Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dean Johnson - Death of a Legend, Death of a Friend

I was shocked and saddened to learn of Dean Johnson's death yesterday, as I know many of you were. As of this writing the details of his passing are sketchy, but that is less important to me than the details of his life:

I met Dean Johnson in 1984 at Save the Robots. Robots, for those of you under a hundred, was an afterhours club on Avenue B, which was a pretty hardcore ghetto avenue in the 80's. When the club started it was little more than an empty white room on the ground floor and a dank room with a shitty bar and some disco lights in the basement. Everyone would head there after their club jobs or nights out and get even more fucked up and dance. It drew a very insular community of freaks and club types and meeting 6' 6", bald, funny, smart Dean was just part of the excitement of my life at that time.

My first real memory of quality time with Dean was one of those crazy Robots nights. We all took acid – Dean, my friend and roommate Shannon (who would take hours to paint a complicated tattoo on his/her face every night) and a few others that I can't recall now. That night I wore an uncomfortably skintight dress and brutally painful high-heeled pumps. I was completely hobbled and by the time we hit Robots at 4:30 am after a night of drinking and swallowing bits of paper I was tripping my brains out and could barely walk.

To make matters worse, my pre-lasik, contact lens-wearing eyes had watered so much from the drugs that the copious eye makeup I always wear had clouded up the lens. I couldn't see a thing. I was blind, in pain, high out of my mind, and hanging with fags who were having way too much fun to care about taking me home. Good times, people. Shannon propped me up against a wall, said, "Stay here!" (as if there were a choice) and wandered off for what seemed like hours. There was nothing I could do but watch the fuzzy lights and pray for an end. When Dean's round dome finally came into blurry view, moving towards me above the throbbing crowd, I wanted to cry with relief.

Afterwards we sat at a diner and talked as we came down. Dean had been listening to Abba in his tape-playing walkman, and we talked about his love of Abba and my teenage obsession with Todd Rundgren. It was comforting.

A few months later everyone was bored and Dean decided to gather all of the clothes off of his bedroom floor and put on a fashion show at the Pyramid for his friends. It was hilarious and an absolutely brilliant piece of conceptual "art". We cheered and shouted "Fabulous!" as he sashayed in old t-shirts. My mother still asks me, "How's your friend that put on that funny fashion show?"

Throughout the years we would run into each other or work together in varied capacities. Dean started Rock and Roll Fag Bar (a sort of precursor to Squeezebox) at The World, where I bartended. The party was completely unique for the time and rocked hard. And then he had his bands, Dean and the Weenies and The Velvet Mafia, for whom he wrote hilarious and cutting songs, which he talked/sang while oozing charisma in heels and a dress. He was a marvel to behold and an absolute star.

In the 90's he tried to bring Rock and Roll Fag Bar back to Coney Island High, where I managed, but it just didn't fly. Times had changed, there were a lot less cool people available to fill a room and Coney had too many hardcore punk douchebags lurking around, just waiting to get some quality fagbashing in. I hated that scene for its lack of glamour and understanding and I tried hard to make the place as gay friendly as I could, but it was impossible. Dean was a neurotic mess, bugging me in the office every day for money for flyers and drink specials and the like, trying to get the party going. He drove me nuts. But it was like having a sibling around. You know, if your sibling was a super tall bald man in a gown.

Myspace allowed Dean and I to reconnect again in a much deeper way than before, through our mutual love of writing. He loved my blogs and constantly encouraged me to write. His topics were much different than mine but there were many levels that we connected on. We both wanted to be truthful about who we are and about the world around us. I think that Dean did that most admirably and I recommend going to his page and checking his blogs if you haven't already done so. His page is HERE.

Dean was extremely generous of spirit and took the time to submit one of my blogs to Chi Chi's Verbal Abuse. I have a piece coming out in the next issue and it's completely due to his prodding. I was so touched that he would take the time to do that, but he genuinely wanted people around him to succeed. Dean brought some well-needed life to this town with his Reading for Filth series, in which he urged other writers to get involved and share their own stories. I heard from many people how great the readings were and thought I had time to make it to one. I was honestly surprised to hear of Dean's death because I had it in my head that he was moving on to his next phase as a published author. Now the reading that I will finally be present for will be his memorial.

I still have a funny email from him in my myspace mailbox waiting for an answer. I thought I had time.

To me, Dean Johnson epitomizes the New York that I came here to join. He was a freak, a faggot, a star, a creator, a friend. He participated, he inspired, he made people laugh, he brought people together. He was unflinchingly honest about his life as an escort, his sometime loneliness and desire for someone to love, and his fears about aging in regards to his profession. He was bitchy and bitter and yet a genuinely nice person who remained hopeful for what could be created. In other words, not really bitter at all.

Dean was a truly unique and special person. I will miss him very much personally, and the city has lost something very special. I hope his head is one of the ones I see when I get to the other side, poking out above the crowd.



Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Little Girls with Big Voices


I have been watching a fascinating trial on Court TV involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), located in Utah (of course). The leader of the polygamous sect, Warren Jeffs, has been on trial for accomplice to rape and was found guilty this week. As of this writing he has yet to be sentenced.

The story is that a 14 year old girl named Elissa Walls was forced by her parents and community into marriage with her 19 year old cousin. This is common practice at the FLDS, as 14 is the age of consent in Utah and because the sect is polygamous and believes in multiplying as much as possible. They've got to get them out there and breeding as soon as they hit puberty. Elissa railed against the marriage but submitted, then eventually escaped and went to the Utah DA some years later, who then brought her case against Warren Jeffs. Warren Jeffs dictates the rules in his community and is considered to be God's voice by his large group of extremely devoted followers.

The children of the FLDS are home-schooled, usually up until about an 8th grade education. But the home schooling consists primarily of fundamentalist religious teachings. There is no sex education or information on how to get along outside their insulated community. There is no television or outside media allowed in, so the children are very naïve with hardly any knowledge of how the rest of the world works. The girls are married off very young, usually to men much older than themselves, and told that their holy mission in life is to procreate. Anyone attempting to veer from the mission is told they will go to hell if they do not listen to their prophet (Warren Jeffs) and behave as told.

Because it is a polygamist society, there is a necessity for a higher number of women than men. In order to facilitate these numbers, many teenage boys are driven from their homes and families out into a world that they know nothing about. They have no real education, and no means of supporting themselves so many end up homeless. In Utah they're called the Lost Boys.


This particular girl did not want to get married and cried and fought it very emotionally. But her family told her it was her duty and she had no choice but to submit. Once married she again cried and struggled against having sex with her new husband and that didn't go over so well either. She went to Warren Jeffs to ask him for help and he told her that it was her duty and that if she acted "sweet" towards her husband she would have an easier time, meaning she could go to the mall once in a while.

Eventually the girl got out with the help of an older sister who lived in Canada. Apparently a lot of them relocate to an area in Canada, it's sort of an outpost for the FLDS rebels. She has since divorced the original husband and remarried. She is 21 now and spoke at a press conference following the conviction. The video is HERE. She was very articulate and the speech was very moving, and I think what she did was impressive. She went up against her entire family and the only way of life she'd ever known to make a change, when she could have just taken care of herself and never looked back.

I come from parents who encouraged me to be whatever and whomever I wanted to be. The fact that my sister and I are female was never a factor in our upbringing and our thoughts and decisions were treated with respect even when, in my case, they weren't always the wisest or most prudent. I appreciate how incredibly lucky I am, as woman remains, in the words of John Lennon, the nigger of the world in many parts of the world. Although in this case it sounds like half of the men of the FLDS aren't getting too great a deal either.

I'm blogging it for a number of reasons. First, it's simply a very interesting case both story-wise and from a legal angle. Second, because I believe that Warren Jeffs' FLDS and other sects like his need to be shut down, and the first step in doing that is to bring public awareness to the situation. And third, because I am moved by Elissa Walls bravery and determination: one little girl with an 8th grade education and no means beyond her supposed value as a cog in a breeding machine managed to get herself heard and to make a dent in a cult leader's hold on his large following.

That's pretty cool, and pretty fucking badass, as far as I'm concerned.



Sunday, September 23, 2007

Raff's Recipe for Sunday

--Open all the windows, it's gorgeous out today.

--Whole wheat bagel with tofu cream cheese and tomato.

--Skynyrd on 11.

--Dance in your underwear to Skynyrd with the pets. It helps their enthusiasm and involvement levels if you hold the bagel while dancing.

--Apologize to your boyfriend for playing Skynyrd so loud while he's still in bed and offer him a bagel.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Another Day in the Life

I was out this week for one of Drew's gigs with the band (he's in three) that is getting a lot of attention. I'm finally getting the rhythm of these shows down, being surrounded by a ton of very attractive women much younger than me, men that I don't completely understand or feel connected to, just being in a scene that isn't my own. It's a new "rock" crowd and I am slow to assimilate into that which I don't already own. But the band is rocking, they put on a great show, and my man is a brilliant drummer and a joy to watch onstage.

We hooked up with Jonny, Brooke, an old friend named Denise, and our friend Timmy. Essentially family and extremely old school rockers, surrounded by baby girls in tiny skirts scanning the room anxiously for members of the band or others worthy of their attention. We stood near the DJ booth, where Mike Schnapp, my former manager and one of my favorite people, spun actual rock (for a change) and we went nuts when certain songs came on. We cheered and sang along to White Zombie and when no one else reacted the way we did Jonny shouted "Guess who's OLD school in this room!" Yep. Then he said something shitty and I slapped him in the head and he bit me and we shrieked at the next song.

