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A murky future for Phase 1

Owner mum on plans to reopen; staffers say they were fired

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Phase 1 closed, gay news, Washington Blade

The future of Phase Fest is in question now that Phase 1 is closed. (Washington Blade file photo by Nicole Reinertson)

‘Phasepocalypse Now’

 

Feb. 6

 

Scandal DC

 

With DJ LezRage and DJ Deedub

 

the D.C. Kings Brolo and D.C. Gurly Show

 

Doors 9:30 p.m., performance 10

 

The Black Cat

 

1811 14th St., N.W.

 

It’s the end of Phase 1 as we know it and nobody feels fine.

What is going on at the famed lesbian nightclub in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that closed — ostensibly temporarily — last month?

The LGBT landmark, which has long boasted of being the oldest continually operating lesbian bar in the country, was open for New Year’s Eve and a few days thereafter but abruptly on Jan. 7 announced on Facebook that it “will be closed temporarily as we make some upgrades.”

Sounds reasonable enough on the surface, but the vagueness of the announcement, the fact that no details or target reopening date were given and nothing changed on its official website (phase1dc.com hasn’t been updated for months and there’s no sign on the door of the physical location indicating it’s closed) have led to rampant speculation among fans of the bar. The clincher, however, is that the entire staff was let go as well.

But it hasn’t stopped the party as the Scandal DC team, which just started staging in December what are said to be monthly events, is holding “Phasepocalypse: Now” on Feb. 6 at the Black Cat and using the official Phase 1 Facebook page to cross-promote it.

Angela Lombardi, who worked at Phase 1 for just over a decade and managed it for nine years, is part of the Scandal team (with Katy Ray) and says the event is needed because the Phase closed abruptly.

“Basically it’s just an excuse for all of us to get together and feel we have a little bit of home even if it’s not at Phase 1,” Lombardi says. “The (D.C.) Kings, the Gurly Show, all the original staff members will be there. It’s a chance for us all to feel a little better. Not just a selfish party for all of us to wallow but because there was too much good that was happening to just let it go.”

So is the location at 525 8th St., S.E. (not to be confused with Phase 1 Dupont, a spin-off club that was open occasionally in the old Badlands/Apex space off Dupont Circle) really being renovated — the exterior shows no signs of it so far — or will longtime owner Allen Carroll close the 45-year-old bar or perhaps wipe the slate clean and start over with an entirely new staff? Now that the initial shock of the closing has subsided, the city’s lesbian community is hungry for details.

The short answer is nobody knows. Carroll is laying low — he didn’t return a half-dozen voicemail messages left at multiple locations (including Ziegfeld’s/Secrets, which he also owns) over the course of nearly a week and neither did he respond to another Blade reporter in January who tried to reach him when initially writing of the bar’s closing.

People who’ve known Carroll for years such as Rick Rindskopf, former manager of the shuttered Remington’s, aren’t surprised.

“This is normal for him, not returning calls,” says Rindskopf, who knew Carroll years ago at the old Follies movie theater and at Ziegfeld’s. “He just doesn’t do it. Allen has always been somewhat secretive about what he’s doing and what’s going on. He has expressed to me the desire to retire at some point — he’s in his 70s after all — … but nothing Allen does or doesn’t do surprises me. … He just generally doesn’t share what’s going on.”

Carroll, who’s gay, and his late partner, Chris Jansen, opened Phase 1 in 1970. Veterans of the Marines and Air Force respectively, they worked at adjacent bars on Eighth Street, S.E., Joanna’s, a lesbian bar where Carroll worked, was closing so he and Jansen sensed an opportunity. For a time, they also ran the Other Side, a large lesbian club that eventually morphed into Ziegfeld’s/Secrets.

Carroll did speak to the Blade five years ago on Phase 1’s 40th anniversary in Feb. 2010 and said the bar has always been special.

“We had hard times and good times, but it felt like home,” he said in 2010. “We always held on. They always come in and always say, ‘We know to come back here.’ It’s a good feeling.”

