Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In My Beginning there was..Rodney's...More Tales of '70's Hollywood

In 1972 my sister Joan overhead a girl talking about Rodney's in class, that classmate was 15 year Lynn Kornsacher (sic?) who later become known as "Queenie", and along with Sabel Star and Lori Mattox, would be one of the original Rodney's groupies. We were intrigued...now as to why...nearly 40 years later, I struggle to understand since we had been up to then intensely interested in surfing, surf music, and, of course, surfers, LOL. I loved John Mayall, and the Allman Brothers, and in fact, along with a couple of High School pals, had been trying to put a band together that would play traditional Blues ala Muddy Waters with me doing my best imitation of Big Mama Thornton (it didn't help that all my friends wanted to do at "rehearsal" was chug Jack Daniels, but I digress). So now, I am like WTF? But...

I think that I always felt at odds with what was considered the "norm", I wasn't interested in typical High School life with its, to me, deadly dull football games, typical vapid teen-age speak, and the jockeying for position with other girls to score points with the BMOC. Surfing was an ironic sub-culture at my dusty San Fernando Valley High School which was an hour's drive away from any beach, but I gravitated toward the scene even though at that time, Surfers, almost all guys, didn't respect women, nor beyond the obvious--sex, were they interested in what a woman had to say--clearly a fatal flaw for a girl who even then was highly opinionated, not to mention that I didn't in the least resemble the prototypical surfer chick.

I do believe that I was typical of the kids that later became the Hollywood Punks, in that I was yearning for something to fill a void left by my High School experience, and like almost all the punks, I was a bright kid, but academically lazy, and unchallenged by the standardized curricula at my school. On the other hand, books & movies did shape my intellectual, and cultural, development, I loved all the British Kitchen Sink flicks that played on late night TV in LA, and then the wild 60's run of movies like "Morgan" (later, when my friend Meredith and I spotted David Warner late one night in a Hollywood 7-11 we dissolved into giggly fan girls so enamoured of that movie were we), Blow-up, Privilege, and the ultimate film for me, "IF..." and its subversive condemnation of the hypocritical English Public School system with it's rigid adherence to centuries old ideas of duty, honor, and what it defined as the "norm".

Always A heavy reader, I count Sylvia Plath, D.H. Lawrence, Anais Nin, F.Scott Fitzgerald, & Raymond Chandler as favorites. My taste in music was as varied as it was for most of my generation, The Beatles of course, and the whole of the British Invasion, later Cream, Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, then The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Dick Dale--all the surf guys, most of whose music was used in the films like The Endless Summer, and Five Summer Stories, films that played on Friday nights in my San Fernando Valley High School's Gym. I also read all the music mags such as Creem, Circus, and my favorite, Rock Scene.

By 1973 I was getting tired of Surf music, and was veering more toward heavy metal, and the new bands I was reading about in Creem, etc. My formal intro into British Glam rock was seeing David Bowie's '73 Ziggy Stardust Tour when he played the Long Beach Arena--I won't lie, it freaked me out, I went dressed in black velvet with a smear of white face makeup, and a bit of stardust in my hair, but I wasn't really sure about this glitter stuff, Bowie and his Band looked as alien to me as the painted and be-feathered Native Americans must have looked to the first explorers who landed in North America--by the end of the concert I had wiped off the face make-up, and brushed off the stardust--at that moment I felt that I had fallen into the bizarro world of "Carnival of Souls" (another favorite late night flick.) My sister loved glam however, so much so that she, at 16 years old boarded a Grey-Hound bus bound for NYC, the center of the Universe for us at that time (influenced highly by watching Lance Loud and his beautiful friend, Kristian Hoffman, move there in "An American Family"--the PBS series that we watched religiously when it aired in 1973. From there we got into Warhol, his Factory people, and his superstars, the glamorous Females, and she-males who dazzled me--I have never lost interest in that scene even decades later.) Fortunately, NYC Port Authority? officers picked Joan up at the bus station, and shipped her back to CA toot suite. In any event I snapped out of my apprehension regarding Bowie soon enough, and wrote a rave review of the concert for the April '73 edition of my High School newspaper, The Source, not to mention chopping off my hair into a rooster 'do replete with cock's comb, and silver streaks, a move that clearly did not endear me to some of the pod people that I went to school with--I learned a couple of years later after graduating (also known as the happiest day in my life) out of that shit-hole that they privately called me, and my sister "The Monsters" & I would like to say a belated fuck-you to all of them.

