I’ve been pretty damn privileged to have met many of my favourite artists over the years. If only digital cameras or camera phones had existed in the late 1980s/1990s, as that was when I did most of my freelance music journalism: I look back and wince at the lost opportunity to have photographed the likes of Poison Ivy of The Cramps, Lydia Lunch, Exene Cervenka (X), Henry Rollins, the Divinyls and Chris Isaak when I interviewed them and had the chance! Ah, well. Let’s take a sentimental journey. Note: These photos are arranged in strict chronological order, so as an added bonus you can monitor my ageing process while you look at them.
Rhythm and blues legend Ruth Brown (aka Motormouth Maybelle in the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray). Viva Las Vegas April 2006
Eartha-quake! Quintessential sex kitten chanteuseEartha Kitt and I. Valentine's Day 2007
Undisputed First Lady of Rockabilly (and former girlfriend of Elvis) Wanda Jackson. July 2007
Ai chihuahua! With musician Robert Lopez (off-duty El Vez - the Mexican Elvis). May 2008
Punk photographer, raconteur and scene-maker Leee Black Childers at Cockabilly club night in Dalston. September 2008
Punk poetess Patti Smith at book signing for her memoirs Just Kids in London. March 2010
Burlesque Royalty: with the outrageous veteran stripper Satan's Angel (The Devil's Own Mistress!) at Viva Las Vegas 2010. (She's got some stories to tell! Oh, yeah).
One hot tamale: The mighty El Vez and I. (No wonder I'm slack-jawed). The 100 Club in London. June 2010
No, it's not Lemmy from Motorhead: Me with my old friend / petit frere Cyril Roy when he was in London for the premiere of the Gaspar Noe film he starred in, Enter the Void. September 2010
The King of Sleaze. And John Waters! Only kidding. Brutal close-up of the Pope of Trash (the Maestro!) and I. Book launch of the hard cover edition of his book Role Models. While he was in London I interviewed him for Nude magazine. November 2010
Unforgettable concert by beatnik / existentialist French chanteuseJuliette Greco at The Royal Festival Hall. November 2010
Eerily ageless Mistress of the Dark Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) and I at the Viva Las Vegas car show. April 2011
/ Christmas Sweetheart: Diana Dors, the British Jayne Mansfield /
This one will be a quickie, as I'm meant to be rushing out the door for a Christmas Eve dinner party! The last Dr Sketchy of 2011 went off with a bang! Our elegant resident emcee Dusty Limits was on top form. The featured model and performer was a new girl, the stunning and statuesque Beatrix Von Bourbon, who looked like a spicy rockabilly pin-up come to life. (Come to think of it, because of her extensive tattoos and piercings she probably qualifies more as a psychobilly!).
As an added bonus, my friend Jim (the one I go to Viva Las Vegas with) stopped by for a few drinks, accompanied by his dog Daisy. It’s always nice to kneel down and kiss the top of Daisy's head while DJ’ing (although what she tends to do is lunge for my mouth and plant a wet messy doggy kiss right on my lips when I do that. I’m wise to Daisy’s tricks!). On some of the quieter tracks, the audience may have been able to hear Daisy’s grunting and snorting noises from the DJ booth.
/ Season's Greetings -- via the great Bettie Page (surely one of Dr Sketchy's patron saints) /
Musically, I aimed to whip-up the festive mania with my kitsch-iest and most abrasive selection of Christmas tunes, swirling together lounge, exotica, surf, doo-wop, rhythm and blues, rockabilly and just plain weird shit (the Mae West Christmas album seems to baffle people year after year!). I actually deeply love campy Christmas novelty songs: this year there was only one Dr Sketchy in December, and my CD player broke when I had my own Christmas cocktail party a few weeks ago – so I really seized the moment and revelled in the chance to wallow in this stuff. As of Boxing Day, all my Christmas music is going to be moth balled for another twelve months.
