The blond girl is reaching toward the stage, trying to grab the singer’s partially exposed ass as he leans out over the crowd. The tight jeans he’s wearing are now strategically torn in back, and she can see the pale skin just inside. She screams out to him, “Mickey!” But as her manicured fingers near their target, he suddenly reaches down and squeezes her hand, then turns and shimmies off across the stage, raising a bottle of expensive tequila to his mouth and gulping it down like water. The girl falls back into the arms of her friends, smiling beatifically, her glossy lips parting to reveal a set of expensive-looking braces. She can’t be a day over 15, and she’s obviously wasted. “Mickey . . .”
Like a young Mick Jagger, the singer is shirtless and skinny, ugly and pretty. He strolls across the stage holding a microphone, then grabs a noticeably drugged-out backup dancer and kisses her on the mouth. He shoves her hard across the stage, and she stumbles in her heels and falls forward onto the floor, legs splayed apart in her short dress, eyes closed the whole time. “Mickey . . .”
The singer’s head dips and bobs to a pounding beat emanating from the club’s sound system. His friend, also shirtless, stands next to him, leaning out over the crowd and pouring tequila into opened mouths as if delivering a communion. A large, athletic boy bolts across the stage and tries to tackle the singer before he’s dragged off. Raising the microphone to a face adorned with glittery, half-smeared makeup, the singer surveys the scene before him. Screaming girls? Uh-huh. Jealous and sexually confused boys? Sure. Sold-out show at the legendary Roxy? Okay. Is this the beginning of a full-scale glam-rock revival on the Sunset Strip? Despite the heady promise of drugs and debauchery coursing through the young and predominantly white crowd, not exactly.
The singer tosses his longish hair back and begins to rap. There’s a certain disconnect, yet strangely it works. His voice is a slightly effeminate drawl, teasing out the words . . .
“Mickey Avalon, dick thick as a baton, the illest motherfucker from here to Vietnam, I used to work nights on hot cock dot com, but then I got fired when my mom logged on. I’m on the run, my dad’s a bum, I asked my girl if she loved me and she just said —umm . . .”
Toward the back of the club, two lanky African-American kids are dressed in the uniform of the serious hip-hop aficionado — T-shirts, baggy jeans and tilted baseball caps. They are perched on top of a booth, surveying the scene before them.
“That dude used to be a homosexual prostitute,” one of them finally shouts over the loud music.
“For reals?” his friend asks in obvious disbelief.
The first kid just shrugs, and they continue watching.
Backstage after the show, Mickey Avalon strolls into the crowded dressing room like a middleweight champ in mascara and eyeliner. He pours a bucket of ice water over his head and lets out a joyful scream, then pulls two very young-looking groupies close, and the three of them start to kiss and grope one another. A nearby photographer grins and begins to circle around, shooting pictures, while a few feet away, a beautiful girl in a black designer dress kneels down onto the soiled carpet and vomits into a trash can, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“I like a girl who eats and brings it up, a sassy little frassy with bulimia. Her best friend’s a plastic surgeon, and when her Beamer’s in the shop she rolls the Benz. Manis and pedis on Sundays and Wednesdays, money from Mommy lovely in Versace. So rich, so pretty, the best piece of ass in the whole damn city.”
Mickey Avalon, the world’s greatest glam rap star — a genre of one.
I’m sitting with Avalon at a small kitchen table with his grandmother. The décor of her single-story Beverly Hills home seems to have been locked in place sometime during the early 1970s — colorful wallpaper patterns, prickly shag carpet and a minimalist tree painted on the wall behind me. We’re here to check some old photos, but when Avalon mentions I’m a writer, his grandmother sits us down and begins to tell her story. It is a harrowing tale for sure — she was a young Jewish woman in Hungary when the Nazis made their move. Avalon is supposed to be heading for a Silver Lake recording studio to lay down some tracks with producer Dave Cooley, but instead we sit and listen. As she speaks to us in her thick Bela Lugosi accent, I find myself staring at the numbers tattooed onto her forearm.
