Welcome to the work of Jude Alderson. Actor/acting coach/writer/director. An award winning writer and director with 35 yrs poffessional experience working in theatre and film, she is an incisive and brilliant coach,who has worked with many of the greats such as Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep, Karel Reisz , Alan Cox amongst others .
Her early days saw her working for three years with Stepen Berkoff – out of which came the Sadista Sisters, a radical theatrical rock band which toured internationally.
Here we present an extract of four chapters from her fiery Novel ‘Hello I love you’ ( The title of a Doors song). Set in the late sixties and seventies and beginning in Houslow, England and swiftly moving to LA. It re- tells the tale of one young woman’s journey towards emancipation in those heady and magnificent times – and she takes you along, on the road, for a fiery tempetuous ride!
HELLO, I LOVE YOU, WON’T YOU TELL ME YOUR NAME?
It was a time in my life when I didn’t think. When I didn’t plan and neither did anyone else I knew. When life was the next high, the next gig, when the only thing that wasn’t acceptable was to be straight. It didn’t feel like arrogance or ignorance, but intoxication with the times and the time in ours lives with its new found freedom. We had a disdain for rules. And a contempt for structure and authority, and a strong belief and connection with the story put about by a dealer called Sparkie; that long-hairs were direct descendants from Native Americans. And that we were there as some kind of insurance – a protection if you like – to make sure the suits and the straights didn’t get too greedy a grip on the cake.
My Angel was the nearest thing I knew to a Native American, apart from one guy I met hitching and gave a blowjob to in the back seat of his jeep on the promise of a free airplane trip to Guatemala. And my Angel had the aura of a goddess, even though she was foul-mouthed and hard-nosed to almost everyone. Except me.
It began when Melanie and I took the Greyhound from New York. Our seven suitcases were crammed with Portobello’s most beautiful ballgowns. Anyone who was anyone wore ballgowns in those days. To hear Jimi play or Janis sing, the longer the more flowing, the older the more original the better. A ballgown with a story was good. ‘My Dad dated Elizabeth Taylor when she was starting out. Then she gave him her dress’, that sort of thing. Although of course we all knew Elizabeth Taylor was famous when she was still at school.
The bus drew into Frisco. It was night. From North Beach, Melanie and I wandered into China Town and booked into an anonymous hotel with big square rooms. The lugubrious clerk on the desk didn’t seem to care who we were as long as we paid the rent. Then, just as we reached a point of something that resembled stability, Melanie took to her bed. The energy zapped out of her. She slept for three days. In mourning for another way of life, dreaming of that flash white Studebaker and a boyfriend to match that didn’t seem to be coming her way.
Two years earlier Mum had left home. She did what she always did. Stamped and sobbed. That wasn’t unusual. But this time somehow, it was different. Mum used to pull down her pre-packed suitcase from the hall cupboard, and run down the street to the hotel, where she’d book in for a couple of nights. Dad went out like a hunter looking for a wolf. Eventually he’d find her. They came home next day wreathed in smiles. I think it did wonders for their sex life.
This time Mum wasn’t testing; this was no fake run away. No tantrum that began with a ‘no’ and ends with a ‘maybe’. This time there was this other guy waiting outside in his car. Just sitting there in a car coat like it was the most natural thing in the world to run off with another man’s wife.
There I was watching the whole movie unravel before me. Rabbit in the headlights. Life in slow motion. Or was it life in fast motion? Mum had already opened the front door. Then Dad reached out and with a strange sad small gesture said,
“Please Connie, don’t go.”
But she didn’t reply. Didn’t say a word. Just looked at him, picked up her suitcase and left.
As my Mum moved out my best friend Melanie moved in.
Dad wasn’t too bothered. He was drinking anyway. So in the absence of Mum, the strict household became Liberty Hall.
At first Melanie and I formed a band in the neglected and chaotic remains of the family livingroom. We invited Tim and Steve and their electric guitars to join. Tim had a much envied leather jacket. Steve wore bells. They strummed their guitars and wrote magical songs while we banged tambourines in home-made mini dresses and oohed and aahed the chorus. But we soon tired of their stupid tinsel box lyrics. They just wanted to write about love and romance and trippy sky blue days.
So impatient with their mean horizons, we carried their hefty guitars up West, sold them in Denmark Street and with the cash, bought a couple of one-way tickets to New York.
We were going to be rock-stars, catwalk models and take on Andy Warhol. We were still children.
Promises were our food and drink, and we’d promised each other the earth and the stars. Now in this ghostly hotel room in Frisco on the wrong side of town, our dreams were tottering, our ambitions unrealised and we were down to our last ten dollars. While Melanie slept I went out to get a job.
Maybe Andy Warhol was in town, who knows?
Twenty paces down the road Brownie was there.
I hung around doorways with Brownie.
Brownie was black and wore a florescent jumper and a diamond brooch.
He hung out all day and all night. He was kind and sexy and laid back. Although there wasn’t any penetrative sex. Just kissing and stroking and groping that went on for hours in the doorways of North Beach. It didn’t occur to us to eat or get a hotel. He just liked to hang out all day and night, and if he did, so did I. Those hours in doorways were dreamlike and calm. We did nothing except stroke and play like two silky cats, a pair of seals curled around each other.
“Don’t you ever sleep Brownie?”
I used to ask, as I tore myself away from his cool long fingered hands that were wrapped around some part of my anatomy and headed back to Melanie’s haunted hallways, where she wandered silent and aghast in her pink nightie.
“No. Why sleep? I might miss out. Understand?”
I didn’t understand. And although I imitated the bubble of Zen-like contentment where he lived, I wasn’t blessed.
And I needed a job. Hanging round with Brownie wasn’t bringing in any cash. We kissed a parting. He smiled. He knew I’d be back.
