Monday, August 28, 2006

Bizarre Love Triangles

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Well, I guess I had already introduced those characters, Carla and Brad, I just haven't talked about them lately...

Calrla, who's from Venezuela, was Jody's close friend she met in college. She is a tiny, petite girl, like Jody. On the night I remember meeting her, in 1985, at Berlin, (after much build-up from Jody about how great she was and how much she loved her) Carla had long, black, curly hair, and rough looking hands she accentuated with long, red nails, which she perched near her mouth while dangling a cigarette and a cocktail, and bright red lipstick. She looked like a tiny Frida Kahlo, with a dash of modern excentricity thrown in. I believe Jody and Carla were both studying chemistry at the time, for they were still planning on becoming doctors.
Right before I had met Jody and Carla, they had met Marty, Dave, and Mark one night at Berlin . I know why they were attracted them. Whenever they were together, Jody and Carla ignited an irresistible, wicked, conspiratorial aura that drew you to them, and that made you want to be in on the joke, because it always looked like a good one. You could tell, just by looking at them, that they were the smartest ones in the room. And they were cute. The five were fast friends, and soon I was friends with them all.
We spent a lot of time at their new friend's apartment building on Barry, just off Halsted. Dave lived on the first floor, and Marty lived on the second, with his friend Mark's place across the hall. I loved that building. It had such a cozy, urban feel to it, that to me, defined perfect city living: all your neighbors are cool and fun, so it's always a party!
Marty was an amazing artist, model, drummer, and all-around Greek God. It was hard to hate him, despite all that he was blessed with, because he was so much fun. And he liked to walk around naked a lot. Ok, all the time. It never struck me as vulgar when he did that, because his body was so perfect, it was like spending time with a living statue that liked to get drunk. And, um, oh yea, I'm gay. Mark, a teacher, had fallen deeply under Marty's spell. (Most people did.) Mark's knowledge of the worlds of literature, music, and film was vast and inspiring to me. He turned me on to Isherwood, E.M. Forster, Roxy Music, and the French "New Wave" films. I was always a big reader, but Mark constantly stressed the importance of great writers, and the impact they can have on our lives, and reading everyday. Dave was an artist, too, and I believe he knew Marty from college in Milwalkee. Dave's 'friendship' with Carla quickly developed into something more, and soon they were engaged.
It was fascinating for me to listen to their conversations, but it made me regret not going to a 'real' college. But they never talked down to me, because they knew I admired and looked up to them, so they were always quick to point out my strong points; mainly my nerve to live an intense, new wave life style (it's OK, you can laugh...), and the brain that was buried underneath it all.
"I never see anyone dressed like you! You're so creative. I wish I could do that." Marty would say to me. "And you're so gorgeous, with that perfect skin of yours! See, that's corn-fed-beef-beauty, cause you grew up in Wisconsin. You ate a lot of corn growing up, didn't you?" He asked.
"Umm, yes?" I said.
"That's the secret!" He said, confident he was on to something.
"What the hell did you eat to get they way you are, Marty?!" I said, as they laughed.
Looking back, I think it was my aura of self-loathing that inspired their positive comments. The 'alternative' facade I used to mask my insecurities was painfully transparent to them.

