Archive for August, 2009
El Coyote is Movieland‘s idea of a Mexican restaurant: the lighting is garish, the margaritas stiff. Waitresses clad in petti-coated, off-the-shoulder cotton fiestas have been serving, as they call it, “authentic California style Mexican food” to actors and others since 1931, but the blood-red leather booth in the back played host to its most infamous party on the night of August 8th, 1969, when actress Sharon Tate dined there with Jay Sebring, Wojciech Fryowski and Abigail Folger. Later that night, the group would be slain by followers of Charles Manson at Tate’s home at 10050 Cielo Drive.
Tall, blonde, and forever gripping a camcorder, odd-teur John Aes-Nihil (director of the gory cult classic, Manson Family Movies) gathered his unusual band of miscreants for “the Last Supper,” this past Saturday night, as he has done every August 8th since 1979. Manson’s long-standing appeal? “It was the first time the hippies struck back,” one diner commented. Or was it?
Never a true crime buff nor serial killer dilettante, I had long viewed Manson symbolically–a guitar-strumming eco-terrorist with a Messiah complex who effectively extinguished the Age of Aquarius, but on this, the 40th anniversary of the Tate/LaBianca slayings, a different picture emerged.
Manson, suspected of being both an FBI informant and agent provocateur, may well have been a patsy. “The FBI took out the Black Panthers, the Yippies, the Weather Underground, and it’s a contention that the murders were orchestrated,” author Adam Gorightly pointed out between sips of a margarita. Manson’s connections to military intelligence, the Church of Scientology, government-sponsored mind control experiments and the ‘60s occult underground ripple through The Shadow Over Santa Susana, Gorightly’s definitive Manson tome, recently re-released by Creation Books.
Manson referred to his family as “slippies,“ and only grew his hair long in the months proceeding the murders; but because of Manson, “it was a long time before you saw longhairs portrayed in a positive light.”
Aes-Nihil’s group of historians, writers, musicians and film makers traded stories of the weird, twisted Hollywood of old, attracting the attention of a pudgy blonde industry type, who, with no prompting, described the “peaceful vibe” surrounding Tate’s house when Trent Reznor recorded “Helter Skelter” there with a not-yet famous Marilyn Manson. Archivist Aes-Nihil (short for “aesthetic nihilism”) poked his ever-present camera in the man’s face, adding to the hundreds of hours of Manson-related footage he’s acquired over the decades, smirking all the while.
In all the years I’d known John Aes-Nihil, I’d always thought it was the Family’s creep factor that had attracted him. Many of my teenaged Saturdays were spent riding the bus all the way to his house in Winnetka (oddly enough, the childhood home of trickster artist and LA Weekly pal, Jeffrey Vallance), where I’d gorge myself on Jodorowsky and Cecil Taylor before waking up at four a.m. to hawk copies of movies from his archive at various swap meets around the southland. Our booth was always popular, even though a lone copy of Time magazine with the Manson cover hung from the entrance.
“There’s infinitely more to the Manson thing than Tex Watson killing people,” he explained. “I’m obsessed with the effect the murders had on the ‘60s since I was there, part of a group somewhat like the Family. When the story came out, we didn’t believe it for a second.” A man of infamously few words, he resumed shooting the party‘s chatter.
Church of Satan founder, Anton La Vey had cursed Tate’s husband, director Roman Polanski, after they’d had a falling out on the set of Rosemary’s Baby. Drug-addled orgies at the house on Cielo Drive were filmed, and later sold on the black market by crooked LAPD who’d stolen them from the crime scene. Family member Patricia Krenwinkel, in correspondence with researcher John Judge, swore she had been a victim of mind control. The acid Manson gave his followers was allegedly of the same, government-issued variety “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz had been dosed with while in the military… standard dinner party conversation.
Gathering the assembled for a post-dinner portrait, Aes-Nihil continued. “Charlie and Sharon [Tate] have been baptized in the well of eternity via mass culture and universal myth. As for Charlie, he’s a modern-day Nietzsche.” This is apparent, he says, in Manson’s unedited interviews. “If a lot of what Charlie has said had been attributed to someone who is politically correct, it would be hailed as genius.” I hear him out, knowing that many people don’t, and smile for the camera.
Hailed by its announcers as “America’s fastest growing spectator sport!”, Roller Games (and its rival league, Roller Derby) peaked in popularity during the early 1970’s when it was in national television syndication. During this Golden Age, I’d religiously tune into the “Roller Game of the Week” on KTLA every Sunday night to hear that flamboyant trackside announcer Dick Lane, at least once a game, bellow: “Whoooooaaaaaaaaaa, Nelly!”
The Roller Game of the Week–hosted by this legendary team of the aforementioned Lane and his sidekick Bill “Hoppy” Haupt and his terminally bad hairpiece–each week featured the beloved Los Angeles Thunder Birds pitted against a rival bad guy team such as the Texas Outlaws, New York Bombers or Reilly’s Western Renegades. What would normally transpire during the course of the Roller Game of the Week was an all out orgy of screaming, violence and overall bad behavior which usually culminated in a last second victory by the T-Birds, just when it appeared that all was lost!
As each Roller Game of the Week concluded, my brother and I—both of us by now worked into a lather by the spectacle we’d just witnessed—would wrestle our way to my bedroom, relentlessly punching each other as we made our passage. Then in our stocking feet–on the slick hardwood floor with a little table placed strategically in the middle of the room to approximate the center of the roller rink–my brother would whip me out on a jam and I’d slide swiftly across the bare, hardwood floor on imaginary roller skates, throwing elbows and delivering hip checks, crashing into the walls and alarming our parents as we skated around in our socks, beating the crap out of each other.
Such was our passion for Roller Games!
But as the early 80’s rolled around, the wheels had come off the figurative skates of the Roller Games industry, due in part to the emergence of Vince McMahon’s WWF, with the likes of such steroid-pumped superstar wrestlers as Hulk Hogan and the Macho Man, Randy Savage. Although a few feeble attempts to revive Roller Games have been attempted in recent years, its glory days most likely will never be recaptured. The last serious attempt was the short-lived RollerJam of a few years back, featuring juiced guys and shapely gals in sexy uniforms in a high-octane MTV generation version of Roller Games. But for all its flash and hype, RollerJam just couldn’t capture the cheesy charm of its low budget predecessor.
Memories of the glory days of the banked track now bring a nostalgic lump to my throat as I think back to those roller stars of yore that soared around the track like comets in the night’s sky, shining bright under the hot lights of the Olympic auditorium in Los Angeles. But of all those faded stars from the halcyon days of Roller Games, none burned brighter than the L.A. T-Bird’s own “Psycho” Ronnie Rains, who was once described by an L.A. Times reporter as “a man who combines handsome physical features with the charm of Charles Manson.”
Rains, a Los Angeles native, began competing as a flat track roller skater at age 11. As an amateur, Ronnie was 3-time national speed skating champion, along the way defeating some of the best skaters in the world, as he hitchhiked around the country competing in national championships. In his early twenties, Rains made the jump to the banked track, hired to his first Roller Games contract in 1963 with the New York Bombers. During the 60’s, he spent several years with the Australian T-Birds, where he met his future wife, Australian skater Colleen Murrell. The best pure skater in the sport, Rains could skate backward on one skate better than most skaters could go forward on two, combining speed, agility and a manic personality, which captivated Roller Games fans around the globe.
In 1969, Ronnie returned to the New York Bombers as player/coach, assuming the classic role of the heel. On account of his over the top antics, opposing fans began taunting Ronnie with the nickname, “Psycho”, which continually made him go berserk and cover his ears to drown out the deafening chorus of: “Psycho, Psycho, Psycho!” Conversely, Ronnie had the ability to work crowds into a frenzy, often inciting riots at other team’s arenas.
Throughout his colorful career, Rains fluctuated between the roles of “good psycho” and “bad psycho”, just as many of today’s wrestling stars flip-flop between these good guy/bad guy personas as a marketing ploy. For many years, Rains–with his fondness for kicking opposing skaters in the face–was one of the reigning rogues of the game. Because of such bad guy tactics, Ronnie was the recipient of a bomb threat at his apartment in New York one time, and on another occasion was nearly shot by some irate fan that felt “The Psycho” needed to be put in his place. One time Ronnie enraged one spectator to the point that it caused the fellow to stand up without his crutches for the first time in years.
