Paul Vanase: Inside The World Of Baby Bones
Interview by Robert Dayton from Scram Magazine #22
I was on tour with my act Canned Hamm in Philadelphia. On one rare off night we were over at Tom of the record label Siltbreeze’s home listening to his primo collection of vanity pressings and other ephemera. At least I think it was Tom’s pad in Philly, there was a lot of beer haze. I do remember that sometime somewhere one record stood out amongst all the other curios for its’ hard to miss “IT” factor. This record had a black and white cover adorned simply with the hand drawn bubble letters “Paul Vanase in The World Of Baby Bones.” On the back cover were photos of this moustachioed man dynamically performing in lame, glitter stars on his nipples, makeup adorning his cue ball head. Who was this guy???? The copy loudly proclaimed “Baby Bones Is Here! Cosmic Spunk Is..Disco-Caba-Rock!” When the record played we knew that its’ self-described pastiche catch phrase couldn’t begin to describe the larger than life nature, a nature that naturally should be stature to match its’ grandure. Oh Lord. The song “Sticking Needles In Paper Doll Eyes” was delightfully and giddily disturbing, it made me want to dance around the room like Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” This tarnished glam with its’ strongly minced theatrical vocal fabulousness and aggressive ivory tinkling was difficult to forget. Fast forward a few years later, Canned Hamm was on tour playing LA. On an off night we were over at Gregg of the record label Amarillo’s home listening to his primo collection of vanity pressings and other ephemera… and so it goes…
I was lucky enough to have been given a copy of “Baby Bones” from Scram editrix Kim Cooper due to much pleading on my part. Turns out she had found an inexplicable bounty of 25 copies in a thrift shop!
There was no denying the alluring mystery of this record and the pull that it had on me. Such records can be like that, records that seem to encompass their own identity, that come out of nowhere, well, somewhere but it’s a time and place that seems distant, records that shine out from the mire waiting to be plucked, some made more mysterious through their low budget black and white covers and their most decidedly non-major label status.
Whilst strolling through a Klaus Nomi Yahoo group one day I asked if anyone had any info on this Paul Vanase as he and the Nomi seemed to share certain commonalities. I honestly thought that I was grasping at straws as I had found very little info on the world wide web about him. My asking for info was a dim, near random hope. Yet through my posting weeks later, shock of shocks, Paul’s own boyfriend contacted me. Not too long after that I heard from Paul himself! This was exciting news! I truly didn’t expect that I would be able to locate such a man. All is fine and tickled pink! Paul Vanase currently resides in Las Vegas after residing in LA and, prior to that, New York City for many years. The following interview with him was conducted through various e mail conversations during December 2005 and January 2006. Gentle readers, I must advise you to brace yourself for this interview’s tone, rendered in three sessions, as we will be floating in The World Of Baby Bones, brace yourself then relax and cast yourself adrift into this unique sphere.
RD: Your album has turned up in far flung geographical locales.
Vanase: After sparkling in the gutter glitter theatre and rock scenes how appropriate to end up in thrift stores coast to coast. My audience loves trash lol.
RD: Would you know why dozens of your albums have turned up in individual caches in thrift stores in LA several years apart?
Vanase: It seems to be timed to my moving about LA.
RD: What else have the musicians on the album done?
Vanase: Who knows.
RD: My copy says “Special Collectors Edition”- were there other editions?
Vanase: The first album prints for Baby Bones were the collector ones, the rest ran without the special words on it.
RD: The record says 1975 and 1978, why is that?
Vanase: Some of the songs were written in 1975 and some in 1978, and some from my Broadway show "Wonderful Woman."
RD: How many copies were there?
Vanase: There were 5000 pressed if i recall.
RD:Tell me more about the Baby Bones stage show.
Vanase: Every now and then i make comebacks and give a new twist and sample of Baby Bones to the new generation that looks in wonder. My stage show was summed up by one critic, “A trendy new trend encompassing all the pop, camp, neo-dada and hypersexuality of the broadway and glitter rock scenes rolled into one.” I was an audiovisual fling with decadence. We gave sleeze a bad name lol. It was like a troupe of high school brats weaned on too many hustler magazines and rocky horror picture shows presenting an extravaganza under the direction of the marquis de sade.
RD: What exactly was the character of Baby Bones?
