Cherry Vanilla was the cover star in Issue#1 of TEENAGE NEWS. In Issue#2 we reprinted scans from Cherry’s first book Pop Tart. Here is an excerpt from Issue#1’s now out of print 15 page interview.
TEENAGE NEWS: Online you released a copy of your first demos with Kasim Sulton. What’s up with that?
Cherry Vanilla: You know, I always thought those very first studio recordings I did as demos were just not ready for prime-time … no big production values, me being such a novice in the studio and all of that. So, they remained in a box in my closet for years. It was my friend and one-time drummer, Hilly Michaels who encouraged me to dig them out and listen to them all of these years later. When I did, I actually found my naivete and inexperience to be quite charming, so different from today’s auto-tuned, machine-made recordings. Groupie Lament and Tulsa sounded especially raw and listenable, so I sent them to Hilly as a gift. He then got his friend, Thomas Ferranti to make a very simple, but charming video of Groupie Lament and post it on Youtube for me as a return gift. Thomas is now working on one for Tulsa, and that should be on Youtube soon as well. I figured why not put them out there. I have nothing to lose at this point in time. And I love the memories connected with them. Always will.
TEENAGE NEWS: Rumor has it that Rufus Wainwright will be recording his new album with a little help from you?
Cherry Vanilla: No, that is not the case, unfortunately … though I would love that. But I will be helping him in a way. Rufus is going to be spending a couple of months with me in LA, working on his second opera. So, there will be classical music being played in my living room, conjuring a tale of ancient Greece and Rome. It really makes me — and my apartment — feel like a part of great musical history. I am so honored that a Wainwright opera will actually emanate from here. I just love the sound of live music being played in the house. I find it so hypnotic, so soothing. And, of course, I am madly in love with Rufus … I mean as much as a 69-year old heterosexual woman can be with a 39-year old homosexual married man! And having his baby daughter, Viva visiting on occasion will be great in satisfying the natural grandmotherly need in me too. So, I am really looking forward to his … shall we call it … residency!
TEENAGE NEWS: What do you think of David Bowie’s new single?
Cherry Vanilla: Very droll, artsy-fartsy, kind of pretty, but nothing I would want to listen to over and over … and I really have no desire to see that video more than once. I am not a fan of music videos anyway. I come from an era before music videos, when the music alone created private pictures in each of our heads. I always liked that better than someone else interpreting the song for me. If there is a video, I just like it to be a nice photo or pretty scenes of the cosmos or the sea or something, not some conjured up story with tortured looking faces peering through a green screen or whatever. But that’s just me. Am I happy that Bowie is recording and putting out music again? Yes, very much so. I hope he continues to do so and that he will grab me once again with music and lyrics — and maybe even a video — that moves me. Talk about having great memories, some of my greatest ones involve him. So, I will always have love in my heart for him, no matter what he does. This particular track is just not my cuppa-tea these days, I guess. I am so far from artsy-fartsy. I am mostly digging girly pop stuff like Caught Up by Nicole Gordon and Now is The Start by a Fine Frenzy. I am just drawn to stuff with that happy UP feeling right now. But I will check out the rest of David’s new CD when it comes out … at least once anyway.
TEENAGE NEWS: Are you still the bard of the hard?
Cherry Vanilla: That word hard has so many meanings. A lovely guy named Robert Hofler at Penthouse magazine called me that. It’s the title of an article he wrote about me around 1976 or so. I used it as the opening line in my song I Know How To Hook. I write for people who know how hard it can be, good and bad. I like the extremes of life. And if you chose that kind of roller-coaster life for yourself, it’s going to be hard … but then again, it’s going to be hard! I always feel like I have a penis, because I can feel myself getting an erection, even though I’m a female. I mean an erection is a rush. I get rushes all of the time, just walking down North Orange Grove Avenue, my favorite street in LA. I swear that when I walk down this one particular block of it, I hear Vangelis’s Chung Ku from the China album loud and clear in my head. It’s like the canopy of Elm trees is playing it or something … like I’m in a cathedral filled with the music. And the lovely Hollywood 73-degree breezes and roses dipped in dappled sunlight and such … I’m hard, I’m erect, I’m rushing. If I can get in just a one-hour walk a day like that, I’m happy. But I still can relate to how hard life can be. It’s not like I ever became a spoiled brat. I gave up sex, but I still find life to be so sexy. And I hope my openness and honesty still rings true with all of the hard out there, both young and old. So, I’ll gladly take the title still, if they give it to me …The Bard of the Hard! Why not?
TEENAGE NEWS: Wait- aren’t you a big Perry Como fan?