One of Ronnie’s most infamous routines — circa 1972 — centered around a German WW1 Kaiser helmet, the kind with a spike on top. Instead of the traditional helmet that jammers would normally use, “The Psycho” would wear this Kaiser helmet when he went out on a jam, the result of which made him seemingly invincible as he’d crash into opposing skaters and scatter them like bowling pins. For some reason, it never occurred to Ronnie to wear the helmet during the last jam of the game to score the winning points, thus his evil-hearted Bombers would always end up losing to those perennial good guy L.A. Thunderbirds. Eventually, Ronnie stopped wearing this magic helmet when it was officially banned by the Roller Games Commission on account of its evil mystical powers! That same year, Ronnie had a role in Kansas City Bomber starring Rachel Welch. Portraying the heel captain of a dastardly team called the Renegades, Ronnie’s antics proved to be the most memorable and hilarious of all those Roller Games skaters appearing in the film.
Ronnie skated with the New York Bombers until 1973, when he switched sides and joined the L.A. T-Bird’s, re-inventing himself in the image of the good natured psycho with a heart of gold. At the height of this “good guy psycho” phase Ronnie was much beloved in Los Angeles. In fact, it was the L.A. fans that turned around “The Psycho” nickname and started using it in a positive light, as over time Ronnie grew to appreciate the appellation.
A regular Harpo Marx on skates, Rains was a true comic genius. One minute he’d be racing around the track at 40 miles an hour, dodging in and out, throwing a shoulder here or an elbow there, knocking his opponents over the rail or into the infield. The next thing you’d know he’d be reaching down into the crowd and sweeping middle aged ladies off their feet, pulling them up to the railing and planting a big smooch on their cheeks.
Rains brought a creativity to the sport the likes of which hasn’t been seen since. He had a thousand gags and gimmicks, like his famous “swivel hip” routine where he’d start doing this crazy little dance to juke opposing defenders, mesmerizing them just as a teammate, like little Ralphie Valladares, would come soaring around the corner on a jam and score! Other diversionary tactics including spinning in circles, making faces at his opponents, or biting them on the ankles.
Sometimes Ronnie would grab an opposing player and, much to their chagrin, start doing the jitterbug, high stepping and clowning, which would totally confound his roller-skated nemesis. Another stunt the Psycho mastered was to lay flat on his back and then scissors-kick an oncoming opponent, launching them over his head, where they would somersault in mid-air then land flat on their backs, grimacing in pain. On other occasions, Ronnie would suddenly grab the microphone from the track announcer and start eating the cord.
As Ronnie told Roller Sport Illustrated in 1974, “No one can ever predict what I am going to do next because I don’t even know what it is. I’ll be out there skating and suddenly an inspiration will hit me. A voice will descend to me from high above, far beyond the reaches of the arena, and like a lightning bolt it will instruct me with my next move.“Just because I am the one chosen for these daring and essential deeds, the whole world is ganging up on me. Can you believe that as far away as Japan the people are up in arms against me and want to have me committed to an institution?”
During his heyday, Ronnie transformed the banked track into his own personal canvas, painting these wacky landscapes. Occasionally you’d find him during a lull in action, sitting on the rails doing a pantomime of a motorcycle rider, complete with vocal sound effects, or an imitation of a channel swimmer or Superman. Other times he’d be sticking his tongue out at a referee.
Eventually, the other teams in the league become so alarmed at Ronnie’s unpredictable behavior that they hired a man named Jess Adams to compile the infamous “Adam’s Report” to determine Ronnie’s sanity. Afterwards, when a reporter questioned the veracity of this report, implying that it was just another classic Roller Games ruse, Ronnie replied: “The Adams Report was on the up and up. It was all for real. The owners wanted me barred. They said I was psycho, when I was just eccentric.”
In 1973, one of the Psycho’s more memorable stunts took place at the Rose Bowl during a 4th of July fire works halftime display. For several weeks “The Roller Game of the Week” had been hyping how Psycho Ronnie was going to strap on a jet pack during the halftime show and fly out of the stadium. As promised, that’s exactly what he did, (well, sort of) lifting off about twenty feet above the ground and spinning in circles, then returning back to earth. On that same night there was a tribute to that irrepressible trackside announcer, Dick Lane. During the fireworks show, a bust of Lane (laced with explosives) was ignited and burst into flames to the amazement of all those in attendance.
Each “Roller Game of the Week” featured a halftime interview where inevitably the star player on one team would challenge the other team’s star to the obligatory “Match Race”. Usually the interview culminated amid a flurry of fisticuffs and threats of career ending injuries, as the venerable Bill “Hoppy” Haupt would announce to the home viewing audience that a “5 laps anything goes match race!” between the two skaters would be held the following Saturday night at the Olympic Auditorium. Like clockwork, these halftime interviews would spark a mini riot in the crowd, as the camera panned the packed arena and Hoppy would yell out: “Better call Richmond 9-5171 right now before the tickets sell out!” Then–filled with anticipation of Psycho Ronnie going mano-e-mano with his nemesis to settle once and for all who was really the superior skater–I’d race to the phone and order tickets. Only later did I discover that these Sunday night telecasts were free admissions, which explained why the stands were always filled to capacity. This tried and true formula was the brainchild of legendary T-Bird owner Bill Griffith, Sr., who utilized such P.T. Barnum theatrics to promote his product. It was a formula that worked well for many years, but as the mid-70’s rolled around, interest in Roller Games began to wane.
By the early 80’s, the Roller Games league folded and Ronnie moved on. For a while he ran a gardening business in L.A., then later a flower shop, and soon faded from popular memory. Still, the legend of “The Psycho” burns bright with a few die-hard fans, who fondly remember when he reigned supreme over the banked track, flashing an infectious smile while pounding opposing skaters into submission. In fact, a small but fanatical following can be found these days on Internet messageboards and newsgroups, keeping the memory of Ronnie’s skating days alive.
In fact, it was at one of these very Internet newsgroups that, much to my surprise and delight, I learned of Ronnie’s current whereabouts. As it turns out, he is alive and well in Portland, Oregon, where he and his wife, Colleen, own and operate a Tommy’s Burgers that is decorated with pictures and newspaper clippings from Ronnie’s Roller Games career. On any given day you can find him there, reminiscing with customers about those heady days when he was known to the world as “The Psycho”, the greatest Roller Games player to ever lace up a pair of skates.
For more about Ronnie “The Psycho” Rains visit: groups.yahoo.com/group/ronnieraines/
Postscript: The Tommy’s Burgers Controversy
As we were going to press, I discovered a series of articles from 2003 chronicling some rather questionable business practices involving Ronnie Rains and the use of the “Tommy’s Burgers” trademark, a famous Southern California restaurant chain.
According to “Miss Dish”, food critic for the Willamette Week Online (www.wweek.com), ”The signature (Tommy’s) dish is a burger with a healthy dollop of a sweet meat-only chili, cheese, onions, pickle, tomato and mustard, and the chain artfully displays the blueprint of its masterpiece with a poster titled “Anatomy of an Original Tommy’s Burger.” ”
When Miss Dish visited the Portland “Tommy’s Burgers”–which formerly operated out of a building at Southwest 20th Avenue and Morrison Street, but switched to a cart after the restaurant closed—she discovered that it sported the same “Anatomy of an Original Tommy’s Burger” image as its SoCal counterpart. When Dish asked one of the owners if they were connected to the California Tommy’s, he replied: “We’re from California…I knew Tommy.” Afterwards, Miss Dish’s research showed that this Portland version of “Tommy’s” had no affiliation to the “Original Tommy’s” of Southern California.
After this article appeared, the Portland “Tommy’s” received letters from the Original Tommy’s lawyers. Subsequently, the name was changed to “Ronnie’s”, and then shortly after to “Salt & Pepper”.
Moral of the story: You can’t keep a good psycho down!
by Skylaire Alfvegren
For eons I have continued gathering strange and esoteric facts, traveling the globe in search of lost archeological wonders and heretical truths; consequently, many moons have passed since my humble words have graced these pages. But a tremendous burden has been laid upon my bosom, and before FIZZ rides off into the sunset, I feel it is my duty to share it with you, dearest reader.
