats drop in on a regular basis to get fed. There are also opossums, a family of skunks and many species of birds. “Our” skunks are so used to humans that they amble by casually while we’re sitting outside, not even bothering to raise their tails in a warning display.  They know the sound of the wheels of my rolling gig-bag, as I come home at night and just amble along nonchalantly out of my way. My yard is also home to three socialized – and very large-raccoons, all the progeny of Norman, and their granddaddy. They routinely come up and bang on our door or windows demanding food.  I had two baby possums  that lived in the house- I  found one in my bookshelf once! I’m  absolutely tickled that these critters all live here and use the yard as a nursery. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Everyone tells me I’m like a real life  version of Snow White.


 Oh, and of course there’s my new boyfriend, Nutter.  My boyfriend spoils him even more than I do, buying packages of organic almonds to entice him. Nutter shoves them into his mouth, the first batch of  nuts going  directly into his pouches. The second two almonds   are held in his teeth, like torpedoes about to be launched from a submarine. H scampers down the tree trunk to bury them, and has hidden so many in the yard that I have no doubt we’ll have an almond grove growing there soon.

Watching Nutter’s hoarding display, my boyfriend  shakes his head, muttering  affectionately,

“Look… He’s exhibiting Addictive Behavior!”

Nutter is so adorable and omnipresent, I’m obsessed with him.  I take pleasure in keeping him happy and seeing that he’s well fed. Taking care of Nutter reminds me of the time I had twin hummingbird babies.


A couple of years ago, a humming bird made a nest outside my door. The size of a shot-glass, it was marvelously constructed, but the branch housing it hung dangerously low, directly in the middle of a well-traveled concrete path leading from the street to my house and the back units of my courtyard. When my boyfriend and I discovered the two light blue jelly-bean-sized eggs, we melted and our protective instincts kicked in.

 The landlord cringed at the makeshift barrier we constructed to protect the nest- a tower of dilapidated lawn chairs from Target topped by an upside down trashcan. Situated directly under the nest, it kept our cats at bay and ensured that no one walking by would bump into it. We posted a sign in toddler-level broken Spanish for our gardeners:

MUCHO PRECAUCION POR FAVOR: ARRIBA ES LA CASA DE LA CHUPAROSA…CON HUEVOS!!!

The dutiful mother nested around the clock and it was all so tiny and perfect, it didn’t look real - more a fantasy scene in a sugar Easter Egg or like a decoration from China bought at a 99 Cent Store to hang from your rearview mirror. Mama didn’t budge during a storm  when rain and wind tossed her nest around, when the nearby 1920’s era garage was torn down, or when everyone started photographing her  family  non-stop with their smart phones.

Everyone in the courtyard was jubilant when the eggs hatched…and like the neurotic relatives we’d all become, we fretted over the fuzzy gray babies, small as insects. Days went by and the fledglings grew, their down becoming irridescent feathers, their tiny beaks lengthening. They were so fat and healthy they barely fit in the nest.  Our hearts were bursting.

 Suddenly, after days of devotion, Mom vanished; we were beside ourselves with worry, fearing abandonment. My boyfriend wanted to feed the tiny infants himself.   He was beside himself, practically sobbing, calling the mother hummingbird horrible names.
Desperate, I cruised the Project Wildlife website for info on feeding.  Happily, I discovered that everything was going on schedule: the babies no longer needed Mom to regulate their body temperatures, and she was out on a mission, meticulously gathering fruit flies to feed to them.  All of us, even the gardeners, breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The head gardener even said in broken English,

"The babies...soon, they will go!"

Everyone watched in delight as the tiny fledglings took their first tentative, Disney cartoon-like attempts at flight. After a couple of hours, they’d gotten the hang of it.

Then they were gone.

They didn’t return to the nest that day, or the next morning.  By that evening, I phoned my boyfriend to tell him the great news- our babies had grown up, healthy against all odds, mission accomplished!

There was silence on the other end of the line.

Finally, voice breaking, he choked,

“They’re gone? That is… so… fucked up!”

I gently explained that nature took its course, and we should be happy.

“I know,” he said,  “ It’s wonderful. But I’m still sad.”

As I dismantled the tower of lawn chairs and trashcans, I felt my own pangs of severe empty nest syndrome.

Kids, I thought, shaking my head, they grow up so fast

 But now I have Nutter. And as long as keep a supply of almonds on hand, I don’t think he’s going anywhere any time soon!


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 The story you’ve just read is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, “Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere”, due out in September 2014 on Punk Hostage Press.

 My latest book, “Showgirl Confidential” is available here:

Monday, April 7, 2014

IN MEMORIUM: LEEE BLACK CHILDERS


Iggy Pop & Leee Childers, 1972


 The world lost a treasure when iconic rock ‘n’ roll photographer Leee Black Childers passed away at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles on the afternoon of April 6, 2014.

 Leee was in town for a huge retrospective of his work titled  Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pick Pockets, Junkies, Rock Stars And Punks,  on March 22 at Lethal Amounts in downtown Los Angeles. The opening was spectacular and crowded. After this last overwhelming success, he fell ill that night, barely hanging on until he made his final exit yesterday.

