Umlautta Love

Here’s what the announcement said:

ON DECEMBER 6th ONE OF THE WORLD’S BIGGEST ROCK BANDS WILL REUNITE IN THEIR HOME SWEET HOME FOR A MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT & PERFORMANCE

BE THERE

MONDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2004

5 p.m.

SUNSET BOULEVARD

Intrigued? By now you’ve probably heard that the band in question is Mötley Crüe, who’ve decided to kiss and make up. They made the announcement at an old-fashioned Hollywood pile-in-the-press conference at a "secret location" revealed only once your press credentials became official.

After a colleague fished the announcement from the recycling bin and handed it to me, I pictured the scene from Gimme Shelter where a female journalist asked Mick Jagger, "Are you still not satisfied?," to which he delivered a cheeky answer in a room full of press people. This would be my chance to go down in heavy metal history by putting on my best Joanne Journalist voice and provoking Nikki, Vince, Tommy or Mick to give the best sound bite of the whole event. Should it be "Are you still ‘Too Fast for Love’?" or "When was the last time you saw ‘Dr. Feelgood’?"

The media has come from Las Vegas, England, Germany and beyond for the press conference at the Hollywood Palladium: Metal Edge, Rock Hard, Heavy Rock, Classic Rock (who knew?), Metal Hammer, Metal Hammer (Germany), Las Vegas Rock City News, Skinny Magazine (what the hell?), plus every major news outfit in town. A helicopter with the Red, White and Mötley Crüe logo — a naked chick against the U.S. flag — circles in the evening sky above Sunset and Argyle.

The Palladium balcony is full of camera crews, plus chairs for reporters, with their publication’s name taped to the back, though the L.A. Weekly sign must have been overlooked. Rock journalists are somewhere between chemists and Arrowhead Water deliverymen on the attractiveness scale, and the guys are almost never over 5’7". In this setting, "Same Old Song and Dance" is given an entirely new context, and sounds like a song as indispensable to rock history as "Jumpin’ Jack Flash." Pamela Anderson byproducts are everywhere — gorgeous blond women who must have studied the former Mrs. Lee’s every cosmetic and fashion move. The mood, all arranged by the publicity experts at BWR, is best described as "professionally cool anticipation," but I have to wonder if the reporters from Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal have any Mötley Crüe CDs in their car amid the Interpol and Radiohead.

Just when we thought the helicopter had landed, the band pulls up in a hearse. We would later learn that a fire marshal had pulled the permit at the last minute, so they had to resort to Plan B. Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee and Vince Neil look more or less the same as they did on their infamous VH1 Behind the Music, but guitarist Mick Mars literally looks like an extra from The Nightmare Before Christmas. We’re told he recently had hip replacement surgery, but is this world tour a good idea for a man whose complexion is nearly transparent?

A panel of five serious white guys — agents and promotional people — tell us how Mötley Crüe "is clearly one of the most influential bands in rock." The phrase "This is worldwide, baby" is uttered without sarcasm. The VH1 guy says, "We at VH1 were hoping this day would come for a long time." Of course he does, the Behind the Music special is a classic of every sin and vice we want from our heavy metal heroes.

The band’s new video, "If I Die Tomorrow," is screened, raising the question: Does the world really need another power ballad? That query hangs in the air as the dirge-ish tidal wave of riffage trudges on. Don’t ask me how the song is; it was forgotten before the screen went blank — though several whooping "woo-hoos" were heard from the press corps.

Finally, the four members sit down for a brief Q&A session. Tommy Lee, looking a bit distracted and aloof, mutters, "This one’s for the fans." Sixx, the only one who bothered to break out the mousse, does most of the talking. One kind reporter asks Mars how his health might affect the tour, to which the mötley ghoul answers, "I’m gonna kick your fucking ass," without the exclamation mark. Neil sincerely offers, "We want to show we’re still mötley." As a show of solidarity, all four collectively flip off the fire marshal — an "asshole on a power trip," according to Sixx — and they leave to take the stage.

Though constantly raising my hand like Horshack to get the attention of the microphone-wielder, I never got to ask my question, though if any Mötley Crüe member wants to call, I’ll gladly play Nina Blackwood and pose this: "Libby Molyneaux, L.A. Weekly. So, how do you predict your backstage antics will compare to the ’80s on this new tour?"

 

—Libby Molyneaux

Nudie Cuties and Beyond

As the fourth Shock-a-Go-Go festival of bizarre cinema unleashed its 36-hour onslaught against taste and common sense Friday night at Hollywood Boulevard’s Vine Theater, film fanatics staked their claims with sleeping bags and pillowed beds protected by the repulsive sorcery of "I think someone got sick on that seat, man."

The malfunctioning cinematic code of the weekend’s films: Nothing is certain, strange things end up badly, and the sound is too loud. Much like fastidious rock fans or antique-book hoarders, grindhouse cinema fans — whose singularity of vision drives their eyes toward subjects other than the proscribed or recommended — are passionate to various faults and rabidly supportive of a world that most people rarely see.

