(I’m currently reading Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring. The book is an eye-popping revelation, lifting the lid on the subterranean pre-Stonewall gay social history, and in particular the astonishing life of Samuel Steward (1909-1993) – who packed enough different identities and adventures for several life times. Read the NY Times review here for more juicy details. One of Steward’s most intriguing aliases was re-inventing himself as a tattooist in the 1950s called Phil Sparrow (who’d be a key mentor for godfathers of tattoo culture Ed Hardy and Cliff Raven. And it was Phil Sparrow who tattooed the word LUCIFER on Kenneth Anger's chest in the 1960s -- how cool is that?!). A connoisseur of firm male flesh, this is one of “Phil Sparrow”’s own photos of his handiwork adorning a sexy young sailor or juvenile delinquent. Get the book -- it has plenty more photos like this!)
Was this perhaps the best Cockabilly (London's only gay rockabilly night) ever? The crowd at The George and Dragon was buzzing, sexy, well-lubricated and bohemian. For once, most of my friends who said they were going to come actually turned up: Swedish Therese, Christopher and Paul from red-hot art punk band Matron, Jim (who turned up with his dog Daisy, who is now apparently part of my DJ’ing entourage. It’s certainly more fun when she’s there, and people invariably fall in love with her sweet demeanour and adorable face).
(For once I brought my camera and actually used it. Although I waited until so late in the night Therese, Jim and Daisy had already left).
Christopher and Paul from the band Matron
There were four DJ’s this time: Mal and Paul (the brains behind Cockabilly), myself and guest Emma La Wolf from Twat Boutique (who instantly dazzled me by playing the title track to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by the Bostweeds as her first song). I played a tight 45 minute set (and yet my friends still managed to sneak out for cigarette breaks outside while I was playing. Yeah, don’t think I didn’t see you. Couldn’t you have waited until I was finished?!). My set encompassed rockabilly (Charlie Feathers, Wanda Jackson), some punk (X, Sid Vicious), girl group, hillbilly (Hasil Adkins), sleazy grinding instrumentals (Link Wray, the Rumblers, The Revels) and a 1957 rock’n’roll number by Robert Mitchum (my all-time favourite actor). Playing some tracks from John Waters’s soundtracks (“Chicken Grabber” by the Nite Hawks and Queen of Rock'n'Roll Little Richard's “The Girl Can’t Help It” from Pink Flamingos, the title track by the Honey Sisters from Cry-baby) always seems de rigueur, because John Waters is the patron saint of Cockabilly, and from the DJ booth you can see a big framed poster of Divine.
Cockabilly's Mal Nicholson and Paul Dragoni
From there, things unravelled. I was pounding back pints of lager on an empty stomach (one of the perks of DJ’ing is free drinks. I’d be insane to turn them down. And they tasted sooo good!). While DJ’ing I accidentally dropped a CD and it fell down a crack in the DJ booth. Retrieving it involved writhing and squirming on the floor amongst the tangles of cables and generations of thick grungy dust bunnies – luckily I found it, though (it was Copycats, the 1988 album of retro duets by Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin. It’s one of my DJ’ing staples. No freakin’ way was I letting that go). It’s always swelteringly hot at the George and Dragon: in a sweaty and drunken stupor I removed and left behind a black Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender sweatshirt (that sweatshirt dates back to 2003! Technically that’s almost vintage – or at least well and truly irreplaceable. Fortunately it was found and kept for me behind the bar at the end of the night, and I was eventually re-united with it days later).
Then when I was meant to be leaving, I encountered my friend (and fellow Canadian ex-pat) Erika standing outside talking to this dreamy Brazilian “Boy from Ipanema”-type (tall and tan and young and handsome ...). She introduced me to him. I sure wish I’d met him several drinks earlier – I would have made a better impression, or at least a less swaying and slurring one. His name is lost in the mists of time, and I was wracking my brains trying to impress him with my very limited Portuguese vocabulary (it doesn’t extend much beyond asking “Tudo bem?” and ordering a Caipirinha). He definitely told me his last boyfriend was Canadian, and I said mine was Brazilian. From there somehow he was trying to give me his phone number. I have a flashback to him taking my phone out of my hand and typing his number into it -- but the next day when I scrolled through the names on my phone, there were no new or unfamiliar ones, and certainly no Brazilian-looking ones. Ah, well. Maybe he was shining me on? If it’s meant to be I’ll bump into him again. Anyway, the night was so fun it was worth the crippling hangover I had at work the whole next day.
Two shots of the insanely photogenic Erika
Deuces Wild - Link Wray
My Honey's Lovin' Arms - Robert Mitchum
Salamander - Mamie van Doren
Elle est terrible - Johnny Hallyday (French-ified version of Eddie Cochran's Somethin' Else)
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Dancin' with Tears in My Eyes - X
Shake a Leg - Margaret Lewis
One Hand Loose - Charlie Feathers
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Vesuvius - The Revels
I Stubbed My Toe - Bryan "Legs" Walker
I Was Born to Cry - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin
Rock-A-Bop - Sparkle Moore
Boss - The Rumblers
Comin' Home - The Delmonas
Save It - Mel Robbins
Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby - The Earls of Suave
Funnel of Love - Wanda Jackson
Crybaby - The Honey Sisters
Hanky Panky - Rita Chao & The Quests
Chicken Walk - Hasil Adkins
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
That's Why I'm Asking - Carl Dobkins Jr with Lew Douglas His Orchestra & Chorus
The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard
I referred to Pope of Trash John Waters earlier. Another beloved cinematic influence of mine is the twin brother outsider artists / filmmaking duo George and Mike Kuchar. In the 1960s, alongside contemporaries Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, the Bronx-born Kuchar brothers were the demented and inspired borderline idiot-savants of American underground cinema. In labour of love no-budget masturpieces (sic) like Hold Me While I'm Naked and Sins of the Fleshapoids (which I have fond memories of seeing at the much-missed Scala cinema in the early 1990s), the Kuchar brothers revelled in a totally idiosyncratic and irresistible kitsch, queer sensibility that would have a huge impact on the oeuvre of their successor John Waters.
The Kuchar brothers initially made films together, and then independently. George Kuchar died 6 September 2011; Mike survives him. Watch Mike Kuchar’s torrid 1967 melodrama The Craven Sluck below. Seemingly channelling Jayne Mansfield, leading lady Florain Connors gives an anguished, hot pool-of-woman-need, cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof performance. The Craven Sluck has it all: raw emotion, infidelity, a suicide attempt, a dog taking a crap, a hideously unconvincing drag queen, flying saucers -- crammed into just under 21-minutes. Enjoy!