Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Jay Allen Sanford

My Brunch With Yoko

Yoko's personal secretary called me early Friday afternoon."Miss Ono and her companion will be arriving in Dalton Georgia around 3pm tomorrow. She regrets that she won't be able to accompany you to your residence, the demands on her time during this trip are overwhelming. She would, however, like to meet with you for brunch. Do you know a suitable establishment where the three of you might be guaranteed a modicum of privacy?" I gave the name of the fanciest restaurant I know within driving distance, so the secretary could call ahead and make reservations for Yoko Ono and her two companions.

How did an obscure underemployed writer-cartoonist end up having a brunch date with Yoko? An old friend of mine, Rickey, a rock memorabilia buyer and appraiser, did some work for a law firm hired by Yoko several years ago, when she was suing a company called the International Collector's Society. He gave expert testimony about the value of items Yoko claimed the firm had sold and owed her money for (more than $160,000 worth) and ended up befriending the diminutive pop culture icon, continuing to advise her about the art resale and collector's market to this day.

It turned out that he was traveling with Yoko to look at potential exhibition sites for the Art Of John Lennon gallery tours, and they'd be passing near where I was staying in rural Georgia. He offered to "drop by" my house with Yoko on their way to the city and I said "why not?" thinking he was surely joking. A week before they were due to arrive in Atlanta, he called to say "It's on, me and Yoko will be there Saturday."

I spent the next week maniacally cleaning and re-arranging my home. I became obsessive over my typically unspeakable bachelor-pad bathroom, experiencing something akin to waking nightmares at the thought of Yoko Ono using my toilet for reasons I still can't (or would rather not) understand or explain. I'm talking bugfuck crazy, I was scrubbing chrome-like sparkle onto all the surfaces with Lysol every quarter hour at least, nearly 'round the clock, and even went so far as to price having a new toilet installed the day before Yoko's arrival. My plan was to relieve myself in the woods behind my house (bears do it) until AFTER Yoko's visit, to insure a pristine seat for her mind-bogglingly famous ass cheeks (dude, her house has white walls and carpets! My bathroom USED to be white…)

Luckily, since Yoko's secretary informed that we'd be meeting at a restaurant instead of my house, I could finally use my toilet again without stressing over whether my careless aim could end up being Yoko Ono's predominant memory of meeting the guy who worked on the UNofficial Beatles comic book series.

About that comic, Yoko knew about it and had graciously neglected to sue our Hillcrest-based publishing company, Revolutionary Comics. We'd been targeted in another of her lawsuit roundups because our comic covering the Beatles' lives together and apart was published without her authorization. Luckily, Rickey intervened and provided Yoko with copies of all eight issues, along with an entreaty to read them before pursuing litigation. I'm told she was impressed with the research and effort that went into the comics, as well as the obvious love and affection shown for its subjects and for her (writer Todd Loren liked Yoko second-best among the fab-five, ranking her in adoration just behind her late husband). Yoko instructed her lawyers not to press against us, that there was nothing libelous, inflammatory or even copyright-infringing in our comics, so I was already feeling pretty indebted to Rickey long before he set up this informal meeting between the three of us.

Our brunch was arranged for 1pm Saturday at the Dalton Depot, an upscale place about 45 minutes down the mountain from where I rented a cabin while on sabbatical from San Diego, working on some writing projects. The restaurant is built in an old train depot which dates back to 1847, with the railroad theme extending as far as little model trains that circle the interior of the restaurant on a scale track lined with miniature trees and zooming thru tiny tunnels. It's historic pedigree and blue chip atmosphere made it seem the perfect place for an informal meeting with one of the world's richest women.

At about 9AM, I got a call from Rickey on his cell phone. "Hey, Jay! We're in the car right now! Wanna say hi to Yoko?" GULP!

"Herro, Jay! Richard has told me a lot about you! I understand we'll be eating at an authentic Joe-jahhh railroad depot?"

I was vastly unprepared for her humorous/ghastly attempt to fake a southern accent on the word "Georgia" and I have no idea what I said in response. Probably "Er, uh, well, um, errrrr…."

She said something like "Well, we'll see you soon," and put Rickey [Richard?] back on the phone so I could give him directions for their driver. I told him I'd be waiting out front and to look for the guy who appears to be seconds away from actually shitting an actual brick.

I don't even want to dwell on why I then scrubbed my toilet down one more time before leaving for Dalton, despite the fact that Yoko (thank whatever gods watch over lunatics like me) would not be squatting within thirty miles of my hermetically sealed commode.

My watch said exactly one minute before one o'clock when a sleek towncar (not a limo) pulled into the driveway in front of the restaurant. I started walking up to the car to open the back door for them but their driver beat me to it, getting out and stepping around to open it. Rickey got out first, nodded in my direction and then bent over to hold his arm out and help a teeny tiny Asian woman out of the car.

Yoko has fairly short hair, upswept, and she was wearing a pair of tinted glasses that covered approximately half her face. She had on black slacks and a kinda glittery blouse that I think was purply-black, short sleeved. Not at all flashy or "odd" looking, except maybe the giant glasses tinted so black under the sun that her thin mouth looked like the horizon of a darkening night.

I was struck by how small she was – like a child, really. Rickey, standing next to her (who knows or cares what the fuck HE was wearing), isn't exactly a giant, but she still looked like a schoolgirl next to him.

I stepped up, I'm sure looking as nervous as I felt. I was glad I hadn't overdressed – just my nice gray Polo short, dress gray pants, a stone necklace with a white onyx elephant (John and Yoko's first band was Elephant's Memory) and a new pair of black Italian loafers I'd bought just for this occasion.Rickey shook my hand and introduced Yoko. She reached out to offer her own handshake, saying "Nice to meet you, Mr. Sanford."

That's when I first became aware she was wearing membrane-thin clear surgical gloves, almost invisible to the eye. I only noticed because her hand crinkled as I shook it. I must have looked down at her hand with the evident fear that I'd cracked her fragile flesh or something. "Oh, I wear these everywhere. I hope you don't mind."

Why she thought I'd mind, I don't know. Maybe some people get offended and assume Yoko considers us all germ-infested untouchables. Me, if I had the entire world reaching out to shake my hand everywhere I went, I'd probably wear burlap gardening gloves every time I leave the house.

To my surprise, she crooked out her arm as if expecting me to take it. I looked at Rickey, he nodded again and I linked my arm around hers - the next thing I knew, I was squiring Yoko Ono into the Depot.

There was an unusual amount of people in there for lunchtime, nearly a full house. The staff was clearly expecting us. I suspect they spent the night and morning before our arrival notifying everyone they knew that Yoko was coming for brunch, that's how uncharacteristically large the crowd was. We were escorted to a nicely placed table at the rear of the restaurant (boy, I never got to sit at that great table on the other two occasions I'd been there…).

Yoko ordered unsweetened tea, Rich and I ordered sweet tea and we made small talk while looking over the menus. Yoko was asking me about the area, how long I'd lived there, what it's like, were there a lot of restaurants like this. Rickey said my torso-length hair had grown even longer since he'd last seen me (I wore it down that day) and suddenly Yoko was reaching out to stroke my hair! Indoors, her glasses had cleared so I could see her eyes and, even though they were Asian-thin, I could see she was looking at me really intently. Staring, even, as she ran her fingers lightly up and down the length of my hair.

I had a split second thought - "Jeez, is Yoko Ono coming ON to me?!?!" – but then I could tell the little 70-something-year-old lady wasn't thinking at all along those lines. "Why do you wear your hair over your face like this? I'm sure he and everyone else here would rather see what you look like!"

That's when it dawned on me that, to her knowledge, since our mutual friend Rickey was gay, she assumed I must also be gay. I doubt she ever would have stroked the hair of such an epically heterosexual male, especially one she'd just met, in such an intimate studying manner, though I can't say for sure why I feel this way.

I think I "ummed" and "errrred" and "ahemmmed" a bit more but I somehow managed to crack a little joke and said "My ears get cold real easy," and she let out a little hiccupping giggle. Somehow, having made Yoko giggle put me immensely more at ease than I had been up until that particular moment. My back unstiffened, my toes uncurled (I hadn't realized how tightly they were clenched in the grip of my too-tight new shoes) and I managed to sip the iced tea our waitress dropped at the table without choking or spilling anything down the front of my most (and only) expensive shirt.

We talked about the menu. I told her I'd chosen the place because I knew she was vegetarian and they had a great selection of specialty salads. She mentioned a restaurant they'd found the previous day that specialized in gourmet vegetarian food and I sort of regretted not having done more research before recommending the Depot as the ideal place for us to eat. On reflection, it was probably fine – she ordered a vegetable plate, I ordered pasta primavera, Rickey asked for one of the specialty salads and we were left to nibble on our rolls amidst a mildly awkward silence for a moment before Yoko looked me straight in the eye again with that unnerving look of hers.

"So, you're an Aquarian?" I should have expected this, having read about her fixation with astrology (and having been asked my astrological orientation when first contacted by her assistant). She said "That explains your creativity. Did you draw the comic books I saw?" This took me by surprise, I didn't think it would come up, Rickey having given her that set of Beatles comics quite a few years previously.

"No, I only edited those. I was still teaching myself to draw then."

This seemed to fascinate her, to discover that I learned illustration only AFTER getting into the comic biz, and this became the topic of our discussion until dinner salads arrived a few minutes (seemed like hours) later. Rickey told her about the comic strip I do for the Reader's music section and she said "Well, you know, nobody ever encouraged John to draw either, not even the other boys in the Beatles, and it wasn't until we started meeting art gallery people that he realized his art actually meant something, that it wasn't just John scribbling again."

I'm not sure why this sentence literally took my breath away. I couldn't breathe for a moment, it felt like my blood entirely stopped circulating. I'd been instructing myself all week to NOT bring up John, to NOT mention the Beatles. I wanted to congratulate her on her recent #1 single "Walking On Thin Ice" (the dance remix), to talk about her own music, her own career, thinking this would surely be more rewarding for her than the endless discussions people want to have about her husband, dead twenty three years, and the band she was not only never a part of but that the world had long accused her of ruining.

And here she was, mentioning John and the Beatles in the same sentence, all the while staring into my eyes as if my reaction would be the basis of whether she likes or dislikes me from that moment onward.

I'm not positive exactly what I said when I was finally able to breathe again, but it was something like "If great artists are never recognized for their art until late in life, then there may be hope for me as an artist after all!

"Yoko's entire body seemed to smile at this, not just the perfect white teeth she fleetingly flashed (dentures? Why was I suddenly picturing Yoko's teeth in a glass of fizzy water and sitting atop a Romanesque white pedastal?!). I think I heard another of those disarmingly girly chuckles, just barely audible, with the slightest shudder of her shoulders as the only proof I can offer that the chuckle really happened. The world in general, like myself, rarely associates "chuckle" with "Yoko," in any conceivable context, so I was awash with marvel at how surprising my brunch with Yoko was already turning out to be.

Our dishes were served and I finally did get to congratulate her on that #1 single. Neither John nor the Beatles ever came up again, I suspect to everyone's relief.

We talked a bit more about self-taught musicians and artists and I mentioned being close to a young woman in prison who's using her time to followup on her own artistic aspirations, like writing short fiction, poetry and children's books. This brought a raised eyebrow and Yoko said "Is that your sister?"

"No, she's, uh, well, we talked about getting married, but she got in trouble and she's going to be in prison for, well, a long time.""Why? What did she do?""She was involved in a robbery and things went really bad so she ended up in a lot of trouble."

Yoko nodded and didn't seem to want to pry, but she still stared at me with a curious expression (possibly trying to decide if I was gay after all). I took out my wallet to show her the photo I always carry around of the young lady in question, along with her lipstick-print on a piece of paper I keep in the same photo slot."She's very beautiful," Yoko said softly. "Tell her I said that, and that her life can always be as beautiful as she is, if she wishes it."

