Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Cockabilly DJ Set List 17 December 2013

I’m rushing to squeeze in a few last blogs before Christmas and get up-to-date. I can’t let my haphazard and inept kooky DJ’ing misadventures go un-documented! This will probably read more tersely than usual – think of it as a telegram from hell!

The Christmas Cockabilly at The George and Dragon (epicentre of Shoreditch bohemia!) was on 17 December 2013. An East End hipster queer rockabilly booze party – what better way to usher in the holiday season?

I guest DJ’d alongside Cockabilly regulars Mal Nicholson and Elma Wolf. My work Christmas staff party was beforehand so I rushed straight to the venue stuffed to the gills with roast turkey and lager and feeling a bit lethargic – and promptly set about sweating to the oldies in The George and Dragon’s upper-mezzanine DJ booth! (It was insanely hotter than hell up there! I had opted to wear my biker cap and the sweat was rolling down my face and stinging my eyes in no time).

I’d packed my DJ bag under the influence of a thunderous hangover the day after my annual Christmas cocktail party. Perhaps that explains how I bleeding forgot to pack the 1957 Elvis Christmas album! I could’ve kicked myself – if I wasn’t going to play that at the Christmas Cockabilly, when would I?  I had totally intended to include Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Back in Town” in my set – two swaggering Christmas anthems delivered with a sexy rockabilly snarl. Damn!

/ My photo of Los Straitjackets at Viva Las Vegas 2011 /

Thankfully I did pack ‘Tis The Season for Los Straitjackets: 13 Rockin’ Christmas Instrumentals! Nashville’s mighty veteran surf outfit Los Straitjackets (their identities perennially concealed behind Mexican wrestling masks) performed at the annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender in 2011 - and they blew my freaking mind.  (On their website they refer to themselves as “the world’s leading instrumental guitar band” – and I concur!). This year I made a point of tracking down their 2002 album of Christmas standards given a brutally stripped-down, rumbling and ominous surf treatment. It’s definitely a new festive favourite. Los Straitjackets’ versions of “Feliz Navidad” and “Jingle Bell Rock” pack an aggressive, nasty punk edge and make you want to kick over a Christmas tree!

Amongst the usual rancid assortment of mondo trasho vintage musical kitsch I sprinkled in some tracks from Kenneth Anger’s gay occult biker art cinema classic Scorpio Rising (1964). I know I’ve banged on a lot already about the impact of Anger’s underground oeuvre and Scorpio Rising in particular on me.  I saw that film at an impressionable age and it was genuinely transformative – it made me! Until the emergence of David Lynch, no filmmaker used seemingly innocuous, sweet and camp pop music to such twisted evocative ends. It continues to inspire me. Anyway, dropping in “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels and The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” was like my homage to His Satanic Majesty.

Hmmm: Cockabilly. Scorpio Rising. Kenneth Anger. Wishing you all a kinky Satanic homoerotic biker Christmas! 

/ Scorpio Rising in its entirety is currently available on Youtube. Ideally I'd recommend you buy it beautifully digitally re-mastered on DVD - but if you haven't seen it before, grab the opportunity before it gets yanked down! /

Feliz Navidad - Los Straitjackets
My Boyfriend's Back - The Angels
Bombora - The Original Surfaris
Heartbreakin' Special - Duke Larson
Mule Skinner Blues - The Fendermen
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Chicken - The Cramps
Chicken Walk - Hasil Adkins
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Here Comes Santa Claus - Los Straitjackets
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Wipe-Out - The Surfaris
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
Party Lights - Claudine Clark
Revellion - The Revels
My Boy Lollipop - Sakura and The Quests
Whistle Bait - The Collins Kids
The Swag - Link Wray
Ah, Poor Little Baby - Billy "Crash" Craddock
I've Told Every Little Star - Linda Scott
I Live the Life I Love - Esquerita
Jingle Bell Rock - Los Straitjackets
Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Scorpion - The Carnations
Salamander - Mamie Van Doren
The Whip - The Originals
One More Beer - The Earls of Suave

If you've made it down this far you get a bonus pin-up! From my red hot camera session with photographer Adrian Lourie in October 2013 for Meat magazine (think of it as the London equivalent of Butt - but better!).  My spread is featured in issue number 11, which is out now. You really should buy the whole issue and support a 100% independent queer publications (besides, it has photos of hot naked men!). The Meat website.

