Vampires are hotter than storm troopers. Storm troopers are hotter than Klingons, who are hotter than space fairies, Jedi knights, Deanna Troi and sexy Buffy demons. This is what the masses at the Sci-Fi Summit, Creation Entertainment's weekendlong 11th Annual Grand Slam Convention in Pasadena, decide.
I'm watching the costume contest, the finale to the biggest science-fiction geek-a-thon of the year. Friday was for Star Wars. Saturday was for Star Trek. Today, Sunday, is for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There's an added sense of urgency this year because in just weeks the TV series' final episode will air, and Buffy will wrestle her final demons. Onstage, a woman in a blond wig brandishes a homemade wooden stake. She's dressed up as the Slayer.
"I didn't realize Buffy was so big," says the man behind me as the audience cheers.
"Oh, yeah!" says a young guy two rows ahead. "She's a tall girl. She's, like, 5-foot-5."
"I meant big, like popular."
"Q'apla!" I growl, my one word of Klingon, which means either "hello" or "you fool!" or "beware" or "bloody victory."
The guest list here is extensive: real-life former astronaut Wil Wheaton, the real Princess Leia, the real Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Cousin Itt, Spock, Boba Fett, Captain Janeway's holographic lover, Romulans, vampires, vampire slayers, "Sizzle" (the dog from Star Trek Voyager episode number 153) and William Shatner, among others. Think of the politics. And that's not even counting the Ewoks. I like Ewoks. But many people don't.
For some time now, Buffy has become my secret life. I go to work. I come home. I pop in the DVD. Sometimes it's Season One, during which Buffy transfers high schools only to discover that her new town (like the old one) is also vampire-infested. Other times, it's Season Two Buffy goes to the prom, graduates and saves the suburbs from Ultimate Evil. Mostly, I love Spike, the punk-rock vampire, who is daring and reckless and romantic. Before Buffy, my secret life was Star Trek. And before Star Trek, it was Star Wars. So, this Pasadena convention offers me an auspicious convergence of not one, not two, but three secret lives. It is organic. It is destiny.
The official program booklet on convention etiquette reads: "We ask, as a courtesy to the rest of the audience, that you do not ask for hugs, kisses, favors, autographs, or [tell] them that you love them . . . Let's make the appearances of our favorite celebrities interesting with good thought provoking questions."
My plan is: Go to convention. Find Spike. Ask for hugs, kisses, favors. Outwit rabid fans with their thought-provoking questions, and tell him I love him. We will tackle the whole "undead sucking of blood" issue after the honeymoon.
At 1:30 p.m., there is "a special panel discussion on the excellent new book Star Trek: Star Charts." At 4:45, people line up to question Nicholas Brendon, who plays Xander on Buffy: Who does he like to play more, Xander or Evil Xander? Are he and Buffy and Willow best friends like they are on the show?
"Yes," Brendon answers, "we always walk down Third Street Promenade fighting demons."
"Would you rather go back to dating Anya or Cordelia?"
"Why can't I have both?"
"You're the only one on the show who doesn't have highly developed superpowers," notes one fan. "Is it really your world, and do we just live in it?"
At last, James Marsters, who plays Spike, bounds onstage in full character and is greeted with a torrent of ecstatic screams. "I want to tie you up and feed you cookies!" cries one girl. "You are the hottest vampire on the planet!" cries another.
"In order to stay true to the psychology of Buffy as a girl who gives up her life to save people, it had to be very hard for her to be with Spike, who is evil. The show's creators make money by not giving you guys what you want. That," purrs Marsters, "is that thing called sweet frustration."
A woman in a silver gown scratches her pointy Galadriel elf ears. We sigh in unison. The plan, it seems, has gone awry. No hugs, kisses or honeymoons are in the cards.
You believe so much in the world of the show, the movie, the book. You believe in vampires, in the Force, in life after undeath. You are delusional, a nerd, a dork, a freak. You pay your 25 bucks for a piece of Vader, 60 for Shatner, 10 for Spike embroidered on thong underwear. There's a hierarchy, after all. You've come to find your soul mate, to be with your kin. And when the show spits you out into the ordinary night, you almost trust it, the good versus evil. Conventions, you say, are funny events and who knows if you'll go again, though in your heart, you know you will. You think you are a geek? You're not geek enough.
