Saturday, 21 November 2015

Grace in Your Face! Grace Jones in London

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/ "I was born … I came out of my mother feet first. I arrived kicking and pissed off, sticky with fury, soaked to the skin. I was what’s known as a stargazing fetus as well, my neck fully extended. From the very beginning I was going against the grain and making trouble.” Excerpt from I'll Never Write My Memoirs, 2015 /

“Late one night last week, after dreamily listening to the great Dinah Washington on my car radio, I was knocked out to hear the inimitable voice of Grace Jones come crackling out over a Caribbean/Mediterranean/Eurodisco beat I'd never heard before. It was "Pars," sung by Grace in moody French. .. Recorded in 1980, "Pars" still sounds utterly fresh.  What an extraordinary pop personality Grace Jones was! Oh, how I'd love to see that mannish battalion of glowering, stylish Jones clones in the "Demolition Man" video tread and trample on today's simpering crop of Zellwegger-Paltrow-Diaz-Flockhart wimpettes.... Amazing Grace, pagan diva!” Pop culture provocateur Camille Paglia writing in one of her columns in 1998.

So ... I had a fleeting encounter with post-punk freak diva extraordinaire Grace Jones recently! 

The Jamaica-born tigress was signing copies of her autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs at the big Piccadilly branch of Waterstone’s on 12 November. It was meant to start at 5 pm. I got there at 6 pm after work and was advised by a Waterstone’s employee Jones herself had just arrived – which counts as being early by Jones’ notorious standard. 

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/ Jones was on her best behavior in London.  For her book-signing session at Barnes & Noble in New York in October, she rocked-up two hours late - and flashed her "raspberry ripples" to the awaiting photographers /

As each of us in the queue gradually filtered into the room and caught our first glimpse of the Afro-Dietrich and panther-in-human-form seated at the table we all gave an involuntary gasp. Up close, the 60-something Jones (she’s vague about her precise age. She’s meant to be 67 in human years) is jaw-droppingly, eye-poppingly exquisite beyond belief and preternaturally ageless. She was wearing a skimpy, flesh-exposing black dress and a dramatic black 1920s flapper-style hat. Beautiful gleaming white teeth, chiselled bone structure worthy of Nefertiti and the most glowing unlined dark mocha skin (especially around the décolletage. Yeah, you better believe I checked it out). 

It was like an assembly line designed to move us past Jones with our signed copy of the book as fast as possible. She was surprisingly un-intimidating: Jones is famous for that haughty dominatrix-from-outer-space persona but in person she exudes warmth and was smiling the whole time. But what charisma: it’s probably the equivalent to meeting the likes of Marlene Dietrich or Josephine Baker in their prime. When it was my turn, I’m pretty sure she called me “darling” when she glanced up at me. I quickly asked her when her long-awaited new CD is due out and – straight from Jones’ mouth – was told spring or summer 2016. 

Sadly photography was strictly forbidden – and it was strictly enforced by security men dotted around the room. Everyone there was itching to get a shot of Grace and the guards were quick to pounce as soon as someone tried to aim their iPhone in her direction! The closest to a shot of Jones I could get was this when a striking hardcore male fan in immaculate Grace Jones drag rocked up to join the queue. Taking photos of him was permitted! In retrospect, I should have waited around to see Jones’ reaction when she came face-to-face with her adoring lookalike.

Grace Jones Lookalike

/ OK not a photo of Grace Jones - but a very close facsimile! Kalypso Bang at Grace Jones' book signing. 12 November 2015 at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstone's in London /

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/ Right! I subsequently learned the fan in Grace Jones drag is called Kalypso Bang. And I've shamelessly swiped this shot from his Facebook page! This happened after I split. I'm so glad they loosened the "no photos" rule so this meeting could be documented /

Some of my favourite excerpts from I'll Never Write My Memoirs:

“I met Marianne Faithfull that New Year’s Eve (1977). She once said she never hung out at Studio 54, that she didn’t have the clothes or the desire. She was definitely there, though, unless I’m making it up. Maybe it was the only time she went. I remember it well, because that was the moment she introduced me to Cocoa Puffs: marijuana cigarettes laced with cocaine. I would call them Mariannes, because she was the first person I smoked them with.” 

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/ This shot is from a few years after their Studio 54 encounter, when Jones and Faithfull were Island Records’ reigning bad girls / art-punk divas in the New Wave-era. I've loved the music of these two since I discovered them in my teens. I continue to listen to both Jones and Faithfull to this day /

"With Richard (Bernstein), I had played with the Marlene Dietrich imagery, my head on her body in the sailor suit. Jean-Paul (Goude) saw me as the black Dietrich. There was something about the idea of her he wanted to update ... I had a friend, Patrice Calmettes, who managed at (Parisian nightclub) Le Palace after Fabrice died. Patrice and I are very close, and he was close friends with Marlene Dietrich. When I was with him one night he put me on the phone.  I said “Hello” in my usual deep voice. And she said, “Well, you sound just like me.”  It was close to the end of her life and she had become a recluse – she didn’t leave her apartment or speak to many people. Patrice was one of those she still spoke to. Our conversation was very brief: “We have the same voice,” she purred. She wished me all the best."

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/ Jones channeling Dietrich /

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Further reading:

I blogged my account of seeing Jones perform at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010 here.

Check out my photos of Jones performing at The Roundhouse in Camden in 2009 here. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Lobotomy Room 30 October 2015 DJ Set List

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/ Morbidly beautiful cadaverous cutie / glamour ghoul pin-up, part one: 1950s horror movie hostess, actress and confidante of James Dean, Vampira (aka Maila Nurmi, 1922-2008) - seen here in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Check out her finger nails - and that freaky emaciated waist! /

As promised / threatened on the Facebook events page:

It’s the night before Halloween! Time to awaken the ghost of Jayne Mansfield and twist your head off at LOBOTOMY ROOM!

Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock'n'roll - when LOBOTOMY ROOM returns to its new home, the subterranean Bamboo Lounge of Dalston's Art Deco vice palace Fontaine's!

At last - a club night for the hillbilly beau monde! LOBOTOMY ROOM! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! A spectacle of decadence for the permissive Continentally-minded! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Bad Music for Bad People! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted Tittyshakers! Punk Cretin Hops! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs The Cramps Taught Us, hosted by DJ Graham Russell (of Dr Sketchy and Cockabilly notoriety). Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! 

Costumes are welcome but not obligatory - but I'll inevitably throw in some Halloween novelty songs ("Goo Goo Muck", "Graveyard Rock" by Tarantula Ghoul, "Dead Man's Stroll" by The Revels - hell, even "Monster Mash")

Admission: FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

A tawdry good time guaranteed!

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/ Morbidly beautiful cadaverous cutie / glamour ghoul pin-up, part two : actress Gloria Holden (1903 - 1991), unforgettable as a lesbianic vampiress in the lead role in Dracula’s Daughter (1936) /

Lobotomy Room (my monthly punkabilly booze party! Wild! Wild! Wild!) is, of course, usually located in the subterranean Bamboo Lounge in the basement of Fontaine’s. That was reserved for a private party this night, so I moved upstairs to the plush Art Deco splendour of the ground-floor bar with the silver-painted palm trees. Although the lighting was dark and Fontaine’s was decorated for Halloween, it still felt like I was dragging the elegant 1930s surroundings down to my putrid level. The only downside to re-locating upstairs: I couldn't project my usual vintage erotica

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/ Morbidly beautiful cadaverous cutie / glamour ghoul pin-up, part three: Carroll Borland (1914 - 1994) as Luna Mora, eerily silent vampire daughter of Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) in horror movie classic Mark of The Vampire (1935). As Luna in her trailing white funeral shroud, Borland created the archetype of the sexy female vampire, paving the way for everyone from Morticia Addams,Vampira , Lily Munster and Elvira. She also may well have been the original goth! /

I didn’t particularly market this Lobotomy Room as a Halloween party (for one thing, Fontaine’s already had a Halloween-themed night lined-up for Halloween proper the following night). But how could I miss the opportunity to exhume a couple of kitsch atomic-era Halloween novelty songs? I played two tunes by campy 1950s horror movie hostess Tarantula Ghoul (well, the A side and B side of her only single!). In a just world, Ghoul’s “Graveyard Rock” would be celebrated as a Halloween perennial just like Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash” (which I brought and totally intended to play – but forgot!). No one can resist the theme tunes from TV’s The Addams Family (those finger snaps!) and The Munsters (that twangy surf guitar!).  I also dug up some macabre tittyshaker instrumentals with blood-curdling screaming and groaning (“Rigor Mortis” by The Gravestone Four, “It” by The Regal-aires).  Playing something by The CrampsThe Addams Family / Munsters of punk and a band for whom every day was Halloween – was obviously compulsory.  (To embrace the spirit of things, I also wore the Vampira t-shirt I bought at Viva Las Vegas in April 2015).

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/ Morbidly beautiful cadaverous cutie / glamour ghoul pin-up, part four: Tarantula Ghoul. Like Vampira before her and Elvira afterwards, Ghoul provided campy comedic introductions to horror films as the macabre Morticia Addams-like hostess of her weekly TV show called House of Horror (1957-1959) in Portland, Oregon.  Sadly no footage of her show survives, but backed by The Gravediggers, Ghoul cut one immortal Halloween novelty single in her brief heyday: "Graveyard Rock" / "King Kong" /

Otherwise I aimed to keep things characteristically weird’n’sleazy. As per usual, I worked in my “chicken suite”, desperate rhythm and blues, foreign language cover versions (I’ve had a CD by vivacious Brazilian 1960s pop siren Wanderléa for years from when I used to have a Brazilian boyfriend. I don’t know why I’ve never used it DJ’ing. I love her berserk Portuguese-language rendition of Ike and Tina’s “River Deep Mountain High”. It’s so wrong it’s right) and some cooing 1960s “white girl with problems” singers via the cinema of Kenneth Anger, John Waters and David Lynch. In honour of what would have been the recent 70th birthday of The Queen Mutha of us all, I played a track by Divine (19 October 1945 – 7 March 1988). Suitably for Halloween, the song in question – “Hard Magic” – features some howling werewolf sound effects. And not one but two punk freak-outs by wacky German New Wave diva Nina Hagen: I’m on a one-man mission to have her reappraised as a genius unsung maverick post-punk outsider artist somewhere between a white Grace Jones and Klaus Nomi. (Trust me: this is a very lonely pursuit).