I rambled on for a few minutes about the young lady's accomplishments, how she's keeping her head together and remaining true to herself and her ideals even in the midst of so much sociopathic, aggressive humanity. Yoko listened and nodded, seeming to be genuinely interested.

"We have many friends who end up in jail for wrong reasons," she said (making me wonder who she meant by "we" – surely not her and Rickey, they're only casual acquaintances…does she still refer to "we" as in her and John Lennon, I wonder?). "That doesn't make them any less our friends, and we look at them for who they are, not where they are, and for what they are doing rather than what they've done." I think I'm quoting her fairly closely here, if I'm off it's only by a few words.

Her wisdom and warmth, the words she said and the way she said it, filled my heart with appreciation for the tiny little Asian woman with the giant glasses who was once accused of breaking up the world's biggest rock group. I felt renewed respect for this most singular of artists, one who's always held her head up high in the face of indifference or outright ridicule, who followed her own muse and screeched to a different drummer and maintained extraordinary dignity through and beyond the assassination of the love of her own life, John Lennon.

I can honestly say that, at that moment, I decided I loved Yoko Ono. Loved who and what she was. I still allowed that I'll never be able to listen to her caterwauling "Don't Worry Kyoko, It's Only Mummy's Hand Bleeding In The Snow" without blowing chunks, and you couldn't force me to listen to "Baby's Heartbeat" again with a gun to my head, but just because I don't "get" her art, doesn't mean I don't love and respect the artist.

We all passed on dessert and Rickey said they had to head back down to Atlanta. Yoko didn't say another word the whole time we packed up to go, while I paid the check and chatted loosely with Rickey. She just watched us and took it all in, not speaking again until we were all outside and their car was pulling back into the driveway (where had it and the driver been while we ate, I wondered, and how did the driver know precisely when to pull up?). Rickey thanked me for brunch and then the driver was coming around to open the car door for them.

Yoko reached out both her crinkly hands (she'd changed gloves twice that I noticed – once before eating and once after) and took both my hands into hers. "Thank you for the lovely time, I very much enjoyed meeting you," she said, I'm sure giving me that penetrating gaze even if I couldn't see her eyes now that we were outside and her glasses had darkened again. "Perhaps we can do this again sometime."

"Next time," Rickey piped in, "maybe we'll make it up to your mountain cabin.

"Unlikely, I know, but I'll start hording a few extra shekels anyways, just in case I suddenly need to buy a new toilet.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Secret Inside Story Of "Carnal Comics"

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE CARNAL KIND

By

Jay Allen Sanford

I blame Gene Simmons.

Yes, that Gene Simmons, bassist and founding dragonlord of Kiss. Gene was a fan of Revolutionary Comics’ “Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics” line, which I began writing for in 1989. The company's founder, Todd Loren, died in June 1992, the victim of a still-unsolved murder. However, Revolutionary kept on producing comic books, including a Kiss biography, under the leadership of Todd’s father and myself.

I contacted Gene Simmons in 1993 about doing some new Kiss comics together, and the band ended up working with Revolutionary on several titles, as well as a hardcover coffee table book called Kisstory. This was before the four original Kiss members reunited, during a period when the group was essentially a trivia footnote in rock history. Kiss’ financial coffers were fading and they wanted Revolutionary to cover the cost of producing the Kisstory book. Hoping to impress us with their potential to still generate merchandising income, Gene invited me and several Revolutionary staffers to his birthday party, to be held in an L.A. bowling alley, promising a star-studded evening of rock and roll nirvana.

It was during a meeting leading up to this event, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, when Gene took me aside and said “Jay, instead of just rock stars, you should do something like ‘Jesus’ comics. Or maybe porn star comics. People will always be into Jesus and porn stars.”

“Hopefully not in the same comic,” I allowed, and the subject was dropped. I didn’t mention to him that I’d already looked into doing porn star biographies, but since the girls use pseudonyms and work in a somewhat secretive underground subculture, I’d had little luck making the necessary contacts. Pity, I thought. Todd had started an adults-only line in ’92 called Carnal Comics - sex filled fictional stories having nothing to do with the adult film industry, but the series was cancelled after only three money-losing issues. I felt the name “Carnal Comics” would make a great imprint title for a porn star bio series, but the moniker had died with Todd, and would have stayed buried were it not for ol’ lizard-tongue’s birthday party.

Gene’s bash was filled with celebrities like Tom and Roseanne Arnold, Dweezil and Moon Zappa, famed groupie and author Pamela Des Barres ("I'm With The Band") and many others. One of the people Gene introduced me to was a hairy, nearly hunchbacked little man named Ron Jeremy, whom I recognized as “The Hedgehog” of countless porn loops. I did not shake his hand (I’ve seen where it’s been). Looking around, I thought I recognized many of the half-nekkid ladies in attendance as porn starlets, but I hadn’t been an active porn watcher in some time so I wasn’t positive. At one point, Gene asked me if I had any business cards, because “This would be a good opportunity to make some contacts.” I handed him a dozen or so and off he went. I found out later that he placed those cards in the palms of porn stars throughout the room, telling them “That guy over there wants to do a comic book about you.”

The following Monday, I was mystified when I began getting calls from sexy sounding women telling me that they were anxious to meet me and “work with” me. Most started right off by saying they wanted to send me naked pictures of themselves, and did I want to see them in softcore or hardcore shots? This was not the usual Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics morning, to be sure. One woman with a “veddy propah” British accent announced “I seduce women who’ve nevah been with a girl before, and I shoot it on film, with me fooking their aahhhs with dildos. I’ll send you some tapes. Oh yes, and I squirt like a fountain when I cum.” This turned out to be Miss Sarah-Jane Hamilton and I decided I liked her quite a bit. I wrote up a contract to do a three issue comic book series with the beautiful, busty redhead. The comics would serialize her illustrated life story and each issue would have a fictional fantasy tale which Sarah herself would write, with my help, based on her own fantasies.

Todd’s father and I met with Sarah-Jane at her Hollywood bungalow and she greeted us at the door in a skintight red leather mini dress, fishnet stockings, sky-high red stiletto heels and, as I saw when she bent over to pick up the newspaper on her porch, no underwear. We had lunch together at a Hollywood bistro where my fruit salad cost $15.00 and later that day we were in her bedroom, she was naked and masturbating with a dildo the size of my forearm, as we stood over her - shooting photos for the comic, which we’d sell in the ad pages.

We advertised the comic the way that Kiss had advertised their 70s Marvel comic, for which the band reportedly mixed their actual blood with the printing ink. “Printed with Sarah-Jane’s actual orgasmic fluids mixed with the ink,” we announced, planning on running photos of her masturbating over the ink vat. Unfortunately, the EPA frowns on this sort of endeavor - nowadays, bodily fluids are a no-no when it comes to mass distribution and no printer in the U.S. or Canada would go along with it, so the plan was reluctantly scrapped.

I met a female artist at a Pittsburgh comic convention, a busty redhead who bore a resemblance to Sarah-Jane herself. I felt her sensual artwork was perfect for the comic. This was Fauve, aka Holly Golightly, and Carnal Comics would become her first published work. She drew for all three Sarah Jane issues and I’m proud to have watched her go on to become a well known and popular illustrator and writer. She currently publishes her own comic book titles, assisted by Catwoman artist Jim Balent. She did several early Carnal Comics and many feel, myself included, that her feminine style set the tone for the entire line - sexy stories told from a female point of view rather than the usual pornographic male fantasy scenarios with little more than domination, penetration and ejaculation.

By the time the third and final Sarah-Jane issue was nearing its press date, sales returns made it clear that Carnal Comics was a huge hit. I began planning new editions with other well-known porn stars but then Todd Loren’s father decided it was time to retire. It had been two years since Todd had died, and the flood of competing copycat titles were whittling into the sales for “Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics.” The company was in debt over the expenses incurred by a failed sports comic line and Todd’s family was tired of the grind, wanting to move to the east coast and close Revolutionary’s doors for good. I’d invested a lot of my time efforts into Carnal Comics and sales for the line were higher than our rock comics – higher than most other independent comics coming out at the time - so, in June 1994, almost two years to the day after Todd’s death, I became a publisher myself by purchasing the entire Carnal cache - lock, stock and barrel.

Sarah-Jane Hamilton #3 came out so quickly after this that I didn’t even have time to alter the logos. There’s still a Revolutionary masthead, as well as a small logo my then-common law wife Heather created for the company I’d decided to call Re-Visionary Press. Why Re-Visionary? Truth to tell, because this placed our product listings in the same alphabetical-based spot that Revolutionary had occupied in consumer and wholesale catalogs. I didn’t want to lose any of the sales momentum that the Sarah-Jane series had established and I certainly wanted the public to know that Carnal Comics were still being produced by the same successful creative team as previously.

Our flagship title was formally christened “Carnal Comics: True Stories Of Adult Film Stars – Told By The Stars Themselves.” The stars of erotica worked directly with us, to turn their life experiences into comics. We focused on the pivotal events in their lives, the moments that defined who they are and what they’ve achieved. Most of the women were very honest and upfront, revealing things never known about them before. For most issues, we also included a fantasy backup feature, where the star tells their wildest dream and we illustrated it, using their own words. The women themselves chose artists out of our large stable of regular and part-time freelancers. The entire comic was crafted with the star’s full input and participation, with some even writing their own scripts.

Heather and I basically ran the entire operation ourselves at first, in addition to the freelance art contributors based all over the country and in Canada.
We seemed to work around the clock most days, and any money that didn’t go into rent and food was re-invested in advertising, production and retail promotion, not to mention contacting everyone we could find involved in wholesale distribution to adult bookstores. Our hope was to get our comics into that market rather than settling for the traditional comic book shop network. This had been Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics’ secret of success, being carried by music stores, rock memorabilia dealers and fan clubs. By the time our first non-Sarah issue came out three months after SJ #3, “Tiffany Million #1,” we’d made serious inroads into this market, partly on the strength of Miss Million’s popularity as a former pro wrestler for G.L.O.W. - Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling.

We’d met Tiffany through Sarah, but she wasn’t nearly as charming or as easy to work with. I didn’t find her sexy or even interesting, regardless of whether or not she showed up for our meetings wearing underwear. In fact, she was one porn star whose moneymaker I didn’t want to see, in any position or from any angle. Our relationship was adversarial from start to finish and I decided that, from that point on, I’d have to like a woman and find her sexually exciting before immortalizing them in my comic book line. After all, they were my comics and I was the guy who had to create a comic based around stacks of naked pictures of each subject, so I wanted to at least like what I was seeing. Being bored or turned off by naked pictures isn’t good for creativity.

A little Hispanic dynamo named Alicia Rio came to San Diego for a dance gig at Déjà Vu on Midway Drive, requesting a chance to meet with us. Heather and I decided she was likeable and she had a positive story to tell, something that became more and more important to us in our attempt to avoid putting out mere illustrated press releases. The darker side of the porn business - domination and S&M videos - was intriguing as well, if only as a story subject, and so dominatrix Nicole London was signed up. Then came superstar girl-girl film star Janine, pillowy girl-next door Julia Ann and a parade of pulchritude to make any man (and many women) twitch and writhe.

In one afternoon of L.A. meetings, I was scheduled to meet with, at different times, Howard Stern fave Aja, one of porn’s biggest stars, and Pamela Des Barres, who’d written a book about her experiences as a groupie associated with members of Led Zeppelin, the Who and dozens more. First, there was lunch with Aja, during which I mentioned my upcoming meeting with Miss Des Barres. “My God,” Aja grimaced, “how can that woman do what she does? I mean, fucking guys just ‘cause they play guitar? At least with me, it’s my job, my profession. I’m great at what I do, I get paid well for it and then I go home feeling good about it all. She’s nothing but a screwed up slut with delusions of grandeur!”