Two films in, nearly-blind-and-deaf producer David F. Friedman regaled the assembled with tales of his years making exploitation films. Now almost completely removed from the integral parts of motion pictures, Friedman instead maintains what films often replace: memory. He lamented the lost sense of satisfaction at seeing customers emerge from one of his many "nudie cuties" at one of his Pussycat Theaters and disgustedly hurl popcorn in the manager’s face. He then revealed the hucksterism of the campfire storyteller: "Under 18 — you wouldn’t understand it! Over 85 — you wouldn’t be able to stand it!"

As bleary-eyed festival producer Eric Eichelberger juggled nudie loops and the manager’s ever-watchful curiosity, evangelicals outside dragged wooden crucifixes along the boulevard sidewalk, and feckless children handed out soup to the grindhouse faithful.

"Are you a believer in Christ Jesus?"

"No, I’m Jewish."

Back inside, the cavalcade of films continued to unspool: Street Trash, with its hyperkinetic late-1980s meditation on survival among the dissolute and the dissolved by way of immediately toxic Tenafly Viper liquor; She-Freak, with its exposé of carny life and the seedy perils of angering human oddities unto messy endings; and the duality of sordid Italian gut-munching nihilism/optimism in Burial Ground and The Man From Deep River.

The experience of spending days immersed in these films is a bit like a man shut into an all-yellow room. Its totality of experience means madness at the sight of the indelible sun or other lightstruck manifestations of mainstream cinema. As the night stretched into a chorus of snores, the amount of respect the audience had for one’s personal space was impressive — one could easily run out for a smoke break without fearing one’s chocolate-chip bundt cakes would get pilfered.

Early Saturday morning, on her way past the Vine, a woman with fried hair and hoop earrings stood utterly transfixed before the eye-clenching posters for Swedish Wildcats while the pall of cigarette haze blossomed around her. Presently, quixotic news wafted along the floating curls of carcinogens that the Mission Drive-In Theater in Montclair is due to be re-launched as the Tiki Drive-In, offering slasher films and hot-rod fare to the gods of the ozone.

Through the afternoon, Mary Woronov, gracefully statuesque and cordial, signed memorabilia inside the lobby of the Vine for true believers as Rock ’n’ Roll High School screened — her presence a stark contrast with the deaths of three out of four Ramones. A strange and walloping emptiness overcame me as I watched her walk unrecognized down the Boulevard when she finished.

When Roger Corman appeared, several fans flung themselves prostrate upon their prostates before him in rapt worship of their low-budget liege. He spoke of his Poe adaptations; about cameos for Francis Ford Coppola; about Tom Cruise remaking Death Race 2000, Paul Bartel’s violent schadenfreude-laden future vision of NASCAR; the falling dollar recapturing foreign-filmed movies; and the diminishing returns that come with graphic mutilation.

Early Sunday morning, still hours before sunrise, the rock band Mucus imploded due to a cut set; many middle fingers were extended, and the manager was mortified. Rain fell. It didn’t wash away the scum on the streets, but instead bestowed a glimmering sheen to its tawny coat as the grindhouse groundhogs scurried away into the night when the doors finally closed.

—David Cotner

Wearing Your Cause on Your Artfully Torn Sleeve

"Are they launching a new line?"

This is what the fashion editor asked me when I invited her to TreePeople’s Thursday-night fashion show at the Knitting Factory.

"Then is it a fund-raiser?" she asked when I told her I didn’t think the environmental group was going into the fashion business. "How much?"

"It’s free," I said.

She declined the offer — something about plans to congratulate Marco of MarcoMarco on his first year in business — but made me promise to report back. "If it’s a new line, I should know about it. Otherwise, why is TreePeople having a fashion show?"

 

Fair question. Fashion in the developed world depends on people (women, mostly) throwing things out before they wear them out. So it’s doubtful an organization with a 31-year track record of conservationist conversion would get itself tangled up in fashion.

Officially, the event was to launch a "green is the new black" ad campaign sponsored by AdZoo, a branch of the American Advertising Federation, and LA.com that each year helps a nonprofit organization get its message out through billboards. TreePeople was chosen this year from 30 applicants for the distinction, and the resulting "Environmental Makeover" campaign shows high-fashion models in runway attire wielding spades and shovels and slogans like "support the environment that supports you" and "time to dig deeper within yourself."

The whole idea, says TreePeople’s public-education director, Laurie Kaufman, is to hip the 20-to-35-year-old set — people she calls the "Lost Generation" — to environmentalism in a campaign low on shame and big on style and humor.

The strategy is radically all-inclusive: Placement for the ads has been donated by both Viacom and Clear Channel, and Kaufman, who tends to smile a lot anyway, is unreservedly thrilled to have them on her side: "I can hardly contain myself," she told me at the party. "These corporations get such a bad rap from the media."