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High Wall - The Fabulous Wailers
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Torture Rock - Rockin' Belmarx
Alligator Wine - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
The Munsters' Theme - Milton DeLugg and Orchestra
I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch - Eartha Kitt
Graveyard Rock - Tarantula Ghoul
Theme from the Addams Family - The Fiends
Rigor Mortis - The Gravestone Four
Vampira - Bobby Bare
A Cheat - The Earls of Suave
Rockin' at The Graveyard - Jackie Morningstar
Goo Goo Muck - Ronnie and The Gaylads
Sinner - Freddie and The Hitchhikers
Jukebox Baby - Alan Vega
Spooky - Lydia Lunch
Jungle Fever - Charlie Feathers
Tough Chick - The Rockbusters
It - The Regal-aires
Big Bad Boss Beat - The Teen Beats
Her Love Rubbed Off - Carl Perkins
Bombora - The Original Surf-aris
Love Me - The Phantom
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Chicken Rock - Fat Daddy Holmes
Chicken - The Cramps
Chicken Walk - Hasil Adkins
Run Chicken Run - Link Wray
King Kong - Tarantula Ghoul
Torture - Kris Jensen
I Wish I Were a Princess - Little Peggy March
I've Told Every Little Star - Linda Scott
Little Miss Understood - Connie Stevens
Wipe-Out - The Surfaris
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
Gostaria de saber (River Deep Mountain High) - Wanderléa
My Boy Lollipop - Sakura and The Quests
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot
Margaya - The Fender Four
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
Shortnin' Bread - The Readymen
Khrushchev Twist - Melvin Gayle
Surfin' Bird - The Trashmen
I Want You, I Need You, I Love You - Elvis Presley (played in error!)
Woo-Hoo - The Rock-A-Teens
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad - Tammy Wynette
Intoxica - The Centurions
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Revelion - The Revels
Where's My Money? Willie Jones
Money, Money - Big John Taylor
Bewildered - Shirley and Lee
Beatnik - The Champs
Beat Girl - ZZ en de Maskers
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Big Girls Don't Cry - Edith Massey
Hard Magic - Divine
Johnny Are You Queer? Josie Cotton
Your Phone's Off the Hook - The Ramonetures
It's a Gas - The Rumblers
Breathless - Arlie Neaville
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
Rock Around the Clock - The Sex Pistols
Ah Poor Little Baby - Billy "Crash" Craddock
Year 1 - X
Comin' Home, Baby - The Delmonas
Twist Talk - Jack Hammer
Viens danser le twist - Johnny Hallyday
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Fist City - Loretta Lynn
Funnel of Love - Wanda Jackson
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Breathless - X
Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold? Joe Perkins and The Rookies
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
I Live the Life I Love - Esquerita
Rock-A-Hula Baby - Elvis Presley
Honolulu Rock'n'Roll - Eartha Kitt
Bop Pills - Macy "Skip" Skipper
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
Aphrodisiac - Bow Wow Wow
My Way - Nina Hagen

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/ I was so busy sweatin' to the oldies behind the DJ booth all night I only managed to snatch a single photo all night - of Pal and Martin /

Further reading: 

Did you know Lobotomy Room now has its own official Facebook page? Like and follow it if you dare!

Read about all the previous antics at Lobotomy Rooms to date here,here,here,here,here,here,hereherehereherehere , here and here!

If you don't already, follow me on tumblr here. Warning - NSFW to the max!

And remember ... the next Lobotomy Room is Friday 27 November! Facebook events page here.

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Sunday, 1 November 2015

Cockabilly at The George & Dragon 29 October 2015 DJ Set List

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As promised / threatened on the Cockabilly Facebook page:

Drag a comb through your quiff, swallow a fistful of bop pills and rock around the cock – at COCKABILLY!
COCKABILLY returns to the louche surroundings of The George & Dragon in Shoreditch on Thursday 29 October 2015! Leather boys, gay greasers, cry-babies, prison wives and juvenile delinquents of all ages are welcome at Cockabilly - London’s only regular queer rockabilly night! With DJ Mal Nicholson and I spinning all your favourite rancid vintage sleaze classicks! Think rockabilly, rhythm and blues, surf, punk and tittyshakers!

The George & Dragon: 2-4 Hackney Road London E2 7NS



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Unbelievably, this was the first Cockabilly I got to DJ at since July 2015! For various reasons (being in Canada, job interviews the next day, etc) I had to skip the August and September ones. This is what I played in my concise and twang-y set!

Let's Go - Billy Eldridge
Do You Remember Rock'n'Roll Radio? The Ramonetures
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
River Deep Mountain High - Wanderléa 
Shout - Johnny Hallyday
Hanky Panky - Rita Chao and The Quests
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Big Bad Boss Beat - The Teen Beats
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold? Joe Perkins and The Rookies
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad - Tammy Wynette
Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires
He's the One - Ike and Tina Turner
Wailin' - The Fabulous Wailers
Killer - Sparkle Moore
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
Batman - Link Wray
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
Intoxica - The Revels

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Further reading:

A bleak development - it was confirmed in August 2015 that The George & Dragon as we've known and loved it won't be around for much longer. (You should have seen the wailing and gnashing of teeth on Facebook the day this was announced). This is gutting news as The George & Dragon pretty much represents the epicentre of gay bohemia in London. Not that that counts for much in the current climate. It's yet another casualty of the ruthless gentrification rampaging through London, which has gradually seen all my favourite East End gay bars (like The Nelson's Head and The Joiner's Arms) become casualties. The George & Dragon is in the process of being sold at the moment so it's hard to gauge how many more Cockabillies we will have there. Obviously Mal and I will stick it out there for as long as we can - and hunt for a new venue for Cockabilly afterwards. In the meantime: better come and show The George & Dragon some love while you still can! Read about the imminent closure of The George & Dragon here.

Read all about the sordid antics at previous Cockabillies hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere,  here, herehereherehereherehere and here.

Follow my tumblr blog (also called Bitterness Personified) for all your retro, kitsch and vintage homo porn needs! Warning - it contains adult situations!

Lobotomy Room is, of course, my own Mondo Trasho punkabilly booze party last Friday of every month at Dalston's Art Deco boîte de nuit Fontaine's. (In Fontaine's basement Tiki-themed Bamboo Lounge, to be precise!). The next one is Friday 27 November 2015. Before that: I'm tentatively tip-toeing into hosting a low-key monthly film club - with an emphasis on camp, queer and cult curiosities - in the Bamboo Lounge called "Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies!" If it succeeds, it will be the last Tuesday of every month. Admission is free. The debut film night is Tuesday 23 November and the first film will be the torrid Marlene Dietrich vehicle Seven Sinners (1940). Full details can be found here.

