Silke Berlinn is TEENAGE NEWS. When she was 15 years old she hitchhiked to California and formed her first band. TEENAGE NEWS has featured Silke Berlinn in print and online. Now we are publishing our tell all interview with Silke.
“Nobody in the world knows this stuff. It certainly hasn’t been published. You have the scoop on this. This is fresh material, and you are breaking the news.
I was a musicans’ musician. All the people who were in the in knew who I was. I just was so fucked up, I never really grew up. I was 15 years old when I left home. No one tried to find me. My family really made no effort to find out where I was or what I was doing. I was from a rich family, but they certainly did not give me anything. No money or no help. I never asked. To this day what I have done I have done alone. It was a crazy life…”
TEENAGE NEWS: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Silke Berlinn: Eccentric, artistic and spontaneous.
TEENAGE NEWS: Is fame something that interests you?
Silke Berlinn: Something that interests me? Music and film interests me. I am a reader of high quality literature. I am an avid bike rider. I am interested in helping the homeless situation down here [Los Angeles, CA], and my boyfriend and I are working to help solve some of that problem. I am also interested in writing! You know I’ve written 3 memoirs, and I’ve had one book of poetry published by Boston College. Fame? You know, a little bit is nice, but my desire for it is not overriding. I’ve always been sort of a cult figure. I’ve always had the opportunity to work with other very good musicians. I sort of look at it organically, I do what I do and hopefully it pleases people, but I am not going to sell out so I can become more well known… I’m not going to do that. I’ve been told for my entire singing career to change the lyrics to my songs because they aren’t going to play them on the radio. I’ve always just said, “Well, I don’t care…” I have probably diminished my opportunities to be super-famous because fame is not more important to me than retaining my artistic integrity.
TEENAGE NEWS: What caused your recent resurfacing as Silke Berlinn?
Silke Berlinn: I don’t think I ever stopped being Silke Berlinn, although I sorta put it on the back burner for a while. What caused me to do that? I had been art dealer and I retired from art dealing in 2007 because I saw that we were going into a recession. I am also an economist, which a lot of people do not know. I knew that we were running into tough times in the art world. I was a dealer who bought her own inventory, and around 2007 I saw I couldn’t buy art anymore because I knew I was going to get stuck with the things that were overpriced. I could tell the market was going to crash. In 2007 I started looking around, and I started singing more. I had a couple of bands, but nothing that was too serious. Then I started recording again, and I was asked to do a performance in San Francisco at a Punk Rock Festival. I never expected that people would actually remember who I was! I got a lot of positive feedback with it. Around 2012 I got very serious and very focused on it. I decided that for the second half of my life I would focus on the arts: writing, film (I had been an actress when I was younger), and music. That was when I started getting very, very interested in actually going full hog with my singing career.
TEENAGE NEWS: Can you talk about your books becoming movies?
Silke Berlinn: They aren’t autobiographies rather they are memoirs. Memoirs and autobiographies are different. Memoirs are a slice of life, and a bit more subjective. An autobiography is more fact based, and a chronological series of facts. “In 1985 I did this, in 1995 I did that.” It’s a series of facts. A memoir is more of an impression that was left in your life. My books are memoirs. Fallout Entertainment is considering doing a film of my second memoir, The Men I Get Involved With Usually Die. Fallout Entertainment is the film production company that produces all my videos right now. It’s not a rumor, it’s something that they are working on right now. The CEO of Village Roadshow Productions, Bruce Bourbon, asked me to write a screenplay for Gallerina (my second memoir). It is about my career in the art business selling sorta high-end art… Warhol’s, things like that. They have been interested in that one. They didn’t want to pay me to write the screenplay so I passed, at least temporarily. So there has been interest in two of the memoirs as of now. The one with Fallout seems to be the one there is more action with.
TEENAGE NEWS: Did you release a CD with the original versions of the Addiction songs?
Silke Berlinn: We have an album where we released the earlier songs from our first iteration. Jill Hoffman from Target Video [San Francisco, CA] was married to Joe Reese in the 80’s. Target Video was on the first video companies in the world. When I started doing this again, Jill found the original tapes that were recorded for Columbia Records. We had also recorded some stuff for Virgin too because Jill had worked at Virgin. Eventually Jill and me went from California to New York together. When I had started making serious music again, a couple years ago, I thought, “Where are those original tapes?” Jill actually had a cassette tape with all of the seven songs that were going to be released by Columbia. I had found Jill on Facebook, and we started to hook up and renew our friendship. Jill’s cassette tape was remastered for the CD. A lot of the other original songs were lost over the years.
