Tricia’s Wedding, a 33-minute dramatization of the solemn rite that joined Patricia Nixon and Edward Cox in holy matrimony, was the first movie the Cockettes made. Per Kenneth Turan, it premiered at the Palace Theater in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco on the very day of the happy event, June 12, 1971. Not only is the Cockettes’ movie much livelier than the televised ceremony, it includes the all-too-brief screen debut of Tomata du Plenty, some five years before he formed the Screamers in Los Angeles.
Incredibly, the Cockettes’ movie was screened in the Nixon White House. In Blind Ambition, John Dean mentions watching it in the president’s bomb shelter underneath the East Wing, John Ehrlichman’s favorite spot for “monitoring” protests. There, Dean saw Tricia’s Wedding on the orders of H.R. “Bob” Haldeman:
I knew I wouldn’t use the shelter for monitoring demonstrations, although Haldeman had told me that that would be one of my responsibilities. The only time I ever returned there was for a secret screening of Tricia’s Wedding, a pornographic movie portraying Tricia Nixon’s wedding to Edward Cox, in drag. Haldeman wanted the movie killed, so a very small group of White House officials watched the cavorting transvestites in order to weigh the case for suppression. Official action proved unnecessary; the film died a natural death.
The Screamers were one of the essential components of the L.A. punk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, although they famously never put out a studio LP. They had one of the best band logos in the world, designed by comix artist Gary Panter of Jimbo renown.
DEVO loved the Screamers. We thought the Screamers and Tomata du Plenty were fucking unbelievable. You see a band that you’re creatively and intellectually inspired by and envious of and we were like, “Why didn’t we think of it?” They were so way ahead of their time. It was almost as if what they were thinking about, what they were after was like “Firestarter” by Prodigy, but this was the summer of ‘77. They were using rudimentary synths and sequencers but with punk energy and aggressive lyrics and theatrical staging with German expressionist lighting.
A frontman is an important element of any successful band, and the Screamers’ Tomata du Plenty (real name David Xavier Harrigan) was no exception. Their live act must have been something to behold, as Steve Waksman relates in This Ain’t the Summer of Love:
[The Screamers] styled one of the most unusual and unnerving band sounds of the punk era based around [Tommy] Gear’s synthesizer, drummer K.K. Barrett’s strong quasi-mechanical rhythms, and the psychodramatic performance style of singer Du Plenty, the total effect of which was designed to foster and control levels of anxiety experienced by the audience.
Tomata had been banging around the Seattle scene in the early 1970s before relocating to L.A. After the Screamers broke up in 1981, he switched his attention to painting. Indeed, in 1983 Tomata’s watercolors were featured at a show at the Zero One Gallery (often styled “01”) in Los Angeles, a space that was the offshoot of a prior entity called Zero Zero on Cahuenga Boulevard. Tomata’s painting prowess somehow became the centerpiece of a somewhat confusing anecdote told by David Lee Roth on Late Night with David Letterman in early 1985.
Sadly, in August 2000, Tomata died of cancer at the age of 52. At some point in the 1990s he executed a series of punk rock portraits, for lack of a better description, featuring people from the L.A. punk scene as well as other rock and roll luminaries (and, randomly, the 19th-century French author Guy de Maupassant). Most of the portraits were painted on a page from some work of literature, such as Allen Ginberg’s Howl or Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn.
In 1985, a possibly (probably?—it was the ‘80s) high David Lee Roth misunderstood a question, blowing two and a half minutes of his network TV airtime on a rambling story about a cult LA punk singer. The Nielsen families may have had no idea what he was talking about, but for fans of the seminal LA synth-punk band, the Screamers, it was an unexpected treat.
David Lee Roth appeared on Late Night With David Letterman on January 2, 1985, promoting his then upcoming solo EP, Crazy From the Heat.
During the course of the segment, Letterman asks Roth standard scripted questions which are typically revealed to the guests by show staff during a pre-interview. Early in the conversation, Roth expounds on directing videos, his system and code for identifying the most fuckable groupies (“red right, red t-shirt, out of sight, six feet back”), and the future of Van Halen (at this point he believed he’d be going back into the studio to record a follow-up to 1984.)
Things get interesting when Letterman asks about a “club” Roth belongs to. Letterman is prompting Roth to open up about “the Jungle Studs,” a group of adventurers Roth hung around with in the 80’s, making extreme sport-style expeditions to places like Nepal and the Amazon. Diamond Dave epically misses the prompt and instead launches into a story about an after-hours LA bar and an artist named “Ta-mata.”
Roth is probably referencing Zero One Gallery, an after-hours bar and art-space on Melrose, which was considered by glitterati of the day to be LA’s lowbrow answer to Warhol’s Factory.
Despite remaining unsigned and never recording a proper album, the Screamers were one of the top-drawing LA club acts between 1977 and 1981. Unfortunately breaking up just before the dawn of MTV, the band was determined to record their first album as a video-only release. Sadly they dissolved before seeing that project through to fruition.
Tomata du Plenty’s post-Screamers art career began in 1983 with a one-man exhibition of watercolor portraits at the Zero One Gallery, and apparently—as evidenced in this interview—David Lee Roth was a massive fan.
Sadly, Tomata died of cancer in 2000 at the age of 52.
It’s fascinating to watch David Lee Roth blow (cocaine pun intended) over two and a half minutes of his network television screentime on a rambling anecdote about the Screamers frontman hanging art in a bar, and if you’re a fan of the Screamers (which you should be), then it’s an interesting bit of punk art history related to their brilliant lead singer.
Here’s an excerpt of Roth’s interview on Letterman:
And here’s “Ta-mata” before he was one of David Lee Roth’s favorite artists, performing live with the Screamers: