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!

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