Sunday, September 23, 2012

Timothy Leary: She Comes in Colors

I'm wandering pleasantly through the wilds of Timothy Leary's The Politics of Ecstasy this sunny Sunday morning, trying to put together some narrative that makes sense. I don't know if it's the writer in me, or if this is the way everybody's mind works, but I'm always seeking a story that fits, no matter what elements get mashed together.

I suppose I came to this place because I recently read Oliver Sacks' personal history "Altered States" in The New Yorker, where he describes his self-experiments in the chemistry of chloral hydrate, morning glory seeds, morphine, LSD and various other druggy concoctions during his years as a medical student:

"I recall vividly one episode in which a magical color appeared to me. I had been taught, as a child, that there were seven colors in the spectrum, including indigo....I had long wanted to see 'true' indigo, and thought that drugs might be the way to do this. So one sunny Saturday in 1964 I developed a pharmacologic launchpad consisting of a base of amphetamine (for general arousal), LSD (for hallucinogenic intensity), and a touch of cannabis (for a little added delirium). About twenty minutes after taking this, I faced a white wall and exclaimed, "I want to see indigo now -- now!

"And then, as if thrown by a giant paintbrush, there appeared a huge, trembling, pear-shaped blob of the purest indigo. Luminous, numinous, it filled me with rapture: it was the color of heaven, the color, I thought, that Giotto spent a lifetime trying to get  but never achieved --never achieved, perhaps, because the color of heaven is not to be seen on earth."

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Never having taken LSD myself, I became interested in learning more about the experience -- not by taking it, though who knows?, that may happen someday, but by reading up on it. For a few years, an old book has sat on my shelf, picked up somewhere, perhaps a Brooklyn stoop sale, and left unread: The Politics of Ecstasy, by Timothy Leary, Ph.D., a collection of essays written by and about the Harvard professor who spent the 1968 San Francisco Summer of Love defending his psychedelically assisted research into the inner spaces of the human mind. So this weekend, I finally picked up the book and started to read an essay titled "She Comes in Colors," which turns out to be the transcript of an interview Playboy magazine conducted with Leary in 1966.

Basically, the dude dropped a lot of acid. A lot.

"The lesson I have learned over 300 LSD sessions, and which I have been passing on to others, can be stated in 6 syllables: Turn on, tune in, drop out," Leary told Playboy. (Which means that he must have taken many more trips between the interview and the time of The Politics of Ecstasy's publication in 1968.) Click here for's complete transcript of the interview.

I was especially interested to learn what Prof. Leary has to say about LSD, women and sex. It's a mixed bag of drug-tested experience, scientific wisdom, unfiltered thought and a sprinkling of sheer nonsense that sounds dated.

For example, I now know that in a carefully prepared, loving LSD session, a woman can have several hundred orgasms! I also have learned that every woman has built into her cells and tissues the longing for "a hero, sage-mythic male, to open up and share her own divinity." Plus, LSD is a powerful panacea for impotence and frigidity, "both of which, like homosexuality, are symbolic screw-ups."

‘She Was All Women, All Woman, the Essence of Female’

But Leary was a brave thinker, a man ahead of his times in many ways, who pressed forward without shame in his belief that LSD opens a person to the fact that "every man contains the essence of all men and every woman has within her all women."

There’s a funny passage in the interview where Playboy keeps asking Leary variations of the same question, which is whether it’s easier for a guy to pick up chicks while tripping. The doctor warns against it, saying that on LSD, her eyes would be microscopic, and she’d see very plainly what the guy was up to, coming on with some heavy-handed, moustache-twisting routine: “You’d look like a consummate ass, and she’d laugh at you, or you’d look like a monster and she’d scream and go into a paranoid state."

Leary recalls an LSD session with his wife, Rosemary, when their eyes locked and she pulled him into the center of her mind, where he experienced everything she was experiencing. There's real beauty in his telling.

As he looked at her face, it began to melt and change.

Dr. and Mrs. Leary
“I saw her as a witch, a Madonna, a nagging crone, a radiant queen, a Byzantine virgin, a tired worldly-wise oriental whore who had seen every sight of life repeated a thousand times. She was all women, all woman, the essence of female – eyes smiling, quizzically, resignedly, devilishly, always inviting: ‘See me, hear me, join me, merge with me, keep the dance going.’”

Mrs. Leary was all women to her husband. He had no need for a constant, ever-changing parade of young female flesh, he told Playboy. During the six-year period of his extravagant, promiscuous, unchaste use of LSD, Dr. Leary was faithfully monogamous. “The notion of running around trying to find different mates is a very low-level concept,” he said.

There's something sweetly old-fashioned in his fidelity to Mrs. Leary. Say what you will about him -- and plenty of criticisms have been lobbed at him -- Timothy Leary was a man who clearly loved and cherished his wife.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Vaudeville Oddballs

Gypsy Rose Lee is my latest obsession. She got her start in vaudeville, you know.

So, I've been reading Gypsy's memoir, called, uh, Gypsy: A Memoir, the one that Gypsy the Broadway musical was based on, so I've learned that it was only after years of driving around the country, singing "I'm a Hard-Boiled Rose" on Orpheum Circuit stages and sleeping in a tent with her pushy show-biz Mama Rose and baby sister June that Gypsy became a fabulous burlesque star.
Vaudeville was dying, but before it was stone cold finished, Mama Rose kept dreaming up these cockamamie acts for the girls to appear in. For example, Mama had a cow made with a papier-mâché head and a body made of fuzzy brown-and-white material along with leather-spat hooves. One of the unpaid boys in their act occupied the front of the cow while another boy took up the rear.

And then l'il June sang this song:

I've got a cow and her name is Sue
And she'll do most anything I ask her to.
I took her to the fair one day
And she won each prize that came her way

Cornball, right?

As it turns out, this was typical fare back in the 1910s and 1920s before radio and talking pictures killed vaudeville. Gypsy mentions a number of the vaudeville performers she shared a stage with, and they're...odd. Hard to believe American culture created them, but you know that L.P. Hartley quote, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

Or maybe you don't. The point is, entertainers did things back then that you wouldn't see now. Here's a sampling of a few of the vaudeville stars Gypsy met back in the day:

Eva Tanguay:  Slate calls Eva Tanguay "the biggest rock star in the United States" from 1904 until the 1920s, although Eva referred to herself as "the girl who made vaudeville famous." Her big number was "I Don't Care," and she wore costumes like this:
"Billed as an 'eccentric comedienne,' her act—essentially—was that she was nuts," says the Travalanche blog. "A bad singer, and a graceless dancer, with hair like a rat’s nest, the homely, overweight Tanguay would put on outrageous outfits, sing provocative self-involved songs, commissioned especially for her, and fling herself around the stage in a suggestive manner."

Francis Renault: This drag queen billed himself as "The Slave of Fashion" and performed as a Lillian Russell [Note to self: Who? Must google.] impersonator before opening his own speakeasy in Atlantic City.
 "Is it proper also is it legal for a real ladylike man to further simulate femininity and appear on the streets dressed in woman's garb provided this man be a professional female impersonator?" asked the Atlanta Constitution in 1913.

Read more about Francis Renault at Queer Music Heritage.

Sophie Tucker: Actually, I think I've actually heard of Sophie Tucker before. Anyway, Gypsy mentions her as playing on the Orpheum Circuit. She was like a combination of Mae West, Janis Joplin, Bessie Smith and Francis Renault (see above). Apparently, she was born in 1886 and got her start by singing for tips in her family's restaurant.

She sounds tough and cool in her big number "Some of These Days":

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown's Advice to Men on How to Have an Affair

Helen Gurley Brown died this week at age 90, but oh what a ride she had before leaving this world. For such a tiny woman with a delicate voice, the Cosmopolitan magazine and Sex and the Single Girl author certainly made a loud impact on American culture in the 1960s.
As the feminine counterpart to Playboy editor Hugh Hefner, she encouraged young women to work hard in their careers, obsess over their figures, and manipulate men with sex. I wouldn't be surprised if Mad Men's scriptwriters pore over old issues of the magazine in creating the characters who inhabit the show's secretarial typing pool.

You either loved or hated Helen Gurley Brown: just read the comments in The New York Times' obituary.

Here's one: "Former Cosmo Girl copy editor here. CG was hands-down the best job I ever had, and I've been around in publishing. I'm about as mouseburger as you can get, but working there made you feel like a million bucks. If you only read the cover lines at the supermarket, you don't understand the tone of Cosmo. It's about being happy that you're a woman--and yes, sex IS an important part of that. I'm a lesbian and a very different kind of feminist than HGB was, but she spoke to women who might not have been entirely happy with who they were, especially in the early days. She didn't brainwash them, she told them they weren't mouseburgers—they were absolutely fantastic and deserved to have fun."

Here's another: "HGB was a woman without morals and basically one who cared not at all about other women. She had a brief affair with my father in the 50's and pursued him relentlessly!
I asked my 90 yr old mother yesterday why she was so passive while feeling so hurt and heartbroken and her response was that it was economic. She had 4 small children to care for and no real job skills. Obviously my father was lacking in character and morals too but what kind of woman does that to another woman? Where is the sisterhood?"

But to really get a feel for her, the best way is to listen to her in her own words. Here's Helen Gurley Brown's advice to men on how to have an affair, taken from a recording circa 1962 after the publication of Sex and the Single Girl:

Now, I'm not for promiscuity, but I think it's ridiculous to pretend that it doesn't exist, and I think there's far less hurt and more joy for everybody if certain rules are followed.

So first, how to get a girl to the brink, and second, how to keep her there when you're not going to marry her. I believe most girls are attainable by somebody, really most girls, but you have to work at it. I think the reason you don't always succeed is that you want everything now, this minute, tonight's the night.

Rule One is, take time to court her. 

Rule Two, love her out of bed. Laugh at her jokes. Women have fantastic egos too, you know, even pretty little slips of girls just love to be thought fascinating and funny. Make her talk to you, and you listen. No matter how shy she is, make her feel that with you she's a dynamo.

Rule Three, admire her character, even if she doesn't have any. You like the way she handles her jobs, her friends, her family, her money. When bedtime comes, you'll have her thinking that with you, at least, she can't do anything wrong.

There's much more, including the advice that "brute force isn't sexy," here at YouTube.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nina Arianda to Play Janis Joplin Role

Ever since I desperately tried and failed (long boring story, won't bother to tell) to buy a Broadway ticket to the sexy comedy "Venus in Furs," I've been equally desperate to witness a Nina Arianda performance.

Nina Arianda is fabulous, by all accounts. Judy Holliday, Sophia Loren and Lady Gaga all rolled into one.
Sadly, I've only seen her in Woody Allen's movie "Midnight in Paris," which was a disappointment -- and her talents were overlooked in her small role as some random guy's forgettable wife.

But. The good news, according to Reuters, is that Nina Arianda is now scheduled to play the role of Janis Joplin in a film called, what else?, "Joplin," an independently produced film that tells the story of the blues-rock diva's final year of life. I'm excited! Can't wait to see what Nina A. does with the role.

Janis Joplin died way too young, of an overdose in 1970 at the age of 27, but oh, what a voice while she lived. You can see what an endearingly sweet Texas girl she was, heroin addiction aside, in this clip from the Dick Cavett show:

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Long Live Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe died fifty years ago today. Long live Marilyn Monroe.

The idea of what makes a woman a woman keeps changing, but she's eternal. Beautiful, talented, sexy, fun, glamorous, mysterious, vulnerable, and even, yes, tough.

Fifty years, and we all still have a personal relationship with her. And we keep trying to learn more. The Official Marilyn Monroe website, managed by The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC, plays to this desire with a "news" page, which suggests that she's more than just a memory. (This just in: Baked by Melissa recently celebrated Marilyn’s birthday with a portrait made of 2,048 cupcakes.)

I don't often recognize Marilyn here at Bad Girl Blog, fabulous as she is. She really wasn't a bad girl, was she? (For a true bad girl of Marilyn's era, check out Mamie Van Doren). Marilyn Monroe may have been a promiscuous pill-popper, and a difficult diva on movie sets, but there was always something of the victim about her....

....The lost girl in need of rescue. Which is why we keep trying to revive her, feeling that if we pay enough attention this time, things will turn out different.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Best. Blog. Ever.

It's been a long time since a blog has mesmerized me as much as Underground New York Public Library has. (OK, I admit, it's been awhile since I've scoured the webernets for new blogs.) Makes me proud to live in NYC. If you every worry that nobody reads anymore, just check out this blog.

The premise is simple: photos of people reading books in the New York City subway system, with captions stating the book title and author. Plus comments by readers as well as the blogger, a photographer named Ourit Ben-Haim. That's it.

Yet the variations are endless. And the blog is addictive.

I hope someday to see myself pictured there. Reading Middlemarch, perhaps. Or A Visit From the Goon Squad. Here's someone reading The Iliad:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Obama or Romney: Who's Your Sugar Daddy?

So what do you think? Which U.S. presidential candidate has more promise as a sugar daddy? Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? If you picked Obama, congratulations! Your vote is in line with the overwhelming 3-to-1 majority in a poll taken by, which bills itself as the world’s largest sugar daddy dating website, with 1.5 million members.
Ladies, ignore the wedding ring. This man is sugar daddy material!
The site posed the Obama vs. Romney question to more than 30,000 of its female Sugar Baby members this past week, and found that Obama beat Romney in all key swing states and even some Republican strongholds, capturing the hearts of Democrat, independent and even Republican female voters.
A good-looking guy. But a sugar daddy? Not so much.
A visit to the SeekingArrangement site shows that it views a modern sugar daddy as a man who is always respectful and generous. But beware, he can also be a super-demanding paramour: "You only live once, and you want to date the best. Some call you a mentor, sponsor or benefactor. But no matter what your desires may be, you are brutally honest about who you are, what you expect and what you offer."

Oh, a mentor, so that's what they're calling it these days. Somebody ought to get back to Elliot Spitzer on this.

The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post and Vanity Fair magazine, by the way, have all reported stories about, which has a sister website called

Fact is, Romney is certainly a mega-millionaire. So you'd figure that he'd make a better sugar daddy than Obama, a simple Harvard-educated lawyer and bestselling author who managed for years on a humble state senator's salary, right?

Not so, say the SeekingArrangement poll results.
  • 34.1% said they would prefer Obama as their sugar daddy
  •  11.9% said they would prefer Romney as their sugar daddy  
  • 11.1% said they would be happy to have either Obama or Romney as their sugar daddy 
"Barack Obama was by far the preferred sugar daddy. Obama beat Romney by a knockout of 3 to 1,” says Brandon Wade, founder and CEO of SeekingArrangement, in a statement. “While many unfairly stereotype Sugar Babies as gold-diggers who would gladly accept any wealthy man as their sugar daddy, our survey shows the contrary. Sugar Babies are extremely picky about the men they date.”

Indeed, nearly half, or 43%, said they wouldn’t choose either Obama or Romney for a sugar daddy. But for those who do want a presidential-caliber rich guy in their lives, Obama was the clear winner by double-digit percentages over Romney. The ladies loved them some Obama, from New York to Ohio to Texas to California and even to Romney's home state of Massachusetts, where the vote went 32.8% toward Obama versus only 20.2% for Romney.

“According to our survey, most women say they chose Obama because he is more trustworthy, charismatic and sexy," says Wade, an MBA from MIT. "Obama is funny and is known to be a good dancer. Unfortunately, Romney is still viewed by many as the ‘vanilla’ candidate."

Here's a tip for the Romney campaign: get your candidate to take some dancing lessons.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lola Montez: Dead or Alive

Beautiful Lola
I've been a fan of Lola Montez for years. A whip-cracking vixen of the nineteenth century, she was a luxuriant weed growing unchecked in the hypercultivated garden of the Victorian era. The moralizing bourgeoisie viewed her as a terrible example of womanhood grown wild and warned their daughters against becoming transgressive rebels lest they suffer the fate of Lola Montez.
Scary Lola

“She has the evil eye and will bring bad luck to whoever links his destiny with hers,” the French novelist Alexandre Dumas Sr. wrote of La Montez.

As any avid student of history might appreciate, I feel that I have a personal relationship with Lola Montez, not just because I've read many biographies about her, but also because my path keeps crossing hers in mysterious ways.

I live in Brooklyn and am within walking distance of Green-Wood Cemetery, where she is buried under her real name:
And just last month, I visited a friend in Grass Valley, California, where Lola lived during the Gold Rush from 1853 to 1855. Her house is still standing. In fact, it has been preserved and features a couple of historic plaques that celebrate her life. The first is a state-registered landmark that describes Lola Montez as "a mistress of international intrigue and a feminist before her time":

The second plaque is a bit odd. It says that Alice Lorraine Andrews, who acquired the Lola Montez house in 1933, gave it to the Pioneer Association of Nevada County, California, "to honor her grandparents and other pioneers and to create a center for the furtherance of Christian, patriotic and cultural ideals."
The house itself is a cozy, tidy-looking affair, maintained in good order as of the spring of 2012. It sits on a lot just a few blocks away from "downtown" Grass Valley, which is now a sleepy town with some good cafes, wine-tasting bars and restaurants.
The house wasn't open the day I showed up, but I peeked inside, and the interior looked stuffy and quiet. The image I took appeared fuzzy and ghostly. Is Lola's spirit still inside?
After an early divorce, affairs with virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I, a fatal duel, a revolution in Bavaria, several ugly marriages, countless whippings and a restless dancing career on four continents, Lola Montez died of syphilis in New York at the age of forty-three, broke and friendless.

Often when I think of her, I want to save her, yet I know I can't. But at least I can pay her a visit!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Junot Diaz on Older Women

My favorite Dominican-American novelist, Junot Diaz, has published a fine and true (in the fictional sense) story in The New Yorker about a love-sex affair with an older woman.

 "Miss Lora" comes along in the 16-year-old hero Yunior's life just after he has lost his brother to cancer, and he's lonely, horny and confused. Basically, he needs an older woman in his life right about then, and along comes a middle-aged single teacher from a local high school in New Jersey. The girlfriend who calls Miss Lora "that old fucking hag" won't sleep with Yunior, but Miss Lora will, oh yes, she will.

It's all wrong for Yunior and Miss Lora to get together because he's too young and she's too old, but they do. And it's not just a one-time thing, either. They keep getting back together because their attraction is powerful.

Junot Diaz (Photo: AP)
"You are scared stupid at what you are doing, but it is also exciting and makes you feel less lonely in the world," Diaz writes. "And you are sixteen, and you have a feeling that, now the Ass Engine has started, no force on the earth will ever stop it."

OK, I have to say that I especially liked this story because I related to it personally. I was the older woman in a young man's life once. And it felt so powerful and so wrong, and we shouldn't have come together but we did because we couldn't help ourselves. And then we went and married each other, didn't we? That was nine years ago, and we're still together.

Well, "Miss Lora" doesn't end so happily, but it ends the way most affairs end between an older woman and a younger man. The big difference between my story and Diaz's is about ten years: Yunior meets Miss Lora when he's 16, and I met Dave when he was 25.

"I assumed the reader would judge the situation immediately; this is, after all, illegal conduct," Diaz tells The New Yorker in an online interview about his story. "But I had hoped to produce a piece of art that allowed the reader to experience a number of contradictory streams of feelings simultaneously. Sure, it would be swell if someone got to know Miss Lora before they judged her, or if their judgment was overturned by reading the story, but it’s also cool if a reader judges and knows the character simultaneously and neither of these experiences alters or counteracts the other. In a culture like ours, obsessed with its dichotomies, giving folks the opportunity to work out their simultaneity muscle is a worthy goal"

Friday, April 27, 2012

Brooklyn's Muslim Bad Girls, M.I.A. Style

Muslim sisters are doing it for themselves in Brooklyn! I was walking to the subway earlier this week, and spotted a car driving verrrry slooooowly around a traffic circle on a quiet street, with the hazard lights blinking.

Hmm...I in distress? Mechanical difficulties? There was no "Student Driver" sign posted on top of the car, so what was going on? An impatient driver in a car behind the slow one nosed up to the bumper until it could sneak past and hurry along its way.

I kept walking closer until I could peek inside the vehicle, and I was rewarded with a delightful little scene: two ladies in head scarves, the younger one behind the wheel and peering over it cautiously, the older one in the passenger seat acting as instructor and lookout.

Yay! Had to have been a Muslim mom teaching her daughter to drive. I love Brooklyn!

Seeing these independent ladies in head scarves, driving along with no men to accompany them, made me think of that new M.I.A. video "Bad Girls." You know the one I'm talking about? "It's a great big middle finger to Saudi Arabia's inhumane laws about women," writes Lucy Jones in her blog for The Telegraph. "It's the only country in the world where women are banned from driving. Muslim academics warned in December that allowing women to drive would 'provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.' Please."

Sunday, April 01, 2012

UNTERZAKHN--Leela Corman's new graphic novel

Check out my friend Leela Corman's new graphic novel, UNTERZAKHN, about to be released from Schocken Books. Leela is one of my personal bad-girl superheros--she's smart, talented, a student of history and used to be my belly dance teacher and may one day be again if she ever moves back to NYC from Gainesville, Fla.
Leela's graphic novel tells a story of immigrant life on the Lower East Side at the turn of the last century, as seen through the eyes of twin sisters whose lives take radically different paths. (In case you didn't know, "unterzakhn" is Yiddish for "underthings.")

This spring, Leela's traveling all over America to promote her story of "bad girls making good, pogroms, and vaudevilian types." She'll be doing book events all over NYC as well as in Gainesville, Boston, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Toronto. You can find her at or Twitter: @LeelaOfNewYork.

Plus! Leela will also be dancing in some unrelated events, in New York City and in Toronto.
Here are the NYC listings for the UNTERZAKHN launch:

Tuesday, April 3, Brooklyn:
7 p.m., WORD bookstore book launch party, 126 Franklin St.
Thursday, April 6, Manhattan:
6:30 pm, Tenement Talks event at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, co-sponsored by the Center for Cultural Judaism. 103 Orchard Street (at Delancey). RSVP requested ( Event is free, but requires purchase of book.
Saturday, April 28-Sunday, April 29, Manhattan
MoCCA Fest 2012.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

You're invited: Cher-tacular art opening & costume party, April 7

Please come!  Nancy Drew, "66 Chers (Dear Cher)"
Art Opening, Cher-tacular & Costume Party, April 7, Brooklyn
see her Dear Cher Series at:

WHEN:  Saturday, April 7th, 6 to 10 pm
                  Show runs April 7th thru May 6th

WHERE:  The Backroom at Freddy's Bar
                     627 Fifth Avenue (between 17th & 18th Streets)
                     South Slope, Brooklyn

Freddy’s Bar announces its newest art exhibition, a show of recent work by Brooklyn artist Nancy Drew.
Nancy Drew's mixed-media portrait paintings of Cher explore the realm of celebrity, beauty and aging in the 21st Century's hyper-pop landscape. Employed as much as a stand-in for 'everywoman' as for her off-center iconic status, images of Cher from the 70's are printed onto contemporary magazine pages, mounted to canvas and amplified with collage, glitter, beading and various forms of adornment and deconstruction.

Also premiering in this exhibit, a very special Cher video mash-up by legendary video artist Donald O'Finn.

Don't miss Nancy Drew's Opening Night Cher-tacular Events:

6 - 8 pm:  Art Opening 
66 Chers, mixed-media paintings by artist Nancy Drew
With:  a very special Cher video mash-up by legendary video artist Donald O'Finn. 

6 - 10 pm:  Cher Costume Party
Come as Cher or Sonny, one of her fabulous ex-boyfriends or anyone else from those groovy days...
Be one of the first 25 guests to arrive in costume and receive a signed, "Dear Cher" monoprint by Nancy Drew. Special Prizes for Best Costumes include a Nancy Drew 'Cher' painting and Freddy's bar tab.
...Rumor has it that some of Cher's ex's, Greg Allman, Les Dudek and Brooklyn's very own Rob Camiletti
might make an appearance! 

8 - 9 pm:  Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour 
Hosted by premiere comic, VH1's Pat O'Shea. 
Special guest appearances by impersonators Tom Jones, Burt Reynolds and more!

9 - 10:30 pm:  Cher-aokee
Hosted by Tokyo Rosenberg & H-Bomb. 
Cher & Sonny wigs will be available for your performances! Special prize for best performance!
Freddy's Bar & Backroom
hours: Sun - Sat 12pm - 4am
subways: F train to 4th Avenue/9th Street
               R train to Prospect Avenue

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival Needs You to Step Up

The Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival needs your help!

This group of women artists comes to New York on July 13 to 15, in their eighth annual dance festival, but first they're raising money on Kickstarter to fund their education and performance efforts that put the focus on women and positive roles in hip-hop culture.

Right on, ladies.

The Ladies of Hip-Hop project will only be funded if at least $5,000 is pledged by Sunday, April 8, 2:20pm EDT. As of today, Kickstarter reports the project has 88 backers who have raised $3,187 so far.

"Nothing against our male artists but it is necessary to give focus and thanks to our girls and women in the culture," say the Ladies on their Kickstarter comments page.

Check 'em out and give 'em some love.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Louise Brooks: Lulu on the Run With a Gun

New York's Film Forum recently screened a rarely seen 1928 film starring Louise Brooks dressed as a boy and on the run after murdering the stepfather who molested her.

Called Beggars of Life, the film when it first came out was described as "sordid, grim and unpleasant" by Picture Play magazine. But Louise Brooks looks ravishing as always, sporting a cap set at a rakish angle rather than her trademark helmet of black hair. The face peeking out from beneath the cap could never in real life be mistaken for a boy's. It's Lulu, a year before Pabst released his German silent Pandora's Box, only here she's hopping trains instead of ruining men and being ruined in return.

Here's the thing: Louise Brooks had good reason to understand the motivation of a girl who would kill the man who molested her. When she was just nine years old, Louise was sexually abused by a local pervert in her hometown of Cherryvale, Kansas. From then on, she was cold to sexual love and felt nothing for the many men who fell in love with her in Hollywood, Europe and beyond.

"For me, nice, soft, easy men were never enough," she said. "There had to be an element of domination."

She lived for herself only, polishing her reputation as a great silent film star, but burning bridges behind her wherever she went, first with the Denishawn modern dance company in 1922, then Paramount Pictures, then a failed career as a courtesan to wealthy men.

After watching her, eternally silent, in Pandora's Box, it can come as a surprise that Louise Brooks later spoke plenty in interviews, documentaries and the collection of essays she wrote, Lulu in Hollywood, before dying broke and alone in her Rochester, N.Y., apartment at the age of 79 in 1985.
"She was the most seductive, sexual image of woman ever committed to celluloid," says filmmaker Richard Leacock in Lulu in Berlin, a documentary that includes a lengthy interview with Louise Brooks. "She was the really unrepentant hedonist, the only pure pleasure-seeker I think I've ever known."

And what did Lulu think? "I never was an actress," Brooks told Leacock just a year before her death in this documentary where she appears as a graying, elegantly spoken lady in a housecoat, her face still strikingly pure and expressive. "I never was in love with myself....You can't be a great actress unless you think you're beautiful....When I acted I hadn't the slightest idea of what I was doing. I was simply playing myself, which is the hardest thing in the world to do."

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Diana Vreeland and Fashion Week for the Underemployed

My blogger friend Underemployed Is the New Organic recently wrote about New York Fashion Week, saying that if you're not fashion's servant, then you're its victim.

Every spring and fall at Fashion Week, we're presented with future trends, and you can either be fashion's servant by updating now or you can be its victim by ignoring it completely. (More fool you.)

"It pays, literally, to stay on top of fashion," writes my friend, whose blog is a treasure trove of thoughts and advice for the nouveau pauvre of the Great Recession.

What makes people fashion victims?  They can't or won't acknowledge that what they look like has any bearing on their quality of life, my friend writes. "The underemployed don't have this luxury. Well, they do, but it almost guarantees that they will remain underemployed. Simply put:  Society is kinder to people who look nice and who give the impression that they are aware of what century they live in.  And when I say 'kinder' I mean that society is more likely to give them a job."
Oh, dear. So sad yet true. As a writer for pay, I've spent much of my working life underemployed. In New York City. Not a good combination.

Here are some of my tricks to keep up with fashion on a budget:
  • Adopt an 'as if' attitude, meaning that you do your best to dress as if you're keeping up with fashion.
  • Page through fashion magazines for free that you find in your doctor's office or that people leave behind on the subway or at your friends' apartment when they're busy doing something else.
  • Go for looking womanly, and by that I mean cleavage and skirts and dresses that fit well.
  • Wear black tights eight months of the year and get your legs waxed below the knee for four (full leg is better, of course, but more expensive).
  • Buy clothes off the rack at cheap places like H&M or Century 21 or De Janeiro or Banana Republic on sale or god forgive me Strawberry. Make sure they're made of natural fabrics, cut stylishly, yet not in styles that are too much of the moment, which look so last Tuesday even before the week is out.
  • And finally, remember what Diana Vreeland famously said: "A new dress doesn't get you anywhere; it's the life you're living in the dress, and the sort of life you had lived before, and what you will do in it later."
Diana Vreeland. Now there's a bad girl after my heart. According to her granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who wrote a biography about the flamboyant Vogue magazine editor, “The legacy Mrs. Vreeland left behind is extremely strong and deep, and goes beyond being a mere fashion revolutionary: she really helped change social history and emancipated women. Her life, which spanned 1903 until 1989, is by all means a vivid portrait of the 20th century.”

Aside from looking at pictures of Mrs. Vreeland, a classic belle laide with an extraordinarily powerful sense of style, my favorite thing about her is all the thoughts and pronouncements that tumbled so easily out of her ceaselessly active brain:
  • "I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity."
  • "Pink is the navy blue of India."
  •  "Elegance is innate.  It has nothing to do with being well dressed.  Elegance is refusal."
  • "Blue jeans are the most beautiful things since the gondola."
  • "Balenciaga did the most delicious clothes. Clothes aren't delicious anymore."
  • "Fashion must be the intoxicating release from the banality of the world."
Mrs. Vreeland was a madcap known for embellishing the truth. As she wrote in her autobiography D.V.: "Did I tell you about the zebras lining the driveway at San Simeon? You believed that, didn't you? Did I tell you that Lindbergh flew over Brewster? It could have been someone else, but who cares--Fake it! . . . There's only one thing in life, and that's the continual renewal of inspiration."

We need more women in this world like Diana Vreeland, don't you think?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nicki Minaj Nicki Minaj Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj Nicki Minaj Nicki Minaj--keep saying her name and it loses all sense sense sense-uh sssssenssse....

Nicki Minaj is all kinds of awesome that I can't even understand so I just keep watching and listening. That is all. 

Except this: 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Mamie Van Doren - Happy 81st Birthday to the Bullet Bra's Inventor!

Ever wonder what Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield would be like if they were still alive today? Well, take a look at Mamie Van Doren, who celebrates her 81st birthday on Feb. 6.

Mamie Then
Mamie Now (Photo: Orange County Register)
Mamie was known as a Marilyn imitator in the 1950s, only her specialty was bad girl movies (see clip below) and early rock & roll rebelliousness. In fact, she was the first woman ever to sing a rock song in the movies, in the 1957 cult classic Untamed Youth.

She also was known as the inventor of the bullet bra (see above left to check out the bra's effect under a tight sweater).  The bra was Mamie's sweet revenge on film censors who tried to tone down her God-given sexuality.

"Everything was censorship. I mean, it was devastating," she recalls in a BBC documentary. "When I had a scene with a negligee or anything that showed any type of cleavage, they were always standing there watching. It was unbelievable. They'd have to go to wardrobe to get a little handkerchief to cover any kind of cleavage. So what I did was start wearing a bullet bra. I created the bullet bra, and the bullet bra was made so they were like pyramids. They were pointed. And to piss them off, I would make them even larger."

Today, Mamie Van Doren is a practicing Buddhist who still rides a motorcyle and speaks openly about her cosmetic surgeries, five marriages, abortion, sex life with Elvis Presley and Rock Hudson (yes, the gay actor), and the thrill of making love while tripping on LSD.

Happy Birthday, Miss Van Doren. Glad you're still with us.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vocal Fry & Britney Spears: This Isn't What I Mean When I Say Bad Girls Are Good

A curious vocal pattern called vocal fry has crept into the culture and become disturbingly popular with young women, Science Magazine and the blogosphere are now reporting.

What's vocal fry? It's a language fad, formerly considered a speech disorder, that has gained popularity with young women who speak American English. Apparently, pop singers like Britney Spears have slipped these low, creaky vibrations into their music, and now it's a vocal style.

I've heard it--long before I ever knew what it was--and always hated the sound of it. Makes an intelligent woman sound stupid and shallow.

"Vocal fry, or glottalization, is a low, staccato vibration during speech, produced by a slow fluttering of the vocal cords (listen here)," reports Science. "Since the 1960s, vocal fry has been recognized as the lowest of the three vocal registers, which also include falsetto and modal—the usual speaking register. Speakers creak differently according to their gender, although whether it is more common in males or females varies among languages. In American English, anecdotal reports suggest that the behavior is much more common in women."

In British English, the pattern is the opposite, apparently. Huh. Culture is strange. At any rate, scientists at Long Island University investigated the prevalence of vocal fry in college-age women, recording sentences read by 34 female speakers, and listened for two qualities, called jitter and shimmer. The study found that two-thirds had fried their voices.

Oops, Britney, I think you did it again.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How Not to Give a Reading: Thoughts After My Bar 82 Reading

OK, so I did my Bar 82 reading. Thanks to my friends who came out to hear me read! Thanks to We Three Productions, who asked me to read! (A little snippet of the story below, in case you're interested, using an incidental character from a novel I'm working on.)

Anyway, I don't give many public readings, maybe once a year, and I really thought I was ready for this one. Spent the entire day before, writing, rewriting, practicing out loud, editing, re-reading out loud, reading to my husband, reading to myself, reading to myself in the mirror, which Dave suggested and was horrible, because I felt self-conscious already, and seeing myself only made it worse, which I guess was Dave's point, that I should confront my fears and not back down, maybe even practice naked....

