Ann-Margret: Born to be Wild

By Steve Beard
The legendary entertainer Ann-Margret, now 81, just released an album of early rock and roll and pop hits. The New York Times correctly observes that she “has always spoken in a voice that falls somewhere between a purr and a coo” in a recent story about her latest recording endeavor. The guest musicians include The Who’s Pete Townshend, The Fuzztones, and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, and features duets with Pat Boone, Cliff Richards, and Mickey Gilley.

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Remembering Bettie Page

Bettie Page, Creative Commons.

By Steve Beard

Ah, those jet-black Bettie Page bangs. Sixty-five years after they were immortalized on a pin-up icon, you still occasionally see them on the pale hipsters with the cat-eyed glasses. That’s just one of the lasting manifestations of Bettie Page’s industrious and enigmatic seven-year modeling career. She was a splash of rockabilly, a dash of Goth, and an extra helping of sass.

Today would have been her 100th birthday.

She died at the age of 85, on Thursday, December 11, 2008. She suffered a heart attack and had been placed on life support, never regaining consciousness. Her funeral was conducted at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles by the Rev. Robert Schuller, founding minister of the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California. In attendance, was Page’s longtime friend Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine (she appeared in the magazine in 1955), and burlesque actress Tempest Storm, who starred with Page in the 1950 film “Teaserama.”

In some ways, Bettie Page is more popular today than she was in the Eisenhower-era. You can purchase her image on playing cards, t-shirts, lunch boxes, beach towels, lighters, key chains, and fridge magnets. There are even a few Bettie Page action figures. Continue reading

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The next generation of hula

Agnes Renee Leihiwahiwaikapolionāmakua Thronas Brown at Merrie Monarch Festival. Photo: Merrie Monarch Festival Facebook.

By Steve Beard

You know you’re in a truly enchanted location when the television evening news on Maui closes out the broadcast with a graceful troupe of hula dancers. It’s not a marketing ploy. Instead, it’s part of cultural preservation – as much a part of the rhythm of Hawai’i as the pounding of poi and the crashing waves of the Pacific.

Over the years, I have learned to respect this treasured indigenous art form – language and history in motion. This past weekend, Agnes Renee Leihiwahiwaikapolionāmakua Thronas Brown won the Miss Aloha Hula competition at the 2023 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai’i. For 60 years, the week-long celebration has been the top-tier competition for hula – male and female, ancient and modern, solo and group. It’s going on my bucket list.

For aficionados, the festival is the Olympics of hula for the islands. It showcases traditional chants (oli) and dances (hula kahiko), as well as modern counterparts (hula ‘auana). Through hand gestures – some resembling the steady waves of the ocean ­– and movements, they tell legends of the islands, great leaders, and beautiful locations. I spent my weekend watching the performances online. Continue reading

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Father Damien: Right Hand of a Saint

Mosaic of Father Damien at Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina, Maui. Photo by Steve Beard.

By Steve Beard

Looking across the shades of aqua blue water from the northwest coast of Maui, there are two Hawaiian islands seen in the distance. One is Lanai, once home to the largest pineapple plantation in the world. Today, the island is privately owned by billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle and known for its exclusivity, luxurious accommodations, and spectacular golf course.

The other island is Molokai, known around the world for over a century because of the selfless ministry of Father Damien. From the first time I saw the two sparsely populated islands, Molokai’s tragic and triumphant saga of faith and kindness has held a magnetic appeal.

In 1866, the Kingdom of Hawaii forcibly exiled those suspected of having leprosy (known today as Hansen’s disease) to a small plot of land on Molokai. Called Kalaupapa, the peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the majestic Pacific Ocean and boxed in by a towering 3,600-foot cliff. Father Damien called it a “living graveyard.” Continue reading

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When Johnny Loved Nora: Till Death Do Us Part

Sex Pistols perform in Paradiso, Amsterdam. Creative Commons.

By Steve Beard

When the notorious Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon) appeared on the fledgling punk rock scene decades ago as the front man for the Sex Pistols, he didn’t appear as a likely candidate for being fully committed to a 44-year marriage.

Instead, he was Public Enemy #1 in Great Britain and routinely denounced by politicians. He brutally mocked the monarchy in “God Save the Queen” and stirred a cauldron of teenage discontent with songs such as “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “Pretty Vacant.” His band savored unhinged chaos at their shows, and ­Rotten declared his intention to destroy everything.

Rolling Stone’s 1977 story on the band began by invoking a biblical notation: “Instead of perfume here will be rottenness” (Isaiah 3:24). “Rotten is perhaps the most captivating performer I’ve ever seen,” reported Charles M. Young. “He really doesn’t do that much besides snarl and be hunchbacked; it’s the eyes that kill you. They don’t pierce, they bludgeon.”

In the midst of that era’s mayhem, Lydon fell head over stilettos for Nora Forster, the woman who would capture his heart. At the age of 80, she died on April 6. They had been married since 1979. “The first time I met Nora, everyone told her not to talk to me because I was completely horrible,” Lydon (67) said with a smirk in an interview with Irish TV. “We ended up laughing and loving each other.” Continue reading

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Happy Birthday Brian Setzer!

Brian Setzer Orchestra, 2013, Houston. Photo by Steve Beard.

