Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thrown Stones, Ghosts, and Crushed Velvet

From the window of my first home in Hollywood, at 8082 Selma Avenue, I could, if I’d had a stronger arm, have thrown a stone and hit:

* Schwab’s Drugstore, at whose lunch counter Lana Turner wasn’t discovered, but was widely thought to have been;
* The Chateau Marmont, the famous hotel in which John Belushi would later perish;
* The hallowed ground on which had stood Pandora’s Box, Ground Zero for the famous Sunset Strip riots of late 1966;
* John-and-Yoko’s famous War Is Over billboard.

I occupied the whole third floor of an ancient house. The original owner’s daughter was said to have hanged herself out my front window, and phenomenologists had apparently been studying the place for years. Had they asked, I’d have told them that I woke up alone one night with someone’s hand on my face. It was sufficiently terrifying to inspire me to buy enough salt to sprinkle around the entire periphery of the flat. Someone had told me that would keep ghosts away, and it seemed to do so.

Right beneath me, on the second floor, we had Franco, a waiter at Frascati (today the apparently posh XIV), which I could have reached out and touched from the window of my bedroom had my arms been very much longer, and a rare-for-the-time middleaged interracial couple, the black male half of which abundantly amused me by never failing to greet poor Franco as “you little fistfucker”. To this day I am uncertain whether he meant to suggest that poor Franco masturbated too much, or enjoyed putting his little hand in forbidden places. The ground floor was home to the Family Bissell, who seemed not to know what to make of the rest of us. I wasn’t worldly enough in those days to feel supremely complimented when Daughter called me the Pauline Kael of rock.

Next door, on Sunset Blvd., to Greenblatt’s Deli, which is still there, was a boutique popular with gay men. It was the only place I knew where you could get skintight crushed velvet trousers of the sort Keith Richards and other fashionplates were wearing, and a drawstring, well...blouse of the sort Robert Plant wore in the first Led Zeppelin publicity photographs. I may have hated Led Zeppelin, but still recognized that the garment in question might make me look like an exotic rock star.

Much of late-60s English rock fashion was inspired by the fact that many of the most powerful managers of the day were gay, and dressed their protégés as their own personal wet dreams. Then fervently heterosexual American musicians would copy the Brits’ gay-inspired fashions to make themselves more irresistible to girls. In the big American cities, you had snake-hipped young studs with bouffant hair traipsing around looking for all the world like Kensington hairdressers called Mr. Kenneth, and girls wanting to fellate them because of it. And then the same thing worked for Prince 15 years later. Let no one tell you it isn’t a wacky world we inhabit.

I think I may have worn the lime-green crushed velvet trousers in public only once, at Christopher Milk’s ill-fated showcase performance at the studios of KPFK. That was better than I’d done with the plaid trousers I’d bought after getting an eyeful of the Rolling Stones’. In both cases, it wasn’t so much a case of actually wearing them as knowing I’d bought them.

[Hear my life-changing new album Sorry We're Open here! Facebookers: Read more All In Tents and Porpoises essays and subscribe here.]

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