Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pull Back the Curtains

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Sometimes I wish I had better stories to tell, like my friends do. Bigger stories to tell. You know, a story so big, I'd have to lay down after I told it. A story so big that I would have to be institutionalised after I told it to Monty and Kate, and a gay southern genius would turn it into a play. Well, maybe not that big. Um, ok, that big.

Scot, a frequent character in this story, was visiting me in Chicago last weekend, and told me some of his tales from 'back in the day'. Like when he and Beth and Carly stopped all conversation at a crowded Melrose because they were dressed so glamorously, or like the night almost every underground 80's band had camped out around Orbit Room, where the three of them worked. Or the night I fucking missed Divine again, performing, at Limelight.
"Oh, I was there alright." Scot reminded me.
Then there is Beth's famous story, one I can only pray to top some day, that I never tire of hearing from him:
Nunzio, the owner of Orbit Room, called Beth to chew her out because she wasn't at work. Oh shit! I'll be there as soon as I can! she answered back, and ran out the door. Luckily, there was a bus pulling up to the corner as she got there, and she ran on. I'm late for work! Can you drive as fast as you can?! She yelled at the driver.
Now this question (!) was coming from a woman who's fashion creations ran from Nina Hagen meets Dressy Bessy meets Oliver from the Brady Bunch, to That Girl meets Sharon Tate meets Strawberry Shortcake. No one dressed like her. She stood out in a crowd, like a scarecrow. A pretty scarecrow, but a scarecrow none the less.
OK! said the driver, as he hit the gas. Where do you work?!
The Orbit Room on Broadway and Waveland! she yelled.
He drove her all the way to Orbit Room, speeding past all the bus stops, as the would-be passengers gasped in shock or shook their fists. He didn't stop once for another passenger.
Beth crashes into Orbit Room (Beth never 'just opened a door', she always made an entrance, Scot added) ten minutes after her you're late! phone call, and proceeds to tell everyone what just happened.
The CTA may suck now, but it sure didn't back then...

Scot and Beth have a lot of great stories, for they were glued to each other's side for most of 87 and all of 88, and I used to love hearing them back then, but I never wanted to become a character in them. I would occasionally go with them to Smart Bar or Neo, but I preferred their experiences second hand, because they were such a perfect compliment to each other; Scot, long and lean, and an attentive listener, in his mis-matched, tight fitting, all plaid ensembles, crowned with a thrifted top hat, and Beth in her ingenious, well balanced, inspired creations, and her non-stop, mile a minute, frequently nonsensical, but always hilarious ramblings, made me feel like a pudgy, druggy third wheel that shattered their magic.

My friend B. has even bigger stories to tell: getting slapped by our 8th grade science teacher, probably because he hit too close to home, when he screamed kiss her! right in the teacher's face when he was demonstrating on a female student how to prick our fingers so we could learn our blood type, or the night he guarded the men's room at Limelight so a Duran could have a little girl fun, (he worked there, all told, less than two weeks, but got to wait on a band we had spent every free minute listening to in 1982) and more tragic stories, such as the night he was driving back from Florida, and he had to help his sister miscarry by the side of the road, and no one would stop to help them, or tell them where they could find a hospital.
But, alas, they're not telling their stories, so you'll just have to settle for mine, such as they are:

In the summer of 88, Patrick, from Looking for Clues, had rented a great vintage apartment on the second floor on the corner of Halsted and Webster. He had let his hair grow into dread locks, and one day while visiting me at work, my boss told us he had a client who had a 'dread lock dog', and her house was littered with it's locks. I asked him to tell her to save them, and I would try working them into Patrick's hair. When the day finally came, and I had a bag full of dog-locks, I spent the evening sewing them on his head, under a low light from a coffee table, and dying it all to match, while we listened to The The's Soul Mining and Bouncing off the Satellites, (I could not get enough of those albums back then) as a gentle breeze and the sounds of summer trickled into the window. I told him about the ancient cabbie who I rode with a few months prior, and his stories of Halsted's old trolley car, and about the day he saw a woman stuck and killed by it, when he was a little boy, right on his very corner. Can you imagine the horrible noise you had to bear if you lived here back then? I said.
His hair turned out great. So great, as a matter of fact, Milio paid him to model my hair creation under Milio's salon's name. I guess it was pay back for the Looking for Clues moment.
Soon after, news of Billy Idol coming to Limelight after a concert hit the scene, and I had to be there. Patrick worked the ropes for the VIP lounge, so I knew I could be there. When the night came, I had never seen Limelight so packed, and Erin and I ran upstairs to find a bedraggled Patrick guarding the lounge.
"Brian, I could retire off all the money I've been offered by these people trying to get in to see Billy." he said.
"Then why don't you! Take the money!" I said.
"I can't! My boss warned me no one with out a pass can get in, and no bribes."
Patrick gave his only free passes to me and Erin. Nothing spectacular happened that night in the VIP lounge, Billy and Steve looked great, but they just sat there drinking with dozens of floozied up babes. Erin and I stuck together, and pretended to be way more interested in each other, than to what was happening in the room.
The best celebrity advice I've ever read, and that I still (mostly) stick to, is the advice I read in Edie: An American Biography. Andy (I think) was recounting the story of the time when Judy Garland showed up alone one night to the Factory for a party, and everyone ignored her. That took collective balls to do that, to do that to the person who held the title everyone in that room wanted; to the patron saint of iconic celebrity and drug addiction. I took from that to mean the highest complement you can give your idols is to appear like you have more to offer them than they to you. This world might be a less tedious place if more people behaved like Andy.
Many more famous faces wandered into Limelight during the years Erin and I 'lived' there, but if they weren't interested in us first, we weren't interested in them.

