Here’s a Halloween treat for our readers. Or maybe a trick?
It all depends on your tolerance for inept dance moves and tacky ‘80s public access production values.
Stairway to Stardom was a New York City public access variety show that aired from 1979 to the early 1990s. Many of the guests had questionable talent and clips from the show were circulating even pre-Internet among VHS tape-traders looking for the next weirdest thing. The appeal of many of the show’s “stars” had more to do with the effects of schadenfreude rather than distinguishable talent. The show’s producers were gloriously non-discerning.
The advent of YouTube has brought a lot of gems from Stairway to Stardom to light. Personally I’ll always recommend Lucille Cataldo’s “Hairdresser” and Precious Taft’s dramatic monologue, but today we’re going to take a look at Lola Perazzo who does an unbelievably stiff, awkward, herky-jerky interpretive dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in a tragically ill-fitting body-suit—capped off with a classic “is it over yet?” finale.
Released in early January 1979, the debut seven inch EP by Santa Ana, California’s Middle Class is considered by many punk historians to be the first “hardcore” record.
That is to say, it was the earliest release that displays a stylistic shift from what was known at the time as “punk rock” to a shorter-faster-louder style of playing that would come to be associated with the burgeoning hardcore scene. It is certainly ranked among Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP (released late January, 1979) and Bad Brains “Pay to Cum” single (released June of 1980) as the earliest stylistic harbingers of “hardcore.”
While the Middle Class are certainly less known and regarded than their contemporaries Black Flag and Bad Brains, their importance to the late 70s California punk scene should not be dismissed. Now, more than 35 years after its release, the title track from their Out of Vogue EP may finally get some recognition.
Classic independent LA punk label, Frontier Records, have released a brand new music video for the song. Instead of cobbling together some grainy super 8 or primitive video footage of the band, the bold directorial choice was made to have a middle-aged man tap-dance to the song on a sidewalk.
The dancer in the clip is Rob Zabrecky, who will be known to many of our readers as the singer of the (fucking great) 90s band Possum Dixon.
Zabrecky also happens to be one of the best magicians I’ve ever seen live, in addition to being a vocalist and (exquisite) dancer.
Certainly this is what no one expected, but the aesthetic fits the idea: OUT OF VOGUE.
We don’t need your magazines
We don’t need you fashion show
We don’t need your TV
We don’t want to know
We don’t need we get our fill
It’s esoteric overkill
It’s a shiny new aesthetic
Get us out of vogue
Everything about this performance SCREAMS “out of vogue”:
Danceteria was arguably the most influential and important club in New York City in the 1980s. Any musician who mattered played there, and it was featured prominently in the movies Desperately Seeking Susan and Liquid Sky. I spent a little while going through this intriguing collection of Danceteria flyers, and came upon the following names: the Fleshtones, Madonna, Sonic Youth, Marc Almond, Sade, Alien Sex Fiend, the Smiths, Cocteau Twins, Gene Loves Jezebel, Diamanda Galas, Beastie Boys. On December 16, 1982, A Certain Ratio played Danceteria with Madonna opening—she was at the time employed as the club’s coat check girl. It’s a place with that sort of pedigree.
The two main figures at Danceteria were Rudolf Pieper and Jim Fouratt. Pieper was German, and it’s his accent you hear in the crazy commercial embedded below, in which he calls himself “the head bimbo of Danceteria” and supports Esperanto as the language of the club and claims to oppose the inclusion of a Belgian ethnic group called the Walloons unless they “dress fabulously,” of course. Oh, and “exiled Latin American dictators have free admission here, every night.”
John Argento, who was instrumental in the club’s move from West 37th Street to 21st Street in 1982, says, according to Trey Speegle’s blog, this about the commercial:
What can I say? Low budget, public access TV… Rudolf does the voice over, reiterating long standing door policies such as ‘Latin American Dictators get in for free’…’Walloons only if they’re dressed fabulously.’
I remember him doing the voice over in the fourth floor DJ booth… I believe the soundtrack was from the movie La Dolce Vita. A difference of opinion then, the choice of music looks like the right thing to have done now.
