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The story you are about to read is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, "Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road" which will be published Fall 2013 by Punk Hostage Press...enjoy!
In the late Seventies, The Palomino was the nerve center of country music in Los Angeles. The famed San Fernando Valley roadhouse had hosted Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis and, like, and every other country star whose name meant anything. “The Pal”, as regulars affectionately called it, might as well have been the West Coast wing of The Grand Ole Opry or Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, that’s jes’ how country it was. The air was so thick with a haze of cigarette smoke and clouds of cheap perfume that it seemed like a gardenia-scented bomb had recently gone off. It was the type of place where the patrons really did sit at the bar drinkin’ doubles and feelin’ single.
The cocktail waitresses, all genuine Honky Tonk Angels and Buckle Bunnies who’d moved to LA from places like Bakersfield, Needles, and Lone Pine all had aspirations of being the next Crystal Gayle. Their faces were uniformly hard-lined and overly made-up, and instead of Farrah-do’s, they had big Nashville hair, teased and sprayed. Stealthy and discreet, with the finesse of thieves, they’d sidle up to tables on the pretense of clearing empty glasses, while surreptitiously slipping their demo cassettes into the suit pockets of their Music Biz clientele.
|As a rockabilly blonde, photo by Gary Leonard|
I frequented The Pal but never really fit in, even though my boyfriend was the lead singer of the hugely popular neo-rockabilly group, Levi & The Rockats. Whenever I was there, it always felt like I was on a Black Ops mission, or as though I doing anthropological research. I was a stranger in a strange land- a clandestine punk rock refugee, living a make-believe life, trying to pass as an urban cowgirl.In reality, even attired in my vintage 1950’s Western wear, I was only fooling myself. With my bleached white, greased Elvis pomp and chipped metallic blue nail polish, I stuck out like a sore thumb amidst all the embroidered Nudie’s rodeo duds and the tight Spandex, Tanya Tucker-iffic jumpsuits.
At least had company-I was usually with my all-time favorite partner in crime, The Minx. Not only was her guy the drummer in my boyfriend’s band, The Minx shared my secret punk rock past. In her rockabilly phase, she looked like a miniature Italian movie star, circa 1959.
But I knew better: it wasn’t always that way.
The Minx swears I was the first punk rocker she’d ever met; that I changed her life. We’d first bumped into each other two years previously in 1976, at Granny Takes A Trip. The trendy, world-famous glitter-rock-gone-punk boutique had become famous on King’s Road in London, clothing everyone from Marc Bolan of T-Rex to The Sweet and Roxy Music. They had had just opened an offshoot store on Sunset Strip. Teenagers on leave from Suburbia, The Minx and I arrived there at the same time, both trying to sell T-shirts we’d made. Mine had dirty words stenciled in spray paint all over; hers had two zippers down the front which, when opened, would reveal the breasts. Initially, I looked upon her as my competition, but her lurid blue eye shadow, breathy voice and tiny hands immediately enchanted me.
|The Minx herself|
Dainty and adorable, The Minx was- and still is- one of those girls who’ll never look like a woman. With unusually large doe-eyes, a perfect tiny nose and close-cropped hair, she’s the ultimate gamine. If you dressed her in a toga and put a wreath of flowers in her hair, or maybe added a set of gossamer wings, she could be reclining in a Maxfield Parish print.
Compared to her stature, her personality is over-the-top; she’s smart, brash and vibrant, more like an idealized Japanimation character than a real person. She was FUN in big, fat primary-colored Fisher-Price letters, letters with googly eyes and little cartoon smiles. Fun like a tawdry carnival sideshow, Fun like an old-time whorehouse, it’s hallways filled with drunken conventioneers in boxer shorts and Fez hats. Fun like a dimly lit back-stage of a run-down cabaret in Weimar Republic Berlin. The Minx was always up for anything.