A decade ago, when I was an impressionable elfling, E.T. represented all I was looking for in escapist childhood fantasy; he offered something no Cabbage-Patched monstrosity could. That interplanetary pug-ugly instigated my lifelong fascination with the unknown, the hoary nether regions of inner and outer space. I asked myself, ‘Is there life on other planets?’ ‘Is it smarter than us?’ and ‘Why can’t I make my finger light up?’ As I’ve matured, so have my queries, and they’ve been condensed into one that you’re to answer: Where were you in the Great Alien Invasion of 1997?
Observant readers will note that UFOs and the alien presence have never been brought up in File o’ the Damned. This is not for lack of material or opinion. (The 50 year-old UFO question is simply impossible to dissect in 2000 words). UFOs and alien imagery seem to be the hot topic today. Like all effective propaganda, it’s influence grew quietly, with Bill Barker’s stick-figured SCHWA graphics; ubiquitous, ovoidal cranium dimestore decals and smiley-face aliens decorating the psychedelic chests of cyber-hippie love muffins. Some time later came aliens smoking Locoweed on blacklight posters and T-shirts at the local Wal Mart, child-incinerating polyurethane Halloween costumes and cute household items. The archetypal Gray has become an icon, the ’60s smiley face updated for these apocalyptic times, found alongside Elvis, Marilyn and Jesus, even (if the wall art at my local 99¢ store is an accurate barometer of public taste).
Sure, extra-terrestrials have long been in the minds of the masses. They have provided thrills, chills and comic relief on My Favorite Martian, ALF, The Man Who Fell To Earth, decades filled with half-baked sci-fi entertainment. Aliens, in their various forms, have been a staple of pop culture. (E.T. and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are among the 25 films chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.)
But never has the ‘invasion’ been pushed, as it is being presently. The press has become unusually straightforward about UFO stories; aliens, saucers and abduction imagery have been integrated into corporate advertising. No matter what side of the wormhole you fall, everyone agrees we super-advanced humans need a diversion. Predictable elements and time-tested explanatory systems are nearly gone: Communism, Capitalism, Religion, Tradition. ‘Acceleration at warp-speed’ can’t adequately describe the progress made in this century.
Historically, one can parallel the alien revolution of the 1990s to the spiritual movement of the 1890s, when Blavatsky’s mysterious Tibetan gurus resided, conveniently, on the spiritual plane. But an endless carpet of stars makes for an even greater hiding place than the astral plane. That was the end of century, this is the end of a millennium. The worries have magnified and compounded. The inticing images of spiritualist utopias have been replaced with demonic visions of a wasteland in need of extraterrestrial intervention, wisdom to make right the blunders of man. People are angry at science; after all, it gave us bombs, pollution and that damned personal computer. This makes some more receptive to mysticism; conversely, The alien of today has replaced the spooks of yesteryear, lurking under beds and in the dark corners of the bedroom.
Aliens are on the go; they have been thought to traverse sacred energy grids; to station themselves in underwater bases; blamed for livestock mutilations which came to light in the 1960s. (Which have been occurring for centuries, just like UFO sightings). Aliens are ascribed mystical powers, telepathic powers, the ability to travel inter-dimensionally. Aliens are blamed for everything, though UFOs are just as inconsistent as their enthusiasts. Some individuals are searching for something incredible, new smoke and mirrors to replace their Harlequin romances and karaoke fantasies. And while as a whole, the scientific community operates by dogma, ostracizing dissidents, it is just as unhealthy to discount it as it is to take Coast to Coast as gospel. Aliens probe, invent, heal and kill. They are very exciting.
New-agers have been quite taken by the idea of ETs as endlessly benevolent, peaceful beings concerned only with righting the ills of humanity (the environment, race relations, male pattern baldness). Their culture is advanced millions of light years beyond our own.
