•originally published in Paraphilia Magazine, 12.4.11•
MR. TWISTER, CHRISTOPHER MILK AND CHAINSAW: a voyage of youthful alliances, promise, proto-punk pioneering, subjectivity and discourse galore
by Heather Harris
by Heather Harris
photo by Heather Harris, medium format Rolleiflex on tripod, as we two photographers were wont to travel. Everybody wants to rule the world. Mr. Twister surveys potential domains from The Reichstag, Berlin, Germany, 1994
photo by Heather Harris,
Mr. Twister in the movie Garage Sale.
Live performance of songs in this film:
"Hey Blacksmith, Shake Your Money Maker"
and "Big Blue Pimpmobile"
with Sunset Blvd., 1975
Mr. Twister self portrait in his Laurel Canyon aerie with his briefly owned Ford Capri, 1970. When he and I met, it was a Mustang fastback named Black Mariah. Observant readers will espy the pneumatic camera-release for his Widelux F7 in the left hand. Hint: it's not the garden hose.
Mr. Twister (lead singer of both Christopher Milk and Chainsaw): "The genesis of Chainsaw and Twister’s reputation was in Christopher Milk. Whatever the manifold failings of that band were, it was not a humble beginning."
David Bowie picks Christopher Milk as his third favorite artists of 1970, below and detail:
They were signed by two major record labels, United Artists and Warner Brothers when that actually mattered, with actual 45 singles, EPs and LPs in deluxe packaging released betwixt the both of them. Annie Leibovitz and Norman Seeff photographed them. They appeared on televised broadcasts. Their onstage theatrics and repertoire influenced Cheap Trick, The Tubes and The Flaming Lips.
The former band included, to use jargon of the era, a rock critic once so influential as to be named in the same reverent tones as Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh, one John Mendelssohn (Christopher Milk's originator/songwriter, in some forms of the band drummer and singer.) John furthermore logged in as Warner Brothers' publicity staff's main Kinks Kronikler of extensive note and fame in itself, as staff Los Angeles Times rock music writer and as staff Rolling Stone and Creem music writers at their nascence. He also personally introduced young recording artist David Bowie to the music of The Stooges.
photo by Jim Oswald. Christopher Milk, Topanga Canyon, Calif. photo shoot that none of them remembers, not even being there, 1970. Digital graphic enhancement by John Mendelssohn
Lewis Segal: (writer/editor): "I think John has always been saddled with a rock update of the Cassandra curse. She saw the future clearly but was never believed until it was too late. As a writer and performer, he and his crew pioneered only to see latecomers get the fame and credit. I have been a writer all my life and I've known no better writer than John. But he doesn't believe me (or anyone else) when he hears things like that---so maybe I'm Cassandra-cursed as well."
Unprofessionally, assorted members of the former band dropped out to join 1960s cults, dated a future murderess now incarcerated in France, and practiced a sort of serial wife-swapping. The wife of the band's most influential supporter, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, left him for their guitarist whereupon their relocation to another state after the band's demise, relocated further leaving her own best friend to then wed the selfsame guitarist. All remain best of pals. The bassist's onetime girlfriend then wed the drummer/songwriter/etc. with offspring resultant prior to divorce, who then wed a former dominatrix. The writer of this very piece introduced an influential member to the original band, dated another for two seconds, and wed yet another (the singer of both bands, and they remain a couple some three and a half decades on. Well, it's full frontal disclosure then.)
Fair usage photo by Norman Seeff, United Artists Records' promotional package for their EP release of Christopher Milk
The latter band also ahead of its time, Chainsaw, was termed glampunk, punk, hardest core. The foursome fronted by Mr. Twister was characterized by this pro radio add: "Rock/Punk/Hardcore/Glam/Aggro. Important re-release of legendary troublemakers from Los Angeles, circa 1977, the template for Iggy-esque clever lyrics backed by a maelstrom of cohesive punk fury." It also was characterized by, belying his legendary destruction-prone stage antics and utterly filthy lyrics, yet another well-spoken, erudite, college-educated guy wanting to take frontman charge of things. His sample promotion directly follows (and will in full later, as he prefers to remain his own best spokesman, and I prefer domestic tranquility.)
photo by Jim Oswald. Mr. Twister, Christopher Milk playing Santa Monica Calif., 1971
Heather Harris, 1977. CHAINSAW-We Are Not Very Nice Euro-release by Rave Up Records, 2002
Heather Harris, 1977. CHAINSAW- We Are Not Very Nice USA-release by Dionysus Records 2003→
Every individual mentioned above (with the exception of Ms. Liebowitz and Messieurs Schmidt, Bangs, Marsh and Seeff, but inclusive even of the French murderess) knew one another during their student years at UCLA. Hence the unusual erudition evinced by a sub-group oft associated with slobbering knuckle-draggers, hard rock musicians.
