Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Missing Words

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Because I haven't written a post in a while, the breeze coming through my window smells like a long time ago. Maybe because we're having unseasonably warm November weather, it smells like 1984, a time when I felt like I could do anything I wanted. It smells like I imagine it would if I were in the arms of a lover on my back porch. It smells like a London night in 1990. It smells like change, and boring routine. It smells like it did when I was 19, and I liked everything about myself. It smells like a fire-escape balcony in the Village on a March afternoon, in 1991. It smells like eternal hope and utter defeat.
It smells like water under the bridge. It smells like the past.


When Erin walked into the room, I was pretty much in awe. I was in Donny's apartment in 1986, waiting for her to show up so we could go out. They had worked together at I. Magnin in Oakbrook a few years back, and remained friends when he found a new job. She was wearing a tight sleeveless gold metallic dress, and her ubiquitous leopard-print purse, looking like a blonde new wave Brooke Shields. We instantly hit it off, and started talking about music. Her true music love was Duran Duran, due in part to the exotic locales featured in their videos. My first born is going to be named Rio no matter what! she said, and I confessed my year-long dive into their first album, with the eponymous title, what small town teenage gay boy wouldn't love the music of guys dressed like Marie-Antoinette after a long day of palace scrubbing, but jumped off their band wagon when they hit the American top 40. (My late friend Chris P loved that opening shot of Roger in the Planet Earth vid, and copied that pose whenever he was in the photo booth in Berlin.) Erin and I both loved a lot of the same bands, bands that pushed limits and had brains and weren't afraid to use them, and we both spent way too much of our free time playing records. I was in a major 4AD phase at the time, and her a Pseudo Echo one. 4AD stuff still holds up pretty well, but, sadly, not the latter.
After our first night out together, Erin and I talked on the phone almost everyday, for hours at a time. I looked forward to her phone calls, and started to see them as some kind of college course, because she was so knowledgeable to the ways of the world. She wasn't afraid to lecture me about my faults or the faults of the world, probably because her parents met at an Ayn Rand society, and raised their kids in a home stuffed to the brim with her philosophies:
"Brian, you spend way too much time in gay bars. Most of the world is straight, and until you can accept that and learn to live with it, you can't grow as a person...No, I don't think there should be gay marriage! Marriage is a hold over from the days when men owned the women they married. We all should have 'legal unions'...I reject the fact I have to be thin and pretty to be a happy woman in today's world. If I see Sheena Easton in another Bally's commercial, making me feel bad because I'm not working out with 20 pounds of make up on my face and wearing a trashy outfit, or another Weight Watchers ad with that idiot Lynn Redgrave peeing her pants because she can eat a soulless muffin that won't make her butt bigger, I'm going to scream! Why can't women be happy as they are? Why so much pressure to be thin!...What's so bad about doing drugs? Why is everyone saying 'just say no'? Drug use has been around since the dawn of time, so there must be some reason for it. I've tried some, and they aren't for me, but who's to say what I can or cannot do, as long as I'm not hurting anyone?"
I, of course, immediately read every Ayn Rand book I could find at the old Fullerton Avenue library next to the El, the bulk of which went right over my 20 year old head.
Then she went on to talk about a study she read about Native Americans and their high number of alcoholics, and the relationship believed to be linked to their 'circular thinking', because for thousands of generations they were so closely tied to the cycles of nature. I couldn't grasp the concepts she was talking about; linear thinking versus circular, but I read between the lines in what she was saying, and tried to think about the way I thought, because I drank a lot. And then when she said the ancient Greeks (or was it the Romans? or was it the Egyptians?) saw their past as being in front of them, and their future behind them, I gave up.

I felt comfortable enough with Erin to make a confession to her one night while she was driving me home after a night at Limelight. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn't know what exactly it was, so I made a guess, and told her I was 'mildly manic-depressive'. I felt that was a good guess, because that was how I usually felt, though I was more like 'kind-of-happy', or 'somewhat-less-depressed' versus manic.
"Everyone has something wrong with them, Brian. That's how life is. It's how we deal with our problems that's more important. Have you seen a doctor?" She said.
"I can't do that, I don't have the money or insurance. If I tell my parents I think I'm crazy, they'll make me move back home. I can't do that!" I said.
"There is probably some free clinic or center you can go to in the city. I'll ask my mom."
She did get me some information about some programs, but I didn't follow up on them. I guess I was afraid to. I went to an AA meeting when I was 16, and sitting there watching people tell the truth about themselves to each other, and then imaging myself doing the same, was something I knew I was incapable of doing at the time. I'll just figure it out on my own. I was happy a few years ago. I can get back there. I thought to myself.