Christmas Song - Chet Baker
Exotic Night - Martin Denny
Violets for Your Furs - The Continental
Candles Glowing - Marlene Dietrich
The First Snowfall - The Coctails
White Christmas - Elvis Presley
Let Christmas Ring - The Coolbreezers
Ole Santa - Dinah Washington
Jingle Bells - Johnny Mercer
Cool Yule - Louis Armstrong
Merry Merry Merry Merry Christmas - Ruby Wright
Put the Loot in the Boot, Santa - Mae West
Jingle Bells - Gene Autrey
Christmas Time is Coming - Stormy Weather
Snowfall / Snowfall Cha Cha - George Shearing / Billy May
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus / Jingle Bell Bossa Nova - Eddie Dunstedter
Hey Santa Claus - The Moonglows
Baby It's Cold Outside - Carmen McRae and Sammy Davis Jr
Winter Wonderland - Peggy Lee
I Want a Man - Thelma Cooper
Here Comes Santa Claus - Elvis Presley
I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Dean Martin
Sleigh Ride - Lloyd Glenn
Nothin' for Christmas - Eartha Kitt
I'd Like You for Christmas - Julie London
Christmas Island - Bob Atcher and The Dinning Sisters
My Christmas Prayer - Billy Fury
Christmas Wish - El Vez
Santa Claus is Back in Town - Elvis Presley
Santa Baby - Mae West
White Christmas - The Ravens
Jingle Bells - The Vel Mares
Frosty the Snowman - The Ventures
Santa Please Don't Pass Me By - Jimmy Donley
Christmas in Heaven - Billy Ward & His Dominoes
Jingle All the Way - Lena Horne
Fat Daddy - Fat Daddy
Let It Snow - Wayne Newton
Sleigh Bells, Reindeer and Snow - Rita Faye Wilson
Winter Wonderland - Chet Baker
Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
Warm December - Julie London
Christmas in Jail - The Youngsters
Jingle Bell Rock - Wayne Newton
Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
Far Away Christmas Blues - Little Esther
Silent Night - Dinah Washington
Little Drummer Boy - Marlene Dietrich
I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Billie Holiday
The Merriest - June Christy
I Wish You a Merry Christmas - Big Dee Irwin and Little Eva
Christmas Morning - Titus Turner
This Year's Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
There's Trouble Brewin' - Jack Scott
Sleigh Ride - El Vez
It's Christmas Time - The Five Keys
With Love from Me to You - Mae West
Here Comes Santa Claus - Elvis Presley
Blues for Christmas - John Lee Hooker
/ Finally: Not quite a tittyshaker, but it will do -- and it's seasonal. Shake it! /
Am doing a last-minute spurt of Christmas-related blogging now, ‘cause I figure in about 48-hours no one will want to read anything to do with Christmas!
The December Cockabilly (so therefore the Christmas Cockabilly) was on 7 December 2011. I didn’t do any DJ’ing at this one, but I did bring my camera, so this instalment won’t feature a set list but will be photo-heavy instead.
First of all, two photos that cropped up from the November 2011 Cockabilly taken by Mal Nicholson (alongside co-promoter/organiser Paul Draggoni, he's the brains behind Cockabilly). As a general rule, if the photo is sepia-toned, it’s Mal’s!
Christopher and I
Me looking utterly gormless behind the DJ booth!
OK, back to my friends going apeshit crazy at the December 2011 Christmas Cockabilly.
Christopher and Lauren
Craig, Therese and Paul
Therese and James
Christopher and Mal Nicholson
Therese and Christopher
Lauren and Paul -- simulating anal sex?! Let's not dwell on this for too long and move along swiftly
Lauren and Therese dancing (Erika and Mal visible in the background)
Lauren and Therese getting dramatic
Richard and Lauren: nice Jayne Mansfield-style cleavage shot of Lauren
Therese and Lauren lezzing-up (you'd never know it, but they'd never met before that night)
James and Erika
Therese and I. Paul apparently pretending he doesn't know us. Eine foto von Mal Nicholson. (You can see more shots on my flickr page).
The next Cockabilly is 4 January 2011. In the meantime, wishing everyone a Tom of Finland Christmas!
The night of John Waters's Christmas show at Royal Festival Hall, I came home to learn that the great, tempestuous Polish diva Violetta Villas (10 June 1938 – 5 December 2011) had died earlier that day at her home in the village of Lewin Klodzki aged 73. My Polish friend, work colleague and fellow Violetta fan Marta (the village where Marta is from borders Lewin Klodzki) had both texted me and Facebooked me alerting me of her death.
I first learned of the existence of Violetta Villas from the reliably excellent The Homoerratic Radio Show blog on 25 January 2011. It described her as a “Polska Yma Sumac” and provided a link to an MP3 of Villas singing an intoxicatingly strange but appealing Polka-Mambo hybrid entitled "Czterdziesci Kasztanów (Forty Chestnuts)": think Latin exotica from behind the Iron Curtain. You can listen to it here, and I recommend you do. I downloaded the song and frequently drop it into my Dr Sketchy set lists, especially towards the end when I'm drunk.
