And those Hollywood nights
All That Shines Under The Hollywood Sign by Iris Berry (Punk Hostage Press)
“It appeared clear to me - partly because of the lies that filled my history textbooks - that the intent of formal education was to inculcate obedience to a social order that did not deserve my loyalty. Defiance seemed the only dignified response to the adult world.”
- Timothy B. Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story)
“Most men today cannot conceive of a freedom that does not involve somebody's slavery. They do not want equality because the thrill of their happiness comes from having things that others have not.”
- W.E.B. DuBois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil)
"The fortunate is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he 'deserves' it, and above all that he deserves it in comparison with others. He wishes to be allowed the belief that the less fortunate also merely experiences his due. Good fortune thus wants to be 'legitimate' fortune." - Max Weber
"A catalog of catastrophic events shaped our lives..." - Iris Berry
Iris Berry is my favorite movie star. In my personal rocknroll pantheon, she will always be the queen of the Hollywood underground. Hard livin' hellion, heroine, helper, healer, auteur, essayist. She lived on 10, on full-blast, for a long time, and has written several riveting books about it, including "Daughters Of Bastards", and her latest enchanting collection of poetic reminiscing's, "All That Shines Under The Hollywood Sign".
Part of the reason she is always such a big hit on the spoken word circuit is because we are all getting older and are increasingly nostalgic for our own wayward punk rock youth, and therefore, love hearing those far out and heavy, true tales from her seen it all history, but also, because something about her speaking voice is oh so very consoling and soothing, it is a tender, understanding salve for the sad and lonely, and scarred for life, all 'us last of the last, limping landmarks and leather clad convalescents. She has a comforting presence, because she emanates real deep, genuine article beauty, from the inside out. We can all recognize her as one of our kind.
I know I felt related to her, since I was a kid, she was one of the older punks whose works helped to sculpt who I became. All her prose is visual, Techni-colored, cinematic. She is sort of the Beat-Hip mother of mercy, burnt-out paradise, angel of compassion, literary keeper of the flame. A punk rock Marilyn Monroe pinup star for all of us ill-starred orphans, last call stragglers, hobo ragamuffins, and scuzz-bucket, Brill-cream Fonzarelli, hotel room drifters, who were born out of time, or under a bad sign. Her panoramic silver screened stories summon you to a better place in the past, a half imagined Eden that we've been expelled from, that the cardboard-town, corporate- media and billionaire wealth worshippers would like to erase from our collective memory. Before everything, and nearly everyone, had a price-tag on it. Me, I was always yearning to be free, and from a young age, already thinking about how I needed to locate a more righteously tolerant, inclusive, and diverse community of writers and radicals, 'cause the television programmed, sports stadium, dummy vote, spectator society I grew up in were all a bunch of robotic square-heads. Ham fisted and mean spirited ape men. Clock-punching Gina Haspel torturers. They never mind torture, war, constant military expansionism, kidnapping of immigrant children, rigged elections, klan-cop violence, or people on streets, but they go absolutely nuts over boys wearing makeup, or lower class gypsies ever consorting with the Echo & The Bunnymen girls, from the other side of the tracks.
I always thought it was sickeningly pathetic and perverse how the always unimaginative Standard Amerikkkan Dreamers are totally comfortable with racist drug laws, tasers, airport gropers, and a malevolent imperialist culture of meanness, cruelty, hate, and class bigotry, but lose their fucking minds over some hair-gel, Culture Club, Ozzy t shirts, and sincere kids exploring the joys of strobe lights and dry ice, kissing, and the Replacements. Where I came from, there was no English Disco, no English Acid, no KROQ, or Whisky Au Go Go, just like, jails and funeral parlors, unpleasant country bars, and high school sports stadiums. A few of us were considered controversial hooligans because we really liked Prince, T. Rex, "Hunky Dory", Depeche Mode, and black lipstick, ya know, we were hardly scandalous, even our house parties were lame-all our significantly older, bad influences could really even find to corrupt us with was Niacin, malt liquor, and nausea inducing redneck dirt weed. Not a good time. I always felt the siren's call, and wanted to wear gold trousers and live at the Tropicana, swim to the moon, get the hell outta the sticks. Hooray For Hollywood.
