Posts Tagged ‘Holly Woodlawn’

50. LOU REED – ‘Life-Changer’ (1942-2013)

October 29, 2013

At the end of the night, he (Lou) told us we’d been such a crummy audience we didn’t deserve an encore. and he didn’t do one. That I decided was a true rock’n’roll star.”
– Neil Gamen in The Guardian.

There is nothing to say and everything you want to about Lou Reed.
This album sleeve sums it all up for me …

lou reed

I never met Lou Reed (though loved his music and attitude) but I did meet Holly Woodlawn, the ‘he was a she’ in Lou’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ …

… “Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
He said, “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

Holly Woodlawn

When I say I ‘met’ Holly Woodlawn – it was rather more than that.

Holly was one of the stars in the Warhol Factory in New York. If Lou Reed hadn’t brought her additional fame by including her in his song, then Holly probably wouldn’t have developed the extraordinary cabaret act she brought to London in the late 70’s. If she hadn’t come to London I wouldn’t have met her – I happened to be working in the place where she would be performing – the innovative ‘supper-club’ Country Cousin on the Kings Road.

I noticed she had her eyes on me during day-time rehearsals for the opening night but didn’t think much about it. After her late-night performance that night though – I was ‘summoned’ to her dressing room. She curled her finger and I was, quite literally, ‘hooked’. She insisted I become her escort for her two-week stay in London. There really was no choice – she was extremely persuasive. I thought it could be fun.

It was more than fun. There followed two weeks of hilarity and wonderful times. I met her manager and entourage, had dinner with her friends, hit the newly-emerging night-club ‘scene’ springing up all over London, danced the night away as she continually shocked, enlivened and challenged those whose lives we unsuspectingly swept into. I cruised around town getting into serious mischief with the explosive diva that was Holly Woodlawn and it was one of the most precious, entertaining and exhilerating experiences of my life.

essential Lou Reed

If it wasn’t for Lou Reed  – those extraordinary two weeks would never have happened. Lou Reed changed my life. I’m convinced there are many, many others who would say the same thing. He not only changed lives directly but indirectly too – through the diverse and left-field challenges he continuously presented to us in his music and in his own life.

Thank you Lou Reed. Thank you a million times over.


3. Transformer

September 16, 2009

I’ll get to Ms Woodlawn shortly but I remembered another story (there are so many) about Christopher Hunter relevant to our guide. It re-introduces those local gangsters.

The club’s success was phenomenal and Christopher knew that sooner or later the success would come to the attention of a few who could well offer ‘protection’ in exchange for a percentage of profits. Chris, of course, was spending far more money than the thousands he was taking every night and it was inconceivable to him that he would give in to threats and extortion and part with hard-earned cash. The threats never came and neither did the gangsters. Christopher quite simply out-manoeuvred them.

Twice a year the club closed and starting with a magnificent lunch and ending with one of his many show-biz friends performing a private cabaret, a group of specially invited guests were seduced by Christopher’s charms and his unrivalled talent to deliver extravagance on a level rarely experienced. Chefs and somelliers were imported for the day and they produced a banquet fit for royalty. A team of a dozen of the prettiest boys and girls who worked at CC were invited for a special training session in the morning. They were told which guests to pay particular attention to, which to be careful of, which end of the ballroom they danced at, how to flirt outrageously without giving offence and how they could ensure, should serious sexual advances be made, they remained totally in control of the situation. (There were, it has to be said, times when the occasional dalliance took place but strict rules were applied, condoms provided and total privacy was guaranteed in Christopher’s luxurious loft apartment above the stage.) He really did think of everything. ‘In potentially embarrassing situations, my dears, always imagine what could go wrong. It usually does – so prepare for that eventuality.’

Where was I – oh yes, the gangsters. The reason Christopher was never confronted by any of them was because, for those two days a year he was the supremely stylish host to a highly influential group of law-abiding citizens – the police!

The concept of a supper-club was a revelation to London. CC’s reputation(!) spread like a forest fire. Twice a night there was dinner and an extraordinary cabaret – performances by the very best artists from the outrageous New York underground club-circuit. I was now involved – every two or three weeks – designing and building sets for the acts. I spent a whole week, under the supreme guidance of Christian Tooms (I know!), Christopher’s partner, working on a set for someone I couldn’t wait to meet.

Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo,
Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo,
Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo,
Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo,

(Know who Holly Woodlawn is yet?)

Two days before the show opened I was painting the set when I was approached by a very attractive Puerto Rican boy wearing a baggy t-shirt and frayed jeans. ‘I’m Holly’ he said. ‘I’ve come to rehearse for my show.” The song began immediately to play in my head – ‘Doo, doo, doo, doo-doo-doo, (Ok – enough!).

‘Holly came from Miami FLA
Hitch-hiked her way across the USA
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.’

Holly Woodlawn was one the inner circle – along with Joe Dallesandro, Ultra-Violet, Billy Name, Edie Sedgwick, Candy Darling and Paul Morrisey amongst many others – of the Warhol ‘Factory’ in New York, and often appeared in his films. Warhol has always been a hero of mine and I was envious of those who witnessed a revolution in modern art. I have a quote from AW by my computer. It’s a constant reminder – ‘ No Matter How Hard You Hit It, A Banana Will Never Sound Like A Drum.’

Holly and I hit it off immediately. The Holly I met that first day was soft, sensitive, fragile – beautiful in so many ways. When I met Holly Woodlawn the stage Diva two days later I was in shock for hours! Unrecognisable as the good-looking Puerto-Rican boy, Holly Woodlawn was a devastatingly attractive woman, a fiery seductress dressed to kill and who could slice anyone in half with one lash of her tongue. This was not a drag-queen or a female impersonator – this was gender transformation. (The drummer of the session musicians hired to back Holly didn’t know until the last show that Holly was a man!)

At some point during that first week of Holly’s residence at CC, I was summoned to her dressing room. Believe me there was absolutely no choice but to accept. She Who Was A He fluttered her eyelashes, pouted trembling lips and draped her arms seductively around my neck. ‘Honey’ she said in a voice which insisted knees collapse, ­ ‘We’re going OUT, to show this little town how to have fun.”  How could I refuse? Exactly. That song played and replayed over and over in my head and resonated for the whole of Holly’s stay in London as we went out on numerous occasions. Each time was a joy – outrageous, hilarious, touching and always sublimely honest.

One evening, during visits to a variety of gay clubs and bars (remember when there used to be VARIETY?) I was drinking Chardonnay with Holly (Darling Andie – I should be the Queen of Chardonnay.’) when we were approached by a leather queen. He asked Holly for a dance. He wore the full uniform – leather jacket, leather trousers and chaps, leather hat (probably leather hair!) and biker boots as well as sporting a preciously trimmed moustache, piercings, key-rings and severely cropped hair. (This WAS the late-70’s.) Holly stood up, straightened her red satin shoulderless evening gown and pulled long and hard on the cigarette which hovered over a foot away from her mouth in a movie-star type cigarette-holder. ‘Honey,’ she said, placing one bejewelled hand on his shoulder and slowly eyeing up and down this cliched vision in black leather, ‘I love to dance, I just don’t want to DIE right now.’ and sat down again.

Wicked perhaps – but as I said, always sublimely honest.

We’re moving on from Country Cousin to another club I worked at which completely changed the London music scene. We’ll meet Holly again later – different places and very different times. Can you imagine how Holly Woodlawn and Metallica are linked?

Dream on ….