Intrigued, I started Googling Violetta Villas and hit the mother lode: Youtube was full of clips from her ultra- kitsch 1960s and 70s TV specials and film appearances. The next day at work Marta filled me in on the rest: how Villas’s promising international career (she was a celebrated Las Vegas headliner in the 1960s and appeared in some Hollywood films, including the legendarily awful 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon) was cut short by Communism, how she’s still revered in Poland now that she’s an elderly and eccentric recluse. I was so inspired that night when I blogged the latest Dr Sketchy set list, I incorporated a tribute to Villas (read it here), in which I rhapsodised:
" ... Villas is a berserk outsider artist; a wild low-budget Eastern European hybrid of Jayne Mansfield/Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita / Brigitte Bardot / Charo; a punk (her image and un-hinged performances can suggest Nina Hagen or Jayne County); and a self-parodic possessor of a camp /kitsch drag queen sensibility (is it deliberate or naive? Certainly her persona evokes the films of the Kuchar brothers and John Waters. There’s something wonderfully grotesque about how Villas deliberately buries her own natural beauty under the matted bouffant wigs and thick transvestite/ clown-like make-up)."
(Note: Marta has instructed me to point out I was wrong in claiming Violetta's hair was a wig. In spite of appearances, that wild, exploding mane of tousled blonde hair was apparently 100% Violetta's own, something she took fierce pride in. I stand corrected!)
In the English-speaking world there really haven’t been any decent, thoughtful Villas obituaries. When you Google, what you keep finding on the web is the same press release statement announcing her death and giving a brief summary of her career and accomplishments recycled over and over. Marta says that in Poland, meanwhile, Villas’s death has caused a media storm, which makes sense considering she was their super star equivalent of a Bardot, Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. Her life was always scandalous and troubled and so, it appears, was Villas’s death. Looking at photos and Youtube clips of Villas in her heyday, she’d clearly modelled herself on Brigitte Bardot. Like Bardot, when Villas retired from show business she devoted herself to animal activism, operating an animal shelter from her home. But unlike Bardot, Villas didn’t have the wealth or resources to adequately maintain her animal sanctuary and shortly before her death the Polish authorities shut down her menagerie due to “overcrowding and insufficient care.” To further multiply the humiliation, Marta says at the same time Villas was also briefly committed to a psychiatric institution. Villas’s only family at the time of her death was her son Krzysztof, to whom she was seemingly estranged (he's apparently given interviews to the Polish media highly critical of his mother). In the initial obituaries it mentioned the cause of her death was unknown and that an autopsy had been ordered. Marta has since said the autopsy revealed nothing abnormal or suspicious about Villas’s death. She’d announced her retirement from public performing earlier this year (her last-ever concert was on Valentine’s Day 2011) and was obviously in declining health. (I’d read something about tuberculosis, but I might have misinterpreted that). It looks like Villas simply died of old age at what these days we think of as the relatively young age of 73.
It would be nice to think Villas had found some serenity in her later years after a stormy life of great success followed by profound personal and professional disappointments. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It’s a cliché, but the music of Violetta Villas will live on and surely cult status beckons for this outrageously original artist. The world is a duller place without her!
/ A very young, unpolished but utterly magnetic Violetta Villas at embryonic stage: still with puppy fat, darker hair, possibly pre-nose job. Adorable /
/ Sex kitten Villas in the late 1960s. I love the Jayne Mansfield squeals she emits at the beginning of the song, and the wild costume changes (leopard print bathing suit, Little Bo Peep; towards the end she appears to be wearing the rubber mini skirt and thigh boots of a dominatrix) /
/ Villas tearing apart "Strangers in the Night" ... accompanied by a troupe of mimes in face paint. Watch for the climactic moment when she smashes her Champagne glass /
/ Violetta Villas at her absolute zenith in 1970, singing in Russian in the 1971 Polish film Dzieciol. Wow ... just wow. This is majestic. Let's remember Violetta Villas this way! /
Seeing John Waters at Christmas time is becoming something of an annual tradition. In December 2010 the Sultan of Sleaze was in London promoting the hardback edition of his latest book Role Models (that was when I interviewed him for the Nude website). While in London the irrepressible provocateur / raconteur did an onstage interview followed by a question and answer session at The Royal Festival Hall, which I attended with my friends Mari, Alison and Damon. It was a blast.