By Steve Beard

Sending the grandest Happy Birthday wishes to Brian Setzer. Most well-known for his hair “piled high” and shredding on a vintage Gretsch guitar, he played a monumental role in reintroducing young punks like me around the globe to the retro sounds of rockabilly and roots rock.

The magnetism of that bygone era when rock and roll was young and brassy permeated Southern California while I was in high school in the early 1980s. Seeing Stray Cats and Blasters shows in LA was all the ignition that my bandmate Troy Meier and I needed to launch The Belvaderes, our own fledgling rockabilly band. There were garage bands percolating all over the Southland. Having cut our teeth on punk rock shows in smaller clove-smoke-filled clubs, those larger electrifying concerts flipped our world upside down. Setzer, the Alvin brothers, and other local rockabilly bands (The Red Devils, The Lifters, Jimmy and the Mustangs, the Rockin’ Rebels, the Paladins) provided the kind of atomic inspiration we needed.

The spotlight on stage in that era, however, was trained right on Setzer. He was the stylish Pied Piper with a peroxide-blonde pompadour of 1950s-infused rock. There was even an aggressive touch of punk in songs such as “Storm the Embassy” and “Rumble in Brighton.”

Fans were mesmerized by the seemingly primitive instrumentation of a stand-up drum kit, a dog house acoustic slap bass, and Setzer’s vintage Gretsch hollow-body guitar. Continue reading

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Happy Birthday Mike Ness

Mike Ness mural featuring the infamous Cuckoo’s Nest night club in Costa Mesa, California. Photo by Steve Beard.

Happy Birthday to Mike Ness, legendary frontman for Social Distortion – the pride of Orange County punk rock from the early 1980s and way beyond. About the same time that Social Distortion was getting ready to explode, my friends and I were squirrely and burr-headed malcontents spending our hard-earned minimum wage on clove buzzes and getting into shows at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa (mural of Ness and the ever-contentious Cuckoo’s Nest was unveiled back in 2017 in Costa Mesa on the Floyd’s 99 Barbershop). Back in the day, there were plenty of those in the music industry who thought the new wave of rock was the approaching hoofbeats of the apocalypse. But the sonic sounds provided the stadium rock establishment with a well-deserved kick in the rear. That was where the energy was boiling. Continue reading

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Mike Ness: Punk Rock’s Miracle Boy

Mike Ness, frontman of Social Distortion, during a 2012 concert in Tilburg, Netherlands. Creative Commons.

Happy Birthday to Mike Ness, the legendary leader of Social Distortion. In honor of his birthday, enjoy this 2007 interview conducted by our colleague Troy M. Meier, my former bandmate in The Belvaderes. Cheers.

By Troy M. Meier

While members of Green Day were still in grade school watching the Smurfs, Social Distortion was tearing up punk rock clubs in Southern California – paving the way. Years before The Offspring had sprung, the Dropkick Murphys had even thought about teeing up, Blink-182 first blinked, or Pennywise was being minted, all these big-time, tour-bus, new-skool punks were taking lessons from Mike Ness, Social Distortion’s founder and front man.

Ness lit up American audiences as far back as 1980 and blazed a trail that would allow other bands to be saddled up on the Vans Warped Tour, MTV videos, documentaries, and subsequent fame and fortune. In fact, when Ness and Social Distortion were featured in the 1984 punk rock documentary Another State of Mind, the producers could’ve easily coined it: “How to be a punk rock musician.” Apparently many of the bands that would follow in their footsteps were watching ­– and taking notes. Continue reading

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Crucifixes, Guthrie, and the Dropkick Murphys

Photo by Iam Burn.

By Steve Beard

For the last few years, I’ve gotten hooked on livestreaming the Dropkick Murphys’ St. Patrick’s Day concert. This remains the one redemptive habit I’ve clung to from the pandemic years.

Over the last 25 years, the bagpipe-and-banjo-infused Celtic punk band has built a devoted fanbase in its sweaty moshpit. It played four straight nights to sold-out audiences over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend in their hometown of Boston. Continue reading

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Not Just Another Pretty Face: Raquel Welch, RIP

1966 movie poster for “One Million Years B.C.” and Raquel Welch’s 2010 cover her book “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage.”

By Steve Beard

“Contrary to popular myth, I didn’t just hatch out of an eagle’s nest, circa ‘One Million Years B.C.,’ clad in a doeskin bikini …,” wrote Raquel Welch about her provocative cavewoman publicity photo for the 1966 film. “With the release of that famous movie poster, in one fell swoop, everything in my life changed and everything about the real me was swept away. All else would be eclipsed by this bigger-than-life sex symbol.”

That’s the way she launched her engaging 2010 memoir “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage.” The Golden Globe-winning actress who appeared on stage and in dozens of films and TV shows died at her home in Los Angeles on February 15, 2023. She was 82.

Despite being the very definition of her generation’s bombshell, Welch never appeared in the nude for film or magazines, despite many lucrative offers. “I’ve definitely used my body and sex appeal to advantage in my work, but always within limits,” she wrote. “I feel strongly that a woman’s mystery is part of her appeal; and the power of the imagination is more potent and provocative than graphic on-camera sex or explicit nudity. I reserve some things for my private life, and they are not for sale.” Continue reading

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