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/ Above: Marlene Dietrich in full butch naval drag king mode in Seven Sinners (1940). Come see it at Fontaine's on Tuesday 23 November 2015! /

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/ And finally: in the spirit of Cockabilly, to reward all you aficionados of firm male flesh for reading this far - some totally gratuitous vintage beefcake nudity! Catch you next time / 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddamn One of Them ...): John Waters at The BFI

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For London-based sensationalism freaks like me, surely the cultural highlight of autumn 2015 was The British Film Institute’s exhaustive John Waters retrospective It Isn’t Very Pretty: The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddamn One of them...) from 1 September – 6 October. The acme of the season saw the Sultan of Sleaze himself jet into London to make personal appearances on the weekend of 18-20 September. And once again I managed to bask in my filth elder’s ambiance.

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/ The early years: John Waters and his ultimate leading lady and muse Divine photographed in San Francisco in 1970 /

Courtesy of my film journalist friend Damon Wise (a long-time Waters confidante), I got into the 100% sold-out "John Waters in Conversation" event on Friday 18 September as his “plus one” guest. Waters was interviewed onstage about career (illustrated with well-chosen clips from his films) and then fielded questions from the audience. The “peoples’ pervert” was on scintillating form throughout – the man is a supreme raconteur.

My favourite part of Waters’ onstage discussion: he was asked about the inspiration behind Divine’s striking appearance as bitch goddess extraordinaire Dawn Davenport in his 1974 masterpiece Female Trouble. He explained that while Divine revered Liz Taylor (to the point that Divine smoked Salems - the same brand of cigarettes Taylor was known to prefer - in tribute) and that the fatter Taylor got, the more she actually began to resemble Divine – the real source for Dawn Davenport was the beehive-haired, heavily made-up mother in Diane Arbus’ famous 1966 photo “A Young Brooklyn Family Going for a Sunday Outing, N.Y.C.”

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/ A Young Brooklyn Family Going for a Sunday Outing, N.Y.C (1966) by Diane Arbus /

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/ Divine as Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble (1974) /

Afterwards Damon smuggled me into The BFI’s elite VIP green room (as you may recall, the last time I was in there I was seated directly opposite Fifties Hollywood heartthrob Tab Huntersigh!). Waters was holding court amongst his entourage before introducing a screening of Serial Mom and then doing a book-signing session. (He’s the hardest working man in show business!).  It was a strange and interesting mix of people. Water’s London friends included Helena Kennedy QC (Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws), fuchsia-haired fashion doyenne Zandra Rhodes, talk show host Graham Norton and (most glamorous of all) transgender pioneer April Ashley (with a mane of silver bouffant hair, clad in a flowing green caftan).  I only spoke to Waters very briefly on the Friday night. I told him that when I was in New Orleans in April I made a point of going to his two favourite seedy dive bars – the Corner Pocket (hustler bar where the boys dance on the bar in the underwear – reportedly the inspiration for The Fudge Palace in Waters’ film Pecker) and The Double Play (clientele is mainly trans prostitutes, hustlers, their johns and junkies). “Isn’t the Corner Pocket great?” Waters enthused.

The night of Saturday 19 September saw the high potentate of trash taking the stage at The BFI again (he wore a different striking Comme des Garcons ensemble at every appearance), this time to introduce his freaky and deliciously nasty raw early film Multiple Maniacs (1970). I was accompanied by Mia, part of the duo behind The Amy Grimehouse interactive cult film collective. It’s a sentimental favourite of mine (I first saw it on VHS as a university student in Canada – it truly warped me), sadly unavailable on DVD. The close-ups of Divine – still an embryonic young starlet on the ascent – grinning maniacally and foaming at the mouth and hippie-punk bad girl Cookie Mueller go-go dancing topless are life-affirming sights.  The vomit-eater, bicycle seat-licker, junkie in withdrawal and two men kissing on the lips like lovers in Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions warmed my heart. And crucially, Multiple Maniacs represents the film debut of the much-loved gap-toothed “outsider” character actress and punk pensioner Edith Massey.

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/ Above: David Lochary in Multiple Maniacs (1970) /

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/ Joan Crawford in her final film Trog (1970) /

The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddamn One of Them ...): John Waters at The BFI

/ John Waters introducing Trog onstage at The BFI on Sunday 20 September 2015. Photo by Pal /

Sunday afternoon I returned to The BFI with my boyfriend Pal to see Waters introduce one of his specially-chosen, personal favourites Trog (1970). (As a kind of side-bar to the main event, Waters curated his own mini-season of his much-loved British films called Teabaggin’ in the Kitchen Sink). I’d never seen Trog before:  the low-budget, ultra-kitsch (and very enjoyable) British sci fi / horror film starring a desiccated and down-on-her luck Joan Crawford (in her last-ever screen role) opposite a guy in a gorilla mask, loincloth and fur booties playing a “missing link” troglodyte on-the-rampage. Crawford is actually majestic in Trog: such steely conviction and professionalism in spite of the mortifying circumstances. We’d been promised that a secret special guest would join Waters onstage afterwards. It turned out to be Trog himself – the man behind the gorilla mask! The role was played by wrestler Joe Cornelius (stage name: The Dazzler). Now in his eighties and very hard of hearing, Cornelius nonetheless looked great in a shiny gold suit (very old-school Vegas showman) and regaled us with stories about the making of Trog - in particular his leading lady. (He was very gracious and chivalrous discussing Crawford – who, he insisted, was not drunk the whole time nor a temperamental Hollywood diva. Apparently she sent him Christmas cards for years afterwards!).

