One of the reasons I liked Hamilton was because it reminded me of the play Jim and I did, 1968. Both were done to a beat. were heavy on the couplets, and had some wacky, against the grain casting: blacks as whites, men as women, one dude obviously playing three different people. The two plays did not accurately reenact events. Rather, they relayed historical details in an entertaining way.
Acting went through a severe identity crisis in the 20th century. For millennia, stage actors had ruled the roost with exaggerated gestures and loud voices projected to the back of the theater. All this while supposedly whispering sweet nothings in their lover’s ears. It was just accepted by players and audiences that it was the way it was done.
With the advent of film, however, you could physically whisper without all the gimmickry. Relatively speaking. It was still coming across at decibel levels way above normal. But compared to the other sounds in the movie they were just right.
The biggest dilemma in the early days of film making was that all actors had been trained for the stage, a style too broad for cinema. It took decades to breed the ham out of the Barrymores.
When auteurs finally got what they wanted and realized what they had, the pressure in the 50’s and 60’s was to be as natural as possible. And no one did that better than Warhol in Sleep and Empire. So natural, soooo boring.
Once film found its Terms of Endearment niche, there was no way theater could physically compete. It resorted to schmaltzy musicals and endless examinations of self worth. With a smattering of social justice avenging thrown in now and then.
What Jim and Hamilton did was to stop spoon-feeding the audience and use a format that forces them to think.
Art is not a controlled environment where a + b = c. If the artist does their job creating a + b then c will have a million different values depending on the perceptions of the viewers.
There are no right or wrong answers in art. There are no answers at all. There’s only the experience.
I once had a fan tell me I reminded him of Mabel Mercer. At first I was offended. I remembered her as being kind of dog meat-ish, a little porky.
As I processed it, however, I thought of the many show business insiders who adored her. Frank Sinatra said she was the master of phrasing and timing. She taught him everything he knew.
If that’s what the fan meant, I’ll take it any day of the week.
August marks the 5th anniversary of ls2lsblog.com. I started in 2014 by circulating drafts to friends for their opinions. In particular, I wondered what Carl and Ellen thought.
Carl’s advice was to keep the pieces at 500 words. You can see how well I’ve done with that.
Ellen, on the other hand, had tried for two decades to engage me in a writing project. The things I showed her never passed muster. She was not mean about it but neither was she satisfied. Her responses were gentle but lethal. “Let me know if you want to continue this.”
When I read the first two words of her reply to the drafts I started to cry: “Well, well…..” It only took 20 years but I was finally on the right track. I’m still riding the fumes.
In late 2017 I promised readers a revamp and new feel for the blog. True to my word and a mere 22 months later that process begins today.
The emphasis is on archiving things of mine and things of the era. Up first is Act One of 1968.
I haven’t formulated an archive plan yet but my style has always been to force the issue then make sense of it later. The Mabel inside me says I can do this.
In 1971 egg nog was something Richard Nixon and distinguished diplomats sipped at Georgetown parties. Not drug addled, wafer thin, gay hippie boys in Bloomington, Indiana. That contradiction alone was enough to inspire my first big Christmas party.
The egg nog parties became an annual tradition. The first two were in Bloomington then five more after I moved to San Francisco. The last one was held in 1977 at a friend’s basement shop on Commercial Street in Chinatown. Nog was made available but also lots of champagne. So I rented about 8 dozen coupe glasses from Abbey Rents. By the end of the evening only one dozen remained.
It was the height of the punk era and destruction was the name of the game. Someone started it innocently by accidentally dropping their glass in the corner of the stairway. It was answered with a couple more throws into the corner. Soon it was a barrage, a constant din of shattering glass as every available coupe was hurled onto the pile. When no more glasses could be found, empty bottles were bounced off the walls.
I was left to clean up this heap of broken glass and repair the divots that had been taken out of the plaster. No dummy, I realized I’d lost my deposit on the glasses. But it had been entertaining so I rationalized it was cheaper than hiring a band.
Still, I didn’t have the courage to face Abbey Rents and asked David to take the survivors back on Monday. Even he, who can talk himself out of any situation, was at a loss. “What do I tell them?”
“Just say the buffet table collapsed.”