The ordinary details are the most unsettling. Watching the beloved family dog running desperately after the train as the family is hauled away. Josef Mengele casually sorting the new arrivals at the gates of Auschwitz, separating mother and daughter forever. Her handsome young husband, Avalon’s grandfather, a respected and beloved dignitary, was at Auschwitz as well. He’s in pictures throughout the house and looks like a movie star in tailored suits and a perfectly tilted fedora. The two of them managed to survive the Final Solution, though not entirely unscathed. The suave grandfather was used in one of Mengele’s medical experiments, which left half his body partially paralyzed for many months afterward. The grandmother was severely mauled by the attack dog of Amon Goeth, the sadistic officer portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the film Schindler’s List. The rest of the family was extinguished.
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.
They spent the first years of their marriage like many of their generation, trekking through exotic locales like Katmandu, Afghanistan and Iran, smoking hash and meditating with Buddhist monks. It wasn’t until the couple settled back in Los Angeles that things took a turn for the worse. The father became a chiropractor, and they had two children — Mickey and a younger sister. But the father’s blossoming heroin addiction proved too much, and the couple soon divorced. “He eventually spiraled out of control, and it wasn’t safe anymore, mainly because of the people he was associating with.”
Avalon’s aunt later tells me it was when his father started hanging out with some “greaser” types, young Vietnam vets from nearby towns like Fontana and Covina, that he started getting into downers and then heroin. She says her brother had always considered himself a poet and was attracted to the darker places, something she theorizes might have been a result of near-constant exposure to their parents’ Holocaust experience. Addicted and on his own, Avalon’s father quickly descended into the seamier underside of L.A. life.
It was for that reason, the mother says, that she moved herself and her two young children to within the Beverly Hills city limits. “Back then, L.A. County had a reputation that if you had trouble, you would be dead before the police ever arrived,” she says. “That wasn’t true in Beverly Hills. His father was hanging out with some very dangerous characters back then. Do you remember the Wonderland murders in Laurel Canyon with Eddie Nash and his crew?” (Porn star John Holmes snitched, four people brutally beaten to death with lead pipes.) She goes on to tell me that the father’s chiropractic practice had evolved into an insurance scam involving Nash’s crime syndicate and the RTD (Rapid Transit District). After the divorce, she got word through the grapevine that some of Nash’s henchmen had volunteered to knock her off. “They offered to take me out as a favor to him,” she explains, “and with those people, that was serious.”
By the time Mickey Avalon was 16, he was living on his own. An aspiring painter and part of a well-known Hollywood graffiti crew, he supported himself working for his mother in what the aunt refers to cryptically as “the biz.” I have heard several innuendoes about “the biz,” yet sitting with his mother over an organic salad, I have a hard time asking about it. As we’re about to leave, I finally chance a question. “So what exactly were you doing to make money back then?” She stares at me for a beat, her eyes narrowing, and then nods. Her voice is suddenly less June Cleaver and all business.
”Okay, let me tell you how it was,” she says. ”It was really hard for a single mother to make it in L.A. My husband’s family raised my rent, and he wouldn’t give me anything. I was on welfare before that, and then I had two kids in Beverly Hills to support, so I made a living on the black market selling pot. Have you seen that television show, Weeds? Well, that’s how it was. I didn’t tell Mickey about it until I caught him selling his own pot in front of our house. Then I had to sit him down.”
Avalon was 14 at the time, and from that point on, he was part of “the biz.” They both tell the same story — his mom showed him the best weed he had ever seen, then asked how much he was smoking and how much money he needed a week. He learned the trade well and eventually became one of “the biz”’s biggest moneymakers, moving out of the house and into his own apartment.
“She told me how to do it, and I was good at it,” he tells me later. “She said, ‘If you live outside the law, you got to be totally honest. And your car always has to be perfect. No broken headlights.’ ” He suddenly becomes a little protective. “She was still a good person,” he cautions. “I think she would rationalize it as a means to an end for me. So I could keep painting and pay the rent. She never wanted me to end up the way I did.”
It wasn’t until his late teens, when Avalon’s mom noticed blood on his arms and the all-too-familiar fuzziness of heroin intoxication, that she fired him.
