Initially, “Open Letter to an Open Letter” was written as a Facebook post, a goofy riff on the somewhat futile nature of ranting on the Internet. I wrote it after reading Sinead O’Connor’s “Open Letter to Miley Cyrus” where the former was chastising the latter for slutty twerking on the 2013 Grammys. I thought well, she makes some valid points but is this really helping anything? Then I thought, you know the real culprit is the Beast that feeds on all our infighting; the clickbait monster that every media site has turned into which has transformed the whole system into “a vortex that can never be filled”!
When I started recording my recent album Dream Girl I decided to include “Open Letter,” but then it didn’t really fit on the finished product so I decided to release it later as a separate track. I wanted to bring the “Open Letter” words to musical life and create an epic track that was in the spirit of “Folk Song” (initially written for one of my one-woman shows, and then ended up on the Bongwater album The Power of Pussy).
For the recording, I was partly inspired by Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” as well as by Ken Nordine and a host of other spoken word pieces from the psychedelic past. I recorded the whole thing in one take and then added embellishments later, mostly with my engineer Mark Wheaton at the Echo Park studio CATASONIC. My drummer Joe Berardi provided percussion and various sound effects and The Millionaire (Michael Cudahy) from Combustible Edison did the orchestrations and guitar work.
In the three years since the piece was written the mad chatter on the Internet has become so voluminous, so unhinged, so ugly and combative that there can be no doubt that we really are in the midst of a Civil War. And that battlefield is getting really bloody. The longer it goes on and the crazier it gets the vast void everyone is screaming into feels vaster than ever. While there are so many great things about the Internet (baby goat videos for example) it’s brought out the worst aspects of humanity. So much so that we’ve elected an Internet troll as our President!
Every time I look at the news I start singing the “Open Letter” chorus: “Seriously WTF?!” Has that become the new E Pluribus Unum? #sad
I do think the Internet has changed our brain chemistry and not for the best. There is no denying the Internet has changed the zeitgeist. It IS the zeitgeist.
The way “Folk Song” (and a lot of the Bongwater stuff) riffed on the zeitgeist of the Reagan/Bush years, “Open Letter” riffs on today. Particularly as it relates to women - though the current madness is gender-neutral, and bi-partisan to boot!
If there is one thing that everyone can agree on it’s “SERIOUSLY WTF?!”
Hear “Open Letter to an Open Letter” after the jump…
Many of my dearest friends happen to be professional musicians. Perhaps this is because it’s a talent I respect so much and yet possess so little of myself. But this also means that all my life I’ve been put in the position of having a friend send me “my new album” and there is always that moment right before I press play when I imagine what I would say to them if I just don’t like it.
I’ve been good friends with actress/singer Ann Magnuson for half my life. We met when I—a massive fan of her group Bongwater—proposed that I do a video for their song “The Power of Pussy” sometime back in 1991. I’ve seen Ann do her various extravaganzas live probably more than any other performer and have always considered her to be a major, major talent (even if Hollywood has never known quite what to do with her). She can act, sing, write songs, curate museum exhibits and she paints fabulous fake Basquiats. She’s an energetic all-around talent who excels in the DIY arena with a Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney-style “let’s put on a show” plucky work ethic. And her work is uncommonly smart and sophisticated.
Allow me to preface the following remarks by letting the reader know that as someone who reads, writes and edits the work of others all the live long day, I can’t listen to radio, TV or music with lyrics (let alone your podcast, random pesky Facebook “friend” who I have never met) during the workday, or else it’s impossible for me to do what I need to do. My wife works from home, too and she won’t have it. So we listen to classical music during the day around the house if we listen to anything at all.
When Ann Magnuson sent me her new Dream Girl CD in the post over the summer, I was pretty confident that it would be something that I would really love, so I immediately popped it on the stereo. The first number, “We’re All Mad” was lovely, a shimmering, gossamer—and eerie—folk song with classic Disney soundtrack dramatics. But the second song, “Be A Satyr,” a rambling drum-led beatnik sex rant reminiscent of “Help I’m a Rock” by the Mothers of Invention (and about as long) tested my patience to the point where I hit eject before the track was over, prompting my wife to remark tartly “Thank you.”
About a week went by. I tried listening to Dream Girl again, but I skipped around, failing to connect with any of it. Then one morning, I grabbed the CD to listen to in the car on the way to the gym. Now I go to the gym pretty early. The sun’s not shining and there are few other cars on the road at that hour. In that context, or enclosed environment, I was completely blown away by the brilliance of the exact same album that had annoyed me as I listened to it casually, with my iPad in hand, surfing Amazon and laying on the couch a few days before.
Now I think Dream Girl is one of the very best things I’ve heard so far in 2016. I listened to it nonstop for two months—for eight solid weeks, every single day—driving to the gym and back in the predawn hours and—this is the important part—giving it my undivided attention.
And that’s my message for you, the reader, who hopefully will take advantage of listening to Dream Girl in its entirety after (after!) you read the following interview with its multitalented creator. You cannot listen to this album casually and “get” it. Like a Firesign Theatre album, there are (apparently) hidden things, jokey multiple meanings and clever punning going on all over the place. It’s musical, but Ann’s vocals are as much spoken word as they are strictly singing. I’ll say it again: You have to pay attention to it, there is no other way to appreciate what she’s doing here.
And if you’re thinking this all sounds intriguing—or if you don’t believe my rave-review-but-with-a-twist approach here—for the next week we’ll be hosting a streaming file of the entire Dream Girl album. DO give it your full attention, it’s massively rewarding I think—and hope—you’ll agree. Try to listen in your car if you can. At least take a break and listen on headphones with your eyes closed and your head down on your desk (put down that mouse!) and dig Ann Magnuson’s dreamy and surreal theater of the mind. Buy the Dream Girl CD here.
I asked Ann Magnuson a few questions over email…
Richard Metzger: When you sent me the CD in the summer you wrote that it was a “return to your Bongwater days” but Dream Girl is super slick, whereas Bongwater was sort of shambolic psychedelia. What did you mean by that?