During dinner with Des Barres, I dropped Aja’s name and said I’d met with her that afternoon. “What a filthy little thing,” she frowned. “When I have sex with a guy, it’s because there’s something about him I’m already attracted to. I know and respect his music, I feel something from him and want to share some of myself with him in return. But that girl’s nothing but a porn slut – hand her a few bucks and she’ll do it with anybody. That’s just plain nasty.” I ended up publishing the Aja comic, which went into three additional printings, but passed on doing a comic version of Pamela Des Barres’ “I’m With The Band.”

Soon, we began launching additional titles, sometimes several per month, such as “Porn Star Fantasies,” “Superstars Of Erotica,” “The Golden Age Of Triple-X” (adaptation of vintage adult films), the psychosexual horror series “Nightingale, Mistress Of Dreams” and many others. Every new issue seemed to outsell the previous one. Jenna Jameson, an X-rated film actress with a role in “Howard Stern’s Private Parts,” appeared several times on Stern’s radio and television shows, and Re-Visionary enjoyed skyrocketing sales on her comic every time she mentioned it on the air. Jameson also hosted several specials on the E! Entertainment network, where she promoted her comic as well. Jasmin St. Claire, star of 1996’s award winning top-selling adult video “The World’s Biggest Gangbang II,” appeared on the Stern show, along with Nico Treasures and other stars, managing to not only plug the comic but to promote autograph signings they were doing for us at various comic book shops and conventions.

Janine and Julia Ann, the dance duo known as Blondage, appeared on the syndicated radio program Loveline, talking at length about the creation of their edition of Carnal Comics. Another X-rated performer, Lilli Xene, taped an episode of the Jenny Jones show where she also got to show some of the non-explicit artwork from her comic book to the audience, while Anna Malle discussed her Carnal Comic on HBO’s “Real Sex.” Brittany O’Connell was featured in a long interview for WBAI FM radio in New York, and Porsche Lynn taped an episode of the Marc Scott show on WXYT radio, a CNN outlet in Michigan. Carnal Comics were everywhere, and it seemed almost everyone was talking about us. “Comics definitely aren’t just for kids anymore” would be the inevitable byline.

Heather and I were making a comfortable living, with the ability to pay our contributors well and to offer more consistent work than most other independent comic book publishers. Illustrators were having trouble lining up jobs working for big guns like Marvel and DC Comics and instead began requesting the chance to work for us, albeit sometimes with the admitted hope of meeting (and mating) with their favorite sex star. This happened often enough, in fact. More than once, I set up meetings at comic conventions between a porn starlet and an aspiring artist who ended up painting a cover or drawing a story without ever requesting a paycheck – the artist had already made an arrangement to spend some “quality time” with the starlet subject. One woman who shall remain both nameless and shameless talked her cover artist into the gig while performing oral sex on him under a covered table at the San Diego Comic Book Convention, while the artist was signing autographs for fans lined up in front of the table! I was standing nearby and can attest that most of those signatures came out pretty shaky.

Not that it was all bread and roses. Many stores and municipalities still considered our publications “obscenity” and sometimes our comics were seized by police and border officials as such. Even advertising outside the adult magazine market was a challenge, as newspapers and magazines often rejected our ads because of the sexual nature of the comics, without ever inspecting copies of the comics themselves.

I lost one of my distributors just because of an advertisement that ran one my comics, an adaptation of the 70s X-rated film “Johnny Does Paris - with John Holmes.” The issue contained an ad for a magazine called “Snuff Comics,” published by one of our contributors, Mikal Vollmer. The magazine collects scenes from vintage fifties children’s comics, which veered strangely into violence and murder. There are also brief articles about these comics, and one of my largest distributors to the adult market saw the ad and freaked out. Lost it. Went apeshit. Just from the title alone, “Snuff Comics.” They told me in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t carry any of my publications containing an ad for “Snuff Comics.” Their company sells monster sized dildos (“Cockzilla,” “Ass Master”), hardcore porn titles like “I Can’t Believe I Did The Whole Team” and plastic fake vaginas molded from Jenna Jameson’s genitals (“vibrating action and lifelike hair!”), but they’re afraid of the words “Snuff Comics.” Go figure.

We doubled our net profits in 1996 and reached the “million comics sold” mark late that year. Re-Visionary’s major 1997 project was a three issue series called “Triple-X Cinema: A Cartoon History.” Participating in its creation were dozens of the major figures of the erotic film industry including Marilyn Chambers, Bill Margold, Hyapatia Lee, Porsche Lynn, Nina Hartley, Seka, Kay Parker and dozens of other producers and performers, including the elusive Gerard Damiano, who directed the original “Deep Throat” film.

Re-Visionary was placing its adults-only line in places that had never been exposed to comics before. Our biggest boost came from joining forces with Adam And Eve, the largest mail order catalog of adult merchandise in the world. A&E even have their own cable network, so this provided us with real growth. The women who star in Carnal Comics began promoting the line on the Adam And Eve Channel and Spice, as well as on The Playboy Channel and TV shows like Jerry Springer and Geraldo, and the comics generated positive press in Hustler, Chic, High Society, Screw, Adult Video News and dozens of other major magazines.

It was probably inevitable that we’d spin off the Carnal Comics into a comic strip version as well. We began producing a multi-page full color version of “Porn Star Fantasies” for various adult magazines, most notably Oui Magazine, one of the three top selling men’s periodicals. “Oui’s Carnal Comics” ran for well over a year before their company went bankrupt and we stopped turning in work to them, whereupon I began producing similar strips for Hustler, Adult Cinema Review and others.

To our surprise, Heather and I found ourselves becoming friends with some of the women we worked with. Kimberly Kupps introduced herself to Heather by offering to let Heather feel her new 72GGG breast implants, which for some reason was endearing to us. We particularly grew to love Hyapatia Lee, the Amerindian superstar whose class and sensuality is sorely missed since her sad passing a few years back. All of these women were upfront but not overpowering with their sexuality, and none tried to tempt me - or Heather - away from out commitment to each other. A few of the women did indeed profess to developing crushes on Heather, as she was and is one of the prettiest women on the planet, and a couple of the stars went as far as asking me if I was interested in, well, “tasting the merchandise.” None ever asked twice, once I told them that Heather and I were a team.

Unfortunately, the stress of working so closely together contributed to Heather and I eventually separating. During that separation, I strayed sexually and that put an end to our professional and personal pairing after having been a couple over fifteen years. With most of my social companions being porn stars and strippers, it goes to follow that I began dating those very same women.

It’s interesting, dating porn stars. Especially the way the public reacts. I’ve been sitting at dinner with someone like Aja when a guy comes up and asks her what Sean Michaels’ sperm tastes like. I was living with Tiffany Blue when she did a fifty man anal gangbang, and the recognition she got on the street after that ranged from worshipful praise to shocking condescention. As the woman’s companion, that recognition, or rather infamy, reflected on and affected me as well. I was fascinated to discover how many women are porn fans. When I’m with, say, Jasmin St. Claire, the girls who ask for her autograph treat her like a revered rock star - and treat me like the consort of a goddess. And, when it comes to preferred treatment on airplanes, in restaurants and at clubs, man oh man…having someone like Alicia Rio on your arm allows for the kind of pampering I once thought was reserved for Hef, Brad Pitt and, well, Gene Simmons.

Some of these relationships got quite serious. For several weeks, I took to the road with blonde bombshell Christina Angel, attending stripper conventions and dance dates at clubs with her and catching her clothes as they flew from the stage. Every night, I considered myself the luckiest guy in the world to be sleeping with a one-time Playboy Playmate who’d been voted one of the ten most beautiful women in the world after her third Penthouse centerfold. It was while I was with Christina that I discovered how many “regular” women want to sleep with porn stars – and, simultaneously, with the porn star’s man. I can’t count how many young girls wanted to come home with Christina and I, apparently hoping that we’d teach them whatever supposed tantric sexual secrets people in the “sex biz” must know.

I gave up a lot of my personal time while dating the women of erotica, but I managed to keep up my workload. With help. For the editorial department, I hired a new Managing Editor, Karen Misty, who previously served as editor of various men’s magazines including Hustler and Oui. When “Sordid Stories,” a combination film and comic book which I wrote and which came out simultaneously, was nominated for two Adult Video News Awards (the adult industry’s Oscar equivalent), more filmmakers began contacting Karen and Re-Visionary about storyboarding and other pre-production work. Before long, we were doing full film treatments and shooting scripts, most all of them based around fantasy and science fiction storylines. One was a superhero thriller from Wicked Pictures, known for their high gloss big budget adult features, starring Jenna Jameson, then the best known and most popular porn star in the world. The half-million dollar movie was shot on film (a rarity in adult movies these days).

As with Sordid Stories, the Wicked Weapon comic book and video was released and cross-promoted simultaneously in the comic and adult boutique markets. We even produced a special 16 page mini-comic which was included with the entire initial video run of the big budget adult film “Wicked Weapon,” packaged with the video itself, now one of the rarest of all Carnal publications. The Wicked Weapon video was nominated for five AVN awards, increasing our credibility and reputation in the adult marketplace even more. By this point, I was long past calling prospective subjects to work with - I had a year-long waiting list of girls clamoring to be in a Carnal comic book.

Publishers in thirteen countries bought exclusive licenses to reprint Carnal Comics, such as Christos Koudakis & Associates, which has the exclusive rights to publish 48 page magazine versions of Re-Visionary’s adults only line in Greece. I was thrilled to see stories I co-wrote published beneath covers by famed movie poster and book cover artist Boris Vallejo, though I can’t read a word of the re-lettered dialogue. My name looks pretty cool in Greek though. And of course I like being paid for doing little more than sending artwork stats overseas accompanied by a signed license agreement.

As the end of the nineties approached, I launched even more new titles, since everything I published seemed to outsell the previous comics. Issue number one of “Legends Of Porn” featured one of the best known names in the history of erotica, Annie Sprinkle. Sprinkle is the author of a best selling book “Post Porn Modernist,” as well as being in demand as a university lecturer. Her performance art stage show “Herstory Of Porn” has been playing sold out houses around the world for over four years (Senator Jesse Helms called the show “a sewer of depravity,” which Sprinkle cites as her favorite review quote). The star of hundreds of adult films in the seventies and early eighties, she’s also written over three hundred articles for magazines like Penthouse, Hustler, Oui, The Utne Reader and many others.

“I’m basically a total multimedia whore,” Annie says. “People either love me or hate me. At times, I’m worshipped as a sex goddess, and other times I’m screamed at, snubbed, arrested, censored - I’ve even had my life threatened for daring to call myself a feminist porn star! After all, I’m a lot of things people love to hate: a prostitute, a pornographer, a witch, a Jew, an artist, a full figured woman, a bi-sexual, an avowed masturbator and, perhaps worst of all, a New Yorker!” A Carnal Comics kinda gal, to be sure. She and I ended up becoming very close and I still consider her a valued friend and always fascinating conversationalist - though you do want to make sure you’ve already eaten before she describes what a “rainbow shower” is (vomiting during sex).

By early 1999, I was tiring after six years of non-stop Carnal Comics production. I was suffering from my second bout with cancer in two years, and my health was not improving. My romantic liaisons with various porn stars had disillusioned me in regard to most aspects of the business. If you’ve never been in a room filled with men who’ve just squirted sperm on the girl who’ll be sleeping with you later, you can’t imagine the physical smell of all that cum and the emotional reek that comes with reliving that thought as your lover climbs under the covers with you an hour later. One day, I was watching TV when a porn star lover of mine brought up our relationship on The Jerry Springer Show. I hadn’t been given any warning that this was coming and I decided on the spot that, when my life is being discussed on TV with Jerry Springer, it’s definitely time to change my life.