We became fast friends, seeing each other regularly at The Whisky A Go-Go for Ramones and Blondie shows, at The Masque for Germs gigs, and at many a drunken party at The Canterbury Arms, a run-down apartment building on Cherokee, just off Hollywood Boulevard. Many punks took up residence there, because the place was cheap… they rented to anybody, it was full of junkies and hookers, the manager was running scams with the landlord, and probably running drugs. The elevators were full of graffiti; constantly out of service. Rigs and beer cans were discarded on the shredded carpet in the hallways, which probably hadn’t been replaced since the McCarthy era. The apartments themselves were great- or had once been. Big starlet singles from Hollywood’s Golden Age, they had built-in vanities and Murphy Beds.
There was typically a lot of Mickey’s Big Mouth beer involved in the Canterbury shindigs. The stereo would be blasting latest The Clash or Adverts import 45 while people who were too young to drink legally locked themselves in the bathroom to do drugs. The walls in the Canterbury’s kitchenettes were splattered from food-fights with day- old Top Ramen or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese; people were always passed out on ratty sofas salvaged from the trash. Inevitably, a lot of drunken pogo dancing took place, and usually, a Murphy bed would come loose from it’s hinges and slam off the wall and onto some hapless kid’s head.
None of us had jobs, because you couldn’t get hired if you had pink- or even dyed black hair. Our clothes came from dumpster-diving Salvation Army donation boxes, and we were always on the guest list for shows. As long as you had enough cash for cigarettes and beer, you were dandy. Nobody wanted a regular job, anyway. It would interfere with our parties.
We were wanna-be musicians who were also painters, photographers, performance artists, clothing designers, writers, dancers, actors and smart -though disenfranchised- teenagers. There was also a bunch of older, off-the-wall types, refugees from the Midwest and New York, ex-hippies from Haight Ashbury, ex-Beats from North Beach and Greenwich Village, and former Superstars from Andy Warhol’s Factory.
Lots of us had come from the glitter rock scene, and so were comfortable with multiple partners and bisexuality. There were openly gay folks, but also people who were into experimentation, people who didn’t really believe in labels or conventional lives. For a while, at the Canterbury, there was even a frisky, all-female club- or gang (a la West Side Story) called the Piranhas. They were rumored to be a bunch of dykes, but were more like raunchy party girls, out for a good time and outrageous fun…. and sex with anyone cute who presented themselves. All of us were infinitely unemployable, and we had to do something with our time, so we drank a lot, had tons of casual sex, formed bands, made Xeroxed fanzines, and drank and fucked some more.
Everything trendy in New York or especially in London had a huge influence on us, so when English punks started getting into Teddy Boy culture, listening to American roots music, wearing drape coats, suede Brothel Creeper shoes and voluminous poodle skirts, we all followed suit. It was only a matter of time until it was de rigueur to have a rockabilly paramour.
Always a step ahead of the crowd, The Minx and I swooped in and got the pick of the litter before any other punkettes got hip to the scene. Our boyfriends had migrated from London, via New York’s Lower East Side, and were in the hottest- and at that point, only rockabilly band to hit the US, making all the girls in the audience swoon the way the chicks did in those ancient newsreels about “The Devil’s Music”.
It was a novelty to stand at the mouth of the stage and see handsome guys in suits and string ties crooning love songs. Much better that standing safely away from a roiling mosh pit full of boozed-up jocks slam dancing, or watching pasty-skinned, pimply guys covered in spit and beer screaming out one-chord songs about war and The Government … with fake English accents. Rockabilly was sexy. It was about being horny, not being on The Dole. Punk chicks by the dozen were abandoning their Converse high tops in favor of saddle shoes, trading in their Dead Kennedys' T-shirts for bullet bras and tight cashmere sweaters, all to catch the eye of these cool hepcats.
My Cockney boyfriend Levi was a bona fide English Ted, and Dean, his drummer, whom The Minx was seeing, originally hailed from Kentucky, giving him even more rockabilly cred. He had a bleached blonde pompadour and a sleepy, Eddie Cochran smile. Our boys were in the band that was the toast of the town. We were madly in love with them, and the envy of every girl who hadn’t already been growing her spiky hair out long enough to make a ponytail.
