Review: In the Kitchen: The Necronomnomnom

Dear Constant Reader,

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen some photos lately of dishes with rather odd names and a sinister tome in the background. What is up with that? I’ve been cooking from…

The Necronomnomnom
It’s a cookbook, but a truly special one. It’s full of rituals and rites, illustrated with arcane sketches and notes, which must be interpreted to achieve tasty results. As you might have guessed from the title, it’s a Lovecraft-themed cookbook. There are fifty recipes, including cocktails, appetizers, entrees, side dishes, desserts, and even recipes for children (that is, for children to eat, not how to cook them). As the names evoke eldritch horrors, so do the presentations, with odd colors, additional tentacles, or inscribed runes (all edible, of course).

The recipes have terribly wonderful Lovecraft pun names, like The Sandwich Horror or The Custard from Out of Space. But in order to cook them, you have to puzzle through the ingredient lists and instructions, which are written in archaic and mystical fashion — even poetry. The degree of obscurity varies from recipe to recipe, from relatively straightforward in terms of ingredient names and measurements to rather baffling at first glance.

Here, for example are the ingredients for Deep Fried Deep One, the first dish I cooked.

What is the Herb of Mysterious Purpose? The Bay of Elders? It helps to be an experienced cook, because once you figure out what the dish is, things start to fall in place. I was often chuckling at the cleverness of the authors or feeling smug that I puzzled things out.

And the instructions for The Oats of Dagon.

I’ll admit, this was a challenging one! I’m not even sure how many times I read and misinterpreted the instructions before I finally got it.

The illustrations are very detailed and in perfect keeping with the theme. Be sure to read all the scribbled little notes — there’s a story running through the book. Here’s a little taste of the artwork:

I managed to get my hands on a first, or Grimoire, edition, which is only the mystic rituals. There’s really nothing to break the illusion that this is a mysterious spell book and the cover is pretty horrifying. There was also a super-special edition with a three-dimensional flayed skin* cover, for that extra touch of realism.

Don’t worry if the thought of figuring out the ingredients and instructions fills you with fear. The “Bookstore Edition“, which comes out in just a few days, has all the rituals and illustrations, but also practical additions like a table of contents, index, and… all the recipes in clear language in an appendix in the back. I’ve had a lot of fun figuring out the recipes, but I know that’s not for everyone.

I’ve been really happy with most of the results! I’ve also had fun bringing out The Manor’s spookiest china and arranging the tentacles just right for a good photo. Here’s some New England Damned Chowder:

For more delicious photos of my endeavors so far and some commentary on the recipes, I’ve created a photo gallery just for my Patrons.

Highly recommended for creative cooks, lovers of puzzles, and weird fiction fans.

*Or maybe cast latex…

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 25 September 2019 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: A Pictorial History of Striptease

Dear Constant Reader,

Our apprentice Electrix wanted to pick our brains about burlesque in London, since she’s hoping to study there (wish her luck!). I remembered this book included a section on burlesque in London and then I realized I’d not given you a proper review.

A Pictorial History of Striptease: 100 Years of Undressing to Music by Richard Wortley (1976)

This book is exactly what it promises: pages and pages of photographs of women taking (or having taken) their clothes off, plus related ephemera, like programs and advertisements. The illustrations are broken up by text on striptease, its history and evolution. Many of the pictures are full page and in color. There are plenty that are not the standard fare of burlesque books. However, as the book was published in the mid-seventies, there are a lot of contemporary photos of topless showgirls with amusing hairstyles

Thew books begins with a history of striptease from its 19th century origins to the present day. Then it looks specifically at Paris, Britain, and the United States. Paris, of course, highlights the Moulin Rouge, the Follies Bergère, and Crazy Horse, but there are photos of showgirls at other cabarets. Britain focuses on the Windmill Theatre (we never closed!) and the nightclub empire of Paul Raymond. There’s also a mention of Arthur Fox in Manchester who imported many performers from the US. The US looks at the showgirls of Las Vegas and Carol Doda (and Them) among others. Tempest Storm gets a mention right on the first page.