One of the perks of living in LA in the early 70's was being able to go to tapings of the Rock shows on TV  including The Midnight Special, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and In Concert--it was at these tapings that we were able to see T.Rex, & The New York Dolls for free (we also saw acts like the great James Brown, along with unknown quantities of hideous acts popular then including the ubiquitous hybrid metal-hill-billy band, Black Oak Arkansas who endlessly performed their one big hit, the annoying "Jim Dandy to the Rescue" both as an opening act for groups like Slade, and at these tapings) It was also at these tapings that we would run into the ultimate fan boy, the late Kevin Dubrow later lead singer of the Slade rip-off band, Quiet Riot--who, along with his friends, acted as moistly worshipful of their rock gods as any teenage girl with aspirations to groupiedom, hovering around the stage holding out hand-made T-Shirts for their band heroes to sign (but enough of that, I'm tempted to go on a rant about how bands treated their male fans, as opposed to their female fans who weren't groupies in those days, but I will refrain.) And of course, since I was collecting records, and reading all the mags, and fanzines too, we saw Iggy & the Stooges for 5 nights, and the New York Dolls, who I also believe played multiple nights, at the Whiskey in the Summer/Fall of '73.

Anyway, Despite hearing about how great Rodney's was, and being primed to make the scene by knowing at least some of the music, and perusing STAR magazine--we knew about the groupie thing--It was only after a few passes by the club with its crowds of sparkling denizens crowding the door, and sitting on the concrete barriers of the parking lot next door, that Joan and I finally mustered up the courage to actually go into Rodney's, but after we did we became hooked. To say that I was an innocent rube to the varieties of sexual orientation is an understatement, and I was agog at the boys dressed partially in female garb, & the boys who did not look like boys dressed entirely in female drag, not to mention the knowing little girls dressed in tiny lame shorts looking for the sort of "trouble" that still remained vague to me--as for what "gay" meant I was hardly aware, but would soon become enlightened.

We kept mostly to ourselves at first, but it wasn't until we met the outgoing Pearl Harbour, then called Lori Duple, in March of '74 at an assembly held at North Hollywood High, that our solitariness changed as she met people in the club and we overcame our shyness; soon we had a posse, Jamie, Meredith, Pearl, Joan and I traveled as a unit, we also had "satellite" members such Casey Duke, "Krazy" Keith Gouverneur, and Michael Sanchez. I'd never drank much or taken drugs, but that changed too--before going into Rodney's, we would park on a darkened residential street near the club and drink cans of "Green Death", Rainer Ale by its proper name, it smelt just like cat piss, but it got us blind drunk. One side effect of being a roving pack of thoroughly soused teenagers was that it fixed Rodney's eye firmly upon us, and he didn't like what he saw, but to his credit, he never 86'd us even when he thought for some reason that I had stolen records from the DJ booth, or when Jamie dropped a giant bottle of jug wine at the front door sending a flood of cheap wine, and glass which, in an unhappy coincidence, happened to wash over Rodney standing there in his fancy satin suit, my sister, upon hearing bystanders murmur in shock, "what is wrong with him", let loose with one of her dry bon mots, "Maybe he's having a seizure".

