Tuesday, February 23, 2016


•originally published in Paraphilia Magazine, 12.10.12•
 (several newly available photos have been added since initial publication)
by Heather Harris
 Photos © Heather Harris


 Larry Carr's Four Fabulous Faces book, a 1970 pictorial evolution of the personal style of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford immediately embedded itself into the zeitgeist of pop culture visual artists everywhere. It demonstrated to all crystal clear how these actresses made themselves over into the legends they became (and to me became a primer textbook on effective studio lighting.) Why didn't their contemporaries notice the ongoing metamorphoses of greatness? 

Ofttimes it's because guidance is needed to any unusual destination, and stellar achievement of this magnitude in the arts remains unusual indeed. Here then is a guide to four world-class rock singer/songwriters, all beauties as well, who happen to hail from my native Los Angeles for eminent observation of their careers: (photo above, clockwise from upper left) Leslie Knauer, Jonneine Zapata, Kizzy Kirk and Ruby Friedman.


This radiantly smiling countenance belongs to Leslie Knauer, singer/songwriter/guitarist of Naked Hand Dance and Diamond Star Halo plus vocalist with one famously (more later) set of pipes. N.H. Dance, including a male rhythm section sporting frocks and fishnets (but manly frocks and fishnets) perform Leslie's songs exclusively with perhaps a stray cover that only other world-class sets of pipes even would dare attempt, like, say, "River Deep, Mountain High" by Tina Turner of Ike &.

Some British music magazine in the '90s whose name escapes the leaking brain cell sieve listed Leslie Knauer as the thirty-eighth best rock singer ever, male or female, of all time, out of one hundred choices. Ever! Out of everyone, male or female! Of all time! Really! Shout it out! 

  Leslie in Precious Metal, some time in the 1980s; Leslie in one-time Precious Metal charity benefit reunion, 2014

I first photographed her in the '80s band Precious Metal, formidable players who warranted three major label releases (see my Glam pic above, Leslie standing confidently as Liza in Vegas but in a shagmetal haircut.) Oozing idiosyncratic style Leslie's vocals evinced comparisons to Terry Reid or Noddy Holder, were they of the XX chromosome persuasion and sang about two octaves higher. She's sufficiently proficient in powerhouse vocal talent to sing anything she sets her mind to, so the only challenge is to send that voice hither and yon, full throttle or wistful, operatic warble or quasi-rap spoken word, contemplative personal/confessional or all out bliss incarnate. 

My friends Mary and Tony, rhythm section of The Dogs once joined up for double duty in Kanary (a pun on the Germanic pronunciation of her last name,) Leslie's band for twelve years of the 21st century with her talents as singer/songwriter/guitarist. There were few gigs I more looked forward to photographing than theirs. Leslie with her beautiful looks belying her kooky Pippi Longstocking all-grown-up image onstage (and off) is Ms. Extrovert Supreme, with a cheery take on life underscored by her infectious, ever present laughter that causes all men as well as all audiences instanteously to fall in love with her the second she's encountered in person.    

Kanary's left field power trio truly rocked hard, fast, and always joyously whether in its complexity or simplicity. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to missing Kanary. But then again the entire Australian continent seems to miss Promises, her teen band with her brothers that yielded an international chart hit like "Baby It's You!" or two. This antipodean contingent remains rapidly vociferous online to this day. 

Kanary: Leslie Knauer, Mary Kay, Tony Matteucci (latter two of THE DOGS)

Once fuschia/red/pink/black/cerulian/eggplant/polychrome-haired, Leslie has settled on being legally blonde/white for now. Like travelers seeing the wonders of the world, you must catch Leslie Knauer live singing her amazing compositions. She currently performs acoustic or electric as Naked Hand Dance or Diamond Star Halo with husband and fellow Burning Man enthusiast Al TeMan.  

Al TeMan proposes onstage to Leslie during Precious Metal reunion 2014 while the band and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees approve. She immediately shrieked "Yes!"

A prolific writer, Leslie Knauer retains a folio of decades worth of superior material, so it's hard to pin her down in concert to perform one's personal favorites like "Two Steps" about her daughter, Hollywood's own BoyCrazy video-blogger and legitimate actress Alexi Wasser, whom Leslie insists still calls me "Feather," or that subdued ballad with its astonishing metaphor of "We are every little girl who lifts her skirt to hide her face..."


 info: leslie.knauer.79@facebook.com
songs: http://www.reverbnation.com/leslieknauer


Quiet intensity doesn't always translate to bulging neck veins while internalizing. In the arts it can signify mesmerizing subtlety.

