Janis Joplin Makes her Voice Debut, Viva Takes Her Clothes Off, and Lenny is Finally Vindicated
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. February 22, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 19
Scenes by Howard Smith
NEW YORK's golden ears came out ringing from the Saturday evening performances of Janis Joplin at the Anderson Theatre on Second Avenue. The two shows were the East Coast premiere of Big Brother and the Holding Company -- long the favorite group of the San Francisco dance halls -- but it was all Janis. The early reaction was that the girl gap had been closed.
The girl gap is an easy term for a hard problem that's been facing the pop music industry. The plumage and the punch in the last few years' rock has remained in the province of men. Outside of soul, no girl has emerged with the sexual pazazz of male singers like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. Now, with Janis, all this is over. She looks like the girl next door, but you live on the Lower East Side. Although not beautiful in the usual sense, she sure projects. Janis is a sex symbol in an unlikely package.
Her belting, grooving style combines Bessie Smith's soul with the finesse of Aretha Franklin covered all over with a James Brown drive. She jumps and runs and pounces, vibrating the audience with solid sound. The range of her earthy dynamic voice seems almost without limits. At times she seemed to be singing harmony with herself.
A star rises quickly. Albert Grossman, usually stonefaced, burst into a party for the group Monday night at a 57th Street Greek restaurant, to announce excitedly that he had just signed Janis and Big Brother with Columbia records.
Women ain't losers no more.
...OUT IN ORANGE-BLOSSOM land where anything is possible, representatives of the Los Angeles hippie community got together with representatives of the police department to discuss rules of conduct for Love-Ins, a natural outgrowth of Be-Ins. It was agreed that the police would pretty much lay off the Griffith Park Love-Ins which from now on will be patrolled by hippie "monitors" wearing green badges and responsible for everyone's loving conduct. One of the regulations discussed and decided upon was that girls should wear underwear with their mini-skirts. Police felt to do otherwise would be to provoke trouble. The hippies also agreed not to "throng the merry-go-round.
Viva of the Visions: A Scar is Borne by Sally Kempton
Andy Warhol's actors -- the temptation is to refer to them as "Andy's People," as if they were characters in a television serial of that name -- have certain essential qualities in common. Most of them are beautiful. Most of them appear by now to be somewhat larger than life size, if only because one has seen them blown up on movie screens. And most of them are a little desperate. Warhol's best superstars are monologists, marathon monologists, and there is always an edge of hysteria in their talk, as if an interruption would release in them some fearful depression. If their talk is self-exploitive, it is also self-generative, for in talking they create themselves again and again.
One remembers Bridget Polk in "Chelsea Girls" lying on a couch like a Westchester matron in hippie disguise, cataloguing her stock of drugs. Or Joe Spencer in "Bike Boy" playing rigorous verbal games with six different girls as though only by sparring could he avoid actually having to make love to them. But particularly, one remembers Viva. Whether she is putting on Joe Spencer in "Bike Boy" or talking non-stop in "Nude Restaurant" about the priest who tried to seduce her, she is in some essential way the ultimate Warhol Woman.
Viva is extremely beautiful. She is of medium height, very thin, with a presence which appears mysterious and commanding on screen. Sh has a face like Garbo and Dietrich, bony and classically well-defined. Her eyes are enormous. She has blonde curly hair and a small rather thin-lipped mouth. The mouth is incongruous: there is an Irish Catholic nun in her lips.
Her personality style, on screen and off (for most Warhol People there is no distinction), is recognizably akin to the anti-heroines of so much minor 20th century literature. Like Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly, she is a sexual rebel, a refugee from a rigidly oppressive background. Like them, she is charming, childlike, and perceptibly lost. Like them, she makes sagas out of her life...
"Jakov Lind once told me I should write a story just the way I talk," she said by way of preliminary. "So I sat down and tried to do it but it didn't come out right on paper. Let's see...I come from a big family -- 10 children. I'm the oldest. I was brought up by the nuns, grade school, high school. I went to Paris with the nuns. I was studying at the Sorbonne and I would run hom every night to the convent at Neuilly. Then I had my first nervous breakdown. I began having these Christ-religion-sex obsessions. I thought I was really flipping out. I went to the head nun and told her about it, and she sent me to this Irish Catholic priest. So I went to the priest and I told him all my obsessions. I told him, 'I keep having these visions, I'm scared to go to church!' You see, I'd never heard of anything like that then. Now, of course, I realize it's pretty normal, in fact I realized the whole Last Supper is probably all a sex thing. No, not a symbol, I mean they actually did it. Like Alan Midgette says, 'what do you think they lived on all those 12 days? I mean the blood and flesh was really blood and flesh, right?'