But this is the first time Phase 1 has been closed this long at one time. Some fear the bar may just fade into the sunset with a whimper instead of a bang. Others shrug it off as sad but merely a sign of the times and point to the closing of San Francisco’s the Lexington Club, which shuttered in October. In the last five or so years, other historic lesbian bars like Sisters in Philadelphia, T’s Bar & Restaurant in Chicago, the Palms in West Hollywood and the Egyptian Club in Portland, have also closed. Those involved cited gentrification and the accompanying skyrocketing cost of doing business as factors.

“I actually didn’t want to talk to people at first, but now I’m at my pissed stage,” Lombardi says. “Basically the way he phrased things to us was that even though some of us had been there longer than 10 years, we weren’t doing a good enough job and that he’s going to come in and close down for renovations and basically fix the busted sound system that we’d been asking to have repaired for years, paint and whatever else. … He wouldn’t come out and say it, so I said, ‘Oh, so I’m fired,’ and he said, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ and blah blah blah, but yeah, that’s pretty much how it went down.”

Senait, a Phase 1 institution who also worked there for 10 years, got a similar call on Jan. 4 and says it was both shocking and hurtful. Lombardi says Carroll initially suggested she inform Senait, but Lombardi insisted Carroll call her himself.

“My opinion is it could have been done in a more professional way,” Senait says. “People lose jobs all the time, but he could have called us in and said this is what is happening but he didn’t have the courtesy to do that. He just called us on the phone and said, ‘I’m letting you go.’”

Senait says she thinks the renovations are legit, though Lombardi says, “My mind would be blown if it’s anything more than a coat of paint and repairs to the sound system.” Some have questioned why the renovations couldn’t have been done on the four days per week the bar was closed.

“He said he was sort of thinking, I don’t know, two weeks or something,” Senait says. “He was not very clear about the whole thing. I think he started doing some stuff last [week]. I don’t think he’ll shut it down. I think he will reopen.”

Lombardi says tensions have been brewing for a while. She traces it back to 2012 when Carroll moved her to the then-new Dupont location, which she says she had misgivings about even at the outset, mainly because she didn’t think D.C. had enough lesbians interested in nightlife to keep both the cavernous Dupont location and the original Phase both running indefinitely, a hunch that turned out to be correct.

“I felt crippled there,” Lombardi says. “He wouldn’t let me do anything.”

About four years ago, Lombardi started spending time in Chico, Calif., helping her brother run the Maltese, a straight bar that also hosts gay events. Though she’d invested years into the Phase and even, at one point, hoped to buy it from Carroll, she says she eventually started spending more time in California. Senait would manage Phase 1 when she was gone.

“I’ve known for the last two years that things at Phase weren’t secure and it wasn’t sustainable,” Lombardi says. “It really pains me to say it because when it was good, it was so good. I kind of had a feeling I might just be left out in the cold someday and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.”

Ken Vegas (aka Kendra Kuliga), director and founder of the D.C. Kings, says that while the timing was a shock, he’d had a sense for “several years” that things were uncertain there. The Kings, who are celebrating their 15th anniversary in March, performed 180 consecutive monthly shows at Phase 1 starting in March 2000.

“It’s kind of like holding your breath,” Vegas says. “I’m not completely surprised that it went down. It sucks. A lot of my friends are people who worked there and they’re the people who are getting the effects of this decision . … But I’m still kind of stunned. Even if it does re-open, if the people who were staffing it there are not rehired, it’s not going to be the same. It wasn’t the four walls that made it the Phase, it was the people — Angela, Jasmine, Little Fitz (Erin Fitzgerald), Senait, Ellis — those were the people who showed up even when they knew they were probably only going to make $20 if they were lucky. They kept it open and made it a safe space anytime for the community to come in, have a drink and not feel judged. … It was a safe space for the Kings and the Gurlys to come share our art and feel completely at ease.” (The Kings have continued performing monthly — after the Feb. 6 event, they’ll be at the Lodge in Boonsboro, Md., in March.)

Even with the hurt feelings, Lombardi and Senait describe Carroll as family.

“I love Allen, he’s family even through all of this,” Lombardi says. “I will never take away what he did for this community or take it for granted. He gave me a life, he helped me discover who I am. That’s priceless, so even though things are ending on a rather bitter note, I love him and I hope the Phase will go on another 40 years. I just thought I’d be a part of it.”

Senait has similar feelings.

“He’s like a second father to me,” she says. “I have nothing against him. I want him to be successful. I love that bar. It was a second home to me, where I found myself as a gay person and became comfortable.”

