On May 8 and 9, 2012, I took a giant leap in my evolution and broke through an almost 4 decades-long bout of stage fright, performing two sold-out performances of my Super Ball Bounce Back Review, a combo concert/sing-along/party extravaganza at King King in Hollywood.
Lack of performing has always been a raw, gaping hole in a long career that’s stretched across various fields of the arts, despite the fact that I’ve always had the balls to throw myself off cliffs as I periodically dive-bomb into pursuits I know nothing about. I’ve hosted multimedia theme parties where I’m perenially on mic so that even the conversations I have with everyone are blasted throughout my house or wherever else I host these beasts. And God knows I walk around in hair and clothes that makes peoples’ necks snap if they’ve never gotten a gander of me before. Throw in that I’ve sold 50,000,000 records despite the fact that to this day I have no idea how to read, notate or play music, and I sold hundreds of paintings before I realized that you mix colors to get different colors. So backing away from displaying myself publicly made absolutely no sense.
But then I realized that this theme of living fearlessly was at the heart of everything I ever created. View life as a creative process. You are the canvas. If you’re stuck with a weakness, for God sakes turn it into a hook. Nine times out of ten, you’re the bogey monster scaring yourself shitless so just get out the way! So I finally did.
So here then are four videos from my Super Ball Bounce Back Review. If you like them and are going to be in LA on September 21 and/or 22, I’m rising again at NoHoPAC in a salute to “September”, the first line of which mentions the date of the opening night.
And the whole enchilada:
In 1974, Allee Willis walked off stage in the middle of her own show. Now she’s finally coming back! The Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Webby award-winning and nominated songwriter, artist, singer, technologist, collector, and party thrower comes to the El Portal Theater in beautiful North Hollywood for one night only of songs, stories, and party games. Sing-along to Willis’ greatest hits like “September”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Neutron Dance”, “What Have I Done To Deserve This” and “I’ll Be There For You (theme from Friends)”! Win valuable prizes! Watch her as she attempts to get through the evening without walking off stage for another 37 years!
Show starts at 8:00PM, Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Doors open at 7:00PM with kitschy food + drinks, beer and wine available
So reasonable it’s crazy!
$24.99 and $34.99
(tickets are limited and they’re going fast…)
or call 1-866-811-4111
El Portal Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
“Ms. Willis…considers party-giving an art form” – New York Times
“Allee Willis’ parties are the campiest hot tickets in town” – People Magazine
“..A rare look inside the process of one of the most prolific and tenacious interactive media artists working today.” – salon.com
“Willis is the spokeswoman for this grand dance of junque nouvelle and vérité… as if Ozzie Nelson had acquired a sick and sudden taste for Surrealist poets. Her own interest in kitsch typifies the dichotomy that makes her interesting…The silliness, un-self consciousness, sense of whimsy and innocence are reflected in the absurd designs and bright colors (that surround her). Even the themes lack pretension… Hopeful images of a powerful America and its future.” – LA Weekly
“…A singular vision by an artist, who if not limited by building codes, would be the Simon Rodia of the 21st century.” – Chris Nichols, Los Angeles Magazine
I wasn’t going to do anything for my birthday this year. Too overworked and no extra coinage to throw around. But word leaked out and spread and all of a sudden these people, most of whom I’ve spent every birthday and momentous occasion with for umpteen years, showed up at my house:
Bottom row (L-R): Diva Zappa, Lisa Loeb, me, Prudence Fenton and Michael Patrick King.
Middle row (L-R): Jane Wagner, Lesley Ann Warren, Bob Garrett, Lily Tomlin, Pamela Des Barres, Karen Levitas, Gai Gherardi, Gail Zappa, Nancye Ferguson, Stan Zimmerman and Jim Burns. Top row (L-R): Ben Bove, RuPaul, Tom Trujillo, Roey Herschovitz, Jimmy Quill, Charles Phoenix, Sonny Ruscha Bjornson, Mark Blackwell and Jack Nesbit.