Ann Magnuson: I was referring more to the lyrical content, as opposed to the musical styles; a return to surreal storytelling via spoken word using my dreams, different voices, characters, sexual personae… and creating much of it through improvisation. But there are a couple of songs that are not unlike the folksy stuff I did on the BW records.
It’s wild that you say Dream Girl is “super slick” because it’s actually pretty stripped down, in terms of instrumentation, except for maybe “Cat in the Sun.” The Millionaire (from Combustible Edison) provided orchestrations on that. I told him to go full on sunshine-pop psychedelic with it and add a massive sprinkling of Yardley folk-hippie chick “Come With The Gentle People” Renaissance Faerie Dust. You, know, wooden wind chimes and flutes; lounging around in Mexican caftans at Nepenthe in Big Sur?
Like with Bongwater, I used my dream journals and a lot of improvisation with this new CD. Mostly, I just had fun in the studio rather than go in with too many preconceived ideas and arrangements. In that way I feel like Dream Girl has helped me get back in touch with my own voice as well as a sense of playfulness. In that way, the entire project was “shambolic.” I think we get pretty psychedelic in a lot of it, just in a very different way than Bongwater did. It’s a gentler trip. Although “Ayahuasca, The Movie” gets pretty wild!
Did “Cat in the Sun” start out as something you would sing to your own cat?
Ann Magnuson: Kind of. That one initially started out as a declaration, “Cat in the sun!” You know, like “Land, Ho!” or “Thar she blows!” Then it became more musical. And yes, I would sing it to our cat.
I’ve sung it to our cat. She liked it. I think she even got the “Band on the Run” joke.
Ann Magnuson: I am constantly making up songs and singing them around the house. 90% of them just disappear into the ether. But “Cat in the Sun” survived. So did “Be a Satyr.”
Dream Girl is the single most Firesign Theatre-esque thing I’ve ever heard that’s not actually the Firesign Theatre themselves—you’re a one-woman version of them—and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. It’s super smart, funny, nuanced and even though it’s primarily a spoken word collection, it still bears repeated listenings due to its innate musicality and to hear all of the “dog whistles” contained therein. I really think this “theater of the mind” format suits you.
Ann Magnuson: Thank you! I definitely take that as a compliment! I never owned any Firesign Theatre records myself but the older hippie dudes I hung out in high school with played Firesign Theatre records all the time. I heard that stuff at nearly every party we had back in the early 70s (usually when everyone was extremely toasted or peaking on something we shouldn’t have been frying our teenage brains on.) Yes, I love the “theater of the mind” format very much! That’s what I wanted to get back in touch with—simple, albeit “trippy”—storytelling; stories that were like little movies where the listener creates the visuals inside their head.
Didn’t we all grow up doing that while listening to music on headphones (or often with the transistor radio) before the tyranny of the image? (Which is now literally in everyone’s face thanks to cellphones.) One of the earliest memories I have is of a radio show that was actually piped in over the public address system in our grade school—in fact I think it was broadcast to all of the grade schools in West Virginia—back in the early Sixties. I think it was called “Talking Pictures.” The radio host would narrate a story and play a piece of classical music and we would all lay our heads down on our desks and just listen. Then, after it was done, our teacher gave us art supplies and we were instructed to draw or paint pictures, interpreting what we’d just heard. The one I remember the most clearly is Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.” Can you imagine any school—let alone one in West Virginia—doing that today!? I think it only lasted a couple of years. My mom narrated some of them since she was involved in the local radio station as well as community theater. I got exposed to a lot of radio and theater growing up and so this concept of the “theater of the mind” goes waaaaay back!
And yes, I love the ‘dog whistles’. I intentionally sprinkled in some specifically for the Bongwater fans; David Bowie’s toy xylophone being just one example.
Bauhaus, David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Ann Magnuson (as vampire Bowie’s soon-to-be victim) in the opening moments of Tony Scott’s ‘The Hunger’—the single best beginning to a film in all of cinema history???
There’s another self-referential one related to Bowie, too, when the drummer does the thing from “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” You know, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you what it was like to meet, work with, and even make out with him, which is weird considering how long we go back and what a major Bowie freak I am. So I guess I’ll just ask you that now…
I’m glad you noticed that drum bit! Joe Berardi really created a great percussive soundscape for that track.
The whole experience of doing The Hunger was a somewhat dissociative. There were issues with British Actor’s Equity about bringing over an American to do that role. (There was dialogue in my scenes that later got cut out in favor of the prescient MTV-style editing director Tony Scott was fond of.) I got the part after auditioning but it became an off and on again ordeal. Finally it was definitely off, as they ‘had’ to hire a Brit. Then, suddenly, at the last minute, it was back on! They flew me to London first class—on Pan Am no less—which was quite a treat as I’d only previously flown to Europe on the cheapo flying-bus airline Capitol (remember them?). Then I was there on the set standing next to Catherine Deneuve and Bowie and…. it was truly an out of body experience.
Pulsallama were an all-girl percussion band in New York circa 1980 to 1982 who put out two singles and played at nightclubs like Danceteria and Club 57. I own both records. Their distinctive sound—think a more chaotic, New York version of Rip, Rig and Panic, Bow Wow Wow or early Bananarama—can work wonders on an unsuspecting dancefloor. They played jungle rhythms and wore 50s cocktail dresses.
Here’s a brief description of Pulsallama from former member Jean Caffeine’s website:
In 1980, this damsel moved to New York to become a fabulous nightclub D.J. and stumbled upon Club 57, church basement which was a clubhouse to Downtown celebrities such as the late, John Sex, Keith Haring and Wendy Wild where the Ladies Auxiliary of the Lower East Side (founded by Ann Magnuson - star of stage, screen and Bongwater) were banging on percussion instruments and hanging up meat bones in preparation for their “Rites of Spring Bacchanal.” Jean joined on drums and Pulsallama was born.