“I just had too much to lose,” she explains, sipping herbal tea. “I had worked so hard to achieve a certain lifestyle, and then he was going to throw it all in the toilet because he was on heroin. You can’t trust somebody on heroin. You would never pick somebody like that to be on your team. He was making good money and would have made a great partner, but I just saw too much of his dad in him when he was like that.”
It’s raining hard as I navigate through Hollywood with Avalon and Rex in my car. They had planned to hit a particular strip club to “scout dancers” for an upcoming show, but the establishment has inexplicably closed down, so instead we’re heading for a nightclub to check out the scene. The two of them are already high, and plan on drinking, so we’re rolling my undeniably sensible station wagon as we pull up to the valet stand and disembark among the beautiful people.
Because of Rex’s celebrity status and Avalon’s emerging notoriety, we are able to breeze past the line and are quickly ushered into a simultaneously sleazy and lavish nightclub. A DJ is spinning a set of oddly disconnected greatest hits, while Amazonian waitresses in tight hot pants cut through the crowd with illuminated bottles of expensive champagne. The girls hanging around the dance floor are, for the most part, young, pretty and overtly sexy — lots of blond hair, ultratight jeans, miniskirts and bare midriffs. The guys seem a cross between the neo-Guido, hair-gel-encrusted Growing Up Gotti kids and horny junior talent agents. Avalon assures me that anonymous sex in bathroom stalls is not at all uncommon.
Several girls pass by, recognize Rex and exchange knowing looks. Avalon tells me that even a periodically employed actor rates far higher in the pecking order than most of those in attendance, who have yet to achieve even a small modicum of fame. It also doesn’t hurt that Rex has been publicly linked to several high-profile party girls, including the scene’s high priestess, Paris Hilton.
Avalon seems a less natural fit for the surroundings — he is neither tan nor rich, and far too grimy for the status-conscious, designer-label crowd. Yet, somehow he has emerged as an unintentional troubadour for the hedonistic scene, and, while admittedly glad for the newfound attention, he remains somewhat of a tourist.
“It’s really because of Simon that I’ve even been able to infiltrate this world,” he explains. “I’m still pretty much an outsider. I have a song called “So Rich So Pretty” that has become a theme song for a lot of these Newport and Malibu girls. They tell me, ‘That’s just like me.’ But it’s really a song about how hollow all of it is. How it’s just this coked-out scene where all the girls are anorexic. But then, I suppose I’m making fun of myself, too. Because I’m saying that, and then I’m hanging out here and rubbing shoulders with it all.”
Later, I’m standing off to the side with Avalon, watching a skinny blond girl do a strange herky-jerky drug dance, when Rex arrives with actor Kevin Connelly, from the hit HBO show Entourage, who smiles and tells Avalon he is a fan. He says he recently bought his CD and brought it home to his girlfriend, Nicky Hilton, who told him that she was already totally into Mickey Avalon.
When they head off, Avalon tells me that Paris Hilton recently had him on an episode of her reality show The Simple Life. Both Hilton and co-host Nicole Richie were supposed to plan a wedding, and Hilton chose Avalon as the musical entertainment for hers. It turned out to be two girls getting married, and Avalon serenaded them with a song called “Friends and Lovers,” about murder and suicide. He says he and his pal Rainbow got so loaded during the shoot that they crashed into a production truck and fled the scene afterward. As we prepare to leave, Rex comes back and says Connelly mentioned having the two of them appear on an episode of Entourage as themselves, which seems — perfect.
In his late teens, Avalon was an Orthodox Jew. He grew a beard, wore the black hat and started attending the strictest temples he could find around West Hollywood, voraciously reading the texts and intensely debating the rabbis.
“Looking back, I was a zealot,” he admits. “I didn’t grow up very religious, so it actually felt pretty rebellious at the time.”
The conversion, he says, was motivated by a belief that he was doomed to end up like his father and that God might be able to save him. His dad was already sick by then, his body breaking down after years of heroin and methadone and a particularly devastating crack run. His teeth were gone, and his legs painfully swollen from hepatitis and tuberculosis. Avalon was trying to get him into long-term treatment. Avalon’s ex-wife was living with them at the time, and when we meet for coffee, she recalls his desperation.
“Their relationship was really reversed at that point,” she says. “It was like Mickey was the father and his father was a child. The rehabs wouldn’t take his dad until he had been clean for a month, even though he could hardly walk. Mickey literally turned the doorknobs around and locked his dad in so he couldn’t go out and buy drugs.”
His dad eventually entered treatment and surprised everyone by staying. He was in for a year and emerged clean, if not physically restored. Afterward he began attending 12-step meetings and forging a new identity, adjusting to life without narcotics.
“He realized he could still be cool without using drugs,” Avalon’s ex says. “One night, we started talking, and he said I must hate him for what he did to his children. I could tell he felt all this intense guilt, and he broke down and started crying.”
Six months after leaving treatment, Avalon’s father remained off drugs. Then, almost like the punch line to a cruel cosmic joke, he was leaving an AA meeting one night and was hit by a drunken driver while crossing La Cienega Boulevard. He was taken to the hospital, but a liver destroyed by decades of abuse and disease proved unable to process the infections, and his eyes turned yellow. He never fully regained consciousness. Doctors eventually approached a then-19-year-old Avalon for consent to turn off his father’s life support.
“I remember Mickey and his little sister were in the room,” Avalon’s ex tells me. “And the doctors told us, ‘That’s it,’ and his father just stopped breathing. Mickey just seemed so calm.”
When asked about it, Avalon is initially fatalistic about his father’s death, saying, “He was sick, and we knew he was never going to live that long. Death don’t really faze me much.”
Later, though, as we drive through the West Hollywood neighborhood where the two grew up, he softens. “Just because my dad was a junkie didn’t mean we didn’t go to baseball-card conventions and he didn’t turn me on to Marlon Brando movies. We still had all those moments. And I miss him. Not on Father’s Day, but right now. I mean, who can I call, all excited, to say, ‘Yo, I’m going to be in the L.A. Weekly?’ Not my dad. He doesn’t even know I ever wrote a song.”
Both Avalon and his sister had toyed with heroin in their midteens, but their father’s death appears to have accelerated an ingrained yen for the drug. Avalon attempted to curtail this seemingly inevitable path to self-destruction in the same way his father had, by starting a family. A year after his father’s death, Avalon and his teenage bride had a daughter. “It was like my dad took his last breath, and a year later, my daughter let out the loudest scream you have ever heard,” he says.
The three of them moved away to Portland to start anew. He had become increasingly disillusioned with the rigid laws of Orthodox Judaism and shaved off his beard the day his daughter came home from the hospital. But as with his father, a family wasn’t enough to check Avalon’s own descent. He had been smoking and selling pot while attending the Orthodox temples back in Hollywood (there is technically no rule against it, he says) and began using heroin more and more as they settled in Portland, eventually abandoning his wife and daughter altogether for the drug.
Then, at perhaps his lowest point, addicted and living amid the hustlers and street urchins of downtown Portland, and selling his body to support his habit, Avalon called his mom back in Los Angeles to say hello. She told him to come home and says she was genuinely surprised when he called a day later from the downtown L.A. bus station. He moved into his mother’s home and managed to kick his drug habit.
Everyone I’ve heard describe Avalon’s younger sister says that she could light up a room and that when she spiraled downward, it was with a stunning and frightening intensity.
“She was just like a light,” says Avalon’s mother. “So charming and beautiful, but she could go to those lower depths just like her father. Mickey would be homeless at a friend’s house in Malibu. People take care of him because he doesn’t take up much space. And he would never let anybody consciously hurt him. I can’t say the same about her. She would be down in MacArthur Park.”
Inspired by Avalon’s unexpected success, the family managed to track down his sister and bring her home as well. “I thought it would all work out, that we would do it with love,” his mother tells me sadly.
“That was the best year of my life,” Avalon says without hesitation. “It was the closest I had ever been to my sister, and we were both in my mom’s house, which we had left before we were supposed to. It’s as if we created and re-created memories during that time.”