In 1988 Brian Eno made an art installation for the Santa Monica Museum of Art that appeared to be white geometric shapes with Christmas tree-colored lights on them amidst a few very large white cubes, all in a darkened room. If that was all you took in at first gaze, that's all you saw. Most visitors left after a perplexed and befuddled minute or two. However, fans of Eno's music and creative wit could predict there might be more to it. Pal Elaine Drake and I looked around and then sat right down on the large art cubes, post-punks that we both were. Over time, all of the lights slowly changed colors and intensities on the various white cardboard shapes. Many of the subtle light changes turned out to be slow-motion projections from inconspicuous monitors. It was both a serene and stimulating art experience simultaneously which took its sweet time.

The above is analogous to taking in singer/songwriter JONNEINE ZAPATA. The Southern California bred (but much traveled) artist offers performances of seemingly quiet intensity with her band or unplugged with a single guitarist. Both feature pauses to underscore the set's strong emotions, just as in real life conversations about disturbing personal problems. 

Zapata's smooth and soulful soprano with its almost catch-in-the-throat might ring reminiscent of some of the modern country artists on the charts if they ever had even an iota of non-manufactured emotionalism.  She's been compared to PJ Harvey for equaling her on the catharsis barometer, but if forced I'd hold out more for Martha Davis of The Motels, she of an equally beautiful albeit quite different voice.  Like  Jonneine's admitted influence Nick Cave, there's always some uncomfortably dark truths beneath the outside beauty in both Davis and Zapata, puissant polish masking the interior voltage. Like the Eno art, serene but exciting. Delivery and lyrics? Simple but suggestive/aggressive...

You don’t need to love me                                         Got nowhere to go, nothing to do,
I know my place with you                                           I’m good looking, you're good looking,
And you don’t need to promise things                        What are we gonna do ?
I’m only passing through  (No Big Deal)                      (Good Looking)    

Jonneine and band have toured with and opened for Jack White's Raconteurs and Mark Lanegan's Soulsavers. There's also a wondrous 2009 release by her entititled Cast The Demons Out which includes many of the songs in her current live sets.  Known for her unblinking thousand yard stare but aimed up close, personal and laser-like, Jonneine becomes so utterly engrossed in her emotions onstage that audiences fall into the same zone like lost but compliantly pleased zombies. One fan admitted some fright at first to be the object of her unswerving visual focus for the whole five minutes of a song. All audiences remain transfixed and transfigured by this solo voice and minimalist band wailing songs of love & dread never heard before by most. As another pal Evita Corby put it, "Jonneine owns the stage."

Asked some time before by writer Caleb Ruddin in WebCuts about her music fantasies, she replied, "Dick Cheney singing Imagine on his death bed. Making a Christmas album with Iggy Pop.  I’m not trying to be cute…"

Even if her intriguing mystique weren't perpetually at arm's length to most media even as her star rises, a decision was made not to engage with this artist. I don't engage with wild swans in flight or the graceful giraffes gliding across the savannah either as they catch our eyes afar in their almost mystical glory, I just photograph them so that others may enjoy and marvel at their grace in public as well.

website: http://www.myspace.com/jonneinezapata



Ruby Friedman of eponymous The Ruby Friedman Orchestra performs as out-there a full-on, torchy-emotional singer as one can be and still remain under the aegis of rock and roll, ably abetted by the Orchestra which indeed includes a full time trombonist. A supernova redhead, she always dresses for any occasion, shall we say, "unusually" (but flatteringly and interestingly) replete with 6" platform or stiletto high heels. Way back when, the Pointer Sisters stood out from a passel of talented but interchangeable African-American female singing groups in our music biz when they cobbled together an image funky-but-chic vintage clothing. Ruby dresses to insure that the whole universe, God, any remaining Pointer Sisters and Ru Paul remembers her immortality.

Her band has been profiled before by countless others (even Paraphilia #10) but RFO's salient points remain: original songs you actually can remember on the way home from the gig and beyond, and the full-throated Ruby warbler herself on resplendent, emotional vocals, riveting being an understatement. She occasionally can be witnessed punking out for maximum impact as with odd covers like AC DC's "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock And Roll.)"

But RFO music is the real deal, rattling the rafters of every venue ever stormed. From hoedown stompers to power ballads with real emotion, their original repertoire remains heartily and lustily all over the map. They've already earned nationwide aural recognition for their song "Shooting Stars," the theme for tv's America's Got Talent.  Upon a single hearing, another RFO song already immortalized on cable tv's Sons of Anarchy, the beautiful "Drowned" keeps looping in my brain for the next day/week/month.  Its resolute chorus "I will go further out than where you drowned," remains to me a metaphor of ambition in our treacherous music business as much as a tally of relationship wreckage and/or suicide.


And her online presence remains a hoot what with her Facebook bon mots ("a homeless guy just called me 'Firecrotch!' ") and RFO blog's surreal philosophizing. She just might be a closet intellectual. Sometimes that might be what's necessary for mashups of art, the heart and pure adrenaline. From her blog, a salty recounting of waiting in line someplace with fire fighters: "One of them points to my shirt and says, 'Is that your band?'

