Sunday, 27 December 2015

Beverley Hills John

/ John Waters. Beverly Hills John, 2012. C-Print. 76,2 x 50,8 cm /

[Note: this article originally appeared on the Beige website beginning of July 2015]

Cinema’s trash maestro John Waters may not have directed a film since 2004, but if anything “the peoples’ pervert” is more venerated than ever. When A Dirty Shame (his last film to date) tanked, the durable Waters simply diversified, successfully re-inventing himself as an author, comedian, all-round pop culture “filth elder” (think gleefully corrupting sleazy uncle) – and visual artist.

Waters wrote about his passion for collecting modern art in his 2010 book Role Models. He’s also branched out into producing conceptual art himself. And in the kinky outsider art event of summer 2015, The Sprüth Magers gallery in Mayfair is presenting “Beverly Hills John” Waters’ first-ever exhibition in London (1 July – 15 August 2015).

The opening reception (or vernissage, if you prefer) was 30 June. As a lifelong Waters fanatic, needless to say my ass was there. To paraphrase a line from Serial Mom – I was so excited I could shit!

According to the press release, the exhibit promised “a fresh set of affectionate barbs about the movie biz. While he hasn’t lost his mordant wit or sense of mischief, “Beverly Hills John” finds Waters in a more reflective mood, asking the question: ‘Since celebrity is the only obscenity left in the art world, where do I fit in?’ He also hopes to resolve issues about childhood fame, false glamour, the horrors of nouveau-riche excess, his ongoing sexual attractions and the possible risk of ‘careericide’ with dignity.”

Inside Sprüth Magers, it was the hottest night of the summer thus far in more ways than one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a sneak preview of an art exhibit by cult cinema’s Pope of Trash lured every sexually ambivalent freak, punk and club kid in London. The gallery was packed and steamy. Adding to the buzz, Waters himself was holding court in person. Impeccably soigné in a Comme des Garcons jacket (or was it Dries van Noten?), Waters confidently circulated through the crowd, frequently stopping to graciously pose for photos with fans.

“Beverley Hills John” is saturated in macabre, sensational and perverse Hollywood Bablyon-style tabloid culture. The main gallery incorporates a section called “She Shoulda Said NO!” with cautionary portraits of glamour jungle casualties like Whitney Houston, Anna Nicole Smith, Amy Winehouse and Princess Diana. Waters includes among them doomed Country & Western chanteuse Patsy Cline, which felt odd since – unlike Houston, Smith and Winehouse – she died in a plane crash rather than of drug and alcohol abuse. (Perhaps Cline “shoulda said NO!” instead of boarding that plane?).

Waters offers two self-portraits: one of himself as a grotesque toupeed and Botoxed plastic surgery victim and one as an evil, grimacing dog catcher. (Sticking with the canine theme, perhaps the most disturbing and lingering image from the exhibit is what a “surgically-enhanced” Lassie would look like after a face lift).

In perhaps a sideways look at the concept of “gay respectability”, “Bill’s Stroller” is a toddler’s stroller fashioned out of studded black leather bondage straps, the fabric silkscreened with the names of hardcore gay sex clubs (Mineshaft, The Toilet, Blow Buddies) and spurting dicks. Know any expectant parents? It would make a great baby shower gift.

/ John Waters. Bill’s Stroller, 2014. Umbrella lightweight stroller with silkscreened linen and spiked, leather belt. 99,1 x 35,6 x 66 cm /

Elsewhere, Waters’ twisted vision integrates the covers of pornographic vintage gay pulp novels (if any straight attendees were unfamiliar with the old-school gay expression “chicken”, they will be now), novelty chest wigs, crabs (as in: pubic lice) and anal fissures.

The exhibit concludes with the video installation Kiddie Flamingos, in which Waters directs a cast of children as they re-enact the script of Pink FlamingosIt’s disarmingly sweet to see the “filthiest people alive” re-interpreted by kids – especially the little girl channelling Edith Massey as the egg-obsessed “Mama Edie” with blacked-out teeth and a beehive wig. It must be said, the girl portraying Connie Marble in a flame-orange wig and cat’s eye glasses really nails the venom of Mink Stole’s performance.

The rancid preoccupations and sensibilities that aficionados treasure in Waters’ films like Female Trouble and Cry-baby are present in abundance in the exhibit. “Beverley Hills John” is a life-affirming jolt of vivid kitsch.

/ John Waters. Justin’s Had Work, 2014. C-Print. 76,2 x 50,8 cm /

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 magazineWhen John Waters Met NicoA Reunion with the Prince of Puke Part 1 (2011)John Waters' Christmas Show at The Royal Festival Hall in 2011The Amy Grimehouse John Waters Filth Festival in 2014Reunion with the Prince of Puke Part 2 (2014)Reflections on John Waters' book Role Models. The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddamn One of Them) at The BFI. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Lobotomy Room 27 November 2015 at Fontaine's DJ Set List

As threatened on the Facebook events page...

Witness forbidden voodoo rites and adult situations - at LOBOTOMY ROOM!

Yes! Leave all sense of shame and propriety at the door - when LOBOTOMY ROOM returns to its new home, the subterranean Bamboo Lounge of Art Deco vice palace Fontaine's! Friday 27 November!

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! Now with added vintage erotica projected on the wall for your adult viewing pleasure!

Admission: gratuit - that's French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It's sleazy. It's grubby. It's trashy - you'll love it!

A tawdry good time guaranteed!

I won’t lie. It’s been an agonising, anxiety-ridden and bumpy recent few months characterised by unemployment woes. In fact I’ve been a full-on freaked-out casualty since summer 2015. In September I was made redundant at my then-current job in a painful re-structure. (I’d been there just under two years so – as human resources gleefully pointed out – I wasn’t eligible for any kind of redundancy package). I swung hard into frantically applying for jobs and liaising with recruitment agencies – and within a week of getting officially made redundant, had scored a new job! Phew! The new job initially felt like a godsend.  But by about the third or fourth week it quickly became apparent it was not a good fit. In fact I was filled with overwhelming anxiety and dread on a daily basis. By about the end of the second month, the worst case scenario happened: I was officially informed I hadn’t survived the six month probationary period and they wouldn’t be keeping me on. It was a pretty crushing blow to be plunged into unemployment and financial uncertainty again.

Since the end of November (in fact, within days of getting the news) I landed a temp job and I’ve been steadily temping since. This has been a positive development: it’s kept me afloat and helped me claw back some confidence. It’s also demonstrated that – much as I dislike the financial insecurity - I can survive by temping if absolutely necessary. On Monday 7 December I had a job interview for a new permanent role. By Wednesday 9 December the recruitment agent phoned to inform me I was successful. It looks like I’ll be starting the new job on 11 January 2016. It’ll be another six month probationary period and I’ve been burnt before – but it is reason to be optimistic.  Hopefully I’ll be back on track soon and the past few months will just be a blip in my life.

27 November represented the last Lobotomy Room of 2015. (Lobotomy Room is the last Friday of every month and the last Friday of December is 25 December –Santa Claus’ birthday!). Considering I’d been fired earlier that very week, my nerves were still well and truly shot. Necking beer and DJ’ing some angry punk and rockabilly tunes in the dimly-lit Bamboo Room certainly helped – it just needed more people in attendance! If there was ever a time to show me some support, this was it. Since re-locating Lobotomy Room to its new permanent home downstairs at Fontaine’s in summer 2015, I’ve lost every single regular I’d gradually built up over the years. It’s a kick in the teeth, but the Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s is the ideal home for my vision of Lobotomy Room. Hip boss lady Emerald Fontaine encourages me to crank-up my most putrid musical selections loud. It’s got Mondo Tiki Polynesian decor. It’s in Dalston (well, the bit that bleeds into Stoke Newington). And it’s got the most beautiful big movie screen (bordered by two silver-sprayed palm trees either side) for me to project grainy vintage erotica (of the boob-tastic Russ Meyer / Bettie Page-burlesk-Teaserama variety and the Athletic Model Guild baby-oiled guys-wrestling-in-posing-pouches beefcake homo porn – so something for everybody!). Difficult as it is, I’m gritting my teeth and soldiering on and just hoping there is some new hip Beat Generation out there hungry for kicks and ready to embrace what I’m laying down.  Anyway, later on, some loyal friends did turn up (and earned my eternal gratitude): Mal (fellow DJ and my partner in crime at Cockabilly) and Chris (potentially better known to some of you under his drag name – Baby Lame).