The room was packed when the band played and people were not well-mannered. I felt tense and invaded. I want them to have a jammed show but I want to have a space to watch where I'm not being shoved. Denise began arguing heatedly with a wasted girl who was sort of weaving and stumbling and not paying attention. In my nervous tension I went straight into old school mode. I grabbed her hard by the scruff of the neck, turned her head towards me, and shouted down into her face in a deep voice, "LISTEN TO HER." The poor girl straightened up, blinked at me in surprise and said, "I'm sorry!" and literally darted away into the crowd.

I turned to Denise and said, "What happened?" And she said, "I'm wearing a boot" (one of those injured foot things) "and she kept stepping on me."

I thought, fuck, I just abused some poor little girl for stepping on someone's foot in a jammed room? I'm an asshole and a bully. But I was so uptight that I just clicked into dominator mode as soon as I saw a fight brewing. Sometimes I react physically before my brain processes properly.

And the band played on with the crowd cheering loudly. Ten minutes later Jesse showed up, still recuperating and vulnerable from a very serious illness, and the crowd veered around us dangerously. Giant guys with no consciousness for the words "excuse me" shoved us back and forth.

Then the little girl popped up like a bobber in water and drunkenly wrapped her arms around my neck. She slurred into my ear, "What did I do?" I said, "You didn't do anything, baby. You just stepped on my friend's sore foot. I'm sorry I grabbed you." She hung on me like a lover and I tried to extricate myself from the embrace. Jesse thought she was a friend and waited to be introduced. I shook my head and shrugged as she wrapped her arm in mine and put her head on my shoulder. He said his goodbyes, too physically delicate for the mayhem and as he turned to leave it dawned on my little date who he was and she ran out after him.

Behind us wasted straight girls dangled upside down off of the obligatory stripper poles that now decorate every club, their badly clad crotches (I know this bc I'm a lingerie buyer!) a mere foot or two from our faces. Jonny shouted, "Whores! You're all disgusting WHORES!" After the show, he looked around in disgust and turned to me as he left and said, "After all these years you're STILL the hottest girl in the room, bitch." Thanks, Jonny, you made my night.

At the afterparty (because you know, there's always an afterparty) I was handed a large chunk of extremely strong mushroom by a Sports Illustrated supermodel. She kissed me hard on the lips and said, "Here you go, baby." I chuckled thinking how many men would kill somebody to be in that position.

There I went indeed. Mind you, this was at 2 am, and I had to work the next day. But it seemed the appropriate thing to do, mushrooms are so happy and generally benign. Within 20 minutes Drew and I were melting into a couch with other trippers, giggling and shouting nonsense. On either side of me were two of the prettiest women you've ever seen, the supermodel and her best friend, and on hallucinogens they seemed to glow, their limbs long and slender, perfect skin, faces of angels. When I shut my eyes colors danced at me at lightning speed. When I opened my eyes lovely wood nymphs were pouring glasses of whiskey for me and trying on my shoes. I made Drew get up and sit next to me so I could hold onto his hand in order to stay grounded.

And then at 4 am he dragged me out. I would have stayed there until daylight most likely, consuming what was apparently an endless supply of high grade hallucinogenic mushrooms hidden in an expensive handbag. Lest anyone out there thinks I'm a total maniac, I don't do things like this very often, but when I do I tend to need a minder. I also have a work rebellion thing. I'm hyper responsible and work my ass off at my job, but sometimes I just don't want to be the good girl. Sometimes it seems more important to live that moment at that moment than to worry about what time I have to get up in the morning.

We got home and I apologized to the pets for my bedraggled state. They too glowed very prettily. We took something to help us sleep and I went out watching the colors dance behind my eyelids.

In the morning I awoke very early to my building manager calling me to tell me the super and workers would be delivering a new (used) stove and refrigerator to my apt. I've been bugging them about my busted appliances for a while. Drew left for rehearsal and I helped the guys tear my apartment apart, yanking out the old appliances with the contents of the fridge laid out on every available surface. Once they were done I did a head count to make sure all furry bodies were present, left the mess and ran to work, feeling somewhat vulnerable and emotionally messy. I felt badly about grabbing the little girl and sometimes I just feel overwhelmed by this strange new world that has entered my life. I worry that it will separate me from Drew, I worry that I am not strong enough to handle it.

I listened to the Black Crowes on my ipod as I walked. Chris Robinson shouted, "I hate myself. Doesn't everybody hate themselves?"

Yep.

I ran into one of the wood nymphs on the street; she looked all fresh and clean and shiny and unhurt by the night's activities, despite the fact that she'd stayed up til 10 am. But it was comforting to see her somehow.