He says the two of them managed to stay clean as a team, riding the newly constructed subways and trains throughout the city to 12-step meetings. His sister actually slapped him once in public when he started dating a girl, fearful that he was going to abandon her. Then she started dating an older lawyer, who treated her well, and by all accounts it seemed the unlikeliest of happy endings. But that perfect year ended abruptly one morning when Avalon knocked on his sister’s bedroom door. She didn’t respond, so he turned the stereo up and headed into the shower. He remembers hearing his mom yelling at his sister, and he shouted for them to stop arguing. It was only when he walked back into the hall that he realized his mom was actually screaming. He looked into his sister’s room and saw her sprawled across the bed, her skin pale and blue. Avalon says he looked away, remembering a Jewish tradition that advises one not to view the dead so you might remember them as they were, alive and happy.
“All my friends and all my lovers are dead. Some from cheap narcotics and others from — lead. The filthy rich and the dirt-dirt poor are all the same when they can’t take no more, because all my friends and all my lovers are dead.”
Late night at Canter’s Delicatessen on Fairfax. Avalon is sitting across from me eating a plate of corned beef and cabbage — explaining how exactly he ended up as a male prostitute. It was after his mom fired him from “the biz.” He was separated from his wife and child, addicted to heroin, and living in a cheap Portland rooming house. Nearby was a gritty stretch of Jefferson Avenue nicknamed “Vaseline Alley” for obvious reasons. Avalon met a kid while spending the night in jail, and when they were released, he watched the kid make money. When he first tried it, Avalon says, he was just ripping off the “johns” — climbing into the cars and then jumping out with their money.
“But as you get more fucked up, it gets more difficult,” he explains. “When you’re dealing with $40 tricks on their lunch break, well, that’s easy. But when you’re dealing with $10 crackheads who take all their clothes off when they take a hit and you’re locked in the motel room, that’s when the ball ain’t in your court.”
He looks across the restaurant, notices a pretty blond girl a few booths over and waves to her. She smiles and waves back. He tells me she’s a girl from the neighborhood and they went to high school together. He sifts through the cabbage with his fork for a beat and continues.
“It got to be a really dark, weird time. I mean, I’ve given guys hand jobs, but I’ve never been fucked in the ass and I’ve never sucked a guy’s dick. I know that to most people anything like that is gay. But I know what I like, so I have no problem, because at the end of the day, it’s just an act. I would much rather give a hand job than wash dishes all day. Does that make me gay? I don’t know, I don’t think so. It was tragic that I was such a complete loser, but then again, I wasn’t exactly supposed to be a lawyer or a stockbroker.”
“When you’ve got some money then come and get your jollies, a corner teen in this California dream, all up on the scene dipped in Vaseline. My foster parents told me that I could be anything I wanted to, so I became me Mickey Avalon, the kid who runs free serving sucker MCs and getting paid for my delivery. I freak beats that stain your silk sheets, filthy on the mic like Lenny Bruce used to be.”
The Mickey Avalon I have come to know is far different from what I expected as I drove to my first meeting with the latest great white hip-hop hope. Intelligent, candid and seemingly without guile, Avalon had his heart on his sleeve from the moment we met. While he talks of death and loss with something resembling calm detachment, there is an undeniable air of vulnerability about him that is both refreshing and, at times, unnerving. Heroin is, after all, a painkiller, and junkies, using or not, tend to feel almost everything. Avalon told me that he is an insomniac, awake throughout the night, painting, reading books and writing. It is not, he says, something he particularly enjoys, those silent hours alone with his thoughts and memories.
Avalon’s booked for another sold-out Saturday-night show at the Roxy. The previous day, a DJ named Stryker, on the all-powerful KROQ radio station, went on air for several minutes raving about the new underground sensation called Mickey Avalon and how he had done it all on his own. He talked about the Roxy show, and then played Avalon’s club hit “Jane Fonda.” Saturday morning, there’s a message posted on Avalon’s MySpace page that reads, “Just to let you know the entire city of Laguna Beach is coming tonight.”