So there The Minx and I were at The Pal, already tipsy and excited because our hepcat beaux were opening for Ray Campi And The Rockabilly Rebels. Stand-up bassist Ray Campi was a living legend, a Texan who’d been at it since the early Fifties. His singer, Colin Winski, was tall and loose-hipped, with big sideburns and a cool yelping wail. Jerry Sikorski, the lead guitarist, looked like a cross between slightly wall-eyed, bleached blond teddy bear and blank-faced Barney Rubble in the Flintstones… but he could do back-flips and summersaults with his axe strapped on, not missing a note. Our guys were duly impressed.
Of course there was an after-party, and The Minx and I steeled ourselves for the inevitable: hours of the guys spinning rare 45’s and one-upmanship over who knew more facts about the obscure one-hit-wonders who were probably fat, old, John Deere cap-wearin’ rednecks pumping gas in rural Arkansas by now. But, dutiful girlfriends that we were, we tagged along anyway.
The party was at Jerry Sikorski’s place, a neatly kept Post WWII ranch house in the depths of San Fernando Valley tract-house suburbia… where he still lived with his parents. They happened to be gone for the weekend, he said enthusiastically, so it would be possible for the guys to jam together. The Minx and I could barely help rolling our eyes. These post-gig after parties had become a monotonous routine for our punkette souls, even though we wanted to be “good” girlfriends. It was hard to tell what was a worse fate: standing around listening to the fraternity of drunken Sun Records wannabees warbling out Gene Vincent hits, or sitting there unable to get a word in edgewise while they played the entire collected works of Bill Haley and The Comets- or their offshoot band The Jodimars- on scratchy 78’s, while everyone argued passionately about the bass-line.
The Sikorski house was comfy, homey and cluttered. Hand-crocheted afghans draped the couch; a pile of Family Circles was stacked neatly on the oversized television set. The super-sized fridge was full of beer, and things brightened up considerably when Colin passed a joint around while everyone plugged in mics and amps.
Bored already, I wandered through the house, impressed by the rampant normalcy, so inviting after staying at series of punk crash pads where the main source of nutrition was ketchup and mustard stolen from fast food joints. In the bathroom, I admired the ceramic angelfish figurines floating up the wall with morbid fascination. The Minx sauntered in, her crinolines swishing. I took a sip of the cocktail she offered, while re-applying my Revlon “Cherries In The Snow” lipstick. It was the perfect sex-kitten shade - the ultimate in ‘50s glamour. I had recently switched from using the punk lipstick of choice: Artmatic’s Black Orchid, which was only forty-nine cents at Woolworth’s. It was a deep, matte burgundy…suitable for extras in Night Of The Living Dead, Puerto Rican drag queens or those endless Canterbury parties.
The Minx powdered her nose and feigned a yawn as I lit a cigarette. In the den, our boys were murdering The Johnny Burnette Trio’s “Butterfingers.”
Together we inspected the master bedroom. The double bed had a golden vinyl headboard and a quilted yellow-ochre satin spread. A pair of bifocal reading glasses and a dog-eared Reader’s Digest sat on the bedside table. I flopped onto the bed to adjust the seams of my hose, and The Minx sat down next to me.
Glancing down at my black fishnets which would’ve been much more appropriate for The Rocky Horror Show or a spread in a late 1950’s pulp detective magazine, suddenly everything became clear to me: all this rockabilly stuff was wearing thin. While the music was great, the teen idol stuff only went so far. Sure, our guys sang about back-seat, drive-in-movie sex and burnin’ desires, but all they ever wanted to do in real life was have a couple of beers and boast about the rare records they’d found at swap meets and junk stores. The biggest drag was that they were constantly telling you not to mess up their hair, even during sex. Carefully coifed into brand new “Rebel Without A Cause” DA’s and sculpted with Murray’s Pomade, the rockabillies would spend hours hogging your bathroom mirror in displays of vanity that would’ve been off-putting even to Little Richard.