On Erin's first visit to my salon, I bleached her hair blonde. It just had to be done. I knew her stunning features could only be magnified with a halo of blonde, and she quickly earned the nick-name Madonna Reed. She was immediately annoyed with my boss, Consita, and her queen bee ways. The bleaching process can take a while, so she was subjected to her for hours.
"How can you work here with her! She never shuts up! The same rambling stories, hour after hour! How does she have any clients! I can't breathe! She's driving me nuts!" She ranted while we ate lunch across the street at Roma's.
"I know, it takes a lot of stamina to be around her. I want to quit, but I make money here, and I would have to start with nothing again if I went to another salon. She's a lot of fun when we're not at work. It must be the Gemini in her." I said.
"I bet if you worked downtown you would make money. Actually, I understand your attraction to her. She's very extroverted, and likes an audience. You want an audience, don't you? No, you want to like having one, like she does! That's it! Like it or not, you've always had an audience, haven't you?" She said.
"If by 'audience' you mean 'unwanted attention', then yes." I said.
"Toe-mate-o, toe-maht-o. We should start a band."

In the early days of Erin and I knowing each other, she would drive in from the suburbs and pick me up from my place on Pinegreove and Waveland, and we would go to Limelight, then Medusa's then Berlin. She blasted Lloyd Cole or one of the dozens of mixed tapes I made for her, (sadly, all the tapes were stolen from her car, along with her stereo, a year later) as we circled around the Belmont area a million times looking for a parking place, as she screamed Why can't someone tear down some of these slums a build a goddamned parking garage!
Soon, at Berlin, we started noticing a guy with lip-liner lines around his lips, like a messy asterisk mark, hanging near us, looking like he wanted to talk to us.
"Erin, that's the guy I saw on the Belmont El platform the other morning, with the bright red lipstick and giant pink Barbie ribbon in his hair!" I said. We stared at each other that day on the El, he like he knew we were going to be spending a lot of time together in the not-too-distant future, and I like I was trying to figure out if he was A: a drag queen? His ankles are too hairy, not to mention the five o'clock shadow. B: a lunatic? Those lycra pants are too perfect for a loon, and I just saw that t-shirt at Blake. I eventually came to the conclusion that he was C: a genius.

"Hey guys!" Danny said as he walked up to us. "Want some lipliner? I call these 'fire-cracker lips'!"
And, of course, his nick-name was Madanny.






I can't resist...Here's some pics:
Limelight, 1986
Medusa's, 1986
Me and Consita, Limelight, 1986
Berlin's booth, 1987
Me in a bad mood with Chris P, Berlin, 1989
'Madanny', 1988

Monday, November 20, 2006

Danielt E. Wickie-Poo, Jr.


This is a special edition post for everyone who Googles Danny. I know you're out there. Share a prayer with me in the hopes he gets cast on Project Runway someday. Then the world will know the special magic that is Wickie-Poo...

Monday, November 13, 2006

C30 C60 C90

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It only took me two hours to find a song that would inspire this post...

Did you watch the video? Did you see those big things they were carrying on their shoulders? Those were the first 'ipods'. (And there's nothing better than thrusting and shimmying New Romantic boys.)
When I was 15, I lived in Connecticut for a year, and became immersed into the New York scene, via cable TV, and the small population of new wave kids in my high school, who I never talked to, but was enlightened by, through osmosis. The live music shows broadcast from New York on the weekends were the best. It seemed the weirder the band was, the more the producers liked it. This was 1980, and 'boom boxes' or 'beat boxes', their name depending upon what country you lived in, were the latest rage. Music to go! Bow Wow Wow dug it, and wrote that song. Their best one, in my opinion. The way technology is going now, with everything getting smaller and more personal, the only tack that could possibly be next, say in 2015 or so, is to be injected with music. It would be easy! Each song would have an elaborate password, a password you look up on the computer that will be implanted in your eyes. You know I'm right.