“Too skinny” Jimmy said, prodding my ribs. Its true, I was skinny. But the sleek haired beauty in the corner disagreed. She was sipping on a Brandy Alexander and watching me with unblinking concentration.
“Check the eyes, Jimmy” she said accusingly.
Jimmy looked at me. “People don’t have sex with their eyes!”
He swivelled round in his chair defiantly to watch her react, but the sleek haired beauty didn’t bother to meet his gaze.
This was Angel.
And this was the first time I saw her.
Then she threw Jimmy one of those terrifying slit-eyed stares I came to know and love. She’d won. He shrugged and agreed to take me on.
From that day Angel shared her protective streak with me. At nineteen I looked five years younger. And she was pure goddess in my eyes. All woman. A sophisticated angel who could snarl like a back-street whore if anyone crossed her, with that filthy-beautiful mouth of hers. Or worse, if anyone crossed me.
When I was on stage, even Jimmy had to agree I could really move.
Being skinny didn’t matter. I painted my body with the bold brush strokes of an Impressionist painter, and me and Arthur Brown went into a mutual trance.
I had always been able to dance – or more –contort my body into weird shapes, which as a child has earned me pocket money. With a sign stuck in the sand saying ‘Princess Rubberbones’ I’d back flip my way along the tourist packed beaches of the Isle of Wight, until fat picture-postcard wives would nudge their husbands to unload their small change on me.
Now, at the Crazy Horse, my contortions still paid off, but for slightly different reasons. There was no encouraging wife at the side of these lonely hungry-eyed men. Who, with their hungry thoughts longed to enter the shimmering dream box with me.
Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’ blared out over the loudspeaker. The stage was a cube square. Like a shower room. Spangly and diffused with pink and gold light. Silver curtains hung at the back, like threads of a goddess’s crown to enhance the drama as you appeared: the dreamlike apparition, the fleeting promise.
My white skin and ice maiden blonde hair was a novelty. My costume was made of bird feathers and shells I collected on the shores of San Francisco Bay. Sewing intricate swirling patterns on a background of gold satin my skimpy but beautiful outfit appeared. Soon the freaks in North Beach were hanging out at the club, rubbing shoulders with the anonymous businessmen from Downtown. Craning for a taste and smell of me and Angel.
This confused Jimmy, because for him longhairs were synonymous with drugs and laziness. He hadn’t caught up with the times: that some of the shrewdest businessmen in North Beach were long hairs, running clubs and bars and successful shops, just like Jimmy. In fact, if he had had a brain, he would have seen that freaks were making real money. Because they knew fellow freaks liked spending cash. Getting high makes you generous and relaxed, so you could talk about freedom and revolution and living on good vibes. But good vibes was one thing, having nice things, going to expensive places; that was something else. In that way, the longhairs had more in common with the suits than they cared to admit.
Then Jimmy’s Chinese wife Lily would put in an appearance. She was Angel’s nemesis. Tiny and perfect, she looks like she had been poured into the leather coat, which was sculptured round her body. She would come un-invited into our dressing room and scrutinise us as we fixed our make-up. Then she’s run her manicured hands along the row of our costumes making it clear she didn’t like what she was seeing.
After that Jimmy would get mad. He wanted all the acts different. More bump and grind. More brass and arse. He’d change the music to schmaltz and big band.
Then Angel would go crazy. They’d row. But she always got her way. Because she would threaten to leave and that would have Jimmy running scared. Angel didn’t need gimmicks like me. She had such a fine and polished act and her beautiful Mexican hair hung like a sheet of black velvet to her calf muscles. She’s wrap her hair around her gorgeous body that glistened and shone under the lights, and with that slow rocking dance that was her trademark, she’d tease the customers until they climbed onstage with frustration.
After work Angel and I would sit in the all-night restaurant opposite drinking champagne. Apart from the Brandy Alexander’s when we worked, this was the only alcohol we drank. Beer and whisky was for the boys.
And with withering contempt Angel would relate to me the finer points of why Jimmy would never make a success of his club. Of how he needed a person with vision and taste to transform the place into a house of real eroticism.
Of how he could never, ever grasp that sex wasn’t about vulgarity and brash anymore, it was about mystery and concealment, and that she and I had proved that with our acts. Angel had a zealot’s commitment to a better class of sex show, and I listened.
Angel swept me along with her fast talking plans and slow drawl of a dance. My loyalty to Melanie dimmed as I was mesmerised by Angel’s power, by the way she persuaded and drummed people into action. She wasn’t afraid of being feared and she wasn’t afraid of making her opinions known.
We were the Queens of the Night, the remains of our glistening makeup winking on our cheekbones. Our bodies scrubbed clean of the smoke and sweat of Jimmy’s club, and Angel as elegant as hell in something she had borrowed permanently from Jimmy’s wife.
Sometimes one of the johns who thought he wasn’t a john because he liked to talk and as well as look, came over to our table. But they would get the full rejection treatment from Angel. She loathed the hypocrisy of ‘Champagne sex’ as she called it.
Then I’d go home. If you can call it that. Back to the haunted hallway of our hotel room and try to make sense of the relationship I once had.
To try and glimpse the Melanie I once knew. The firebrand who’s floored a room full of businessmen with her impromptu wisecracks; the girl who’d scaled the side of a house to settle the score with an old enemy. I tried telling her stories to make her laugh. But all I got was a vacant smile.
So my solution was to arrive back in the small hours and with a cab running outside I’d administer a cocktail of food and drugs.
Then I’d go out.
Anywhere would do.
