Sunday, 27 January 2013

Me Encanta! Pre-Warhol Nico in 1960s Spanish TV Commercials

The entry from Andy Warhol’s Diary from Monday 6 October 1980 (page 332):

“Went to C.Z. Guest’s for drinks. A guy there told me, “We have someone in common.” He said that his family owned all the brandy and sherry in Spain and that in the sixties Nico was the girl in all their advertisements in all the posters and subways and magazines, that she was famous all over Spain. He wanted to know where this beautiful girl was now and I said that it was a whole other person, that he’d never believe it, that she was fat and a heroin addict. He wanted to see her and I said that if she was still playing at the Squat Theatre we could go see her.”

Warhol was breathtakingly unsentimental and blithely unconcerned about his former 1960s Superstars and their hardships by the 1980s.  In the sixties, when she had been a sensational blonde beauty, German fashion model turned singer and actress Nico had unforgettably fronted The Velvet Underground (the proto-punk band Warhol managed) as husky-voiced chanteuse, and starred in several of his underground art movies (most famously, 1966's Chelsea Girls). Consider his account of encountering a down-on-her-luck, heroin-addicted Nico at an opening party in Paris (where she was then based) on Friday 27 May 1977 (page 46 of Andy Warhol's Diary): 

“Nico was there with a young kid with a big bulge in his pants, she asked Bob to photograph him. Bob already had. Nico looked older and fatter and sadder. She was crying, she said, because of the beauty of the show. I wanted to give her some money but not directly so I signed a 500-franc note ($100) and handed it to her, and she got even more sentimental and said, “I must frame this, can you give me another one, unsigned, to spend?”"

/ Below: Nico as she would have looked in the late 1970s - early 1980s /

/ Above: Portrait of Nico on the cover of her Drama of Exile album (1981) / 

Kudos to the consistently excellent Dangerous Minds blog for reminding me about the wonderfully kitsch Spanish TV ads the gorgeous young Nico made for Centenario Terry cognac in the early 1960s in her pre-Warhol fashion model days. (You see some brief glimpses of them, too, in Susanne Ofteringer's excellent 1995 documentary Nico Icon). I especially love the one where Nico purrs “Me encanta!”, her instantly recognisable German-accented voice obviously dubbed by a Spanish actress. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

I Don't Give a Damn for Ordinary Joys: Edith Piaf in La Garconne

For Christmas my old friends Petra and Rob gave me a copy of No Regrets, Carolyn Burke’s 2011 biography of legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf. I’m almost finished: it’s beautifully-researched and non-sensational (Piaf’s brief and tempestuous life was already sensational enough!), and gives a nice social history of the working-class Bohemian Parisian milieu she emerged from.  For anyone who enjoyed the 2007 biopic La Vie en Rose starring Marion Cotillard, No Regrets is almost required reading – it really fills in the film’s gaps.

I was particularly intrigued to read Burke’s account of Piaf’s film debut:
 “That month (December 1935), she performed in a film version of Victor Margueritte’s scandalous novel La Garçonne, about a middleclass woman who forsakes an arranged marriage to experience life in Pigalle – where she frequents lesbian bars like Lulu’s, the occasion for Edith’s cameo role. Dressed in satin evening pajamas and surrounded by female admirers, Edith crooned “Quand meme,” a sultry apologia for vice: “I don’t give a damn / For ordinary joys / Weakly the virtuous ones / See their end in heaven / I prefer the promise / Of artificial paradise” (English translation of the lyrics). A provocative part in a film with stars like Marie Bell, Arletty, and Suzy Solidor meant that Edith was on her way.”

Thank to the magic of the internet, after reading this passage I set the book aside and found Piaf’s La Garçonne musical number on Youtube pretty much instantly.

The clip is fascinating for two reasons. It captures the very young (20-year old) "La Môme Piaf" at embryonic stage, still in transition from raw and unpolished street urchin / guttersnipe to becoming the quintessential black-gowned tragedienne of French chanson, who Ed Sullivan would later call “the most amazing ninety seven pounds in show business.”(More poetically, Jean Cocteau praised her as “France’s nightingale”). Young Piaf really tears into the song – she seems defiant, almost angry. What a powerful presence she already was at this early stage. As the film confirms, Piaf was one of those people who never looked “young”: she was definitely striking, but even in her twenties, Piaf was already waxy and sallow. How to describe it: drained? Consumptive? Tubercular?