Further reading:

Lurid photos from the 2011 Christmas Cockabilly at The George and Dragon

The next Lobotomy Room (my depraved and sensual occasional club night - where the international sin set meet!) is Saturday 28 December 2013. Full details here

If you don't already, follow me on tumblr: vintage, retro, kitschy, homoerotic - and NSFW!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

20 November 2013 DJ Set List for Dr Sketchy

Phew! I am whoppingly behind with my blogging. Life has got in the way in recent months: Iwas in Canada for two weeks over Halloween and since getting back I've been DJ’ing a lot and started a very demanding new job. So I'm exhausted and distracted a lot of the time, but if I don’t document my DJ’ing misadventures, no one else is going to do it for me! And besides, I have overwhelming OCD about these things. So this blog will be a speedier than usual catch-up.

As you can see, I eased into the November 2013 Dr Sketchy at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern with some ethereal and pagan mondo exotica via the magic of Martin Denny, Les Baxter and the genre’s ululating high priestess Yma Sumac. I think exotica’s last real hey day was in the easy listening "loungecore" revival of the early nineties, but I’m determined to bring it back again!  Those jungle noises, cawing birds and ominous tribal chanting sound effects are like aural catnip for me. I also suspect I’m the only DJ currently playing calypso on a regular basis. Not the genuine article, but the gloriously ersatz and kitsch variety of faux novelty calypso performed by jive honky white crackers (in this case, Robert Mitchum – who invented the genre with his classic 1957 album Calypso is Like So, Mamie Van Doren and First Lady of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson).

Otherwise: I continue to be obsessed by the angel-faced “Japanese Elvis” Masaaki Hirao. (I try to sprinkle in some other songs by him, but I’m addicted to his version of “Lucille” – in fact I think I love it even more than Little Richard’s original!). It wouldn't be a Dr Sketchy without some Las Vegas Grind-style sleazy, bump'n'grind tittyshaker instrumentals. While the evening’s featured performer Frankie von Flirter modelled, I sound-tracked her poses with cooing sex kittens (Julie London, Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield).

Speaking of international vintage sex kittens, I played a track by ultra-sultry "ooh la la" French actrice et chanteuse Denise Darcel for the first time in ages (her wonderfully camp 1958 Banned in Boston album used to be one of my staples at Dr Sketchy. She croons in a thick comedic French accent – imagine a sexy female Pepe le Pew). The Parisian beauty pageant winner turned Hollywood starlet (specialising in playing characters named Fifi, Gigi and Lola in films like Tarzan and the Slave Girl and Seven Women from Hell) turned nightclub songbird turned (when legitimate show biz offers dried up) stripper was never exactly a household name. You’d be forgiven for thinking Darcel would be dimly-remembered today by only the most rabid of old movie junkies. In fact, her name tops the all-time most popular search engine entries for my blog! So she is clearly a cult figure out there who gets Googled a lot! Darcel died aged 87 on 23 December 2011 – meaning the second anniversary of her death is fast approaching.  Read her obituary here. (I have written about Darcel before in more detail here).  Merci, Denise Darcel - you made the world a more divoon place.

/ Satan's Angel and I at Viva Las Vegas in 2010

Another fabulous babe and source of inspiration is doyenne of exotic dance and true burlesque royalty, Satan’s Angel (the savagely-pouting and bouffant-haired pin-up featured at the top of this blog). I got to see Satan’s Angel perform and briefly meet and talk to her at Viva Las Vegas in 2010. She was great – a raspy-voiced, hard-boiled but sweet tough cookie and a true old-school broad. Since then I've befriended her on Facebook and am always entertained by her straight-talking status updates. Just two of the reasons I love this woman: as an out and proud lesbian on the Mafia-ruled burlesque scene in the 1960s she defiantly endured her share of prejudice. (Apparently her female lovers included Hedy Lamarr and Janis Joplin). Satan’s Angel also used to play bass in a topless all-girl rock’n’roll band called The Hummingbirds who used to do a residency at the nite spot Tipsy’s in San Francisco’s North Beach. (How Beyond the Valley of the Dolls / Russ Meyer-esque! Oh, for a time machine!). Now 69, she’s still performing, teaches her patented “fire tassel twirling” technique to today's neo-burlesque performers – and still stirs up trouble! Welcome to her wild, wild world!