They also agree that business was likely a strong factor in the decision. Senait says in recent years it, “hasn’t been that great, to be honest.” Many have written about how lesbian nightlife trends tend to differ from those of gay men and also how the evolutions of society, from meeting people online to broader acceptance at traditionally straight venues, have changed things.

“Things overall just aren’t as segregated as they once were,” Vegas says. “Back in the day, I really didn’t feel safe outside of a queer bar but now there’s less of a need because there’s less of a focus on that. It’s just one of the symptoms when you get equalized and get more acceptance, there becomes less of a need for a designated space for us to be gay. We can be gay anywhere we want. I can go out with my short hair and my outfit and my wife and we just act like our own little selves. We don’t get side eyes or feel insecure. We can be open in the grocery store, the coffee shop, wherever. With marriage legalized here now, there’s just much more acceptance to be openly queer.”

Though Lombardi was long celebrated for her vision and seemingly endless stream of parties and theme nights to get women in the doors, she says Phase finances had become harder in the last few years. Though monthly parties like BARE by LURe and the now-defunct She Rex always siphoned off patrons, the beauty of Phase 1, she says, was that there was always a lesbian-specific option even if there wasn’t a party happening any given night.

Phase 1 closes

Angela Lombardi (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“We often got hit by whatever the new party was at the time so we had ups and downs but we made it through all the parties over the years,” she says. The fate of her brainchild, the nationally prominent, eight-year-old Phase Fest indie queer music festival, always held in September, is up in the air.

Her vision, had she had the opportunity, would have been to have a straight bar upstairs to essentially help bankroll Phase 1.

The changing neighborhood, too, was a factor. Though not gentrifying at the rapid pace of, say, Logan Circle/14th Street, N.W., property values there have steadily increased. Though Carroll owns the building (he does not own the Ziegfeld’s/Secrets location), property taxes for 2014 according to District records, were a whopping $31,836. Carroll paid penalties last year for late payments. Taxes for the property jumped significantly in recent years going from about $4,800 in 2006 to nearly $9,700 in 2007 and from nearly $9,600 in 2010 to more than doubling to nearly $23,000 in 2011, according to public D.C. tax records.

“I ran the Phase forever, I know it can’t afford to be on that block anymore, of course not,” Lombardi says.

She also says if Carroll hopes to make the bar successful with a new staff and minimal refurbishing, he’s in for a rude awakening.

“I’m sure he’ll reopen, have some kind of a 45th anniversary event,” she says. “He told me that’s what he’s going to do but if he thinks he’s going to just reopen, he’ll see pretty fast just what it takes to keep it going. It’s going to be pretty rough.”

If it does close, Rindskopf says people need a chance to say goodbye.

“People who’ve supported a bar for years deserve a little consideration,” he says. “I thought [the closing of] Remington’s was handled about as well as it could have been. It doesn’t sound like they’re getting that in this situation. … I believe in being fair to the customers, let alone the employees.”

Senait says even in the last few weeks, things have improved a bit and she and Carroll have spoken.

“My feelings were hurt, but I got over it,” she says. “He calls me now and then. We talked last Monday. This does seem out of character for him so I don’t know what’s going through his head. I don’t even know what kind of changes he’s looking for. He made it sound like he was looking for something different and that’s his choice, it’s his bar. I fully support him and want him to be successful, but I don’t ever want it to be shut down, period. Whether I’m working there or not, it’s there for every queer, lesbian, transgender person to feel safe in those walls. I don’t want that opportunity to go away for anyone. It was never just a bar — it was a community.”

Lombardi, as one might imagine, has mixed feelings.

“There are some of us — and this is how delusional we are — who even though we know there’s like a 95 percent chance it’s over for us, do I hang onto that five percent possibility that he’ll realize the mistake and say, ‘Come back.’ Yeah, I’m hanging onto that five percent.”

She also says even if it ends this way, Carroll still deserves tremendous thanks from the community, many of whom took the bar for granted in Lombardi’s opinion.

“I still have to give him incredible props,” she says. “He’s done more than fucking anyone else, more than any lady, more than anyone for our community and for that he deserves serious accolades. He kept it open through thick and thin. That’s his baby. That’s the bar that started it all for him and Chris. Allen has really fought for 45 years to keep those doors open.”