Beyond attracting the young and fabulous, some of whom, like regular Dennis Crosby, grandson of Bing, and various child Stars, Shaun Cassidy, Stefan Arngrim, among others, had tenuous ties with "Hollywood" (Los Angeles was then, and remains, "a company town"), Rodney's also had its share of peculiar denizens, including the ancient WW2 Vet (hell, the guy could have fought in WW1) who had decided to make Rodney's his neighborhood watering hole--on any given night he'd be enjoying a tipple at the bar--his white hair, and wizened features a stark contrast to the extreme youth of the typical patron. Then there was the guy everyone called "Icky" Danny who seemed really Old to us, but who was probably only around 30 or so, who came in to hit on the really young girls---ugh.

Michael Doll
Rodney's also attracted all sorts of completely out of the mainstream types, people who weren't slumming as weekend freak shows, but the real deal ya know, such as our friend Michael Doll, a tall teenager who worked as a she-male street walker to make ends meet, and who sometimes came to Rodney's in full drag (eventually we met a host of his drag queen friends, most of whom were habitu├ęs of the rough and tumble Drag bar, Daniel's off of Hollywood Blvd). Michael somehow managed to meet, and party with the New York Dolls when they played the Whiskey, and he took Pearl with him to their hotel, sadly, when Pearl died nearly a decade ago, she took her memories with her. At any rate, I credit Michael with inspiring my interest in vintage clothing (the selling of which eventually became my vocation) since he collected it, and artfully displayed it, in his tiny Hollywood Apartment--I started wearing vintage, died my hair blue black, began wearing the palest face make-up, and wore Revlon's Blackberry lipstick, a shade the color of arterial blood, this antique Vampire look became my signature, LOL.

That Michael had had a "challenging" childhood was a given--it was made even clearer to me when I met his Mother, a nurse, who had moved her son, daughter, and "nephew"--a small boy of around 7 or 8 (I now have reason to wonder who this kid really was), to Hollywood from Texas some years before. The mother seemed half-cracked to me at the time, but how nuts she was became much clearer a short time later when she murdered a pregnant friend, and cut out her unborn infant to claim as her own--Michael's mother was the notorious 1970's Los Angeles murderess, Norma Armistead, and her crime was the first child snatching by murder that most people had ever heard of--as an aside, Norma once threatened to kill me when I had a cat-fight with her 6 foot--even taller--in platforms, dress wearing, "baby boy." I still get shivers when I think about it.

Although there has been much talk about the famous rockers who visited Rodney's I never saw any really famous, as in commercially successful, musicians there that I recall at least, unless you count Bowie clone Jobriath, or those guys from "The Babys" (whose singer, John Waite went on to greater fame in the '80's with his single, "Missing You"), although god knows that there were legit rock gods aplenty for sighting in other locations nearby like the Hyatt House further west on Sunset where we spotted Jeff Beck going into the Lobby one night, and Mick Jagger hop out of a limo on another--the closest my friends and I got to any crazy British rockers was a ride in Led Zeppelin's tour bus (our friend Casey Duke somehow knew their Road Manager and scored us a ride down Sunset) We did know Iggy Pop, as I wrote in a previous blog, and I have enough colorful stories on him alone to wax nostalgic about rubbing elbows with the famous. One such occasion was the night of his notorious in-drag "performance" at Rodney's after which he needed a ride home along with his date, a rather tall and skinny drag queen--Iggy was wearing, as I recall it, a length of colorful fabric tied around his waist sarong style, and as the lot of us walked to my car, Iggy lagging due to being fucked up off his ass, not to mention smooching with the "bootie call" now and again, the "skirt" slipped revealing an impressively large, especially for such a small man, and very stiff unit--hoo-boy, if I hadn't felt like Alice down the rabbit hole before...

Down the street from Rodney's was our after-hours hang-out, a hip joint called "Denny's" (yep, that Denny's); the coffee shop would be full of young freaks after Rodney's closed, and it was at Denny's that another amusing Iggy story takes place. As my friend Meredith recalls, "Iggy (got) down on his knees in the middle of an aisle...blocking the progress of a long-suffering and very waspish old waitress named Louise while singing to her...wild thing, you make my dick sing." Oh Iggy, it is incredible that he survived the insanity of those years.