Pulsallama toured the East Coast as well as England and opened several shows for the Clash. They released a controversial, yet comical ditty, “The Devil Lives in my Husband’s Body,” for London’s Y Records which was a hit on alternative and college stations. Pulsallama was beloved for their rhythmic cacophony, theatrical stage antics, props and costumes, and their primal, yet glamourous absurdity. They had lots of fun, got their picture in Interview magazine and had 15 minutes of fame.
Fun fact: Jean Caffeine was also seen as the “roadkill” at the beginning of Richard Linklater’s classic cult film, Slacker.
The “The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body,” video, below, was directed by Dangerous Minds pal Paul Dougherty:
Keith Haring, invitation for “Larry Levan’s Birthday Bash,” 1986
It’s… interesting—and a reminder of how fucking old I’m getting—that I’m starting to see promotional ephemera from nightclub events I attended (or worked at) in my… younger days turning up in museums and art galleries. Good thing for me that I have boxes of these types of invitations that I’ve kept sitting out in the garage. Twenty years from now, I’ll spend my dotage as an eBay seller specializing in… shit I’ve kept.
What’s slightly worrisome, though, is how little of some of these events I call recall in any detail. I’ve heard older friends of mine say things like “Well, it was the sixties!” (or the seventies) but even so, the 80s were a seriously decadent (and dangerous) time to be young and living in New York City. I have always lucked out and been at the right place at the right time, I like to think.
Without putting too fine a point on it, drugs were better then—especially cocaine, which, sorry is just a joke now, kids—and super easy to get your hands on. People were more extreme then. As someone who (luckily) lived through it all, it’s very easy for me to see why so many of today’s young people romanticize the East Village or “Downtown” scene—which will never, ever, happen again (at least not there)—It’s because it was better then. It just was. All the elements, including cheap rent, came together then. A perfect storm, culturally speaking.
It didn’t last that long—Manhattan nightlife is all rich kids and bankers these days—but if you were there you know what I mean. And if you were there, perhaps like me, you’re starting to find that a lot of it’s pretty damned foggy by now, so it’s good to have exhibits like this one, online at Marc Miller’s Gallery 98, which specializes in this sort of artifact, to jar our memories.
This mix of ambitious high art with popular entertainment and performance emerged first when two clubs, CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, helped launch Punk in all its many and varied creative directions in the late 1970s. By the 1980s dozens of new nightclubs and bars including Area, Club 57, Danceteria, Limelight, Mudd Club, Palladium, Paradise Garage, Pyramid and the Tunnel consciously strove to be part of the art world by presenting new music, art, film, video, fashion, and performance. It was a period in art not unlike that of Paris in the 1890s when the cafés of Montmartre helped mold the fin-de-siècle aesthetic. Gallery 98 presents here a selection of nightclub invitations and posters from this exhilarating moment in the 1970s and 80s. For artists and performers it was a golden age with clubs needing to book events seven-days-a-week. To attract the trendy crowd, artists were recruited to paint murals and design publicity; curators were hired to organize exhibitions; photographers were booked to present slide shows and document events; filmmakers and video artists were paid for screenings; and performers were engaged to make music, stage cabaret shows and host interactive events involving audience participation. Out of this milieu, stars were born: performers Ann Magnuson, John Sex, Joey Arias, Phoebe Legere; artists Colette, Nan Goldin, Keith Haring, Mark Kostabi; curators Baird Jones, Neke Carson, Carlo McCormick, Michael Alig. And in the wake of all this activity came the thousands of cheaply produced but creatively designed cards and posters that the artists and clubs created to publicize events in this pre-Internet era. Presented here is a small sampling of nightclub ephemera available through Gallery 98. All items are for sale.
Take for instance this invitation for a 1989 party for British filmmaker Derek Jarman at Mars, a four story club on 12th Ave. I worked as the doorman at the fourth floor VIP room (Vin Diesel worked the front door) and I recall working at this party, and indeed still have the invite below in my possession. The thing is, I have no memory whatsoever of seeing or meeting Derek Jarman there, which is weird, because you’d think I would. Perhaps it was because I was outside of the party and not in it, but I don’t know because the invite aside, I’m drawing a complete blank! [I should probably take this opportunity to mention that I was perhaps the very worst—or best, depending on how you look at it—VIP room doorman in all of NYC nightlife history. How do I know this? Because I let every single person who walked up to the rope inside. Every one of them. The sole exception was when some idiot timidly asked me “You don’t want me in there, do you?” and I just silently shook my head “no” and he turned around and fucked off. Had he just kept his mouth shut, the rope would have parted for him.]
“Family! The New Tribal Love Rock Musical” with Joey Arias and Ann Magnuson at Danceteria, 30 West 21st Street, New York
A Seconds magazine party for the NY Debut of “Serial Killers” by Richard Kern at Madam Rosa’s, 24 John’s Lane, New York, 1987
Kembra Pfahler at Pompeii, 104 East 10th St., NYC, 1985
Joey Arias and Ann Magnuson “Request the Pleasure of Your Company at a Mad Tea Party,” which they hosted in character as Dali and Gala, Danceteria, 1985
The opening night invite for AREA’s “American Highway” theme, 157 Hudson Street, New York, 1986. The club changed its highly elaborate decor every six weeks or so, so scoring these opening night invites was a matter of some importance. Plus, if you were on their mailing list, you tended to “mysteriously” get onto the mailing lists for other clubs.
Girl Bar, a popular lesbian night out, one of very few at the time, happened at Boy Bar on St. Mark’s Place once a week.
There’s a picture of me, age 23 perhaps, with really long hair in one of the issues of Project X
James White’s Sardonic Sincopators, at Save the Robots, 1986. Save the Robots was a super sleazy afterhours club. If you were there, chances are you were fucked up, not likely to be sleeping anytime soon and probably up to no damned good.
Finally, both sides of a business card for former Yippie leader Jerry Rubin’s afterwork networking parties. He threw these parties at different clubs, including the Limelight, where I was working in 1985, and they were the fucking worst parties ever, with the worst crowd and the worst tippers and these parties simply sucked. Rubin’s networking parties, I do have vivid memories of, none of them good.