Phase 1 closed, gay news, Washington Blade

Allen Carroll (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Dee Corrado

    February 6, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    I loved the phase, and I loved allen and chris..always

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Camp classic ‘Mommie Dearest’ turns 40

Digital re-issue offers fans new insights, John Waters commentary

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Rutanya Alda, left, with Faye DunawayMara Hobel and Jeremy Scott Reinholt in ‘Mommie Dearest.’ (Photo courtesy Alda)

In a 2016 People magazine interview, Oscar-winning actress Faye Dunaway admitted to regretting her over-the-top portrayal of Joan Crawford in the 1981 movie “Mommie Dearest” (Paramount), newly reissued on Blu-ray and digital as part of the Paramount Presents series. Of the movie, based on the equally OTT memoir by Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina, Dunaway said, “I should have known better, but sometimes you’re vulnerable and you don’t realize what you’re getting into. It’s unfortunate they felt they had to make that kind of movie. But you can’t be ashamed of the work you’ve done.”

“That kind of movie” pretty much tanked Dunaway’s career after that. However, it also titillated and delighted countless fans upon its release and in the 40 years since. A multitude of lines have become iconic in the LGBTQ vernacular and classic scenes have become sources of endless entertainment. So, how good or bad is it?

From the minute the gloved hand of actress Joan Crawford (Dunaway) turns off her alarm at 4 a.m. and saunters into the bathroom to begin her morning routine, we know we’re in for something out of the ordinary. Dressed to kill, she heads to the studio, reading scripts and autographing photos in the back of a limo, Crawford was nothing if not devoted to her craft and fans.

She was also devoted to cleanliness, an obsession that would become one of the contributing factors in her descent. In one iconic scene, she berates a housekeeper, “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.”

A first-rate performer in all aspects, Crawford’s annual Christmas gift-giving extravaganza at an orphanage stirs up her desire for motherhood. Unable to conceive, the twice-divorced actress discovers she is not a candidate for adoption, despite believing she can be a mother and a father, providing both a “wonderful and advantaged life.” Her lawyer boyfriend Greg (Steve Forrest) pulls some strings and Crawford becomes mother to baby Christina.

It doesn’t take long (OK, a few years) before the cracks start to show, beginning with a birthday party for Christina (Mara Hobel, in a thankless role), complete with a carousel, an organ grinder and monkey, and a new baby brother named Christopher. Signs of tension are present in Joan’s interactions with Christina, including her bristling at her daughter’s tone of voice. When Joan catches Christina mimicking her while seated at her mother’s vanity, she flips out, butchering her hair.

Christina isn’t the only object of Joan’s aggression. Greg walks out on Joan after a disagreement, and she deals with it by cutting him out of every photo they took together. Studio head Mayer (Howard Da Silva) sends her packing, utilizing the creative differences excuse. This leads to the famous rose garden freak out (of “Tina, bring me the ax” fame). Shortly after winning the Oscar for “Mildred Pierce,” Joan discovers a wire hanger in Christina’s closet leading to the notorious “No wire hangers, ever!” beating scene.

Not even teenage Christina (Diana Scarwid), away at boarding school is safe from Joan’s wrath. After Christina is caught getting intimate with a boy, Joan removes her from the school. Back at home, where a journalist is busy writing a story about Joan, Christina and her mother have a heated argument, resulting in the classic slap sequence and the delivery of the “I’m not one of your fans” lines.

Having almost killed Christina, Joan sends her off to convent school. After graduating, Christina returns home to discover that not only has her mother remarried – to soft drink king Al Steele (Harry Goz) – but she has put her home up for sale with plans to relocate to New York. Needless to say, the mother/daughter relationship never improves, which explains Christina’s barbed-wire memoir.

Perhaps Dunaway, who worked with uneven director Frank Perry (“The Swimmer,” “Diary of Mad Housewife,” and “Play It As It Lays,” and the bombs “Hello Again” and “Monsignor”) in the past, should have known better. Regardless, “Mommie Dearest” went from shocking biopic to camp classic at light speed, and for that, we are forever grateful. Plus, with Halloween just around the corner, “Mommie Dearest” is a fab reminder of what a great (and terrifying) costume Joan Crawford can be.