TEENAGE NEWS: Were those seven songs demoes or ready to be released?
Silke Berlinn: They were more than demos, but they weren’t quite ready to be released. They were a little rough, but I was pleased with the way the first CD came out. It’s called “Silke Berlinn & The Addictions.” On that album we had the original version of “Disco Nazi” with Franco Saint Andrews, Keith Paul, and variously Keith/Spike Mayfield. They weren’t completely finished but for that era; everything was a little rough. They were better recorded than let’s say the Heartbreakers.
TEENAGE NEWS: Do any of the original Addiction members play on “RETROPUNK?”
Silke Berlinn: Not really, our last CD, which was released last January, had some former Addiction members on it. Brendan Earley plays bass on “Disco Nazi” and he was original. Luigi Scorcia plays on “Asphalt Punk,” and we wrote that together. Luigi also played in Johnny Thunders’ last band La Costra Nostra, and on the last three albums Johnny recorded. Luigi was one of the Addictions. I don’t think Franco Saint Andrews plays sax on any of the tunes; but, he did play at my first outing, the Punk Festival in 2008 and then again in 2012 at the big Mabuhay Gardens Reunion. Joann Berman wants nothing to do with this. Joann sang these Nazi songs like “Disco Nazi,” and now she’s Jewish. She is kind of well known as a fashion designer.
TEENAGE NEWS: Who produced “RETROPUNK” and who plays on it?
Silke Berlinn: “RETROPUNK” is mainly Paul Roessler and me. He was in the Screamers and 45 Grave. Paul has a studio called Kitten Robot, and he has produced all the songs on “RETROPUNK.” All of the recordings have been done at Kitten Robot.
TEENAGE NEWS: When does your album “RETROPUNK” come out?
Silke Berlinn: Actually the physical product has been pressed, it’s vinyl! We are waiting for our posters to be printed because we want to get the record stores some ammunition as it were, some promotional material. We haven’t actually released it yet, but it is ready to be released. We are waiting for t-shirts too, you know, band swag.
TEENAGE NEWS: Is it on your record label or is someone else releasing it?
Silke Berlinn: It’s on a record label called Elusive Butterfly, which is sorta our record label, I suppose. I don’t have a major record label right now, but I have in the past.
TEENAGE NEWS: Were you ever involved with Rhino Records?
Silke Berlinn: Rhino gave me a contract, and I thought was I going to sign it until I brought it to my lawyer in Oakland. It did not really look like we were getting the best… There were some terms… The contract was for 5 years, and we just did not want to be tied up for that long. We declined the contract, but at one point I thought I was going to sign it.
TEENAGE NEWS: How old were you when you met Fast Floyd and Mink DeVille
Silke Berlinn: I was 15. I met Floyd about two weeks after I got to California. All I wanted was to be in a band, and I met him at a party. It was funny… The guys who were living across the hall from me Mark Dunwoody (he played keyboards with the Flamin’ Groovies) and Larry Elliot (who played in the quite well known band Kid Courage) had a party. At the party Floyd rushed me, and I moved in with him very shortly after. Through him I found out about Mink DeVille. Floyd had already formed Mink DeVille and it had Willy Borsey. He later called himself Willy DeVille, but that’s complete nonsense.
TEENAGE NEWS: Right, Mink DeVille started out as Floyd’s band.
Silke Berlinn:People don’t really know much about Mink DeVille, but I know everything about them… Floyd had convinced Willy to come out to California and sing even though Willy hadn’t sang in three or four years. In that time Willy had gotten married to a woman named Susan Berle, who was the heiress to Palm Beach Clothiers. It was a very high-end clothing manufacturer. Susan’s father supported the band for many years. He was paying the rent… I didn’t know he was paying all the bills, I found this out later. This is how she kept Willy, because Willy was completely crazy (a pretty good guy), but he could have never gotten a job. Susan’s father supported us for a couple years. These dates are tricky because I was shooting heroin everyday when I wasn’t I was drinking.
Actually, Bill Graham was my first manager! A guy named Jerry Pompili helped us produce our first record with Floyd. They kept telling me to get rid of him because they didn’t like him at all. They told me that he was using me. It was probably true, but I couldn’t have kept the band together by myself. I was just a kid and very insecure. I needed him, so when they said, “Get rid of Floyd” I was like “then what??” I didn’t play any instruments then, but now I play keyboards pretty well. I couldn’t have even told people how to play a song at that time. It hurt my career because a lot of people were interested in me, but they didn’t want him. He was a sociopath!