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/ Above: Wrestler Joe Cornelius (aka The Dazzler) in his prime /

That Sunday afternoon after Trog represented the last opportunity to see Waters’ rarely-seen early short films:  the Super 8 home movie juvenilia he made as a teenager fired up by the underground cinema of Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger, which we've all only read about in his 1981 book Shock Value. These works are sealed in Waters’ personal vault and almost never get public airings – they represent year zero for John Waters fanatics like me. Frustratingly, The BFI made seeing them as difficult as possible: they were shown in the cinema’s smallest room and tickets were sold on the day in a first come-first serve basis. Managing to get a ticket was the equivalent of winning the lottery! Sadly, the final screening sold out even before I could attempt to queue for the tickets! So I'll probably never see Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964), Roman Candles (1966) or Eat Your Make-Up (1968) now – they will exist only in my imagination! Damon even went to the box office to plead on my behalf – but with no success.

The silver lining: instead, Damon snuck me back into the green room and we got to hang out with Waters again.  This time there were only maybe five of us in there and Waters was on relaxed, loquacious form while he autographed stacks of his books (mainly Carsick) for the BFI's book store and killed time until he introduced a screening of Cecil B Demented later on. I told him I went to see his friend, veteran sex kitten and camp icon Pia Zadora's jazz revue at Italian restaurant Piero’s when I was in Vegas in April 2015. Waters spoke about her with genuine affection and concern (“Did it do well? Did people like it?” Apparently Zadora’s recent residency in Los Angeles wasn’t so successful. I suspect Vegas is her natural habitat).

Interviewed for the September 2015 issue of Sight & Sound magazine to promote The BFI retrospective, Waters had reminisced about how as teenagers he and Divine used to attend Ike and Tina Turner gigs in the sixties when they’d perform in Baltimore and what a big influence feral wigged-out bold soul sister Tina was on his aesthetic. He told us he was flying to Switzerland the following morning for an art exhibit and spoken word gig. Switzerland is, of course, also where retired rhythm and blues tigress Tina now resides. Waters has written about how over the decades he managed to meet most of his heroes: the disparate likes of Little Richard, Nico, Johnny Mathis, Elizabeth Taylor, William S Burroughs. I asked him if he's ever met Tina Turner and Waters exclaimed, “No!” He admitted he’s afraid to in case he's disillusioned - or if Turner was angry with him. Considering Waters has said in the past that Tina was at her best when she was still with Ike, wearing a ratty wig and still had a moustache, Turner’s reaction to meeting him would bound to be interesting. Waters also pointed out for one of his earlier art exhibits he commissioned a conceptual sculpture of a giant Ike Turner manipulating a marionette puppet of Tina. He suspected she wouldn’t see the funny side of that! Finally, we all bade Waters goodbye when the car arrived to take him back to the hotel. It was a truly great end to the weekend.

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Postscript: Waters may have departed London, but for me The BFI season properly ended the following Sunday (27 September) when Pal and I went to see Boom! (one of Waters’ Teabaggin’ in the Kitchen Sink selections).

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/ Elizabeth Taylor in Boom! (1968) /

“If you don’t like this film, I hate you.” John Waters

Boom! The shock of each moment of still being alive!

It was a real trip to re-visit Boom!, the berserk and baroque 1968 Joseph Losey-directed film adaptation of the flop Tennessee Williams play starring Liz Taylor (in her fleshy, caftan-wearing era) and an alcohol-ravaged Richard Burton. The brawling, hard-drinking Taylor and Burton were reportedly drunk for most of the filming of Boom! (Pal and I got into the spirit of things by downing powerful Bloody Marys beforehand). I’d only ever seen Boom! once before – and that was way back in 2011 when I saw it at The Institute of Contemporary Art with my much-missed late friend Alison. (Alison was a major Liz Taylor fan – I’ll always associate Boom! with Alison).  Trying to make sense of it, I blogged about Boom! at the time. You can read it here. 

Boom! is, of course, one of Waters’ most-cherished films – he appreciates it as a “failed art movie” and has written extensively and eloquently about it and even taken the film on tour, introducing it beforehand. (Famously, Waters once attended a July the fourth party at Liz Taylor’s Hollywood home in the eighties. He made the mistake of telling her how much he loved Boom! Assuming he was making fun of her, Taylor took offence, flew into a rage and shouted, “That’s a terrible movie!”).

Yes, Boom! is awful in many ways, but it’s toweringly, majestically, compellingly bad. It’s mind-boggling. And no one delivers Williams’ most overwrought dialogue quite like Taylor in full scenery-chewing mode. “You can watch [Boom!] a hundred times and never know if Losey meant it to be camp,” Waters has mused. “Camp isn’t the right word. Camp means “so bad it’s good.” This is not “so bad it’s good.” This is so bad it’s art. This is so bad it’s confusing. Or this is so great it’s confusing. You don’t ever know the tone of it. It is, to this day, mysterious to me.”

Further reading: I've blogged about John Waters - one of my key and most treasured inspirations - many times over the years. Read 'em all! My epic 2010 interview with Waters for Nude magazine. When John Waters Met Nico. A Reunion with the Prince of Puke Part 1 (2011). John Waters' Christmas Show at The Royal Festival Hall in 2011. The Amy Grimehouse John Waters Filth Festival in 2014. Reunion with the Prince of Puke Part 2 (2014). Reflections on John Waters' book Role Models

Friday, 11 September 2015

Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee

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[I wrote this book review for the essential Beige website earlier this summer. I’m posting it here too for posterity. I know from when I used to write for alternative arts and culture Nude magazine, online articles can sometimes vanish over time]

Author James Gavin has previously written absorbing biographies of twentieth century jazz luminaries like Chet Baker and Lena Horne. In his latest effort he focuses on definitive sultry blonde torch singer Peggy Lee (1920 – 2002).