In a 2015 interview with the Blade, actress Rutanya Alda, who played long-suffering maid Carol Ann in the film, talked about her surprise at first seeing the film.

“When the audience laughed, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ I was kind of taken aback because I knew (producer) Frank Yablans and (director) Frank Perry’s intention was to make this really serious drama and of course it turned into this kind of camp happening right from the get go,” Alda said. “Even Paramount was caught off guard and they didn’t know how to promote it because it became such an audience experience right away. … I was actually quite pleased because the audience really got into it. It was just amazing to me.”

Alda added that Dunaway should have embraced the campy results of the final film.

“The audience of ‘Mommie Dearest’ is a great audience and I think they are disappointed that Faye has never embraced the film,” Alda said. “If I were Faye Dunaway, I would have said, ‘Look, I was great in the part, I did great things. OK, maybe I had an over-the-top performance, but it worked, didn’t it?’ … She’s really deprived herself of a great audience of people who love the movie and it’s a detriment to her. Look at all the joy she missed.”

Blu-ray special features include commentary by drag legend Hedda Lettuce and filmmaker John Waters, “Filmmaker Focus” with Frank Perry biographer Justin Bozung, short features including “The Revival of Joan,” “Life With Joan,” and “Joan Lives On,” as well as a photo gallery and the original theatrical trailer. Rating: B-

Faye Dunaway, left, as Joan Crawford, and Rutanya Alda as Carol Ann on the set of ‘Mommie Dearest.’ (Photo courtesy Alda)
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Stupid things not to do when you get old

Steven Petrow’s new book on aging is funny yet poignant

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Author Steven Petrow’s new book addresses aging issues. (Photo by Bethany Cubino)

Diane Sawyer, the former ABC News anchor, gave award-winning journalist Steven Petrow some advice on what he could do to look younger. “Anchors don’t get older, they just get blonder,” she told him.

For many years, Petrow, who is gay, took Sawyer’s wisdom to heart. He had his salt and pepper hair colored. This went well, until a new colorist offered to use a new “natural” coloring process that would remove a third of his gray hair. Petrow came away “a honey brash blonde” whose hair “screamed dye job.”

This is one of the many funny, yet poignant, stories that Petrow with Roseann Foley Henry tells in “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old: A Highly Judgmental, Unapologetically Honest Accounting of All the Things Our Elders Are Doing Wrong.”

Written by Petrow with Henry, “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old” is part memoir and part manifesto.

Few things are more fraught with fear, anxiety and ageism than knowing that, if we live long enough, we’ll get old. Whether hetero or LGBTQ, no matter how much we love our parents, we don’t want to become like our folks when we’re elders.

Shortly after he turned 50, Petrow, who writes about aging, health, manners and civility, began to confront his ageist beliefs and vowed not to let aging limit or diminish his life.

As he reached the half-century mark and his parents “entered their sunset years,” Petrow began to make a list of what he called “the stupid things I won’t do when I get old.”

The list, which kept growing longer and longer, “proved to be a highly judgmental, not-quite-mean-spirited-but-close accounting of everything I thought my parents were doing wrong,” Petrow, now 64, writes in the book’s introduction.

Petrow first wrote about his list in a popular New York Times essay “Things I’ll Do Differently When I Get Old.” “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old” grew out of the essay.

Petrow’s list is, by turns, laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly moving.

He vows not to, as his Mom did, “forgo a walker because it wrecked my outfit.”

In one chapter, he promises that, “I Won’t Become a Miserable Malcontent, a Cranky Curmudgeon, or a Surly Sourpuss.”

Yet, in other more serious chapters, Petrow says that “I Won’t Lie to My Doctor Anymore (Because These Lies Can Kill),” “I Won’t Burden My Family with Taking Care of Me” and “I Won’t Forget to Plan My Own Funeral.”

Petrow, a columnist for the Washington Post and USA Today as well as a regular New York Times contributor, talked with the Blade by phone and email.

Petrow, whose previous books include “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” “The Lost Hamptons” and “When Someone You Know has AIDS” (3rd edition), grew up in New York City.

In 1978, Petrow graduated from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in history. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a master’s in history in 1982.