Mark would secretly encourage me to 'do something more' with Marty, because of the attraction he perceived Marty had toward me. I never understood why he did that, because Marty is straight, and his whole being was so intense and beautiful, I rarely entertained such an unobtainable scenario. My theory why he did that was, if Mark could 'open the gates' to Marty's sexuality, a sexuality I doubted Marty even had 'gates' to, he could swoop in and lay claim. This is only a theory, mind you.
We spent many nights together, drinking wine and popping sedatives, and trying to figure out this world, our place in it, and the best way to leave a lasting mark on it.
Around the time Carla left for a few months to marry Dave in Venezuela, much to Jody's distress, (over Carla being gone so long, not over the marriage; Dave is an angel) Brad was getting ready to move in with Jody, Scot and me.
It's hard for me to relate to you everything about Brad, and all that he means to me, without writing an entire book right now. (I just might do that some day, actually.) Bearing in mind that he and I have a history that starts when we were both eleven years old, here's the rest of this story:
Brad was still living in Wisconsin when I moved here, and one day over the phone I convinced him to move to Chicago. How I ever convinced Jody and Scot to let another person move in to our already tight quarters is a mystery to me. Especially considering that fact we three, Jody, Brad and I, had to sleep in the same bed, as Scot had recently reminded me.
"No way!!" I screamed at him. I just don't have any memory of that. But Scot has a better memory for the more specific details, so I trust him. (I haven't talked to Jody about it yet...)
After Brad moved in, his charm and good looks quickly won over Scot and Jody, and he and I would steal away to the bedroom and lock the door and catch up on each others lives, and rekindle our sexual relationship. In my eyes, it was an intimate relationship with deep meaning to me, but I was never quite sure what it was to Brad back then. I don't know if it was me and my pathetic insecurities, but I could never pin anything down with Brad. I would try, but he had an uncanny knack of worming out of those conversations with just enough words to placate me, without demolishing any hope. I find myself in these stupid situations over and over. I heard the words I love you often from him during that time, but our definitions were clearly not the same.
This situation between us quickly became moot, for Brad's mother had started to contact him, and that began to occupy all his emotional energy. She had moved away when Brad was very young, after her divorce, so Brad never really knew her. He rarely talked about her with me when we were younger, mainly because his step mother was such a monster, and it was all he could do to deal with her. (He would give me daily updates of her vicious treatment toward him, but I could always tell it was just the tip of the iceberg, for she wounded him deeply and often.) His joy in hearing from his true mother was palpable, and we all seat rapt listening to their conversations he would relay back for us:
"She's been living in the south for twenty years now, and get this, she's gay! She lives with her girlfriend! She wants me to come there and spend some time with them, because she wants to do her best to prove how much she loves me, and try and heal the pain she caused me by running away and not being in my life." He said, through tears.
I kind of didn't want him to go, because I just got him back in my life, and I was afraid he would want to stay there. But he went soon after that, for many weeks, with my blessings. (He eventually came back.)
Jody and I would sit around and mope over our departed loves. I would play Euroglider's Heaven (that song is still so amazing, I don't understand why it never gets any air time on the retro stations today) over and over, Brad's favorite song, but Jody would refuse to let me play any Bowie, because every song reminded her how much she missed Carla. I would sometimes sneak a song or two, on low volume, but she always heard me playing it, and would come running into the room to turn it off.
"I'm not kidding! No Bowie!" She would yell.
We decided Kate Bush was a good compromise, and we let her words express our sadness during those long weeks. (Teenagers just don't write songs like that anymore, do they?) I bought every EP, LP, 12", and record I could find of hers.
"Jesus, it's like a goddamned funeral in here anymore! Can I please put on some dance music or something! No more arty smart-chick music!" He said, trying to shake us out of our funk.
I suspected Jody was secretly happy Brad was gone, because now it was back to just her and I in bed...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Whatever Gets You Through the Night