Vanase: Baby bones was a cosmic cartoon kinda character changing costumes and moods every minute to create various results.
RD: How was the Baby Bones character different than you?
Vanase: He isn’t.
RD: When you toured the show where did you take it?
Vanase: Yes, i toured the Baby Bones show in Boston at the Rat, Philadelphia, Provincetown, Fire Island, Virginia, Rhode Island, the Catskills and a homecoming in my hometown in Connecticut which they were not ready for. When NewYorkCity had nothing happening i would sneak out and take the show on the road.
RD:What types of venues would you play?
Vanase: We took the show to just about every top night club in nyc including at that time the Copa Cabana, Max’s Kansas Vity, Hurrahs, Studio 54, we were a house band at CBGBs playing there lots.
RD: It seems like you could have one foot in and one foot out of a multitude of scenes, am I correct in that assumption?
Vanase: The purpose was to bone all kinds of audiences from punk rockers to disco bunnies to sophisticated broadway and cabaret audiences. We just glitterized the populace wherever we performed. All the music was original so where we played didn’t matter. We just couldn’t play copy tune venues and lounges. In the punk clubs id start the show as a heavy rocker long hair and rip the long hair off and expose my skinhead and put slashes of blue on my eyes it was time to indulge in a cosmic orgy of boner music.
RD: Does anyone approach you today about Baby Bones?
Vanase: Only New Yorkers and LA people who want to be in a new show, or if i’m out and about in lame.
RD: Tell me about your love of lame.
Paul: I loved the lame, esp silver…it’s so bright and shiny. i wore it in all my shows. My favorite full body jumpsuit was made out of this wild latex material that was coated with gold lame and cut down to the crotch. Others showed tits, I bared my navel. It was the closest to being fully naked on stage. It was like wearing a playtex living glove.
RD: How much lame did/do you own?
Vanase: Enough to fill a broadway stage.
RD: Do you still wear silver lame?
Vanase: Only to the Miss America 2006 pageant. It’s the first glamorous affair Las Vegas has hosted.
RD: Vegas must be a goldmine for lame! I hear that the thrifting there is amazing!
Vanase: Not really, LA is still the thrifting mecca unless you are into old casino uniforms.
RD: What exactly is the song “Sticking Needles through Paper Doll Eyes” about?
Vanase: It’s about my childhood.
RD: I notice that there’s a song called “Broken Chances 2” on your album. Was there a song entitled “Broken Chances 1”?
Vanase: Yes, it was much slower with a haunting melody.
RD: Did you release any other records?
Vanase: We did a 45 rpm called “electroshock me baby”- very headbanging scream.
RD: You had also told me that you were picking up master tapes of some recordings! What recordings are these?
Vanase: I have master tapes for a whole new opera, I’m working on getting cds made and doing a babybone show in vegas at the Onyxxx theatre. It will have a lot of video and art I’ve created also intertwined in the production. I’ve been asked to DJ at the liberace museum- now that could be an interesting event lol. More later I’m off to Planet Hollywood where I now work. Also I work at Luxor, I’m in the Attractions and Entertainment dept. We have Carrot Top and Dame Edna right now with Hairspray opening in Feb. It will be fun to see Harvey Fierstein since we both go back to the Glines Theatre. I remember I was doing “Glamour Glory and Gold.” I took over Robert De Niro’s role cuz he was going to Hollywood to do Taxi Driver talk about years ago lol. I opened the Glines Theatre with my show “A Drop In The Pudding”, a gay morality play. When I left nyc for hollywood Harvey worked with John Glines on his show. OK I’m off for now.
(Before the next interview session happened I was contacted by one Richard Holm. He found me through the exact same posting that I had made on the Nomi group where Paul’s boyfriend had found me! Richard’s e mail was most informative. He wrote, “Paul was one of the leading gay-glam actors/singers in NY of the late 1970’s and was part of the scene that included the Cockettes, Brenda Bergman, Candy Darling, Divine and Jackie Curtis….