The book also delves into striptease and nudity on film. That includes scenes like Marilyn Monroe and her flying skirt as well as actual nude scenes. This is followed by a chapter on the rivals to striptease on stage, like live sex shows, porn movies, and various topless businesses. The very last chapter is an illustrated how-to for performing your very own striptease. It pairs very nicely with Libby Jones’s striptease.

It’s a great look at striptease and how it was up to the mid-1970s. Some of the photos are absolutely ridiculous in sort of a wonderful way, like the woman dangling her bra above a dolphin like a herring. Some are a study in glamour. In many of the photos, the performers are more naked than burlesque performers today. In fact, in the chapter on the US, American performers are seen as quaint for wearing pasties and G-strings. My biggest wish is that the photos had been dated. I’d love to know more about some of them.

It’s long out of print, but you can find it used for a reasonable price.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 11 September 2019 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Rust Belt Burlesque

Dear Constant Reader,

Although I still have a huge pile of books to review, here’s a book that’s hot off the presses!

Rust Belt Burlesque: The Softer Side of a Heavy Metal Town by Erin O’Brien and Bob Perkoski (2019).

Rust Belt Burlesque is a photo collection highlighting burlesque in Cleveland, specifically burlesque produced by Bella Sin and appearing at the Beachland Ballroom. However, it’s not just pages and pages of photos, there’s also extensive text.

Part one is a biography of Bella Sin, who was instrumental in creating the lively neo-burlesque scene Cleveland. She’s not a native of Cleveland, but has made the city her home and burlesque her passion. Part two is a history of burlesque in Cleveland, highlighting the infamous, and now demolished, Roxy theatre.

The bulk of the book is the section of photos taken at shows at the Beachland Ballroom. There are a few posed pictures and a few photos were taken backstage or of the vendors in the hallway, but most are shots taken during performances. They’re action shots with some of the issues that come from motion, but for the most part they are dynamic and flattering. The venue has had terrible stage lighting in the past and it shows in some of the photos, but mostly it creates a moody atmosphere. There a certain excitement at seeing a performer “caught in the act” and shots of billowing fabric and bodies in motion create that feeling. Bella Sin curates shows with a strong commitment to diversity, so you’ll see a wide range of performer types.

The majority of the photos seem to be from the 2017 Ohio Burlesque Festival, although there are some from other years and other shows. The photos that were taken at festivals aren’t necessarily of performers from Cleveland, but all over the country, but you can’t tell who’s local and who’s not from the captions. The captions do identify the performer and the year and often a brief description.

The pages of photographs are interspersed with writings about the burlesque experience — from the audience and performers backstage and onstage. There’s a discussion of candy butchers of burlesque past which segues into a look at the vendors at the festivals. There’s also an essay about the history of the Beachland Ballroom, where all this happens.

The last section of the is black and white portraits of five Cleveland performers out of drag and a short statement from each one about their relationship with burlesque.

Full disclosure, I was included in the book:

The title of the book is a bit misleading, as the Rust Belt is comprised of several states and this is just burlesque in Cleveland, or rather just the shows Bella Sin produces at the Beachland Ballroom, which draw performers from outside the area as well. However, the delight and pride of locals in the burlesque shows come through on every page.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 27 August 2019 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Inside The Combat Zone

Dear Constant Reader,

I love burlesque history — all the glitz and glamour of days gone by. But I also think it’s important to know about the less savory portions of our art, like carnivals. I’m particularly interested in Boston’s Combat Zone, where burlesque went after Scollay Square was demolished. I was very excited to learn about this new book and even more so when Scratch invited the author to speak at The Expo.

Schorow, Stephanie. Inside The Combat Zone: The Stripped Down Story of Boston’s Most Notorious Neighborhood, 2017.

The Combat Zone, officially designated the “Adult Entertainment District” (AED), was the area around lower Washington Street, bordering Chinatown. It was the city’s attempt to contain the adult businesses that had already moved into the area. City officials hoped for an exciting and naughty destination, with porno theatres, dirty book shops, and burlesque houses, carefully controlled. What they ended up with was a sleazy area of XXX shows, strip clubs, prostitution, pickpockets, and drugs.

After the destruction of Scollay Square (and the burlesque theaters for which it had been famed) so the new Government Center could be built on the rubble, the seamier entertainments began congregating around Washington Street. Knowing that an outright ban would just cause the businesses to move elsewhere (and that might be someplace with higher property values…), the straight-laced and puritanical Boston decided to make one legally-zoned area for adult businesses.

Schorow’s book deals a lot with the political, social, and zoning issues of The Combat Zone, but of course, she also writes about burlesque. None of the theaters originally in Scolllay Square, like the Old Howard or The Casino, moved to Washington Street, but there were plenty of new locations to see striptease. The infamous Pilgrim Theatre wanted to bring back classic burlesque and booked such well-known practitioners as Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr, but it was Fanne Foxe that made history there, with her relationship with Congressman Wilbur Mills and his unexpected appearance on stage with her.

I was delighted to learn the story of Miss Bicentennial and even more so to meet her at a book event. Julie Jordan made the Boston Herald when she stripped at City Hall Plaza in 1976. “Right on the grave of old Scollay Square”, she peeled off her star-spangled Hedy Jo Star costume.

Schorow’s book takes you through the history of the Combat Zone, from its well-intentioned beginnings through the quick slide to a dangerous area of mobsters and murder to its dwindling when adult businesses were shut down in favor of restaurants, condos, and other more “reputable” businesses. The last remnants of the Combat Zone are two strip clubs on LaGrange St. Most Bostonians don’t miss the chaos and the crime, but it was part of our past and all burlesque performers in the area should know of it.

Special bonus: the cover art is based on a photo of Satan’s Angel who was interviewed for the book, along with a few other women who worked in the clubs of the Zone.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 10 June 2019 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: More Havoc

Dear Constant Reader,

Today we return to the life of June Havoc, Gypsy Rose Lee’s younger (and most say more talented) sister with her second memoir.

More Havoc by June Havoc (1980)

More Havoc begins where Early Havoc leaves off. June, barely in her teens, has fled her overbearing mother and the grind of constant work. She longs to be a legitimate actress, but has to sustain herself as a marathon dancer. She looks back at her childhood in vaudeville for a few chapters, but the rest is a straight-forward narrative, without the shift between past and present of her first book.

June, a pro on the marathon dance circuit, leaves the grueling competitions when a promoter falls in love with her and has his syndicate hire her as his driver while he looks for new venues. Really, it’s a cross-country camping vacation, but she’s getting paid for it. She also reconnects with her husband, Bobby. She doesn’t want to be tied to any man, especially one who doesn’t want her to follow her dream, and decides to leave them both and have her own family.

Pregnant, she begins working hard as a entertainer, saving for her daughter (she’s sure it will be a girl). Ultimately she has to go back to New York and live with her mother, who is running a social club for lesbians out of the spacious apartment Gypsy bought her. At first June is told to hide in her room during the parties, but is soon pressed into service dispensing bathtub booze and plates of cheap spaghetti to her mother’s clientele. This arrangement lasts until the sisters discover that their mother was charging them both for June’s rent and Gypsy’s boyfriend gives June some cash (which Mother tries to filch) to get her own place.

June is ecstatic to start a new life with her daughter, April, but she has no real support and no job. Her mother offers to adopt April and “do for her what I tried to do for you”, but June is never going to be that desperate. After struggling to get by, a lucky break lands June a job as a mannequin, modeling gowns for a fashion house. With every scrap of free time she makes the rounds of booking agents. She finally lands a performance job which leads to another and another.

She marries (and divorces) a Harvard man who fancies himself a writer. She abandons “Jeannie Reed”, her name from when she was hoofing with her husband, which she also used during the marathons. She panics as she’s writing “June Hovick” on a contract, since her sister was forced by prudish Hollywood to perform as Louise Hovick and her movies failed. Instead, it comes out “Havoc”. She doesn’t like it, but it sticks.