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To pick up from the last post, here's my love letter to Medusa's. (I guess all my posts are all love letters, in a way...)
During the summer of '85, Scott, Brad, Jody, Carla and I lived for Medusa's. The building (it's still there) stood on the corner of School and Sheffield. It was four stories tall, and I think it was originally a warehouse or a factory. We tried to to get there early, but between our hair and make-up, it took us forever to get out the door. Getting there early was a necessity, because the line of cool kids waiting to get in was always a block long. Standing in the line was never as much fun, cause we couldn't hear the music! It was a good way to see how our look rated with these kindred spirits, but the music was our main reason for going.
Once we got the ok from the doorman, we climbed the huge, steep, flight of stairs to pay the cover. I saw way too many stoned kids take a tumble down those stairs. If Blue was in the mood, we got in free, and it was off to paradise!
They had taken out two floors to the back half of the building, so the dance floor was two hundred feet tall, just a giant room. My favorite decor was their doll house theme. Someone made a giant couch, like ten feet tall, with a chair and coffee table, and we would dance on them, like Barbie dolls come to life. Or if we had the nerve, we would dance on the stage. But you had to be a good dancer, or have a good look, cause everyone would look at you. When I needed a break from dancing, I would go to the second floor balcony, watch the scene below, and think to myself: Thank God this place exists, thank God I live in a city, and even though it's not New York, Chicago is just as good. Whoever invented Medusa's is a genius!
The second floor also had a movie lounge, and groups of people would lay on the floor and watch weird movies (Liquid Sky was a favorite) or a filmed live show of a punk band. I never understood why any one would want to lay around Medusa's; it was the antithesis of laying around! We were also very leery of entering that room, for the big rumor was it was the junkie room. Junkies are scary!
Speaking of scary, there used to be a group of people that would do performance art there through out the night. They did odd things like walk around with burning candles glued to their heads, or eat food off kittens, but I never really 'got' them. Their looks were always puzzling, cardboard boxes as clothing, for instance, but they took things to such extremes, it just went over my head. They always added a little drama to the night, but they just didn't seem like they were having any fun. I liked them less when I heard they were stung-out trust-fund kids, and that they just let those cats go after their 'act' was done- they basically threw them away.
(Ironically, not long after that, Nina Hagen and Lene Lovich sang their song for PETA, Don't Kill the Animals, on that very stage. [A song we all secrectly hated] Oh, if they only knew...)
Now the music. Oh, that music! If you grew up alienated and ostracized in a small town like I did, you gravitated toward things that were different. Like seeking like, I guess. Mainstream entertainment never appealed to me because it's denizens rejected me, so I rejected it. On top of that, my rebellious nature forces me to hate things everyone else likes. The more different, as long as it was 'good', the better.
I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, home of Lawrence, a great school for the arts, and their late-night college radio was killer back in the early eighties. I would be up for hours every night, writing down the bands I liked, and I would go to one of the many great record stores Appleton used to have, on the weekends, and spend hours deciding which one record from my stack I could afford to buy. The Clash? XTC? The Cure? Siouxsie? The Jam? The B-52's? Yes, I'm one of those kind of people: I liked REM and U2 way before anyone else did. I know a lot of people can say that, and a lot of people can say before before I did. I'm still like this today. I love seeking out new music and film; let's just say I was among the few hundred or so people who were at Suede's or TV on the Radio's first Chicago shows.
But I toot my own 'cool' horn and digress...
The music Medusa's Djs would play had and aura you could almost touch. It was like they searched out dance music that was written by disaffected youth, for disaffected youth. Kinetic melonchalia. Probably because we paid the bills, I suppose. Some of the songs were old friends, but most were new to me, and anthemic, because of the passion they inspired in us. Unlike myself at the time, those musicians reveled in, and celebrated what made them 'apart' from everyone else; it was as if the djs were trying to 'heal' me!
It's amazing what you can create with a little angst and a keyboard...
I wish I could remember all the bands I discovered there. I've been wracking my brain (and the internet: God Bless Youtube!) all week, and came up with this small sampling of a typical night that stands out in my memory: Front 242, Ministry, Anne Clark, Vicious Pink, ABC, Cocteau Twins, New Order, Data, Japan, and Propaganda. Sadly no data on Data's Living Inside Me, yet. And I know ABC seems a little out of place on this list, but it seems I was constantly hearing Vanity Kills there. Yay! Vanity Kills! Let's dance! Sometimes I felt they played that song whenever I walked into the room... ( I was hard to miss: my hair was 2' tall back then. Really.)
It's odd for me to see these videos now, for I rarely saw them then. (If it was a dance song, Berlin's djs opted for 'wallpaper' in lieu of it's video.) The visual images that come to my mind are of this music filling the dark, crowded, cavernous room with it's own, almost living, presence.
We just could not stop dancing. We got there usually around midnight, and would rarely leave til ten in the morning. They didn't serve alcohol, so they were open as late as they wanted to be. Because we lived so close, we would drag some friends with us and take 'Medusa's breaks' at home, and gab and drink and talk about how good or bad the night was going, and sometimes take a bath and change outfits. Five hours of non-stop dancing, with four more to come, tended to make one a little weary.
A really great night was being able to run back and forth between Medusa's and Berlin (it was a block away). We were all under 21, so getting into Berlin depended on either: the doorman, their mood, or who you showed up with.
The music always brought me back to Medusa's. The djs, through their spinning, were telling me I wasn't the only one who felt the way I did, or had bad experiences growing up. And to borrow a phrase, I used to be on that train, 'the 8:15 to nowhere', but thanks to these musicians, I was starting to learn I could have a destination.