He was Robert DeNiro’s understudy in an early off-off-Broadway play and then produced several musicals – culminating in Wonder Woman…
I was fortunate enough to camp-out on his sofa when I first went to NYC (we both went to the same high school in CT). Baby Bones was more than a ‘vanity album’ – since there were no commercial opportunities for obviously gay acts at that time – everyone self-produced. I produced his Electroshock single, but his standout work was ‘Sticking Needles through Paper Doll Eyes’. He had lots of gigs in the punk/glam scene at the time and he got some airplay – so it was definitely more than just a vanity pressing…
My personal favorite memory of Paul was the night that he took over the role in "Women Behind Bars" that Fanny Fox originated at the Truck and Warehouse on E. 4th Street…. The show featured Divine who always took her final stage bows dressed in the gown she made famous in ‘Pink Flamingos’. Well, Paul had found a fabulous second-hand baby blue gown that was even better than Divine’s and, since he took his stage bow first, stole the show in his ‘more-than-divine’ gown… so when Divine finally came out for her bows – there was nothing more than polite applause….
Paul was fired before he even left the stage… but he had made his point…
Paul moved to LA in the 80’s and I haven’t heard anything since but its great that people have re-discovered him…”
With the arrival of that delightful e mail our next interview started ecstatically:)
RD: Paul, this fellow named Richard Holm emailed me and he wants to contact you.
Vanase: Wow, i can’t believe you found Rich, he knows the baby bone saga as he was my right hand man and the most wonderful friend i love and have missed for years thinking he was lost in a mist. I can’t wait till I tell him my new album is ready to go. I smell a creative juice. If you get his email or phone please forward it to me and vice versa, we need to make an obscure new film. Since I’ve been in hollywood my expertise lends itself toward that mode. Well i’m more than excited. You should write my biography and I have lots of connections in the publishing field after writing episodes of Fantasy Island with my other producer Charlene Keel. She brought me to la to do my rock opera “Cosmic Spunk” at the odyssey theatre. Those were the days- the mayor Tom Bradley came to see my midnite premiere, the Oingo Boingo Danny and the go mickey Toni Basil protege Janet Roston got my show up and running, all helped my endeavors. Oh yeah, “Torch Song Trilogy” was Harvey Fiersteins’ show that John Glines produced after i left nyc. Not bad, huh?
RD: What caused you to move to LA? Was it to do the “Cosmic Spunk” opera?
Vanase: My agent shipped me to LA to open my new opera “Cosmic Spunk” in ‘82 maybe. LA was ready for something different….
LA people know of Baby Bones and Club Fuck and The Ass Club. Baby Bones did lots of raves in the late 90’s. The Weekly gave it hot pick of the week in their music picks. That stage show featured a costume for every song with so many props that the stage caught fire one night- a stuffed dog poodle got accidentally placed on a floorlamp lol oops. We dedicated our shows to things such as rain, Paris, and ants that went marching one by one.
RD: What is the Cosmic Spunk world?
Vanase: Cosmic Spunk was a new wave shock rock opera that opened to rave reviews, a double page welcome in the LA Times announced the shockido, my new wave haircut at the time. It was my Babybones spit curl in pink, sometimes blue. The show ran for months. The Sheiks of Shock backed up the insanity. Guest stars were Darlene Love (of Phil Spector fame), Zelda Rubinstein (the Poltergeist lady), Rita Jenrette (the Wilbur Mills White House steps concubine). I was then on the TV show "The Book Of Lists" with Bill Bixby, Leslie Uggums and Ruth Buzzi. That’s where I found my good fairy LA Weekly founder and editor Cindy Randall. Then my producer Charlene Keel was doing the series "Rituals" and she suggested I write for TV. Which led to my writing for “Fantasy Island.” Herves’ ranch was at my disposal.
RD: You co-wrote episodes of "Fantasy Island?" Whaaaat? Tell me more!
Vanase: I ghosted scripts for my producer, Charleene Keel, for 2 seasons.
RD: Do you have any anecdotes about working with Divine? Jackie Curtis? The Cockettes? It seems like an interesting exciting scene sprang up from that period that you were very much a large part of.
Vanase: Anecdotes by the millions.. do you mean who was sleeping with who or quality entertainment at its’ best? divine was divine, i wasn’t eating no dog shit. It seemed you had to eat shit to be a star in those days. Jackie Curtis was flying high as usual and never changed her panty hose, he was a brilliant writer and I was blessed being on stage every night with the Warhol elite. The Cockettes arrived in nyc and I found myself in some limo going to the jungle putting dresses on over our combat boots. Anyone could be a cockette you just needed the ——— etc lol. I was hanging with Ruth Truth and Roller Rina in the angeles of light posse. nyc had Charles Ludlum and Hot Peaches in the spotlight. During that time i was covered in glitter during that minute. I remember having to go to the local corner store to buy 3 gallons of homogenized milk so Candy Darling could take her infamous milk baths. More in a minute, I gotta go to the fashion mall.