A former president of NLGJA (the Association of LGBTQ Journalists), Petrow lives in Hillsborough, N.C. His 2019 Ted Talk, “3 Ways to Practice Civility” has been viewed nearly two million times.

Petrow was born with journalism in his DNA. His father, journalist Richard Petrow, taught journalism for decades at New York University.

“My Dad was a great teacher,” Petrow said, “He traveled – got to meet people. I wanted to do what he did.”

In 1984, Petrow was diagnosed with testicular cancer. This experience is one reason why Petrow became a health care journalist. “I wanted to focus on health and medicine to teach people how to negotiate the health care system,” he said.

Negative buzz about aging is everywhere in the culture from magazine ads to birthday cards. “We start to become invisible when we’re in our 50s,” Petrow said, “this may be even more true – ageism may come earlier for gay men, and separately, more true, for women.”

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” Petrow added, quoting Bette Davis.

Research shows that the damage inflicted by ageism is real, Petrow said.

When we associate getting older with negative stereotypes about aging, our lives are shortened. “This ageism is as bad as smoking,” he said, “it takes seven years off our lives.”

It can be hard for people to find support and friends when they get old. But finding support is often more difficult for many in the queer community. There is more isolation among queer people as they age, Petrow said. “Many in their 60s lost their circle of friends during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”

Petrow seeks out multigenerational friendships. “I’m open to different perspectives,” he said, “I’ve learned so much from younger people.”

Petrow thinks outside the box of generational labels (boomers, millennials, etc.). He identifies as a “perennial.”

“Perennials are curious, engaged, passionate, and compassionate,” he said, “Millennials can be perennials. Boomers can be perennials. Anyone can choose to be a perennial.”

Petrow, who is often referred to as “Mr. Manners,” became interested in manners on a blind date in the 1990s. He and his date ended up as good friends. Through this connection, a book editor asked Petrow to do a book on gay manners.

“I’ve always been a bit like the weird person who’s fascinated with collecting and reading about arcane rules,” Petrow said. Wisdom can be found in etiquette books from decades ago, Petrow said. One of his favorite finds was in the first edition of a 1922 etiquette book by Emily Post. Just as we should think before we tweet, “It cautions people,” Petrow said, “not to write love letters that could end up on the front page of the newspaper.”

Generally, manners are the same for LGBTQ and hetero people. But there are some etiquette issues that apply specifically to queer people.

For example, what is the etiquette around revealing that someone you know – a family member, friend or co-worker is LGBTQ? “This is for an individual to do for themselves,” Petrow said, “not for any of us to do for another.”

Civility and manners are important to all of us in the COVID era, he reminds us.

“Throughout the pandemic I’ve been talking about, ‘we, not me,’ which is about thinking about others before self,” Petrow said, “And that’s really the only way we will get out of this.”

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Schock treatment: an interview with Gina Schock of the Go-Go’s

Drummer on her new book and upcoming Hall of Fame induction

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Gina Schock’s new book is out this month titled, ‘Made In Hollywood: All Access with the Go-Go’s.’

Too much of the Go-Go’s is never enough. In the 40 years since the all-female punk band burst on the scene with its unforgettable debut album “Beauty and the Beat” to some of the band members’ solo careers that followed its break-up to its ongoing reunion and the eye-opening 2020 documentary about the band, we just can’t get our fill. 

But wait, there’s more! Gina Schock, the Go-Go’s legendary drummer (she’s got the beat!), has just published a sensational coffee-table book, “Made In Hollywood: All Access with the Go-Go’s” (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2021) that features photos from Schock’s own stock, as well as her own personal recollections of her life in music. She made time for an interview before the publication of the book as well as the Go-Go’s long-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this month.

GREGG SHAPIRO/WASHINGTON BLADE: I’d like to begin by congratulating you, as well as the rest of the Go-Go’s, on your upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How do you feel about it?

GINA SCHOCK: It took so long for this to happen, and at first we were sort of like, “Hell’s bells! We don’t even care anymore.” Every year, we’d think “Maybe it’s gonna happen next year,” and it just wasn’t happening. Then it happens! We were all dumbfounded. We couldn’t really believe that we were nominated and then we got inducted! Everybody was pleasantly surprised. This is kind of great, kind of neat. I’m really happy about this now [laugh].