Lobotomy_Room_27_Nov_2015 002

/ Mal corrupting Pee-Wee Herman /

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/ Chris, Elizabeth and Richard /

/ Fierce! Incandescent rhythm and blues queen Tina Turner in the seventies. Did anyone ever look better in zebra print? /

The night before Lobotomy Room Bold Soul Sister extraordinaire Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock on 26 November 1939) turned 76. I venerate the iconic bewigged rhythm and blues tigress and Tina’s music (especially her sixties R&B material) is a perennial Lobotomy Room (and Cockabilly) staple. Needless to say I played some Ike’n’Tina, but also a track from Turner’s second solo album Acid Queen (1975) - her gender-fucked version of The Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb", to be precise. (Tina’s actual first solo album is the weird obscurity from 1974 Tina Turns The Country On! on which she tackles country and western music by the likes of Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. It’s never been issued on CD). The record was clearly meant to capitalise on Tina’s wild, hair-tossing appearance in the role of Acid Queen in the berserk 1975 Ken Russell film Tommy. It’s billed as a solo album but strictly speaking Tina was still with Ike and The Ike and Tina Turner Revue at the time (the turbulent royal couple of rhythm and blues broke up in 1976). Acid Queen sees Turner dabbling with white hard rock cover versions (she gives songs by The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin a sustained feline attack), anticipating the musical direction of her later much more commercially successful comeback career in the eighties. Acid Queen is no lost classic: it’s strange, patchy and not entirely successful. The production is frequently tacky (there are disco flourishes here and there) and Tina is backed by jaded generic seventies studio musicians. (Fun fact: one of the backing singers cooing behind Tina is Kim Carnes of “Bette Davis Eyes” infamy! Her raspy tones are instantly recognisable on certain tracks. Bring back the Ikettes, I say). Tina, though, is in ferocious voice, sounding exultant and liberated throughout Acid Queen. In fact she sings the hell out of it. All hail Tina Turner!

Meanwhile, Turner’s rhythm and blues contemporary the fabulous Little Richard turned 83 on 5 December. The Bronze Liberace, Georgia Peach and simultaneous King and Queen of Rock’n’Roll was born Richard Wayne Penniman on 5 December 1932. I revere Little Richard as the freakiest, queerest and most flamboyant of rock music’s early architects. Beloved by John Waters (the inspiration for Waters’ signature sleazy little pencil-line moustache), Richard’s essential masterpiece “The Girl Can’t Help It” manages to be synonymous with both Jayne Mansfield and Divine. Little Richard is now enjoying a hard-earned and hopefully serene retirement from performance but I managed to catch one of his last-ever gigs at Viva Las Vegas in 2013. It was a deeply odd but memorable experience. Read about it here.

A few days later came the announcement of the death of underground actress, cabaret artiste, Warhol muse and transgender pioneer Holly Woodlawn (born Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl , 26 October 1946 - 6 December 2015) aged 69. In the late sixties Holly Woodlawn, along with Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis, was part of the trio of outrageous Andy Warhol Superstar drag queens who would inspire and get name-checked – and thus be immortalised - in Lou Reed's 1972 song “Walk on the Wild Side”. (Woodlawn outlived her friends Darling and Curtis by decades). The best way to honour Woodlawn’s memory is to watch her raw, vivacious and funny performance in the 1970 Paul Morrissey-directed film Trash. (I think you can find the whole film in its entirety on Youtube. Her Trash co-star Joe Dallesandro was by Woodlawn’s hospice bedside when she died). I only crossed paths with Woodlawn once, when she was in London in September 2007 to promote an exhibition of portraits painted of her by the artist Sadie Lee at The Drill Hall Theatre. (See photos from the day here). Author and raconteur Rupert Smith memorably interviewed Woodlawn onstage about her life and career. Physically she was already in failing health and virtually immobile, but Woodlawn gave a master class in charisma, wit and star power that afternoon. A mature, ravaged but resilient and still defiantly glamorous diva in a bouffant wig, she reminded me of a character out of a Pedro Almodovar film. When I was leaving I told her what a pleasure it had been to see her and Woodlawn vowed, “Oh, you haven't seen the last of me! I'll be back!" Sadly it wasn’t to be. Kudos in particular to Woodlawn’s long-time friend, New York’s earth mother / she-wolf of performance art Penny Arcade, who launched a spectacularly successful Gofundme campaign page that raised enough cash to ensure Holly’s final days were serene and dignified.

/ One less Warhol Superstar: Farewell Holly Woodlawn /

In other news, I’ve branched out - last month saw the debut of my Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies film club.  Fontaine’s already has a free weekly film club in the Bamboo Lounge on Tuesday nights. I’ve muscled in on their action and once a month I crash the proceedings and screen a rancid film of my own selection. Like I asked on Facebook: as winter draws in, how better to break the monotony on a Tuesday night than watch a free film, drink cocktails and eat snacks in the plush and intimate environs of Fontaine’s basement Bamboo Lounge? My emphasis will be on cult, queer, obscure curiosities. So far I’ve shown two films: on 24 November I inaugurated things with Marlene Dietrich in Seven Sinners (1940). That was a fun film to screen at Fontaine’s:  most of the action in Seven Sinners takes place within a Polynesian-style bamboo Tiki nightclub – and people were watching it within the Polynesian-style bamboo Tiki surroundings of the Bamboo Lounge!  It was a buzz to see the dreamy soft-focus close-ups of Dietrich’s veiled face framed between the silver palm trees.