I set about wrapping up my involvement in the Carnal biz and began talks with a prospective new publisher, Steven S. Crompton, who’d made his Demi The Demoness character into a cult figure of great renown and popularity, perhaps helped in part by her many appearances in my own Carnal line alongside real-life porn stars. But first, I was given the chance to publish comics featuring two of the biggest names in erotica. During a meeting with one of my all time favorite adult film stars, Veronica Hart (“Pandora’s Mirror,” “Roommates”), she told me she was directing two films featuring “comeback” appearances by women who’d long been out of the biz but whose names were still legendary - Ginger Lynn (1985’s “New Wave Hookers”) and Marilyn Chambers (1971’s “Behind The Green Door”).

Chambers’ last X-rated film had been 1980’s “Insatiable.” She remained in the public eye with R-rated TV series’ on HBO, Cinemax, The Playboy Channel and more. Lynn retired from hardcore in 1986, and had gone on to some success in films like the “Vice Academy” series and music videos.
Chambers’ new film was to be called “Still Insatiable,” while Lynn’s was called “Torn.” Both were filmed by VCA Pictures, known for lavish, groundbreaking and expensive feature films and an exclusive stable of the industry’s most popular performers, and I was contracted to do official comic book “souvenir magazines” based on the two most heavily promoted films in X-rated history.

The films and the comics broke all sales records for such endeavors. The two issues were Carnal’s best sellers since the “Triple-X Cinema: A Cartoon History” project. I used my portion of the proceeds to pay for a major medical procedure and checked myself into the hospital. When I came out, much of my recuperation took place with my newest girlfriend Susan at my side, an ex-porn star (“Shyanne”) who’d sworn off the business and who, with her six month old baby, was living with me at the time. As were, for a time, two other women - a curvy platinum blonde stripper calling herself “Savannah” who did masturbation shows at the Jolar Cinema on University Avenue and an internet sex performer named Tricia. Three beautiful women, a man and a baby. What a life.

Not that I was spending all my time bedhopping. I actually became somewhat of a family man. Midnight feedings, baby shots, shopping for cribs - a far different life from the “porn magnate” I’d been known as. I still sold a lot of Carnal Comics through mail order and magazine ads, and there were a million back issues floating around with ordering information printed in the back pages. However, when the opportunity came to hand the whole shebang over to S.S. Crompton, it was a relief and a pleasure to do so. Susan moved out but we remained close, and I pretty much swore off dating porn stars from that point on, current or ex. If nothing else, I no longer need to buy condoms and K-Y lubricating jelly by the case and it’s made for a lot less leather and freaky looking lingerie cluttering up the closets of my house.

My friends react with horror and disbelief that I now pass up the invitations to attend “swinger” sex parties with porn biz associates. And, even though my current girlfriend is stunningly beautiful and sexy, I regularly get grief from guys who gasp “You actually broke up with a Penthouse centerfold? Are you out of your fucking mind?” Of course, none of these guys had to drive that centerfold to the Methadone clinic or hide her heroin needles, or sit at a restaurant dinner table with a girl while men come up to compliment her ability to fit two penises in her butt at the same time.

If it sounds like I’ve given up the life of a junior Hefner for a boring, humdrum, day-to-day existence, all I can say is “Pay more attention to what I’ve just told you.”

If you still can’t understand, don’t blame me.

Blame Gene Simmons.


end

Thursday, September 16, 2004

My Worst Celebrity Interviews ever

HOW NOT TO INTERVIEW A CELEBRITY

Jay Allen Sanford

5,7242 words
1-12-04 draft

I hear it all the time. “Wow, I wish I had your job – you get paid to have fun and hang out with famous people!”

What folks don’t seem to understand is that 1) just cuz someone’s famous, doesn’t mean they’re fun, and 2) the job of writing about celebrities is exactly that, a job. It’s not “hanging out.” We earn those nosebleed seats, preview passes, screener videos and stale backstage boccaburgers, baby, it’s hard work getting publishable quotes outta your average creative type. There’s a mutual disdain and distrust between them, the “artists,” and us, the press. They’re tired of tabloid reporters and of fielding the same old ill-informed questions and we’re tired of having to manufacture an interesting story from their self-serving PR spiel. Remember the scene in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” where even neophyte bottomfeeders in the celebrity biosphere have already ascribed reporters “the enemy?”

Over the course of about fifteen years writing biographies (some authorized by their subjects, others not) and scribbling for rags like the Reader, Starlog, FilmFax, Cult Movies, Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics and others, I’ve had plenty of celebrity interviews go horribly askew, caused by everything from stupidity (as often as not my own) to setting to circumstance to outright sabotage.

Worst beginning for an interview:
“I know you, you’re the asshole who spelled my name wrong on the cover of your magazine.” Roger McGuinn [4-29-91, the Bacchanal, Clairemont Mesa]. I’d written an article about the one-time Byrds guitarist for the now defunct Soundwaves magazine, which misspelled his name “McGwinn” on the cover. I pled innocent to having a part in the editorial snafu and McGuinn-with-a-U agreed to talk to me, but only if I could spell his last name aloud (I could and did) and answer a trivia question – “Name one song I wrote, and if you say a Dylan song I’m walking away” (my “Chestnut Mare” reply got me the interview).


Worst disappointment:
There I was, backstage at a Bob Dylan concert [7-24-91], the lucky winner of a press pool draw. Not only that but I was accompanied by a musician friend of mine, Rick Danko, who’d once been a member of Dylan’s former backing group the Band. Score! Danko promised to get me exclusive access to the reclusive Dylan, who was keeping to himself in a well-guarded enclave of trailers. Over the course of about an hour, a guy kept coming out from Dylan’s trailer to tell us “He’s almost ready for you two, just a few more minutes.” During that same hour, Danko managed to ingest, imbibe, inhale or absorb various recreational substances of differing degrees of potency and consistency, from gasses to powders to liquids, to the point where he was leaning against me and holding onto my shoulders just to keep from falling over. An effort which eventually proved fruitless.

When the trailer guy finally came over to say Dylan was ready to visit with his old friend and his friend’s reporter buddy, Danko was sound asleep and dead to the world, lying on the grass, his head propped up against a cement cinderblock. With only one of us ambulatory, I was refused admittance into the inner circle of trailers. Danko and I stayed friends for years after that but he always insisted that we DID go into the trailer and talk with Dylan, even bragging about getting me the interview and accusing me of ingratitude for not being more thankful, so vivid were his apparent hallucinations. I’ve often wondered if Rick also saw a Dylan concert in his head that night while somnambulant in Satori - if he did, I hope it was better than the half-assed show I caught over here on this side of the cosmic veil (after pouring Danko into the backseat of my editor’s car for a night-long “nap”). I would have liked to have at least asked the renowned poet/jester “Dude, don’t you remember the lyrics to your own songs anymore?!”

Worst locale for an interview:
Tijuana bordello [1-8-94] – A few hours before the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were scheduled to play Iguanas in TJ, singer Dickey Barrett wanted to take a walk with me and find a good place to chat. We ended up at a Zona Norte whorehouse called the Chicago Club, where loud salsa music drowned out my taped interview. Most of the conversation ended up being with swarthy club prostitutes anyway, as the two of us took turns describing the most outrageous and deviant sex acts we could think of, asking each woman “So how much would that one cost me?”


Worst health hazard:
After sitting for a lengthy interview [May 1990], Paul Reubens AKA Pee Wee Herman offered me a tour of his L.A. home, a memorabilia-stuffed museum full of vintage toys and advertising, 3-D cameras and Viewmasters and other pop culture kitsch. Opening a small plastic garbage can full of snot-thick green goo, he suddenly became playful and held the stuff over my head, giggling “Look out, the Green Slime is coming!” Goo dripped wetly from between his fingers and suddenly the viscous fluid went kerplop onto my skull. Immediately apologetic, Reubens tried to assist pulling the gunk from my shoulder-length hair but it just got more matted-in. Then I felt a burning sensation and my eyes began watering as if exposed to ammonia – the green slime, I found out later, was nearly a decade old and the chemical breakdown was having decidedly unpleasant interaction with my scalp, hair and eyes. The photographer accompanying me whisked me to a hospital, where I was attended by a middle aged nurse who luckily remembered the alcohol-based concoction often called upon to treat green slime related mishaps of the early 80s. Reubens was still apologizing the next day when he phoned to make sure I’d lived to tell. He kindly picked up the tab for $975, which covered the cost of my hospital visit and of the hair stylist later called upon to “fix” those spots where slime-encrusted hair had been excised from my shaggy ‘do. The resultant haircut can only be described as a cross between a mullet and a Banzai tree and my scalp still itches like hell anytime I see something both green and gooey (“Honey, how come you always pick your nose and scratch your head at the same time?”)

Worst timing for an interview:
Kurt Cobain, shortly before or possibly during a heroin overdose [5-2-93] – When I called the Seattle phone number given to me by Nirvana’s publicist, I was expecting to reach Kurt Cobain, to discuss a proposed Nirvana comic book. The person who answered the phone spoke only a few words – “Yeah, what do you want?” – before lapsing into fits of giggles and then long silences. I hung up and dialed back but the line was busy all afternoon. The following day, I found out Cobain had overdosed on heroin the previous afternoon – no followup interview was ever arranged and the “official Nirvana comic book” never happened.

Worst dueling diva dilemma:
While editing an adult oriented line of very-graphic novels called Carnal Comics, I was scheduled to meet in L.A., at different times on the same day, with Aja and Pamela Des Barres – the former a legendary porn star and the latter known as “the world’s most famous groupie,” whose book “I’m With The Band” famously detailed her liaisons with members of Led Zeppelin, the Who and dozens more. It was to be my decision which starlet would be featured in her own mass market comic book. First, there was lunch with lubricious Howard Stern Show fave Aja, during which I mentioned my upcoming meeting with Miss Des Barres. “My God,” Aja grimaced, “how can that woman do what she does? I mean, fucking guys just ‘cause they play guitar? At least with me, it’s my job, my profession. I’m great at what I do, I get paid well for it and then I go home feeling good about it all. She’s nothing but a screwed up slut with delusions of grandeur!”

During dinner with Des Barres, I dropped Aja’s name and said I’d met with her that afternoon. “What a filthy little thing,” Des Barres frowned. “When I have sex with a guy, it’s because there’s something about him I’m already attracted to. I know and respect his music, I feel something from him and I want to share some of myself with him in return. That girl’s nothing but a porn slut – hand her a few bucks and she’ll do it with anybody. That’s just plain nasty.” Carnal Comics ended up publishing the Aja comic, which went into three additional printings, but passed on doing a comic version of Pamela Des Barres’ “I’m With The Band.”

Worst question that got the best answer:
Asked of Joey Ramone 11-6-95, backstage at the Sports Arena: “So do giant mice still have to wear earplugs at your concerts to avoid exploding?” The obscure reference to a recurring gag in the film “Rock And Roll High School” elicited a chuckle and a quote much more sparkling than the query merited - “No, but the roaches do!”

Worst question ever, period:
“When did you first realize you were a one-hit wonder?” Asked of Eric Denton [8-99] of the San Diego based Monroes, whose one and only hit record “What Do All The People Know” (“All the people tell me so, but what do all the people know…”) came out in late 1981. Denton’s reply – “What kind of question is that? How am I supposed to answer? Nobody ever says to themselves ‘I’m a one-hit wonder, my life and career, it’s over.’”