Artist, actress, rock ‘n’ roller and pop culture surrealist Ann Magnuson has written an open letter so brilliant in execution and so fucking true (Antonin Artaud is cheering in his grave) that it may shame open letter writers into burning their keyboards and reducing their deafening inconsequential tweets to an occasional emergency chirp.
Ann posted this on her Facebook page, a site from which she had once been banished for acts of artistic subversion and celebration.
Open Letter to an Open Letter,
Seriously? What the FUUUUUCK? You stare at me with your blank page staring back at me like some milky white ass flaps twerking for dollars on the agitated propaganda machine crying out for attention while masquerading your plea for help as a publicity stunt; a call to arms, to legs, beckoning to what is panting between those latex clad gams, those powerful pussy pants that can be sold for so many pieces of silver, gold and Bitcoins on the open market and defiling our father’s house of prayer? Don’t be fooled! It’s a losing game! You think I’m going to fill up your empty void with self-righteous, self-promoting texting drivel, so much jaw-breaking jibber jabber, using this platform for a hectoring lecturing dickity dock to empower the pussy over the cock when all we’re really looking for is more ‘hits’, more eyeballs rolling in the back of heads and onto websites to move more product? Give me a fuckin’ break with your ‘look at me I know the score, I’ve been around the block Good Woman of motherfuckin’ Setzuan waiting all Godot-like for a royalty check that never shows because some industry spunk mogul spent it on a yacht in Anguilla’ BULLSHIT! Because if I even hear one lame-ass vocoder note of that siren song, I’ll fall for it and start trying to win at a losers game, getting my act together and taking it on the road, screwin’ my head on right and no one is gonna tell me it ain’t while running as fast as I can WHILE YOU continue to TAUNT with more whitespace to fill! This is a vortex THAT CAN NEVER BE FILLED; that oozing, gaping GOD SHAPED HOLE aching to be crammed full of cold hard plasmatic cash because it’s not like the old daze when we could use paper and a simple yellow No. 2 pencil and begin and end a good bowel movement of a punk rock riot grrl rant with a couple of well crafted paragraphs. Nooooooo! Now it’s all about fuckin’ word count and bullshit font size and patriarchal borders and shadings and template-tipped bullets and mind-numbing page numbering! Those ever-continuing pages that require the never-ending numbers; numbers that stretch beyond the edges of the known universe, beyond human comprehension, waaaay past the event horizon to drive us star raving mad! And the hashtags! For the sweet love of Jesus, The HASHTAGS! #fuckyouall NOOOOO, these days we don’t have time to sit at a simple wooden desk with our McGuffy Reader minding our P’s and Q’s, we have to PROSTITUTE OURSELVES on computers and iPhones and Humpty Dumpty Mumblety-peg Gadget Thingamajigs being thought up every day by Evil Game Changers in order to trick us into endless ‘upgrades’ and all the while we continue to be faced with one huge, theocratic mullah of a blank document that just goes on and on and on and on AND ON until the 12th of motherfuckin’ NEVER! No matter what I say, no matter how much I type, no matter how fast I spew my vitriol, projectile-vomit, no matter how well I craft this well justified bile that NEEDS TO BE SAID I am still faced with having to do MORE. MORE! MORE! MORE!!!! All because of YOU, you Damnable Open Letter! You who will endlessly taunt me with more empty and infinite GODDAMN white space!!!! This is why NO WOMAN can win at this game! Face the TRUTH: We’re being used. Sucked into the tar baby vacuum, used as pawns in the Entertainment Game, being jerked over by The Man in our vain attempt to WRITE OUR OWN SCRIPT. We think this is a way to TAKE BACK OUR POWER? EPIC FAIL! It’s all USELESS USELESS USELESS! So much cannon fodder grist for the mill like the sands through the hourglass these are the lies of our lives! Face the facts drones: There is always more to give, more to say, more to feed the insatiable beast, the one that weaves a deceitful web with our Facebook threads, our Tweetie Pie chicken shit cuneiform, our high horse hieroglyphics, our open wound expressionistic Esperanto; these walking shadow boxing matches full of sound and fury signifying not a heck of a lot when you get right down to it cuz all we are is dust in the wind. If - as our mother goddess role model Yoko Ono astutely sang- Woman is N*gger of the World, then You - YOU insidious Open Letter, are the White Supremacist Albino Dictator of The Internet and I say FIE! FIE ON THEE AND YOUR DEMON SPAWN!
DM pal Ann Magnuson is a genius at painting “parody” fake Basquiats.
And now, for a low, low price you can own one, too! Ann’s got these two paintings on offer for a mere $1000 donation to her “The Jobriath Medley: A Glam Rock Fairy Tale” project. I know Basquiat never painted with glitter, but he really should have!
WHAM BAM, JUST THE PAINTING, MAAM: Don’t give a damn about glam rock but you want one of Ann’s Fake Basquiat paintings? Okay! Done!
This tier is for those who want Ann to create an original Fake Basquiat painting CUSTOMIZED JUST FOR YOU! With or without glam rock themes. That’s right, YOU pick the colors YOU like and give Ann YOUR specific likes, dislikes, loves and/or select experiences from YOUR life and she will incorporate some into a special Fake Basquiat painting just for YOU! 16”x20” canvas. Glitter optional.
*We’ll also add The Jobriath Medley CD whether you like it or not!* (One of Ann’s rare Fake Basquiats sold at auction at a LACE benefit for $1,600 so this is quite a bargain!)
Usually when we get requests for Kickstarter, we have to say no because this entire blog would just be Kickstarter links, but Ann Magnuson’s “The Jobriath Medley: A Glam Rock Fairy Tale” project is different because they’ve actually already done most of the thing they want to raise money for, so you can just go online and buy it basically.