Though all of my friends may not practice kitsch like the religion I do, their lives and occupations are consumed with pop culture and they all bring unique individual style and vision to everything they do. None of us are color-in-the-lines people. Which means that when it comes to birthday presents, it’s fantasyland overload as their sensibilities collide with mine in harmonious gift wrapped chaos! For example, here I am with perennially great gift givers Nancye Ferguson and Jim Burns:
Jim is looking very happy because the video game he stars in, Call Of Duty Black Ops, was released the day before and set the opening day record for ANY type of entertainment,Is he is grossing $320,000,000 by the time he reached my house. Maybe that’s why they got me 14 gifts. Though Nancye and Jim are always reliable for a smorgasbord of age-inappropriate-unless-you-happen-to-be-me offerings like this magnificent 1950’s mother of pearl poodle pocket mirror/pill box:
… and this convenient land line phone ear piece for my iPhone:
They also gave me this wonderfully famous Enid Collins owl box purse…
…and this fantastic 50’s fold up wallet with plastic coin holder inside like the Good Humor ice cream man used to wear on his belt to give people change:
They also threw in this 1960’s Wilma Flintstone bathing cap.
Here I am with Pamela Des Barres, the world’s most famous groupie, and Diva and Gail Zappa, who came straight to my place from the airport after being honored at a Frank Zappa festival in London.
Pamela is a fabulous writer and also travels a lot for her work. Which is lucky for me and the rest of her friends as she hits thrift shops wherever she goes and picks up stuff for us all year round. She makes these finds for pennies and stacks them up so she can arrive like Santa Claus on any given occasion. These “On The Wagon’ coaster and snack trays she gave me are just about my favorite bar accessory ever!
I love when snacks are referred to as ‘Tid Bits’, especially when what is normally a single word is broken up into two separate words as stamped into the belly of the wagon.
This nightshirt could be the heaviest gift of the evening. It’s hard to see all the 1960’s pop culture graphics and slogans in this photo and I’m not sure who the characters on it are but there were more than a few vintage clotheshorses at the party, certainly including myself, and we all agree that Pamela’s $2 purchase would easily go for $500 in the right store.
Then there’s this early 60’s Make-Up Mask that you pull over your bouffant to protect the Max Factor from rubbing off your face when you pull your angora sweater over it:
Pamela graciously modeled it for us throughout the evening.
Her excellent gift giving instincts have definitely rubbed off on the other Des Barres in attendance, Michael, who reliably gives me fantastic African swag.
At one point there was a girl’s conference in the bedroom. Here I am with (L-R) Lily Tomlin,Prudence Fenton, and Jane Wagner:
Prudence not only cooked an incredible dinner for everyone but made the excellent “Crackerature” portrait of me that’s between our heads in the photo above.
Lily and Jane gave me the most ridiculous-in-the-best-kitsch-sense-of-the-word-ridiculous gift of the night:
He’s only about 3″ high, his little arms are made out of bobby pins and his body is some kind of overcooked Sculpy or baking soda concoction. The card that accompanied him was just as kitschy.
The Diller is Phyllis Diller, which adds a few pounds on the kitsch scale for this gift. The note Jane and Lily wrote me make the cheese wheel even weightier:
Joining Lily and I here is Stan Zimmerman. We all grew up in Detroit.
Stan added a little class to my gifts with this 1950’s signed Sasha Brastoff ashtray.
Here’s Lily and I with RuPaul. Both of them have added greatly to the kitsch cache of my alter-ego, Bubbles the artist, as they are the #1 and #2 collectors of her art, each owning over 20 pieces.
Michael Patrick King, seen here with Pamela Des Barres’ lovely feet, brought me some of my most Americanized presents.
He brought my gifts back from Dubai when he was there filming Sex and the City II. First, this green shopping bag featuring a carefree Michelle Obama:
And then this brain-numbing Muslim Barbie shoulder bag:
I got one more bag, actually a Kitsch Emergency Kit, from Karen Levitas.
It’s nice when your friends give you a healthy snack of sardines to enjoy while you read cheesy poetry from the 70’s:
Here I am with Mark Blackwell, who’s also a November 10th birthday baby, and Sonny Ruscha Bjornson, Lisa Loeb and Roey Hershkovitz:
Lisa and Roey gave me some quality reading material:
Maybe I will learn to make beautiful cakes like this one on page 110:
But when it comes to baking, there’s only one Supreme Master and I’m pictured with him here:
Just a few days before my party Charles Phoenix was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal with his signature “Cherpumple” cake, one of which he baked for me.
A Cherpumple is three Sara Lee cherry, pumpkin and apple pies stuffed inside three Betty Crocker cakes and frosted as one happy stack of sugary ecstasy:
Here’s my friend, Lesley Ann Warren, indulging in some. Perennially skinny and always eating healthy, she hit the Cherpumple as an extreme gesture of kitsch on my birthday.
Lesley was my first friend when I moved to Hollywood in 1976. She was also the first person ever to sing one of my songs on TV when she did the third song I ever wrote, “Childstar”, on Johnny Carson.