When Avalon leaves the sound check on Saturday afternoon, several girls are already gathered outside the club, dressed in vintage aerobics outfits inspired by his “Jane Fonda.” They spot Avalon as he starts to walk home and yell out that they love him, which he likes. He makes no bones about wanting success. A true child of Hollywood, fame is really the only currency he has known. Sell enough records and maybe he won’t have to go back to delivering pizzas and sleeping on people’s couches, might even be able to send his daughter to college when she grows up.
Hours before the show, Avalon is in his West Hollywood apartment, standing in front of a mirror doing his makeup and hair while listening to the sad music of Elmore James. He admits that he rarely, if ever, listens to hip-hop, favoring old rhythm & blues and country music. He’s a huge fan of female country singers like Gillian Welsh and Lucinda Williams, and his favorite concert of the past year was Dolly Parton’s. It all goes back to his father the record collector. It was the one love he never abandoned and was somehow able to pass down to his son.
“My dad would buy records before paying child support,” Avalon says with a laugh. The snub was perhaps lightened when Avalon inherited his dad’s prized collection, which he has managed to hold on to over the years.
Avalon emerges from the bathroom in tight jeans, glittering red lipstick and powder-blue eye shadow. There is an Ace bandage coated with fake blood wrapped across his midsection, and he puts on a silvery Ziggy Stardust–style leather jacket with red, lightning-bolt lapels. The phrase “Thank You” is tattooed across his stomach in bold letters.
“I got that at a time I was having sex with a lot of beautiful girls and I was really grateful,” he explains with a smile. He also has the phrase “I’m sorry” tattooed on the palm of his hand and the word “Please” etched onto the inside of his bottom lip.
Steve Lindsey, a record producer who worked with the likes of Leonard Cohen and Elton John before forming his own publishing company, recently signed Avalon to a publishing deal. So far, Lindsey’s stable of writers has penned such hits as “In Da Club” for 50 Cent, “The Real Slim Shady” for Eminem and “Breakaway” for Kelly Clarkson. He later tells me he rarely signs artists, but made an exception with Avalon. While he likes the songs, it was the live show that really hooked him.
“It’s David Bowie,” Lindsey says. “I think Mickey Avalon’s going to bring that kind of entertainment back to rock & roll.”
When I ask if he thinks Middle America is ready for Avalon’s decidedly ambisexual imagery, he laughs. “Will Middle America be totally aghast? Well, I hope so, or how are we going to make any money? He has the skateboard kids and the young Hollywood crowd out here, but in Middle America I think he’ll get the sexually confused kids, like what happened with Alice Cooper and Bowie.”
Standing in his apartment, Avalon checks his reflection one last time, then twists open a bottle of expensive tequila and takes a pull. He slips on a trench coat and announces he is ready.
The sidewalk in front of the Roxy is swarming with kids. The club was selected for historical significance, having hosted such luminaries as Lou Reed, David Bowie and Prince, but also because it is an all-ages venue, allowing for Avalon’s growing legion of teenage fans. We park up the street and navigate across Sunset to the Shamrock Social Club, a tattoo parlor run by renowned tattoo artist Mark Mahoney. Mahoney is a tall, impeccably dressed Bostonian with slicked-back hair and piercing eyes. He was a friend of Avalon’s dad and, over the years, developed into one of Avalon’s many surrogate father figures throughout the city.
“I lost most of my family unit, so I’ll adopt anyone if they work out for me,” Avalon explains. Mahoney seems truly glad to see Avalon walk through the door, and even happier when he notes that his pupils are a normal size. Avalon tells him he’s staying off the dope, and Mahoney smiles, saying, “Hey, that’s fucking great.”
He is obviously happy for Avalon’s success but says he has no interest in seeing the show, explaining, “My wife and the guys from the shop go see him and come back and tell me stories about what it’s like. I know it’s all about debauchery and he plays up the effeminate-hustler thing. I don’t think it would shock me if he wasn’t like one of my kids.”
