The Whip-Wielding Midget and the Priest
(This article originally appeared in Alternative Press magazine)
Porn stars, drag queens, transsexuals, a whip-yielding midget, and former Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford. Not exactly Jack Kemp's crowd-and that's exactly who the guy standing next to me looks like. Full suit and tie, a real pink flamingo in this group. I have no idea who he is, but it crosses my flu-medication-addled mind that somewhere within that suit lurks an LAPD badge, and that sooner or later Jack Kemp there is going to flash it. That's the way of law enforcement when people are having fun, after all-and if fun weren't bad enough, we're also at Fais Do-Do, a tiny blues club in your typical, bombed-out-looking central LA neighborhood; a nasty beat. The people in here today are a lot easier to harass than are the homies hanging around outside.
The cop nudges me.
"Just look at that," he says, pointing to tiny, blonde adult actress Amy: hair in pigtails, giant lollipop in hand, and sitting on the floor, legs tucked under her chin, wearing a dress three sizes too small for a toddler. "In my next life, I want to come back as a pair of panties," he says, shaking his head wistfully. "My luck though, I'd wind up on some fat bitch."
Before I can respond, gay-porn kingpin Chi Chi LaRue--himself a fat
(but lovable) bitch--scurries by in a XXXtra large yellow shirt. He's
directing the first video for Halford's new band, Two, and is in need
of his lead actress.
"Hey, what do you think of her?" I ask the cop/pantyman, motioning at the leggy brunette.
"That's a *male, *" he says, eyeing me sideways.
I've had a weird day-and it's not just the Robitussin. An hour earlier, I had sat down with Halford in the makeup room to discuss Two's debut album, *Voyeur * (Nothing). Trent Reznor coproduced, and it sounds that way: radio-friendly, dance-floor industrial/metal. Surprisingly, perhaps even *admirably, * Halford's trademark operatic croon is nowhere to be found on *Voyeur *; you'd sooner think it was Brian Eno on vocals. Whispers, murmurs, humming-sometimes Halford's hardly even singing, let alone *oversinging. *
Still, it'd be easy to write thing the whole project off as some washed-up rocker trying to cash in on what he perceives as the latest trend. Fact is, the *easy * thing for Halford would have been to re-form Priest-old-school metal may well be next on the dreaded retro-revival list, and Priest were without question one of that genre's pillars. So either Halford is somewhat dim (which one could plausibly infer from a tune like "Livin' After Midnight"), or he's being genuine when he speaks of a desire for challenge and growth.
"Even Trent Reznor's saying that industrial music is a dead-and-buried form," Halford remarks on my assessment of Two. "There are a lot of touches to this music that I think lend it a contemporary edge-hopefully, we're musically relevant to what's going on now. But we've really just tried to create a collection of modern pop music, and draw your own conclusions."
Halford pauses as a guy in leopard-print leotards ambles by, whistling.
"After I left Priest in '91, I just wandered around in search of something," the singer continues quietly, "something that gives me the calm and the inner creative peace. And it took me a while to meet with the people-the other musicians, the producers-the enabled me to *at last * feel as though, 'Yes, I am progressing, this is going to give me satisfaction, this is where I want to be .' *Voyeur * is twisted, it's a bit strange, a little unconventional, but it has an accessibility to it, too: it's strong on melody and it's simple-this music doesn't require a great deal of brainpower. At the same time, it *is * complex and layered-the whole thing is really very kaleidoscopic in style and approach."
While Halford espouses, I can't help but notice the traffic in our general area. A fat rocker in a "Boner Brigade" T-shirt lumbers by with some electrical cords. Porn stars with names like Rob Reimer hustle through one moment, leatherboys and a transsexual the next. The video is another intriguing move. Given the, errr, *traditional * sexual preferences of the average metal fan, I'm curious to know if Halford himself hand-picked the near-celebrity in gay circles LaRue to direct his band's video ("I Am A Pig").
"No," he says, "but I'm a big fan of Chi Chi's work. I've always liked pornography. I'm a voyeur and an exhibitionist, and I thought working with Chi Chi would be as strange and unusual as the music of Two. And since word got out that Chi Chi LaRue was making a video, *everybody * wants to be involved-all these famous adult stars wanted to be part of this moment. And *everybody * wants to see it. That in itself shows the connection between rock and roll and pornography. Everything we do in this musical form has a basis in eroticism-I mean, lord, Neil Diamond turns people on! It's just everywhere, it's inescapable. All we're saying is, 'Let's address it.' Let's put it right in peoples' faces."
Back on the set, a bald, tattooed guy hangs, Christ-style, from a mess of chains-poor bastard's been there for at least 45 minutes-and next to him sits a melancholy-looking stormtrooper in a red gas mask. Above that two drag queens are french kissing, as dreamy puffs of fake fog waft through the blinding kitsch. Maybe it's just the cough syrup, but I swear I'm standing in some post-apocalypse fetish club, circa 1977, and Two's throbbing, electro-aggression is the perfect background soundtrack. Also drinking up the madness is Two guitarist John Lowery, wearing a fuzzy fur coat and loads of foundation-and looking about 15 years old.
"This is so insane, this is so great," he says, grinning through the white makeup like a Cheshire cat. Porno star Stephanie Swift, while no fan of Judas Priest ("Good album covers, though," she offers) is into it, asking if I can get her a copy of the CD. Actually, I can't seem to find anyone on set other than Halford who was into Priest at all. But it's irrelevant--everyone seems to be having a grand old time with Two. Except for that cop, who's still lurking around somewhere; I doubt he's enjoying it. Fine with director LaRue.
"I want a real down-and-dirty, sex-club feel," he exclaims energetically, "something MTV definitely will *not * play!"
He's right about that. Halford agrees, too, but not without qualification.
"You mention sex in America and people just *freak out, *"
Just before leaving, I see the cop, still clad in his full suit and tie, on the set, down on his knees, and licking the heel of a transvestite's red pump. It's for the camera, of course-turns out he's a hired actor and no cop at all. He'll probably go home to his wife and kids in Pasadena after the shoot, have a nice dinner and watch some network sports-the perfect symbol of LaRue and Halford's repressed America. He sure is being a good sport in the meantime though, I think, kissing that vinyl boot. Might just be enjoying himself.