One might ask, why would a club that was as successful as Danceteria was at that time even bother with a commercial? Why would they need it? Jim Fouratt, who was the talent booker for the club, remembers it as “a nightmare of lies and intimadation [sic],” in effect an effort to displace Fouratt’s role in the club as well as other ventures like Interferon, which failed. Here’s Fouratt’s account, typos included:
I was sent this commercial for Danceteria .. it comes from an ugly period. I had been locked out of the club on 21st and my average normal business accounts were frozen because my business partner had accept the offer of Alex Delorenzo of the son of mobster and real estate mogul offer to work with his protege John Argento who he had invested over a million dollars into a failed club that was to replicate the Original Danceteria . It ws called Interferon. (good grief) .It failed . Delorenzo called me and I brought putting to the meeting . I forgot the history of putting Germans and Italian together (sorry) , Argento and Delorenzo’s son-in-law had cleared a block of rent regulated tenants in the East 50’s so Delorenzo could raze and build. They had used every kind of intimadation to frighten the hell out of the tenants. Delorenzo wanted to reward them and Argento said he wanted to open a club on 21st in a building Delorenzo owned (it was a dead street at the time). He did . It failed We made a deal and one of the points was Argento was not to be involved .; Delorenzo wanted to protect his other business realtons and insisted Argento be icharge of all the day deliveries .. including liquore , napkins, etc the cash items and the cleaning and removal of the trash. We agreed once it was agreed the Argento would have nothing to do with the club other than his janitorial job I sued Delorenzo for contract violation (yes sued Godfather like business family ) and sued Rudolf for fiduciary betrayal.. it ws a nightmare for six years . This commercial was to establish Rudolf as Danceteria honcho.. he had been telling people I had AIDS .. and that is why I wasn’t there . The real reason was greed .. i was told I was paying talent too much money .. and the club when I was they was a hige hit. Trust me I would neve have approved a commercial .. we did nto need it ..and my door policy insured a fabulous safe mix of people and my bookings were the best in the universe (ok hyperbole) ... this is nto the place to go into just what a nightmare of lies and intimadation .. but since this video has turnes up ... I wanted to put it in context… and no i did not nor do have AIDS or am I HIV +. ...
Golly! Who would have thought that such an innocent-seeming and campy commercial could have that kind of darkness behind it?
It was edited by Danny Cornyetz, who went by the name Dee Cortex. Experience some primo 1980s oddness below:
For the video game design competition Duplicade, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post about Fire Dance with Me, an enjoyable video game about Twin Peaks, Aaron Meyers came up with an infectious game called Michael E Michael, in which Michael Jackson has a Tekken-style dance-off against Michael Jackson. As I noted yesterday, the game “must tread dangerously into the intellectual property of an existing game or game franchise, but be cleverly altered and culturally mangled enough to not be worth the effort to sue,” which Michael E Michael clearly does.
The rules of Duplicade require games to be head-to-head games in which the WASD and arrow keys control movement for Player A and Player B, and also that the game declare a winner within the first 30 seconds. In the game, the two players control identical versions of The Gloved One from the video “Smooth Criminal” while that selfsame infectious song pulsates away.
Using various moves you can kick your opponent, execute a spin (which spawns a bunch of tiny Michaels to scatter away from the main avatar), and so forth until the loser is identified and the winning Jackson (of course) transforms into an awesome jet and flies away.
The original “Smooth Criminal” video after the jump…
Legendary producer, engineer and musician Steve Albini—notorious mensch and grouch—does not like electronic dance music, but he also doesn’t care if you use his songs to create your own! Big Black, Shellac, and Rapeman might not seem the prime candidates for a dance beat, but electronic artist Oscar Powell, a.k.a. “Powell” was such a huge Big Black fan that he wrote to Albini requesting permission to sample a clip for a track called “Insomniac.” Albini gave Powell his blessing, but only after telling him exactly how he felt about club culture and electronic dance beats.
Sounds like you’ve got a cool thing set up for yourself. I am absolutely the wrong audience for this kind of music. I’ve always detested mechanized dance music, its stupid simplicity, the clubs where it was played, the people who went to those clubs, the drugs they took, the shit they liked to talk about, the clothes they wore, the battles they fought amongst each other…
Basically all of it: 100 percent hated every scrap.
The electronic music I liked was radical and different, shit like the White Noise, Xenakis, Suicide, Kraftwerk, and the earliest stuff form Cabaret Voltaire, SPK and DAF. When that scene and those people got co-opted by dance/club music I felt like we’d lost a war. I detest club culture as deeply as I detest anything on earth. So I am against what you’re into, and an enemy of where you come from but I have no problem with what you’re doing…
In other words, you’re welcome to do whatever you like with whatever of mine you’ve gotten your hands on. Don’t care. Enjoy yourself.
Powell found the message so funny, he then asked if he could use it to promote the album. Albini wrote back “Still don’t care,” so now the email has been reproduced on a billboard in east London, which you can see (but barely read) above. Honestly, it’s a hell of an endorsement despite Albini’s total disdain for the music!