I first became aware of the phenomenon of the two Dean Chamberlains last October when they stood side-by-side in the living room of Hollywood digital doyenne Coco Conn, one Dean with a glass in his right hand, the other with a glass in his left. I'd met each of them before in different realms: One had photographed psychedelic pioneers I'd admired; the other I'd met through ex-Angeleno Gynomite producer Liz Belile, who knew him from various Internet projects in the early '90s. But I never considered them in the same thought until that moment, when I realized that not only did two Dean Chamberlains move in roughly the same local social circles through Los Angeles, but that the two men bore some physical resemblance to one another. Standing just east of Coco's piano, as guest of honor David Rees signed copies of his comic compilation, they suddenly looked like a design somebody had created by folding a piece of paper and cutting out a shape along the crease. One Dean mirrored the other.
Because I'd spent the better part of that evening trying to shake a man promoting the idea that the L.A. Weekly was staffed with several CIA operatives, I took refuge in the company of the Deans. I was surprised to learn that they were friends. The two met in 1979 in New York, when photographer Dean was persuaded by a friend to catch the other Dean's band, Code Blue. "It was kind of mind-boggling," said photographer Dean. "I'd taken guitar lessons as a kid and always tried to play the guitar, but I never had the gift. And when I saw him, it was like he was playing the way I would have played if I could play it was as if he was the embodiment of something I'd wanted to be in some way some spiritual way."
After Dean Chamberlain the photographer moved to Los Angeles in '94, the two occasionally ran into each other, but "We didn't really connect in any meaningful way" until recently, when Dean Chamberlain invited Dean Chamberlain to participate in a video project about musicians. The shoot didn't produce what Chamberlain was after, but "It did bond us somehow," said the photographer. "There is this weird delicacy between us we're not only two men who have the same name, but we're both super ectomorphs and the same kind of reserved characters." And, somehow, psychic archetypes: The photographer typically dresses in white, the musician in black, giving observers the impression that they represent opposite sides of a single entity. "It's so strange," says the photographer. "I'm always trying to explain to myself how this happened."
Since that night at Coco's, I have not been able to refer to either man without a qualifier. One was for a time "musician Dean Chamberlain," the other "photographer Dean Chamberlain," a situation that became complicated when I learned that musician Dean was also a photographer, although not at all in the same style. ("It's like we're on different planets as photographers," said the original Chamberlain photographer, who creates "light paintings" through a meticulous process of slow exposures. "He makes these very stark photographs, totally unlike mine.") Now it's "Code Blue Dean Chamberlain," or "Light Space Dean Chamberlain," a reference to the Venice gallery where he's just opened a tribute to Timothy Leary, of whom he made a portrait before the seminal psychonaut's death in 1996.
This past Saturday night, Light Space Dean hosted an opening for the show at his gallery, where I found Code Blue Dean in the company of a woman named Chrissie. An animated blond with the beauty of a James Bond heroine, Chrissie wanted to tell the people standing around her all the nice things Rancho de la Luna co-founder Fred Drake had said about Chamberlain's generosity with other musicians when he was working at that famous Joshua Tree studio. The compliment was a favorable comparison to Jesus. Chamberlain wouldn't have it.
"Oh, Chrissie," he interrupted. "You're high!"
"No, I'm not," she yelled back.
"All right," said Dean Chamberlain. "Let's go say 'hi' to Dean Chamberlain."
When I saw Code Blue Dean again, he was hanging by animator Kenny Scharf's psychedelic light box, recounting for the benefit of two women how he'd gone to buy a book at Book Soup, written a check, and watched as the sales clerk stared up at him perplexed. "Dean Chamberlain?" she'd said. "Wow. You've changed."
The next day, I happened to talk to a friend who, as these things happen, told me he'd just spent two days at Rancho de la Luna. "That's totally weird," I said. "I just spent hours hearing all about Fred at Dean Chamberlain's gallery last night."
"Dean Chamberlain has an art gallery?" he said. "Cool. I haven't heard him play in a long time. I guess his photography is really taking off."
Judith Lewis ä
Lean and rangy, with brownish-blond hair coifed short and a wry demeanor nearing Craig Kilborn territory, painter Becca Midwood shrugs and smiles when asked about those in L.A.'s art community who complain she receives far too much attention for what she creates.
"I can feel the jealousy. Things get back to me. There are certain people I can't be around. Sometimes it feels like everyone hates me or they're going to hate me, but you learn to ignore it and go on."