In documenting the early promise and alliances of rock bands in their youth, even after some four decades it's a battle to represent all the protagonists to satisfaction of each. Are they triumphant because they made it out the other end of the rabbit hole intact and alive, and not riddled with wistful 'what if' nostalgia? And what if they were? Or are? There's so much damage from being ahead of one's time: the pioneers get all the arrows, and these proto-punk pioneers were not spared same. But I don't mind those undertones creeping in. Even the recent French comedy Potiche with Catherine Deneuve explored the directions the characters traveled in direct conflict to their early promise and alliances, so it's not just your rock and rollers in Velvet Goldmine or even real life looking back in anger, puzzlement and awe.
For starters, I asked the Facebook Christopher Milk Fan Club a question more suitable to a James Cameron film, "Do you trust me?" in turn receiving some testimonials.
Kirk Henry (center,) Linda Daddy, Crickette Lum, Ralph Oswald, screen capture from Kirk's solo artist video "Bye, Bye Anna Marie," 1976
Kirk Henry (bass player, Christopher Milk): "Barrie Taylor got me into a lot of trouble, not the least of which can be attributed to the time she dragged me to a party at Heather Harris' parents' house. It was there that John, addled by some hallucinogenic substance, decided that I was the Angel of Death. He later called to ask if I'd like to be rich and famous, and introduced me to Ralph and Mr. Twister. We soon set about the (ultimately futile) endeavor of choosing a new name. Nobody particularly liked my suggestion of Mr. Twister and His Sister's Blisters.
I already was working part time in the Dykstra Hall (UCLA dormitory) kitchen and full time on the graveyard shift at Uniroyal Tires that summer, so we had to do our desultory rehearsals in the afternoon. We soon embrace trial by fire with a flash performance in the Dykstra Lounge. Nobody in the band was particularly pleased when I left for a long-planned summer trek cross-country and through Canada, but it's not like a lot was happening in late August and September.
←photo by Heather Harris, Mr. Twister, Christopher Milk playing UCLA, 1970.
↓ photo by Kurt Ingham, Kirk Henry, solo artist, the Leiber & Krebs years
I was in Boston when I got calls from both Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz approving my transfer applications. I declined both to give this band thing a shot. Upon reflection, without the Barrie to Heather to Xtopher Milk thread, my life probably would be completely different. Maybe I'd have a beard." (Ed.- I knew future convicted murderer Barrie Taylor, successfully extradited back to France and therein imprisoned, only through her roommate Kathy Baillie whom I encountered through her boyfriend Jim Suede, a mutual friend putting himself through a Nuclear Physics major at UCLA by playing bass with a genuine African-American soul band nightly. He played and sang a killer "Mustang Sally" decades before The Commitments. We lost him to Scientology.)
"Upon return I was pleased to find that John had designed and printed calling cards:
featuring the dreaded Mr. Twister
Also listed were manager Jim Bickhart and agent Lew Segal. I'd never had a business card before so this was The Big Time.
After a noon concert at UCLA during which those Half Nelson thugs hurled Mr. Twister into John's drums, I offered one of these shiny new cards to Rick Roberts, who only recently had graduated from UCLA busker (Ed.- and one time "Tep House" --the local stoner Animal House-like frat--denizen) to actual Flying Burrito Brother. He declined it admitting 'I can't help you.'
photos by Ronn Reinberg, Christopher Milk 1970, The Troubadour (?) Proof sheet also features the late Shelley Benoit then of Warner Brothers Records who introduced Mr. Twister and Heather Harris
Nor did we need his help, only weeks later attaining what was perhaps the pinnacle of the Twister Era at the world-famous Troubadour. As still alive and kicking Richard Cromelin chronicled in now-defunct Coast FM & Fine Arts, we exceeded our own expectations. To paraphrase Mr. Cromelin's summation, the Troubadour crowd is pretty hip - if they like you they applaud politely; if they don't they keep talking. For four minutes after Christopher Milk disappeared from the stage, there was dead silence.
A few days later we opened for Alice Cooper at the UCLA Homecoming Dance. While we were not as pleased with our impact, it seemed to grow on people and then into legend, since no fewer than four photos of Mr. Twister appeared in the subsequent UCLA Yearbook and none of Alice Cooper.
photographer unknown, full page photo of Mr.Twister in the 1971 UCLA Yearbook, Christopher Milk UCLA Auditorium gig with Alice Cooper
I attended a UCLA Homecoming party of the following year. A frat boy standing in front of me leaned over to his friend and said, "Great band!" The friend shook his head and replied, 'They're no Mr. Twister.'
After the Alice Cooper gig I dropped my amp off and set out for Colorado, but instead spent a week in a Wyoming hospital and another at UCLA Med Center after a traveling companion rolled my VW van down an embankment in -10 degree weather. During my recuperation, John decided that what we needed was dancers and multimedia and More People!
photo by Kurt Ingham, Christopher Milk the expanded troupe with dancers, 1970
Anybody who ever saw Christopher Milk live will agree that Chris Thomas (Ed.- producer of their Warner Bros. LP a half decade before his tackling same for the Sex Pistols) didn't get it, and consequently the Warner Brothers album didn't adequately represent it. From song selection to sound, he envisioned the band as more Procol Harum than Bonzo Dog Band, more deliberate than aggro, more polished than out of control. Even so, we would have been much more satisfied with the outcome had he spent half as much time on the lead vocals as he did on the guitars."
