Tuesday, August 27, 2013

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN


Welcome to my new blog! This previously unpublished story is about LA punk icons The Screamers, and their  lead singer Tomata DuPlenty, a dear friend. My new collection of memoirs, "Showgirl Confidential" will be published in September on Punk Hostage Press.  The book release and signing party for "Showgirl Confidential" will take place Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013 at Skinny's Lounge, 4923 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA  6:30-9:30pm.  More readings to be announced soon!
Tomata DuPlenty of The Screamers
 Tomata DuPlenty, best known as the lead singer of LA’s most infamous and legendary 1970’s art-punk band The Screamers, was a walking work of art. Nothing about him was normal- he was definitely An Original. Everyone he met adored him on the spot. He was a talented performer; a musician, visual artist… a wit, a mensch and a true gentleman. After Tomata, the mold was broken. God probably could’ve retired, and everything   would’ve been fine. Before punk rock and Hollywood, Tomata been living in Seattle with his best friends, who were were named Gorilla, Suitcase and Gear. Prior to that, he was a member of the hippy/glam/ performance troupe The Cockettes in San Francisco.
 
Culturally literate and beyond hip, Tomata had a child-like naivete, that no matter if it was cultivated, always worked. He knew how to act in every situation, he could’ve written an etiquette book, one of his greatest talents was making people feel at ease and comfortable about themselves. Tomata’s persona was earthy and folksy, seedy and glamorous. Even the way he spoke- like some insane character from a Frank Capra  - by way of John Waters movie- was original. He’d say “cuppa Joe” instead of coffee, and  “ You look swell” instead of the more commonly used  “you look good”. His trademark phrase, used with an infinite amount of inflections, was, simply  Hiya!”  He always knew the best, raunchiest gossip about everyone on the scene, which he would deliver from the side of his mouth with impeccable comedic timing in a stage whisper. After he’d stated the tidbit, he’d revel in it for a moment, before cocking his head slightly, widening his eyes and pursing his lips like a holier-than-thou housewife at a coffee klatch, tsk-tsking over the transgressions of a swingin’ divorcee neighbor.

 Tomata was like a Norman Rockwell painting gone dada, Howdy Doodee meets Tallulah Bankhead, or possibly Jimmy Stewart on a lost weekend. But onstage with the Screamers in a hospital-issue straight jacket held together with duct tape, he was riveting and dangerous, the living embodiment of true insanity.  Seeing him perform, you’d never know that this was nothing close to his true nature.

 I first met Tomata at The Whisky A Go-Go in 1976, when I was sixteen. His appearance alone made my jaw drop. I was stoned out of my gourd on Tuinals and Mickey’s Big Mouth, sitting in the balcony thinking I was way cool, wearing a polka dotted Lucille Ball dressing gown held together with safety pins, torn fishnets and battered 1950’s majorette boots… yeah, I was cool…until I spotted Tomata and Tommy Gear on the dance floor, looking like a pair of ambassadors that been sent from another planet to educate earthlings.  They weren’t just cool, they were incredible.   

They both had black spiked hair and were wearing wraparound sunglasses, tight black pants, and Tomata had on a red sharkskin suit jacket, with a wooden clothes hanger shoved into the shoulders. I made my way through the crowd to stand near them  so I could spy on them covertly.

Suddenly,  Tomata spun around, looked me up and down and said breathlessly;

“Geez… look at you…Hiya, I’m Tomata!”

 I fell in love immediately, rendered shy and speechless.

I had the kind of crush on Tomata that a swooning 1950’s bobby-soxer would’ve had  on a teen idol, but we could call each other. I was obsessed with him and the other Screamers, I’d cut school to hang out at the their house, the Wilton Hilton, and took notes in my diary on everything that went on there. It  all seemed so glamorous to me, and it was glamorous. I couldn’t  believe that a teenager like me had the good fortune to be friends with Tomata, the other  Screamers, and their coterie of  fantastic hangers-on.