Drew knew I was feeling shaky and he sent a text when I got to work, "Don't worry, honey. It's all good, you're safe, and I love you like crazy."

And then I got down to the work for the day.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Notes from the Frontline


My friend DINA sent this to me a while back: AIRBRUSHING

Once you get to the page, click on the link at the top that says portfolio, then on the photos that come up. If you run the mouse over them once you've clicked on a photo, you'll get the "before airbrushing" photo. The differences are pretty interesting.

It's no secret that I'm fascinated by the business of beauty and what constitutes beautiful. What fascinates me most is how arbitrary it is: that society's opinion about what is attractive and what isn't changes all the time. Not only does it change from century to century, but it changes every decade as well.

Someone in my office mentioned the classic Robert Palmer girl in a conversation and another girl had no idea what we were talking about. So I pulled up the videos on youtube and showed her. It's funny to me when I realize how different my cultural vocabulary has become from what the average 25 year old uses for reference. I realized it one day when someone was playing a mash-up (a heinous trend) that included "Dust in the Wind". The girl sitting next to me said, "Isn't this new song the saddest, most beautiful thing you've ever heard?" I was like, "Girl, it's Dust in the Wind, corn-pone once only slightly less overplayed at high school dances than Stairway to Heaven." And she replied, "What's Stairway to Heaven?".

So as we watched the video we marveled at how gorgeous the girls looked, and since the 80's are continually being mined for every trend the dresses didn't seem so bad either. But the women look remarkably different than models look in 2007. There's a breadth and power in their bodies that's missing right now on the runways. It seems like I'm constantly around models lately, and I can tell you that they're far skinnier than even 10 years ago. It's stunning how frail they are. Cindy Crawford could break one of these girls over her knee.

At first it made me feel gigantic and shitty, now I'm sort of enjoying being a totally different creature. I'll never be as young and pretty again as they are, but once I got over that insecurity I realized I've always been more interested in being sexy rather than fashionable anyway. I like my own physical power.

I'm also a little disturbed that everyone is saying how incredibly fat Britney Spears appeared in her disastrous MTV Awards appearance. Comatose, messy, poorly dressed with bad extensions, yes, but I didn't think she looked that fat. She just didn't look incredibly skinny, which I suppose is the same thing as fat at this point in time. I do love the reports that she showed up hours late for that day's rehearsal with a plastic cup in her hand containing a margarita. Ha! Then she refused to wear the corseted costume picked out for her, fired her hairdresser, and took a percocet before hitting the stage. Go Britney in your cheap bra and panties!


The face that is fashionable right now on the runways is a sort of round, wide-eyed doll-face, reminiscent of the kewpie doll face of beauty that was so prevalent in the 20's and 30's, much different than the 80's or 90's stronger, heavier browed, wider-mouthed visage. I'm too lazy to search out images for you but if you go to style.com and check out some of the shows you'll see what I'm talking about. Everything becomes more and more pre-pubescent (except for the fake boobs) as our culture caves in on itself. Is it any wonder that every woman you see in Playboy right now is completely devoid of pubic hair? When you stop comparing yourself to images and look at them from a more objective point of view, things start looking pretty silly, more like a sociological experiment than anything we should take that seriously.

The interesting thing to me about the airbrushed photos is that I actually like some of the befores better. Like Cate Blanchett looks cool and sort of tough in hers, then after the work she just looks ordinarily pretty. I think about a perfect album cover like Patti Smith's Easter and wonder what would happen if someone tried to put that out today. Maybe it would fly, since she is pretty damn skinny...



Oh wait… there's no such thing as album covers anymore. Sigh…

Anyway, you get what I'm saying, which is nothing new or groundbreaking. I just like to file a report once in a while since I've got a front row seat much of the time. I suggest everyone get a plate of pasta and watch this still fabulous video one more time.




Monday, September 3, 2007

Thanks Mike, You Rule

This will be going on every summer holiday until the end of time:

Me (in Mike's kitchen mixing a pitcher of bloody marys for a bbq full of people): Agh!! What's coming out of the speakers? What the hell is that? Is that electroclash? Is someone playing ELECTROCLASH?? What the fuck?? Are my ears bleeding? Make it stop!!!

Mike (already sprinting in from the back yard): I'm on it, I'm on it!!

Me: Agggggghhhhh!! I'm melting! It burns! It's horrible!!

Mike (hastily scrolling through the music list): I'm moving as fast as I can!!

Drew (rolling his eyes): It has to be something from the narrow window of 1970 to 1978 or she'll never shut up.

Steven Tyler from the speakers: HUH! Write me a letter, write me a letter today…
 

Me: Ahhh…thank you…brain is unfreezing…I can feel my fingers again…

Drew: God, you are such a brat, Mary.

Mike: Sshh, you'll ruin her concentration! More tobasco?

Disconnected, very gay voice from the back yard: What happened to the music??