If you actually do care, you can hear “Insomniac” below. It starts up at 31:33.
Yesterday we at the DM brain trust were saddened to hear of the passing of Catherine E. Coulson at the age of 71. Coulson was the actress who portrayed the Log Lady from Twin Peaks, surely one of the most unusual characters ever to reach a mass audience.
You can honor Coulson’s performance, David Lynch’s groundbreaking TV series, and your own innate need to boogie by playing Fire Dance With Me, a video game designed for the Duplicade video game competition that calls for head-to-head simultaneous two-player games. The rules require that the games be Windows-compatible, use the traditional WASD and arrow keys for movement, and have a short duration (30 seconds) before deciding a winner. Furthermore, and amusingly, “The game must tread dangerously into the intellectual property of an existing game or game franchise, but be cleverly altered and culturally mangled enough to not be worth the effort to sue.” The game is downloadable for Windows but you can play it in any desktop browser—I played it on a Mac.
Fire Dance With Me pays homage to the various dancers that populate Lynch’s series. You can choose Special Agent Dale Cooper (holding a coffee mug, natch), the Little Man from Cooper’s hallucinatory dreams, Audrey Home, or the Log Lady’s log (which never moves at all). Once the two players are selected and the game begins, you have to track a scrolling promenade of arrow signs in order to win—the two player’s avatars flank the sad, desperate dance of Leland Palmer in the middle, whom you cannot select.
The biggest-selling single the Sex Pistols ever put out wasn’t “Anarchy in the U.K.” or “God Save the Queen” or “Pretty Vacant” or “Holidays in the Sun”—it was “Something Else,” a cover of an Eddie Cochran hit from 1959 with Sid Vicious on lead vocals that was released more than a year after the breakup of the band—and three weeks after Vicious’ death on February 2, 1979.
Americans probably aren’t very familiar with Legs & Co., an all-female dance troupe that used to brighten up the proceedings on Top of the Pops in the late 1970s. The U.S. equivalent would be the Solid Gold Dancers.
Sometime during its run in the Top 10 of the U.K. charts, Top of the Pops managed to convince Legs & Co. to do a sort of Jane Fonda/jazzercise routine to the song. The over-abundance of spandex, the nice shiny colors in the leotards and wigs—not to mention the strange approximation of a stock market chart in the set design—it all makes this clip seem a kind of harbinger for the shiny and materialistic 1980s that were just around the corner, even if nobody knew it.
At the outset you can hear the closing strains of Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army.”
Paul Reubens invented his primary character Pee-wee Herman one night in 1977 while he was performing with The Groundlings. Reubens was having trouble remembering lines for the sketches, so he developed a character who was funny in a free-floating way that wasn’t dependent on dialogue. In Prime Time, Prime Movers: From I Love Lucy to L.A. Law—America’s Greatest TV Shows and the People Who Created Them, David Marc and Robert J. Thompson claim that The Gong Show represented Pee-wee’s first appearance on national television, but I’m actually not sure they mean Reubens or the Pee-wee character.
According to the NNDB website, Reubens “loved” The Gong Show and appeared on it fifteen times as various characters. On this occasion Reubens and longtime collaborator John Paragon were playing a silly dancing duo called “Suave & Debonair.” Paragon later played Jambi the Genie on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
I love these photographs dated around 1890 of popular burlesque performers in their heyday. What you notice immediately is how different they look from today’s standards of exotic dancers. No breast implants, collagen injections, butt implants, lip injections, cheek implants, liposuction and this damned list could go on and on…. Of course those options didn’t exist back then, so who really knows if any of these women would have opted to surgically change themselves.
I just dig these specific women who are totally comfortable in their own natural skin whilst celebrating their beauty, femininity and sexuality. They’re refreshing.
Alice Barker: Making me wish I could get out of this bed, and do it all over again.
I don’t care if this is plastered all over the Internet today, it deserves to be here on Dangerous Minds, too. Alice Barker, a 102-year-old chorus line dancer during the Harlem Renaissance sees herself on film for the very first time. It’s a touching and beautiful thing to witness.
She danced at clubs such as The Apollo, Cotton Club, and Zanzibar Club, with legends including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Although she danced in numerous movies, commercials and TV shows, she had never seen any of them, and all of her photographs and memorabilia have been lost over the years.
If you want to send Alice any fan mail, the mailing address for her is below. She deserves the adoration.
c/o Bishop Henry B. Hucles Episcopal Nursing Home
835 Herkimer Street