Worst phone interview:
Actress Traci Lords, former underage porn star and B-movie cult icon, was available for an interview, but only during my afternoon shift managing a music shop called Robert’s. I gave her publicist the store number for Lords to call.
“Robert’s, this is Jay, may I help you?”
“Uhhhhh, is Jay there?”
“This is Jay, can I help you?”
“I thought you said this was Robert.”
“This IS Robert’s. I’m Jay. What can I do for you?”
“Who’s Robert?”
“You’ve reached Robert’s. Can I help you?”
“Yes, can I speak to Jay?”
“This IS Jay. Who’s calling?”
“You said you were Robert.”
“No, I said this is Robert’s. I’m Jay.”
“That’s who I’m looking for. Jay.”
“I’m Jay. You’re speaking to Jay.”
“Okay. Then why were you pretending to be Robert? I’m so confused.”
And indeed she was. Shortly after we figured out who each other was, Lords terminated the interview because I hadn’t signed the faxed agreement forbidding me from asking questions about her adult film career. It was fun for a moment anyways, playing Abbott to her Costello (or Cheech to her Chong – “Dave’s not here, man”).

Worst awkward meeting:
Before I agreed to write the unauthorized biography of Marvel Comics figurehead Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man and the Hulk, I should have thought about the fact that Lee and I would likely come across each other on the comic convention circuit, promoting our respective endeavors. My bio raised a lot of still-open questions about who really “created” Marvel’s best known characters, scripter Lee or illustrators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko who dispute their former boss’ recollections as to who deserves the most credit, not to mention compensation, the bulk of both having long since been claimed by Stan Lee. This revisionist look at the foundation of Marvel’s eventual empire caused a lot of discussion and controversy in both the mainstream and comic industry trade press.

Sure enough, Lee and I ended up scheduled side by side, signing autographs at the San Diego Comic-Con. A small crowd gathered as I was introduced to him as the author of his unauthorized bio. Cameras flashed and onlookers seemed to be expecting (or at least hoping for) fisticuffs to erupt any moment, such was the public animosity the book had stirred. Lee reached out, shook my hand…and told me “I’m sorry.” I was mystified. Why was HE apologizing to ME? Was he sorry to have met me? Sorry the bio exists? I asked what he meant – “I’m sorry,” he said, “that I didn’t lead a more interesting life, because perhaps then your book about me would have been more interesting.” This gentlemanly way of telling me that he didn’t think much of my work came accompanied with a diplomatic smile that stayed plastered coolly on his face the whole time we posed for photos together.

I’d come prepared with a copy of the bio in question, which I pulled from my briefcase and asked if he’d autograph. Hey, it’s Stan “The Man” Lee, okay? And I figured if his hands were busy signing my unauthorized biography then he couldn’t punch me in the head. He graciously did the deed (signing, not punching), we mugged for a few more snapshots with me holding up my prize and then we parted, never to cross paths again – other than the personalized letter of rejection I later got when I applied for job at his [since failed] internet company Stan Lee Media, signed “Tough luck, True Believer!”

Worst sabotaged introduction to a rock star:
Meeting Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger [10-11-98], introduced by an unfriendly (to me, anyways) local promoter – “Robbie, this is the guy who wrote the Doors comic book you never got any money from.”

Worst insult or threat from a rock star:
Axl Rose [9-30-92 Jack Murphy Stadium] to publicist Tom Holtz, pointing at me – “If that motherfucker steps over the line and comes on our side, I don’t care who invited him, I’ll smash his fuckin’ face!” I was backstage as a guest of co-headliner Ice-T of Body Count, who was unaware of the bad blood between Rose and I stemming from a Gn’R comic book I’d written. Just a few months previously, in a cover feature for the April ’92 issue of Rolling Stone, Rose had singled out my Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics #43 to badmouth - “A comic book says how Izzy comes to me and says ‘you know, I just don’t feel I’m up to this.’ And I go ‘Yeah, and you’re scared, too, aw shit.’ Well, that ain’t the way it went down.” (The scene was laid out according to events described to me by Izzy himself). Backstage at the stadium, someone in the Gn’R encampment pointed me out to Rose and informed him that I was the guy behind said comic book. He went ballistic, having to be held back as he hurled increasingly profane insults and threats my way, both amusing and flattering me whereas I suspect his intent was to frighten, or at least intimidate. Later, while Gn’R played onstage, I crossed over to the group’s wagon train of busses and trailers, snuck into their catering tent and scattered around a dozen copies of the comic book that had so incensed Rose, for the band’s post-performance enjoyment. Nine years later, I mentioned this during a chance encounter with Slash and he was nearly apoplectic with laughter. “Dude, I thought Axl’s fuckin’ head was gonna explode when he saw those comics!” Ahh, the power of the press.

Worst public embarrassment (with smoothest recovery):
Outspoken and epically cantankerous author Harlan Ellison and I were both booked to sign autographs at a 1994 Atlanta comic book convention. Seated near each other behind a conference table, I was mostly signing copies of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics while Ellison promoted his upcoming Dream Corridor comic book. During one lull, I showed him a comic I'd written called Deepest Dimension Terror Anthology, featuring an illustrated adaptation of a short story which Ellison had published in his own “Dangerous Visions” anthology book -- "A Toy For Juliette” by famed "Psycho" author Robert Bloch. Ellison's mood visibly darkened. "Nobody told me about this," he growled (and I do mean growled – think Schwarzenegger finding a parking ticket on his Humvee). He made the line of autograph seekers wait while he carefully read the comic (illustrated by Matthew Alice's own Rick Geary) from cover to cover. I could almost see the thunderclouds forming over his head as he got to a brief scene that hadn't appeared in the original text story from “Dangerous Visions.”
"Who the fuck gave a no-name son of a bitch like you the right to rewrite Robert Bloch?" he fairly shouted, so loud that people in line visibly flinched. "You put his fucking name on the cover, every goddamned word of this story should be by Robert fucking Bloch."

Ellison went on berating me without pause for another half minute (so I’m told – I was sure it was a half hour), his voice and gorge rising in tandem as he eloquently, if profanely, defended the sacrosanct nature of Robert Bloch’s storytelling. Finally running out of oxygen if not epithets, he paused for breath and I was able to tell him "I spoke with Robert Bloch about the comic script and he's the one who suggested the change and the new dialogue."
In a bipolar rush of reversal, Ellison’s scowl was replaced by an unctuous smile as he closed the comic book and handed it back to me with feigned grace. "Oh, well, why didn't you say so? In that case, I love it. Good work." Ellison turned to the crowd of onlookers, bowed with Shakespearean theatricality and said "Everyone of you should buy this Deepest Dimension comic. I highly recommend it." I understand that’s the closest thing to a public apology ever offered by the mercurial wordsmith.

Worst actors from the worst movies:
“Vampira” (real name Maila Nurmi) is probably best known for appearing in the so-called worst movie ever made, Ed Wood Jr.’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Nurmi agreed to an in-depth in-person chat with me at L.A.’s Glamourcon convention (November 1995) for an article about horror TV hosts – her glamour ghoul Morticia Addams-style character debuted on TV in April 1955, hosting late night horror movies shown on KABC channel 7 in L.A., predating copycat Elvira by decades (even Elvira’s name rhymes with Vampira’s). I also wanted to ask about her fabled friendship with James Dean (who told reporters that he thought Nurmi was a genuine sorceress, before finding out she was a mere horror movie hostess). After the young actor’s death in September 1955, Nurmi claimed to the press on several occasions that she was in contact with Dean’s departed spirit: “The Ghost Of James Dean” was a 5-page cover feature written by Vampira herself for Borderline magazine in January ‘64. When asked about this, the 74 year old actress was put off by my query and reluctant to discuss Dean at all. I asked about an article from the February ’57 issue of Whisper Magazine, a cover feature entitled “James Dean’s Black Madonna” - “What did you think when tabloids published rumors that you were a jilted lover who put some kind of curse on James Dean shortly before his fatal car crash?”

Nurmi stiffened in both poise and tone. “The gossip magazines made that story up, after I wouldn’t talk to them any more about Jimmy,” she said icily, adding “I’ll have you know that I personally destroyed the only known photograph of James Dean and I together, just so that people like you couldn’t accuse me of cashing in on my friendship with him.” This belied previous interviews she’d given but I pushed on, asking about her failed infringement lawsuit against Elvira (1989 Nurmi v. Peterson – Nurmi lost because the court ruled “character likeness means an exact copy, not a suggestive resemblance”). This served only to get her more agitated – “As far as I’m concerned, she stole the entire ‘Vampira’ concept from me, that’s all I’ll say.”

With two strikes against me, I figured what the hell, if looks could kill I would have already been wearing a toe tag. “Is it true your TV show was cancelled in early 1955 because parents complained that you promoted witchcraft and because you made a joke on the air saying ‘My sister was lynched for raping a snake’?” This oft-repeated rumor first turned up in 50s magazines like Whisper and Confidential and I hoped to finally get either a confirmation or denial of its veracity, straight from the sorceress’ mouth, as it were, but she gave me neither, instead standing up and turning swiftly on the heels of her sensible black shoes and marching away from me without another word.

Her tablemate at Glamourcon, 63-year old Conrad Brooks, also had a role in “Plan 9” (as “Patrolman Jamie”) and he sat nearby watching as my chat with Vampira abruptly ended. “You can interview ME,” he offered with a hopeful grin, putting his arm around my shoulder with unnerving familiarity. My assignment was write an article with some kind of “cult movie star” angle so I said “sure” and went to start my tape recorder. “No, wait, you have to buy one of my movies first,” he insisted, pushing a VHS copy of “Baby Ghost” into my hands, an apparently homemade Casper knockoff that, when I tried to sit through it later, made the worst entry in Ed Wood’s inept oeuvre look like “Citizen Kane.” It ended up costing me $15 ($10 for the video and $5 for an autographed B&W photo) to talk to Conrad Brooks but at least he told me a colorful story about the time cross-dressing counterculture hero Ed Wood burst into tears because his favorite bullet brassiere had shrunk in the wash.

Worst trip down memory lane:
Richard Matheson’s work for the classic Twilight Zone series (“The Invaders,” “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet,” “Little Girl Lost,” etc.) represents some of television’s best writing. His agent arranged for a phone interview [1/18/89], though I quickly found the author hadn’t been informed that my article was about the 60s anthology TV series Thriller – an assignment which, unbeknownst to me, Matheson considered the nadir of his television career.

MATHESON) Thriller? You’re kidding, right? The Boris Karloff show? Well I’ll be. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me about that particular show. It’s not even on my resume. Well, okay, I guess I’ll tell you what I can. I only did the one episode. I have to tell you, it’s weird being asked about this. Just hearing the name of the show after all this time, well, it wasn’t my favorite career experience, let’s just say. Do I really want to get into this?

Q) How did you come to adapt that particular story, “The Return Of Andrew Bentley” [by August Derleth and Mark Shorer]? Had you adapted work by others much at that point?

MATHESON) This is going to be an interesting interview. You want to ask me about other writers then? And about Thriller? Okay, let’s get this out of the way quick so we can wrap this up. This isn’t what you want to hear, or maybe it is, but I wasn’t too happy with what happened to that particular script. There was some massive rewrite.

Q) Oh really? It was revised after you’d turned in your final draft?

MATHESON) Well, yes, of course, why else would I be unhappy with it? What I had done, I don’t know if you’re familiar with a Twilight Zone of mine called “Nick Of Time” [Bill Shatner and the devilhead fortune telling machine]. Well, I put that couple into a bantering thing. I did a similar thing with Bentley, with that sort of bandying about, gradually becoming involved in genuine fear. And, uh, they played it pretty heavy right from the start. Which is not really my cup of tea [AUTHOR’S NOTE: surprising to hear from the guy who wrote “I Am Legend,” about a vampiric plague and the last human on Earth, and Spielberg’s TV movie “Duel,” both “pretty heavy right from the start”…]

Q) Did you know about the rewrite before it aired?