Then comes Pal Joey. June is cast in the new musical as Gladys Bumps, a small comedic role that keeps getting bigger and bigger as the director discovers her talents. At last! A Broadway show! And then Hollywood comes calling… Soon June is shuttling across the country between Hollywood and Broadway. June and Gypsy become closer. For a few years, the sisters live together in Gypsy’s huge house in New York City.

The book ends with June’s show-stopping performance on opening night of Mexican Hayride in try-outs in Boston. Her sister, in disguise, is in the audience, having stayed up all night to help June with her costume.

It’s impossible to tell the story of the Hovick sisters without acknowledging the dominating presence of their mother. Gypsy’s memoir portrays her mother as a needy woman, beautiful and fragile, humorously eccentric, in a fantasy world of her own devising. Gypsy deliberately makes her “Mother stories” amusing, even after her mother’s death. In this book June depicts a greedy, delusional, sociopathic woman who emotionally and occasionally physically abused her daughters. Both June and Gypsy try to break free of their mother, but only June succeeds. Despite leaving her mother’s control, June is still shadowed by her presence. This memoir is even bookended by scenes of her mother’s deathbed. All June wanted from her mother was love and approval, but once she becomes independent she might as well be a stranger. Mother did not create June Havoc, so she can’t live in reflected glory. To her, June is a failure. Gypsy is the one she clings to and the one she curses as she dies.

This memoir is certainly more positive and uplifting than the first. However, I liked it less. It wasn’t the story; it was the writing. Early Havoc felt more genuine and the writing of this one feels a little forced. Burlesque-wise, there’s more about Gypsy in this volume, as the sisters spend more time together, but not too much about her performances.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 20 May 2019 at 3:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Early Havoc

Dear Constant Reader,

A book review! I know I’ve been remiss in writing these and I’ve let a huge stack of books just pile up. Today’s book is not so much about burlesque as it is adjacent to burlesque.

Early Havoc by June Havoc (1959)

June Havoc was Gypsy Rose Lee’s little sister, the former Dainty Baby June, vaudeville sensation. She wrote two memoirs about her life in show business. Early Havoc is a bit harder to find, but Scratch used his excellent hunting skills to find a first edition, which had been signed by the author.

Early Havoc alternates chapters between June’s time in vaudeville and her first dance marathon. June was a dance prodigy and from the time she could walk, her mother put her on stage. She was a vaudeville star and even made some movies. As she grew up, the act she had been performing since childhood grew stale and vaudeville declined. June’s mother adamantly refused to let June have an education or any training in dance or acting. She kept her daughter frozen in childhood, unwilling to allow any change. When June was 13 (she thought she might be 16 and her forged birth certificate claimed she was 18) she was desperate to change her life and secretly married Bobby Reed, a dancer from her act. The newlyweds ran away to start a new life and double act.

It was the Great Depression. Vaudeville was dead. June realizes that between her life in show business and her mother’s, let us just say, eccentric view of the child rearing, she has absolutely no idea how to behave in “normal” life. June and Bobby split up in hopes of finding work as solo performers. A $5 booking led June into the brutal world of dance marathons. She took the job at first because the promoter promised 6 meals a day. In a dance marathon, partners have to stay on the dance floor, constantly moving, for as long as possible, in this case, up to three thousand hours. The dancers only get one 11-minute rest break every hour or, later in the marathon, only every two hours. They have to keep moving during meal time and even when called up on stage to entertain the audience with a song, specialty dance, or comedy routine. The teams that stick it out to the end win a cash prize.

June is naive about the dirty dealings on the dance floor, but quickly becomes a pro, a “horse”. After falling victim to tricks from her fellow participants to injure her or make her sick, she learns to keep going no matter what, to lug her sleeping partner around the dance floor, to look pathetic and weak during her time on the performance stage so as to get better “floor money” (tips). She also has to survive the sadistic stunts of the event promoters and their underhanded tactics to make as much money as possible off the backs of the desperate dancers. The marathon participants are pushed beyond exhaustion with grueling “sprints” and “grinds” and “treadmills”. The crueler the events, the more audience they get.