Though the younger set would probably have to Google his name, they’d  undoubtedly recognize the extraordinary images he captured of   David Bowie, Blondie’s Deborah Harry, Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, The Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and the living-out-loud- Superstars of his Factory scene plus many, many more.
Debbie Harry by Lee Black Childers

 Leee was truly legendary; the incredible body of work he left behind is to the world of rock and roll  (and various other relevant subcultures) what the Time/Life images of Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Alfred Eisenstaedt were to the world at large.

Leee’s incredible shots of people who themselves would become legends- whether the onstage, in the studio, backstage or out at play in the wee hours-were equal parts Irving Penn and Diane Arbus. But unlike them, Lee wasn’t just a passive lens man or historical documentarian, he was an integral figure in the varied underground movements and scenes he actually helped to create, and was personally involved in the lives of his subjects.

 Though probably best known as a photographer, with his stunning images appearing on album covers and in publications such as Creem, Rock Scene, Circus, NME and Sounds, Leee’s reach was farther and wider.  It encompassed band management,  road tours, film (as an interview subject as well as filmmaker) writing, painting and sewing. He worked tirelessly and creatively in many mediums, not the least of which was human relations. An amazing raconteur, he knew everyone, from High Society matrons and minor royalty  to  Lower East Side street hustlers, from record company execs to rock stars, models and wannabes, to a high-school pal who'd become a  world-class con woman,  he was close friends  and confidants with them and knew all their inside secrets. 
Bowie  by Leee Black Childers

He knew all the dirt on  everyone who was anyone...  gossip which consistently involved copious amounts of drugs, sex, ludicrous incidents and fortuitous chance meetings. He’d dish it out judiciously and with cackling glee in the Southern drawl he never lost. He called everyone Darlin’, his sentences often ended in shrieking laughter, and were always peppered with his favorite word,
 “Fa-a-a-a-abulous!” which he drew out long and luxuriously.

 Born and raised in Kentucky, Leee arrived in New York City in 1966. By the next year, he’d become one of Andy Warhol’s assistants  at The Factory, and took to hanging out at the notorious Back Room of mythical Manhattan club Max’s Kansas City, which was the underground scene’s artistic   hub.

Warhol  Superstar Jackie Curtis by Leee
In August of 1971, Leee, Jayne County and Cherry Vanilla, along with other Factory denizens went to London to appear in Warhol’s stage play Pork at The Roundhouse.  It was there he met David and Angela Bowie, and Tony DeFries, whose MainMan company was managing the up –and- coming Bowie. In no time at all, Leee and Cherry began working for MainMan as Bowie’s road manager and publicist  on The Ziggy Stardust  tour. This lead to Leee’s  working with other artists like Iggy Pop and Mott The Hoople, whom he toured with. In fact, the Hoople song “All The Way From Memphis” was dedicated to Leee and his MainMan cohort Tony Zanetta.

 By 1974, Leee was a fixture at CBGB’s, the nascent hub of American punk rock, and home to bands like Ramones, The Deadboys, Television, The Cramps and Talking Heads.  Leee took many photos and worked  constantly. By  1975 Leee was managing Johnny Thunders’ post-Dolls band The Heartbreakers, whom he brought to London the next year, just in time to experience the raucous rise of English punk with The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Clash, Damned, and Siouxie and the Banshees.

Levi Dexter & Leee, late '70's
He spent the next few years migrating between London, New York and Los Angeles, working with The Heartbreakers, Jayne County, and managing Levi Dexter and The Rockats, who singlehandedly spawned the Rockabilly Revival, which is still going strong decades later.

  After admiring Leee’s photos from afar for years in the rock ‘n’roll publications I devoured as an aspiring pre-teen  groupie, I finally met him 1978.  An errant seventeen-year-old,  I was on the loose in New York with my roommate and constant partner-in-crime Kid Congo, who was soon to become a member of The Gun Club and later the Cramps. We were living on The Bowery, in a gigantic loft that was a mere stone’s throw from CBGB’s, which belonged to Kristian Hoffman of The Mumps and his boyfriend, drummer Bradley Field of Teenage Jesus And The Jerks.   Kid and I were obsessed with punk, going crazy every time we spotted Sid Vicious on St. Mark’s Place. We’d panhandle on the streets on our way up to Max’s, so we could afford the Happy Hour drinks that came with hellish bar food- and guaranteed you a spot at their rock shows upstairs. After seeing Levi And The Rockats play there, I’d fallen in love with Levi Dexter, who would become my first husband.  The fact that Leee was managing Levi only made the romance sweeter.

I began to know the real Leee, the man behind the legend. Always intense and constantly on the go, Leee was a non-stop whirlwind of craziness.  He told stories so insane there were absolutely no doubt they’d actually occurred.  He was a walking catalogue of Old School Fag Knowledge; he knew about art, cinema, literature and would quote Talluhah Bankhead and Mae West, rolling his eyes and snickering at the irony of the raucous scenes of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery that were rampant in those days. 