MATHESON) I had no idea. And I have no idea who redid it. A story editor? That’s happened to me a number of times, but this was one of the earliest occasions and just being reminded of it is unpleasant, I can tell you. It’s the business…I’m rather more well-known now, safe to say, but of course it’s still something that happens and something I’d just as soon not dwell on or discuss at length. Or discuss at all, now that I’ve come to think on it. What say we both find something else to do now? Good luck with your article [cue dial tone…].

Worst interruption or distraction:
Courtney Love’s cootchie [Civic Theater 12-12-94] – Backstage at 91X’s Christmas concert, I was trying to have an earnest conversation with legendary crooner Tom Jones, but seated on a bench just opposite where we stood was Hole singer Courtney Love. Love kept lifting her short raggedy dress to her chin every time Jones looked in her direction, knees akimbo far more than was necessary for us to ascertain that she wasn’t wearing panties and that her hygiene routine apparently didn’t include razors or wax. Love winked at Jones with every flash but the Welsh sex symbol, to his credit, didn’t even acknowledge the dark and frightening pelvic forest she was trying to lure him toward. That is until just as I was turning off my tape recorder to leave, whereupon he leaned over and whispered in my ear “On the bright side, I don’t have to worry about her throwing her undergarments at me!”

Worst misunderstanding:
In February 1989, I was one of several people being considered to write a mass-market biography of Gene Roddenberry, the writer/producer to thank/ blame for the revered/reviled Star Trek phenomenon. Roddenberry and his wife, veteran Trek actress Majel Barrett [Nurse Chapel on the original series], sent word that they wanted to meet with me and with writer David Alexander at separate occasions, to get a feel for our respective approaches to the project. My interview took place over a poolside brunch at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and all seemed to be going well at first. Roddenberry was explaining how he wanted this to be an unbiased “warts and all” account when he excused himself to visit the men’s room. This left me in the position of making small talk with his wife, who at the time had a recurring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lwaxana Troi, the flamboyant mother of Enterprise crewmember Deanna Troi.

I mentioned to Mrs. Roddenberry that I enjoy the way her character is portrayed as being far into the Autumn of her life, yet still shown as very sexual, amorously pursuing a twitchy Captain Picard and taunting him with a rotating roster of competing suitors, once even going into pheromone-frenzied “heat” and, in another episode, turning up nude on the Enterprise promenade. “Yours is one of the most sexual characters on the show,” I was telling her, just as Roddenberry stepped back up to our table.

He apparently misheard me – “For chrissakes,” Roddenberry bellowed loud enough to make the orange juice in my glass ripple like the scene in Jurassic Park where T-Rex is approaching. “I walk away for five minutes and come back to find you hitting on my wife and telling her she’s the sexiest thing on Star Trek!” At first I thought he was pulling my leg, impressing me with acting skill hitherto unsuspected on my part, but then he was grabbing her arm and nearly yanking her to her feet before either Mrs. Roddenberry or I could clarify, muttering “This is why I never bring my wife out in public any more.” Before a reaction could so much as register on my face, they were off the patio, out the doors and making their way toward the valet parking lot, leaving me with a breakfast bill of $57 for three orange juices, muffins, coffee and two fruit salads.

David Alexander completed his nearly 600 page love letter to Roddenberry after the Star Trek creator passed away in 1991 and the book became a mid-level bestseller. I ended up scripting two much-less-circulated comic book bios about Roddenberry and his (quite lovely) wife, both of them unauthorized but neither unflattering. Majel Barrett recently autographed a copy of her comic for me, apologizing for the way her husband’s jealousy resulted in me losing a primo writing gig. “God love him,” she said with weary affection, “he believed I was the most beautiful creature on Earth and was convinced every other man in the world wanted to steal me away from him.”

Worst case of getting too close to a subject:
I met Penthouse centerfold and covergirl Christina Angel at the San Diego Comic-Con, of all places, which she was attending in the company of purported rock star Glenn Danzig. While interviewing Christina for a biographical profile being done about her, the two of us, to put it in the simplest terms, “hit it off.” Before the convention was over, she’d taken up temporary residence with me, forsaking Danzig’s hotel room for my two bedroom house in La Mesa. This caused no small amount of consternation a few nights later when she and I showed up arm-in-arm at a private Comic-Con party being hosted by Danzig (we were frostily “escorted” out of the building by several of the singer’s well-muscled bodyguards). Soon after, I took to the road with Christina for awhile, attending showgirl conventions in Vegas and working strip clubs where she headlined, jetting all over the country and catching her clothes as they flew from the stage. At the time, I considered myself the luckiest guy alive - homely, hairy, chronically underemployed, and yet having a cross country romantic fling with a one-time Playboy Playmate who’d been voted among the ten most beautiful women in the world?! God was treating me like I’d just sucked his dick or something!

The immediate problem, aside from living two hours apart, stemmed from Christina being married at the time (not to Danzig). That and her unpleasant downhill spiral into low budget porn movies, a questionable career choice that she chose to promote with an appearance on the Jerry Springer Show. I was watching the program when she brought up our extramarital relationship - I hadn’t been given any warning this was coming. I decided on the spot that, when my life is being discussed on TV with Jerry Springer, it’s definitely time to change my life, and the two of us went our separate ways. Male friends were bewildered if not downright angry that I’d walk away from a gorgeous centerfold model and porn star, seeing as how I normally couldn’t lure a Wal-Mart cashier into my bedroom without chloroform or cocaine. As the old cliché goes, grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, but that wouldn’t be the case if people just watered their own fucking lawns.

Worst and most unsettling wrap-up:
“Let’s come up with something that we can all make money on, and that way our attack dog lawyers won’t have to go after you and drag you like carrion to my doorstep.” – Gene Simmons [8-2-93]. This was pretty much the final word in a taped phone conference between Simmons, myself and the publisher of Revolutionary Comics, where I was managing editor at the time. Our company had previously produced an unofficial, unauthorized issue of Hard Rock Comics about Kiss. Simmons “unofficially” liked our comic and, instead of suing us, wore a Hard Rock Comics T-shirt on the cover of “Kiss Alive III” and then phoned our office for the above referenced conference. He was proposing a “joint publication” between the band and Revolutionary, albeit under vague threat of attack dog litigation over the earlier unsanctioned comic. Simmons and RevCom never quite came to an agreement about the joint publication and Kiss ended up producing the new bio comic themselves, published in their “Kisstory” hardcover book. They hired the same creative and production team from our company’s Kiss comic book to do it, essentially getting themselves a Revolutionary comic without having to pay Revolutionary Comics. Oh well, at least I didn’t end up getting dragged like carrion (or maybe he meant “carry-on,” as in luggage?) to Gene Simmons’ doorstep (where he seems to have installed a revolving door, judging from the umpteenth Kiss lineup currently failing to sellout arenas on their umpteenth “farewell” tour).

Worst interview subject:
Dr. Dre [4-8-92] – The NWA lyricist didn’t give up a single usable quote during this taped phone chat regarding his debut solo album “The Chronic.” My article instead ended up being about how many times the rapper said “You know what I’m sayin’” without actually saying anything - 178 times in just under twenty minutes, averaging once every six to seven seconds. I still got paid for the article, and now I’m being paid to write about the interview again, which is why Dre was the worst interview subject but not the worst interview ever.

Worst interview ever:
Arthur Lee [7-23-94] – I met with the leader of legendary 60s L.A. band Love outside the now-defunct and then-funky Flash Café in Mission Valley. About ten minutes into what seemed like a perfectly normal chat, Lee – who has a reputation for being, um, mentally unpredictable – suddenly shouted that I was a “lying son of a bitch” and that I wasn’t really a reporter, I was an undercover police officer trying to trick him into admitting he’d done something illegal, on tape (I hadn’t said a word about anything other than music). Lee snatched a $200 recording machine from my hands and smashed it to the ground, kicking it across the asphalt and leaving the unit in pieces before turning to flee into the building.

Randy California’s band Spirit was also on the bill that night and California witnessed Lee’s tantrum and the ensuing destruction from just a few feet away.

“You’re lucky he only thought you were a narc,” California offered casually as I bent over to pick up the busted remains of one of the most expensive tools of my trade. “He hates reporters a lot worse than he hates cops.”

End

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

My Brunch With Yoko Ono

BRUNCH WITH YOKO
Jay Allen Sanford



Yoko’s personal secretary called me early Friday afternoon.

“Miss Ono and her companion will be arriving in Dalton Georgia around 3pm tomorrow. She regrets that she won’t be able to accompany you to your residence, the demands on her time during this trip are overwhelming. She would, however, like to meet with you for brunch. Do you know a suitable establishment where the three of you might be guaranteed a modicum of privacy?” I gave the name of the fanciest restaurant I know within driving distance, so the secretary could call ahead and make reservations for Yoko Ono and her two companions.

How did an obscure underemployed writer-cartoonist end up having a brunch date with Yoko? An old friend of mine, Rickey, a rock memorabilia buyer and appraiser, did some work for a law firm hired by Yoko several years ago, when she was suing a company called the International Collector’s Society. He gave expert testimony about the value of items Yoko claimed the firm had sold and owed her money for (more than $160,000 worth) and ended up befriending the diminutive pop culture icon, continuing to advise her about the art resale and collector’s market to this day.

It turned out that he was traveling with Yoko to look at potential exhibition sites for the Art Of John Lennon gallery tours, and they’d be passing near where I was staying in rural Georgia. He offered to “drop by” my house with Yoko on their way to the city and I said “why not?” thinking he was surely joking. A week before they were due to arrive in Atlanta, he called to say “It’s on, me and Yoko will be there Saturday.”

I spent the next week maniacally cleaning and re-arranging my home. I became obsessive over my typically unspeakable bachelor-pad bathroom, experiencing something akin to waking nightmares at the thought of Yoko Ono using my toilet for reasons I still can’t (or would rather not) understand or explain. I’m talking bugfuck crazy, I was scrubbing chrome-like sparkle onto all the surfaces with Lysol every quarter hour at least, nearly ‘round the clock, and even went so far as to price having a new toilet installed the day before Yoko’s arrival. My plan was to relieve myself in the woods behind my house (bears do it) until AFTER Yoko’s visit, to insure a pristine seat for her mind-bogglingly famous ass cheeks (dude, her house has white walls and carpets! My bathroom USED to be white…)

Luckily, since Yoko’s secretary informed that we’d be meeting at a restaurant instead of my house, I could finally use my toilet again without stressing over whether my careless aim could end up being Yoko Ono’s predominant memory of meeting the guy who worked on the UNofficial Beatles comic book series.

About that comic, Yoko knew about it and had graciously neglected to sue our Hillcrest-based publishing company, Revolutionary Comics. We’d been targeted in another of her lawsuit roundups because our comic covering the Beatles’ lives together and apart was published without her authorization. Luckily, Rickey intervened and provided Yoko with copies of all eight issues, along with an entreaty to read them before pursuing litigation. I’m told she was impressed with the research and effort that went into the comics, as well as the obvious love and affection shown for its subjects and for her (writer Todd Loren liked Yoko second-best among the fab-five, ranking her in adoration just behind her late husband). Yoko instructed her lawyers not to press against us, that there was nothing libelous, inflammatory or even copyright-infringing in our comics, so I was already feeling pretty indebted to Rickey long before he set up this informal meeting between the three of us.

Our brunch was arranged for 1pm Saturday at the Dalton Depot, an upscale place about 45 minutes down the mountain from where I rented a cabin while on sabbatical from San Diego, working on some writing projects. The restaurant is built in an old train depot which dates back to 1847, with the railroad theme extending as far as little model trains that circle the interior of the restaurant on a scale track lined with miniature trees and zooming thru tiny tunnels. It’s historic pedigree and blue chip atmosphere made it seem the perfect place for an informal meeting with one of the world’s richest women.