I’d find myself in some sprawling mansion lying under the stars with some languid musician who had everything, but who told me how empty his life was – or Down town smoking opium with a group of small-time Haitian dealers. Stocky muscular excitable guys who played with knives while I played them off one against another, scared to death and high on the excitement of staying alive, seeing if I could figure out which one had a hotel room. Then waking up in the puzzling comfort of a stranger’s arms in a stranger’s room in a stranger’s city.
Then as I walked home, I’d get to thinking about Melanie.
Two years earlier we’d arrived in New York to be rockstars, fashion models, meet Andy Warhol and put him straight on a thing or two and drive back in Studebakers to infiltrate the Royal Family by marrying Prince Charles.
I worked in New York with Melanie in tow, living on Riverside Drive or D and E when the going got tough. I was a Chocky Dog demonstrator, a waitress, a cleaner, an assistant cutter, a street busker. And I stole the odd wallet when I was bored with having a job.
We didn’t get to meet Andy Warhol, not that time anyway, but that’s another story.
Meanwhile, Melanie did the minimum. Then she didn’t even do that. She didn’t seem to realise that she wasn’t pulling her weight, wasn’t contributing, and I didn’t have the insight to realise she was sick. She was a doll and I was her nurse. I didn’t see it as serious. I thought coming to ‘Frisco would change all that. But it hadn’t.
So I found more and more excuses to stay over at Angel’s. Across the bay and away from the strife, drowning in the perfume of her bed, she enclosed me. Her skin moist and hot around me, whispering in the language of her mother, in a dreamy half-sleep. And when it was light Angel and I would lie under the silky coverlet and look out across the bay from Sausalito.
The fluffy white cocaine clouds hung low in the divine blue sky. We cuddled and sighed. And her beautiful robust boy Robert climbed naked into our bed and we all fell back to sleep like some perfect family.
Could I leave Melanie for good? I wondered.
Was there some debt, like a dowry I could pay off? Buy Melanie a ticket somewhere and be free.
As if Angel read my thoughts she said, why didn’t I move in.
“We could do this for money” she murmured, “No-one touching. Just watching.”
She said it quietly. Like I could forget about it if I wanted, or if it made me uncomfortable in some way.
But I was listening. Listening hard.
She said we could set up our own little business. Rent some rooms. Get a maid and a separate telephone line. Cover the walls with dark blue velvet and hang gilded mirrors and cherubs.
It wouldn’t be like turning tricks, just like our own private show that guys could watch. She said she knew a fair number of guys in the rock business who would pay for this kind of thing as long as it was the right kind of girls. Classy. Exotic.
Angel and I were the right kind of girls. And it was more money than the club. Much more.
But for some crazy reason I was still a little in love with Brownie. I had him in some special place and sex games with strangers seemed weird. Stripping was different. It was acting. It was on stage. You didn’t know the johns personally. They were a sea of faces in the dark. You had the power.
Then as I met Angel’s enigmatic smile I had the feeling anything we did togther, we would still have the power.
As for Brownie? Well – I didn’t even see him anymore.
One night after work I went searching for Brownie. I guess I needed to check out stuff with him. There was a glow in the doorway where he’d once been. Or maybe I just couldn’t find the right doorway. Did I really imagine he would still be waiting for me?
The ferocity of Angel’s main plan made me jump. She didn’t want any distractions. She was getting out of North Beach.
Her plan was working. A thousand dollars here and there and in two years she’d buy a sports car and drive, with her three-year-old son back to Tijuana. And if I had any sense I would be saving too. But I had sickly recumbent Melanie to support and look after. I wanted to confide this to someone, but who would understand? Because I didn’t know why I did it. Our love was weird and unspoken and hostile in a way. We were linked like bookends. And I felt responsible for her in the way Angel did about her kid. She was barely eighteen. Had I dragged her here or was I led?
It didn’t matter, I wanted out.
Angel and I had stroked and petted with a casual grace to show off at parties, or more, to shove off any intruders at parties. Usually men who’d seen us dance and saw us as fascinating.
(We had the arrogance and beauty of youth and the callousness too.) But what we had never done was stroked and petted to order in a room, with a man watching us – for money.
But I was weak and knew I’d never leave Melanie any other way. In that moment, I realised it was a way to finally estrange myself from Melanie. Because any way I left her was cruel after what we had been through together. It was just a matter of time before I betrayed her. I already had. Angel didn’t judge me. Her golden arms forgave every false step. She just wanted help. Help her earn more cash and get out. Yes. Tijuana. Why not?
Our first john wasn’t a rock star at all. He was called Martin. He had a big plain face and a quiet sensible manner. He loved his wife and he adored his kids and he was even happy in his job. He had said on the phone he’s like a show.
“Just a little show”, apologising in his quaint voice, a private show that he knew Angel and I could provide. Something with a story maybe. Like a movie. A blue movie, although he didn’t really like the word ‘blue’ when it was attached to ‘movie’. So he wanted a movie-like show where something was enacted out between the two of us. Maybe a fight sequence? and then you make it up? Was that all right?
“Of course” replied Angel and doubled the price.
When the time came for our date with Martin, we couldn’t think about stories and we hadn’t thought about stories. We could barely think about anything. We were smoking dope in the kitchen just before the doorbell rang. Angel had wrenched a bottle of champagne in the most ungainly manner, and we were nervously gulping it down and laughing. Laughing hysterically, sinking to the floor, clutching each other and weeing in our pants. Choking and burping on the champagne and gulping down more, trying to get out of it before we had to look at his large bland face or his large bland body, or worse, his large bland face with some emotion on it.
The whole idea seemed nuts. We were dancers. Show-offs. I was a complete novice at sex, and Angel, for all her outward sophistication, was just a kid as well. That suddenly became seeringly obvious. The truth was, we didn’t have the training, hadn’t done the research, didn’t have the natural talent to fuck for money. We were strippers, show-offs, that was the end of it.