Current opinion polls have recorded the highest number of UFO believers ever; and 80% of those believe the government is lying about UFOs. We need aliens. They will save us. Or they will decimate our major population centers and enslave the miserable remaining few. But the action word here is THEY. They will control our destinies, our lives. We won’t have to! It doesn’t matter if they eat us or teach us to end war, the point is, we won’t be accountable for what happens. Sandy Duncan appeared on a talk show a few years ago speaking of ET visitations. “They want to save us,” she said earnestly. “They know we’ve practically ruined the planet.”
Earthlings love to blame other earthlings when things fuck up. This is a species-wide response. We blame the teasing our corrective shoes brought in youth for the bloated shrink bill we’ve run up as an adult; we blame our bosses for lack of motivation at work, we blame, we blame, we blame… for our mistakes, we blame everyone but ourselves. Sometimes we blame our government and represented officials, still a nebulous group, even though they do actually shape our destinies. (So stop griping and do something, dammit!)
The 50th Anniversary of the Crash at Roswell
Now that the hoopla surrounding July’s 50th Anniversary of the Roswell incident has wound down, one can examine our government’s real UFO policy. The Air Force explanations become increasingly dubious while allowing the idea of an extraterrestrial presence to flourish. The Pentagon claims “we’re not prepared for an alien invasion”. One response? “pre-emptive surrender.”
Col. Philip J. Corso’s ‘monumental’ expose The Day After Roswell asserts long standing, world-wide alien contact has been kept from the public; and that it can be thanked for propulsion psychics, fiber optics and pacemakers. (Our military didn’t want a repeat of the panic caused by Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast.) One would expect a congressional investigation when a retired Pentagon official exposes an half-century of government lies. But no. Our government is encouraging UFO confusion; they have released no decisive message, but have ensured the concept of ET contact is planted firmly in the collective unconscious.
What would the government get out of scrambling the UFO issue? Plenty.
Aliens are portrayed as sinister geneticists hell-bent on mass destruction and/or enslavement. Clinton embraces the corrupt leader of China, the last Red superpower. Who can the government make us scared of in this age of global understanding and tax-free trading? Inter-galactic enemies are an intangible, amorphous threat, and a great diversionary tactic: in this post Cold War era, the throngs must be convinced all those billions sucked up by the military aren’t wasted.
So now that the idea of ETs has finally invaded mainstream consciousness, we find the least camaraderie among believers. The more varied theories and ideas circulating the more confusion possible. One must ask, are alien activists like Art Bell, Whitley Streiber, Col. Corso and Richard Hoagland… for real? Are they government marionettes, egomaniacs or truly inspired? (Commander X, contactee/hybrid parent/philosopher is actually a well known conspiracy author fattening his bankroll during off-season) When one’s desire for the extra-ordinary becomes stronger than a desire for truth, you are in trouble.
The CIA is too busy overthrowing democratically elected governments in South America to deal with the ragtags who gather for UFO conventions; still, jokes are made about lecturers being tapped. When asked if the government were hiding their alien contact from the public, one observer commented “They could barely hide their sale of arms to the Contras; what makes you think they could hide ETs?” Conferences are a forum for non-academics to present their ideas, that’s important, but shouldn’t do away with principles of research. Everything in moderation.
In a nutshell, my message for today is: don’t be a sucker. Ask questions, read books, think thoughts. Few people have all the answers, and they all sit on the Bilderberg Committee, and you can’t talk to them anyway. The UFO question is still shrouded in mystery. Ask: Why are sightings of certain types of ‘ET’ craft concentrated in one part of the world? Why did triangular, mile-wide ‘holographs’ make nonstop appearances over Europe last year (Coast to Coast host Art Bell reported one of North America’s only sightings of such a craft in Nevada)? Why is Mexico inundated with ‘plasma crafts’, nebulous orbs pulsating with soft, amber light, which appear almost no where else? The naive days of George Adamski, Kenneth Arnold and Valiant Thor (a dapper emissary from the planet we call Venus) may be over, but the UFO question has only grown more complex. It would take a helluva lot more than pie tins to fake a saucer scare in this day and age….
Please send all letters, clipped articles, elf magic, alien artifacts, and general pleasantness to: Skylaire Alfvegren, P.O. Box 291842, Los Angeles, CA 90029. (enclose SASE for a recommended reading list and/or sparklingly witty response).