At about 9AM, I got a call from Rickey on his cell phone. “Hey, Jay! We’re in the car right now! Wanna say hi to Yoko?”

GULP!

“Hello, Jay! Richard has told me a lot about you! I understand we’ll be eating at an authentic Joe-jahhh railroad depot?”

I was vastly unprepared for her humorous/ghastly attempt to fake a southern accent on the word “Georgia” and I have no idea what I said in response. Probably “Er, uh, well, um, errrrr….” She said something like “Well, we’ll see you soon,” and put Rickey [Richard?] back on the phone so I could give him directions for their driver. I told him I’d be waiting out front and to look for the guy who appears to be seconds away from actually shitting an actual brick. I don’t even want to dwell on why I then scrubbed my toilet down one more time before leaving for Dalton, despite the fact that Yoko (thank whatever gods watch over lunatics like me) would not be squatting within thirty miles of my nearly hermetically sealed abode.

My watch said exactly one minute before one o’clock when a sleek towncar (not a limo) pulled into the driveway in front of the restaurant. I started walking up to the car to open the back door for them but their driver beat me to it, getting out and stepping around to open it. Rickey got out first, nodded in my direction and then bent over to hold his arm out and help a teeny tiny Asian woman out of the car.

Yoko has fairly short hair, upswept, and she was wearing a pair of tinted glasses that covered approximately half her face. She had on black slacks and a kinda glittery blouse that I think was purply-black, short sleeved. Not at all flashy or “odd” looking, except maybe the giant glasses tinted so black under the sun that her thin mouth looked like the horizon of a darkening night. I was struck by how small she was – like a child, really. Rickey, standing next to her (who knows or cares what the fuck HE was wearing), isn’t exactly a giant, but she still looked like a schoolgirl next to him.

I stepped up, I’m sure looking as nervous as I felt. I was glad I hadn’t overdressed – just my nice gray Polo short, dress gray pants, a stone necklace with a white onyx elephant (John and Yoko’s first band was Elephant’s Memory) and a new pair of black Italian loafers I’d bought just for this occasion.

Rickey shook my hand and introduced Yoko. She reached out to offer her own handshake, saying “Nice to meet you, Mr. Sanford.” That’s when I first became aware she was wearing membrane-thin clear surgical gloves, almost invisible to the eye. I only noticed because her hand crinkled as I shook it. I must have looked down at her hand with the evident fear that I’d cracked her fragile flesh or something. “Oh, I wear these everywhere. I hope you don’t mind.” Why she thought I’d mind, I don’t know. Maybe some people get offended and assume Yoko considers us all germ-infested untouchables. Me, if I had the entire world reaching out to shake my hand everywhere I went, I’d probably wear burlap gardening gloves every time I leave the house.

To my surprise, she crooked out her arm as if expecting me to take it. I looked at Rickey, he nodded again and I linked my arm around hers - the next thing I knew, I was squiring Yoko Ono into the Depot.

There was an unusual amount of people in there for lunchtime, nearly a full house. The staff was clearly expecting us. I suspect they spent the night and morning before our arrival notifying everyone they knew that Yoko was coming for brunch, that’s how uncharacteristically large the crowd was. We were escorted to a nicely placed table at the rear of the restaurant (boy, I never got to sit at that great table on the other two occasions I’d been there…).

Yoko ordered unsweetened tea, Rich and I ordered sweet tea and we made small talk while looking over the menus. Yoko was asking me about the area, how long I’d lived there, what it’s like, were there a lot of restaurants like this. Rickey said my torso-length hair had grown even longer since he’d last seen me (I wore it down that day) and suddenly Yoko was reaching out to stroke my hair! Indoors, her glasses had cleared so I could see her eyes and, even though they were Asian-thin, I could see she was looking at me really intently. Staring, even, as she ran her fingers lightly up and down the length of my hair.

I had a split second thought - “Jeez, is Yoko Ono coming ON to me?!?!” – but then I could tell the little 70-something-year-old lady wasn’t thinking at all along those lines. “Richard told me you were very handsome. Why do you wear your hair over your face like this? I’m sure he and everyone else here would rather see what you look like!”

That’s when it dawned on me that, to her knowledge, since our mutual friend Rickey was gay, she assumed I must also be gay. I doubt she ever would have stroked the hair of such an epically heterosexual male, especially one she’d just met, in such an intimate studying manner, though I can’t say for sure why I feel this way.

I think I “ummed” and “errrred” and “ahemmmed” a bit more but I somehow managed to crack a little joke and said “My ears get cold real easy,” and she let out a little hiccupping giggle. Somehow, having made Yoko giggle put me immensely more at ease than I had been up until that particular moment. My back unstiffened, my toes uncurled (I hadn’t realized how tightly they were clenched in the grip of my too-tight new shoes) and I managed to sip the iced tea our waitress dropped at the table without choking or spilling anything down the front of my most (and only) expensive shirt.

We talked about the menu. I told her I’d chosen the place because I knew she was vegetarian and they had a great selection of specialty salads. She mentioned a restaurant they’d found the previous day that specialized in gourmet vegetarian food and I sort of regretted not having done more research before recommending the Depot as the ideal place for us to eat. On reflection, it was probably fine – she ordered a vegetable plate, I ordered pasta primavera, Rickey asked for one of the specialty salads and we were left to nibble on our rolls amidst a mildly awkward silence for a moment before Yoko looked me straight in the eye again with that unnerving look of hers.

“So, when were you born?”

I should have expected this, having read about her fixation with astrology. I told her I was an Aquarius and she said “That explains your creativity. Did you draw the comic books I saw?” This took me by surprise, I’d forgotten that Rickey gave her a set of Beatles comics.

“No, I only edited those. I was still teaching myself to draw then.”

This seemed to fascinate her, to discover that I learned illustration only AFTER getting into the comic biz, and this became the topic of our discussion until dinner salads arrived a few minutes (seemed like hours) later. Rickey told her about the comic strip I do for the Reader’s music section and she said “Well, you know, nobody ever encouraged John to draw either, not even the other boys in the Beatles, and it wasn’t until we started meeting art gallery people that he realized his art actually meant something, that it wasn’t just John scribbling again.”

I’m not sure why this sentence literally took my breath away. I couldn’t breathe for a moment, it felt like my blood entirely stopped circulating. I’d been instructing myself all week to NOT bring up John, to NOT mention the Beatles. I wanted to congratulate her on her recent #1 single “Walking On Thin Ice” (the dance remix), to talk about her own music, her own career, thinking this would surely be more rewarding for her than the endless discussions people want to have about her husband, dead twenty three years, and the band she was not only never a part of but that the world had long accused her of ruining.

And here she was, mentioning John and the Beatles in the same sentence, all the while staring into my eyes as if my reaction would be the basis of whether she likes or dislikes me from that moment onward.

I’m not positive exactly what I said when I was finally able to breathe again, but it was something like “If great artists are never recognized for their art until late in life, then there may be hope for me as an artist after all!”

Yoko’s entire body seemed to smile at this, not just the perfect white teeth she fleetingly flashed (dentures? Why was I suddenly picturing Yoko’s teeth in a glass of fizzy water and sitting atop a Romanesque white pedastal?!). I think I heard another of those disarmingly girly chuckles, just barely audible, with the slightest shudder of her shoulders as the only proof I can offer that the chuckle really happened. The world in general, like myself, rarely associates “chuckle” with “Yoko,” in any conceivable context, so I was awash with marvel at how surprising my brunch with Yoko was already turning out to be.

Our dishes were served and I finally did get to congratulate her on that #1 single. Neither John nor the Beatles ever came up again, I suspect to everyone’s relief.

We talked a bit more about self-taught musicians and artists and I mentioned being close to a young woman in prison who’s using her time to followup on her own artistic aspirations, like writing short fiction, poetry and children’s books. This brought a raised eyebrow and Yoko said “Is that your sister?”

“No, she’s, uh, well, we talked about getting married, but she got in trouble and she’s going to be in prison for, well, a long time.”

“Why? What did she do?”

“She was involved in a robbery and things went really bad so she ended up in a lot of trouble.”

Yoko nodded and didn’t seem to want to pry, but she still stared at me with a curious expression (possibly trying to decide if I was gay after all). I took out my wallet to show her the photo I always carry around of the young lady in question, along with her lipstick-print on a piece of paper I keep in the same photo slot.

“She’s very beautiful,” Yoko said softly. “Tell her I said that, and that her life can always be as beautiful as she is, if she wishes it.”

I rambled on for a few minutes about the young lady’s accomplishments, how she’s keeping her head together and remaining true to herself and her ideals even in the midst of so much sociopathic, aggressive humanity. Yoko listened and nodded, seeming to be genuinely interested.

“We have many friends who end up in jail for wrong reasons,” she said (making me wonder who she meant by “we” – surely not her and Rickey, they’re only casual acquaintances…does she still refer to “we” as in her and John Lennon, I wonder?). “That doesn’t make them any less our friends, and we look at them for who they are, not where they are, and for what they are doing rather than what they’ve done.” I think I’m quoting her fairly closely here, if I’m off it’s only by a few words.

Her wisdom and warmth, the words she said and the way she said it, filled my heart with appreciation for the tiny little Asian woman with the giant glasses who was once accused of breaking up the world’s biggest rock group. I felt renewed respect for this most singular of artists, one who’s always held her head up high in the face of indifference or outright ridicule, who followed her own muse and screeched to a different drummer and maintained extraordinary dignity through and beyond the assassination of the love of her own life, John Lennon.

I can honestly say that, at that moment, I decided I loved Yoko Ono. Loved who and what she was. I still allowed that I’ll never be able to listen to her caterwauling “Don’t Worry Kyoko, It’s Only Mummy’s Hand Bleeding In The Snow” without blowing chunks, and you couldn’t force me to listen to “Baby’s Heartbeat” again with a gun to my head, but just because I don’t “get” her art, doesn’t mean I don’t love and respect the artist.

We all passed on dessert and Rickey said they had to head back down to Atlanta. Yoko didn’t say another word the whole time we packed up to go, while I paid the check and chatted loosely with Rickey. She just watched us and took it all in, not speaking again until we were all outside and their car was pulling back into the driveway (where had it and the driver been while we ate, I wondered, and how did the driver know precisely when to pull up?). Rickey thanked me for brunch and then the driver was coming around to open the car door for them.

Yoko reached out both her crinkly hands (she’d changed gloves twice that I noticed – once before eating and once after) and took both my hands into hers. “Thank you for the lovely time, I very much enjoyed meeting you,” she said, I’m sure giving me that penetrating gaze even if I couldn’t see her eyes now that we were outside and her glasses had darkened again. “Perhaps we can do this again sometime.”

“Next time,” Rickey piped in, “maybe we’ll make it up to your mountain cabin.”

Unlikely, I know, but I’ll start hording a few extra shekels anyways, just in case I suddenly need to buy a new toilet.

end

The Dark Metal Scene In San Diego - essay

JOIN THE CIRCLE OF DARKNESS
Jay Allen Sanford


"Some rock and roll groups stand in a circle and drink cups of blood. Some get on their knees and pray to the devil. Rock and roll hypnotizes us and controls our senses."
Little Richard, quoted in 1974


Where does one go to compare notes with other locals on things like mosh pit etiquette, antagonizing mall security guards, cool covens and all-black wardrobes? What website offers the most synonyms, rhymes and allegorical references for words like death, hate, pain, murder and mutilation? Which places in town do the best tattoos of pentagrams, rotting corpses, porn stars and Ozzy logos? And how do you track down retail sources for Satanic Bibles, spiked dog collars, strategically torn fishnet stockings, bovine nose rings, fingerless leather gloves and reptile jewelry? Welcome to the quandary endured by those who consider themselves part of San Diego’s “Dark Metal” scene.