Willy and Floyd had grown up together in Stamford, Connecticut. Floyd’s father was a Major in the Marines. After he got out of his military job, he got a PhD at Berkeley. When he got out of that he became an executive at James and Carbite. Floyd always went around saying he was from this poor family from the streets; well nothing could have been further from the truth. His father was an executive at a major American conglomerate. He had lived all over the world because his father traveled for his job. When Willy, who was Shanty-Irish, a poor family, met Floyd they started robbing houses together. They robbed one house in Greenwich and got caught. Floyd’s father said he would only get Floyd a lawyer if he cut his hair. Well Floyd refused, so he went jumped bail and went to New York with Willy. Floyd couldn’t stay in New York because he had the warrant for his arrest. When we started getting recognition Floyd left New York because he was scared he would be put in jail. Later he came back to California… Floyd always had hard feelings about it. He put the band together; Mink DeVille was Floyd’s band. Floyd always had some kind of Cadillac DeVille, so he named it from that. Peter Crowley was managing Floyd and Willy, and there were two brothers in the band, Tommy and Jimmy. They started out as a band called Lazy Ace, and then when Willy came out Floyd changed the name of the band to Mink DeVille. Of course Willy took the name for himself, stealing the band and keeping the name.
Willy is from a very poor family, and his mother was a little loose. Willy and Susan represented being the parents of this little boy who was three at the time I came around… He wasn’t Willy’s son because Susan had gotten pregnant by someone else. Later Willy had agreed to marry her. They had this little boy, and he was living with us. He was watching us shoot drugs; it was insane. The boy was Sean, and he looked a lot like Willy and everybody just assumed it was Willy’s son. I don’t know what happened to Sean…
Susan changed her name and started calling herself Toots; she even got a new hairdo. She went around telling everyone she was Louisiana-Basque, I don’t know, it was craziness. As soon as Willy got a little recognition and a record contract (he was with Capital), he dumped her. It was pretty obvious that he needed her money. He did love her at a time, but she was completely insane.
TEENAGE NEWS: Was PUNK something you anticipated?
Silke Berlinn: No, I was just a little girl. I was 15 years old when I came to California. I expected flower children and the Summer of Love. It was all very glamorous to me, and I wanted to be a part of it. When I went to California I thought I was going to be like Janis Joplin. I thought I was going there to be a flower child. I was about 15 years too late for that. When I got there the first place I went was the Haight-Ashbury. I looked around at the Haight-Ashbury and I thought I was in the wrong place; it was completely burned out! All the doors were closed shut and it was a very scary place. There were drug addicts everywhere and needles on the ground… I did not know anything about punk… Shortly there after, I realized that things had changed quite a bit. I never aspired to be punk, and even when they started calling me a punk singer I did not know what it was. We were doing rhythm and blues!
My black nanny who listened to the AM radio essentially raised me. I learned how to sing by listening to the Ronettes. Subconsciously that all sunk in… That was how I aspired to be, I wanted to be Darlene Love or Dianne Ross. Floyd, Willy and me all hated that moniker. When they started calling us a punk band we were horrified! We didn’t know anything about punk. It was all very shocking.
TEENAGE NEWS: What neighborhood did you live in in San Francisco during PUNK?
Silke Berlinn: When I first got to California I shared an apartment with Gretchen Hall, and we were in Lower Pacific Heights. I had met her on the street, and she was looking for a roommate. I only had a suitcase… I moved in with her and then I met Floyd at that party. Now that is a nice neighborhood, but at the time it was the ghetto! We lived in a huge, yellow Victorian. We had no perception of money; we did not know that it cost a lot of money to live in a big Victorian. At this time Floyd was living in San Rafael, but when the band started happening we got Ruben and Manfred and moved into the house on Bush. It was Bush near Fillmore or Divisadero. Later, when Floyd started trying to kill me I moved into the A-Hole. It was a loft on Bryant and 3rd Street. It was also where the Mutants lived. Their manager, Bruce Pollock, might have had that place. He’s still around. Anyway, when Floyd was trying to kill me I moved there.
TEENAGE NEWS: Did Mink DeVille ever record anything with Fast Floyd or you
Silke Berlinn: I’m sure he did. I don’t know exactly what, but I am sure that there are recordings somewhere. Maybe Manfred or Ruben has them? You have to realize that they were very untogether people. We were all anti-publicity… I am sure they recorded “Driving Wheel,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and “Keep Driving.” At this point they were only doing covers.