p.s. Yes, I know I just introduced two new characters; I'm still figuring out the best way to write about them.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

All Aboard for Funtime

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Are you ready for some videos?! Hope ya got some time to kill...

You know how a song can trigger a memory? To this day, whenever I hear Dear Prudence, any Blancmange, or Sensoria, I'm at Berlin, it's 1985, and I'm with Jody and Scot, running the three steps to the tiny "dance floor". I say "dance floor" cause they technically didn't have one. Just a 12' by 12' "area". Or Universal Radio. Or French Kissin'.
Four blocks of School was all that separated us from Medusa's and Berlin. Back then Berlin was half the size it is now. It was tucked away among the old, dusty stores that used to surround it. Showcase One, formerly Tut's, soon to be Avalon, which is now Milio's, was across the street. Brian C. would regale us with stories of the bands that played Tut's: Klaus Nomi, Bauhaus, Specimen, to name a few. Showcase One was a male stripper club for men. It was very hard for us to combine the space-age magic that was Klaus, with the drunken, half nude, sweaty reality that it was, but we took his word for it. I have my hair cut now a days at Milio's, with Vlad, to soak up the aura from the underground 80's legends that passed through it's doors.
We went to Berlin whenever we could. It was a shining beacon to everything that was yet to be; the latest New York and European fashion and music trends always appeared there first. We, of course, tried our damnedest to be apart of that newness, rather than to just look at it. The rare times we walked in when it was dead, our disappointment would be replaced with excitement. Berlin's djs always found the latest and best music and videos. And if they had a great song without a video, they showed an inspired wallpaper choice to complement it: 50's "gay porn" or burlesque, or a spliced-up movie; it was as if Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were peering down at us into our mid-eighties world from the huge video screen. The next day, Scot and Jody and I would run out to the used sections of our favorite record stores to try and buy what we heard the night before. There were a couple around the Belmont and Broadway area, who's names escape me, but we usually went to Wax Trax. (I'm saving talking about Wax Trax in further detail for a later date.)
What appealed to me most about Berlin was it's lack of a sexual label. It was a place for all who had an open mind, as long as you were into the new and different and creative. I made-out with many a straight boy there in my day! I don't know how they do it, but whenever I go there now, 21 years later, it still retains that feeling.
We had Berlin and Medusa's "friends" and "icons" we always hoped we would see. Our friends were Ted(?), a dancer from Showcase One, who befriended Jody one night, who would tell us hilarious tales of his desperate 'fans', "Pee-Wee", (he looked just like him) who was a blast and usually had some new music for me on a mixed tape. Pee Wee gave me my first copy of Marcia Baila. That was the Berlin video. We would beg the djs to play it a million times a night. I still can't get enough of that song. And Madonna is still mining that video for inspiration. Les Rita Mitsouko put Gaultier on the 'cool' map, not her.
(I could really go on and on about how much I love this song and video: How she moves her body, what she does with her face, the setting the video takes place in, the clothes and hair, and above all, the seemingly effortless execution of the intense mish-mash of information caught on film. They wrote this song as an homage to their friend Marcia, who danced in their early shows, who died at an young age due to cancer. They turned the sadness of their loss into this incerdible work of art. And what better way is there to honor the memory of a dancer who has died, but with a song every one loves to dance to?)
More friends were Terri and Leo, Brian C.'s fun friends, and "Grape Girl". (She always wore a grape brooch.) We never saw them in the day light, or outside of those places, but we needed them in case a great song came on and our 'real' friends were other-wise occupied.