BLADE: At the same time, your memoir “Made in Hollywood: All Access with the Go-Go’s,” is being released. What did the experience of writing such a book mean to you?

SCHOCK: Actually, Gregg, it’s not a memoir. Kathy (Valentine) wrote a memoir. Mine is actually a book of photography.

BLADE: Right, but you also tell your story in the book.

SCHOCK: There’s a lot of writing in it, too. But I basically put this together because I had tons and tons of photographs. I’ve been moving them all over. Putting them in the closet here, under the bed there. I was like, “I have to do something with this. All these years of taking photos of the band.” Of course, everybody in the band was like. “Gina, you really need to put a photo book together!” I finally found the right guy to do it with and he helped me get it together, organize it, and help me work on the book. I couldn’t believe that along with the list of my credits will be photographer and author. It’s kind of mind-blowing. Things that you don’t think you’re capable of, and then when you have an opportunity to do something and maybe make a difference…certainly for The Go-Go’s. This needed to be out there. This is way long overdue; a book of photos with all of us. Photos that I’ve had that people have never seen. Also, you’re getting these photos from a band member’s perspective. With writing from one of the band members about what was going on during that period of time.

BLADE: I’m sure that looking at the pictures brought back lots of memories, but were you also a journal or diary keeper?

SCHOCK: Check this out! I don’t have a journal, but since 1978, Gregg, I have been keeping daily planners every single year. I’ve written down things that were going on during that time period. Not big, long stories, but this happened today, that happened yesterday, next week we’re going to be doing this. I used that as my reference. It was invaluable in the process. I now need to make room for them in the closet. I’ve got them all in drawers in cabinets in my office. It’s like, “OK, there’s no more room here [laughs]!” They were invaluable, like I said, in putting this together. What exact date did this happen? What was going on in November of ’83? It was important to have.

BLADE: Do you see the book as an extension of Alison Ellwood’s 2020 Go-Go’s documentary?

SCHOCK: No, but I’ll tell you that 99% of the photos in Alison’s documentary are mine.

It’s not an extension of that. This book has been in the works for decades. I just needed to find the right person to help me get it together. But when Alison was interviewing, I’d show her a photo and she would say, “Gina, can we come back and get some of these photos for the documentary?” I was like, “Of course, you can!” The majority of what you saw are my photos.

BLADE: The book is full of marvelous personal history details, such as performing with the late Edith Massey, known to many from her performances in some of John Waters’ movies. What do you think Edie would think of the book?

SCHOCK: She would be, [imitating Massey] “Oh, Gina, I’m so happy about your book! Finally, it’s about time!” Bless her heart and soul. I was doing an interview yesterday and I said, “If it wasn’t for Edie, I don’t know if The Go-Go’s would exist. Certainly not in the way that they have for the last more than 40 years. Things happen in a magical way, how it all comes together. No one really knows why somebody meets someone on that particular day at that particular time, and then something comes out of that that you can’t believe. Edie gave me the opportunity to come out to LA and San Francisco and New York and actually play in clubs. We got to play at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s; what a thrill that was. Then to come to LA and do three nights of the Nuart Theater and then play The Warfield up in San Francisco. That was the first time I’d ever been on a plane! After doing that with Edie, the minute I got back to Baltimore I realized it was time to make a move. It gave me the courage to believe that I could go back to any one of these places and I’m going to do something! By the way, Edie was such a lovely person. A sweetheart.

BLADE: Another scoop for the readers that I loved was the part about the Go-Go’s performing with ska in the early 1980s, leading to the collaboration with Terry Hall on the song “Our Lips are Sealed,” which was a much bigger hit for the Go-Go’s than for Terry’s band Fun Boy Three. Do you know how he felt about that?

SCHOCK: I have no idea how he felt, but I’m sure he was happy because all Terry Hall  was hearing was “ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching [laughs].” I think Terry was quite happy about that. I would be. When Jane brought in the song, she was scared to death to play it for us because it was basically like a love letter that she readjusted a little bit lyrically and put some chords and a melody to. She played it for us, and we were like, “Jane, this song’s great!”

BLADE: We are all saddened by the recent passing of Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones. In your book, you wrote about the Go-Go’s opening for The Rolling Stones. Can you please say a few words about what Charlie meant to you as a fellow drummer?

