By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Avalon tells me that his father got the words that adorned the gates of Auschwitz, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes One Free”), tattooed in bold letters on his forearm, yet the more I learn, the more convinced I am that no one in the family would ever seem that free. It’s as if the Holocaust has been imprinted in their DNA, continuing its path of destruction from the children to the grandchildren, even here amid the warm California sunshine.
A week later I drive into the Hollywood Hills, to the home of actor Simon Rex. Walking up a covered stairway leading to the front door, a silhouette with a huge Afro passes by and mumbles, “I’m Rainbow . . .” Inside, I find Avalon and Rex on the couch, smoking a joint. It was Rex who started Avalon’s musical career, three years ago. The two had been introduced through an old friend of Avalon’s named Ben, a part-time male model turned career criminal and convict who knew Rex from Rex’s own stint in the modeling world.
Rex was originally a stoner from Oakland who drove a forklift. At 18, he met a girl at a rave and, days later, moved to Los Angeles with her and her child so she could pursue a supposed “modeling” career. Desperate times ensued, with both of them doing the occasional modeling gig to pay the rent, some with clothing and some decidedly without. Rex eventually traveled to New York for some legit modeling jobs and was picked to become an MTV VJ. When that job ended (not, as widely rumored, because of his prior appearance in a couple of skin flicks), he moved back to L.A., where he has appeared in several films and sitcoms. Despite his photogenic good looks, Rex comes across in person more borscht-belt comic than TRL video shill. On his friendship with Avalon, he explains, “We’re really just two neurotic Jews. You should hear us try and decide where to have breakfast. Half the time we just give up.”
To occupy the downtime between acting gigs, longtime hip-hop fan Rex had purchased a home recording system and set about “making beats.” His songs, which he performs under the moniker “Dirt Nasty,” tend to be lewd, satirical raps about the Hollywood scene he has come to inhabit. On his most popular song to date, “Dropping Names,” the actor raps about his sometimes real and sometimes imagined dalliances with various starlets. “I’m hungry for beaver. Give me a call, Sigourney Weaver.”
Avalon was destitute and living on Rex’s couch when it all began. He had embraced hip-hop culture since childhood, writing rhymes and doing graffiti with the Russian, Hispanic and Jewish kids from his West Hollywood neighborhood. At Rex’s urging, Avalon started composing his own songs, and the words flowed easily. He eventually made an abbreviated and admittedly self-conscious performance debut alongside Rex on an episode of the MTV show Cribs. “At first it was really just two people on drugs fucking around,” Avalon says. But when their songs began to improve, Rex started burning CDs and passing them out at the trendy clubs he frequented.
While Rex’s humorous lyrics generated the intended laughs, it was Avalon’s outrageous and reportedly autobiographical lyrics of bisexual street hustling and narcotics that created a more serious buzz among the moneyed kids who liked to party in Hollywood. And it was these kids’ fascination that initially attracted the attention of an aspiring manager (and established club DJ) named Kev E. Kev, whose idea it was to wrap the CDs in pages from the L.A. Xpress newspaper, which features lurid advertisements for local dominatrixes, rub-’n’-tug masseuses and escorts.
Thus, the legend of “Mickey Avalon” (not his real name) was born, yet the question lingers — is all this talk of sex, death and addiction merely calculated Alice Cooper–like theatrics, or is it truly the skinny, white Hollywood version of the 50 Cent/Slick Rick paradigm of turning pain and hardship into art and money?
Mickey Avalon’s mother tells me she didn’t know his father was a heroin addict when they met, back in the early ’70s. We’re sitting in a health-food-store café outside of Los Angeles. She is an attractive and surprisingly youthful-looking woman. She says they were just two Jewish teenagers from the Fairfax District, and she couldn’t even have imagined somebody using a drug like heroin at the time. Avalon’s father was tall and handsome, with an obsessive love for rhythm & blues music. While his peers were embracing flower power and grooving to the Byrds and the Kaleidoscope up in Griffith Park, he was appearing on local TV dance shows in an electric-blue suit, shimmying to the more carnal sounds of Wilson Pickett and James Brown.