For the car ride west from Connecticut, I made some tapes for the long journey, and played it on my step dad's cassette player. You know, those old fashioned ones you see on old TV shows. When I asked my parents to buy me a boom box, they said Use your step father's old tape player from college! It still works! We can't afford one of those obnoxious, expensive ones! so I had to make due.
On the first day back in Wisconsin, we stopped at my mom's hair salon. She owned and ran it by mail and phone the year we were away, because she didn't want to sell it.
She wanted to stop there first to check on things, so we all got out of the car to stretch our legs, and went in. I couldn't wait to show off how cool I thought I was now, so I walked around the salon with my dorky cassette player on my shoulder, 'blasting' the tinny sounds of Devo, The B-52's, and Blondie, with a look on my face that said: of all the cool kids back east do this. This is normal cool kid behavior. I can't help it. I'm cool now. I was wearing my step dad's 1960's wine-colored blazer with a white t-shirt and orange running shorts with white piping. The girls at the salon looked at me, and looked at my parents, who just rolled their eyes. I spent the next week embarrassing my brothers and friends by wearing that outfit and toting around the tape player, in the grocery store, and at the Copps in the strip mall in Neenah. I stopped the second I saw a kid who was toting around a real one.
When the Sony Walkman hit the Valley around the same time, (not the gag me with a spoon valley, but the ya der hey valley) I was very excited. But those were super-expensive, too, and I got a radio-only version of one for Christmas in 1981. The puffy head phones were great for keeping my ears warm during the Arctic blasts that hit Wisconsin in the winters, but that was about it. It wasn't til 1982 that I got a fancy one, cause Brad bought a stolen one off some kid selling it on the street on Milwalkee. It was great because it had dual head phone jacks, and Brad and I spent hours on the bus, when we skipped school, plugged into the same music. I spent many more hours at night in bed with that walkman, listening to Scary Monsters and Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.

Before we annoyed each other by giving out home-made CD's, we made mixed-tapes. I couldn't write about mixed-tapes better than Nick Hornby did in High Fidelity, but suffice it to say I made millions of them, first in the 8-track mode, then on cassettes. Here's one I made in 1987, London Hair. Christopher, a guy I was madly in love with in 1986, was famous for his mixed-tapes. Robert, who worked in that trendy boutique (that's long gone) on Broadway just north of Diversey, Xanadu, and who later worked at Flashy Trash during it's better days in the mid-eighties, (he helped Madonna try on vintage stilettos in 1986) also had a crush on Christopher, and he and I would argue over which one of us had received the most tapes from him, and who's had deeper meaning. Christopher made one for me he named "Miss Maybellene", (yes, a proper mixed-tape should be named) and one of the songs was Bigmouth. That wasn't the first time I had heard that song, but I, for some reason, dismissed it as a Smiths attempt at a 'novelty' song. But because Chris had put it on that tape, I thought I must've missed something, so I really listened to it. And when I mean listen, I mean listen. I played it 50 times, until I understood why it was good.

I am so weird like that when it comes to music. I sometimes wish I could just take a passing interest in music and think hmm, interesting tune, and just keep walking, but I can't. I have to become the music. I have to get inside it. I have to play it over and over, so I know every inch. The first time I did that to a song was in 1979, for Ring My Bell by Anita Ward. For some reason I needed to know every word she was singing, and played it until I wrote down every lyric, in my dad's living room, with him in it. My father's patients sometimes amazes me. The conclusion my 13 year old brain came to was that she was a single gal, with her own apartment, singing about a guy she liked coming over for a visit by ringing her doorbell. I latched onto it because I was a kid, and having my own house was a very foreign concept to me, and I guess because she also sang about 'doing the dishes', and hey! I do the dishes, too!
My love for disco was slowly turning in another direction, at first because of the Sex Pistol's disastrous American tour, and all the press it got, and then by New Wave Theatre.
Ever since then, I cling to music that has the power to make me see the world in a different way; be it through how a band looks, how their music sounds, or the lyrics. I run to it and embrace it and wear their badges, because I need all the help I can get when it comes to seeing things differently.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Waiting for the Day

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That song from the previous post, "Los Ninos de la Parque", by Liaisons Dangereuses, was my and Erin's and Ronnie's fave tune from back in the day. When I think of Jody back then, the songs that comes to mind are Stay Up Late, or O Superman. She played Laurie Anderson for me when we first moved in together. ( I know O Superman is long, but you'll feel better if you watch the whole thing. It's like Prozak.)