Secondly, it’s interesting to see a lesbian nightclub depicted in a 1930s French film. French films were far franker and more louche than even pre-Code Hollywood films of the same period. I vividly remember seeing the French musical Zou Zou (1934) starring Josephine Baker and Jean Gabin many years ago; it’s set in the world of Paris music hall, and I was surprised by the occasional nonchalant glimpses of bare breasts in the backstage dressing room scenes. Anyways, Lulu’s looks like something out of a Tamara de Lempicka painting or Brassai's book Paris de Nuit come to life: it's a shimmering vision of Art Deco decadence. Women in formal evening gowns lounge on the floor on cushions by Piaf’s feet. Their glazed demeanours make them seem stoned on opium (or drugged by sex). In dreamy close-up, one of the women closes her eyes while Piaf sings, as if transported in erotic reverie. It’s all very Anais Nin (this sequence anticipates the lesbian nightclub scene in the 1990 film Henry and June). The Youtube clip is a tantalising fragment – I’d love to see the whole film now!

PS: Looking up photos for this blog, I came across this classic 1930s Brassai shot of Paris by night. Check out the young Parisian beauty on the right, and how rakishly he’s angled his flat cap. Every time I go to Paris, it’s someone like him I hope to meet! Oh, for a time machine.


Saturday, 5 January 2013

First-Ever Lobotomy Room Set List 29 December 2012

/ Beehive Beauty /

On Saturday 29 December 2012 I finally unleashed my long-threatened club night Lobotomy Room on an unsuspecting world at Paper Dress Vintage in Shoreditch. I’m describing it as a trashy night of vintage musical sleaze, featuring tunes inspired by John Waters soundtracks or Songs The Cramps Taught Us rather than a rockabilly night: there are already a lot of those (my favourite is The Hillbilly Hop) and I don’t want to compete with them. Plus, it would be painting myself into too narrow a corner musically if I called it a rockabilly club: I want to be free to go far freakier, punkier and stranger than that.

In the lead-up to the night I was vibrating with nerves (remember Natalie Portman’s psycho-ballerina in the film Black Swan? I was acting like that). Stephen (the promoter / organiser behind nights at Paper Dress Vintage) was away that weekend, so if anything went tits up with the audio I would be on my own. And would anyone come? I've been DJ'ing for years now, but I have no illusions about being a "draw!" In the days between Christmas and New Years Eve, London is a ghost town. Certainly walking from my bus stop to the venue, the streets (normally thronged with people on a Saturday night) looked eerily deserted. Plenty of my friends were either out of town for the holidays or struck down with the Norovirus. To make matters worse, the City branch of the Northern Line (the tube that would take you to Shoreditch) was closed for engineering works that weekend, which felt soul-destroyingly discouraging and inconvenient. If people were looking for a reason not to come, that would be a pretty compelling one!
In fact it all went pretty smoothly. Paper Dress Vintage is the ideal-size venue: it’s not too intimidatingly cavernous to fill. I had two tables of friends; the rest were strangers who wandered in and stayed. It wasn’t packed but it did feel reassuringly buzzing. Carla and Laura behind the bar kept me topped up with lager, which kept me loose and inspired! My set was pretty messy, but considering my Lobotomy Room flyer promised a mix of Rockabilly! Rhythm and Blues! Surf! Tittyshakers! Punk! Exotica! Kitsch! Curiosities and Weird Shit! I think I delivered on that.

/ Flyer created by the very talented (and muy guapo) Ego Rodriguez /
Photos from the night. See more on my flickr page

Lobotomy Room 1

DJ'ing surrounded by vintage hair dryer and vintage caftan!

Lobotomy Room Launch 001

Kat, Rachael and Mia. (Doesn't Mia have a Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! vibe in this photo?)