I came to learn that in these circumstances, I only felt sexy upside down. We bought a glass table in a thrift store and I’d be Spider Woman. Back bent over the table top, spreading my arched back, my hands and feet gripped precariously to the edge of the table.
While Angel would stand threateningly in the doorway dressed in a jallaba-like silk gown, her blue-black hair lacquered and heavy, making indecipherable swishing noises through her teeth. We were out of a Kenneth Anger film, A performance piece for johns. The thinking man’s stripper and proud of it.
Then there would be a brief flurry into Genet’s ‘The Maids’ where we reappearing with startling quickness and clarity, in matching black and white uniforms (not cheesy downtown stuff, but the real deal: turn-of-the-century antique) then some tender moments, poison and blood and – inevitably – death.
Some days later as I was on my way to order the dry ice for the mermaid fantasy we were developing, I saw Brownie in the street.
“You look good” he said eyeing me up and down. ”What are you doing?”
He grinned slowly.
“I saw your picture. Outside the Crazy Horse”.
“I left there” I replied, suppressing an urge to say more.
Strictly speaking Angel and I were on holiday.
“Jimmy” Brownie whistled through his teeth meaningfully.
He was stroking the gold and tortoiseshell necklace I was wearing. It belonged to Lily, Jimmy’s wife.
“Want it?” I said nervously.
“No” he frowned with concern. “ You on something?”.
“I need to get my ballgowns back,” I lied “ will you come with me?”
It must have been a month since I’d seen Melanie and suddenly she was preying on my conscience. As Brownie and I walked hand in hand through the backstreets of China Town, I wondered if Melanie’s whole life was on hold since I had been gone, wandering around that haunted hotel in a cobwebbed dress like Miss Haversham waiting for the husband who never came.
Why I had been such a coward in the way I left?
Even though Brownie was humming a tune in my ear to make me laugh, I kept thinking of those good times, before everything went weird between Melanie and me. How we’d lain on the beach in Greve de Leq and she had a mirror that, when we held it at a certain angle, it combined out two faces so we could work out what our children would look like. It was her beautiful mouth and my sparkly eyes that worked well together. And we decided that would be the best combination for our child.
Or another time when we robbed a storeroom. They had given Melanie the keys because shewas trustworthy. And then we sold the liquor on the beach next day. And how we took a boat to Morocco with the proceeds to get us out of that damned place. Or the time she set fire to my clothes. It was a game, a ritual and I was a willing accomplice. But was it weird that she took so long to pull off the burning clothes? But the look in her eyes made my heart race as the flames came between us. I knew she would be the famous one. She was destined for fame. Everyone else always agreed. She was inventive; she took the lead while I was still learning to read. A beautiful girl with a beautiful manner. Did it matter that she never worked.
All that was over now. However much I wanted to be there for her there was a gap where my feelings ought to be.
“Is this a problem for you?” Brownie said. He was leaning over me, smoothing the hair out of my face.
I realised I was crying.
Was anyone called ‘Don’ in the sixties? Well he was. Melanie’s husband/slave/pimp he could have been any of those, because the one thing from Melanie you never got was the truth. He answered the door and nodded a greeting to me a Brownie. He was fixing his cufflinks and had the phone ticked under his ear. Three things at once, well I knew that one.
The first thing I noticed was his hair. It was as groomed and polished as thoroughbred’s mane. His accent was indecipherable. He was on the way out.
“Don normally goes out at this time” Melanie purred as she came into the room. She was transformed head to toe in coutured lemon satin, with fluffy white sling-backs peeking out from under the dress.
Was this one of our ballgowns?
I couldn’t immediately tell.
Then I realised it wasn’t. My God! it was the real thing. One of those outfits that cost a month’s rent, with no humour attached to the price. So was she working at last, for/with this man?
“The dresses are packed” she murmured and waved vaguely indicating a series of posh shopping bags neatly arranged in the corner.
Don kissed her on the cheek.
Watching Don bend over Melanie and kiss her, was reminiscent of a time when only jazz musicians smoked grass and lurex was sophisticated. The kiss?
What did it say?
Possessions. An act for me? Impossible to tell. Then Don left.
Brownie made himself at home on the sofa.
“Nice place” he said, his arms stretching out over the back of the chair and stroking the velvet covers.
So now, would we talk? Would we try a few home truths? But I was tongue-tied and from her nothing was revealed. She was as glossy as the polished surface of an old mahogany chest. All I saw was my own reflection.
She rang room service. The three of us drank tea. Unsatisfactory American style with tea-bags dunked in warm water. She made a light joke about tea we had drunk around the world.
Then she smiled and handed me the carrier bags containing our priceless collection and smoothly walked across the room.
Brownie barely looked up. He was settling down nicely as I was shown the door. Then, as Melanie arched her beautiful full mouth into a pout, Brownie said:
“I think I’ll hang around”.
I was out on the street before I knew it.
I was aghast at what I had done. At what had happened. Had I hallucinated or something? Had I really made the mistake of introducing Brownie to Melanie? Or was Brownie waiting down the street for me? Who was Don? What was Melanie doing in that awful dress?
Or was it the rough justice I deserved for not rescuing Melanie from whatever crisis she was going through. She might be a liar but she was never a hypocrite. Brownie was the one guy who was special to me and I had given him away to my crazy bookend-kid-friend. There was an ache in my body where Brownie had been. Why it had never occurred to me to kidnap Brownie and take him to bed somewhere, so we could consummate our love, instead of playing around like a couple of kittens?
I wandered the backstreets of North Beach while I tried to figure it out. When I came face to face with my own image, three times the size. Crotch thrust at eye-level. Legs in death-defying high heels straddling a toy rocking horse.