Tommy Gear & Tomata at the Wilton Hilton
 A big ramshackle Craftsman duplex, the Wilton Hilton was where Tomata and Tommy Gear both lived, along with a stunning redhead named Fayette ( who shared a matching Kewpie Doll tattoo  with Tomata) and   Chloe, a small, wide-eyed professional make up artist whose crew cut changed colors every week- and this was well before Manic Panic or Krazy Kolor existed! Chloe used concentrated Ritt  fabric dye to color her hair..

According to Tomata, William Randolph Hearst had built the house in the 1930’s as a love nest for Marion Davies, before Paramount Studios bought it and housed  a bevy of starlets there.  Apparently, at some point in the 1960’s, all or most of the GTO’s had resided there, and after they left, it was occupied by a Satanic cult. Tomata was prone to embellishment sometimes, and though I never verified any of these tales, the Wilton Hilton’s wooden floors had large, burned circles on it that looked like they could’ve been used for ritual, and the downstairs neighbor’s dog was constantly digging up  cat skulls from the back yard, so it seemed as though it could be true.

The hallway leading up the The Screamer’s ample second-floor flat was painted matte black; at the base of the steps, there was a huge ( locked) wall safe and a giant poster of Marilyn Monroe which a blown-up newspaper clipping from August 6, 1962  that declared in French Marilyn Est Mort!   The Wilton Hilton was located about two blocks away from Danger House, the pad  on Carlton Way where Screamers K.K. and David Braun and their friend Rand McNally  founded   LA’s infamous underground label of the same name, the Wilton Hilton had the best parties ever.


 One of the most memorable parties of my entire life, let alone my teenage years, was held there. Tomata and Gear threw the bash for Blondie and The Ramones, both in residence at The Whisky that week.  It was absolute chaos: the ceilings were festooned with  pink, yellow and blue crepe paper streamers, the type that would be a child’s birthday party, and the house was so packed, the wait for the lone bathroom was about forty five minutes long.  Sixties 45’s were blaring from the living room, and furniture was being knocked over while people danced. Looking like a carnival sideshow act, tiny round Chloe was doing a wild Frug with Joey Ramone. The Screamers were serving Sangria punch, which had probably been made with Thunderbird or Night Train; it was in a huge, bottomless bowl and everyone attending was drunk beyond belief. I was with Randy Kaye, my punk rock fanzine  Lobotomy co-editor, our friend Lisa Curland (whom Kim Fowley always called “Devil Worship”) and my roommate Brian Tristan, who later changed his name to Kid Congo Powers when he joined The Cramps…we were all out of our minds on acid. Phast Phreddie of the fanzine Backdoor Man was spinning records. I remember being impressed that Warhol  star Mary Woronov was there, she was so glamorous, all cheekbones and tawny hair.

Randy, Lisa, Kid/Brian and I  all somehow wound up in the backyard, smoking a joint in the bushes with Dee Dee Ramone and Debbie Harry, who was so high that she stumbled and almost fell over as I passed her the joint. Trying to pretend she wasn’t so wasted that she’d lost her balance, she giggled and said,

   “Ohhh…I was just… smellin’ that tree!

That night was also first time I laid eyes on Danger House star the infamous  Black Randy, of “Trouble At The Cup” fame. Paper cups in hand, Lisa, Exene  Cervenka and I  ventured into the kitchen to get more Sangria, when all of a sudden, an extremely tall and portly man with a bullet-shaped shaved head and preternaturally blue  beady eyes eyes uttered a huge shriek that sounded like an elephant about to go rogue. With that, he picked up the gigantic pot of spaghetti and marinara sauce that was bubbling on the stove and hefted it skywards with both hands before dumping the entire thing over his head.  Everyone in the kitchen shrank in horror against the walls, trying to avoid the tomato sauce carnage. Black Randy wailed again and ran   from the room and down the back steps,  the spaghetti pot still on his head, blinding him.  There was sauce splattered on the ceiling like a Manson murder scene, and worms of cooked pasta everywhere; on the walls, hanging from the gay streamers, and   all over everyone’s leather jackets.  The entire room was silent with shock. We could hear him bellowing all the way down the street.

 Tomata, ever the impeccable host, merely commented calmly,

“Oh, that Black Randy… what a card!  He’s a fabulous recording artist, who has just signed a contact with Danger House Records!”