Explaining our "icons" is a little more difficult. These were people who either had a sense of style that was mind-blowing, or like a train wreck. The good ones were "skirt guy" (John. OK yes, it was John, you dragged it out of me.), who always wore a long black skirt, who inspired me to eventually do the same, and a waist-long braided fall. During his phase of wearing that look, he made sure to stand at the bar with his back to the dance floor, for all to see. Yes, I'm wearing a skirt, so what.
Grant, who is now a big fashion designer in L.A. (Grey Ant), whose out-fits and hair were beyond perfection in their execution and creativity (he sold his clothes at Wax Trax back in the day), and Louie Verdad and his gang, another big L.A. designer [I recently saw Paris Hilton extolling the virtues of his clothes on an itunes download, and almost threw up]. I eventually became good friends with Louie, and we would hang out at his place and make clothes together. 1318 West Roscoe! he would say when he answered his phone, in his thick Castilian accent.
The 'bad' ones were: a hair stylist from Halsted we nick-named Holiday Horror. A picture of him in one of his outfits had some how made it's way into a paper we were fond of reading at the time, Weekly World News, which then made it's way into Scot's 'collage of freakiness' he clipped out and put on our kitchen wall. His outfits were bizarre beyond description in their horribleness. They were creative in the sense that you never saw anything like it, a mini Christmas tree as a hat, for instance, but his superior attitude (or twenty hits of acid) kind of wrecked the whole thing. There was just no sense of whimsy to his chicken wire ball gowns. He could've been a very nice guy, and we had the wrong idea about him. I don't know. We never did have a conversation with him.
Another bad one was "Robert Smith Guy". He thought he was Robert Smith. When a Cure song came on, no one could enjoy it because he cleared the dance floor with the righteous indignation that were his flailing limbs: How dare you dance to my music! Later that summer, at The Cure concert for Head on the Door, at the Aragon Ballroom, what is the first thing we see but a sobbing "Robert Smith Guy" being dragged out by four security guards. Only four? I think to myself. And only ten minutes into the show? I'm surprised he made it that long. Poor thing.
But the biggest 'good' icon to us was CARA. Ohhh, Cara. She was amazing. She turned into a designer, too. Today she makes impeccable hair ornaments, and is now, I hear, branching out into jewelry. I would say a little prayer every night in hopes of seeing her walking around the Belmont area. She never seemed to be going to the same places we were, probably because her level of coolness afforded her entry to events barred to lesser souls. Whenever we did spot her, we would trail behind her for as long as we could. To us she was a work of art. I get like like that around certain women. She reminded me of the senior girl in my high school band class in Brookfield, Connecticut. This was 1980, and she dressed like a combination of Marcia Brady and that Sex Pistols Girl, with a bleached-out section on the side of her head she dyed a new color each week. She was stunning right down to her black patent-leather flats, and if you were around in 1980, that is the equivalent to wearing Little Debbies snack cakes as shoes today. People are gonna STARE.
Back then, Cara had clipped bleached hair on the sides and back, and dyed black, spiked hair on top, with a stenciled-on skull and cross bones on the back of her head. My mind reeled.
I was content to admire them from afar, for it would be a bit like talking to the painter of a great painting, or a writer of a great book. I knew I had nothing to communicate to them, but they had volumes to communicate to me! What could one say to Salinger or Michelangelo, really? You're cool? No shit!
Taking the cue from them both, I bleached a paisly onto the side of my head, and had my roommate color it in for me everyday. I felt I achieved my glamour goal when the college girl at Wallgreens struck up a conversation with me one day:
"Do you live around here or something?" She asked.
"No, I work across the street at Demuel's hair salon." I said.
"Well, I just have to say we love your hair here. We talk about you whenever you come in. We call you Paisly Guy. We whisper Paisly Guy's here! when we see you." She said, laughing.
I thanked her, and left the store with a big smile on my face.

p.s. I was going to write more about Medusa's, but I guess I'll have to do that next time.
p.p.s Special thanks to Dan at Ragstock!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Party Fears II