I was outside the club.
There was something in my face that reminded me of my mother’s provocative expression. And for the first time I realised how huge it had been for her to leave, to walk out, to know she was destroying the family and face the disapproval – or maybe envy? – of friends and work colleagues. She must know the unhappiness, the chaos she caused. When I investigated a little, I remembered that all my life she had had affairs, secret, clandestine. And her greatest love had been Toby. Toby was a one-legged pianist who had fathered four sons and lived in suburbia with Susan his devoted wife.
I knew my Mother was crazy about him, because hiding behind sofas and straining outside closed doors, I caught impassioned conversations between her and my aunt about how tenderly they loved. About how the false leg and the whole business of having to strap in off and on and sometimes in a hurry, sometimes in the car! In order to make love. And what a terrible and wonderful ordeal.
This was so brave and romantic to me, that I was quite prepared to be the love-child of their union. Quite prepared to be the daughter that this daring one-legged pianist had never had.
I wandered down through the backstreets in a reverie. My head full of stories.
When I got back, Angel wasn’t into stories about Toby’s false leg and she wasn’t into my ballgown collection either.
Angel was in the middle of the street with a small crowd around her, wielding a chisel and screaming at Lily who was just getting into her car. Lily clocked me and gave me a look which skewered me like a sizzling kebab. Then she pulled away in her enormous car, tyres screeching.
I tried to get Angel to explain but she was spitting venom. Speechless with rage.
It turned out Lily had found out about our private club and she didn’t like it one bit. And as far as she was concerned there were people she knew who would sort Angel out if she didn’t make herself scarce.
But none of this was coming out very clear.
Angel dumped Robert into my arms and starting shoving armfuls of clothes into suitcases and dragging them outside.
I took Robert inside.
The living room was a kind of driven chaos. Every corner was stacked sky-high with the essentials in Angel’s life: her clothes collection.
We were leaving for Tijuana, she said.
That is to say, she was leaving and I could do what the fuck I liked.
Then, by way of an apology she threw me a winsome smile and reminded me that I had promised to teach Robert to speak properly. I sometimes think my main role in life as far as Angel was concerned was to ensure that Robert secured a place in Harvard and possibly Eton first, then went on to have a fabulous career in Wall Street.
I never had the heart to destroy her beautiful fantasies of Robert’s future respectability; by telling her my accent was lower middle class Hounslow.
Angel threw me a meaningful grimace, then carried on furiously filling up the trunk, throwing armfuls of clothes in the back while I held Robert in my arms.
Angel was moving on at such a rapid speed I couldn’t think. She was always like this when she was angry. She looked so beautiful and wild, the fierceness and strength of her fury!
I countered that she could stay and outwit Lily, that it was an idle threat, that Lily would make out lives a misery for a few weeks, then get bored and move on to her next victim.
I knew with Angel it was a question of honour. Like some seasoned gangster she could only stay if she was prepared for blood. And that wasn’t Angel’s style. Not with Robert in her life anyhow.
I knew I could jump in the car with her and go. There was nothing holding me here. Especially since the Brownie/Melanie debacle. Especially now my lucrative love nest with Angel had been disrupted by that whirlwind of spite that was Lily. I knew Angel would always take care of me, look out for me, and that I would do the same for her.
But something was holding me back. I was buckling at the knees at the thought of being separated from Angel. I wanted to yell at her to stay.
She was standing there now, a few yards away. Her expression had changed.
“You coming” she murmured softly. This was the Angel I would walk across hot coals for. Then: “I want you to come”.
She waited for my answer, she and her beautiful boy who had his arms round my neck.
Why not? What was there here for me? But I knew it was a sign, a way of finding my own independence. Was it possible that a little of Angel’s power had rubbed off on me? Was Angel deserting me, or was she thrusting me into adulthood?
I looked Angel squarely in the face and slowly shook my head, then I kissed Robert’s face and breathed in the delicious smell of his skin.
Then I handed him back to my mother.
I took a cab into town. Over the bridge that sways, its massive structure so refined and elegant against the deepening sky. In North Beach people were just going out for the evening. There was an atmosphere of expectation. A group of freaks hung out. Two guys broke into a half-unconscious riff across the street. A couple were holding hands and laughing. The evening light was fresh and rich in the Golden City. I was here to stay. For a while anyways.
Film Stars do it Best
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t have a place to crash since Angel left for Tijuana. And Melanie was engaged to Don. Apparently.
And Connie was engaged to Otto. Apparently.
And I was damned tootin’ if I was going to get engaged to anyone.
So as it turned out I didn’t hang around in Frisco after all. It would be twenty years before I saw that beautiful city again and then I understood things differently. Very differently.
I hooked up with Brownie and I bought an old Chevy with my savings from the club. We clicked into our old routine like a pair of mis-matched china cups. He ambled towards me with that slow grin. Hands in pockets looking like I’d just been gone five minutes, when it was, in fact five months.
I was tinkering with my Chevy, grease on my hands and he was leaning on the wall chewing a match and eyeing me. In my head I was on the move.
Brownie was nervous about leaving town, but curious too.
And far too cool to turn down the offer of a free trip to anywhere.
He had Angel’s address in a tenement block in Tijuana. Or alternatively we had the rest of Mexico.
Brownie produced a tasty looking joint and we drove for miles in a kind of contented silence, smoking and taking in the landscape. Vast spaces, changing light.
As we purred along Brownie purred too.
“Melanie is a lunatic. She’s a mother in reverse. A bad mother. Angel is a mother substitute as well, but that’s a good thing.”
“Well, Mr Freud!”
“Yeah, take the piss. I was intelligent once upon a time.”
Mostly Brownie was the silent type, but when he talked it was gold .