Satan's Angel with her friend and peer, the late great Tura Satana (1938-2011)

/ Candid snap of a very young Satan's Angel at home at Christmas time in the early 1960s. Now that is a killer bullet bra! /

/ Trailer for an intriguing-looking 2013 documentary about the life and career of Satan's Angel /

Jungle Madness - Les Baxter
Taita Inty (Virgin of the Sun God)- Yma Sumac
Misirlou - Martin Denny
Anohi Kara - Masaaki Hirao
Sleep Walk - Henri Renee and His Orchestra
Caravan - 80 Drums Around the World
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Monkey Bird - The Revels
La-bas c'est naturel - Serge Gainsbourg
Champagne Taste - Eartha Kitt
Cocktail for Two - Cliff Dauphiney
The Whip - The Originals
Tonight You Belong to Me - Patience and Prudence
Long Distance - Garnell Cooper and The Kinfolks
All of Me - Mae West
Honey Rock - Barney Kessel
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
I'm a Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther
The Coo - Wayne Cochran
Intoxica - The Centurions
Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo
Bombora - The Original Surf-aris
Nosey Joe - Bull Moose Jackson
Coconut Water - Robert Mitchum
Dona Wana - Wanda Jackson
Go Calypso! Mamie Van Doren
Vesuvius - The Revels
Save It - Mel Robbins
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby - The Earls of Suave
Serenata - The Jonah Jones Quarter
Give Me Love - Lena Horne
Sexe - Line Renaud
Some Small Chance - Serge Gainsbourg (Strip-tease soundtrack)
What is a Man? Denise Darcel
I Want a Boy - Connie Russell
Crazy Vibrations - The Bikini
You're the Boss - Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret
Bewildered - Shirley and Lee
Intoxica - The Revels
Tina's Dilemma - Ike and Tina Turner
Little Queenie - The Bill Black Combo
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Margaya - The Fender Four
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Pass The Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
Handclapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders
Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun - Mink Stole
Black Coffee - Julie London
Je me donne à qui me plaît - Brigitte Bardot 
You'd Be Surprised - Marilyn Monroe
Lucky - Lizabeth Scott
The Beast - Milt Buckner
Torture Rock - Rockin' Belmarx
Je t'aime moi non plus - Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot
The Whip - The Frantics
Love is Strange - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
Kool Kat Walk - Julee Cruise
La Javanaise - Juliette Greco
Last Call for Whiskey - Choker Campbell

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Next Lobotomy Room ... Saturday 28 December 2013

(Just in case any of my followers on here are based in London: my next Lobotomy Room club night at Paper Dress Vintage in Shoreditch is Saturday 28 December 2013).

From the Facebook events page:

Feeling jaded? Didn’t get those cha-cha heels you wanted? Head-bang away those post-Christmas blues and end 2013 with a BANG – at LOBOTOMY ROOM! 
Lobotomy Room – where the international sin set meet! It’s a Mondo Trasho booze party of Beat, beat beatnik beatsville rock’n’roll at Paper Dress Vintage in the heart of bohemian Shoreditch! With ME, your host Graham Russell, whipping up a rancid selection of vintage musical sleaze (think John Waters soundtracks or Songs The Cramps Taught Us) for your dancing and listening pleasure.

SIT under a vintage hair dryer drinking a cocktail bigger than your head! INDULGE in drunken vintage clothing impulse shopping! DANCE your ass off to a soundtrack of rockabilly psychosis, frantic rhythm and blues and sleazy tittyshakers!

Admission is gratuit (that’s French for FREE!!). If you’re working that night — call in sick. If you’re in prison — BREAK OUT!
Read about previous Lobotomy Rooms herehereherehere and here
Flyer (Divine as Dawn Davenport in perennial holiday family favourite Female Trouble) by Joe Pop

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Reflections on ... The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961)

“Tennessee Williams wanted the lead in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone to go to Katherine Hepburn, after seeing her performance as the scheming mother in Suddenly Last Summer. But Hepburn, who resented the way her advancing years had been treated in that film, had no intention of inviting comparison between herself and the lonely middle-aged actress who buys the attentions of a male hustler. Although the public was intrigued by rumors of an off-screen liaison between the film’s subsequent stars, Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty, Spring was a disappointment at the box office. It seems that audiences were uncomfortable with the film’s depressing theme, and with the painful similarities between the lives of Vivien Leigh and the mentally unstable Mrs Stone.”
Penny Stalling. Flesh and Fantasy (1978)

If The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (the 1961 film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams novel) is remembered at all today, it’s as a dusty and obscure minor footnote to the career of its leading lady Vivien Leigh (it would be her penultimate film; Leigh died of tuberculosis aged 53 in 1967). It seemingly never crops up on TV and is unavailable on DVD in the UK. As a fan of both Leigh and Williams (and intrigued by Spring’s sordid subject matter!), I had long been intrigued by this curiosity. When the British Film Institute in London held a retrospective season commemorating the 100th anniversary of Leigh’s birth in November 2013, I finally got to see it.  