Come to think of it, I sometimes marvel at how any of us survived them; there was the time when, drunk as usual, I took a nasty fall during a party at Tom Ayres' (Rodney's partner in the Club) snug California Craftsman style house down the block from the club where a few of us had congregated after hours to hang out. I hit my head on the bath tub, and my sister, who had no driver's license, and barely knew how to drive,  drove me drunk, flailing, and bleeding profusely from the head to the UCLA Medical center where she unceremoniously rolled me out of the car at the emergency entrance and tore off (since I had repeatedly tried to leap from the car, with only my friend Jamie restraining me from doing so, Joan had had enough, and I don't blame her). The next morning, stitched up, shoeless, all in black, and blinking like a Vampire caught in the merciless California sun I attempted to hitch a ride back to Ayres house--I wasn't having much luck (who could blame the drivers whizzing by on Sunset only to see this dead white freak, barefoot and in all black, with a hugely bandaged head, with her thumb out?) At any rate, I was standing by a bus stop where numerous young Mexican House Maids were waiting to board the bus home to East LA after wiping the asses (figuratively speaking of course) of their tanned and toned Masters who lived in the jaw-droppingly huge Mansions in the area with roof-tops barely glimpsed in the forest of trees, and tall iron gates that surrounded them. A group of these women, none of whom spoke English, saw me, and pooled their change so that I could get on the bus, and for that I am eternally grateful--thank you ladies!

On another occasion, my friend Pearl, and another friend, Kat, a young runaway from Oklahoma working as a hooker, had hitched a ride from some guy who threatened to rape, and do other damage to them, the guy let Pearl go after Kat calmly told him that she "would take care of it." Still, Pearl came rushing into Rodney's screaming that Kat was about to be murdered and worse--to which the glittery Rodney's D.J, Chucky Starr calmly replied, "Oh well, just another Hollywood Story!" and went back to spinning Mudd, or whatever--hell yeah we were cynical already, but our brains must really been pickled to even consider hitch-hiking in Los Angeles during the period of spectacular, and brutal murders endemic in the 1970's--the culmination of which was the murder, by The Hillside Strangler, of Hollywood scenester, Jane King, whom I, and a couple of my friends, worked beside as extras in "Up In Smoke," a mere 3 years later.

To be truthful, nearly 40 years later, I tend to down play my Rodney's experiences so vivid are the memories of punk in my life, but meditating on the experience in preparation for this blog brings the importance of Rodney's to my cultural development, not to mention it's importance to the Los Angeles music scene, into sharp relief. It was also because of Rodney's that I was exposed to great music that I probably wouldn't have heard otherwise, and as a consequence, I saw many great bands live: Roxy Music, and Slade at the Hollywood Palladium, The Stooges and The Dolls at the Whiskey, David Bowie on both his Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs tours, The Sweet, Rod Stewart with The Faces before he became a hack willing to cash in on the Disco craze, and many more lost in the fog of my personal History. I know that I became an infinitely more open-minded because I made so many gay friends, so many unconventional friends, at Rodney's--I like to think that I became a kinder, and more open minded person precisely because I ended up rejecting the societal "norm", the Club, and the Hollywood experience helped me realize that "normal" is a subjective term used frequently to batter and shame those who are unique. Anyway, I wrote the following which was published as part of Rock Scene's "Rock Back" Column:
My memory takes me back to 1972 when a...man named Rodney Bingenheimer opened his now famous English Disco. In those days we wore glitter to cover our acne..and  6 inch platforms to elevate our juvenile height. It was at Rodney's that we first rocked out to the electric vibrations of Sweet, Gary Glitter, Suzi Quatro, and the reigning King himself--David Bowie. It was at Rodney's that we popped our first Quaalude, and met our first popstar...It was at Rodney's where we, the generation of glitter babes, found a place where we belonged....Rodney's RIP"--Rock Scene, March 1976.