I loved Brownie and now he was coming out with this observation about me, which he did from time to time, but would I ever know him? I’d tried to prize open the lid on his past, but no dice. I guessed he was from poor. But who knows? He was surprisingly well read. You could go anywhere with him and he had the grace and manners to match. But only when he wanted to. So maybe he was a Prince or something? Maybe he walked out on the family inheritance and was hanging out instead.
As we rolled along the highway in the golden light and I wondered vaguely why he hadn’t made love to me when he’d had the chance.
But he had wanted to make love to Melanie.
And now he was slagging her.
Was that a ploy to flatter me?
Or did she turn him down?
Why would any female in their right mind turn him down?
But then, Melanie wasn’t in her right mind.
Who cares? I thought, as I took a long toke of the joint and admired his comedy beautiful profile. He was with me now.
Then I remembered.
Melanie was skinnier than me and sharper and wittier too.
So that would account for it.
Or maybe I wasn’t attractive enough.
Since half of North Beach wanted to get in my knickers, why not Brownie?
Yes, Brownie was gay. How cool not to even mention it.
Driving into Los Angeles on the freeway two guys were hitching. They were freaks. One had a knife slung like an ornament in his belt.
“Pepper and salt” said Brownie disparagingly with a slow drawl of disdain. I was already pulling over to pick them up.
“A black guy who hangs out with a white guy?”
They climbed in. The guys said they had a good thing going and we were invited too.
Brownie wasn’t impressed.
“What kind of a good thing?
“Some crank who feeds us. She’s harmless enough. Just do a few chores around the place.”
“What kind of a crank” Brownie was in interview mood.
“ She’s like, easy-going-going on bonkers.”
It sounded okay to me, and since I was in the driving seat, I followed the guys’ directions.
We drew up outside a neat white house nestling in a row of neat un- prepossessing bungalows in a leafy suburb of L.A.
“Don’t sulk Brownie” I said as we got out of the car.
Inside it was jewel box vulgar but with a certain theatrical allure. And Dana Stevens was the keeper of this gaudy paradise. She padded round the house, swathed in abalone cream, her figure almost trim in a leopard skin bikini top and mini skirt. Dana’s claim to fame was that she had written ’Nutrocker’ a nasty little rock version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, and this had made her a small fortune. That was one of several lawsuits she was pursuing on her dinky white telephone. Between telephonic slanging matches she would whip off her mini skirt and dive in and out of her heart-shaped pool, lathered in cream. Now she was the keeper of Lana Turner’s illustrious bungalow. Yes, that’s right. The movie star. How? I never did find out.
But what I did surmise was this: Dana had been a cracker in her day, but the gruelling day-by-day no-win maintenance of those good looks eventually turned her a little crackers.
She took to me. Delighted in little things I said. I was singled out and spoiled a little. It was a kind of mother daughter thing, I guess. It suited me fine. I never asked if she had children of her own, but I suspected not. Maybe to think about my own mother was less harsh, when I saw things from Dana’s perspective.
But nothing comes easy. And there was one aspect of my set-up Dana was not contented with: Brownie.
The feelings were mutual.
One morning as if sensing Brownie’s dissatisfaction with the happy set-up and aching to find a way of prizing us apart, Dana organised a special treat for me. Tottering in her poolside see-thru plastic high heels she led me down a corridor jangling an oversized set of keys like a celebrity jailer. We arrived at the Eastern block of the house where I’d never been before and she picked out a golden key. I know, just like in the fairy tales. And the wicked witch (Dana) and the unfortunate Princess (me) entered.
The door swung open onto a suite of rooms: Lana’s bedroom.
“There goes one helluva movie star who liked mornings”, she drawled, as she drew back the fabulous swaying curtains with the couture of your average ballgown. They revealed a sunlit courtyard garden with ornamental statues.
Then she offered me this room:
“ Lana’s very own suite to sleep in” and winked laconically as she left me with the decision – or the problem.
“Now that you have your own quarters, of course, it’s a no-men rule. A girl needs her beauty sleep” she added coyly as she swung out of the room.
“I wonder how many you’ve laid?” I muttered to myself as she padded down the corridor.
And I was left to wander around the fabulous marbled bathroom with a pink-mirrored ceiling, the walk-in closets with velvet hangers and the monogrammed matching towels in heaps by the circular bath. Everything in pink and gold: the bed was like a Cleopatra Cecil B. de Mille fantasy, with heavily decorated lamps in the shape of swans on either side of the vast marsh mallow pink quilted bed. Weird taste.
But someone’s taste.
What to do? The decision weighed uncomfortably.
Maybe this was called growing up.
Y’see this was the nearest I had come to security in a long time. I didn’t have to support Melanie. I didn’t have to work much. I didn’t have to take my clothes off for money. I didn’t have to deal with the intricacies of Angel versus Jimmy versus Lily. I was resting up. But my companion was decidedly NOT resting up. I could sense Brownie was as twitchy as a cat on heat – and I was waiting in the wings for a flaming showdown between Brownie and Madam Stevens.
“Mexico?” Brownie threw me the one-word challenge when we passed each other in the yard or collided uncomfortably at the lunch bar. I was so used to being wrapped around Brownie, this hands-off approach was icily weird.
The truth was, since by exodus to the East wing I wasn’t hanging out with the guys so much. I was mainly in the office with Dana who was teaching me accounting. She had given me 10,000 Gold Mining Company shares and in return I regularly answered her phone and typed up letters. Blood Money.
As we filled our plates at lunchtime, Brownie calmly murmured:
“I am sleeping in a dormitory.”
His eyes moving pointedly towards my cherished but lonely East wing.
“You were sleeping in a doorway when I met you.” I retorted.