Eeeek. Embarrassment. And he wants details. The shirt says, 'Kick Out The Jams, Motherfuckers' in bright yellow across the chest. What am I wearing?  Oh fuck my life . . . I must feel guilty about something. People talk a lot when they’re GUILTY. . . But notice how I try to introduce the fact of boyfriendhood simultaneously as some exculpation, 'No. This band is an old band. I don’t think they play any more. It’s my boyfriend’s shirt. He gets a lot of free things. He’s a music critic. Oh. I have a couple of projects. One of them is called Ruby Friedman Orchestra. My name is Ruby Friedman.'  What the fuck did I have to say that for? Why couldn’t I just make something up?

'No way,' says the fireman at the end of the group. 'I’ve seen your band with the Trashcan Sinatras. You’re awesome!' ”

As they indeed are. We all should be glad there's a Ruby Friedman performing for firefighters and our own benefit in this generation.

 It's only a matter of nanoseconds then before America correlates the faces of this hearty ensemble with their songs. It's way fun to photograph, see and hear nascent talent like the Ruby Friedman Orchestra on the rise before it explodes. I felt the same twinges 40 years ago seeing another explosive young redhead in a small club, one Bette Midler, when she began her own worldwide conquest.

   website: http://rubyfriedman.com


They were recommended by no less than Ruby of the Ruby Friedman Orchestra. When a spectacular singer like Ruby calls another singer great, that's high recommend indeed. So, off on a 60 mile trek to Fullerton, California to see the tail end of a residency by this band Feral Kizzy at the Continental Room.

My reaction? To quote Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, "I say goddamn!" as it was that much of a mind-blow-blast, but without Mia Wallace's fateful repercussions.
So much there to compliment!  Singer Kizzy Kirk is fearless. Peripatetically spending over half the set out amongst the audience, she flopped on strangers to carry her aloft, shanghaied pals to sing along on the dance floor, then swung precariously from the stage curtains, all while mini-skirted, hanging off the stage, draped on other band members. None of the hardcore crowd's forced dives here, her antics remain friendly, natural and unrehearsed but decidedly in your face. 'Theatrical" as a word almost gets there: "Olympian" might be scurrying closer, but with a punk rock twist.

Indeed, she came to singing after a stint in acting, seeking more hegemony over her own version of an art. "It was all too controlled," she admitted during our photo session, "Very little need for all I can really do or my input.  And I don’t like being controlled. I love ‘em, but ... uh, family issues.  Singing is more me."  
She's been compared overall to Patti Smith, P.J. Harvey or Courtney Love which is balderdash. Her performing style is sui generis, emotive vocally as well as physically, inventive, sexy, athletic but strangely graceful. And that insistent yet sultry voice harkens back to young British punkers of the 1970s like Ari Up of The Slits or Poly Styrene of XRaySpex (in a slightly lower register.) To great effect, it's a modern, girlish voice atop that womanly physique.

Their quirky songwriting's sound is hard alt-rock with snaking guitar and Yamaha keyboard while the words remain narrative like some junior Randy Newman, wherein desperate spendthrifts ("She loved the money but the money RAN from her!") always leap from bridges to their deaths, and ladies' men incessantly charm. They're constructed with odd lyrics scanning choices which I quite like, as in " ...the ERRor was TWOfold when we discovered that fighting and YELLing are two DIFFerent things..."  

Startled audience eyes may be on Kizzy, but the whole band's contributions make it all congeal. They are: Kizzy Kirk: vocals; Johnny Lim: guitar; Brenda Carsey: keyboards, vocals;  Hannah Smith-Keller: bass; Mike Meza: drums.

Great things surely must unfurl for this band Feral Kizzy, who've already been banned from playing on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, an oldskool badge of honor to yours truly (my better half Mr. Twister was the first singer to be banned from West Hollywood's influential club The Troubadour in 1970 solely on the basis of his wildman performance in Christopher Milk. See Paraphilia issue #13.) I'll give modern singing great Ruby Friedman the last word: when informed I finally caught Feral Kizzy live, she rallied "Woohooo! 'Told ya they rawked and rolled! Now you've been 'experienced' too!" 

website: http://www.feralkizzy.com


Shok said...

Great article!

Ruby is excellent, she would frequent a radio show I had started with two friends called Hunnypot Radio.

I found this article as i was searching for anything on Jonneine Zapata as her voice has been missing in the current soundtrack of life!

I will check the other folks you mention.


Fast Film said...

Thanks for checking in on my 2012 photofeature Shok. When I researched any updates on these artists, all I could find for Jonneine Zapata was her 2014 production assistant credit in imDb movie database. I hope her hiatus from music is a temporary one, perhaps based on necessity...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...