At the door of the party was a table laid out with T-shirts produced by anti-sweatshop American Apparel, stamped with TreePeople’s oblique logo. Other tables around the room had been loaded with fruit, hummus and olives and vegetables, most of it from Whole Foods, which also sprung for the free wine. Some in the crowd looked endearingly enviro, sporting sensibly flat Mary Janes with a sparkly skirt, or, in one instance, Chaco sandals with a fringe dress; others may well have spent the day outdoors digging holes on a hill. But when the fashion show actually got started, and a young woman with cascades of brown hair and a superhumanly smooth belly announced it was time "to show you don’t have to compromise style when you’re saving the planet," all that faded into the ambient mist: The models who strode onstage, like the MC, were, in a word, hot. Not hippie-green-looks-kinda-cute-with-a-hole-in-her-sweater hot. I mean, like shiny, fiery, slithery you-wanna-know-what-they-smell-like hot. Almost too hot.

Sawana wore tight jeans and a TreePeople shirt sliced off just above the waist. Citizen forester Tina, who had "spent the day leading a tree planting," came out in a TreePeople T-shirt decorated with frills and a fake zipper across the shoulder. Hannah’s TreePeople T-shirt was cut off and fringed, and had something about a pelican written on it. Jeremy, who took extra care to drop his asymmetrical hair style just so over his smoldering gaze, had diamond-shaped shreds cut up each side of his TreePeople tank.

"So, is this your new line?" I asked Kaufman.

"Yes!" she laughed, and pointed to a woman wearing a different-colored T-shirt, still bearing the club’s logo, gathered and ruffled at the neck and hip. "And that was our old line!"

I told Kaufman that I was grateful for her organization’s perennial enthusiasm, and how they have a knack for refining language about environmentalism for maximum influence. "We need less antagonism in opposition movements these days," I offered.

Kaufman cleared her throat; the enthusiasm flickered. "We’re not," she said solemnly, "an opposition movement. For us, it’s not about the fist in the air; it’s about the hand across the table."

"That’s good!" I said.

"Yeah? I just made it up."

—Judith Lewis

Look, Ma, No Hands!

"I’m so nervous about my mom being here tonight."

Charlotte Caffey, lead guitarist for the Go-Go’s, has invited her mother to a staged reading at the Hayworth Theater of the still-in-workshop musical Lovelace, based on the life of late Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace and featuring music co-written by Caffey. Now she’s having second thoughts.

"There’s so much swearing and dirty stuff in it," Caffey says. "I’m afraid she’ll be freaked out."

Consider that Lovelace’s showstopper number is the hoedownish "My Cock," an ode to porn star Harry Reem’s famous member.

The show was first workshopped last year, then got a head-to-toe rewrite. It’s now tighter and better-paced, with Heather Reid (formerly Grody) of the bands Murmurs and Gush taking over the lead role, at least temporarily, from Tina Yothers, once of Family Ties. It’s also less reliant on blow job–based double entendres. But the show’s narrator, John Waters’ favorite Mink Stole, still has plenty to do.

After all was said and sung, Caffey’s mother didn’t storm out in horror. Indeed, as the show’s cast and audience — including former Danzig/D-Generation bassist Howie Pyro and ex–Redd Kross front man Jeff McDonald (Caffey’s husband) — mingled in the sparse front room of the elegant MacArthur Park theater, Mrs. Caffey had only one complaint: She felt that the famous fellatrice’s character could have been more developed.

 

—Johnny Angel

Helping Hand

"Excuse me, brother . . ."

In my periphery I can see the matted hair, mud-soaked clothing and ripped black garbage bag. It’s 10 o’clock in the morning and my job interview is a few more blocks down Santa Monica Boulevard. Dressed in the dark brown suit my mother shipped me from home and the spit-shined black dress shoes my grandma sent me money to buy, I look like I might have some money.

Jesus, please don’t ask me. I really don’t wanna deal with this right now.

I’ve been walking for well over an hour now in order to get to this job interview. I couldn’t afford car fare and I haven’t eaten and don’t expect to eat until I get back to my buddy’s house where I’m crashing for the next day or so. I have 10 cents in my pocket and no money coming in from anything right now.

"Sir? Sir, excuse me."

Now I’m pissed. I’m not angry with this man for being homeless or poor. I’m angry at the whole damn system and the way things work in our world and the fact that I don’t have any money to give this guy.

"I’m sorry, but . . ."

As I turn towards him, I am at once aware of how broken and bankrupt his life seems. He probably hears "No" at least as many times as I have to say it. And how close to his life am I? I could be on the streets in a heartbeat. All it would take is for a few people to turn me away the same way I want to turn from this man. I want to tell him that his life, his story, his dilemma is less than mine and that I just really don’t have time for him right now. I can’t tell him the truth — that I don’t have any money. Why would he believe that? How many people walk around in $500 suits with no money in their pockets? He’s gonna think that I’m being cheap. And in the midst of this season of joy and brotherhood and fellowship, I’m about to make a homeless man feel more alone and unhappy.

But things are rarely what they seem.

"Hey man . . ."

He cuts me off before I can begin to disappoint him.

"I just got out of the hospital for diabetes and this woman gave me all these."

He opens up the plastic bag to reveal about a dozen or so Twix bars shining in gold wrappers.

"I can’t eat ’em," he says as he hands me the bag and smiles. "Happy holidays, brother."

—Khristian E. Leslie


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