Much of the artwork hanging in the room is from the painter Tiana Krahn. I used to date her years ago in Venice Beach, California. She would do this odd thing with her artwork. She’d paint beautiful works and then throw them out. So, I’d rescue them later from the trash. Eventually all these paintings ended up here in the hotel, decorating this one room. Here’s their romantic back-story:
“Mardou Fox, my Mermaid, and the Brad CD” or simply “The Mermaid Story”
When I was living in Venice Beach in the early 1990s a girl I was hanging around with was dating one of the musicians from the band Pearl Jam. One day she handed me a CD of another band whose music she was introduced to up in Seattle, saying to me, “I think you’d like their music as well.” She gave me the CD. The band’s name was Brad, the CD was Shame, put out by Epic Records. I did like it. I LOVED IT!
It was also just about this time that I fell deeply in love with painter and singer Tiana Krahn. (Her work, some of you may have seen, are the paintings in the hotel Mermaid Room. She’s also the singer who is the voice in the title sequence to the show Nip Tuck.) We’d been writing romantic letters back and forth from Venice to San Francisco for about three years, but hadn’t spent much time together. Up to this point we had only so much as kissed. We even had a no phones rule, just letters between us. But they were very romantic letters. We were trying to keep parts of ourselves purposely secret from the other based kind of on the relationship in the Brando movie Last Tango in Paris. Finally I asked her if she’d like to join me for a secret week getaway to Colorado. She said okay. We’d only been around each other for a few evenings total so a full week away was a big leap. I had something cool planned.
I should note here that at that time I thought Tiana was without question the most beautiful women in the entire world. I was literally dumbstruck with her beauty. Tiana entering my life eclipsed every female I’d ever known up to that point. Since I met her by the sea I called her my mermaid.
For our first week away together I drove her to the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado where there was an intimate week-long event with a lot of the remaining American Beat poets. It was to celebrate the poet Alan Ginsberg. I think there were only about 200 people total. Very poetry literary top heavy. If one weren’t into the Beats they probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it. But Tiana liked their works previously. So we had a great week. Actually we shared an incredible week, sleeping in the car, going to classes, meeting all these classic American writers and poets. It was a goldmine.
And my old pal Marshall Rubin showed up as a surprise! He was just standing there at a cook-out and said hi. All the way from New York he drove just to surprise me. Here I’d been telling Tiana the entire ride across the country about this old amazing friend of mine that got me to drive all the way to Alaska with him and suddenly there he was. We got drunk in a bar and Marshall climbed on a table and pretended to marry us.
This was the first time I met David Amram. He performed on stage with all kinds of instruments. (I had no idea he would be coming to my home years later to perform for a Kerouac event I’d be throwing.) Someone on stage, I forget who, stressed how important it is to remember that your peers are your friends as well and that one could cultivate a fifty year relationship with these people, and how as artists we should try to do this with our peers. We went out for drinks with Alan Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. Bobbie Louise Hawkins spoke. Amiri Baraka I remember mentioned he didn’t like current werewolf movies because they identified with the monster (and I thought he was clueless to metaphor in that statement). Gary Snyder explained that “Poetry is NOT self-expression.” (and for years I thought maybe I’m clueless to something and wanted to ask him what poetry is then if it’s not self-expression…and finally one day I wrote him and he sent a postcard to the Midway hotel with answer). Gregory Corso read his ‘almost perfect’ poem on beauty (and I thought, Wow! I’d like to film that! I wonder if I will?). Ed Sanders’, from the Fugs, car broke down and when Tiana and I passed him on the road and pulled over to help he told us to get away. Ken Kesey was there and upset a lot of people with his craziness. Lawrence Ferlinghetti read ‘new’ as-yet unreleased passages to his famous poem A Coney Island of the Mind. It was an amazing week. Philip Glass performed on stage at piano. At one point I looked over and Tiana was crying overwhelmed with the beauty of his performance.
Corso’s poem went:
The Whole Mess…Almost
I ran up six flights of stairs
to my small furnished room
opened the window
and began throwing out
those things most important in life
First to go, truth, squeling like a fink;
“Don’t! I’ll tell awful things about you!”
“Oh yeah? Well, I’ve got nothing to hide…OUT!”
Then went God, glowering & whimpering in amazement:
“It’s not my fault! I’m not the cause of it all!” “OUT!”
Then love, cooing bribes: “You’ll never know impotency!
All the girls on Vogue covers, all yours!”
I pushed her fat ass out and screamed:
“You always end up a bummer!”
I picked up faith Hope Charity
all three clinging together:
“Without us you’ll surely die!”
“With you I’m going nuts! Goodbye!”
Then beauty…ah, Beauty-
As I led her to the window
I told her: “You I loved best in life
…but you’re a killer; Beauty kills!”
Not really meaning to drop her
I immediately ran downstairs
getting there just in time to catch her
“You saved me!” she cried
I put her down and told her: “Move on.”
Went back up those six flights
went to the money
there was no money to throw out.
The only thing left in the room was Death
hiding beneath the kitchen sink:
“I’m not real!” It cried
“I’m just a rumor spread by life…”
Laughing I threw it out, kitchen sink and all
and, suddenly realized Humor
was all that was left-
All I could do with Humor was to say:
“Out the window with the window!”
In the photograph taken of Alan Ginsberg, Tiana, and myself (me in cowboy hat) we were just asking him in that moment about the woman who was Mardou Fox in Jack Kerouac’s Subterraneans. The Subterraneans was probably my favorite novel at that time, so it was a wild moment for me to stand there with Alan Ginsberg who was a character in the book and ask him about it. I was pretty haunted by The Subterraneans in a beauty sort of way. Tiana loved it too. So in that photo moment Ginsberg was just explaining to Tiana about the love interest character Mardou Fox, “She just died. I was with her at her bedside just a month ago.” Tiana and he hadn’t even looked up yet from their exchange of words when Marshall snapped the picture of the three of us.