Cherry Vanilla: Totally. He sang Far Away Places, one of my favorite songs of all times. That was another vehicle for my dreams, that song. We had a wind-up clock back in Queens. It chimed on the hour and half-hour, and it played that tune. And it always took me away. I just recently caught a Patti Lupone show at 54 Below in New York and she did that song. And it brought tears to my eyes. I don’t think I ever really heard anyone do it live before, at least not in the last fifty or sixty years. I was in town doing a guest reading in Scott Wittman’s Jukebox Jackie show (based on the writings of Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis). He put Patti’s show together too, and chose that song for her — I would like to think from having read about it in Lick Me — and it just blew me away to hear Patti sing it. Rock & roll is my first love, not Broadway, but man, that Patti Lupone, she sure can break your heart with her voice and delivery. And she’s such a doll of a person. I’ve known her for years, thanks to Scott and his partner, Marc Shaiman. But anyway, Perry Como didn’t give me the sexy rushes, only the easy/breezy and wanderlust ones. Dean was still first and foremost in waking up the sleeping slut in me, so to speak.
TEENAGE NEWS: Wasn’t David Bowie supposed to produce your debut album?
Cherry Vanilla: Yes, we spoke of it one time while in Canada, when he was first fooling around with synthesizes. He pictured me as being “The Electric Beatnik” – which I already was in a way, in the cabaret act I was doing. It probably would have been one of the very first electronic rap albums, had we made it … just his beats and my poetry and whatever. But something happened. And I never knew just what. The next time I saw him was at a coke dealer’s party in Manhattan, where he avoided me like the plague. And when I did get to speak with him and ask him about the album, he said something to me in German and walked away. God only knows what somebody may have put into his head about me. There’s always a power play amongst a star’s entourage – at least there was at that time. That’s the negative thing that was never there in early Mainman days, when we were his main entourage. Maybe because we were all actors and we knew the democracy of the stage. But later on, that element was definitely there. Or maybe he believed some stupid untrue thing he’d read in the papers or something. Whatever it was, he never really spoke to me again after that. And, of course, there never was an Electric Beatnik album. Que sera sera!
TEENAGE NEWS: The Staten Island Band released “Shake Your Ashes” on the Max’s Kansas City compilation LP. Weren’t you supposed to record more than one song?
Cherry Vanilla: Gee, I don’t remember. I know we recorded it at the Shaggy Dog Studios in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and it was right after they’d had a big fire there. So, a lot of the equipment was damaged and it was a challenge just toget that one song recorded. I forget if we were supposed to do a second song or not. But under the circumstances, I doubt that we could have or that we actually did. Of course, we were supposed to get royalties too, but none of us on the album ever saw a penny of those.
TEENAGE NEWS: After the Staten Island Band you released “Bad Girl.” How do you think your sound changed between “Bad Girl” and the Staten Island Band days?
Cherry Vanilla: Well, once Louie Lepore joined the band as my guitarist and boyfriend, he and I wrote almost all of the songs together. So, I guess that was when I began to get a more cohesive sound going. Before that, I used to write with lots of different musicians. And I made Louie my musical director too, so he worked out a lot of the arrangements. I guess after the Staten Island Band, it kind of became the Cherry/Louie show. And I was in love with Louie and we were traveling and playing in foreign countries, so the romance and the far away places were influencing what we wrote. I mean, a song like Liverpool could never have been written in Queens or on Staten Island. It was so heavily influenced by the rants of the football fans we’d hear in the streets after a game over there, and it tells a totally true tale about Louie, Zecca, Stewart and Sting, even naming them all in the lyrics. By the time of my second album, Venus d’Vinyl, we were writing hymns and love songs, some of which we would never even dream of performing live in a rock show. They were the result of our living together in that rainy English atmosphere and in that lovely London flat, with rose gardens out the back window and an old gothic church out the front. By Venus, I was already so disillusioned by the music industry and so over the idea of being a rock star, I didn’t really care if the songs were hard rockers or not. Don’t forget, I had aborted the baby I’d conceived with Louie, because I had no way to finance the rearing of a child. And by the time I got the RCA deal it was too late to turn back on that. I was filled with so many newer and deeper emotions, yes, and much sadness and regret as well. I just didn’t feel like pushing that over-the-top sleazy sexpot image I had created for myself anymore. And I guess you could say that the seeds of that change were all planted once the Staten Island Band was gone and Louie came into my life. But I don’t regret any of it now, not even that fact that I’ve lived my life childless. I know now that I was never really cut out to be a mother. And no matter how rich or famous I might have gotten, I would absolutely hate being under the pressure of having to perform, come up with new material and have a camera in my face all of the time …not at this age.
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Post by August Bernadicou