In 1979, he moved The Rockats into room 100 A at The Tropicana Motel, Hollywood’s equivalent of The Chelsea in New York.  Party central, The Tropicana was home to Tom Waits, Chuck E. Weiss, Ricky Lee Jones, and for a time, The Mumps and The Cramps, as well as every other band from London or New York who happened to be passing through. Conveniently, I lived just down the street, and it was there that our friendship began in earnest.  Because I was headstrong and outspoken, we sometimes butted heads over Levi’s career, but that time period laid the groundwork for a friendship that lasted decades.

 I admired Leee’s style, it was magnificent. To me, he was a punk rock version of Sergei Diagelev of The Ballets Russes, and Levi was his Nijinsky. Leee orchestrated crazy schemes with finesse…and always managed to pull them off.  He’d be on two landline phones at the same time, playing record company executives against each other. He'd do business like this every morning, standing on the porch overlooking The Tropicana’s coffee shop Duke’s, dressed in a Fifties bathrobe and Ebenezer Scrooge stocking cap, clutching a vintage flask with “CATNIP” engraved on it, swigging gin. 

 He’d hold court and  describe  the  outrageous antics of  Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn  in minute detail, stuff that’d make all  the contestants on Ru Paul’s Drag Race pale in comparison.  He’d always find the best stuff at thriftstores and was an extremely natty dresser- loud Forties and Fifties shirts  were a  perennial favorite.

 Leee  would  host  wild midnight pool parties at The Trop, inviting everyone from super models, Ron and Russell Mael from Sparks, waitresses from Duke's, Ahmet Ertegun and Rodney Bingenheimer to the elderly bull dykes who hung out at The Palms bar directly across the street. At one of these parties, an extremely high Marianne Faithfull was trying to bum a cigarette. Leee egged me on as I offered her a smoke that I’d filled with cigarette loads that I’d purchased at a Hollywood Boulevard magic store, and we watched in silent hysterics and she lay nodding on chaise lounge, startling into consciousness as each pellet exploded.

Jayne County by Leee Childers
Leee once showed up at a garage sale  at Disgraceland, the  infamous punk crash I lived at with Iris Berry.  He had Jayne County and Angela Bowie in tow, and if it hadn't been  for the makeshift bar  we'd set up in the yard, offering our patrons  stiff margaritas made with Plain Wrap Tequila, Iris and I probably both would've  fainted  from  sheer disbelief.  Oblivious  to how starstruck we were,  Leee, Jayne and Angie just grabbed drinks and joined in the festivities.  As Jayne tried to cram her feet into my vintage gold Spring-O-Lators, Angie and I  
 drunkenly rolled on my bed in a pile of petticoats, and I finally made the slurred  confession that it had been my dream to meet her since I was twelve.

The next morning, Iris, who hadn't met Leee until he came to our sale, sighed and said,

"Leee is amazing! He's one of those people that you just fall in love with immediately, because he makes you feel as though you've known each other for ages..." 

The last time I actually saw Leee was in 2008  in New York. I was in town  doing Maragert Cho's Sensuous Woman show. When Leee came backstage  after a performance, he  enchanted the entire cast and invited us to a birthday party for   rock photographer Bob Gruen. At the party, Leee kept telling me I needed to meet Suzi,   wife of  late  incredible guitarist Mick Ronson. 

"You two will adore  each other!" Leee declared,     
Backstage at The Sensuous Woman

 "I can't wait for you to meet!"

The moment we walked into the party, I lost track of Leee, who was exclaiming "Darlin'!" across the room, seemingly to three quarters of the guests. At the bar, I met a lovely older woman, whom I clicked with immediately.  Next thing I knew, we were howling with laughter, swapping stories and  buying each other rounds. Over an hour later, Leee found me again, raised an eyebrow in his inimitable way and said,

"Oh  fa-a-a-abulous!   I see you and Suzi have already met!" 

I could continue with the Leee stories… they came back to me in waves last night, as my emotions swung wildly from with disbelief, grief, shock and waves of laughter.  I could tell or write so many stories about him, it would go on for pages. Leee’s life was so full, there are many people who could do the same. Of all his incredible talents, it was his social  skills that made him standout among those who knew him. He was a handful for sure... but his friendship was always worth it.

Leee lived life to the fullest, with imagination, creativity and panache. 

  He’s probably up in Heaven right now, having cocktails with  Mickey Rooney... and berating him mercilessly for attempting to steal his thunder.

 Rest in peace, my dear friend.


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Read more on Leee and  his amazing stories:



 
Leee in recent years


Saturday, March 29, 2014

EARTHQUAKE DENIAL



You know you’re suffering from
a full-blown case of Earthquake Denial
when just a few short months after
 the 6.8 disaster
Your earthquake kit is lacking such essentials as
bottled water, blankets and a can-opener
but is well stocked with things like
black cake eyeliner, red matte lipstick
and disposable contact lenses
as well as a baggie full of magic mushrooms
wrapped in Christmas paper

Your flashlight is nearby but inoperable:
last week you removed it’s batteries
and used them to replace the dead ones
in your vibrator
   

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The piece you just read was written in 1994, and published in my book, “Princess Of Hollywood”.

 To get an autographed copy of my new book “Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage, And On The Road”, click here: