Our story begins in San Francisco, as all good stories do, across the street from the Condor Club on the corner of Broadway & Columbus, at a little Filipino restaurant and cabaret called Mabuhay Gardens. Dirk Dirksen, distant relative of Senator Everett Dirksen, had begun to use the venue to showcase the latest trend in “music,” designated by the unlikely sobriquet: Punk Rock. In light of the changing musical fare, Dirk had christened the venue The Fab Mab, or as most people called it: The Mab. But I liked to think of it as Queen Mab, as anyone familiar with Shakespeare, particularly the speech by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet no doubt would. Those familiar with the late night Polk Street antics of the late Senator’s late nephew might also think of it as Queen Mab.
I was in the lobby of said venue when who should happen to stroll in but Pamela, who was a dancer, though some would call her a stripper. She thought of herself as a drummer, but I think she was actually more of a painter. She was looking for Johnny Genocide. He played in a band called No Alternative. Johnny wasn’t around but I parlayed that initial inquiry into an invitation to come see her perform, or to hook up when she got off work and have “coffee.” I took her up on her most generous offer and picked her up later at The Roaring ’20s. It was right next to The Condor. The barker tried to make me pay but I insisted I had a legitimate appointment. I gave her a ride home, which wasn’t far, since she had an apartment in North Beach due to her knowing the owners who lived in Italy. She was from Rome, and thus her stage name whilst dancing was Pamela Rome. It took much less time to drive to Pamela’s flat than it did to find parking. I walked her upstairs. She invited me in–ostensibly for coffee.
The coffee turned out to be a mere pre-text, as anyone familiar with the program Seinfeld would attest. Coffee? After 11 PM? As George Costanza realized after foolishly declining a late night invitation for “coffee” because it kept him up–much to his chagrin–coffee isn’t coffee after 11 PM! It is a pretext and hopefully as it was in my case, a pre-sex pretext. So that is the context and the subtext.
Over the next few nights turned into days turned into weeks turned into months I got to know Miss Pamela from Roma. Though my romantic image of her grew somewhat tanished, she also realized that I was not the talented rock star she had envisioned. Plus, I was ungainly ungainfully unemployed. But before I am held accountable for MY shortcomings, let me enumerate HERS:
Her drumming was ludicrous at best. Her idea was to have a savage jungle sound like Iggy and the Stooges, Nick Cave’s Birthday Party, the Cramps, or Howlin’ Wolf. Her choice of bass player was predicated on the fact that he was a dead ringer for Sid Vicious. This might have worked for the Sex Pistols, but they actually had Glen Matlock on bass, and though they fired him for being too technically proficient and clean cut looking, that was AFTER he had laid down the tracks in the studio. So, live, Sid fit the image they wanted, where they were just trying to provoke a negative reaction. The more negative the better. For us though, trying to get a groove going–savage jungle or otherwise–they just didn’t cut it. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare they were not. She had a great band name though. I will hand her that: The Snatch Factory. It’s what they called The Roaring ’20s, where she plyed her trade.
Her esthetic was free-form music where you actually strive to sound like a rank amateur. You are penalized for knowing how to play your instrument. Her friends had a band in this genre with a lead guitarist called Child. He was very young. 11-tops. He was an actual child. He sounded pretty unrehearsed, and he did play with a certain panache, but how long can you play night after night without getting so bored that you pick up a few licks or riffs? Ask Keith Richards. He’d know.
She also claimed to be a painter, and herein lay her true talent, but she was blocked. She had one really great painting that hung by her bed, a sort of self-portrat in triplicate–three nudes with various moods, in shades of mauve, fuchsia, and chartreuse. It was a kind of Post-Expressionist, Neo-Impressionist style. Mattise meets Egon Schiele. the painting was also a red flag that she had extreme mood swings. All of the women were her, obviously. I should have diagnosed her bi-polar disorder and gotten out of there with my stethoscope intact, but you can’t jump out of a moving roller coaster.
This was her one great masterpiece but she had sold it to an intellectual drug dealer who had made a substantial down payment and was allowed visitation. He could come over and admire its magnificence periodically. Her current work was cartoonish, and not in a good way, like Roy Lichtenstein, but like that awful cartoon Cathy by that woman who couldn’t draw. ACKKK!! No wonder she could never finish them.
I am not sure but I think she was unduly influenced by Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, the so-called Artist of self-promotion. In 1971 he invented autostoricizzazione (self-historicization), upon which he acted to create a deliberate popular history surrounding his existence. In other words, he promoted himself shamelessly. She had hosted Cavellini when he visited San Francisco. He had rented a double decker bus for his entourage and they drove it all over California, from Los Angeles to San Diego, to Ukiah. Lot’s of Cavellini fans in Ukiah. Everywhere they went they plastered with Cavellini stickers. Ukiah was covered completely. They were red, white, and green–the colors of the Italian flag. I’d seen them around. I used to think they were for salami. They had “Guglielmo Achille Cavellini” written on them, and 1914-2014. This was in the ’80s and 2014 was a long way off. The dates were Cavellini’s birth date and the date of his centenary, or if he lived to be 100, his death. He fell short of that milestone, and 2014 came and went without a peep. Cavellini who? His whole concept was a lot like Andy Warhol:
“In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”
Andy even painted a portrait of Cavellini. But to me it seemed that all of Cavellini’s artistic energy went into perpetrating a hoax that he was this great Artist with a capital “A,” instead of doing the actual work of creating Art. Contrast that with Leonardo Da Vinci. He was a phenomenal person in so many ways and his Art is remembered to this day, hundreds and hundreds of years later.
She also told me about Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was a brilliant poet, philosopher, and film maker. If she had found a way to emulate him instead of Cavellini, and his short cut, corner cutting, short circuit approach, we might have had something. She told me of how Pasolini had been killed by the Facists, for his left wing philosophy, though he had issues with the left, the Christian Democrats, and the Right Wing Fascists. I found it strange that after Mussolini, there would be an actual Fascist party, let alone a Communist party, but that’s how it was in Italy. Throw in the Mafia, and the Vatican, and this was way before Silvio Berlusconi took the country down the rabbit hole. Anyway, Pasolini was murdered and a young hustler confessed, but he later recanted, saying he was forced to do it by the Fascists. They threatened to kill his family. In spite of the fact that Pasolini’s murder was not a one-man job the authorities declined to reopen the investigation. Pasolini was gay, by the way. NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT! But the powers that be were always trying to censor his films and writing. His last film was justly called the most controversial film of all time.
She also told me about some Italian fashion designer. It wasn’t Versace, but he designed boots and belts with a sadomasochistic flair. Ferragamo or Fendi? Can’t remember now, but at the time the logo was everywhere, heavily advertised.
Felini, Da Vinci, Pasolini, Dante, and the whole grand epic of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Romulus and Remus, render unto Caesar, Caligula, Augustus, Nero, Constantine, Julian, and Tiberius. She opened my eyes to the grand epic of Italian culture. This is what I admired about her, but on the down side was her bi-polarity and the fact that her liver was shot. She could get black-out drunk on just a few beers. She’d get into fights. Who can forget the notorious Cream Cheese Incident when my band played a gig at Barrington Hall in Berkeley? I don’t even want to remember it. I won’t speak of it. I just want to fuggedaboutit.
One time she was so blue–like Holly Golightly, she had the (even worse than Blues) Mean Old Reds. She wanted to be taken to the beach one night, to banish those awful mean old Reds. I drove her there, and of course it was just damp, foggy, and cold. What did she expect in San Francisco? The coldest winter Mark Twain ever spent was one summer in San Francisco! That wasn’t like something terrible, but it was just that it made me realize that there was nothing I could do about her severe depression. That was when I knew.
OK. So I am unemployed. She already sold her one good painting. Neither of us was in any position to make it as a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.
So what do you think happened next?
Tune in tomorrow. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel.
Christopher R. Craddock © 2017