SCHOCK: There were two drummers that were my heroes growing up. That was Charlie Watts and John Bonham (of Led Zeppelin). Those two guys are part of the reason I started and kept playing drums. To think that many years later I actually got to meet my hero and talk to him. I got to sit on his drum kit! I talked to his drum tech!

That was one of the biggest thrills of my life. Then to be able to just open for the Stones, I mean, God! Wow, what a thrill! He was, of course, a gentleman. Very quiet kind of guy; soft-spoken. A lovely guy; very personable, very sweet. I didn’t have a lot of time to talk to him, but when I did my heart was pounding. I couldn’t believe it. Meeting David Bowie was the same sort of thing. You have such adoration for these people. The impact they have on your life in many ways, not just musically.

BLADE: You put some personal thoughts and experiences in the book, including your open-heart surgery to correct an atrial septal defect, yours and the band’s encounters with drugs and recovery, the break-up of the band and issues with songwriting revenue. Was it painful or freeing to revisit these subjects?

SCHOCK: It was a little bit of both. It brought up some really heavy things that went down. But all those things have been ironed out and taken care of. Everything is good now and it has been for many years. The songwriting splits were a big part of why the band broke up. It seemed very unfair to me. I have to tell the truth [laughs]. I have to be honest with the people that I’m working with. They are my family, and nobody can hurt you worse than somebody in your family. I think I explained it all in the book the best that I can.

BLADE: Following the original break-up of the Go-Go’s, you formed the band House of Schock with Vance DeGeneres, brother of Ellen DeGeneres. What are the chances that, aside from the Smothers Brothers, two funny people would come from the same womb?

SCHOCK: Yeah, right [laughs]? It’s crazy, right? Vance was fresh out of New Orleans and I don’t know how I met him; (through) a friend of a friend or something. We hit it off right away. I don’t like to do anything by myself, Gregg. I always want a partner in crime. I like a team! That’s why I always want to be in a band. I never want to be a solo anything. I like being in a band. I like having other people to bounce ideas off of. I’m not the greatest at anything, but I’m pretty good when you put me with somebody else who’s talented as well. Vance and I worked great together. Ellen had just come to town and she was just starting out in the comedy clubs. We’d meet and have dinner. She’d ask me lots of questions about who I thought was a good agent to see. It was very sweet to watch everything happen for her. One of the funniest things, I told this to somebody the other day, I’ll never forget this. Ellen said to me, “Gina, do you think if I make a lot of money one day, would you sell me your house [laughs]?” I don’t remember what I said, but I’ll never forget her asking me that. Because Ellen could buy a city block!

BLADE: In 2018, the Go-Go’s went to Broadway with the musical Head Over Heels, featuring the band’s music. What was that experience like for you?

SCHOCK: That was another unbelievable moment being in the Go-Go’s. To think that this punk band, so many years later, has a musical on Broadway is absurd. But it happened! It’s another crazy thing that just happened! There’s a lot of work involved, don’t get me wrong, and years and years of being in this band and working our butts off to achieve the status that we have in the industry. But it was still an incredible thrill. To meet all the Broadway actors and all, my God, those people can really sing and act! I was never a big fan of Broadway, but I am now. I was knocked out! They’re so fucking talented. It’s such a thrill to watch them interpreting our songs woven into this 17th-century short story.

BLADE: Recently, Belinda’s son (James) Duke (Mason), posted a happy birthday message to you on social media in which he referred to you as his “Auntie.”

SCHOCK: Yes! I love Dukie! I watched that little boy grow up. I just adore him. I will always be in his life. He’s very precious to me.

BLADE: When Duke came out, Belinda became a very outspoken advocate for the community. Would you mind saying a few words about your connection to the LGBTQ+ community?

SCHOCK: I don’t know what my relationship really is. All I know is that I’m who I am. I’m a musician and I will fight for anything or anybody that has had a difficult time in society. Just live your life. Society creates its own do’s and don’ts and rights and wrongs for people, which is just a load of crap to me. Everyone should be allowed to be who they are, and love who they want to love, and marry who they want to marry. Love is love; it has no gender. It’s the most important thing we can give to one another. It’s what this world needs now more than ever. Never think for a second you haven’t got the right to love whomever you fall for because love is always right. It is a human right! 

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