Certainly not everyone hates Midwood, 34, better known by her girlish scrawl, "becca." The requisite crowds are on hand this Saturday night for her latest opening at La Brea's Merry Karnowsky Gallery, sucking back the free vodka-cranberries, as they always do, and nearly rubbing up against the paintings in the process. Hipsters scope the scene. A dude with a big bouffant hairdo nearly puts someone's eye out with his wig. Celebs Mira Sorvino and Zack de la Rocha are spotted. Some folks even take in the art.
Becca and I are in a backroom where a gallery assistant keeps watch over an overworked credit-card machine. The show is called "Homecoming." On one wall, a goth toddler plays with fire; beside her, a diapered infant named Jew Baby is doing chin-ups, a blue Star of David on her chest. Next to Becca, giclee prints of a boy and girl boxer duke it out.
"I'm living in the D.C. 'burbs, near my mom," she confides. "It's different. Calm. I miss L.A. sometimes, but I don't have the overhead I had here, or the troubles."
Becca first moved to L.A. after the Rodney King riots and began pasting images of bloodied gamines all over the city, from the Strip to the hood, on snipe walls, abandoned buildings and gangbanger haunts. Under the Sixth Street Bridge, she affixed a host of little girls, fairies and Native Americans to the concrete supports. The homies from the Cuatro Street Flats especially liked the Native Americans, leaving them graffiti-free.
Stunts like that earned her ink and envy. Juxtapoz did a cover story comparing her to Basquiat. Her art sold to the likes of Leo DiCaprio, Leonard Cohen and Balthazar Getty. Whenever she posted a piece in Los Feliz or Hollywood, people would nab it, knowing they had free artwork worth a grand or more. Then the long knives came out, the cattiness and the gossip.
A year and a half ago, she decided to go back home to the East Coast, where she didn't have to explain herself. There had also been a string of disappointments, romantic and otherwise. Personal demons to wrestle. Tactical retreat was the order of the day.
"I just want to do what I have to do and not be in contact with that vibe," explains Becca, in town for the week. "I'm in a much better place now, and I think the new stuff reflects that."
The darkness of her earlier pieces is largely missing in her current show; there are no boys with bloodstained hands or girls with gore running down their shins. Okay, there is a painting of a placid little gal in white on her head an arrow-split apple à la William Tell. And there's a SARS-inspired self-portrait with Becca's mouth swathed in black cloth. But these seem more humorous than creepy.
Everything else is playful, feisty, fetching: A Japanese woman in a vermilion kimono with gold trim plucks a shamisen banjo; a blue-eyed boy stares at a pool of aquamarine; a woman in black bikini and boxing gloves hits us with a one-two combination. The signature piece is a pair of red boxing gloves on a black background.
Apparently, those who actually came not to be seen, but to see, liked what they saw. Twelve pieces sold that night. Of course, you can't please everyone. A young woman straight out of the pages of In Style carped into her cell phone that she "didn't recognize the vodka," though there were "some cute guys" present. One dude, who looked like Moby, seemed genuinely befuddled by Buddha Kitty, a painting of the Buddha with a Hello Kitty head.
Becca seems happy, even if there's something in her green eyes that's always a little morose. It was in L.A. that she made a name for herself, and started the rise-fall-and-rise-again narrative the art-damaged rags (the latest being Nylon and The Face) love to tell. L.A. helped her reach venues in Tokyo and New York. Still, Virginia is undoubtedly far more salubrious.
"For better or worse, I'm usually identified as an L.A. artist," she says, sliding on her jacket as someone blinks the lights. "I guess there are worse places to be identified with. Tijuana, maybe?"
We Have Our Issues
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
25 YEARS OF L.A. WEEKLY
We never thought it would turn out like this. The only people who can afford to buy houses are the people who already own them. According to the city housing director, 95 percent of current renters will never become homeowners. In the more desirable parts of town, when a tenant moves out, rents go up as much as 20, 40 and 60 percent. New apartment construction has been virtually stopped dead. Poor people have been forced to double up, triple up and often a good deal more. In many neighborhoods, vacancy rates range from minuscule to nothing at all, a problem made worse by a flood of immigrants from the other 49 states, Mexico and the entire Pacific Rim.
Paul Ciotti "Last Gasp for Housing," May 23, 1980