/ Marlene Dietrich as good time girl nightclub chanteuse Bijou Blanche in Seven Sinners (1949) /

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies Film Club 24/11/15

/ Glamorous attendees of Seven Sinners night: Sarah and Abigail /

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies Film Club 24/11/15

/ Glamorous attendees of Seven Sinners night: Vera and Lauren /

On Tuesday 15 December I embraced the festive spirit with Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988), the campiest and kitschiest of TV specials. In it, that bow-tied perverse brat Pee-Wee Herman welcomes a glittering selection of special guest stars (including Grace Jones, Little Richard, Cher and Joan Rivers) to the Playhouse and learns the true meaning of Christmas in the process. Attendance figures have been on the low side so far, but here’s hoping Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies catches on.

/ Grace Jones and Pee-Wee Herman in Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988). If you haven't already, read about my fleeting encounter with Grace Jones last month here /

I did have some depressing news to share: After thirteen years at 2 Hackney Road, earlier this month the truly great epicentre of East London gay bohemia (and home of Cockabilly) The George & Dragon in Shoreditch permanently padlocked its doors, another victim of soaring rents. But just as we were all mourning its demise, the management / brains behind The George & Dragon announced on Facebook this week they’ve been working hard behind the scenes and are opening a whole new venue – The Queen Adelaide further up on Hackney Road! This news counts as a genuine Christmas miracle. I still haven’t clapped eyes on the place, but it’s already my new favourite pub! Mal and I don’t know at this point whether Cockabilly will continue at The Queen Adelaide, but our fingers are crossed. (Read about The Queen Adelaide here). 

Finally, after a lengthy gap I’m back behind the decks at Dr Sketchy! The Anti-Art School (where life drawing meets cabaret) re-launched in the Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s on Saturday 12 December for a decadent afternoon of cocktails, art, burlesque - and me spinning tittyshakers and exotica. It looks like this will be a permanent new arrangement. A full Dr Sketchy scene report will follow separately! 

Sheba - Johnny and The Hurricanes
Night Scene - The Rumblers
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Beatnik - The Champs
Teardrops from My Eyes - Ruth Brown
Fever - Edith Massey
Eager Beaver Baby - Johnny Burnette
Drummin' Up A Storm - Sandy Nelson
Boots - Nero and The Gladiators
One Monkey Don't Stop No Show - Big Maybelle
Ain't That Good - George Kelly and Orchestra
I Wish I Were a Princess - Little Peggy March
Point of No Return - Gene McDaniels
Vesuvius - The Revels
Honey Rock - Barney Kessel
Rawhide - Link Wray
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Rock-A-Bop - Sparkle Moore
Booze Party - Three Aces and a Joker
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
Meu Bem Lollipop (My Boy Lollipop) - Wanderlea
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
Shanghaied - The Fabulous Wailers
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
Margaya - The Fender Four
It's A Gas - The Rumblers
I'm a Woman - Peggy Lee
Twist Talk - Jack Hammer
Viens danser le twist - Johnny Halliday
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Peter Gunn Locomotion - The Delmonas
Twistin' the Night Away - Divine
Big Girls Don't Cry - Edith Massey
Do You Remember Rock'n'Roll Radio? The Ramonetures
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Under My Thumb - Tina Turner
Gostaria de Saber (River Deep, Mountain High) - Wanderlea
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot
Jukebox Baby - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Cretin Hop - The Ramones
Let's Go, Baby - Billy Eldridge
Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson
Don't Be Cruel - Bill Black Combo
Where's My Money? Willie Jones
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
I Can't Believe What You Say - Ike and Tina Turner
Your Phone's Off the Hook - The Ramonetures
Devil Doll - X
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
Aphrodisiac - Bow Wow Wow
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold? Joe Perkins and The Rookies
I Want Your Love - The Cruisers
You're the One for Me - Wanda Jackson
Twisting with Bad Boy Bubbles - Shuggie Smith and The Cajuns
Dance with Me, Henry - Ann-Margret
I Will Follow Him - Little Peggy March
Big Bad Boss Beat - The Teen Beats
Woo-Hoo - The Rock-A-Teens

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 hereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere , here , here and here

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