Iris Berry projects her brightly flickering home movies on the walls of our psyches and they somehow mix-in, masterfully, with our own dreams and memories, with an olive on the side of the glass. The lights are down, we missed the previews, but now we watch the film from our childhood-running on the beaches bare-footed, and loudly cavorting with our crazy roommates who were still drinking in the morning.
When a small but dedicated gang of potentially dangerous resistors and creators could still convene in one scrap-by on ramen, communal zip-code, and co-author a more romantic and original and authentic and bohemian way of life, after-hours, outside of society's gentrified, sweat shop manufactured, franchised, big-box Generica. Frank Zappa once said, “The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”
Reading her rhapsodic, soulful words really takes you away from this loathsome modern-day, corporate/fascist police state, carries one over the rainbow with the bluebirds, in to a freer time. I, personally, was always dreaming in full color, show-biz spectacle-fireworks, fanfare, klieg-lights on the red carpet, of Julie Newmar and Tina Louise, of David Lee Roth and white tigers, and showgirls in elbow length gloves and feathered head-pieces, I always self identified as a rhinestone cowboy, nothing's changed. I guess mostly because when I was little, my grandmother used to endlessly watch all those old '40s and '50s black and white movies about singing cowboys and hard boozing men in fedoras, Errol Flynn, Zorro and Robin Hood, sharp-witted temptresses, and campy, kitschy, super heroes of the golden age. As long as I remember, I was thinking about showbiz, Houdini and Brando, which is probably why I even liked that cock-rock Buck Cherry song, "For The Movies", so much. When I was a weird kid, for the longest time, my only friend was my Avon lady grandmother, who would take me to flea markets in Kentucky, where I would buy old Elvis Presley 8-tracks and stacks of old fan magazines from the sixties about the Monkees and Beatles. Other kids in my family compliantly showed cattle at 4-H, golfed, drove tractors and played college basketball, and drove big Ford trucks, and won touchdowns and shit. I was Elvis for Halloween in the third grade, I was always dressing up in the big sunglasses and sparkly junk jewelry and pretending to be Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, or Ian Astbury and Andrew Eltrich, later on, in the gender-bender MTV eighties. By the fifth or sixth grade, I had already started pinning up "musicians wanted" fliers in all the record stores, hoping to find the others and front a rebel band.
I loved all the new romantic, cow-punk, and death rock music . As a relentlessly churchified and detention-halled and reform schooled, church-town frowned upon teenager, who still could not properly catch the ball, I collected pictures of Hanoi Rocks, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Duran Duran, Bow Wow Wow, Billy Idol's band Generation X, and little, now-fragile, news-print photos of Iris Berry, cut carefully from my long-time pen-pal, Shane William's columns in Flipside magazine. Shane was one of my three various bank robber friends. He never hurt nobody. Flipside was our rebel bible-our only connection to the outside world, or an even hazy, distant dream, of "someday" (!) (never came) being able to experience a misfit family of likeminded troubadours and basement dwellers for awhile, and actually belonging somewhere, like in that West Side Story song. Our bored and restless creative impulses were so strong, in those early years, that sometimes, we'd even have to sacrifice our own most sacred beer money (!) to stand for hours at the library copy machine, Xeroxing pics of Hell's Angels and Black Panthers, and sixties writers and Warhol and Edie out of books, for our grebo band fliers and collages, that we used to communicate long-distance, with other goth and glam kid pen-pals, from out of state. Our pedestrian street gang were a real ragtag, mish-mash of heavy metal and goofy punk undesirables, who were all ferociously hated and despised and hunted like Frankenstein's (okay, mostly, just me) by the town's sadist country club preppies, jocks, and farm boy rednecks. I always wore make-up and girl's clothing, tied dried roses and tissue paper into my long braids, wore crucifixes and rosaries, and fishnet. Blue eye shadow and pink creepers. I mostly tried to dress like Texacala Jones, and Gene Loves Jezebel and the Lords Of The New Church, ya know, so I predictably, got kicked out of several bourgeois suburban schools, mostly for chronic dress code violations, and for drawing Flesh for Lulu and the Cure band logos in my history textbook.