On 5 December 2011 Waters returned to the same venue, this time touring his long-running Christmas-themed spoken word show. Waters has long been garrulous about his rabid enthusiasm for the kitschy and campy aspects of Christmas: his 1987 book Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters includes the essay "Why I Love Christmas" (read an excerpt here). In 2005 he collated a compilation of his favourite twisted Christmas tunes (mainly obscure 1950s and 60s Rhythm and Blues) entitled A John Waters Christmas (which is one of my DJ'ing staples during the Christmas party season). Fruitcake, the jinxed film project he’s been trying to get off the ground in recent years (his last film to date remains 2004's A Dirty Shame) was meant to be a seasonal children’s film about a criminal family who steals meat to order for Christmas dinner. And we can never, ever forget the single greatest Christmas scene ever committed to celluloid: Christmas morning with hair-hopping juvenile delinquent Dawn Davenport and her family in Female Trouble (1974).
Beforehand, I met up with my glamorous friends Alison Leary and Laurie Vanian (Mari was meant to come, but was ill on the night. Luckily she recovered in time for my Christmas cocktail party on 10 December) for happy hour cocktails at one of my all-time favourite bars, Cubana in Waterloo. Even just walking towards Cubana cheers me up and gets my mouth watering at the thought of their Mojitos: as soon as you turn the corner and approach the bar, you see their giant painted mural of Carmen Miranda with her arms outstretched triumphantly (why a Cuban bar features gigantic tribute to Carmen Miranda – who was born in Portugal and raised in Brazil – is a whole other question). (I used to work in that neighbourhood, at a fetish / sex shop on Lower Marsh almost directly opposite Cubana. Let’s not open that whole can of worms. That was a lifetime ago!). Needless to say, talking trash with these two vixens (think of Alison and Laurie as my Chicklet and Concetta -- Dawn Davenport's bad-girl friends from Female Trouble) over two-for-one drinks was the perfect warm-up to seeing cinema’s Prince of Puke.
/ Chicklet (Susan Walsh) and Concetta (Cookie Mueller) in Female Trouble (1974). Photo Via /
/ Alison (channelling Tallulah Bankhead) and Laurie at Cubana /
/ Margaritas and Mojitos at Cubana ... and a crotch shot of me /
/ Alison and I /
/ Devastating glamour shot of Alison. Her sweater matches the radiator beautifully. She thinks of everything /
/ Alison and Laurie /
/ The great man himself: King of Sleaze John Waters onstage at the Royal Festival Hall. We were in row P: not bad at all, but not good enough to take any decent shots. His outfit is almost certainly by Comme des Garcons /
I was quite drunk by the time John Waters came onstage (four Mojitos followed by some pre-show pints of lager on an empty stomach will do that), but I can confirm the show was a scream and far raunchier and "bluer" than the description “Christmas show” suggests. The anecdotes flowed effortlessly and Waters was on great form. Here are some of the highlights I can recall from my Mojito and lager fog:
Waters revealed that the only time Divine would drag up and try to actually convince or “pass” as a real woman was every Christmas Eve – when she’d go to Mass! (She probably just liked look a very zaftig Elizabeth Taylor wannabe).
One particulary great line: Waters was saying that unlike many of his friends, he really does believe some people are genuinely heterosexual. Most of his friends are apt to snarl, “Oh, so you’re straight? So is spaghetti until it gets hot!”
He lamented that all young people now shave their pubic hair off, recalling how in his youth he and his friends loved it and call it “pelt.” People used to actually say, “I want to get me some pelt tonight!” (This brought back a nice memory of the much-missed Edith Massey as Queen Carlotta in Waters’ 1977 cinematic atrocity Desperate Living exclaiming, “Look at that pelt!” as one of her evil henchmen stripped naked in front of her).
He said he loves learning new sexual slang. One of his friends recently told him he’s a “blouse.” When Waters asked, “What’s a blouse?” his friend explained, “An effeminate top!”
At the end, he wished us all a “filthy, bisexual, biracial Christmas!” It was a heart-warming end to the night, and rest assured I’m doing my damnedest to live up to John Waters’ Christmas wish. Which reminds me: I've got to get me some pelt!