My own then roommate took debatable credit for Mr. Henry's unfortunate accident, as she had been deflowered by him, thought our one block away proximity warranted more of his attentions, and ferociously had practiced vengeful wiccan ceremonies with one of his personal effects, some left-behind clothing or nonesuch.
photographer unknown (Jim Oswald?) Mr. Twister, Christopher Milk, the Whisky A Gogo, Hollywood, Calif.,1970
The UCLA gig had involved onstage circumcision of a banana as well as Mr. Twister's famous aggro-contortionist theatrics and audience provocation. When the inevitable Iggy comparisons erupted (cute, half-naked skinny blonds prone to pottymouth and pro-activity inside their audiences, the both of them) he upped his own antes and set his bare skin on fire with chemicals courtesy of his movie special effects chums. These burned on a layer above the skin without incinerating the perpetrator, but Twister claimed the effect was muted by the band's lack of its own lighting system, hence the stunt's non-repetition.
The Troubadour antics involved, from Coast FM & Fine Arts by Richard Cromelin, March 1971, the following description of the first single minute of CMilk's performance which got them banned from the club for life back in 1970: "Mr. Twister flung off his cape, revealing his emaciated, plucked-chicken frame. Barking and grumbling his lead vocal, this obscene vision stumbled straight toward the edge of the stage and -- over the edge onto the panicking audience. Tables toppled over, Twister leaping from one to the other like Little Nell on the ice floes, drinks and candles slid to a tinkling and crashing death on the cement floor." The first forty seconds only had involved total ruination of three of the club's mikestands and microphones by Mr. Twister in his deranged, overactive attempt to single out one.
Rolling Stone Magazine, December 1970, Christopher Milk's notorious show at the Troubadour, Hollywood that got them banned from
that important venue forever
From a SOUNDS (British music trade) review of Warner Brothers' Christopher Milk- Some People Will Drink Anything by Sandy Robertson. "Asked what he'll be doing when he's 60, (Mendelssohn) replies 'Brooding.' ...maybe if they brought back the unstable Mr. Twister... who once poured the molten slush of a candle vase down his trousers while screaming at the audience, 'WE ARE NORMAL!!' "
Heather: "Didn't that really hurt?"
Twister: "Only for a second..."
↑ Fair usage photo by Normal Seeff, United Artists Records' promotional package for their EP release of Christopher Milk. Right, photo by Heather Harris, oil painting based upon the United Artists Records' portrait, artist unknown but provenance ascribed to someone who painted backdrops for the New York Metropolitan Opera
I was smitten. These were the lads I was destined to rocket to the top with. Surly Ralph, The Kiddo, Mr. Twister and Flashfinger Bazbo. I was soon christened G. Whiz (That's G period Whiz) and under the tutelage of John, himself a drummer of no small repute, I began my rapid transformation into a Rock n' Roll drummer. First thing, lose the drumstix and start bashing with logs. (Sometime later, at a tv lipsync, I actually played with carrots. Hey, we were versatile, man!) Next he dispatched me to Peter Visor's Salon to upgrade my hippie wannabe locks. Dressed me for the street as well as the stage. (Tight tops hugging bottoms and Eleganza pumps increased my stature immensely.)
Christopher Milk on Boss City! television show, screen capture of their live performance, all tapes of same lost or destroyed
We had a roadie named Normal who dressed up like Alex from Clockwork Orange. He was onstage security to insure that Mr. Twister could not escape from the stage and wreak havoc on an unsuspecting audience. Mr. Twister would literally break out from the false front of one of The Kiddo's Acoustic bass amplifier cabinets, where he had crouched unseen for the first half of the show. A milestone gig was at The Whisky a Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. I actually left my drums and sat on the front of the stage, where I calmly disrobed, then returned to do a drum solo, the finale of which occurred when John and Kirk crept up from either side and pelted me with cream pies. I think that was the gig where Neil Young was quoted as saying that Christopher Milk was absolutely the worst band he had ever seen (or words to that effect.) I suggested at the time that we could take out a billboard on Sunset: 'Christopher Milk is the worst band I have ever seen!' - Neil Young.
Instead we hit the road to build up our grassroots following, and amongst same, I managed to contract an std before heading back to Hollywood. Christopher Milk was for me many childhood dreams coming true. It was like getting to relive your high school days, but this time being at the top of the heap."
photo by Kurt Ingham. Mr. Twister, 1971
Social networking eventually loomed large after Anita Oswald started The Facebook Christopher Milk Fan Club Forum as a lark whereupon it promptly took on a life of its own. It evolved into a repository of major music writers (many former MOJO / Q /the Britmusic weeklies' editors) slumming/eavesdropping on their counterparts. The actual band members also mended fences in their typical Wildian/Shavian manner (and with far more civilized ripostes than the famed broadcast of Gore Vidal/William F. Buckley's debating style, "Shut up you crypto-Nazi!") (really) as one would anticipate from a university-spawned rockers.