WHERE DO WE GO NOW?
Those iconic pictures of Iris Berry holding a drink in the Motorhead T-shirt and police hat, probably made many people besides myself want to move to Hollywood. Her squatter drunk, gutter punk pals wielded so much power back then, that they could even make the millionaire haves on the hill show up at Christmas benefits for homeless kids and stuff, so Hollywood was like the far away magical, mythical mirage to me back then, always glimmering in the distance, seeming to offer non-stop, endless summer laughs and good times, and even indie record-deals, to people like me. It seemed so free and open and inclusive, so glamorous and fun, and open all night, ever beckoning. I felt magnetically drawn to join the people in the long leather coats standing defiantly in front of Sunset Strip liquor stores in those old punk mags on those starry-sidewalks. I felt like I could finally fit-in, if I could just get there. Jim Morrison sang, "get here, and we'll do the rest", and as a kid, boy, did I ever believe him.
I'm not sure if I first thought I wanted to woo Iris, or be like Iris, back in my juvenile delinquent daze, but I always recognized her as a kindred spirit, and really, really needed so desperately to escape the oppressive hellishness of the militarized sports and jail and war culture of the bleak box Midwest. The fortunate son locals and I had entirely different notions of what Gun Club means. Thankfully, I could escape, for hours, into a Flipside magazine, it was the analog internet for us bad kids from nowhere towns. There was no internet or punk scene in the racist, rural, superstitious lynch-mob, hell-holes I grew up in, so like, maybe three times a year, my divorce-damaged skater comrades and I, we'd save up all our arcade quarters and milk money and make the solemn pilgrimage to the hours away college-town record stores, like Magnolia Thunderpussy and Singing Dog records, and buy up a half dozen fresh Flipsides, Creems, Forced Exposure and Maximum Rocknroll magazines, maybe some Adam & the Ants pins for our hats and lapels, and most all the cheap $1 cutout vinyl-bands like the Little Kings and Tex & The Horseheads, and dream of creating our own basement room, dollar at the door, keg of beer, micro-mini punk scene. That was really our main thing, back then-singing and dancing and drinking and playing loud music in cold rooms with our garishly attired, out of town friends.
Before I got my first crummy bands together, I'd previously had no real access to anything even vaguely uplifting, I got beat up at the roller-rink, and at the mall, and in the locker-room, it was an acutely painful adolescence. When a working class kid gets picked on relentlessly at school by the extra-privileged haves, until he's finally angry enough to start really fighting back, and maybe even gets a lucky punch in once, humiliating his supposedly popular opponents....or even when he loses some fights, badly, but still somehow, seemingly, manages to "get the girl", that's when the pushy, posh parents show up with their lawyers to threaten the school administrators, and guess who's inevitably branded the aggressor and instigator and led away to detention hall in handcuffs? I know that money equals credibility in this country, and it's probably always been that way, but now, I have a kid with Autism, struggling through the same old awful stuff, and it really does seem like the forever unapologetic, bully authoritarians have gotten even worse, under Trump. I've known Trumps all my life-tiny tyrants, greedy, spiteful gluttons, gloating oafs. Mostly, I stayed inside and made newsletters, cartoon booklets, glue-stick collages, read old Creems and Charles Bukowski, and wrote lots of songs about how much I hated not being able to dress like a swashbuckling Little Steven pirate lord. Every chance we got, whenever we scraped-up enough gas money, the mohawked drummer, Scruff, would drive us To Fort Wayne, Indiana, in his rust-bucket car with the rubber bat dangling from the rearview mirror-because that was the only place within a three hour drive where anything exciting was really happening, at all. They had a Sunday night punk rock venue in a Holiday Inn lounge where we all danced forlornly in our long Joy Division trench coats and raccoon makeup, to old Bauhaus and Depeche Mode records, played by a waifish Robert Smith lookalike. I think his name was Terry.
POSTCARDS FROM PARADISE...
By the time that Guns n Roses appeared in all the glossy L.A. metal mags from the coast, I had my grandma's fifties suitcase with the Hanoi Rocks and Deadboys stickers already to go, all packed full of Aqua-Net cans, western string ties, ratty green feather boas, second-hand leopard-print suit jackets, pink socks, purple scarves and spiked bracelets, and could not wait to take my own Greyhound to the sleaze-metal jungle, I was foolishly imagining I'd still be arriving in time to join right in with the old-school punk scene of '83-'87, the one that Desi Benjamin documents in his film, "Scenesters", right? The Joneses and Motorcycle Boy. The Little Kings and Hangmen. But by the time I got there, when I was maybe 22 or 23, we had a real rough go of it, for about a year we were basically starving, and I ended up having a seizure and waking up in a scary ward full of moaning homeless people in the county hospital, where I almost died, before glumly, dejectedly, retracing my steps, like so many broken dreamers before me, and eventually getting stuck back in the grueling Midwest (!) for an excruciatingly long time. I'd dreamt all my life about the Runaways and Go-Gos, but it was all gone, too late, I missed it. Plus, I couldn't drive, and you have to have a car in California. Back in Ohio, most of us outcast subversives always kinda lacked mobility, cars cost money, and we had none, so we had to entertain ourselves with whatever was around, like the junkyard kids on Fat Albert. Not much in the way of opportunity, entertainment, or false hopes of ever really being discovered and class transitioning, so you had to make your own fun, and we always succeeded at that, in spades, even if we never got rich and famous. As bratty hick glam urchins, we used to buy books of stamps and write to all the scattered cross-country other punk kids in the classifieds in the back of those magazines, and trade our emotional, heart-felt, carefully selected, mix-tapes, and home-made fanzines and goth poetry chap-books, through the mail. I keep joking that I should call my elderly goth band, Black Sharpie Spider illustration, 'cause that's what seemed to always adorn all of our envelopes. Sometimes, we got static-y, fifth-hand hand, redubbed vhs copies of the old Urg! Music War, Live In A Dolls House, the Punk Rock Movie, DuBeateo, Border Radio, Another State Of Mind, Suburbia, that kind of stuff; and Godfathers and Dramarama and Morrissey and Screamin' Blue Messiahs videos from 120 Minutes, from our faraway friends with cable, in the mail, and would watch it all, endlessly, at our older friend who was old enough to buy us beers sad dump of a place. Iris was the standout Tinsel town bombshell with the cool style, who imprinted on my new wave brain when I was 15 or maybe 16. She grew up in the sunny place I spent my young life fantasizing about, and did everything I wanted to do, way before I did, so her life history, bands, books, poetry and spoken word CD, "Collect Calls" really made a mark on me.
It'd be embarrassing to try to express the impact and influence she's had on me personally, and impossible to measure the inspiration she has provided to a couple generations of rocknroll animals, and deviant beat writers, and underground illustrators, and provocateur film-makers, etc. Her immediate circle of stylish intimates are all historical figures now, so you really can't even measure or estimate the effect they had collectively on our tortured brows, but she was a muse and encouraging mentor, and video vixen, and sang for the Lame Flames and Ringling Sisters, and wrote exceptionally well, so she basically, influenced everybody, who influenced everybody. She was the source of a lot of our images and aspirations. She introduced many of us to the significant works of powerful and important scribes like A Razor, Rich Ferguson, and Yvonne de la Vega. She knew all the cult figures and outlived over half of 'em, is still here as a cautionary tale, happy ending, dream come true, compassionate survivor, tastemaker elder statesperson, Publisher of unheralded voices, discoverer of genius rock groups, restorer of lost faith, redeemer of lost souls--she still symbolizes many things, to so many different people.