For years now, Ann has done a loving musical/spoken word tribute in her live cabaret shows to obscure 70s glam rocker Jobriath Boone (rock’s first out and out “fairy”) and recently she and longtime collaborator Kristian Hoffman have recorded it, with a small orchestra. The new project “combines good old-fashioned storytelling with extraordinarily pretty songs from Jobriath’s phantasmagoric catalogue. Think Mother Goose on LSD!”
Kristian Hoffman and I both bought the Jobriath albums when they first came out in the early 1880s. Uh, I mean early 1970s. Me as a baby glam rock hillbilly hippie back in West Virginia, Kristian in his suburban enclave in Santa Barbara – where he would sometimes appear along with his best friend Lance Loud on the first TV reality show, AN AMERICAN FAMILY. (FYI: Lance also appears as a character in a pivotal TRUE story told in our glam rock fairy tale!). Oh, and Morrissey also bought the Jobriath albums when he was also a teenage glam-rock-groupie-budding-music-critic-future-rock-star in Manchester England England! (That’s a HAIR reference, by the way. Did you know Jobriath played “Woof” in the original L.A. production? You will when you hear The Jobriath Medley!) Morrissey would later reissue select songs from Jobriath’s two solo albums on the CD “Lonely Planet Boy”. But when we created The Jobriath Medley in 1996 we were unaware of the Morrissey connection (until that Japanese import showed up with the photo of The Moz holding the original Jobriath LP under his arm. A culturally significant moment that was quickly integrated into the text performed at the next live performance of The Jobriath Medley.)
“Grandma, tell me more about the 70s…”
Don’t worry kids, you’ll learn all about that decade of debauchery when you hear The Jobriath Medley! But suffice it to say that back in the early 1970’s everyone was blow, blow, blowing away in platform shoes, glitter eye make up, downing Quaaludes and red wine while being insanely & dangerously promiscuous as we dressed up in glad rags we found in thrift stores so we could emulate the movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s that we watched on The Late Late Show on TV. We were making like Liza Minnelli in CABARET (“divine decadence darling!”) and all we wanted to do was live our lives like we were in a Ken Russell movie!
Jobriath, just like David Bowie and Marc Bolan and Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls among many others, was one of those flaming creatures in the glam rock 70s who didn’t care what other people thought about them. Maybe they really were spacemen from Mars or androgynous aliens or strangers in a strange land OR just glorified hippies dressed up like Christmas trees…
The Kickstarter page for “The Jobriath Medley” has a number of really great packages for any budget, from a digital download or CD all the way up to one of a kind paintings (Ann is quite expert in painting “fake Basquiats”—I mean to say that she’s fucking genius at it—and one of the packages offers a Basquiat-glam rock themed original artwork).
Dangeorus Minds readers will appreciate knowing that Sparks’ Russell Mael has contributed backing vocals to Ann and Kristian’s cover of Jobriath’s “I’maman.”
During a high school theatre outing to New York in 1981, I managed to sneak away for a while to buy a few punk-rock records in the East Village. Walking down St. Mark’s Place, I saw a guy sporting the most outrageously high bleach-blond pompadour I’d ever seen. He was wearing a pink Teddy Boy suit and pink brothel creeper shoes. His companion was a busty blonde who looked like Dolly Parton, and dressed just like her, too. Even in the context of New York at that time, they were two groovy, glamorous celebrities from the future.
A few weeks later, I saw a photo of the flamboyantly dressed duo by Amy Arbus in the Village Voice, which must have been shot on the day that I saw them because they were wearing the same clothes. His name was John Sex and hers was Katy K. His profession was listed as “lounge singer/male stripper” and she was a fashion designer (Katy K did – and maybe still does – make stage clothes for Dolly Parton).
By the early 80s, the myth of Warhol and the sexy, druggy, doomed denizens who were his Factory’s superstars had spread pretty much everywhere, even to the remotest redneck corners of America (like my West Virginia hometown). For a certain type of kid, what they imagined Andy Warhol’s social life to be provided the impetus to move to New York City and reinvent themselves like the people in the photograph, who were associated with Club 57, a nightclub in the basement of a church where all the young art-school types hung out. They seemed like the second generation, drawn in by that Warhol myth but doing their own things.
East Village painters, musicians, performance artists, filmmakers, clothing designers and DJs had a second home at Club 57, run by Susan Hannaford, Tom Scully and performance artist Ann Magnuson, who was the manager, “den mother” and today the most emblematic person of that time and place. This trio provided an artsy/campy playground for the neighborhood misfits; Club 57 was a Fellini-esque salon for art shows, demented parties and elaborate DIY theme nights done on the cheap. The inspirations for the kooky neo-Dada Club 57 gestalt were things like The Sonny & Cher Show, kids TV shows, monster movies, 60s fashion, New Wave music and of course, Andy Warhol, its patron saint.
By the time I got to New York in 1984, Club 57 was gone, replaced by bigger clubs like Area and Danceteria, but the people who were a part of that scene still ruled New York nightlife. If you were at a party or art opening and people like Keith Haring, John Sex, Ann Magnuson, Joey Arias, Kenny Scharf, Fred Schneider and Jean-Michel Basquiat were there too, you knew you were in the right spot – they were the downtown royalty of the time. Within a few years, however, Hollywood had come calling for some and art-world fame and fortune for others. Then the ravages of AIDS truly ended the era.
Some 25 years later, museums are starting to catalogue and preserve the East Village 80s for posterity. A huge exhibition of paintings, photographs, sculptures, posters, party invitations, costumes and more, culled from the personal collections of Ann Magnuson, Kenny Scharf, Joey Arias, Howie Pyro and others – and curated jointly by Magnuson and Scharf – opened at the Royal/T gallery in Los Angeles in late 2011. Magnuson and Scharf are currently trying to figure out where the exhibition will travel next.
Richard Metzger: Nightlife scenes rarely form out of thin air; how did Club 57 come together?