Lobotomy Room 5

The Dan-ster

Lobotomy Room Launch 006

Christopher and Paul

Lobotomy Room Launch 007

Ian and Ilana

Lobotomy Room Launch 008

It just wouldn't be me without the trademark sweat patch

Lobotomy Room Launch 009

Martin, Rachael and Michael

Lobotomy Room 2

Rachael and I

Lobotomy Room Launch 011

Christopher, Paul and Ian

Lobotomy Room 4

Girls Gone Wild! Kat and Mia

Thanks to everyone for coming! Fingers crossed, Lobotomy Room will become a regular thing in 2013.

/ I played not one but two songs by John Waters character actress / punk pensioner / ultimate outsider actress Edith Massey – so you know it was a good night! Above: Massey in her defining role as Aunt Ida in Female Trouble (1974) -- one of the masterpieces of 20th century cinema /

Xtabay - Yma Sumac
Voodoo Dreams / Voodoo - Les Baxter
Monkey Bird - The Revels
Run - Jeri Southern
Cocktails for Two - Cliff Duphiney
Shopping for Clothes - Snatch
Ain't That Good? George Kelly and Orchestra
Letter from Tina - Ike and Tina Turner
Strollin' After Dark - The Shades
Slow Walk - Sil Austin
Sick and Tired - Lula Reed
Night Walk - The Swingers
I Learn a Merengue, Mama - Robert Mitchum
Go Calypso - Mamie Van Doren
Misirlou - Laurindo Almeida and The Bossa Nova All-Stars
Strip-tease - Nico
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Intoxica - The Revels
Pussycat Song - Connie Vallett
Heartbreakin' Special - Duke Larson
You Done Messed Around and Made a Mean Woman Mad - Julia Bates
Little Queenie - The Bill Black Combo
Bottle to the Baby - Charlie Feathers
Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown
She Wants to Mambo - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
Chop Suey Rock'n'Roll - The Instrumentals
The Bee - The Sentinels
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Can Your Pussy Do the Dog? The Cramps
No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia
Drummin' Up a Storm - Sandy Nelson
My Baby Does the Hanky Panky - Rita Chao and The Quests
Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran
Jaguar - The Jaguars
I Love the Life I Live - Esquerita
The Beast - Milt Buckner
I Ain't in the Mood - Helen Humes
Madness - The Rhythm Rockers
Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen
Khrushchev Twist - Melvin Gayle
Shombolar - Sheriff and The Ravels
Bombie - Johnny Sharp and The Yellow Jackets
Waddle Waddle - The Bracelets
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Woo Hoo - The Rock-A-Teens
The Big Bounce - Shirley Cadell
Fool I Am - Pat Ferguson
Booze Party - 3 Aces and a Joker
Chicken Walk - Hasil Adkins
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Scorpion - The Carnations
Viens danser le Twist - Johnny Hallyday
Boots - Nero and The Gladiators
Comin' Home, Baby - The Delmonas
Hand Clappin' Time - The Fabulous Raiders
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
Deuces Wild - Link Wray
Breathless - X
Tunnel of Love - Wanda Jackson
Dragon Walk - The Noble Men
Lucille - Little Richard
Somethin' Else - Sid Vicious
Crybaby - The Honey Sisters
He's The One - Ike and Tina Turner
Don't Be Cruel - The Bill Black Combo
Dance with Me, Henry - Ann-Margret
Baby Let Me Bang Your Box - The Bangers
Hump-A-Baby - Little Ritchie
Save It - Mel Robbins
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
Adult Books - X
Hey Punk Get Off The Grass - Edith Massey
Fuck Off  - Wayne County and The Electric Chairs
Poon-Tang - The Treniers
Trash Can - Ken Williams
53rd and 3rd - The Ramones
Contact - Brigitte Bardot
Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires
Rotten Cocksuckers Ball - The Clovers
Frenzy - The Hindus
Town Without Pity - James Chance
I Was Born to Cry - Dion
Wino - Jack McVea
Pink Champagne - The Tyrones
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
Boss - The Rumblers
Salamander - Mamie Van Doren
Are You Nervous? The Instrumentals
Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby? The Earls of Suave
Big Girls Don't Cry - Edith Massey