In 1985, Ronnie worked at Carson Pirie Scott, selling cologne. I remember one night at Berlin we were hanging out, and a guy walked up to us and started a conversation. After a few moments, he asked us where we worked. When Ronnie said "Carson's" the guy said. "The rib place?", and I died laughing.
I always think of that story when I think of Ronnie, because if you ever saw him, you could tell immediately he'd never been within ten miles of a rack of ribs. The guy at Berlin wasn't making a joke.
Ronnie was tall and thin, and impeccably dressed. He dressed more like someone would in Miami than Chicago, so he tended to stand out in a crowd: flowing creaseless cottons, wrinkleless linens, no socks, highlighted-hair, and a year-round tan.
What drew him to me, with my dyed black hair and black eyeliner, I'll could only guess. He asked me over for dinner one night, so I went. This was my first 'official' date in Chicago. He came before Jeff; I met Jeff in the fall of '85, and Ronnie that summer.
I took the bus to Diversey to his studio apartment in the vintage building a block and a half east of Halsted. The place was spotless and sparsely furnished; it was like walking into a Nagel painting.
"Wow! You have your own place! Is it expensive? You must do well at Carson's" I said.
"I do alright." He said. "My dad helps with the rent. He isn't thrilled with the fact that I live in the city. We fought about me moving here for months. He thinks the city is dangerous. He wants me to be in a 'safe' neighborhood. It's funny, we always had a strained relationship while I was growing up, probably because I was more interested in dolls than football, but when I came to Chicago, his fathering skills went into over-drive."
I thought about my father's reaction about my move. His response was: "Hmm."
Years later he told me he thought I was crazy to come here, and was amazed I did it, because the race riots of the 60's soured him to ever wanting to visit the city. Growing up in Wisconsin in the 70's, I never saw anything but white people. Moving here at 19 opened my eyes to the world. The real world. I loved it! Now it's totally different in Appleton. Many cultures blend together. That was and is my favorite thing about living in Chicago.
Ronnie made some pasta and put it in big white bowls, and put them on a large piece of glass that was sitting on the carpeted floor.
He poured us some white wine into large, stemmed glasses, as we sat Japanese-style, watching TV. As we ate, I couldn't help but wonder what I was doing there. Ronnie was very good-looking, but I wasn't sexually attracted to him. Well, I was and I wasn't. He was a lot of fun to be with, and I knew whatever was going to happen that night, it wouldn't be boring.
After dinner, we walked down Diversey to Pinegrove to rent a movie. VCR's were pretty expensive in the mid-eighties, and I remember him telling me his dad bought it for him the previous Christmas. We picked up Body Double, and walked back to his place, after stopping by The Slipper Box, because he wanted to show me some shoes he liked. He seemed to know everyone that was walking on Diversey that night; dozens of people knew him by name. And the owner of the video store greeted him like he was a son returning home from a war. That video store is still there, and it was my video store for ten years, 1992 to 2002, and all I ever got were barely audible thnnnkqoos from his disinterested employees.
We cuddled on the couch while watching the movie, and kissed a little. When the movie ended, he drug out a huge bag of make-up. Working at the department store, he had amassed a huge cache. He said one thing that drew him to me was my make-up, and he wanted me to show him how I put it on. We spent the rest of the night in his tiny bathroom with that make-up, blasting Portfolio and Nightclubbing. When the sun started to come up, he put on a large pot of water to boil.
"That's a big pot of coffee." I said.
"No! It's for my shirt for work. I have to leave at 6:30." He said.
"You boil your shirts?" I said, dumbfounded.
"That's the best way to get them a bright white. I'll make some coffee for you, too." He said.
When he finished with his shirt, we left his apartment together. I took the bus back home to sleep a couple hours before my job.
On my days off, I would train down to Ronnie's work, and we'd walk down State Street to Wild Pair, and buys some wacky shoes, and he'd give me tons of cologne samples, and show me all the good stuff on sale. It was fun watching him interact with the public, because he wore his sexual preference unintentionally on his sleeve, and the visiting small-town shoppers were usually taken aback by it, but because of his immense charm, he always quickly won over anyone who came to his counter.
A few months later, he told me his friend from the suburbs was coming in town for a visit, and that we should all go out together.
"You'll like her. She likes all that weird music you like. Her name's Erin. She looks just like Kim Novak."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I Finally Have a Scanner

I found the photo I thought was from my 20th birthday, but on the back I wrote:
"Martin's birthday, 1987" It's Kristin and Jeff. Jeff's in the hat.

OK. Here I am...are you ready? Me at the salon, just after my 20th Bithday, 1986.

The salon, 1985.

Me, Martin, & Jody, at Mark's place, 1985.

At Mark's, '85.

The bracelet Jody gave me.

Goofing around while I lived at Kip's, 1985.

Improving my mind in bed, at Kip's, 1985.

Depressed at Kip's, '85.

Gidget (left) and some of her brood, early 1986.

Jeff in his bathroom, Pratt St., 1985.

Chris from Sidewalking, 1985, at her and Tony's place on Racine.

Me and Tony at the old, smaller Berlin, 1985.

Bar stuff, 1986.

More bar stuff, '86.

Some of my favorite mid-eighties jewelry. The backward question mark is shown with the woman who made it, she's on the left, circa '84.

Some '85 &'86 concerts.

Me, Brad, & Erin, Limelight, 1986.

I sadly don't have a photo of Scot from 1985, so here is one of us from 1989, drunk at Berlin. He's in the hat. Now you can put some faces with the names.