"So anyway, the priest says, 'It's worse than I thought, you need a psychiatrist.' So they send me to the hospital and they check me out and find out I'm perfectly all right. They said I should take a vacation with a trusted friend. I said, I don't have one. They said take a vacation anyway. So when school was out I went to Germany. But I kept seeing nuns everywhere I went. Nuns walking with little girls -- all over the place. Anyway, that was my first nervous breakdown.
"My parents are real reactionaries, pro the war, voted for Goldwater. They sent me to the nuns so I wouldn't become an atheist and a communist. Joe McCarthy was their big hero. I used to have to stay home from school and watch the hearings on television. Then my mother would pick up the paper the next day and say, 'Look what they're doing to him, look what those people are saying about him. They say he slammed down his briefcase and walked out. Now you saw it, you saw what really happened!' And of course I'd be so bored I'd have no idea what really happened.
"My father and I would have terrible scenes. I'd throw ladders at him, he'd run around screaming 'I'll kill her, I'll kill her.' Well, after one scene he began to yell at me to get out, get out. So I told my little sister to get a boat and row me to the village -- we lived in Thousand Islands, right on the Seaway. I had on this silver lame jump-suit I'd made for skiing, and I ran down and got in the rowboat and started to row across the channel. Well, he came after me, I could see him coming. So I dove in and began swimming. It was pitch dark, right? And they had all these search-lights and they're calling through the foghorns trying to find me. When I got out of the water I went to the village to this coffee house and sang a thing. I wanted to humiliate my family. I figured I'd fix things so I'd never be able to come back."
After a brief stay in Boston doing animal research she came to New York. "I rented a loft on lower Broadway with some other artists and painted...
..."Well, about this time I started with nude modeling. I got very used to walking around with no clothes on, plus the fact that I've always hated shopping for clothes. People always wanted me to take my clothes off. So when Andy came and asked me to do nude movies I said sure, might as well get paid for it."
...Just then Warhol called from the front of the loft that it was time to go. They were scheduled to make an appearance at a cocktail party. Viva and Paul wandered up to talk to him, arguing whether there was time for her to go home and change her clothes.
"Paul [Morissey] and I are engaged," said Viva.
"The wedding's in the very far future," said Paul.
"Actually, we do have a lot in common," Viva said. "We're both lapsed Catholics."
"Come on, Viva, stop being nice, act like yourself," said Warhol.
"What are you doing, Andy?"
"Looking at stills. Now that we've made this breakthrough into nudity we're going to get a girl who really has something to show," he said.
"See, that's what it's like being a star," said Viva. "You're at the mercy of the system. When they're through with you they just cast you off"...
Court Makes It Official: Bruce Wasn't Obscene
Two years before his death, the performances of Lenny Bruce were found by a New York City court to be obscene and "without social importance." The conviction tortured the comedian. "He wanted so desperately to be recognized as 'socially important,'" his friend Allen G. Schwartz recalled. Bruce became obsessed with the law, and fired his attorney to unsuccessfully argue his own case. When he died in August, 1966, he was a fugitive, having jumped bail to avoid a four-month sentence.
Howard Solomon, the proprietor of the Cafe Au Go Go, where the performances were given was convicted with Bruce by the city court. Solomon, represented by the Legal Aid Society, went on to appeal the conviction, and Monday, almost two years after the comedian's death, Solomon's conviction was overturned by a 2-1 vote of the Appellate Term of the State Supreme Court. The court found Bruce's performances not to be obscene, "not erotic and not lust exciting," and held that while Bruce's performances "went beyond the limit of usual candor...it was error to hold that the performances were without social importance."
...Were Lenny Bruce alive today -- Solomon's successful appeal notwithstanding -- the comedian would still have had to serve the four-month sentence, since he didn't perfect his own appeal and the time for his appeal had expired. After that, he would have had to contend with the subsequent charge of bail-jumping. Only then could Lenny Bruce play New York again.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
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