Across the street we hit the Roxy’s side entrance, and some young girls recognize him and begin yelling out to him, “Mickey! Mickey!” We make a beeline through the packed club, up the stairs and into the backstage area. Unlike at the previous gig, there is no raucous party in the dressing room this time. Avalon has a new stage show, including dancers and several costume changes, so the area has been intentionally cleared. Avalon is now wired and antsy, pacing back and forth and announcing to no one in particular: “Let’s go; I want to do this right now.”
I head downstairs and find a vantage point toward the back of the club. A contingent of professional surfers from the RVCA clothing team, which sponsors Avalon and recently took him to Japan for a performance, are there, making the scene and drinking everything in sight. Some members of Avalon’s old tagging crew, CBS (Can’t Be Stopped), are there as well, one tall gent explaining, “He’s an old friend and we take care of one another. And he’s an entertainer, so he might say or do something someone doesn’t like. We like to be around in case people get the wrong idea.” A well-dressed Russian next to him nods in silent agreement.
Minutes later, the houselights dim and Avalon’s theme music starts — a mix of Tony Basil’s “Mickey” and Roxy Music’s “Avalon.” The curtain slowly rises to reveal a bed with pink satin sheets, fluffy pillows and teddy bears. There are two fashion-model-like girls frolicking on the bed in nightgowns. Suddenly Avalon appears, creeping through a large stage window, wearing a mask and shining a flashlight on them. The girls act scared and scatter, as a song starts up with a sample of a man’s voice announcing, “We are going to have open sexual intercourse on every street corner of America.” A loud cheer erupts, and Avalon launches into his song “Waiting to Die,” soon joined onstage by the two scantily clad girls, who now dance beside him like a sexed-up version of Dean Martin’s Golddiggers. The audience is singing along with him.
“Mickey Avalon — the kosher salami. For 20 you get Chachi but 40 gets you Fonzie. A motherfuckin’ hustler kamikaze, I used to bus tables but now I sell my body. It’s like a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder, that God must be one sick motherfucker.”
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Between songs the young girls down front begin to chant his name, “Mi-ckey! Mi-ckey!,” like he’s a bona fide David Cassidy–style pop star. A few songs in, someone points out Santino, from last season’s reality hit Project Runway, pumping his fist and singing along. In front of me is a group of kids who can’t be much more than 10 or 11, and they are singing along as well. “Ty was a stripper, died on the shitter with a smile on her face and her hand on her liver, but I ain’t mad, I forgive her, I just get a little sad every time I fuck her sister.” A 30-ish woman I assume to be a mother eventually turns to the kids and says, “He’s the Antichrist.” The kids smile and keep singing. At one point between songs, Avalon tells the crowd, “You could all be home watching Pearl Jam on Saturday Night Live, but you’re here with me and I love you all.” During the next song, he walks along the front of the stage and kisses all the girls.
When he eventually does an encore, Avalon brings his longtime friend Armin, a.k.a. rapper Andre Legacy, and Simon Rex up onstage. The two of them are dressed like Jesus Christ, while Avalon is now wearing a short tutu. As the crowd screams and cheers for Avalon, it suddenly occurs to me that maybe this isn’t merely some hedonistic freak show but a celebration. Perhaps what these kids are responding to, even rejoicing in, is Avalon’s unfaltering bravado. This is someone who had to pull the plug on his drug-addicted father, discovered his little sister dead and jerked off creeps for drug money. Yet, there he is, up onstage, feeling sexy and confident and laughing about it all — and there’s something inspiring, even heroic, about that. Hate him or love him, Mickey Avalon is what all stars really are — reflective light.
After the show, Avalon stands on Sunset Boulevard surrounded by fawning young girls, like some tattered hustler prince. The owner of the club looks on and tells me, “We love him. He’s on his way now.” A photographer’s flashbulb begins to illuminate the street, while an exhausted, but obviously happy, Avalon poses under the marquee with his name proclaiming the show sold out. Minutes later, as I’m driving home through Hollywood, I recall what the tattooist Mark Mahoney said when I asked his thoughts on Avalon’s strange and sometimes tragic life. He just shook his head and, in a near whisper, said, “It’s just an unbelievable dope opera.”
“What to do when your luck is through, whether you come from the slums or live in Malibu. See him running down the avenue, Mickey Avalon with an attitude.”