I remember that Rolling Stone article about Mad Marc Rude and his bone jewelry inspiring my guitar player to start making us our own spooky Bryan Gregory voodoo necklaces and stuff out of dead mice and broken glass and found objects, in the flat-broke days before punk became safely packaged in the mall, and you really had to make all your own stuff. We spray-painted our band t shirts and traded 'em at shows, bartered our little rehearsal tapes. None of us black-clad tombstone kids in my gang came from wealth, so none of us were really anointed by our moms to become the next big things. It was a struggle to even get my scrappy metal pal his first guitar, and drums? Or video cameras or even primitive recording gear? That was all way out of the question. L.A. was where I hoped I'd find some other people like me. It never stops calling me collect.
In the '80s, wearing a Cramps, or Misfits, or Dead Kennedys, or Clash t shirt in the midwest only got you punched in the eye. Even the insanely rightwing, militant youth of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Kentucky were overwhelmingly, these bootcamp barking, bad breathed, bootlicker, thank a cop, hateful religious zealot, winning is everything, sports Nazis, who demanded you conform, and obey their preachers, and coaches, and upper classmen. When grunge happened, all those same flyover state people I never got along with: the usual country club preppies, jocks, and farm boy rednecks, aggressively surged, en masse, into the little punk matinees, and record store-jobs, and boy's club venues, and college radio-shows, the dropout subculture my friends and I had helped carve out a space for, and it was all like high school, all over again. The rich preppie, predator kids with the moms willing to finance their "just visiting" cultural tourist, advantaged, ego-trip posing were all still the same old elitist, honkies on the hill, fatcat bullies, forever playing king of the mountain, and smear the queer, even well into our middle age.
In 1995, they all got tattoos and went to Lollapalooza, or whatever. Their "arty" Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden, slumming phase. Super-sized hockey player Tarzans in flannel and combat boots who could knock you down to impress the frat-boy cargo shorts wearing sports-bar in-crowd. Trend following, social climbing, obliviously privileged women, just like in that Pulp song, "Common People". My androgynous eighties hairspray and cowboy boots heyday was already over, and it all steadily became about having money and status, and not really ever saying anything, capitalism, inheritance, marrying up, emulating television programs like 90210, Friends, The Hills, and Kardashians, aspiring to becoming yuppies, building brands, and fitting in. Chickenshit conformity. No thanks.
One night, when one of my doomed graveyard gangs finally got to make a punk rock 45, I was in a dark depression over a band/girlfriend breakup. That always seemed to happen, at the same exact moment, simultaneously, everything always broke at once, and I traded my personal 5 copies of the single to a hipster bartender for drinks, and when I started to slur, 10 double shots of well whiskey later, and was politely asked to leave, I apparently, went back to my second floor apartment, instinctively changed clothes, put on a Halloween moustache, and promptly returned to the bar, expecting to go unnoticed, like nothing happened, but I only know this story because they called my famous DJ friend in another state that night to tell him, those years became a bit of a blur. All the people I used to feel protected and appreciated by were suddenly all croaking, left and right, in sixes and sevens, in my 20's my brethren were mostly bikers, street punks, outsider songwriters, hip-hop impresarios, who were all steadily dying off in waves, so I was experiencing some hardcore, persistent and ongoing, helpless grief and mourning for a long, long time.