Posing with the debris, including that which was wrapped around my ankle
Madonna and child invite, 1975
Fragment from an unknown year
Art deco motifs were the rage in 1974. Among other things.
The 2nd annual was 6 weeks after the pink suit triumph. So we slapped some green and red on the theme and called it Christmas.
The 1976 film roll invitation
The spool of film invitation, 1976
The last egg nog party, 1977
David and me on the trash heap of egg nog memories
In 1976 Jim published the final edition of White Arms Magazine devoted completely to me. It was called the B-Centennial Issue.
We decided it needed some photos featuring gravesite drama so I packed up a bunch of friends and we headed to this fabulous cemetery in Oakland. An afternoon of bereavement hilarity followed.
Grandmother used to take me to antique auctions when I was a kid and at one there was this beautiful 19th Century silk crepe widow’s veil. I asked her to buy it for me because it reminded me of the assassination. During the photo shoot I held it in place with a black beret–just like Jackie.
Leading the national mourning
I received special catechism. My priest was from an obscure Orthodox Catholic sect.
Channelling Liz in Butterfield 8
Preparing to receive his holiness
Although a tear may be ever so near
I thought we ordered the carrera
Yet another vision for Father. I looked forward to the laying on of hands.
I miss Joan. I was in Chicago today and saw the Bowie Is show. My life flashed before me in the form of red grease paint over shaved eyebrows. If Miss Rivers was still doing Fashion Police I’m sure she’d feature me on “Who Wore it Best?” Or at the very least “Bitch Stole My Look.”
I loved seeing the costumes up close, especially the shoes. One pair of platforms were very similar to ones I’d had, 4″ high navy and white with pierced pinpoints. They resembled spectator pumps.
I liked his plain black flamenco boots. They had not been restored and you could see flaked leather around the bottoms. It reminded my of how hard platforms were to maintain. They were always scuffed up from being kicked in bars. Or in my case, being drug through gutters.
There were a few too many handwritten notes and lyric sketches for my taste in the exhibit, things you can see in a book and don’t need to visit a museum for. But the audio grounded the whole thing.
I’m used to typical museum technology of typing “21” into the headset when you were at exhibit 21. “Bowie Is” had wifi earphones. You’d be listening to Changes then take a few steps and you’d hear Heroes. Back and forth, the music kept up with you.
The song that surprised me most was Boys Keep Swinging. I had forgotten about it but have always loved it. And Bowie nailed the drag in the video, so disaffected with a hint of manliness.
Of the many things I walked away with from the museum, including Terryworld from the gift shop, I kept thinking of the short BBC clip when he was 17. He was group spokesman leading a rebellion of the long hairs. Apparently things had gotten so bad for these boys they’d even been referred to as “darling.” Davey Jones’ hubris was impressive. Such conviction for something so silly.
Keith Richards always said that Bowie was just posing. Which I thought too except that his music has always affected me. Therein lies the rub.
I’d like to write a story about these pictures I found but I don’t even remember them being taken. Just a quite evening at home with my best friend, the bottle, circa 1977.
One of my all time favorite spins on a celebrity PR crisis was when nude photos leaked of Vanessa Williams and she lost her Miss America crown. Her defense was she thought they were “only shooting silhouettes.”
I never liked wearing wigs and, as you can see, they were often treated as an afterthought.
Mark sent me a link to a New York Magazine article about a tony bay front cabin in Provincetown. The pictures conveyed all the sterile lifelessness of a very talented decorator. But we remembered it when it funked.
In the summer of 1972 Mark and two other Bloomington friends decided to work in this quaint little artists’ (wink wink) colony. In July three of us joined them at Captain Jack’s Wharf, a beaten down place that slept two but held six that week.
My friends’ first jobs were at the fish processing pier a hundred yards down the street. They lasted only a week. The constant waft of putrefied sea life lasted all summer.
My favorite memory is of the nights at Piggies, a ramshackle little dive bar on the outskirts of town. You could dance there. The crowd was a mix of gay and straight, half-naked because there was no AC. Sweat flew to a constant onslaught of James Brown. It was a love shack if there ever was one.
