I had the pleasure of interviewing Pleasant Gehman recently and I have to say, it made me totally jealous! She has acted in movies with Karen Black and Mink Stole, she helped create the original Los Angeles Punk scene in the 1970s, and she's a Punk Queen-turned-Burlesque Goddess who knows EVERYBODY! So she has the best stories. Speaking of stories: she's also got a brand new book out called Showgirl Confidential. I chatted with Pleasant about eating Debbie Harry's hard-boiled eggs, shoplifting slutty clothes, and being wired on biker speed and Jim Beam.
Miss Guy: What was your first favorite song?
Pleasant Gehman: It was probably "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles. I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was four and my mom bought the first record.
MG: What was your first concert?
PG: Alice Cooper on the Billion Dollar Babies Tour with ZZ Top, opening at The New Haven Coliseum in '72 or '73. My girlfriend Joan and I shoplifted hot pants, glittery tube tops and a bunch of make up -- we wore jeans and t-shirts in the car on the way there, but changed into the slutty clothes at the New Haven Greyhound bus station. We put our clothes in a locker and walked to the concert looking like hookers!
MG: What was most appealing to you about punk music and fashion?
PG: Everything! The incredible music, the attitude, the wild DIY fashion, making clothes out of garbage and toys and altering clothes to look crazy, dying my hair with Ritt Fabric Dye before there was Krazy Kolor. Love the entire aesthetic.
MG: Do you remember your first punk show?
PG: Patti Smith's first show at the Roxy in L.A. in 1976.
MG: Did you see the infamous debut of Blondie in Los Angeles?
PG: Totally! I saw Blondie, The Cramps and The Ramones more than any other bands ever -- in L.A., NYC, London, SF, whenever and wherever I could see them.
MG: Were you and the other girls on the L.A. punk scene inspired by Deborah Harry?
PG: Completely! We all loved her sense of style and she was so beautiful and really nice. Debbie was like my punk rock mom for a little period of time. She'd get a little distressed if she knew I was cutting school to hang out with them, ask if I'd eaten and hand me a hard-boiled egg. I have a lot of postcards she sent me from various tours in the early days of Blondie.
MG: What was the strangest thing you ever wore during the punk days that wasn't an article of clothing?
PG: Hospital bracelets from when I got stitches and little plastic shot needles from a kid's "Doctor" kit that I wore as earrings. I had a lot of 1940's nurse outfits that I wore as dresses in 1977 and 1978. I'm still obsessed with uniforms of all kinds. Also, I wore some Japanese toy robots that I made into a belt buckle.
MG: Tell me about Screaming Sirens, your first band.
PG: The concept was Kitty Wells and The Andrews Sisters meet The Hells Angels. We were insane; it was like an all girl gang.
MG: What is your fondest memory of being in the band?
PG: Austin was always our favorite place to play -- we all had boyfriends in Austin! And the shows there were totally insane.
There was the time in Phoenix when a fan with a hot credit card rented us three hotel rooms, and each was set up with bottles of Jack Daniels, beer, wine and vodka, trays full of individual tequila shots -- and then Gene Loves Jezebel, who were playing in town at the same time, came and saw the spread and were like, "Wow! Our record company never did this for us!"
Also, once we had three days off in the middle of the woods in a crazy trailer park in North Carolina, and spent that whole time wired on biker speed and Jim Beam.
MG: What did you think and your bandmates think of the mid '80s heavy metal scene in L.A.?
PG: I wasn't that into the hair band thing, but The Screaming Sirens opened for Guns N' Roses once at The Music Machine in West L.A. Most of the other '80s metal bands were kind of stupid. Belinda Go-Go and I once took acid and went to see Mötley Crüe at The Whisky before they were signed. We kind of became obsessed with them! They were always great.
MG: How did you transition into belly dancing and burlesque?
PG: It started in 1990. I was on the dance floor at Club Lingerie in L.A., and later in the ladies room a girl asked if I was a belly dancer. She said, "You move like one." Turned out she was a belly dancer, so I begged her to teach me. I became obsessed with it immediately and I had a knack for it. Soon after, a friend gave me a ticket to Greece, so I quit my job, added Cairo [to my itinerary] and left for eight weeks. When I came back, I was still taking classes, but I started working professionally too, and started using the name Princess Farhana for belly dancing -- because nobody in the Arab clubs could pronounce Pleasant. The burlesque started in the mid-1990's, when I was "drafted" into The Velvet Hammer by the troupe's creator, Michelle Carr. We were the first neo-burlesque troupe in America, if not the world.
MG: Do your punk roots give you an advantage in your burlesque performances?
PG: Totally! After being onstage at dive bars in places like Calgary, Canada or Tulsa, Oklahoma and getting beer bottles thrown at the stage, or having to talk for fifteen minutes straight when a bass amp broke down onstage, dancing was a piece of cake!
MG: What are some of your favorite movies?
PG: Anything that Busby Berkeley choreographed. Cabaret, Wizard of Oz, The Night Porter, the original Lolita with Sue Lyon and Peter Sellers, Todd Browning's Freaks and Todd Browning's Dracula. And of course Steve Balderson's Stuck -- the women's prison movie I was in -- because I got to act with two of idols, Mink Stole and Karen Black.
MG: How important is image to you?
PG: It's hugely important. But also, I'm not really one of those high maintenance gals that gets distressed if I break a nail or if someone sees me without makeup. I clean up really nice, but I'm happy with being a hot mess too.
MG: Were you friends with Pinkietessa when she lived in LA?
PG: Yes, and I couldn't believe her level of attention to detail. Everyone would be somewhere completely hung over, like at an afternoon barbeque and looking like shit, then she'd sweep in with a hoop skirt and Little Bo Peep curls and a bonnet. It was insane.
MG: Is there a scene in L.A. now?
PG: I think there is but I travel so much I'm never here! Even if there is, there's just no way it could be like the "olden days" because back in the '70s and '80s, the cops had no clue what was going on. There were crazy parties and after-hours clubs and all sorts of things going on, and almost nothing got busted because it was really so underground. Like, if The Masque had existed now, it'd be closed in a matter of days. But it took law enforcement ages to even get a whiff of what was going on back in the day!
MG: What was your favorite club in the punk days?
PG: The Masque and The Whisky. I worked at The Whisky as the ticket taker, and I also put on some shows there.
MG: Did you ever see the New York Dolls?
PG: Sadly, no, but I did shoplift their first album -- and also Raw Power on my first day as a teenage shoplifter -- and those are two of my favorite records to this day!
MG: What's one of your beauty secrets you can share with the Paper readers?
PG: Punk rock saved my skin cause I never saw the sun for like twenty years! Stay out of the sun, and stack your lashes -- wear two sets of faux lashes at a time.
MG: Do you ever miss being a blonde?
PG: Sometimes, but I can afford wigs now!
MG: Elvis or The Beatles?
PG: Oh, ELVIS!!! I'll take a swivel-hipped trailer trash hunk in eye shadow and a cape any day over four lovable mop-heads.