For awhile, the only voices that were really audible through the intense fog of depression, gloom and doom, were Gio Vitanza, Tex Perkins, Chris Isaak, the Humpers, Falling James, Eddie Izzard, Richie James Edwards, and Iris Berry. My private world was vanishing in big chunks all around me, entire chapters of my own life history, whole continents of former associates, were up in smoke, gone like the gin, and most everyone who spoke my language, at all, seemed to be leaving this world. My guitarist and drummer were in jail, and my upwardly-mobile girlfriend broke up with me on 9/11, the day the towers fell. She said we were no longer compatible and she was right, there was just no way for me to become a tv watching, landlordly kind of person, though for three years, I had stayed sober for her and worked shitty, thankless jobs and brought her home the money, like a rube. After she ditched me, there might have been a couple of years when I was spending too much time alone in seclusion, watching maybe too many Mickey Rourke movies in my tiny room and reimagining my vodka inhaling, sulking self as some kind of tough guy, which was ridiculous, and I started waking up in emergency rooms on a pretty regular basis. My last grown-up, half sane friends fled whenever they saw me coming. The lights were out on the mean streets of my disintegrating rocknroll dreams and it got black there, for awhile. Mighty grim, Jim. Everybody started dying off at once. I mean, what the fuck? You don't really get over any of that shit, by taking the government pills and watching more Dr. Phil, do you?
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FUN?
As we got older, some of my former friends naturally calmed down and started working for the Clampdown, others died in a harrowing succession of death, death, death, that left me feeling all too mortal, and conscious of the passing of time, kind of traumatized and dispirited by all the woe and loneliness and loss and wasteful futility. The cheese stands alone. 'Had to pawn all my old books and records to the greedhead yuppie record store guy in a hopeless attempt to keep the heat and electric on, and I abruptly quit my chicken=picking dishwasher job. I was a vegetarian by then, and just did not like picking bird guts apart for eight hours a day in my wet clothes, hairnet, and bloody apron for that minimum wage they all assured me was so dignifying.
Everything was goin' bad for me, back then, the lights got shut-off, I was kind of being abandoned by my adult-world assimilating, former associates; dickhead frat boys were still showing up out of nowhere, and punching me in the eye. Iris Berry was one of a very few who still had a humane and compassionate word for me when the all the luck went bad, at once, and I'll never forget that. There were more than a couple hours of my humiliating life, before I met my wife, when it felt like Iris was my last, or only friend. I'm certain I am not the only one she has been that for. She was a constant source of hope and inspiration to the broken and forsaken. If your grandma dies and your girlfriend splits, if the band breaks up, and you get fired from the warehouse for drinking on the job, shit can go wrong fast. If you ain't got no safety-nets, life can really suddenly seize you by the neck and slam you to the curb, and domino and spiral, ya know? They say that bad things happen in threes, but for me, it all seemed to come in sevens and eights. Shutoff notice, eviction, band breakup, cheating girlfriend, funeral, hospital, fired again, black eye, nowhere to go, pawn shop, repeat. There were some piercingly hard and lonesome hours when Iris Berry was the only person left alive who was kind to me, the lamp post at the end of the road. Sometimes, even small kindnesses are enough to sustain us through another torturous night, or punishing decade, when the hits keep comin', the good friends keep droppin' like crazy, and there's no rest for the weary, no room at the inn, no safe haven from the Gestapo.
Her knowing and intimate prose is all written from the perspective of a rigorously honest and empathetic, bravely confessional and unabashedly sentimental, hard-won-wise person, who still remembers moments of vivid sweetness and innocence. Iris can turn simple words into moving picture shows. She still recalls all the little details and significant sensory impressions and battle-scarred pictures, and feelings of ache and longing from her both charmed and shattered, but always courageously adventuresome, shining path. "All That Shines Under The Hollywood Sign" is a throwback to those heartfelt chapbooks and mix tapes and home made fanzines people like us used to send to each other in the mail. It reminds me that we were right. That small mercies matter most in dark times. That it was a helluva lot of fun to be us, to tell the truth and sing from our hearts, to create our own original subculture and be true to our own codes, and that you don't have to wait for The Man's permission to be us, no permission is forthcoming from the rat-race hierarchy, trains on time, 9 to 5 finks and khaki wearers, anyway, so we are probably better off staying underground, and making our own fun, creating our own fashion and media, and gatherings and art, and always wielding our influence on behalf of the homeless kids at Christmastime. I obviously love her, just like all the others, and if you are anything like me at all, you will also cherish and treasure her book, "All That Shines Under The Hollywood Sign", with crazy-cool illustrations by Scott Aicher. Amen.