Dancing in public was such a weird thing in the early 1970’s. My generation wanted to shake it but there was no place to go. In San Francisco you’d hear that you could dance at a certain bar on a certain night or that this one place had a jukebox if things didn’t get out of hand. But rumors abounded of police busts, mafia connections and liquor licenses being revoked. Discotheque was a 1960’s word, disco had yet to be invented.
Then in 1975 the first great gay dance bar opened, Buzzby’s on Polk Street. It was a small space we all crammed into. It was soon followed by Oil Can Harry’s at Ellis and Larkin.
Oil Can’s was huge and always crowded on the weekends. Attendance would fall off during the week, however, so they would often do promotions. One Wednesday they did a Nostalgia ’77 contest.
The trend of the day was for the 1950’s: Grease, Sha-Na-Na and Happy Days were on everyone’s minds. Not me, I wanted my Carnaby Street back. That night I wore a red vinyl mini-tunic, an asymmetrical bob wig, and go-go boots. In a sea of circle skirts, saddle shoes and pony tails, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I won.
In 1978 I met Brian. He talked to our mutual friend Kathy about entering The Outrageous Beauty Contest at the Fab Mab and she told him bluntly, “you’ll never win it without B.” So he called me and we started working on it.
With “outrageous” the theme, the elements of judging included: swimsuit–me in a mesh two piece with picture hat walking my poodle Brian; musical–I played the Hallelujah Chorus on a toy piano in a Bishop’s miter while he sang; and cooking–Brian did a Julia Child impression making a sauce then called for his assistant. I appeared in an outfit of tiered spaghetti and he dumped the putanseca over my head.
Our finale was Jack & Jackie. He laid on the catafalque with his exposed brain matter (doctored tripe) while I stood behind him in the pink suit reciting poignant passages from the Inaugural Address. We won.
In 1979 Ted Kennedy was planning to run for president. For Halloween I went as “Joan, the next Kennedy widow.” I wore a sleek black suit and a blonde fall which looked sexy even though no one got who I was. Brian and I went over to the Castro to hang out for a while then decided to head back to Polk.
There were no cabs so I took off my stilettos and walked the two miles in my stocking feet. At the ‘N Touch we saw some kind of competition on stage and heard a big crowd. Brian said, “put your shoes on, we’re going in.”
A drag queen was hosting a contest and pulling audience members up on the stage. She didn’t have much presence and came across as a control freak more interested in rules and regulations than in entertaining. She spotted me and called me up.
I’ve been on stage many times and live for that indefinable moment I am now going to try to define. It feels like a surge where individuals in the audience meld into an monolith of energy you fight. It’s not an a+b=c thing that can be programmed, it just happens sometimes. And when it does it’s better than any drug I’ve ever done (which I’ll save for another post.)
It happened that night at the ‘N Touch and all I had to do was slither and goad. The crowd loved it. After I did my turn I crossed the stage for the “interview portion” of the competition. The MC clearly resented my popularity and I only made things worse by being flip with my answers.
I found Brian afterwards who said “you’re going to win this.” We stayed and had a drink as the MC’s dreadful patter brought down the room. The electricity I’d felt on stage quickly dissipated into general mulling and indifference.
Finally she started naming the winners, corny best this and best that awards. Then the countdown began with fifth runner-up. When she got to third the crowd had had enough. They started chanting and stomping in unison “We want blond-ie! We want blond-ie!” It got so loud it drowned out the hapless hostess.
Brian dashed to the Ma and Pa store next door and returned just as I was pronounced the winner. He had a couple of bottles of cheap bubbly that he shook violently. As I took my victory lap on stage I popped them to spray the audience. Everyone went wild. Except the MC who shouted, “That does it! Get off the stage! You’re out of the competition!”
So what. Who needs titles when you have hearts and minds.
When my upstairs neighbor Jim was in the final stages of moving out last June we decided we couldn’t ignore the store-room we shared downstairs any longer. We spent an evening pulling out stuff, laughing and tossing. And marveling at a couple of discoveries we made like his Tahitian grog bowl and this picture of me.
Mark and Charley did this as the centerfold for the 1968 program. I had the original framed with all the printers marks intact and gave it to my friend Brian. He wanted to redo it and glam it up, take off the markings and put it in a glitzier frame. I wouldn’t let him. I liked exposing the process.
As natural as the image may seem, there’s a lot that goes into making a legend. It’s not as easy as it looks.