The punk guys, I recalled with new-found nostalgia, would let you dye their hair green, dripping Krazy Kolor all over their leathers and the bathroom floor. They’d allow you put make-up on them and would dress up in your underwear, dancing around to Donna Summer disco songs. They wanted to get wasted on hallucinogenics and have sex up against a dumpster in an alley…which might not have been the height of romance, but was far more exciting than listening to a bunch of guys in sharkskin suits jabbering away all night about Carl Perkins and Ersel Hickey.
The Minx and I, it occurred to me, were just as trapped as real 1950’s women.
It was only through obligation and loyalty that we found ourselves listening to endless sermons about the early days of Sun Records, dressed in our little Peter Pan-collared blouses, playing Suzi Homemaker, Donna Reed, and June Cleaver rolled into one. On the outside, we appeared to be Atomic Age arm-candy. Inside, we were both secretly pining away for some good old-fashioned debauchery. We didn’t want to be prettyprettypretty Peggy Sue, or the virginal Deborah Padgett, Elvis’ love interest in the movie “Loving You”.
What we really wanted was to be was Priscilla Presley after Elvis turned her into a hooker-looking version of “The Bride Of Frankenstein”, with gobs of black eyeliner, wearing Bob Mackie gowns and drinking champagne while The King got wasted on Quaaludes and Dilaudid and shot out television sets in a Vegas penthouse suite.
For weeks, our old punk rock selves were coming back to re-claim our surrendered power and individuality. Slowly but surely, subversive black fishnet hose and garters started replacing our bobby sox. Ticking like teenage time bombs, our latent desire for something more decadent was coming to a head.
The Minx reached up to my face and gently wiped away a lipstick smudge. The next thing I knew, we were kissing.
It was tentative for a moment, but got increasingly wild and passionate. Coming up for air, we shared a brief, charged glance. I reached across her to the lamp on the nightstand and switched it off; we resumed kissing. I gently pushed her down onto the bed, and, as they say in romance novels, she yielded to me. We writhed around, breathless. Her lips were pillowy; I tasted our recently applied lipstick. She kissed in a languid, leisurely way, like a courtesan in a harem. She tasted like a divine mixture of cinnamon gum, cigarettes and vodka. Running her hands through my hair, her ‘50’s crystal “grandma” necklace clattered against my teeth as I covered her neck with a flurry of love bites. My head was spinning from a combination of cocktails and lust.
Suddenly The Minx sat up, grabbed my face, and whispered urgently,
“I’ve fantasized about this for so long!”
Dumbfounded for a moment, almost expecting her to say she was joking, I stuttered,
“This has been a dream of mine,” she said, as she rolled over on top of me, started undressing me slowly.
I felt goose bumps covering my entire body as her hands slid up my thighs, lightly snapping the elastic of my vintage garter belt.
We fooled around for a long time, our purses, petticoats and pumps littering the floor. We squirmed our way through the guys doing Billy Lee Riley’s “Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Jack Scott’s “The Way I Walk”, Warren Smith’s “Ubangi Stomp” and – how utterly appropriate- Buddy Holly’s nasty jump blues song about a cheating woman, “Annie’s Been Working On The Midnight Shift”.
It was not only completely thrilling to be with her- we were both feeling an illicit, delicious charge- having sex on a pristine bed, our friend’s parent’s bed, in a suburban ranch house, knowing that our unsuspecting boyfriends were in the very next room, completely oblivious to what we were doing. It was fabulous, wanton, and dirty as can be.
Finally, we both felt that we’d been AWOL for too long. I could hear my boyfriend and Colin belting out “Wake Up, Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers, so we took that as a call for reveille. Giggling and conspiratorial, we buckled up our push-up, bullet-shaped brassieres and hit the bathroom to comb our hair and fix our smudged lipstick.
The guys barely noticed us as we waltzed into the living room, asking like perky Eisenhower-era housewives if anyone wanted a cocktail. It was as though during our secret encounter we’d slid into a private Twilight Zone of teenage lust… and our boyfriends had no idea they’d provided the soundtrack!
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