Social networking, so ubiquitous at present, someday will appear as mannered a form of communication as is haiku or as quaint a one as were cartes des visites, hence my inclusion of the form as revealing hagiography for Paraphilia's future deathless volumes. Par example, regarding my (initially mislabeled) 1970 photograph of the Classic Lineup of Christopher Milk (Mr. Twister, John, Ralph, Kirk) playing an outdoor UCLA gig---
photo by Heather Harris, Christopher Milk playing UCLA, 1970. Left to right: John Mendelssohn, Kirk Henry,
Ralph Oswald, Mr. Twister
John: The attentive viewer will note that I am playing drums borrowed from Mr. Michael Burns, then the deposed drummer turned sugardaddy/manager of the group that would metamorphose into Sparks. I had not yet persuaded The Kiddo to repudiate the hippie look.
John: Oh, before I shut up for the day, the attentive viewer will further note the saxophone that Ralph had earlier played with such distinction in Dave & The Vantays, the West Side's pre-eminent mostly Japanese surf combo. Ralph, of course, was no more Japanese than you or I, and if someone invokes that New Wave hit by Whatever-They-Were-Called, I shall pout, albeit adorably, in that way I have.
photo by John Mendelssohn, Kirk Henry and Mr. Twister flanking unknown fan, Santa Monica Beach, Calif. 1970
Kirk: "I had not yet persuaded The Kiddo to repudiate the hippie look." Or perhaps you did not yet recognize your resident proletarian fashion visionary, since two years later baseball shirts were de (not Bob) rigueur, and two decades later same same for jeans torn at knee.
John: No such thing is the case. I recognized all the members of The Classic Lineup on sight. And on site, as here.
Kirk: Then shall I say perhaps you did not recognize AS your resident proletarian fashion visionary, Mr Fussbudget.
Kirk: Speaking of visionary, Heather copyrighted this pic the year before it was snapped.
John: You can't be too safe, not in view of the lengths collectors will go to get ancient photos of The Classic Line Up.
Ralph: You boys stop that, right now.
John: You just stay out of it, Ralphie-boy. This is between The Classic Lineup's Over-Six-Footers, though word has it that tireless debauchery has left The Kiddo the size of that cheerful Italianate percussionist we had toward the end. In other news, I am in contact with Ms. Vanessa Gilbert, who might have been one of the platform shoed beauties I tried to knock over like so many bowling pins at the end of our performance at El Monte Legion Stadium. I regret having been so beastly to the cheerful Italianate percussionist, but of course I regret much.
Kirk: Vanessa did indeed number among Rodney's El Monte Entourage, and attended many other C Milk events, even while nominally enrolled at Agoura High, in part thru associations with Rodney (Bingenheimer) and Richard Creamer. You are in contact with her because I guided her here.
Heather: I rely upon the dates stamped by now defunct photo labs on the backs of my old proof sheets for 'recherche du temps perdu.' Lord knows I can't remember this stuff! Too much of it! There's well nigh forty years of un-filed rock 'n' roll photos, proof sheets and negatives taking up my walk-in closet, which otherwise would be quite spacious.
Kirk: I love it when you talk dirty.
Heather: Watch out or I'll talk photo-tech-jargon. Or Mr. Twister will, he's better at it...
photo by Jim Oswald, Mr. Twister, Christopher Milk, venue unknown, 1971
John: Do you suppose your photo-tech-jargon frightens The Kiddo, missy? Ha! You have clearly not witnessed one of his ampchats, during which he and another will spend days comparing the, you know, specs of various amplifiers. In fact, I would refer you to the first evening the three of us ever spent in one another's company. I made some reference to The Who using a particular brand, Hi-Watt, if memory serves (canapes). The kiddo's snort of derision from the back seat might have awakened slumbering shorties blocks away. "They're Sunn," said he. Or maybe I have it backwards. And where's Ralph lately now that the fur is really flying?
Heather: Golly gee Wally, you told him to just stay out of it!
John: Do as I do, not as I say, madame. Or maybe I have that backwards too.
The above in print demonstrates the evolution, as certainly as the Berlin Archaeopteryx fossil caught similar of dinosaur into bird, of John and Kirk making up after a twenty year hiatus. Below, regarding the color photo sessions shot on location in verdant Topanga Canyon that none of them remembered doing despite pictorial proof otherwise.
photo by Jim Oswald, Mr. Twister, Christopher Milk, Topanga Canyon photo shoot that none of them remembers,
not even being there.Heather: I suppose none of the participants, who all claim selective amnesia, can explain what set off this clothes-swapping frenzy. I find this whole photo set (and some of the ones Twister didn't digitize, like the band running and falling down a hill which didn't look nearly as cool as it sounds) enlightening not just because I know those involved. It shows a time warp window of young performers in their preening exuberance, show-off camaraderie, interplay, and hopeful asides to the future in a unique period of rock music culture. If you could overcome your prejudice towards the New York Dolls, John, you'd probably get a kick out of Bob Gruen's All Dolled Up dvd, which I find hugely enjoyable for the exact same reason.
photos by Heather Harris: left, Kirk Henry 1971, right John Mendelssohn 1970
John: What I will say is that there's been nothing like it since, that wonderful feeling of our being a kind of gang, united in our lunatic determination to achieve the impossible, united too, I suspect, in the confidence that we would always be young and slim and pretty, and the world our oyster. We were gorgeous. We were clever. It was obvious that ever we'd be thus.* But by 29, when I started another band, I was no longer capable of that feeling. As for the Dolls, madam, prejudice isn't the right word. I gave them careful consideration before deciding I couldn't stand 'em. But the court will note that I watched the documentary about their bass player.