“And I was wondering whether you were a hooker when I met you, but now I know you are.”
I left my lunch sitting uneaten on the counter and went into my hooker’s bedroom.
He was right of course. The room wasn’t so different in atmosphere and style to the place Angel and I had created out if papier-mâché and thrift stores finds.
Was I being cowardly, unfair, selfish towards Brownie?
All of the above.
I pulled down a bag and started packing, then changed my mind.
I considered my options.
Brownie was gay. Salt n Pepper were not gay. And they didn’t take the piss or trip me up over everything. What’s more they were attractive and fun, they were uncomplicated and I needed ……Yes that was what I needed!
I was just preparing for my three-in-a bed act of defiance against the rest of the Dana ménage, when Brownie was there, languidly in the door.
“ A discord. A wrong note, babe. Easily remedied.”
“Take a pill and everything changes” I replied with a note of bitterness.
“Yes. No. Maybe.”
He spied the half-packed bag.
“ Just before we leave….”
Brownie stood there then with his inimitable expression slowly, sensually, took off his clothes.
“Its an art, isn’t it? I watched you so many times. I’m just an amateur, babe.”
He was standing there stripping down to naked.
“Maybe I got it wrong Brownie, I thought you were …?“
But his kiss stopped my mouth and pulled me down onto the floor.
When we’d finished on the carpet, Brownie ran a bubble bath and we played in there for several hours and finally effortlessly lifted me up and carried me onto Lana Turner’s bed.
As we snuggled under the silky quilt as he murmured in my ear
“ What is it they say? Film stars do it best.”
Descent into Hades
Next morning I awoke to that gorgeous feeling. The sun was pouring in dappling the pink carpet, in Lana Turners palatial bedroom. Even the pale pink carpet looked pretty I rolled over in the bed. Outside there was a splash in the pool. Brownie having his early morning dip. But it wasn’t so early. Maybe he was making me tea. Earl Grey American style with a luke-warm cup and a tea bag floating in the top. All was good news whatever he was doing.
I stretched across the bed and pulled back the curtain. It was Dana splashing about in the pool, not Brownie. And not even the lust of last night would persuade him to make me a cup of tea, I was about to snuggle down again but the room looked strangely different. Or was I the one who was different?
A cold thud in my belly made me sit up.
I was out of bed in a split second. Yes, my cash and my keys were gone too. No purse. No savings. No drivers licence . No Cadillac. No passport. No Brownie.
Yes, Brownie was gone. Outside my car was gone too. Everything in my world was gone, except one thing. Dana.
Dana was out of the pool by now and sitting on a bar stool in the kitchen in a fetching shade of pink eating a pork pie and drinking a gin.
“Its my birthday today!” she said brightly. “I’m celebrating.”
She munched away as I walked towards her.
“Why be a vegetarian on your birthday?”
The pink of everything was like a bad acid trip. I could smell the powdery pink texture of the vinyl furniture and matching day-glo lampshades. The pink flouncy top she was wearing leered at me with contempt.
Pink was getting to me. It was intense and unpleasant.
I could hear the squeak of a thousand piglets as another bite headed towards Dana’s mouth. I wanted to smack her. But all I could come out with was a sullen:
“Where are the guys?”
“Where are the guys? Your playthings? Gone, gone, gone. I told them. I told you!” She raised her eyebrows. “But you’re forgiven.”
“Did you know, I mean were you aware, that one you were with has a criminal record?” she re-arranged her tit-bits on the plate.
” Clean sweep, I say. I like it! You can choose this time. You can choose. New, fresh, interesting playmates. Anyone you like. Decide and I will just go along with your wishes.”
Then, by way of an after-thought.. ”Nina. It’s a victimy sort of name isn’t it..”
Another bright smile.
I wanted to roll up in a ball and weep. I wanted to die. My savings, my Chevvy. My life. What had I strived for?
But what had I strived for? A night with Brownie? Was this the price?
I didn’t answer Dana. I wasn’t going to show her one small ounce of emotion. I turned on my heels and went back into my room. My Room. Well, we all knew it wouldn’t be My Room for long.
Think Sister. Be inspired. What would Lois Lane do? What would Angel do? What would Lana Turner do? Ah yes, Lana Turner’s room. The suite of rooms where my life went wrong. Where Lana Turner’s life went wrong. The room where Lana’s lover died. Was that what happened? Why didn’t I know? Everyone knew the details except me. I hadn’t even bothered to discover the details. What was her story exactly?
As I stood there, it came to me. This room held something, something complicated and bad. A kind of seedy sad history which everyone had wanted to forget, well that is the chief protagonists. Maybe not the paparazzi.
I sat on the pink pile carpet. It had seemed fun last night. More than fun, special. Not now.
Brownie. My soul-mate. My sweetie-pie. Why had he robbed me? Or had he robbed me? If not him, Pepper n Salt? If not them. A growing doubt ached away at me. Someone else. Who else?
It was at that point, that a tune wafted into my head. It suggested an uncomfortable reality, It was another hurdle approaching, a tough one, but necessary. And in spite of myself I feared for where I was heading…..
Walking down Hollywood Boulevard
Taking change from every soft touch
Playing with a stolen cheque card in my pocket
Acting hard and hollow-eyed
In fact, it’s a lie
Got a boyfriend, he’s called Tamberlaine
Plays guitar to the radio
He’s as cool as an LA cat can be
If you dig the speed and the LSD
If you wanna come home to that spaced-out scene
If you haven’t got time to think or sneeze
Come along with me to Death Bed Blues…
To Death Bed Blues….
To Death Bed Blues….
To Death Bed Blues….
Tamberlaine oh Tamberlaine!