Floyd was pretty intimidating. He used to beat me up all the time. I didn’t really ask too many questions, and I wasn’t invited to know too much about Mink DeVille. I sang backup with them for a little while, and I am sure there are some recordings of that too. Since Susan (Toots) was Willy’s wife and manager, someone in that family probably has them. Maybe Sean. Did they make an album or a record? I don’t think so, not that I know about. I do not think they actually made a record together.
TEENAGE NEWS: Do you remember where you recorded with Fast Floyd?
Silke Berlinn: Where? Well we recorded at David Rubenstein’s (maybe his name was Howard). He was a pretty well known in San Francisco, and had the best studio at the time. This was setup by Jerry Pompili or Bill Graham. Jerry gave us the equipment to record, and that the time they were using 8-track stereo. Later someone else paid for other recordings, I don’t remember who but we did “Red Hot” and a couple of other songs.
TEENAGE NEWS: Do you remember how many copies you pressed for those singles?
Silke Berlinn: I have no idea. I don’t think we pressed them, someone else did. I have absolutely no idea, I don’t have copies of that stuff.
TEENAGE NEWS: Why did you cut it off with Floyd?
Silke Berlinn: One night Floyd came to the Mabuhay Gardens [San Francisco, CA] with a gun, and Dirk through him out! Richie Sleeper, from the Sleepers, told me that Floyd was there with a gun and was going to kill me, and shoot Keith May’s kneecaps off.
TEENAGE NEWS: Can you talk about recording with Blondie?
Silke Berlinn: I did a record with Frank Infante, Jimmy Destri, and Gary Valentine. I recorded “You Don’t Own Me.” I was tight with the musicians from Blondie because of Gino Riccardi, who had been Blondie’s first manager. I think on Blondie’s first album they gave him recognition.
TEENAGE NEWS: And then you hooked up with Cheetah Chrome too?
Silke Berlinn: Later I met Cheetah Chrome through Gino, and we had an affair. On the cover of the “Silke Berlinn & the Addictions” CD, the tracks from Jill Hoffman’s cassette tape, I am wearing one of Cheetah’s shirt. About a year ago he commented on Facebook, “That t-shirt looks awfully familiar!” I was like “what?” I had no clue what he was talking about, but then I remembered it was his shirt! There was a whole Cheetah era too! There was another guy around name Ron Slater. I think Ron was from a rich family in Long Island or something. He always would wear a bowtie and a fancy smoking jacket. I would love to know more about him because he was a fantastic keyboard player. He died of a heroin overdose… There also was another guy named Parker. He was another fantastic guitarist. These were all Cheetah’s friends, and Parker was working with Cheetah too. Cheetah also had a girl named Marlene, who was a porn star with the biggest breasts I had ever seen in my life. At the time she was 20 years old. I also wonder what happened to her…
TEENAGE NEWS: How did you reconnected with The Mutants’ Brendan Earley in New York City?
Silke Berlinn: I don’t really know, but I do know he looked me up. I was living on 9th Street at this time. I have a very clear visual of him and me sitting inside my railroad apartment. The kitchen was in the bathroom. Brendan was consoling me, and trying to help me. Brendan was always trying to help because he knew about my history with Floyd from when I lived in the A-Hole. He was trying to help me somehow, and I remember feeling that this guy really cares about me. I have always felt like Brendan was one of my really good friends back then. He did a lot of the recordings in California with the first Addictions.
TEENAGE NEWS: How did you meet Jerry Nolan?
Silke Berlinn: Oh Jerry was my boyfriend! It was really funny… I was on Saint Mark’s place. I even remember what I was wearing! My hair was really long and I had it up in a bun. I was wearing a tight, red spandex shirt with a blouse top. I always adored Jerry from afar, and I thought he was the cutest thing. Jerry was down the street, I saw him and he walks up to me. I had been idolizing him for years and he just walks up to me and he says “What’s your name?” and I told him that I also had a band. He came to the studio and watched us play one night and he said, “If you ever need a drummer let me know…” He played the drums on some of the tracks on the first “Silke Berlinn & The Addictions” album. The third time I saw him was at CBGBs and I was wearing a yellow, Chanel suit with velvet buttons and cuffs. He came up to me and said, “You’re the best dressed girl in New York; I’ve been watching you!” And then from there on, for about a year, we hung out. I don’t think Jerry and I ever had sex-sex because at this time sex (with these types of people) was shooting drugs. It was like you got together and shot some heroin together. It was the replacement for normal people sex.
I was living with a girl named Helen, mooching again. Actually when I look back on it I would have been considered homeless. People were just giving me a place to live. Helen had a place on Mercer Street by NYU, and Jerry used to just pop over and bring his sewing. He was a big sewer; he would make his own clothes. He would come over with a needle and thread, and help me with my outfits. We would be high as kites on heroin. You know how when you are younger you want what you can’t have and you don’t want what you can have? Well Jerry was coming over all the time and always available and I started being like “Ugh, its Jerry.”