The book ends with the conclusion of the marathon. After making it all the way through, June discovers she’s been cheated out of most of her earnings and prize money. She swears she’ll do just one more marathon, now that she’s wise to the tricks.

What’s the burlesque connection? Throughout the books, when June mentions her sister, it’s to speak in awe of Louise’s intellect and her beauty, but she has little talent for singing and dancing. When June first arrives in New York, desperate, her mother boasts about Louise’s career and all her accomplishments, while treating June as someone she vaguely remembers meeting once upon a time. It’s a shock to discover her beloved older sister is now Gypsy Rose Lee, staring in Minsky’s Ada Onion from Bermuda. June is awestruck by Gypsy’s beauty and stage presence. She describes watching Gypsy’s famous act as Bobby gushes about her sense of humor and good looks. Gypsy herself is a distant presence, hardly noticing her little sister. However, Gypsy kindly gets June and Bobby a spot in the show doing their dance act, but they’re fired after two weeks. Nothing personal — management just has to change up the show.

The whole book is less a tale of show business than a memoir of survival. June knows she’s got a lot against her — raw talent but no training, little education, a selfish and manipulative mother, no support — but she’s determined to make her way in the world. Her story is painful to read at times, especially her assessments of herself and her awkward interactions with “regular” people.

The book ends leaving many questions unanswered: Does she make it out of the world of marathon dances? Does she get out from under her mother’s shadow? Does she find success on stage? Does she ever have a relationship with her sister? Fortunately, there’s another memoir, More Havoc, published 20 years later, answers some of those questions. I’ll review that one next.

One little tidbit — I was excited to realize that the last theatre Dainty June played before she escaped her mother was the Jayhawk in Topeka, KS. I’ll be performing there on June 22 with Hot in Topeka as part of a fundraiser for the theatre!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 6 May 2019 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Fierce

Dear Constant Reader,

One of the other assignments for The House of Knyle mentorship was to write an essay on Jo Weldon’s new book. Since I’d been intending to review it anyway, this was a good incentive to do it sooner rather than later. As with the essay on Sally Keith, I’ve tweaked the writing just a little here and there from the essay I submitted to Egypt.

Fierce: The History of Leopard Print by Jo Weldon (2018).

I remember my first leopard print. I was shopping for a sun hat and Scratch pointed out one with a lovely wide brim, painted with leopard spots. I said no, “I don’t think I’m a leopard print kind of girl.” He pointed out that I might be a leopard kind of girl, but I wouldn’t know unless I tried it. I’ve been wearing that hat ever since. And more leopard print followed. I’m got a wardrobe-full and still love this fierce pattern. I’ve been awaiting the publication of Jo Weldon’s book on the history of leopard print since she first started presenting her lectures on the subject.

Fierce: The History of Leopard Print is a look at fashion and society through the lens of leopard print. The viewpoint is a feminist one, a fine way of seeing a fashion choice generally considered the purview of women. As the title suggests, wearing leopard print is a bold decision that reflects the personality of the women wearing it.

The fashion for the fur of spotted cats starts in prehistory and for millennia represented power. As a human was draped in the skin of the cat, its fierceness of the cats was transferred to the wearer in a form of sympathetic magic. The book skims the appearance of leopard print in several centuries before reaching the focus of the book – the twentieth century. The next several chapters are a thematic look at each decade and the meaning of leopard print at the time.

I loved seeing how the attitude toward leopard print changed with the decades. I was particularly struck by contrast of the chapters “The Trophy Wife” and “The Bad Mother”. In a short span of time, leopard print signified polar opposites in woman – privileged and obedient versus seductive and rebellious. We see how leopard print moved up and down the fashion scale over the years, from powerful to tacky to campy to sexy to playful and back again. I particularly enjoyed the analysis of the meaning of “tacky” and how something once considered prestigious could fall to being dismissed by the elite.