Kenny Scharf: Keith Haring, John Sex (then known simply as John McLaughlin), Drew Straub and I were basically wandering the streets in the middle of the day, students at the School of Visual Arts. After having a 50¢ drink at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, we went next door to Club 57 and saw a great jukebox, so we stayed. When the music began, Ann appeared from behind the bar – yes, a bar serving alcohol at a youth club under a church – and we all started wildly go-go dancing. Thus our immediate bond began!
Ann Magnuson: The core Club 57 crowd definitely cohered in the church basement, but many of us first met at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. I met Susan Hannaford and Tom Scully the year I arrived in NYC – 1978 – and we formed an alliance that produced the New Wave Vaudeville Show together. That was the show where Klaus Sperber metamorphosed into Klaus Nomi. Almost everyone involved with the vaudeville show migrated over to Club 57. Kenny brought in his fellow SVA students like Keith Haring, Wendy Wild and John Sex. I knew Jean-Michel Basquiat already.
Kenny Scharf: Ann and Klaus Nomi came to my first show in 1979 at the Fiorucci boutique, and she asked me if I would like to show some art at Club 57. Soon after, I had a show called Celebration of the Space Age, where we served Tang and Space Food Sticks.
Ann Magnuson: Others were simply drawn in off the street by the posters for the Monster Movie Club. The original Misfits came in that way. The jukebox drew people in who liked to dance. Club 57 basically became a magnet for anyone interested in punk rock, obscure horror and exploitation films, 60s fashion and alternative neo-Dada theatre experiences. It was truly a neighbourhood hangout so anyone in the East Village who cared to could drift in and out. Some stayed longer than others.
Richard Metzger: Club 57 seems like it was running parallel to punk/New Wave in NYC, but not necessarily a part of it. How much overlap was there?
Ann Magnuson: Oh, Club 57 was definitely part of punk and New Wave. And everyone who went to Club 57 went to the Mudd Club too, or Max’s, or even Hurrah’s uptown.
Kenny Scharf: We all went to CBGBs and the Mudd Club, too, but Club 57 was really ours.
Richard Metzger: It seems like there was a lot of that Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney ‘Hey kids, let’s put on a show!’ spirit at Club 57. What are some of the ‘happenings’ that occurred there?
Ann Magnuson: We didn’t let anyone tell us ‘no’. We didn’t allow poverty to stop us from realising our wildest imaginings. One of my favorites was Putt-Putt Reggae, where we built a miniature golf-course out of boxes pulled from the trash and made it resemble a Jamaican shanty town, and the DJ played dub music. We had a hash-brownie-fuelled slumber party with go-go boys that the church father walked in on…
Kenny Scharf: It was terrible to leave town even for a few days for fear of missing something.
Ann Magnuson: Keith Haring curated the Erotic Art Show. There was a photo of a giant phallus at the entrance, and when I saw the church father coming towards us I had to head him off. It’s amazing we got away with what we did. In fact, a special neighbourhood meeting was called to complain about us. The neighbours asked Father John why he ‘allowed evil people in the church’ and he said, ‘That’s where evil people should be, in a church.’ God bless him!
Kenny Scharf: One night, I think it was Elvis night, we started a street brawl where I ended up hitting an off-duty cop on the head for punching a girl I knew in the face. It was dismissed because he was arrested on the court date for murdering his boyfriend.
Ann Magnuson: Another event was called Radio Free Europe, because I was obsessed with these communist fashion and lifestyle magazines I had found, and the neighbourhood was predominately Polish and Ukrainian anyway, so why not? I debuted my Russian pop star character Anoushka there (with her band Polska ’66). We gave (Russian accent) ‘free beet and potato at door’ to the members.
Read the rest with more images) at Dazed Digital. The interview appeared in print in the March issue of Dazed & Confused.
Because the Mayan calendar promises that the world shall end in late 2012, Ann Magnuson has decided to celebrate early. And, like Cher and Streisand before her, she shall begin the first of many ‘farewell’ tours to prepare for the aforementioned Apocalypse.
But because she wants to go out with neither a bang nor a whimper, she has chosen the route of Gentility: partly because of age but mostly because, in an increasingly vulgar world, it’s the most radical thing to do.
A mashing up of ‘end of the world’ songs, appropriately themed spoken word stories and bona-fide poetry will be presented as a contemporary twist on the “Victorian Drawing Room Entertainment”.
With original songs by Ann Magnuson and Kristian Hoffman including material from the albums Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories, The Luv Show as well as golden nuggets from Ms. Magnuson’s former psycho-sexual-psychedelic alt-cult band, Bongwater.
Ms. Magnuson’s drawing room guests may also hear new variations on songs written by Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, Bessie Smith, David Bowie, Skeeter Davis, The Rolling Stones and the Doors (in a special Tribute to the Occupy Wall Street Movement).
In keeping with Victorian Drawing Room tradition, Ms. Magnuson shall recite poetry both classical (by Percy Bysshe Shelley-woven into The Rolling Stones classic GIMME SHELTER) and contemporary (by California’s own bard, The Lizard King himself, Jim Morrison).
With musical director Mr. Kristian Hoffman on grande pianoforte and Mr. Joseph Berardi demonstrating a variety of exotic primitive percussive instruments from cultures occidental, oriental, and accidental.
Celebrate the beginning of the end in true style!
I am told there will also be a tribute to Ann’s friend, the late artist Mike Kelley, who at one time was part of Ann’s art world “super group” backing band, Super Session, circa 1996,
Below, a seldom-seen video for Bongwater’s (amazing!) cover of The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song.” So seldom-seen that this morning was the first time I’ve seen it myself and I am truly a Bongwater super-fan.
Icon of perversion Jack Smith, Club 57 DJ Dany Johnson and Ann Magnuson at a party on Crosby Street, 1980. Photo by Ande Whyland.