As with his earlier subjects Gavin writes with precision and eloquence about their artistry and the qualities that made them unique. For Lee, it was her trademark alluring cool restraint and ultra-minimalism. Vocally she conveyed maximum emotional (and erotic) impact with little more than a smoky, languid murmur (“a tough purr,” Gavin calls it “... that kicked open the bedroom door”).  Without ever resorting to wailing, belting or breaking a sweat, Lee – arguably the great white jazz seductress of the last century - could be alternately soulful, sensual, bluesy, melancholy or swinging.  Her primary vocal influences were the intimate, effortless conversational styling of Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday. (According to Gavin, the latter actively resented the younger white upstart scoring hits from her songbook and getting rich in the process. “She stole every goddamn thing I sing,” Holiday reportedly grumbled). Presentation-wise, Lee emulated her idol Marlene Dietrich (flattering and dramatic onstage lighting, glittering sequinned gowns).

Reading Gavin’s insightful analysis, you find yourself yearning to re-visit Lee’s definitive musical statements like the finger-snapping “Fever”, the swirling Latin exotica of “Lover”(which Lee attacked “like a panther in heat”), “Johnny Guitar”, “I’m a Woman” (“a feminist anthem with a stripper beat”), “Black Coffee” and the supremely world-weary “Is That All There Is?”

But let’s face it, Beige readers like a bit of sensationalism and Gavin doesn’t disappoint: the gossip here is juicy. Gavin is exceptionally good on the neuroses, addictions and personal demons that drove the anguished musicians he writes about. His descriptions of the ageing and increasingly dysfunctional and self-destructive Lee’s twilight years ensconced in the darkened bedroom of her Hollywood mansion are almost eerie, verging on Sunset Boulevard or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? territory.

Lee’s serene and glamorous show business mask concealed a troubled, anxious and insecure woman. Onstage and on record her trademark persona was misty, mellow and slightly boozy. In fact Lee typically took to the concert stage benumbed and floating on a cloud of intoxicants. As Gavin reveals, this glazed-over, dreamy and detached demeanour was at least partly a side effect of the industrial quantities of cognac and later the tranquilisers Lee used to calm her nerves. (Valium. Seconal. Quaaludes – Lee popped ‘em all, Valley of the Dolls-style). “The queen of self-medication”, one of Lee’s retinue calls her. (Like all self-respecting divas, Lee went everywhere surrounded by an entourage. When crossed she could be vicious towards her employees).

In terms of myriad spectacular health crises (both real and psychosomatic) Lee’s only rival was Elizabeth Taylor. She loved to regale journalists with a litany of her illnesses and operations. (In the index at the end of Is That All There Is?, there is a separate lengthy sub-section devoted to “medical issues of PL”). Also like Taylor, Lee struggled with her weight. She had always lived with a commitment to old-school Hollywood glamour. As she aged and grew increasingly corpulent, that sensibility eventually tipped-over into unintended high camp. Multiple cosmetic surgery procedures left Lee’s face weirdly taut and expressionless. In fact, she underwent so many facelifts her hairline deeply receded (her hair had already thinned due to years of bleaching); Lee compensated with towering ringlet-festooned bouffant wigs that looked spun from meringue.

From the sixties onwards Lee gradually resembled a blowsy brothel madam or a drag queen imitating Mae West. It’s this fleshy and mature baroque Peggy Lee of the immobile face and forgiving diaphanous caftans that nightclub female impersonators like Jim Bailey and Craig Russell embraced – and reportedly was the inspiration for Miss Piggy of The Muppets, whose original full name was “Miss Piggy Lee” until Lee understandably objected.

And yet in Gavin’s compassionate account Lee ultimately emerges as a durable and tenacious survivor – albeit a wobbly, deeply-flawed and fallible one. Lee may have frequently been a temperamental pain in the ass, but no one disputed her talent. No matter how tormented her life offstage, Lee never lost the ability to mesmerise an audience. Perennially unlucky in love, she channelled her romantic disappointment into her music. A restless and uncompromising control freak, she fought her record labels for creative autonomy and challenged the Disney empire when she felt short-changed over royalties for the songs she composed for the 1955 Lady and The Tramp soundtrack. Long before the era of the singer-songwriter made it commonplace Lee frequently wrote her own lyrics. More than most of her pre-rock contemporaries, she strove to challenge herself and remain modern and relevant into the turbulent youth-dominated music scene of the sixties and seventies by covering contemporary pop hits - even though she received scant acclaim for it at the time and it alienated her conservative older fans. In the tradition of Edith Piaf, her passionate drive to sing saw Lee determinedly continuing to perform well into old age long after she was physically ailing and confined to a wheelchair. In her youth Lee endured hostile audiences, demanding bandleaders and the kind of tough, grit-building setbacks and indignities it’s difficult to imagine today’s performers tolerating. All examples of the iron will that propelled the former Norma Deloris Egstrom, a round-faced and nondescript farm girl from hardscrabble Depression-era rural North Dakota into the upper echelons of the music industry.

Reese Witherspoon is reportedly in negotiation with Lee’s family to make a Peggy Lee biopic. Certainly Lee’s life and career warrant the kind of deluxe film treatment already afforded Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Piaf. It will be interesting to see if the filmmakers do justice to the complex and volatile Peggy Lee.

Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee by James Gavin [£19.99 hardback available now. Simon & Schuster UK]

Bonus material: Gavin makes a persuasive argument that Peggy Lee’s great unsung masterpiece is Mirrors, her 1975 album of art-y, twisted dark neo-cabaret songs. It absolutely bombed on initial release both critically and commercially, but has since been reappraised as a "lost" cult album. Certainly the mysterious “The Case of M J” – which sounds like an off-kilter nursery rhyme or lullaby – must be the eeriest and most disturbed / disturbing thing Lee ever recorded.  In her most benumbed and deadpan voice, Lee seems to be describing the psyche of a mental patient or childhood abuse victim. It’s genuinely spine-tingling and David Lynch-ian. Once heard, never forgotten. “How old were you when your father went away? How old were you when your father went away ... ?”

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Lobotomy Room at Fontaine's DJ Set List 28 August 2015

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/ Ultra-twist like Jayne Mansfield - at Lobotomy Room! /

From the Facebook events page:

Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock'n'roll - at LOBOTOMY ROOM!

Leave all sense of shame and propriety at the door - when LOBOTOMY ROOM returns to its new home, the subterranean Bamboo Lounge of East London Art Deco boîte de nuit Fontaine's! Friday 28 August 2015!

At last - a club night for the hillbilly beau monde! LOBOTOMY ROOM! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! A spectacle of decadence for the permissive Continentally-minded! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted Tittyshakers! Punk Cretin Hops! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and other Weird Shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs The Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell (of Dr Sketchy and Cockabilly notoriety). Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock!

Admission: FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

A tawdry good time guaranteed!

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/ Twist, damn it, twist! Vicious 1964 sexploitation shocker Olga's Girls. See the sordid trailer here

Friday 28 August represented the third installment of my monthly Mondo Trasho punkabilly booze party Lobotomy Room (a club night to corrupt! Seething with intrigue! Where passion simmers and boils - waiting to explode!) at its new spiritual home / natural habitat, the basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s. It really felt like things were finally clicking into place. On a good rewarding night like this, doing a Lobotomy Room can feel like a shuddering nightmare of ecstasy.

One definite bonus: at last I’m using a venue with a properly functioning DVD player hooked-up to a big screen (Fontaine’s regularly hosts movie nights) and I can finally project rancid atomic-era vintage erotica while I DJ – an extra touch I’ve always yearned for! As well as sentimental favourites Varietease (1954) and Teaserama (1955) which feature burlesque icons like Tempest Storm, Bettie Page and cat-faced Lili St Cyr in their prime, I’ve added some more recent titillating acquisitions. No matter what I’m playing, the frantically go-go dancing ultra vixens like Lorna Maitland and Babette Bardot in Russ Meyer’s buxotic sexploitation masterpiece Mondo Topless (1966) seem to be shakin’ it in perfect time to the music. Later I pushed the envelope a bit (I waited until the end of the night when everyone was drunk and loosened-up) and stuck on a compilation of fifties and sixties beefcake homo porn from Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild focusing on bad boys and hoodlums (think sailors, prisoners, black leather-jacketed bikers and juvenile delinquents). One for the connoisseurs of (reform school-tattooed) firm male flesh! Well-stuffed posing pouches a go-go! Some of the female attendees (and probably some of the males, too) were mesmerized by the homoerotic spectacle.

But most crucially of all - it was a genuinely wild, liquored-up and game-for-a-laugh crowd. 

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/ Farewell to Yvonne Craig aka Batgirl /

I declared that this particular Lobotomy Room was in honour of the memory of actress Yvonne Craig (16 May 1937 - 17 August 2015) who’d died earlier in the month aged 78. In her acting career the beautiful former ballerina co-starred opposite Elvis Presley twice and played a sexy green-skinned alien girl in an episode of Star Trek - but Craig truly achieved immortality as Batgirl in the ultra-kitsch sixties Batman TV series. No one looked better in a sparkly purple catsuit. I cranked-up Link Wray’s twang-y version of the Batman theme tune LOUD in tribute to Yvonne Craig.  

Another perennial Lobotomy Room staple is the volatile royal couple of rhythm and blues Ike and Tina Turner. The September 2015 issue of Sight & Sound magazine boasts a fun wide-ranging interview with trash maestro John Waters in advance of the British Film Institute's comprehensive season of his films (It Isn’t Very Pretty ... The Complete Films of John Waters. 1 September – 6 October). Waters’ love of the tempestuous Turners is well-documented. In the article he recalls how as teenagers in sixties Baltimore he and Divine would attend Ike and Tina Turner Revue gigs when they came to town:
“I don’t care what anyone says, (Tina) was better when she was with him. I mean, I don’t blame her for leaving him, good for her, but ... We would see them at Unity Hall, it was a kind of working-class, blue-collar Union Hall. And they came in a broken-down green school bus with ‘Ike and Tina Revue’ painted on the side, like, hand-painted. And she looked like she did on the cover of ‘Dynamite’ [the Turners’ second album together released in 1963]: she had on a ratty wig, a mink coat, a moustache, springalotors, she did have a moustache. She was un-believe-ably great. And the Ikettes behind them were so great. It was a huge influence on Divine and I, Tina Turner. And I still love her. God knows, they could sing. They were unbelievable together. I saw them a couple times. And they’d sing “Don’t Play Me Cheap.” Oh my god ... she was an influence. More than anybody.”