Fierce is lavishly illustrated, as a fashion book needs to be. The photographs show leopard being worn by movie stars, supermodels, and ordinary women, and in advertisements, catalogs, and other photos. I know how hard it is to get the rights to images so I’m very impressed with all the gorgeous pictures she was able to use. This book wants to be enjoyed in full color. The writing is excellent, but the impact would be lost without the images.

The history of this fashion is bookended with information about the big cats whose fur inspired this all. At the start the reader is introduced to the spotted cats and their markings, so you can tell if you’re wearing leopard print or if it’s actually jaguar. The book wraps up with some organizations that are helping big cats, if you want to get involved in preserving these beautiful creatures. Because of Jo I’ve been a supporter of Panthera for several years now.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fashion history, in feminism, or in big cats. This enjoyable and informative read is a celebration of fierce creatures — female and feline alike.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 6 February 2019 at 3:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: Feuding Fan Dancers

Dear Constant Reader,

I know it’s been a long time (a year!) since I gave you a new book review. Here’s one for a brand-new, hot-off-the-presses book.

Feuding Fan Dancers: Faith Bacon, Sally Rand, and the Golden Age of the Showgirl by Leslie Zemeckis (2018).

I’ve enjoyed Leslie’s previous books (Behind the Burly-Q and Goddess of Love Incarnate) and this one is just as good. Her writing is very accessible and she brings these long departed people to life. The history of burlesque, at best a niche art, could be so easily lost and I’m glad these engaging books are capturing precious bits of information and bringing them to a wider audience.

We all know Sally Rand as the most famous fan dancer of all time. But was she the first? Faith Bacon, a beautiful, but fragile showgirl, seems to have originated the feathered tease. Zemeckis follows the lives and careers of both women through triumph and catastrophe. In a simple summation one could say that Faith had a tragic life, overshadowed by the successful Sally, but there is more to the story.

Faith Bacon was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time and her daring suggestion that she use fans to cover her nude body should have cemented her place as a star on stage. Sadly, drug addiction, poor choices, and plain bad luck dragged her into obscurity and a short life. Sally Rand, less attractive but more vivacious, by determination and ambition, made the fan dance synonymous with her name.

You can see to the right a souvenir lamp from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair from our collection. It’s just labeled “The Fan Dancer”, but is always identified as Sally Rand, despite the fact that both women performed at that event. One could say Sally had the success story, as she had a long life, performed for most of it, and is remembered today, but she had her share of hardships. She was constantly performing because she was chronically running out of money.

Although the fan dance has become a staple on the burlesque stage, neither woman would have considered herself a burlesque performer. They didn’t strip, but used the fans to conceal and tease. Faith was a showgirl, performing for Ziegfeld and Carroll, while Sally, after struggling in Hollywood, found her place performing at World Fairs and Expositions.

Telling two stories in alternating chapters is a challenge for a writer and sometimes feels forced (I’m looking at you, Thunderstruck) but these two women did have lives that ran in parallel, met, intertwined, and ultimately diverged. Since more than century has passed since the birth of the feuding fan dancers there were fewer eyewitness accounts that in the author’s other two books, but she fleshed out the stories with many other sources. If you love the fan dance or burlesque history in general, this is a must read.

Just for fun, here I am with the author at her book event in Cambridge.

Leopard-print forever!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 5 December 2018 at 3:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Book Review: April Unwrapped

Dear Constant Reader,

Every once in a while I receive a request to review a book or film. I’m always happy to do so!

April Unwrapped: My Naked Dreams Revealed by April Brucker (2017)

April Bucker is an actress and comedienne, not a burlesque performer, but her book addresses being naked in public. Everyone has had that dream of being naked in a public place, whether it’s in the classroom, the boardroom, or on the subway. In April’s case, her nightmare was being naked on the stand-up stage. In reaction to that bad dream, she created April Unwrapped, in which she faces her fear by being naked in the pages of a book.

In the tradition of the pin-up calendar, April presents more than a dozen photos of herself, naked, each one themed for a month. She’s not actually naked, but coyly covered with an item or two, appropriate to the theme. The effect is more cute and a touch campy than it is provocative (although the creamy “bikini” of August was more revealing than most of the other months).