The L.A. band Slayer, formed in 1982, was among the first groups to forge this permutation of heavy metal music, characterized by fast strumming, hyperactive guitar solos, distorted tones, chromatic note progressions, fractured rhythms and guttural, barely coherent vocals. Mid-eighties headbangers like Sodom, Sepultura, Entombed and Morbid Angel willingly encouraged the term “death metal” in reference to their music, more than appropriate considering the atmosphere created by bloody album graphics, nihilist themes and lyrical obsessions with death and Apocalypticism. Glorifying Satan became the main motif and marketing axis for groups like Venom, Hellhammer, Mercyful Fate, King Diamond and Danzig, amusing rock critics and horrifying PMRC-minded parents. These bands all have one thing in common – placing morbid narrative ideals and grotesque imagery far above musical form. Followers of these bands differ as to what constitutes “Death” metal compared to subgenres dubbed “Black,” “Thrash,” “Hardcore,” “Grindcore” or “Speed” metal but, for the purposes of this article, the term dark metal is used to apply to bands whose music is loud, fast, aggressive and thematically focused on pain, death and/or occultism.

“The Devil diddled my mom, and I don’t care.
Satan whizzed in her mouth but she swallowed and wouldn’t share.”
Lyric from “I Saw Mommy Ripped By Satan’s Claws,” by Bloodbat

North County record collector Ivan Torres founded and played guitar with one of the area’s earliest dark metal groups, Bloodbat, from 1987 through the band’s breakup in 1994. “Our bass player was a member of this Satanic cult called Rainbow, so a lot of times we’d have actual factual animal-sacrificing devil worshippers in the audience! Sometimes we’d do covers of King Diamond stuff but we were so sloppy nobody recognized the covers. The most common thing people would say to us after our set was ‘I can’t tell your songs apart, they all sound the same.’ Instead of being insulted, we told ourselves ‘Cool, we have a consistent theme…our own sound!’ We didn’t want to be compared with anyone, not even ourselves.”

“We used to play the old downtown Soma building,” says Torres, “and we’d project black and white horror movies on the walls around us while we played. Like, 8 millimeter loops of giant spiders and ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ stuff, way before Rob Zombie or Marilyn Manson came along. We weren’t playing for laughs…we were seriously into serial killers and building replicas of torture devices to use onstage. I found a box of 16 millimeter ‘educational’ films at a county auction, and one of them was that bloody driver’s ed movie they used to show to scare the kids…with car accidents and ripped up bodies, brains on the pavement, that kind of thing. Girls in the audience would be screaming and covering their eyes and crying, but those were the same girls who were first in line trying to get backstage and get closer to sick fucks like us.”

Torres still follows the scene and cites Club Xanth on 30th Street near North Park as one of the best venues showcasing local genre bands. “The Catacombs” is the club’s monthly dark metal event, featuring area acts with morbidly descriptive names like Noctuary, Gutrot, Mortuus Terror, Abysmal Nocturne and Crematorium. Blue Meannie Records in El Cajon is his pick for the best source for related recordings, as well as opportunities for face-to-face time with acts like Cannibal Corpse and Dark Funeral, both of whom appeared at the shop in April for a CD signing. “Dark metal started underground, and the real sincere stuff is still on indie labels or self-released,” he says. “I’d rather go see any of the local metal bands than sellouts from the mainstream who try to imitate [dark metal]. Bands like Pantera and Anal Cunt are for rich suburban kids who desperately want to pretend they’re ‘alienated,’ when really they’re just looking for something guaranteed to piss their parents off. Some kids think all you have to do is gross out your audience and you’re playing in the devil’s league.”

“Torn apart, upon a hook, limb from fucking bloody limb. Carbonized and oxidized, pancreatic ducts ripped out. Cleaned of all its organs, nephrons smother in their wake. Bludgeoned with a steak knife, prepare a tasty meal.” Lyric from “Bludgeoned, Beaten, And Barbequed,” by Cattle Decapitation

Local gorehounds Cattle Decapitation recently joined the roster of L.A’s Metal Blade Records. A press release announcing the signing says that “Cattle Decapitation brings forth the ideas of vegetarianism with the utmost brutal approach in expression, both musically and imagery…[their] sound will bring elements of older death/grind, inbred with utterly impossible low vocals, while being stabbed by immense drumming.” The group is known for wearing masks made of beef jerky onstage, an apparent statement regarding the trivialization of animal remains for human consumption. Originally formed as a member-swapping side project of The Locust (drummer Dave Astor founded The Locust, and former Cattle Decapitation guitarist Gabe Serbian now plays drums in The Locust), their newly remastered "Human Jerky" CD is enhanced with bonus CD-Rom type content playable on any computer, such as live footage from the jerky mask shows, downloadable desktops and a link to the band's website. Song titles on Human Jerky include “Colon Blo,” “Constipation Camp,” “Roadkill Removal Technician” and “Parasitic Infestation (Extracted Pus Mistaken For Yogurt, And Gargled).”

"To us it is an honor to be chosen by a label that is responsible for such greats as Rigor Mortis, Cryptic Slaughter, Cannibal Corpse and King Diamond as a theater to present to the unfortunate public our brand of extreme music," says Cattle vocalist Travis Ryan. “Being on Metal Blade is going to allow us to reach a higher level of exposure and ability to play in places and in front of crowds that we wouldn't normally be able to, and that is something we need right now." The group is presently working on their debut for Metal Blade, “To Serve Man,” named after a classic episode of “The Twilight Zone” TV series wherein nine-foot tall alien “Canamits” utilize an intergalactic cookbook to make lunchmeat out of human beings.

“Alive you are no more.
Let them see what my anger's for.
Temper's rise - No disguiseI've done my deed - I'll watch you bleed.”
Lyric from “My Dying God,” by Daemos

The four piece band Daemos has been playing San Diego venues since the early-90s, as well as landing slots opening for Judas Priest at L.A.’s House of Blues and for Testament at the Whisky A Go-Go. Guest appearances on local radio stations like KIOZ and San Francisco’s KSJO have elevated interest in the band’s website, Daemos.com, which claims to receive over 275,000 hits yearly. The group theorizes that attaching themselves to projects with big-name headliners will reflect some of that fame back on them, which explains their repeated presence performing cover versions on “tribute albums” like “Megaded” (Megadeth songs – Daemos plays “Looking Down The Cross”) and “SuperCharger Hell” (they do a cover of White Zombie’s “SuperCharger Heaven”). "We're really combining two different worlds," according to bassist Jason St. Aubin. "Our music appeals to the new school crowd as well as diehard metalers."

Guitarist and vocalist Eric Nunes says “Basically my take on music is that any music style can be good if the musicians like what they are doing. That's not to say that everyone can play well. But those that can and stick to their heart are great in my book. One thing that really pisses me off is a band that is obviously writing and playing music to become rich and/or famous. It makes the rest of us look bad. Plus, if you try to play something that you don't like, it will never sound good…I'm all for having influences. That's great, but you need to grow away from those influences and let your own unique style come through. The record labels will come around once they see people digging your music. And at that point you can either tell them to fuck off or give you the freedom you deserve.” Daemos has apparently said “fuck off” fairly often as they remain, after nearly a decade, unsigned.

“Raise the battle-axe unto the skulls, In the bliss of spilling blood on enemy soil. Towards the synagogue, with thirst for Semite blood, From a trail of churches burning. Under the Haunting Moon, with sword in hand I ride and I exalt the horns of battle towards the sky. I slay the souls of the Jesuit creed, and bathe in their curdled blood.” Lyrics from “Raise The Horns Of Battle,” by Crimson Moon

Crimson Moon is a recording unit only, comprised of two members and a drum machine. Bassist/vocalist/lyricist Scorpios and his bandmate Nocturnal Overlord (guitars, keyboards, drum programming) wear King Diamond/Kiss style Kabuki makeup – whiteface with black patches curling and dripping around their eyes and mouths to present a patina of WWF level ferocity. They first surfaced in San Diego in 1994 with a self titled demo release, followed by 1995’s “Into the Nocturnal Forest” demo collection, earning both praise and notoriety for their straightforward and straight-faced obsession with all things occult.

Scorpios is a well-read and fascinating character who writes lengthy, learned manifestos on lucid dreaming, medieval theology and astral projection which he posts on websites (www.geocities.com/kthuluproductions) and emails to fans by request. In songs like “The Stormbringer,” Scorpios seems to be reading incantation spells direct from some arcane text, summoning “creatures of darkness and hatred” and intoning “For I have consumed the blood that lives forever more, the blood of the Draconis, I drink the blood, the hate of Kingu rages on, the furious tempest unleashes black storms and the chaos crawls beyond the stars, to unleash fury amongst the blackened earth.” The end passage of “Raise The Horns Of Battle,” after praising the destruction of churches and synagogues and the murder of Jews and Jesuits, includes conjurations to the unholy trinity of Lucifer, Beelzebuth and Astaroth, each ending with a cheeky “Amen.”

Crimson Moon’s 1996 debut CD “To Embrace The Vampyric Blood” (Abyss Productions) contained nine tracks and was recorded on a 4-track machine, as was a 1997 rehearsal performed with a third player on synthesizers, Khaija Ausar, which was later circulated as an “unofficial release” called “Under The Serpentine Spell.” With no new material and no stage performances over the ensuing years, it seemed the group had disbanded, but Nocturnal Overlord says Crimson Moon has recorded an album archiving all the music they have done to date, including re-recordings of their demos plus three unreleased songs.

“My lyrics in Crimson Moon are occult based and not from a horror movie or fiction book,” according to Scorpios. “It is not an image. It is what we do and we will not change this because it is getting too trendy or too hated, etc. We do this for ourselves.” He says he rarely reads fiction and especially hates “vampire novels,” but admits his lyrics are often inspired from arcane mythology. “I have studied the myths, magick and lore of not only Sumerian but Babylonian mythology as well. When I say study, I mean going further than just reading and practicing rituals from the Necronomicon. I have another ritual/acoustic project totally devoted to the Dieties of Sumeria/Babylonia called ‘Akrabu.’” He seems so sincere, it’s simply buzzkill to point out that the “Necronomicon” is a fictional invention of 20th century gothic writer HP Lovecraft and texts purporting to have originated in this tome are of recent construct or from other sources entirely.

Discussing his views about Christianity versus Satanism on the San Diego Metal website (www.geocities.com/s_b_resistor/local.html), Scorpios said “They are actually very similar in many ways and they both need each other to exist! Satanism is not what I am into. I have studied much about it but it is basically a Judeo-Christian mutation of a religion. I prefer to go back much further in history to seek information.” Scorpios is familiar with The Satanic Bible, written by Anton Szandor LaVey (who formed the Church of Satan in 1966), but doesn’t align himself with the philosophies set forth in this notorious book which has sold more than 600,000 copies since it was first published by Avon Books in 1969.

“If you read Ragnar Redbeard’s book ‘Might is Right,’ which came out much before LaVey was around, it is interesting to see how many of the same ideas LaVey had! I don’t consider his form of Satanism to be…true Satanism. To me, true Satanism is a form of devil worship, not psychology. The Church of Satan is not much different than any other church, perhaps a bit more honest. They still feed off their followers’ money.” Scorpios wraps up his commentary with an unctuous grab for the wallets of his own followers – “May chaos reign…and contact Nocturnal Overlord for merchandise (shirts, long sleeves, cds stickers, new promo tape, etc.).”

After all, ancient scrolls, eyes of newt and faux Necronomicons don’t come cheap!

”You are what you eat, you are what you shit,you are what you vomit.”
Lyric from “Diarrhea Of the Mouth” by Cattle Decapitation

end