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/ Below: a selection of intimate and revealing photos from the night /

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/ My co-hostess for the evening was the high-maintenance and temperamental but adorable Lulu. Everyone made a fuss over her all night. I took this shot at the beginning of the night before anyone arrived yet. Lulu was locked away downstairs with me in the Bamboo Lounge while I was setting up and she was determined to go back upstairs to the main bar. (She’s not averse to making manipulative whimpering noises to get sympathy). Lulu is one strong-willed bitch! What a diva! /

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/ Gypsy and Lulu: I instructed Gypsy to channel those sixties paparazzi shots of Jayne Mansfield cavorting with her pet chihuahua /

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/ Pal (my fancy man) and Ruby Martin (aka the former burlesque danceuse Emerald Fontaine), the glamorous boss lady of Fontaine's /

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/ Louise (in the sequins on the right) and friend /

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/ Lobotomy Room attracts the crème de la crème of bad girls /

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/ This is my usual befuddled expression behind the DJ booth. (I'm bathed in lurid green Frankenstein lighting from the neon sign behind me) /

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/ Portuguese Mario and Danny /

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/ A glimpse into my DJ bag /

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/ Dance floor mayhem /

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/ Always the centre of attention: Lulu got around /

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/ Cheesecake glamour shot of Gypsy /

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/ Mario, Danny and I /

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/ Pal and Danny having an intense conversation /

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/ Not sure if I'm trying to snap my fingers beatnik-style or give the finger here /

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/ Gypsy apparently channeling Divine in Pink Flamingos /

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/ Gypsy and I at the end of the night /

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/ Gypsy, pink flamingo and I: are these The Filthiest People in London? /

Let's Go, Baby - Billy Eldridge
Tear Drops from My Eyes - Ruth Brown [played in error! But there are far worse songs to play by mistake]
Tough Bounce - The Fabulous Wailers
Killer - Sparkle Moore [rare "screaming" version]
The Coo - Wayne Cochran
Sweet Little Pussycat - Andre Williams
Eight Ball - The Hustlers
Eager Beaver Baby - Johnny Burnette
Beaver Shot - The Periscopes
Drummin' Up a Storm - Sandy Nelson
I'm a Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther
I Was Born to Cry - Dion
Town without Pity - James Chance
Beatnik - The Champs
Bombora - The Original Surf-aris
Like a Rolling Stone - Mamie Van Doren
Stranger in My Own Home Town - Elvis Presley [x-rated version]
The Whip - The Originals
Ain't That Good? George Kelly and His Orchestra
Frenzy - The Hindus
I Wish I Were a Princess - Little Peggy Marsh
Monkey Bird - The Revels
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Misirlou - Martin Denny
Taita Inty (Virgin of the Sun God) - Yma Sumac
Uska Dara - Eartha Kitt
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Johnnie Lee - Faye Adams
Little Queenie - Bill Black's Combo
Sick and Tired - Lula Reed
I Learn a Merengue, Mama - Robert Mitchum
One Mint Julep - Sarah Vaughan
Go Calypso - Mamie Van Doren
Green Mosquito - The Tune Rockers
A Fool Such as I - The Earls of Suave
Fever - Nancy Sit
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Rockin' the Joint - Esquerita
Goodbye So Long - Ike and Tina Turner
Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
Dangerous Lips - The Drivers
Taboo - The Shangaans
No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia
Your Groovy Self - Nancy Sintra
Save It - Mel Robbins
Jailhouse Rock - Judy Nylon
Scorpion - The Carnations
Hoy Hoy - The Collins Kids
Let's Have a Party - Wanda Jackson
Dragon Walk - The Noble Men
Twist Talk - Jack Hammer
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
Let's Twist Again - Johnny Hallyday
Twistin' the Night Away - Divine
Khrushchev Twist - Melvin Gayle
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Batman - Link Wray
Your Phone's Off the Hook - The Ramonetures
Breathless - X
Rock Around the Clock - The Sex Pistols
Heartbreak Hotel - Buddy Love
Little Girl - John and Jackie
Margaya - The Fender Four
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
Big Bad Boss Beat - The Teen Beats
Woo Hoo - The Rock-A-Teens
Wipe Out - The Surfaris
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
Shortnin' Bread - The Readymen
Surfin' Bird - The Trashmen
I Can't Believe What You Say - Ike and Tina Turner
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold? Joe Perkins and The Rookies
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
One Hand Loose - Charlie Feathers
Somethin' Else - Sid Vicious
Deuces Wild - Link Wray
Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Aphrodisiac - Bow Wow Wow
Blitzkreig Bop - The Ramonetures
Somebody Put Something in My Drink - The Ramones
Rip It Up - Little Richard
Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad - Tammy Wynette
It's a Gas - The Rumblers
Fist City - Loretta Lynn
Woman - Peggy Lee
Cry-baby - The Honey Sisters
Long Blonde Hair, Rose Red Lips - Johnny Powers
Juke Box Babe - Alan Vega
Roll with Me Henry - Etta James
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
Love Me - The Phantom
Her Love Rubbed Off - Carl Perkins
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran
Dancin' with Tears in My Eyes - X
Strychnine - The Sonics
My Way - Nina Hagen
She Said - Hasil Adkins
Go Wild in the Country - Bow Wow Wow
Centurion - Intoxica
Beat Girl - ZZ und Der Maskers
I Only Have Eyes for You - The Flamingos

Further reading:

Read about all the previous antics at Lobotomy Rooms to date here,here,here,here,here,here,hereherehereherehere and here!

Follow me on tumblr for all your putrid vintage sleaze, kitsch and homoerotic beefcake needs! A glimpse into my anguished psyche! NSFW and never will be!

See all the photos from the 28 August 2015 Lobotomy Room - uncut and uncensored - on flickr.

Most importantly ...

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Attention, freaks! The next Lobotomy Room is Friday 25 September 2015! Facebook events page here.