Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When Punk Girls Worked

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Egypt's queen, Cleopatra was among many other things, noted for her great beauty. In 1963, Joseph L. Mankiewicz cast Elizabeth Taylor (at that point in time, considered possibly the most beautiful actress in the world) as the queen in his big screen version of this tragic historic tale. In the past couple of years, I saw a restored version of it, and I can see where people ranging from Gianni Versace and Michael Jackson were influenced by La Liz and the movie's production design.

I bring this up for on this date in 30 BC, Cleopatra committed suicide after her lover, Mark Anthony was defeated at the Battle of Actium. If you go by Shakespeare's account of history, the lovers Antony and Cleopatra pulled that old Romeo and Juliet routine where one of them fakes her death, and the other, thinking his one true love is gone, despairs and really kills himself. They're briefly reunited in tombs and mausoleums... such is the stuff of drama - the history and its inherent tragedy. (I think the only point that people agree on is that Cleopatra used snakes to do the suicidal deed.)

Both the real-life Cleopatra's and 20th Century's Fox's lavish art department/production designers' sense of taste -- completely over the top and deliberate --- influenced many more people than the aforementioned Michael Jackson and Gianni Versace. The young women and girls of punk rock found so much to work with in Cleopatra's display of personal style.

In the late 1970s, the art and artifacts of King Tut toured a few museums around the world, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was one of the institutions so gifted with that exhibit. Scores of punk rock girls and guys were able to find temporary employment at the venerable museum during the King Tut show. Why? They were channeling The Look.

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Just look at the make-up - meticulously applied - on LA punk rock It Girls, Pleasant Gehman above, and Patricia Morrison below.

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Kohl eyeliner was a staple for Cleopatra and punk rock girls alike. While Patricia Morrison inspired future generations of Goth chicks with her punk version of Morticia Addams / Lily Munster, Pleasant has to this day stuck to her Middle Eastern influenced look. Pleasant is also known to many as Princess Farhana, a much in-demand belly dancer. Check out princessfarhana.com to see what I mean.

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The King Tut exhibit was a stroke of good luck for many out-of-work punk rockers, and the first job for many of the young people sporting that black eyeliner look. But while standing guard for King Tut's artifacts, and pointing out the direction to the gift shop or the restrooms to art lovers in LACMA paid our punk friends enough to buy their very own Oki Dog dinner, other punk rockers were indeed working for-real day jobs.

Belinda Carlisle during that period of time lived at the Famous Lobotomy Apartment as one of my three roommates. She worked an administrative job for the Hilton Hotel Corporation, right at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards in Beverly Hills.

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Even back in punk rock days, Pleasant was getting paid to write... apart from the zine we paid to create - Lobotomy - Pleasant was picking up writing gigs for the punk paper of record - Slash, and soon would write for the fledging LA Weekly, inaugurating its gossip column, La Dee Da. Bags co-founder Craig Lee also worked for the Weekly.

I bring up the topic of jobs for punk rockers because for my whole life, I have always wondered how one could rock their completely individual look and still work a job in the "real world," which is usually completely against what one appreciates, style-wise at any rate. That's one of the reasons that service jobs are the Number 1 job amongst artist types of people... because as a member of the underclass, no one really looks twice at you. Then there are the art jobs - where you're expected to look like an individual.

During the golden age of punk rock, I was in college, so I was expected to dress like a college student - which ranged from t-shirts and jeans to total thrift store finds -- no one minded, because no one expects college students, young people or punk rockers to be able to afford style. But they're wrong!

Whether its a white t-shirt
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or a home-made band t-shirt
idol shopping

or this month's bad choice from Vogue
hausfrau for the web

people on a budget have style. They have means - even if those means are a skillful hustle. And sometimes, an ancient queen and her black eyeliner would have died for your job...

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