Each photo is accompanied by a short message, relating her dream to the reader. In May, where she holds a vase of yellow roses in front of her crotch and a single rose across her breasts, she writes “I dreamed you planted my May flowers. Au Revoir! April”. It reminded me of the old ads — “I dreamed I argued before the Supreme Court… in my Maidenform bra!” only without the bra.

As I said above, April is not a burlesque performer, so taking off her clothes for an audience isn’t a common occurrence for her. She’s also not a pin up model and she employs none of the glamourous artifice of that profession. She’s truly unwrapped, naked and exposed before our eyes. This is art created to confront a fear and make a statement, not to seduce or entice.

As a book, it’s a little thing and I think it might have worked a little better as a calendar. I would have like to have seen more of April’s creative concepts, untethered by the constraint of the monthly theme. It’s a charming collection, nonetheless, and is both amusing and brave.

If you, Dear Reader, have a book, film, product or anything else you’d like me to review, please drop me a line.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 2 November 2017 at 3:20 pm  Comments (2)  
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Review: Growing Up Naked

Dear Constant Reader,

Scratch got me a copy of Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver for the holidays, but that’s not the book I’m reviewing. I’ll get to it. Eventually. Early in the book, the author mentioned a book I’d never heard of, I was intrigued, and found a copy. And here it is.

Growing Up Naked: My Years in Bump and Grind by Lindalee Tracey (1997).

Lindalee Tracey began stripping, underaged, in an unspecified Canadian city in the 1970s, a transitional time for burlesque. She worked at Eden with angry, artistic Emma, Ruby who would spread, elegant Yvette who was once on a bill with Lili St. Cyr, and beautiful, bitter Sugar. She discovered the joy and power of dancing on the club stage. She also dealt with backstage jealousies, sleazy management, and a trial for lewdness. After being forced into a humiliating publicity stunt, she left Eden to tour in the U.S. There she discovered some unfortunate truths about Americans, in the industry there and in general.

She returned to Canada in time for the Olympics and found a home in Montreal at the SexOHrama. Some of her colleagues from Eden had also made the move, but their lives and fortunes had diverged from hers. After a while, she began drifting away from stripping to concentrate on her writing. Before she left the business entirely, she founded the Tits for Tots strip-a-thon, which raised both money for a local children’s hospital and the esteem of the participating strippers. Her final project before leaving stripping entirely was to be involved in a feminist documentary, which didn’t quite go as she’d hoped.

Her writing borders on poetic (not surprising, since she also wrote poetry). It’s all present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy, but it has a misty quality of looking backwards as well. Unlike some other burlesque memoirs, she often looks inward and describes her feelings and emotional experiences, not just events and actions. Her story is interspersed with letters from some of her fans and her own poetry.

One of the aspects I found interesting was the changes in burlesque during the author’s career. When she started in burlesque, features (strippers) were still performing 20 minute sets. Early in her career the author muses on themes and songs for an act. Also, the features never mingled with the audience. It was go-go dancers who hustled drinks for tips. Periodically the go-gos would come on stage for a “paltry” three-song set. Then the go-gos were being brought on stage en masse for what became known as “the meat market”. The features were trying to compete with twenty girls at once (many of whom would “spread”) but also with porn movies being shown in the clubs. Once table dances were introduced, some strippers chose to step down in status to become a go-go for the increase in income via tips. You can see the evolution into the present day strip club.

It’s clear Lindalee loved stripping and what it had been when she started. She felt it made her more, bigger, stronger. She fought constantly against being diminished and demeaned by her employers, the audience, and others who wouldn’t see the power the performers had on stage. When she left, striptease had changed completely and she mourned the loss of what it had been.

Besides her published writings, Lindalee Tracey also made films. At some point, I’ll review her documentary The Anatomy of Burlesque.

I filmed myself reading a short passage from this book, but only my Patrons can see the video. The rest of you will have to content yourself with this photo.

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Published in: on 12 July 2017 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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