Years later a really weird thing happened to me. It was in the early 90’s and I wanted nothing to do with music because I was still just recovering from my nervous breakdown. One night, at midnight, I got a phone call from an older lady who said, “I am Jerry Nolan’s mother.” I was like, “What??” Then she told me, “I found Jerry’s diaries and he just writes on and on about you. I knew I had to talk to you, and find out everything you know about him.” It was such a weird phone call and I said, “Well, can’t you just ask Jerry?” She said, “Oh no honey, Jerry died.” I couldn’t believe it. I was so out of the music scene I didn’t even know he died. He had died a couple weeks before the call. She had gone through all his journals and said that he wrote on and on and on. I told her what I knew, but it was one of the weirdest experiences I had in my life. I knew he liked me, but I had no idea that he was writing about me and that he was madly in love with me. All I wanted to do was get off the phone. I wanted nothing to do with music! How she got my phone number I have no idea.
TEENAGE NEWS: How old were you when you started dating him?
Silke Berlinn: Jerry? Oh god, 16, 17 maybe.
TEENAGE NEWS: Did your song “Let’s Dance” influence David Bowie?
Silke Berlinn: Oh yeah, our song came out first. We were rehearsing in the same studio! This was when the band was first starting. We were rehearsing in the West Side [New York City] and practicing “Let’s Dance.” Now I have changed the song to “The Trance…” Not that long after of our recording I thought he stole our song! At that age (17 years old) and being so fucked up on drugs, I didn’t think there was anything I could do. Keith May had connections with Angie Bowie and had told me that our lofts were in the same buildings… Anyway when his song came out we thought “that’s our song!” I don’t know how it came about, but it was obvious that that was our song with same title and everything.
TEENAGE NEWS: What happened with your three record contract with Columbia Records?
Silke Berlinn: They didn’t actually release anything. I had a nervous breakdown right before the release date. Actually it was within a couple of weeks of signing with them. It was with Don DeVito. Our first manager was Gino Riccardi; he was Blondie original manager. When Gino brought me to Don at Columbia they were very interested because they had missed out with Blondie. They signed us for a three record deal. Don DeVito was the President at Columbia at the time.
I had left New York right around this time because I was having paranoid delusions; I was completely out of my mind. I thought the CIA was following me. I thought my phone calls were being recorded even though I didn’t have a phone. I left New York and defaulted on the contract. Most people could not find me even though they tried. At this time I got a letter in the mail from Hernado Courtright at A&M Records. They were interested in signing a contract with me. I was really, really so insane then that I couldn’t. It lasted for about four years.
I went back to living with my family for a while. I actually went to college and got a degree in English Literature at that time. So yeah, it never came to fruition. That was one of the few things in my life that I left unfinished, and that became an impetus for wanting to complete that chapter. Why did I let this all happen? I had everything about to explode and I had a breakdown. I look back at it now and think that if it had come to fruition, the way it was supposed to, I would be dead. I was so strung out on drugs and unstable that I would have overdosed on heroin.
I’ve always had a belief in the super natural and higher consciousness. Around the time I thought I was being followed, I had left New York for a weekend. I hadn’t been to church in years even though I was raised Catholic and had a lot of religious training with school.
I went to a church, and knelt down in the back. I said, “God, tell me what I am supposed to be doing, what you want me to do.” I had a gig at Trudy Heller’s, which was a very famous club in New York CIty. That night Johnny Thunders was playing with us, and we had this all-star lineup. We got to Trudy Heller’s on time. Trudy Heller’s that night closed forever. Something happened with the Fire Department and they never opened again. That was the date of our big night where all the record companies were coming. It was a really big deal and the club was closed; I took that as a sign from the universe that I was supposed to get out. The next day I packed up all my stuff and left New York. I went down to my parents to be a crazy, paranoid person for four years. I did not tell anyone that I was having these crazy delusions. I thought they would have me committed.
They had committed my uncle and I was scared they would do the same thing to me. I didn’t tell anyone, but I convince my mother to let me go back to college. So that’s what I did, I went to college even though I didn’t graduate from high school because I hitchhiked to California when I was 15. You know my family did not even try to find me when I left home; that shows you what a problem child I was! It took a long time for me to reestablish a relationship with my family because I was very, very crazy for a period of four years. I couldn’t get along with anyone, and I was completely unemployable. I had a really rough time there for a while.
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