Heather: If you liked seeing Kane's journey and the last 20 minutes of the film, you probably could sit through Gruen's film and actually enjoy it for the reasons we both noted about the CMilk pics. And the fact that you'd know half the folks depicted ** and all of the groupies. (discussion of groupies, Iggy and The Stooges ensued.)
←John Mendelssohn jumps ship to become solo artist alongside
Iggy and The Stooges, The GTOs and The Cockettes in a concert that never was. Photo of Iggy Pop in The Stooges by Kurt Ingham, 1970.
Right, James Williamson, Iggy and The Stooges, 1973, the Whisky A GoGo, photo by Heather Harris.
John: Now it can be told: James Williamson (Ed. -temporarily jettisoned from Iggy and The Stooges by management. Can you imagine, say, Jagger jettisoning co-writer Richards because management decreed so?) auditioned for CMilk a few weeks before our breakup. He wore wonderful stiletto-heeled (men's!) shoes from London, but boy, did our styles not mesh; I think he was looking for something very much more Chuck Berry-derived. "Barrelhouse," as he put it. CMilk did not do no fucking barrelhouse. In other news, I believe the photo Kurt Ingham took of Iggy in San Francisco in May 1970 (Ed. warranting a 2-pg. spread in The Authorized Stooges Biography) to be one of the three or four best rock photos ever, a work of sublime brilliance.
**personages such as Nick Kent, Sabel Starr and beaucoup local Hollywood trendies.
Inner sleeve of United Artists Records' EP release of Christopher Milk
The online FB CM FC also attracted CMilk (or Xtopher Milk as he was wont to scribe) fan Rick Snyder whom I met while fruitlessly hawking my rock photos at a free booth provided by some future recession-quashed fair event when his recognition of the Mr. Twister shots prompted our conversation. A former Captain Beefheart bass player, Rick not only fit right in with musical pedigree, his warped sense of humor and erudite ways, but also became the group's foremost historian, not only providing the following family tree so that I don't have to detail same (see LINK in the Christopher Milk site cited in Paraphilia's appendix for same) but also concocting the sole website devoted to preserving assorted iota of Christopher Milk glory, inclusive of his own extensive family tree of origins and offshoots, which thankfully means I don't have to detail same.
Mr. Twister, Christopher Milk, photographer unknown, venue unknownRalph Oswald (guitarist, Christopher Milk): "My selective memory treats CM as a band before its time. From the ongoing discussion about "Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace" and "Locomotion" covers to the use with Twister of pyrotechnics (which in a pure Spinal Tap moment exploded backstage on manager Jake the Weasel,) the bombast of lame and sequined gowns and the blending of proto-punk with quite serious Brit-Pop, we, and I mean here, mostly John, planted little seeds of the rock and roll future. 'Bet you never heard about John's idea to be shot on stage. Remember Velvet Goldmine?
Below, Pete Townsend of The Who encourages John Mendelssohn regarding the latter's Christopher Milk demos
Sound pompous? Well, I for one came from a privileged first band. One that hell yeah! played for Sinatra. John, though not at first, became close with his heroes through job requirements. Heady times, big egos. So a big part of our attitude was hell I'm already famous. Step aside. We thought that a band with Twister (who was absolutely fearless onstage) and intelli-pop would work. Hah! The separation of the two was inevitable. George and I have talked more than once about what would have happened if we'd gone the punk route as did Twister. But G is a drummer, and all he wants to do is drum. J and I wanted to write. So we did. And that sowed the seeds of CM's eventual complete dissolution. J's idol was Cole Porter, while mine was Wagner, and though the two met for a time, and we produced a decent album, certainly a unique one for the times, it couldn't have worked for long. And John continues to self-record in an incredibly competitive digital world while I was so deflated on the lack of interest in my psycho-progressive stuff, that I retreated into comparative normalcy. And Twist got to tour Italy. Life's a constant surprise.
Left, photo by Jim Oswald. Mr. Twister, Christopher Milk playing Santa Monica. 1971;
right, photo by Kurt Ingham, Mr. Twister, memento moriBut while it was happening, it was heady and quite crazy. We got to be Bowie's first band, sort of, (Ed.- backing him on an impromptu "White Light White Heat" during a CMilk rehearsal at A&M studios, providing him with instruments in his very first U.S., green-card defiant acoustic set in Hollywood,) play a couple really big halls, and all the while blowing things up, wearing outrageous clothes, and poking fun at all and sundry sacred cows. Influential? Think of the Flaming Lips. They after 20 years shout through bullhorns, set fires at their venues (on purpose) and sing about some very strange stuff. Sound familiar? Too bad Iggy came first. We'd have had that one too. The Tubes? Think about it. But we owed a lot to those before us as well. Early on, with Steve Ferguson and Denny Castanares in the college band, we had some great talent. 'Couldn't keep 'em.