So I get up the next day on the Bar 82 stage to read, feeling super-prepared, but then...seeing the glaring spotlights and dim faces in the dark crowd and having to talk into a microphone and realizing that I wasn't just expected to read but would have to perform, holy mother of god it suddenly became an out-of-body experience, and as I floated above the reading, I saw down there on the stage a woman who looked a whole lot like me, but couldn't possibly be me, because she didn't have a personality, only she was very formal and serious, and just looked like a stiff stick up there on the stage, with words coming out of her mouth, and that couldn't have been me, because I do have a personality and like to have fun besides!

Photo: Phillip Giambri
Oh, I suppose I did the right things--I read clearly, didn't stumble over my words, spoke with expression, remembered to look up at my audience every now and then, But that woman up there on that stage clearly wasn't having any fun, was she?

So my advice, if you're planning on giving a reading, is to get super-drunk and watch a bunch of Three Stooges movies ahead of time, and not do any preparation at all, and make the guy who reads before you do a really lousy job of it. In his underpants.

The problem, I later realized, was that I read not just one but two linear stories with a beginning, a middle and an end in the space of just 12 minutes, with lots of multi-syllable words, when what I should have done was stay on the stage for five minutes and just tell Tommy Cooper jokes. Example: A woman tells her doctor, 'I've got a bad back.' The doctor says, 'It's old age.' The woman says, 'I want a second opinion.' The doctor says: 'Okay - you're ugly as well.'

Tommy Cooper was such a brilliant performer that he died of a heart attack while on stage doing a funny bit, and kept the audience laughing the whole time.

And now, for a snippet from my reading, from a story called "The Marquis de Morès:"

Antoine de Vallambrosa, the Marquis de Morès, dragged his wife off to the northern Dakota territory in 1883, just after she had given birth to their first child.

A retired French cavalryman with a taste for adventure, he dreamed of starting up a meat-packing plant. By going straight to the source of cattle production, where the Northern Pacific Railroad came through, he could cut out the middlemen who ran the Chicago stockyards and process his meat right there on the Great Plains.

New York banker Louis von Hoffman, who financed the plan, spared no expense because the Marquis de Morès was his son-in-law.

So although he was a successful businessman with a sharp eye for a bad deal, Von Hoffman decided anyway to spend vast sums on the purchase of 26,000 acres and the construction of a meat-packing plant in the middle of nowhere. The banker also shelled out money to build a 26-room château so his daughter and grandchild could live a life of comfort in the godforsaken Badlands.

“You won’t regret this!” Antoine bellowed to his father-in-law on the day they signed their deal. “My plan will completely change the meat-packing industry! I am inventing the way forward into the 20th century!”

“We’ll see,” said the banker.

See? The words aren't so bad. It's my delivery that sucked.

For more advice on giving a reading, check out:

Nine Ways to Give a Better Book Reading
(Your audience can read your book themselves. Little is more monotonous than hearing someone else reading words aloud. Great authors elevate the text by using a compelling vocal delivery to emphasize key phrases, increasing the tempo to build suspense, and modulating their volume to match the content. )

How to Give a Good Reading Despite Your Myriad Neuroses
(Some people lack the confidence to give a reading because they lack confidence in themselves as a writer.  They are plagued by feelings of being an impostor.  These folks think, “How can I be sure I’m even a real writer?  What make me think I have the right to get up and read?”)

How to Give a Reading on Mushrooms
(Arrive early and talk to Rita and her friends, unsure if they’re all also on mushrooms (as they’d previously agreed) because Rita giggles nonsequiturly even when sober, until an unsmiling woman in her 40s—the event organizer—approaches saying something about “housekeeping.” Follow her into the backroom and learn it’s important you speak clearly tonight, “into the microphone,” as the reading and Q&A are going to be “livestreamed” onto the internet.)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Bar 82 NYC Reading Jan. 9--come hear me read!

 My first reading in NYC! Please come (I'm the second reader):

We Three Productions Present Biweekly Readings of
Poetry and Prose at
Bar 82
136 2nd Avenue @ St. Marks
Subway: 6 Train to Astor Place, F Train to 2nd Ave., L Train to 3rd Ave.

Monday, January 9th at 8 P.M.

Brendan Costello
Brendan Costello teaches Creative Writing at the City College of New York, where he earned his MFA and also won the Irwin and Alice Stark Short Story Award. His work has appeared in epiphany magazine,, and He is also one of the organizers of the City College MFA reading series here at Bar 82 -- their next event will be February 17th.

Joyce Hanson
Joyce Hanson is a Brooklyn writer who's going to read a couple of stories about the wilds of North and South Dakota. One story was written by her dad about his Dust Bowl Great Depression childhood days. The other story comes from Joyce's novel in progress, which uses her research about rebelliouswomen in history. Normally, to pay the bills, Joyce is a journalist and a
web editor. You can read more of her stories at her blog, Bad Girl Blog

Matt Grasso
Matt is the host of Fahrenheit, a monthly open mic series located in the East Village. He completed a fellowship at The MacDowell Colony in 2011 and is currently wrapping up his first collection of short stories. His nine-to-five credentials comprise work in the fields of Industrial and Exhibit Design.

 “Producing Biweekly Readings since 1995”