In anticipation of the opening this weekend of Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf’s big East Village West exhibit at the Royal/T gallery in Los Angeles, original Club 57 D.J. Dany Johnson has made an exclusive two-hour musical mix for Dangerous Minds readers:
Club 57 was a magical little club in the basement of a Polish church at 57 St. Marks Place. This mix is like a mixed salad of all the kinds of stuff I played. I spent many nights digging through my old suitcase full of the 45s I had picked up at neighborhood thrift shops, mixing them with records by my contemporary favorites such as ESG, Bush Tetras, Tom Tom Club and the like. This mix may be a little more mixed up than a typical set I would have played, but not by much. There might be some places where I waited too long for the next record or put one on too soon, just like the old days. The only way it could be more authentic is if I spilled a gin and tonic on it.
The block quoted text below is a slightly edited email that Dangerous Minds pal Ann Magnuson sent me this morning regarding an amazing sounding art exhibit that she and artist Kenny Scharf are curating at the quirky Royal/T gallery in Los Angeles. Titled “East Village West” (in official partnership with “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980”) the show aims to link the fabled New York neo-Dada art scene of the late 70s/early 80s that coalesced around Magnuson’s Club 57 nightclub with its campy Hollywood influences. In the words of the curators “Walt Disney, Russ Meyer, Roger Corman, The Beverly Hillbillies, Sonny & Cher, The Partridge Family, Hanna-Barbera, Ed Wood, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Sid and Marty Krofft, The Monkees, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, The Mamas & The Papas, the cast of Rowan & Martin’s LAUGH-IN, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, Rodney Bingenheimer and his glam rock English Disco and every Shindig-lovin’, hullabaloo-ing teenager who ever rioted on the Sunset Strip.”
This is a museum-quality show, another art world score for Royal/T.
The exhibit is primarily art and ephemera from the collections and archives of Kenny and myself. Funny enough, I was finally sorting through all my East Village memorabilia when Kenny called me and asked if I’d take on the lions share of this curating job as he has a big show coming up and is painting night and day. It’s become massive! We have paintings, sculpture, fashions, video, photographs, ephemera….it is really a museum quality show! We focus primarily on Club 57 but there are many other elements as well…
We have art by Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat (one real and two of my fakes), Tseng Kwong Chi, John Sex, Kitty Brophy showing art she’s never shown before, Bruno Schmidt, Kenny Scharf, Ann Magnuson, Vincent Gallo, Frank Holliday, Scott Covert, Stefano Castronova, Nancy A. Kintisch, Greer Lankton’s Terri Toye doll, Paul Monroe, Plasticgod and Randy Focazio; photographs by Robert Carrithers, Harvey Wang, Ande Whyland, Lina Bertucci, Joseph Szkodzinski; video by Barry Shils, Steve Brown, Andy Rees, Tom Rubnitz, and others; fashions by Natasha Adonzio (Natasha N.Y.C.) and Katy K; special ‘vintage’ DJ mix by original Club 57 DJ Dany Johnson in the “Porta Party” installation pod; PLUS cool ephemera and rare video provided by original Club 57 members like Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, Kristian Hoffman, Howie Pyro, Naomi Regelson, Jerry Beck and so many more! PLUS excerpts from THE NOMI SONG (directed by Andrew Horn) and ARIAS WITH A TWIST (directed by Bobby Sheehan)!
We are showing a lot of John Sex’s art that has never been exhibited. He made these gorgeous silkscreens and several feature Klaus Nomi. We also have many of the beautiful large silkscreen posters he did for events at Club 57.
Joey Arias is sending us several of Klaus Nomi’ costumes. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Postmodernism show is currently showing two of Klaus’ costumes. They wanted the vinyl coat that we will be exhibiting (a very early costume of Klaus’ that he had made based on the Sixties plastic raincoat Howie Pyro stole out of his mother’s closet so Klaus could use it to create his Nomi character that he debuted at the New Wave Vaudeville show). Joey couldn’t find it when he was gathering items for the V&A but he finally did find it and he sent it to us! (Howie is also DJ at the opening).
There is a beautiful slide show featuring work from 5 different photographers on the scene. LOADS of video including live footage from Club 57 never shown. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who won the Tony for HAIRSPRAY) did some of their first musicals at Club 57 and we have a clip from one of them. Clip from THE NOMI SONG about the New Wave Vaudeville show and clips from ARIAS WITH A TWIST to give the youngin’s a quick East Village history lesson.
Kenny Scharf videos (very Warholian if Warhol was a complete goofball), my MADE FOR TV, the video of the Ladies Auxilliary LADY WRESTLING night…
A compilation of our California influences that were transmitted into our still forming noggins via TV edited by Jonathon Stearns that I KNOW you are gonna love.
A special display for the Monster Movie Club (Howie Pyro lending us his MMC t-shirt).
Young members of the ‘new generation’ carrying on the tradition of Club 57 will be performing. Fresh off last seasons AMERICA’S GOT TALENT, Prince Poppycock will sing The Mumps song THAT FATAL CHARM to a track he is recording with Kristian Hoffman (who wrote the song). Another Hoffman hit is one originally sung by Klaus Nomi and sung by Timur of the Dime Museum who is simple astounding! Drag King Mo B. Dick is ‘coming out of retirement’ to do John Sex (John Waters says she is his favorite Drag King, she was featured in PECKER) , and more! (Everyone is listed in text below).
Austin Young is doing an on site art installation called CALIFORNIA NEW WAVE creating New Wave makeovers, Austin Young style.
Dany Johnson made a 4-hour DJ mix of her Club 57 favorites.
The list goes on! As you can see, the show and the opening in particular is going to be a bona fide old skool ART HAPPENING!
We encourage everyone to pull their pointy toed shoes and ripped fishnets out of mothballs and come on down!
We hope to inspire and encourage the young kids how to have fun and be wildly creative with no money! We did it during the first great recession, it can be done during the second!
The details: Royal/T presents East Village West, curated by Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf. From October 1, 2011 until January 10, 2012. Opening reception Saturday, October 1, 8-11pm
DJ Howie Pyro and performances by Prince Poppycock, Timur of The Dime Museum, Drag King “Mo B. Dick” as John Sex (along with “his” Bodacious Ta-Tas), Stacy Dawson Stearns, Gregory Barnett, and Meg Wolfe are The Psych-Out Dada Go-Go Family and of course Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf.