So eventually since we weren't the best singers or musicians, we'd be the loudest we could be, and exchange sexy presence for satire. But post-Mr. Twister after John, Kirk and I congealed, no other could be admitted. So, sic transit hubris. Facebook brought us together again to some extent, and I have realized that no real band, none that shared a certain bond, ever dissolves completely. And after all this time, we're still played a bit on the radio, available for download, and have a goddamn fan club. As my wife, currently working on a book, hopeful for publication, says when I cry about lost opportunities, 'You were published, signed, you played for people - you were somebody.' And so I choose to relive the good stuff, the insanity that the little kid who, to keep from being beat up, becomes the class clown knows so well. You've won if you're happy. And if you're in Wikipedia, hell, you're immortal.
Fair usage photo by Annie Liebovitz, part of Rolling Stone cover featured story on Christopher Milk
I've had a very rewarding professional life beyond CM. Moreover, I have great fun reminiscing about the band days and how ridiculous and fun they were. God, so many people over the years have said, 'You were in a band? Wow!' Didn't matter if we quote failed unquote. We lived the life, if only for a short time. Selective memory is sometimes a lifesaver. My motto has always been 'life is as metaphor.' John cannot share that view. He has deep wounds, hard to fathom. Yet he will always be a dear friend. That's what being in a band does to you..."
Both Ralph and aforementioned Mr. Segal perchance were touching upon John's quarrel with Led Zeppelin (who offered to exterminate him) in the pages of Rolling Stone and assorted public outcries to his then admittedly prickly character. Vision is by nature contrarian, and he suffered consequences and backlash, some in excess. The kindest appraisal of, as Winston Churchill appraised his own, "wilderness years," came from someone who once knew him well and deeply admired John's effortless excellence in writing, an Emmy-winning fellow scribe who understandably prefers anonymity: "The gods gave John gifts beyond other mortals. Then the gods punished him for his hubris. But they went too far..."
photo by Heather Harris. Mr. Twister, Sunset Blvd. in the film Garage Sale, 1975
After Christopher Milk, Mr. Twister and its other guitarist the Donald expatriated to England, formed a hard rock band, saw punk erupt firsthand and loved it, tried it out themselves and promptly were deported. Back in the USA, Twister fronting an ad hoc group called Sunset Blvd. in the1976 film Garage Sale starring Goldie Glitters of The Cockettes. Stymied for a big finish, the director trolled for ideas wherupon the soundman Gordon Skene the Rhythm Machine extolled he could put together a visually exciting group with original songs overnight, the next day they could shoot the cast dancing to them, the roof would fall in crushing everyone, The End (Fin.) And it was made so, with a grab bag of CMilk and UCLA-ites. The what ever happened to's reveal a onetime denizen of the very top of Topanga Canyon in a lovely mansion, a film production professional; a public elementary school teacher; a current deputy mayor of the city of Los Angeles; and someone deceased way too young. 'Not saying who's whom y'all.
photo by Heather Harris, Mr. Twister, Sunset Blvd. in the film Garage Sale, 1975
At one time or another all of Sunset Blvd. under the nom du par-tay of The Fabulous Sheepskins played the annual Behemoth Festival parties for 500 of our closest friends that my UCLA art school friend Elyse and I held throughout the 1970s at my parents' house without their knowledge. These soirees became infamous for our live bands (never adequately recorded despite pro help, as all were too drunk), pre-video, projected on a sheet collector-scavenged movies (Bullitt, Deep Throat,) marriages breaking up therein, and occasional "incidents" like Mr. Twister breaking a watermelon over the head of Jimmy Mathers, brother of The Beaver. ("I was aiming at someone else actually," muttered Twister.) Twister continued his bad boy ways, eventually channeling same more productively into another concoction with the Donald based upon their prior embrace of punk rock abroad. Chainsaw emerged.
A flash forward of objectivity, future sample review of Chainsaw's recorded evidence via KZSU (Stanford radio station) site accompanying listing of most recent airplay, April 8, 2009: "Seminal L.A. punk (ca. 1977.) Thanks to Dionysus Records, this awesome gem is back from the grave. True to its proto-punk character, a heavy rock and roll character. Think Sex Pistols, The Stooges, The Damned, New York Dolls. Sinister heavy-primal distorto-guitar/basslines, assaulting rhythm attacks, electrifying solos and an Iggy Pop-ish/John Lydon-esque/Dave Vanian-ian vocal delivery. What more can you ask for? Play this fucker! Cool shit!"
Twister: "In spite of history-making performances (see: 1983's Rolling Stone Rock Almanac p 179, 2002's We Got the Neutron Bomb, etc. ) by 1972 Twister and the Donald were consecutively ejected from the increasingly hapless Christopher Milk.
