Blog Party for BAND, memoir of A Naked Car Thief

Larry-photo-stillnakedHi, I’m Larry J. Dunlap, and I’m introducing my memoir BAND, memoir of A Naked Car Thief. I’ve been writing since the late seventies when I was in the business side of music. I did artist reviews and a cartoon strip for local music magazines then. Wrote my first story, a science fiction tale about built around a play-by-mail space empire game I was addicted to about then, too. I began professional technical writing after I’d gotten involved in technical training, eventually writing for Fortune 100 companies on contract. In recent years as the press of professional life lessened, I have returned to something I knew I’d have to do before embarking on any other authorial projects, a remembrance of my transition from a young Midwestern man/boy dreamer to a creator’s life in the warm California sunshine via a mid-sixties rock band. An excerpt from this memoir was published in an Inlandia Institute anthology last November.

I’ve always known it was likely I’d be a writer since I have been such an inveterate and addicted reader. For many reasons, I never attempted to write for a wide audience until relatively recently. During the six plus years I was leader of the rock band that grew out of my homespun vocal group in Indianapolis, I formed incredible bonds with my band mates. When we gathered to reminisce, we’d always remind ourselves of the interesting adventures we’d survived. I was always prompted by the guys saying, “Man, you have got to write a book about this.” As the years went by I heard from several of them saying that it was hard to talk about what we’d accomplished because no one could relate to their memories. When I could finally devote myself to this project I wanted to rectify that impression. I realized that vignettes, told out of context, sound like either bragging or disconnection. Telling our story would put it all in context. However, with our fading and differing memories there was only one way to do that, as a personal memoir. The more I settled into the project the more I realized I’d come to the right conclusion. I needed to write about my story, how I felt, what it meant to me, and let the rest of it shine through as I remembered and retold it.

My memoir starts on New Year’s Eve of 1964, though Book cover, BAND, memoir of A Naked Car Thiefchapter one covers a dangerous and violent night relating to the near hit record our vocal group in Indianapolis almost accidentally had in our nearby big city, Chicago. As a husband of two wonderful little boys and my high school sweetheart wife I loved, I was struggling with finding my creative place in the world. The environment around us in the structured world we grew up in and the hard line taken by our parents finally blew up when the group and I tried to turn ourselves into a working band. Though the first incarnation failed, a miraculous event sealed my fate and I was off to California to join my old buddies in a desperate attempt to create a rock band within a week in the seething musical chaos of San Francisco’s east bay dive bars. At the cost of the wrenching destruction of my family, the journey began that would carry us into adventure after adventure, to the top of San Francisco’s night life, through Hollywood, famous personal managers and record producers, to the heights of Las Vegas’ rock scene and the top of the largest Vegas resorts. A side trip to the Hawaiian islands found us performing for American warriors on R&R during the height of the Vietnam war, where I met a Hawaiian girl who touched me as deeply as my first love. As our status as performing stars rose, though we struggled with recording success, I was certain I’d reached the pinnacle of happiness and success. But there were undercurrents beyond my control that would bring me to the edge of sanity and the end of the music. Somehow I’d have to save my band, hope to save my new family, and try not to lose myself.

I’m currently working my way through the second edit. Memoir is a special form that I’ve come to really appreciate; I learned a lot from Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and Candy Girl, by Diablo Cody, and read many, many others as I prepped for, and continue to write. I’ve adopted a narrative style including dialog to my memoir because that’s how I remember it even though it was so long ago. We moved through a time of great historical and cultural change the background behind the events of the story; there is no need to embellish the dramatic arc at all, it just is what it was. I hope other memoirists see their story as vividly as I see mine. I’m looking forward to finding more examples of this style to continue to inspire me.

Unfortunately, most memoir readers and many memoir authors see them as tearjerkers, while there’s certainly a low point in my story, so low that it feels more like black humor to me, I’m not looking for sympathy or redemption. Personally, I hate saccharine sweet stories. In my eyes I’m just trying to recount what I think of as a great adventure that I was lucky enough to be a part of, and survive — without judgment. To do this requires honing the skills and dramatic arts of authors of fiction. I hope from the Memoir’s Discussion Group on LinkedIn to be influenced by others who approach their life adventures in this way, and to be a source of influence to others in the style I’ve chosen.

Stark Naked at the Galaxie 1966

Recently, Dave sent me some photos that had come to light. This one show our band in early 1966, I’m going to guess about February or so. Dave Rapken, was the club owner of one of the hottest topless bars in North Beach, back when the naughty but nice atmosphere brought celebs of every stripe over to the original Barbary coast, when he hired us to play at his club for a year. Though he never said, I am certain that the name Stark Naked and the Car Thieves really appealed to him. It had been a joke name to us but there was no changing it now.