Plus video from Club 57 never before shown in public. Doughnuts are promised.
Below, a slideshow of some of Harvey Wang’s great photos of Club 57:
The Dirty Show®, Detroit’s infamous underground erotic art exhibition, returns to Los Angeles for another go-round June 10-11.
Instead of being held in a gallery space, this exhibition will be held in the “authentically appropriate” rooms of the sleazy City Center Hotel. (As they organizers admit: “You probably won’t find it in Frommers”).
“We see it as a mix between and exhibition and an art fair. A really fucked up art fair, but an art fair nonetheless,” Jerry Vile, The Dirty Show® founder says.
Artists will include actress/singer/performance artist Ann Magnuson, stained glass artisan Juan Martin del Campo Jr., photographer Greg Firlotte, painter Scooter LaForge, fashion illustrator Richard Haines, sculptor Cheryl Ekstrom, Carol Sixsixtysix, fashion stylist Bill Mullen, fetish photographer Steve Diet Goedde, painter Brian Viveros, fine art illustrator Jeff Wack, graphic designer Rick Morris, photographer Lisa Boyle, physique photographer Gabriel Goldberg and about 50 others. Special rooms will be curated by Pop Tart gallery founder Lenora Claire, Bughouse Design and Rick Castro’s Antebellum Gallery.
Lenora Claire writes:
“I thought it would cool to curate an entire room of erotic art by musicians as so many of them are talented in different mediums and call it GROUP SEX. Kid Infinity, who have the amazing 3D light show that was intended for Michael Jackson before he died, will be doing a really cool erotic 3-D video that people will have to watch with glasses and everything. So cool! Boobs are better in 3D.”
Other musicians participating in Lenora’s suite of the hotel include Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Cole Whittle (Semi Precious Weapons), and Brett Anderson (The Donnas). There will be a video installation by Steve Stevens (Billy Idol’s longtime guitarist) and erotic portraits of musicians by photographers Austin Young and Dean Karr.
The East Wing of the historic City Center provides 17 rooms staged as artist salons while retaining an adult bookstore vibe.
“Context is king,” quipped Vile.
Dirty Show® L.A. #2 (Hotel Edition), Fri & Sat June 10 & 11 8-11 p.m. City Center Hotel, 1135 West 7th Street, Downtown Los Angeles, $15
This weekend for two nights (Sat/Sun) at the intimate Steve Allen Theater, Ann Magnuson and backing band, the Star Whackers From Mars (Kristian Hoffman, Jonathan Lea, Joe Berardi, Kristi Callanand, Miiko Watanabe, plus guest performer Michael Des Barres), will present a special evening of David Bowie songs in honor of the Thin White Duke’s 64th birthday (which is January 8).
La Magnuson told the LA Weekly: “I’m not impersonating Bowie so much as rekindling the ecstasy of a teenager who is singing and dancing along to those records in the basement of the house she grew up in back in West Virginia. I feel all the radiant joy those songs brought me then - with all the attendant hormones and unbridled excitement over the endless possibilities that lay ahead. In short, I feel what Bowie was bringing to the world- permission to step out of the black & white mundanity of a Kansas farm house and enter the wild, wonderful Technicolor world of Oz! And since Bowie isn’t performing at all anymore, someone has got to sing these songs live on stage!”
As another teenaged Bowie fanatic from the hills of West Virginia, I add a “+1” to what Ann says. The shows are nearly sold out, but standing room tickets will still be sold on the night of the performances. And so you know, a “little birdie” (okay, Ann via email this morning) told me that like the Spiders from Mars’s last stand at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, this will probably be her last show for quite some time—and she’ll be doing her “infamous” Jobriath medley (not performed since 1997)—so be warned. You snooze, you’re gonna lose, got that?
Watch a FREE video stream of The Nomi Song, Andrew Horn’s excellent 2004 documentary about New Wave opera diva from outer-space, Klaus Nomi. Follows the rise of Nomi’s unlikely career until his death in 1983 from AIDS complications. With Kristian Hoffman, Kenny Scharf, Ann Magnuson, Tony Frere, Page Wood, David McDermott and in a great performance clip, David Bowie and Joey Arias. Oddly sponsored by American Express.
Club 57’s entertainment, much of it rooted in punk rock and an ironic take on campy TV re-run culture, had the same kind of “let’s get up and put on a show” spirit as a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney musical, but against a much more decadent backdrop. It’s fascinating to see how this era is being defined by contemporary art historians, as well as first rate digital fare like this unique portfolio.
From photographer Robert Carrither’s statement:
I lived in New York during the early ‘80s, a very special unique time of creativity in New York. I was a regular at a place called Club 57 in the basement of a Polish church on St. Marks in the East Village. It was a creative laboratory that would change night after night with themes and happenings. One night there would be an art opening and then another night there would be bands, films or a crazed theme party. Many talented and fun people developed their art at Club 57 throughout this time. The following photographs capture some of these memorable people through portraits or at the various events.
Each of these photos has its own story. Please read them and you can understand each one better.
Carrithers: “Ann Magnuson was one of the founders and the first creative manager of Club 57. She developed her performance skills night after night going from one incredible character into the next. From Soviet lounge singer to country and western to heavy metal. She went from performance artist in the downtown 80’s New York to the thirteen all-girl band Pulsallama (and was the lead singer and lyricist for the band Bongwater and in the fun heavy metal band Vulcan Death Grip). She went on to Hollywood films and TV. A charming, talented chameleon performer. There really is way too much to write about her. It is best to go to and see for yourself: www.annmagnuson.com.”
Carrithers: “I guess I do not need to write too much about Keith. He was a regular at Club 57 and had his first shows there. He took off as an artist not so long after. An inspiring person and artist of the early 80’s in New York. I photographed him at one of his first shows outside of Club 57 somewhere on the west side of New York City.”