Totally convinced of their earth shaking talents and optimistic beyond all reason, the naive youths hied themselves off to sunny England with visions of emerald greener pastures. There, as the Original Pointed Stick, they earned countless pints of Guinness, packs of crisps, and not much else, by playing Pretty Things, Soft Machine and Move covers, (interspersed with a few notable originals like Hey, Blacksmith, which to this day they are unable to accurately recall.) Countless tiny pubs, with equally tiny audiences driving tiny cars (down the wrong side of little streets) and tiny squalid bed sits wore rather thin. Permit-less and on the edge of starvation they returned to LA to rethink, regroup and reattack.
photo by Heather Harris. Chainsaw, left to right: Laura Crowe, Mr. Twister, Raul Gomez, the Donald. My first studio portrait ever, cover of Chainsaw single Polaride Pictures.
By 1977 everything was bright and new. New name (Chainsaw). New material. New rhythm section (the dynamic Miss Laura Crowe on bass, the uncontrollable Mr. Raul Gomez on drums- long before political correctness would have given its cold approval to such a lineup). A newly refined diet with the essential food groups of Cigarettes, Cognac, Beer, Speed, and Protein tablets). And... the old, take a few prisoners and mutilate them, attitude x 10!!
part of inside truk of USA release Chainsaw- We Are Not Very Nice
The first single, Polaride Pictures was semi disastrous, semi crap, and thus now much prized by the more eccentric sort of collector (bless all of you). Chainsaw live was a maelstrom of broken bars, tables, chairs, amps, heads, microphones, bones, glass, and a new definition of aggro. A fanatically devoted cadre of insatiable fans was unable to balance an irate mix of club owners, parents and brothers who were increasingly demanding the soonest possible elimination or exile of this Chainsaw thing. The phrase, ‘swath of destruction’ always springs to mind when recalling those years. They wound up in Nashville, a perfect foil for those who might live there, but despised most of what it stood for. Yeah, Nashville, where a whole bunch of people made their living playing and recording the kind of irksome pap you’d expect, but LOVED every minute of those alien Chainsaws. Chainsaw played every flea bit dive (sound familiar?) that would have them (usually only once), built a fanatical following, and recorded in tiny great studios with a plethora of musicians jostling for a place.
photo by Heather Harris. Left to right: Linda Daddy, the Donald, Crickette Lum, Mr. Twister for my book Punk Rock and Roll, 1977
The fashionable diet (see above) tended to have side effects, and despite the unwavering admiration of their fans and peers, Chainsaw were getting more than a little frazzled. Their own inept management wasn’t breaking down mogul or bank vault doors, and the two prima donnas were increasingly at odds while the previously steadfast r. section selfishly wished for more regular meals. A slimy promoter lured them to Europe, and disappeared after the first couple lawsuits. No money, no real food, and limited shelter outweighed a new but just as manic bunch of fans. The fist fight ensued - the end was.
For 25 years the tapes lay unheard. Fences were mended. Behjan Mihradi did the detective work, Pierpaolo de Iulis put Chainsaw on vinyl, and Lee Joseph put We Are Not Very Nice on CD. Listen to it over and over and over... and hope that you have the chance to see these partly rehabilitated lunatics play. Not only are they not dead, they are back."
Well...for a moment... please stand by.
photo by Heather Harris. Chainsaw live in Naples, Italy, March 28, 2003
Chainsaw rocked, hell yeah! In 2003, 28 years after these punk pioneers had called it quits, assorted all-ages audiences in sold out clubs all over Italy welcomed Chainsaw back ever so raucously. With an eclectic reformation, Chainsaw-Euro became Mr. Twister; the Donald; on second guitar his son Scott Mohammad who was 8 when the band wreaked havoc the first time around and is now known in his own band as Lefty Phillips; the premier voice-over talent of all Switzerland who just happened to be our friend of 30 years and a very cool bass player Olivier; and worthy pickup drummer courtesy of the Italian record company which had sponsored the tour, Allesandro.
Naples, Italy audiences paralleled that of Detroit/Ann Arbor blue collar ones in being known to be quite physically demonstrative in both their likes and dislikes (Iggy and The Stooges only were pelted with large objects in their native but fickle Detroit.) Napoli as it happened loved Chainsaw, with photographic evidence thereof. In fact female Neopolitans even offered to "love with the mouth" upon Chainsaw.
Olivier Vuille (Chainsaw-Euro bassist): "We were in Terramo, Italy and had to wait until 1 a.m. to get on stage. Not being accustomed anymore to staying up so late (I had just spent 20 years without playing rock'n'roll, busy raising my kids) I was feeling like crap to say the least. But I looked at Twister, he's so jolly merry! (Ed. before adopting, seconds before walking onstage, his fierce, rock and roll game face. See Russell Brand do same in Get Him To The Greek! film.) Luckily, the moment we got on, I was my old self again. The gig was energetic and weird, with people staring at us while one single girl was dancing in front of the stage. Not knowing if she was the sister of some somber italo ragazzo, we tried hard looking like we didn't notice her. We left the place at 3 am and headed back to Roma. Went to bed at 5:30 am and woke up at 9 to go visit some ruins. Life on the road!"
photo by Heather Harris. Mr. Twister, Olivier Vuile, Chainsaw tour of Italy, 2003 ↑Momentum continued domestically at two Chainsaw-USA reunion gigs in Los Angeles shortly thereafter, with formidable rhythm section Mary Kay and Tony Matteucci of The Dogs happily stepping in. But destiny cannot outwit the time-space continuum of predetermined fate: once again Chainsaw broke up for all the exact same reasons for which they broke up originally.
photo by Heather Harris. Mr. Twister, Chainsaw live in Los Angeles, Jan. 29, 2004
Mary Kay: (Chainsaw-USA bassist): "Welcome to the real world."