/ Make mine a Negroni: Vivien Leigh in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone /

It certainly feels like a “lost” film. The BFI always sources the best quality prints they can – and this one frequently looked pretty scratchy and moth-eaten. In 1961 the film suffered by comparison with Leigh and Williams’ earlier triumphant collaboration on A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), for which she won her second Academy Award, and it was neither a critical or commercial success. Seeing it in 2013 for the first time, I would argue The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone is ripe for a more generous reappraisal. Williams himself rated it highly, saying, “I think that film is a poem” in his 1972 memoirs (but then he also loved the catastrophic 1968 Liz Taylor-Richard Burton mega bomb Boom!). Call me perverse, but I find Spring infinitely more enjoyable than the more highly regarded Streetcar.

/ Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone /

The film is flawed but fascinating. It seethes with weird hybrid tensions. With its woman-of-a-certain age in peril heroine, Spring works as a lush old-fashioned conventional melodramatic “woman’s picture” awash with romantic masochism, stoical suffering and deluxe production values (the costumes, sets and Roman setting are pure eye candy). But it also plumbs the depths of some spicy lurid subject matter: self-destruction, sexual humiliation and glittering but empty hedonism in a milieu of pimps and prostitutes in Rome’s La Dolce Vita international cafe society. (Some of Spring’s nightclub and party scenes, with their grotesque celebrants, can be favorably compared to the earlier Fellini film). Intriguingly for modern audiences, the film is shot through with a definite queer sensibility (it’s surprisingly clear that those seeking firm-bodied Roman hustlers on the Spanish Steps are just as likely to be male as well as female; the role of Mrs Stone would probably make even more sense as an older gay man pining for his younger thug lover). It’s also convincingly permeated by a sense of real fatalistic despair almost from the very start (onscreen Leigh’s depression is almost tangible). And in its tense, shocking final moments, Spring packs the dread of a horror film.

/ The original theatrical trailer for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone /

/ Leigh, draped in haute couture by Balmain /

Leigh portrays the titular Mrs Karen Stone – a recently widowed and affluent middle-aged American actress adrift in Rome.  Rich, lonely and vulnerable, Stone is easy prey for heartless gigolo Paolo (Warren Beatty) and his malevolent female pimp The Contessa (Lotte Lenya). Leigh is only 47 here but it has to be said she seems dramatically older. (And in the context of the story, the age of 47 seems to represent something significantly older than it does in 2013). Draped in haute couture by Balmain (shame about the gruesomely unflattering blonde wigs), she is still waveringly beautiful but careworn, ravaged and fragile. (Late-period Leigh’s deep bass voice may come as a surprise; it was strikingly lower by the 1960s after years of poor health and heavy smoking). 

/ Ladylike and demure - but tortured /

Leigh is so perfect for the role, it's hard to believe it wasn't conceived with her in mind or that she wasn't the original choice. Her thin-skinned and delicate performance is a portrait of someone deeply wounded but striving to maintain a haughty dignity and detached froideur (she boosts her confidence and self-soothes with vice, chain-smoking and drinking Negroni cocktails).  And yet Leigh had a tough core: she was a profoundly unsentimental actress.  Whether as Scarlett O’Hara, Blanche Dubois or the complex and troubled Karen Stone, she never solicits the audience’s sympathy. Considering Spring is her second last film, Leigh ended her movie career on a high. My favorite moments of Leigh’s performance here are probably the simplest: the segments of Stone drifting aimlessly alone through Roman streets like a melancholy somnambulist, severely-etched  and alienated in her ladylike suits, white gloves and cat’s eye sunglasses, are haunting. Thank God Katherine Hepburn didn't accept the role. 

