Monday 30 May 2005
THIS POST IS ABOUT FAME. How we brush up against it, how it brushes up against us, and how it can knock us over, step on us, and even trash our house.
Before I write about some of my interactions with well-known people, I think it’s interesting to look within my own family, where a mix of good and dubious fame exists.
The good fame blood relation is Franz Kafka. His mother was sister to my great grandmother. If you look at pictures of him, and then meet my brother Morris and my mom, you’ll find the family resemblance is downright uncanny. My brother Linus has a picture of Morris somewhere that looks exactly like this one of Franz.
The dubious fame comes from my father’s side of the family, where several of his brothers had deep ties to organized crime. Milton Holt, my uncle (not the Hawaii senator, who was also a crook), was indicted many times on racketeering charges and is said to have been one of Jimmy Hoffa’s right-hand men via their activities in the Teamsters Union.
My own father’s history within the organization remains unclear, even if he were alive I doubt he’d talk about it, but the chances he was fairly involved are high. It’s possible my brother Linus knows more about it than I do, and if he happens to come by the blog, maybe he’ll say a word or two about that.
Interestingly, Uncle Milty’s wife Toni had a career as a Hollywood actress and even has a star on Hollywood Boulevard.
Me n’ Howard
Howard Thies was my best friend in high school. We were both rebellious misfit types, very bright and creative. Howard had the most amazing green eyes and long, thick blonde hair which made us a very outrageous looking duo with our wild hair and hippie clothes. We were always making mischief somewhere and giving anyone perceived as authority lots of grief.
Howard’s mom was an artist from Germany who ran an art gallery on the edges of Greenwich Village in New York City – more near The Bowery, really. Howard and I would often cut school, take the train out of New Jersey where we lived and go to Washington Square Park. There, we’d hang out drinking cheap beer, getting stoned, and generally being teenage slackers.
Hey, it was the 70s.
When we did go to school Howard and I both did theater work. I started out with an interest in acting and singing and then got pulled into the technical side of theater when I found I had a lot more in common with the geeks running light boards and sound than the thespians. It was the first outward sign of my moving away from being a creatively focused person to a technically focused one. I kept working in technical theater well into college, but eventually moved on to other things. Howard, however, focused himself brilliantly within the field and is now an award-winning stage lighting designer in New York.
We’d go to lots of shows. I was exposed to some of the most influential music of my life via Howard and some other friends within our crew. We’d do anything to sneak into shows at the infamous CBGBs and The Palladium, where we witnessed first-hand the emergence of punk and 80s rock – Patti Smith, The Ramones, Mink DeVille, Dead Kennedys with Jello Biafra, and the list goes on.
With Howard as my partner in adventure naturally some majorly interesting brushes with fame came through my experiences with him. First up, actress Karen Allen, right after Animal House came out. We were hanging in Washington Square Park on the fountain when she came bouncing through the park, flashing us a smile so full of light and joy and friendliness that an easily-impressed 16-year old Howard couldn’t shut up about it for months. We waved at her and she waved back, and then some kid came swooshing up on a skateboard for her autograph. She gave such an aura of being at ease with her surroundings. I remain inspired by her natural way of being.
Andy Warhol Stepped On Me
One night, Howard got hold of tickets to the “Bring Abbie Home” rally at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum.
Now, many readers here won’t even know who Abbie Hoffman is, so I hope you’ll read more about him if you don’t. In a very small nutshell, he was a radical social advocate and political activist in the 60s and 70s, and author of “Steal This Book.”
The rally is infamous, largely because rumors abound that Hoffman showed up at the party, which was a call to political leaders to drop the drug charges that had kept him a fugitive from the law for many years.
Many prominent representatives from Beat and Hippie culture were at this event, with a healthy smattering of early Punks.
Howard was leading the way toward our seats when I got caught in a group of people. Some pushing and shoving landed a couple of us right on our asses. So there I was, on the floor trying to get my bearings when all of a sudden a very dramatic man in a cape steps over me and misses clearing my poor teenaged self, clipping my finger with his shoe. He never looked down, not once. He was immediately followed by about three other wildly dressed people, each who stepped over me as if I wasn’t even there. It was a maddening moment, and then suddenly it dawned on me: I’d just been stepped on by Andy Warhol.
Fortunately Howard found me and got me on my feet. Within minutes we got to our seats up front where, I kid you not dear readers, there was Allen Ginsberg holding forth. I was introduced to him, and he was extremely gracious to me, a refreshing salve for my pained hand and Warhol-bruised ego.
My Trashed House
Sometime in 1980 I ventured out of the east coast and came to Tucson, where my grandmother was in very poor health. I lived at her place until she died, after which I had her house for a few years before it was sold.
What my mother was thinking when she let a 17 year old crazy child have an entire house to herself I don’t know, but you can imagine that it quickly became the party house. One summer, I went back east to visit my mom and my brothers, and when I got back to the house, I was absolutely shocked.
Mattresses had been pulled off of beds, there were cooking pots on the floor encrusted with pasta remnants, empty bottles of beer, wine, and hard liquor piled up or broken all over the kitchen, someone had spilled dog food for the dogs in a corner, and god knows who was feeding the cats, despite that I’d left some of my more responsible friends in charge (or so I had thought). This is the desert during the summer, mind, so the place was blistering hot with the cooler going full blast and every window in the house open. Not a soul in sight.
My friends eventually showed up and explained just what the hell happened in that house: The J. Geils Band had been in town doing a show, and somehow they ended up at my place for the weekend for one hell of a crazy party.
And I wasn’t even there. But hey, my house got trashed by the J. Geils Band. If you think Love Stinks, you ought to have smelled the place after they visited for a weekend.
. . . and Others Along the Way
Other brushes with fame are less dramatic but certainly noteworthy. I got to meet Penn & Teller. Teller’s much nicer, but Penn is one hell of an exceptionally bright human. Also, the fabulously funny John Pinette who was a gentleman and a charmer in person and the sexiest fat man on the planet (hell, he makes me laugh, that’s always sexy).
One time I came out of my hotel in San Francisco and chatted on the street about how shitty a city it is to try and hail a cab in with Nicole Kidman who was completely lovely. Later that same night I went for dinner in a local sushi bar. My attention kept being drawn to this rattily dressed guy at the end of the bar who was talking to some slick LA type. I kept thinking “God, who is that?” and finally I realized that no, it wasn’t a slacker friend from Tucson, but the unparalleled Sean Penn. It turns out both Kidman and Penn were in town doing a stage production.
So, those are my memorable brushes with fame. How about you? Who have you met, run into, been run into by, been stepped on or otherwise met or are related to in some way?