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Tony, my friend who worked at Paradise, was changing jobs.
As I wrote a few posts ago, in Despite Straight Lines, Limelight opened in Chicago in the summer of '85. Yay! Now I can be famous!
It was where Excalaber is now. ( I think it is still called that!? I don't get out as much as I used to...) Not long after it opened, Tony got a bartending job there. All my how the hell am I going to get in there cause I'm only 19 stress went away when Tony said he could sneak us past the doormen, if we got there early enough.
It, of course, took me a long time to decide what to wear. I finally went with my motorcycle jean jacket, adorned on the front with about twenty vintage brooches, Jody's long, fitted black skirt, which we usually fought over, with white socks and used black oxfords. I was very into Robert Smith's look from the videos for Japanese Whispers: spiky black hair, but not too big, with big black eye brows, whitened skin, and the perfect shade of red lipstick. A cool red, not an orangy one. (Whenever the Lovecats video came on at Berlin, people would always comment on my resemblance to Robert. "Hey! you look just like him!" I would just smile and nod..)
I went with Jody and Scott, and I had forgotten that Limelight was downtown, so we had to train it down there. At night. As soon as I walked out the door, I said wait! I want to change my outfit! Ignoring me, they grabbed my arms and dragged me to the Belmont El stop. I was nervous to take the train, cause I didn't usually dress so severely for it. It was ok for the quick walks to Medusa's and Berlin; I didn't feel like a gazelle separated from the herd when I did that. I worried the harsh lights of public transportation would expose my Miss Maybellene ways. I wanted to appear naturally made-up. With my bright red lipstick. And I didn't want to get beat up.
Thankfully, the train ride was uneventful, and we made it to Limelight. The building was a huge, castle of a place. It used to be a museum of some sort. Tony got us in, and we wandered around like Alice after she fell down the rabbit hole. One giant room led to another, til we found ourselves on the dance floor. They were playing the music we did in our living room! We were on that dance floor for hours, with kids dressed like us. And kids dressed better than us. And kids dressed cooler than us. Yes! I thought to myself. Someone to emulate!
The tourists hadn't found Limelight yet. Oh, they eventually did, and I'll tell you about that later.
After tiring ourselves out dancing, we found the Dome Room. It was the size of a football field, and four stories tall. This room turned out to be our regular hangout. There was something about being in that room that stimulated my imagination:
It felt like being in a living movie. Or forgotten French chateau. But it mainly felt like a decadent waste of space and resources; as though my friends and I were contributing to the downfall of society.
"We, the young people of today, don't want museums or schools, we want nightclubs! And drinks! And some drugs! And Benson and Hedges Menthol Lights!"
There was something else about the vastness of Chicago's Limelight that called to me, and if I had a way to see into the future, I wonder if I would've ever gone back:
A huge, huge nightclub meant, for me, huge, huge liqour and drug comsumption. And I wasn't the only one. It's size hid a myriad of sins. You could get away with anything there. Little did I realize this was probably the owner's intent.
Whenever I was there, my bad habits knew no bounds. Especially my delusional fantasy world, which was the main reason for my asshole behavoir. I usually had to be carried out of there, night after night. (I think I went there every night for two years.)
Each morning I would think to myself: I can't belive what I did/said that last night. Now I know I'm really banned from that place.
But they always let me back in. Another reason why I was so out of control there was because I wanted to work in the "cages". They were display windows, like for department stores or natural history museums, except the living occupant dressed up in a freaky/cool outfit, and did "odd" things in a bizzare setting, to entertain the patrons. It was the ultimate symbol of Chicago coolness to work in one, and I wanted to badly.
I would dress wilder, put on more make-up, make my hair bigger, do crazier things; everything but ask the manager for the job. I was hoping to 'get noticed' and then get the job.
That never happened, but I did eventually get offered the job of doorman for the VIP lounge.
But that was all yet to be. During the week of my first night there, Limelight hosted Erte's 85 birthday party. Does he live in Chicago? Why is the party here? Who asked who to have the party? Would he be bombed? Would he want to draw me? These were the dorky thoughts that raced through my head. The VIP lounge was so crowded that night, I never did get a good look at him. But he was there. The memories of art deco and the '30's were living and breathing in 1985.