Tony Matteucci (Chainsaw-USA drummer): "It was a short tour, but fun!"
Plus ca change, plus la meme chose, sans the fist fight.
So what have we now? Sadly, the gone too soon casualties: James Oswald, beloved brother of Ralph and photographer of Christopher Milk's glories who passed away during this article's construction; Ronn Reinberg, UCLA confrere, CMilk photographer cum roadie, eventual attorney and stage-lighting designer; Mason Buck, UCLA confrere, Sunset Blvd. band mate in "Garage Sale" and at the Behemoth Festivals under their nom du par-tay The Fabulous Sheepskins. Early Christopher Milk album reviewer Michael Lehman (the sole UCLA writer during my Daily Bruin Entertainment Sections editorship that I could locate who didn't know the band personally) took his own life following his comedown from publicist duties in the narcotized 1972 Rolling Stones tour. More happily, there is the present.
Kirk Henry's Facebook avatar 2011
Kirk Henry a.k.a. The Kiddo in Christopher Milk once was enveloped by no less than Leiber & Krebs Management (Aerosmith, Ted Nugent et al) for his musical star quality. He fronted a solo band that made a deluxe 35mm video of a staged performance at The Starwood club, Hollywood, with a truck full of pro equipment "borrowed" courtesy of his union cinematographer brother. This proved too early for the timeline of then non-existent MTV. He has owned record labels, security companies for film productions, is very close to his family but keeps his own counsel on private matters: generally, one has to poll his friends for different aspects of his life. His 2011 Facebook avatar is pictured.
photo by Anita Oswald, Ralph Oswald, 2011
Ralph Oswald a.k.a. Surly Ralph in Christopher Milk relocated to Colorado with his first wife Teri and found deserved happiness with his second wife Anita (best friend of his first wife Teri) and their extended family. He owns his own piano tuning business and gladly celebrates his Scottish ancestry, as seen here in a 2011 photo by Anita Oswald.
photo and graphics by John Mendelssohn. John Mendelssohn, 2011.
John Mendelssohn added an additional "s" to his original byline, wrote for Esquire and many other periodicals before family responsibilities with his first wife Leslie and daughter Brigitte prompted his early entry into the Bay Area tech world via computer graphics. He is rightly proud of his alternately elegant and disturbing web designing career, remarried to former dominatrix Claire (Mistress Chloe) and currently resides with her in her native England. He also never wavered in his continued obsession to write and record music and has continued doing so since his late teens. He wanted me to know that he's written three new, complete songs within the same last month alone. He thankfully still writes both fiction and quasi-non fiction, all available online. The 2011 graphic denotes some of his ebook offerings as well as his visage.
photo by Heather Harris. Mr. Twister as Top Gun F-16 jet simulator pilot, 2011.
Mr. Twister continues to thrive on his mystique, self-preferred mystery, continuing-to-this-day blond good looks and hyper-intelligent abilities alone. This 2011 photograph depicts his channeling his bad boy ways far more productively as a Top Gun F-16 simulator jet pilot. He eschews social networks, so I reprazent, as the kiddies deem same. (Ed.- as of 2016, not any more: see appendix.)
I met Mr. Twister in 1970, thought to self "I want that one," and evinced patience galore while scraping the groupies off him for the next five years. We've been together ever since (HH and Mr. T, not the groupies.) How did I tackle documenting the musical career of the love of my life with such dispassionate objectivity? To utilize the Joss Wheedon format: With. Great. Difficulty. And steely determination to add to the deserved reputations of proto-punk forerunners Christopher Milk and Chainsaw in today's modern world of digital surfing. This may have been a visual valentine, but every picture told a story.
←photo by Kirk Henry, Mr. Twister in Hollywood, Calif. 1971;
right, Mr. Twister 2015
←photo by Kirk Henry, Mr. Twister in Hollywood, Calif. 1971;
right, Mr. Twister 2015
Websites for Paraphilia addenda index---
Heather Harris, forty five years+ of her music photography:
lurid details of same/blog: http://fastfilm1.blogspot.com
Christopher Milk website:
http://www.christophermilk.com (includes extensive research and complex family tree)
emerging Chainsaw site on Facebook:
Kurt Ingham on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011110620318&fref=ts
The John Mendelssohn sites:
Let's occupy YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z79pHheSfWY A little autobiographical video: http://tinyurl.com/2dwzwfr My Web journal: http://johnmendelssohn.blogspot.com/ My latest ebook: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004HB24C0 Amazon's personal bibliography: http://www.amazon.com/John-Mendelssohn/e/B0034Q3ZG8/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1321382749&sr=1-2-entFacebook Christopher Milk Fan Club: https://www.facebook.com/groups/45796543015/