Most of us were vocalists, recently arrived from Indianapolis, and we’d formed a band with some available musicians and played a couple of bay area, (mostly dive bar) clubs for a few months. Dave Rapken insisted on suits, as you can see in the publicity picture he arranged for. He also hired a pretty tough guy who had many years experience in Las Vegas. Eddie taught us stagecraft, virtually at gunpoint. Usually we did what he asked since he made such a point of it but on occasion, we slipped.

Sharing a dressing room with six topless dancers over a year was an education there was no way to prepare for, let alone if you were a recent emigrant from the Midwest. It was all part of growing up as A Naked Car Thief.

Across the top: Mac, Dave, Larry; across the bottom, Leonard, Les, Jack. I still can’t believe we were ever that young.

What is a memoir? And why I chose to use it.

Last August I began writing “A Naked Car Thief” as a remembrance of the years I was a member of our band, Stark Naked and the Car Thieves. Prior to that, I spent about four months in intense research and writing certain scenarios that I vividly remembered like when we opened Nero’s Nook at Caesars Palace. I was testing to see if I could develop the skill to write something worth the effort it would take and if I could actually dedicate the time and effort and will to finish it. Though I have previously worked as a technical writer professionally for over eight years for three Fortune 100 companies, started an unfinished novel and a few short stories (one published in a game sci-fi magazine), I had never taken on anything like the scope of this project. Of the number of books I have absorbed in trying to develop this skill set, I realize that I should make clear the expectations and limits to what should be expected in a memoir, what it means for my goal, and why I chose this form. I am quoting below from one of the influential books that is guiding me.

“Memoir is a rendering of lived life, as filtered through memory and the wider net of the needs of narrative. Memoir just tells the story, no explicit thesis here. Memoir examines a life, a self, and does so through a period of time, say early childhood or the month you spent with Grandpa in France. Like novels and short stories, memoirs tend to operate in time and space, tend to have a story arc, rising action leading to a climax, a balance of scene and summary. A reflective voice might tell the story, might analyze events, but it tends to stay in the background, tends to let the action do the work. Research can support the storytelling, but the point isn’t a display of facts or information. A memoir lays out the evidence of a life, lets the reader make the conclusions. The mode ranges from pure, plain storytelling to more reflective storytelling. Some memoirs get so reflective and analytical that they move close to and overlap with the personal essay. A few pages, a book, a few volumes, memoir is an expansible form.”

— Roorbach, Bill (2008-06-17). Writing Life Stories: How To Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays And Life Into Literature.

I chose this form specifically because I am dealing with a time now well over 40 years ago, where memory does it’s best but cannot mirror specifics. Time and again, after relating vignettes about our group’s adventures people would say “you ought to write a book”, even sometimes a band mate. But as I got further into the project I realized that the story I had to tell, was really about my specific adventures through the lens described above; the band’s story and the story of the times and places had to become the background of my story. It had to become my story, not the band’s.

At first it was for a practical reason, it had become clear that some members of the group had glaring differences in interpreting the memories of our shared experiences. As my goal was to get at the truths that were seminal to my growth through those years; accuracy was bound to take a hit so I dedicated those early months to research and I continue to do spot research during the writing to be as accurate as possible. I also don’t want to take the stance of invalidating anyone else’s recollections so by personalizing them as mine and mine alone, though I make every effort  to find common ground, I am only responsible to being true to my own sense of this experience.

But more importantly I have come to realize in this much more personal approach I am uncovering things that go beyond the band and into my relationships with family and friends with far-reaching consequence. I also realized that I wanted to write a story, a book, that anyone could pick up and read for the adventure and journey of several fairly ordinary guys who combined their talents  in a leap of faith, and ended up experiencing extraordinary events at extraordinary places at an extraordinary time, the middle to the end of the 1960’s, in music and culture.

Yvonne D’Angers – Off Broadway Topless Dancer – 1966

Off-Broadway-1966-Y'vonne-D.-AngersI just can’t help it. I am putting up another topless dancer picture. I have spent the last couple of days doing research for a final chapter on our experiences in the  incredible atmosphere of North Beach in San Francisco in 1966.

Originally the old Barbary Coast to the various and often scurrilous sea-farers of the 1800’s it became a major Italian neighborhood in the City, featuring outstanding Italian food and imposing Catholic churches. While known as the “Paris of the West”, in the forties and fifties it spawned the beat generation centered around the City Lights bookstore in North Beach.

As the Beatniks faded away two cultural revolutions began to rise in the cauldron that is San Francisco. One of them was, of course, the rise of the Hippies in the Haight brought on in part by the student population of nearby San Francisco State College. In roughly 1963-4, the mainly Russian neighborhood began to change to the “Drop out, drop in” culture that would reign for a few short years. It was the hotbed for musical expression of the philosophy of the young or as it’s motto states: “Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll”.