(Natch, the interview had to take a break and that’s understandable as good fashion is important, especially when it is from a mall that caters to such needs, we resume-ONE WEEK LATER- like nothing happened though something must have happened, something like fashion purchases!)
RD: A new Baby Bones show? Wow! Will you be performing live with a band? Is the music operatic? Or is it an opera in theme? What’s the theme of the new opera? Can you give away any tantalizing details?
Vanase: More. All i have to do is take my master tapes to the studio and turn them into vinyl or cd. The new album is textured opera music that ranges from hard rock to industrial opera if ever there was. The theme is searching for lost combat boots while sitting in a past circle. The opera takes place in circles of color past, present, and future; sort of a man of la mancha gone astray. There’s a psychedelic fly that lands and under its’ wings protrudes a me me fashion show all done in silhouettes of chartreuse green. Other details include a Bonnie and Clyde gangster scene ala 1920s flapper. The song “Bring Me Back My Dixie” is honky tonk cabaret .
RD: Tell me more about the new recordings.
Vanase: I feel like i’m gonna end up like Edith Massey The Egg Lady, running an antique store in Silverlake someplace where fans will come, sort of like a pilgrimage to view past decadence. So i should gild my combat boots silver and begin act one and create the 06 scene lol. The new album was created live in the backroom of a famous sex club in Silverlake la. I would arrive at 3 am and musicians would be everywhere plugging in wires and kinda pushing me outta the way. When they finally got set up they would hand me a mic and begin playing live and i created the melody lines and words. Along with my producer Leon we labeled the sessions from a to z so there’s 26 live sessions from the studio. I remixed the best takes and created the story line and i think only I understood where the concept was being developed into. Bands like Ethyl Meatplow and Drance and Sean De Lear and X and The Cramps even Sade visited the studio. Even Johnny Depp was around. It was the la underground scene lol.
RD: When was all of this done?
Vanase: The new stuff was created late 90s while i was running the ASS club in la. We were featured in National geographic as a tribe like culture of people. Now find that one in your excellent investigative exposes lol. The new album is created live- so live it took hours to edit. There’s so much material on it, choosing the songs was kinda mind blowing. The cast will be spontaneous and whoever is in the now will become the apparent cast. I love to cast people who are themselves already and just need a bit of fine tuning.
RD: When did you DJ in LA?
Vanase: I’ve djed every club in la from the early 90s till 2001 then i became a recluse and resurfaced 4 years later in vegas. I was offered an airline job yesterday so ill be able to fly around and glitterize america and all its foreign ports. You decide: coffee tea or baby bones. It’s all insane wild and wonderful and i’m just waiting to land into the hearts of all who need a touch of glitz to their lives.
RD: Anything else you want to add?
Vanase: There will be a last question I’m sure. I love digging into my past and pulling people out of the woodwork. Your excitement brought friends back into my life i thought were dead. And I also found out some were actually dead and that was sad. But it’s like a 25 year gap so i send out love to Charlene Keel my producer, Marcos my guy who got me my first dj job, Mark Mullhal my video producer, and Robert who picked up on a babybone whim and wrote an article that got me off my butt and back into the studio. Oh yeah, i can’t forget Dane who answered the yahoo posting, who brought us together and started this whole event, and Kim who has a great mag for this kinda stuff. That’s all for now, thanks, Paul
(Paul has recently sent me a postscript/life scoop telling me, “I got a job at Wynn las vegas in the entertainment dept. I’ll be working the shows “La Reve and Avenue Q and the new Bette Midler Theatre, too. I guess that’s why i love vegas. It’s fast furious and back in show biz lol. Now that’s up to the minute, Paul.”)
GET YOUR OWN SLAB OF BABY BONES WAX! Original sealed vinyl copies of "Paul Vanase in the World of Baby Bones" from the Los Feliz Goodwill Store stash can still be yours, but we have a very limited number left. Contact us to inquire.
Thanks to Sharpeworld for the link.
Visit Charlene Keel’s Tantalizing Tales.