/ Like I said, the film has a genuinely queer sensibility: Warren Beatty wears very tight pants throughout and gets more than one lingering, admiring ass shot /

The film’s weakest link is callow young Warren Beatty, whose thick comedy Italian accent is frankly awful (his acting would improve considerably by Bonnie and Clyde in 1967). Why not cast an actual Italian actor as Paolo? The dark, swarthy and sensual Franco Citti had already smoldered playing sexy low-life pimps in two Pier Paolo Pasolini films, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962).  Or perhaps the French art cinema heartthrob Alain Delon, who at least was Continental - and by all accounts in real life every bit as predatory and amoral as Paolo! LuchinoVisconti’s bisexual protégé would have invested the part with some of the icy sociopathic menace he brought to Plein Soleil (1960). (In fact Delon had been considered for the role – but Leigh rejected him as “too pretty.” Perhaps she didn't want to share close-ups with him. Who could blame her not wanting to be compared to young Delon?).

/ Don't Smoke in Bed: Two ultra-sultry and homoerotic portraits of very young Delon by John S Barrington, a pioneer of gay beefcake / physique photography. Delon could have played the role of Paolo in his sleep. (Apparently Delon tried to suppress these photos later on. Read the biography Physique: The Life of John S Barrington by my friend, journalist and author Rupert Smith)

It could be argued the film is well and truly stolen from both Leigh and Beatty by the frankly amazing Lotte Lenya, nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as the toxic Contessa (two years later she would play Rosa Klebb in the James Bond film From Russia with Love – her most famous movie role). The 63-year old Austrian actress and chanteuse (the definitive interpreter of her husband Kurt Weill’s songs, name-checked in the English lyrics to “Mack the Knife”) is utterly compelling: she practically purrs with smiling, serene evil. I literally gasped when she calls Stone a “chicken hawk” (a very John Waters moment. I told you this was a queer film). And don’t even get me started on how much I love The Contessa’s apartment. All the sets in Spring are amazing, but her flat – shared with a menagerie of cats - is truly brothel-like, a tart’s boudoir of crimson velvet furniture, flocked wallpaper and gilt.

/ Stirring up trouble: Lotte Lenya as the sinister Contessa. I love her blood-red and gold apartment /

As well as La Dolce Vita, for me Spring echoes Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930) in its themes of sexual humiliation, cruelty and death, and Bonjour Tristesse (1958) for the joyless European jet set debauchery and luxurious settings. The story is full of Tennessee Williams’ essential recurring preoccupations:  loneliness, fear of aging, compassion for human fragility, the need to live with illusions and occupations especially the concept of the beautiful young gigolo doubling as an angel of death (See also: Boom!).

One of Spring’s other intriguing themes is American new world naivety versus European old world decadence. During a heated argument, Paolo spits at Stone, “Rome is 3000 years old. You’re what – fifty?” Later, when someone describes Stone as “a great lady”, The Contessa is contemptuous, arguing there is "no such thing as great American lady" because great ladies do not occur in country less than two hundred years old. Stone is out of her depth in Italy – against the corrupt and damaged likes of Paolo and The Contessa, she doesn't stand a chance.

No spoilers, but Spring also raises the possibility Stone has a death wish or unacknowledged suicidal impulse, subliminally motivating her. Aiming to shock and offend her, Paolo taunts she’ll be discovered dead in bed with her throat slit ear-to-ear by a gigolo three or four years from now. Stone merely laughs “a cut throat three or four years from now would be a convenience”. In a weird encounter on the street with some nosy American acquaintances Stone lies to them that she’s been diagnosed with a fatal illness so that they won’t bother her anymore. In the context of the film, this is fatalistic – she’s sealing her own fate. Even more disturbingly, throughout the film Stone is literally pursued by death – stalked by a completely silent, gauntly handsome angel of death street urchin hustler who at first might even exist only in her imagination. (He’s a very poetic Williams-ian touch: with his wraith-like cheekbones he looks like a Giacometti sculpture come to life and is arguably more attractive than Beatty).  His recurring presence foreshadows certain doom.

“A glamorous world – a strange romance!” the original theatrical trailer to The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone tantalizingly promised. The film offers a kinky glimpse of sex and dying in high society, viewed through a realm of genteel cocktail parties and gold cigarette cases.

/ Ominous: Karen Stone, stalked by death /

Further reading:

This great blog has some beautiful screen shots of The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone's lavish sets and costumes

My reflections on another Tennessee Williams adaptation, the notorious Boom! (1968)

The screenplay for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone was adapted by Gavin Lambert (1924-2005).  During the making of the film, Vivien Leigh was freshly divorced from Laurence Olivier and struggling with mental illness - and yet was consistently elegant and professional throughout. Read his sympathetic and insightful account of working Leigh here. 

/ "Oh show me the me way to the next pretty boy ...": The incomparable Lotte Lenya (in 1962) singing us out with Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song"