I was probably a just few days pounding the streets of Hollywood Boulevard. I asked a few people for change. It was a game. For a bit. Then, sleeping in doorways and avoiding being picked up by the cops, or worse, it ceased to be a game. So it was something like relief when Tamberlaine drew up beside me in his truck, because days feel like months when your heart is smashed and broken and your world has gone sour.
I’d seen Tamberlaine before. We both hung out at the Avalon Ballroom, and we were part of the same crowd, or on the edge of the same crowd when Melanie and I lived in Frisco.
To tell you a bit about the Avalon: it was a meeting place for freaks and had been a special place to hang out. I don’t know what it cost to get in because Melanie and I never paid, but it was some palace. It was vast, with a seething hum of bodies and faces, lit periodically by swirling slow-moving coloured lights, which would spot you on the dance floor and follow you up to the balcony which went round the whole of the building. You felt tipsy with delight and fear at those Alice in Wonderland trippy things. As if those lights were personally following you. It was beautiful and intense there and if you weren’t high, which most people were, then this atmosphere made you high. I was a lightweight with drugs, and taking acid sometimes made me scared and I wanted to get away from everybody, but here it was OK. It was a safe haven.
But the real drama was the music of course. The stage was placed like some ocean liner, proud rising up out of the ballroom in the centre of the space and we were the seagulls bobbing about on the water, looking up at the masters of music. These musicians, like Greek Gods would appear through the misty swirling lights, or like crooked characters out of Charles Dickens. Guys, always guys, apart from Janis of course. And at the Avalon the most charismatic singer of them all was Jim Morrison. His appearance and demeanour onstage was something to behold. He carried you in his arms with that voice. He was a kind of angel onstage, and the sound he made, went to the pit of your stomach. He was very masculine too, but androgynous at the same time. He was blessed with that voice and with those songs too, they arrested you and challenged you and were part of our generation to keep and cherish.
I knew Morrison a little, because this chick who Melanie and I had stayed with briefly in Laurel Canyon, was dating him. Although I’m not sure that dating sufficiently describes what she was up to with him exactly, because the girl was tricksy and I didn’t trust her entirely. Of course there was a natural instinct to defend Morrison in this situation, there wasn’t a sense that she was a chick who he was exploiting and chalking up. I’d seen that thing before with Jimi. Jimi the angel, who was in with the wrong crowd. But as it turned out Morrison needed a little defending, because it was only two summers later that the Grim Reaper beckoned him away. But that was later, later on and that was a sad day for us all.
So you see, Tamberlaine drawing up beside me in his truck was a comforting thing, as seeing him made these thoughts flash through my head. He took a park, then with a leisurely grace swung out of the truck and joined me. He was whistling through his teeth, smiling and chewing gum like some movie star cowboy. Tamberlaine, where did you get that name?
Everybody rhymes with Tamberlaine.
He looked at me with an expression, which registered concern. I must’ve been miles away. Self-pity had taken me off somewheres and I even got to thinking about how Melanie must have felt when she was in that limbo state, wandering around in that hotel in China Town. Then, I cut the inner crap and glanced across at him.
He was a good looker.
Fine looking for a white guy. Lanky with refined features and a bunch of reddish brown curls down his back. Pale and freckly like he was from Irish descent. Pale was unusual for Southern California. So was he bookish? Good looks were important, so was a guy with a truck, so was a guy who was gentlemanly, as he lifted me into the truck I could see he did that with ease.
We drove back to his place, climbing up that winding road to Laurel Canyon, That road where you looked down on the whole of Hollywood. The pride of LA, the pride of the city, spelt out. And the pretty winding road taking you up to the good clean air.
So Tamberlaine my Death Bed Man: While he was shooting up, I was washing up. His cranky house was perched on the top of that hill and there were cats to play with and rooftops to admire. It wasn’t so bad, even though in one respect, I was in mourning for my life, in mourning for my past.
Not that the past had been so fucking good, but it had been my past and I had carved it out of stones and hashish and gyrating my body. I had muscled and sweated not to be ordinary, to get out of Hounslow and make some kind of mark.
But life turns on a sixpence. Even if that turn is slow sometimes. And the healing was good and the healing of the pretty bath-tub Tamberlaine had built on his roof and the shiny silky cats who slinked through the bamboo plants up there or curled up in the kitchen as I cooked. And the aroma of fresh herbs and the bright happy sunlight through the kitchen window. And the consistency of Tamberlaine whose room was red as a death bed as he played guitar all day long. And the aches of the past and the aches for future and even the ache of thinking about Connie my Mum some of the time. Because I hadn’t written home since God knows when. I hadn’t even called home, even though I had a fake Credit Card call number. Even though I had the possibility to do it I couldn’t face the thought of Otto answering the telephone.
And days turned to weeks. And the memory of Brownie began to fade. Or more, I began to see that there was some kind of small and painful justice as to how things had turned out.
But a habit is a habit and that’s what Tamberlaine had.
There were nights when his head was in the freezer and his eyes were popping out. OK, he had hours, sometimes days when he was straight. And his amiable nature and lanky white body was stray-cat sinewy and calm.
He was undemanding.
I lived for free, like the icing on the cake of his gingerbread house. Undemanding is OK, but then I came to see his true love was junk. Just like my true love was Brownie. And although the need and despair were hidden from view the grinding and grabbing pain he endured was not.
I didn’t want to leave Tamberlaine because I knew he needed me, like a sick man needs nursemaid. But I was disappearing. Was this a re-run of my routine with Melanie? I considered junk for myself. Opening the drawer where Tamberlaine kept his works, I examined the syringe, medicinal and comforting. It eased the pain I knew. But there was a small and fragile flame where my ambition was. I didn’t know how to define it exactly, but it was something stronger than sweet oblivion and early death.