Some of those faces never left...
It is a dark and stormy night as I write this, so I'll tell you a scary story.
No, not the scary story about the guy who thought it would be fun to try to slide down the stair railing from the top floor, but ended up falling to his death (sadly, I was there), and no, not the scary story about the prostitutes who got into a bloody knife fight right next to me and Erin, on the dance floor, over a rich john , but an even scarier one...

About ten years ago, I was watching a Halloween special on a local channel about famous ghosts and haunted places in Chicago. It featured Resurrection Mary, and the Red Lion pub on Lincoln by the Biograph, and it's attic ghost, but it also featured a story I hadn't heard before, about the ghost seen at the old Limelight building, which is now Excaliber, and was built in the late 1800's as a city building or something.
"I knew it!" I yelled at the TV. "It was a ghost!"

Me, Erin, Brad, and Wickie-Poo all posed for a bunch of pics in the VIP lounge, and when we got them back, Erin found something weird in one photo. It was so weird to her, in fact, she couldn't look at it any more, and shoved the picture over to me to see if I could see it, too. In the back round was an image of a face so scary and evil looking, I shudder to even write about it. It had a wide maniacal grin, big dark eyes, and looked to be wearing a hood. It looked more like a demon than a ghost. It didn't look like a shadow from the wall, but seemed to be sitting with us, floating next to our heads. I showed it to a lot of people, and some saw it right away, but once it was pointed out, you couldn't unsee it. I kept that picture out and framed for years, until one day Erin came over and said I don't have a picture of Brad and took it from me. I guess we both had made peace with the demon lurking in that picture, for our collective histories with each other were the scariest things of all.
She says she still has it, so one day you will get to see it, too.

Patrick and a Limelight beauty, whose name I can't remember, but David might, 1987.
'Eva', Patrick (with short locks), me with a weird looking head, and Erin, Limelight VIPs, 1987.
A simply gorgeous Margie and 'Annie', in our brittle apartment on Wilton, 1988.
Pudgy and druggy with Margie, Wilton apartment, 1988.


Dan B (no, not Bennett, think harder) said...

Speaking of Judy Garland, there is an exciting new group on Yahoo called The Judy Garland Experience that everybody should check out. The group features lively discussions, rare photo's, and the most amazing music files anywhere! This week they are featuring both of Judy's appearances from the Merv Griffin Show circa 1968. Hear her singing and talking with Margaret Hamilton, Rex Reed, The Ohio Express, Totie Fields, Marty Brill, Van Johnson, and Arthur Treacher, and others.
Judy is pure magic on these shows. The group also has audio files of her first concert at The Palladium in 1951, as well as both her songs from Valley Of The Dolls, taped phone conversations, interviews, radio spots, and more! The group membership includes Garland family members, authors, people who have made movies about Judy, other celebrities, and fans of all levels.
Truly, the most eclectic membership of any of the Garland groups or clubs. The only thing missing is you! Please stop by our little Judyville, once you visit you may never want to leave!

Aaron said...

Brian, your stories are fascinating...and when I think, that when all this stuff was happening, I was just learning to navigate my beat-up Camaro through Peoria traffic without getting screamed at by all the yuppies (who are still there, balding, when last I visited last weekend).

Sarah said...

I heard about the limelight ghost from someone else but a picture! Yikes! Now I won't be able to sleep tonight. Kisses!

Anonymous said...

I agree, I adore your stories. I love when I haven't checked in a while and there's something new at the top of the page. Your stories are big and wonderful and very well told, you have crafted one of my favorite spaces on the www, so don't fret about wanting for others' stories one bit. Merrie

David said...

BC, that Limelight beauty is none other then head waitress Mary Lynn!

Lisa said...

Hey-does anyone know where to get photos of the old orbit room? Can't find any on the web....miss that place!