Meanwhile, over in North Beach in mid-1964, Carol Doda galvanized the world coming down in a bikini bottom on a piano at the Condor Club. This, of course, was the cultural stream we entered in late 1965 and it was without question a terrific time to be young and in music. Where the Hippie culture was re-defining music, we were reveling in the music of the era we loved. And we were surrounded by some of the best performers and musicians of our time.

But I was reminded in my Internet travels of this stunning lady, another iconic topless dancer of the era, Yvonne D’Angers, who performed at the Off Broadway. She was an Iranian-born blond bombshell who came to be known in the press as “The Persian Lamb”. She was a star witness in the 1965 trial over legality of topless waitresses but was much more famous for chaining herself to the Golden Gate bridge to protest her threatened deportation.

At least a part of the significance to North Beach to the City is trumpeted in a brazen newspaper ad: “Two of San Francisco’s three most famous landmarks … belong to Yvonne D’Angers, now appearing topless in North Beach at Off Broadway.” They fail to mention what that third one was.

Great San Franciscan Characters: #1 Carol Doda

THIS ARTICLE IS REPRINTED FROM THE BLOG BELOW. I am reprinting it because Carol Doda was the flash point for the North Beach Renaissance in the mid-sixties. So we have to thank her for starting that trend because it led to Dave Rapkin of the Galaxie Club on Broadway and Kearney to offer us a year contract there. Hopefully, our club was similar to others there; come for the exposed mammary glands stay for the music and entertainment.  As I remember it there was great entertainment all over that area. From Broadway where Ramsey Lewis, Bobby Freeman, Chubby Checker, and Joey Dee and the Starliters played as well as the nearby Hungry I and Purple Onion who featured at one time or another Barbara Streisand, Woody Allen,  and Mort Sahl, who later played with us at Caesar’s Palace.  Not to mention the Smother’s Brothers and The Kingston Trio and a host of other acts. The ‘naughty but nice’ atmosphere helped lend San Francisco a European city sophistication and attract celebrities and top level audiences. So thanks for getting everybody’s attention Carol; and thanks for remembering it, Tony!

 

January 17, 2011 by A Golden Gate State of Mind

Rather than start this series with a politician, business or military leader, important and influential in the city’s development though many have been, I thought I would focus on someone who epitomises the colourful, free spirited and boundary stretching personality of the city.

Carol Ann Doda was born of soon to be divorced parents on 29 August 1937 in Solano County, California, growing up in Napa.  She dropped out of school and become a cocktail waitress and lounge entertainer at aged 14.

Described by the Internet Movie Database as a “lovely, busty and curvaceous blonde bombshell” she achieved fame, or notoriety depending upon your point of view, on 19 June 1964 at the Condor Club at the corner of Broadway and Columbus in North Beach, by dancing in a topless swimsuit, the first recognised entertainer of the era to do so, and spawning similar exhibitionism across the nation’s clubs.  Such was her popularity that delegates from the 1964 Republican National Convention flocked to see her and she was given a film role as Sally Silicone in Head, created by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, and featuring The Monkees.  She appeared in another six films.

Wikipedia describes her act, which she performed twelve times nightly, thus: (it) “began with a grand piano lowered from the ceiling by hydraulic motors;  Doda would be atop the piano dancing.  She descended from a hole in the ceiling.  She go-go danced the Swim to a rock and roll combo headed by Bobby Freeman as her piano settled on the stage.  From the waist up Doda emulated aquatic movements like the Australian crawl.  She also did the Twist, the Frug and the Watusi”.

She later enhanced her bust size from 34B to 44DD through  a total of 44 silicone injections, earning her breasts the nicknames of “the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco”.  She had them insured for $1.5 million with Lloyd’s of London.

Doda created a further seismic impact in the entertainment industry on 3 September 1969 by dancing completely naked at the Condor, though she was obliged to put the bottom part of her costume back on again in 1972 after a rule was passed prohibiting nude dancing in establishments that served alcohol.

After appearing for more than a decade on KGSC-TV she returned to dancing at the Condor three times a night in 1982, “in a gold gown, traditional elbow-length gloves, and a diaphanous-wraparound.  Her clothing was removed until she wore only a G-string and the wraparound.  In the final portion she was attired in only the wraparound.  Her small body looked slimmer without clothes which was emphasised by the dwarfing effect of her breasts”.

Retiring from stripping later in the decade she formed her own rock band, the Lucky Stiffs. She now runs the highly respectable “Carol Doda’s Champagne and Lace Lingerie Boutique” in Cow Hollow.  Well into the new millenium, however, she was performing – with her clothes on – at a variety of North Beach clubs, including Amante’s and Enrico’s Supper Club, singing club standards like “All of Me”.

Despite the notoriety she earned by being the first dancer to break the topless / bottomless taboos in the U.S., her act was rarely regarded as sleazy.  As she herself said: “I always just wanted to give people a good time, have fun.  Nothing really dirty – just fun”.

And finally she has been truly immortalised in having a hamburger named after her at Bill’s Place on Clement at 24th in the Outer Richmond!