 Looking back on all of this, especially through reading  my old diary entries, I had a lot of dreams about Tomata. He was not just a friend, but, whether he knew it or not, he was a mentor.  Tomata knew how to create the illusion of glamour while still mingling with hoi polloi.

He taught me many important life lessons, like how to crash strangers’ parties and then make a French Exit, which meant that you left by slipping out suddenly without saying goodbye to anyone. He also taught me how to screen telephone calls, which was a necessary art in the days preceding answering machines…let alone Call Waiting! You’d answer the phone with your voice disguised, and when the caller asked if you were home, you’d say “Let me see”…  then come back on the line and go, “No, I’m sorry, Can I take a message?”

 True to the Screamers song he’d written, “You Don’t Love Me, You Love Magazines”, Tomata always had a plethora of weird publications on hand, from 1940’s movie magazine to True Detective; the full-color Mexican tabloid Alarma, and a lurid pulp rag called Violent World  that featured pictures of airplane crashes and dismembered bodies that had been shoved into suitcases before being discovered in cheap Time Square hotel rooms.
The Screamers & friend in Hollywood by Jenny Lens

 I was into magazines, too, and one afternoon was hanging out at The Wilton Hilton working on  my fanzine Lobotomy one afternoon, when Gear told me that I what I was writing was mean.

 “But not mean enough”, he said.

 “There’s a difference between writing mean, and living mean!”

Wide-eyed and impressionable, I nodded dumbly as Tomata gave Gear a baleful glance before pulling me aside and saying pointedly,

“But you always have to know who to be nice to!”

 Tomata was the first person who ever brought me to a bar. I was still hideously underage, and he took me to The Blacklite, way  before it was a tranny hooker bar, back when it was a prize- fighter’s hangout with framed yellowing press clippings of boxers with bloodied noses hanging on the walls. After that, we took a cab  to some place called Harold’s in  Downtown LA.  Harold’s was later featured in the movie of Bukowski’s  Barfly, and it was  mentioned  frequently in John Gilmore’s book on The Black Dahlia, Severed.  Harold’s was dim and smoky, with long tables, sawdust on the floor and lots of sinister, shadowy corners.  It seemed to be populated by Mexican pimps, more than a few amputees and  a number of  shady looking people of indeterminate gender.

Tomata sidled up to the bar, bought me cocktail and said gleefully,

  “ Now you’re gonna get stinko!”

 Later that night, after I became utterly stinko, I   admitted that I  had discovered  his real name, David Harrigan.  Committed the ultimate punk rock sin – outing a person on their given name, I began singing:

 “H- A- DOUBLE R – I- GAN SPELLS HARRIGAN!” at the top of my lungs… and he just laughed.

 I accidentally tipped over some barstools doing the pony with a really scary aging whore, and Tomata, elbows against the bar, said dreamily, without even a touch of sarcasm,

 “ Gee, you dance just like the boudoir!”

 Tomata has not walked this earth in a very long time, but I think of him constantly.

Diary Entry- Oct. 21, 1977:
Had a crazy dream last night…I was at the top of the stairs at the Wilton Hilton, but it was painted ice blue. Tomata was at the bottom of the stairs, his arm outstretched, saying, “C’mon, Toots!”

 I looked at him intensely, then floated down the stairs, or kind of slid down the banister onto his hand, landing softly in the Lotus Position.  He smiled at me slowly, a really wide grin, and started walking, carrying me over his head, like a waiter carrying a tray.

 “Wait’ll you see this!” he said, and then I woke up.


 
Tomata, Gear and me in  1977, by Jenny Lens




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4 comments:

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  2. What a great read! Thanks Plez, for bringing back some great memories! Chloe gave me my first punk rock hairdo in 1976 at the Wilton Hilton, and boy was it bad! I was so so in love with The Screamers, they were all so smart and so cute! I was awfully scared of them too.

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    1. i think everyone we knew was a little obsessed and scared of them!!!!! <3

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  3. Wow...how did I miss this?? Well written. Thanks!!

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