When I drove her home (we were back in Northern California in the home town of Tom Waits in a parking lot about to say good-bye) I had this CD from Brad playing in the car, and Tiana jumped, “What’s this?! This is great music!” She fell in love with it.
I remember asking her right then if she would like to relocate and move in with me. She put her hands on my shoulders and said something like, “If you ask, I’m yours.” It was without question the proudest moment of my life.
She moved down to Venice and we got a new place. Between my new love and meeting all the Beats and all the other cool things going on for me that Fall in my life I felt saturated with the romance of art like I’d never known before. My fingers, heart, and eyes were just dripping with all the romance I was experiencing. (I was working for Prince that season in the nights and for Stan Lee in the days, so things were 24/7). And among all the music we played in our little Bohemian shack, we played the Brad CD a lot that season. There are eleven songs on it: 1. Buttercup 2. My Fingers 3. Nadine 4. Screen 5. 20th Century 6. Good News 7. Raise Love 8. Bad for the Soul 9. Down 10. Rockstar 11. We
I would walk around in socks at a half-stance back and forth to the song Rockstar, singing along to it, “I’m a rock star walking on the water, baby.” That’s how I felt.
Tiana and I had an intense, artistic, highly romantic, (and at times sadly argumentative) full year together in Venice. But it was rich. We lived on the canals. Her first night there my friends dressed like gondola singers and we took her in a small boat all over the Venice canals that night, and they sang cheesy love songs for us, and we drank wine. The romance that season was too incredible. Once for about a month I paid close attention to all the little things she’d mention she would one day like to have; this particular book, that CD, this kind of candle, that toy, this art brush, etc etc. Then I went out and bought them all, put them into a treasure box, made a treasure map that drifted around our yard by clues, and I buried the box underground with all the stuff in it. She came home and found all these candles burning in the bathroom, and in the tub there was a corked bottle floating with what looked like a real pirate’s treasure map inside. The edges of the map had been burned and all. From the bushes I spied her following the clues around the yard. When she finally found and dug up the treasure chest she broke down in tears and fell to her knees.
But… when we finally ended after about a year later she took the Brad CD with her! Can you believe that? In my heartbreak all I wanted to do was hear that Brad CD because I linked so much of us to it. I drove all over LA to music stores but because it was obscure I couldn’t find a copy anywhere! I finally found a used copy somewhere in the Valley. I sat in our little Venice shack for about a week with headphones on with that CD blasting so loud it’s amazing my ears ever worked again. But that week the music on that CD never sounded richer to me. I was feeling POUNDED by beauty.
(So weird to be writing this out now and imagining anyone out there reading it. So intimate.) Anyway, so about two months later two very interesting follow up things happened:
The First: Beat poet Gregory Corso actually called me up at my Venice home. It was empty because Tiana had moved out. I was standing there in an empty room. It was the last hour of the last day I was in our old tiny Venice shack before I was giving it up, I’d even already called to have the phones shut off, so it was amazing timing that his call just slipped through. He was calling from New York. (Corso, remember, like Ginsberg was a character in Kerouac’s Subterraneans, the novel I liked so much, so I was on some kind of Kerouac’s Subterraneans overload by now talking to him as well.) I wanted to do a film about beauty so I’d written Corso a letter asking if I could film him reading his poem about beauty, which I liked a lot, and he called to say he was into the idea. I’d also mentioned I was good friends with Baird Bryant who he knew back in France in the 1950s. “Baird Bryant!” he cried into the phone, “How is that fucker!? I haven’t heard that name in years!” Then he said a million beautiful comments about Baird who he felt was a wonderful friend and beautiful person long ago. We talked more about filming his beauty poem, which he thought was his one ‘almost’ perfect work, but said the last line was a ‘maybe line’ and he considered altering it for the filming. Because of timing I never got around to making it to New York that season and then Gregory died and it was a lost opportunity.
The other thing that happened was the band Brad came down from Seattle and played in Los Angeles. They were also calling themselves Satchel at this point. I went to their show with my new friend Voxx, who was a radio talk show host in LA across the airwaves every night just before Howard Stern. She fell in love with Brad’s CD as well. I think she even started one of their fan clubs for a while. It was called Smithology or something like that after lead vocalist Shawn Smith. Voxx would email me and start out the titles with the CD’s first song title Buttercup and that’s how I’d know it was her. Anyway, so at their show in LA Voxx and I got to go upstairs and hang out backstage with the band. Voxx gave them a bunch of gifts, candles and stuff. Then I got to be alone with Shawn Smith for a little while. It was really trippy standing there. I think we were about the same height and the same age. This sort of wild convergence of lucky creative moments happens to me a lot actually where I end up meeting the artists who inspired me in earlier seasons. And here was a major one in my personal life, for sure, happening just on the heels of Tiana leaving. I stood there alone with lead singer Shawn Smith talking a bit and finally said, “I really loved your CD Shame.”
“Thank you,” he said, “I appreciate that.” He seemed like a cool guy.
“There’s a story behind it.” I continued. I knew I couldn’t convey all of what I’d just gone through from heart-overwhelm to heartbreak to this man in the next few minutes and create any real picture of the beauty I was associating with his music, so I just rounded it up and said, “I lost a girl recently and it broke my heart. But it was also beautiful. And your music from that CD was so a part of all of it. Your music meant a lot to me.”
Here’s the song Shame by Brad on Epic mentioned in the above story…