Some people went back for seconds of Cherpumple. Each plate weighs 2 lbs.
Gai Gherardi and Rhonda Saboff shared their Cherpumple:
They gave me an excellent pair of glasses from LA Eyeworks, which Gai co-owns and where I’ve bought all of my eye coverings for the last three decades.
When RuPaul arrived he brought me another birthday cake.
It was delicious but everyone had already gorged on too much Cherpumple.
Which means that everyone went home in sugar shock, the condition they’ve had much practice existing in as they’ve all been over to my house a trillion times before.
I didn’t have far to go as my bed was only feet away from the remains of the Cherpumple. I went to sleep with my crown on and had sugar sweet dreams anticipating a very good year to come indeed!
More party photos can be seen here.
I can’t think of anything Coke would go better with than a nice slab of liverwurst! Not sure what inspired anyone at the company to pick this meal combo to advertise the drink but I’m awfully glad they did because this 8″ x 24″ Litho cardboard sign has hung happily in my kitchen for almost 20 years. I’ve never done it the honor of munching down liverwurst when I pop the cap on a Coke but the sign inspired me enough that my alter ego, Bubbles the artist, painted a beautiful still life of the meal in 1999…
…and soon after also made this beautiful and appetizing dinner plate.
Both for sale. Actual liverwurst accompaniment is extra.
I only met Michael Jackson once. It was 1980 and I was at Hollywood Sound recording with Earth Wind & Fire and he was working in the room next door. This was before Billy Jean shot him into the stratosphere but Michael Jackson was still a music God. He walked over to me but as he gave me a big grin and very gentle almost-handshake someone burst into the studio and said Richard Pryor had set himself on fire. Everyone just froze and I quietly slipped out of the room. Those old school recording studios are as soundproof as tombs but I could hear all the commotion in the lobby as he ran out.
Though many of my friends co-wrote many of his classic songs I never wrote for Michael until a few months ago when Steve Porcaro, of Toto and ‘Human Nature’ fame, called and said Michael had called him looking for hit singles. We worked on and off over the next few months and finished a fantastic lush and layered Human Nature type song called “The Little Things”. Though Michael never got to hear it, the Man In The Mirror type chant that opens it will forever remind me of him.
This 1984 Limited Edition Michael Jackson “Superstar of the 80’s” Doll features the King in his Beat It outfit. He came with ‘glittering “Magic” Glove and microphone’ but I’ve lost those over the years. Thriller, Billy Jean, American Music Awards and Grammy outfits were also available. He twists at the waist and bends with moveable arms so you can “recreate his famous dance steps”.
I’ll break open the 1984 box of Michael Jackson Dress-Up Set Colorforms on another Kitsch O’ The Day within the next few days. R.I. P. M.J.
Anyone who knows me knows I love reality tv. I am SO not ashamed to admit that. Just like I wasn’t ashamed to admit I LOVED the internet in 1991 when everyone around me thought it was dorky and useless. I like reality. I’ve dedicated my life to trying to live the best one I can.
I love reality shows about creative process like Project Runway and Top Chef. But bottom feeders like “I Love New York” seriously steal my heart. I loved loved LOVED that show and its star. And I loved loved LOVED two contestants on it even more, Chance and Real, the two brothers who came in 2nd and 3rd on Season 1.
Soft spoken Real and firecracker Chance were fascinating because even as as they were vying for the heart of a lunatic the love and respect between them was always apparent. And they were hysterical. But trust me, any time one of them brought up their band, Stallionaires, there wasn’t a brain cell in my head that thought it would be anything more than ok.
I live for combining hi and lo culture. I have no interest in the middle, the safe zone where mediocre talent whose of-the-moment work clogs pop culture like sludge from the Exxon Valdese. I love to take the very top levels of art, music, technology and design where style and innovation live and jam them together with what’s happening at the bottom, where passion, guts and a bizarre take on art rule. Many people think reality tv falls into the lo category. Maybe that’s why I love it. And maybe that’s why I jumped at the chance to meet Chance and Real when my friend, Steve Lindsay, who I met in 1985 when he asked me to co-write the Dance Fever theme, told me he was managing them.
I would have written with Stallionaires if they were the worst band in the world just to meet them. But guess what, they’re FANTASTIC! As is brother #3, Love, who joins them on their spin-off ‘Real Chance At Love’ that debuts on VH-1 in November.
I haven’t been this happy with collaborators in a long time. Not only are they just as rough and tumble, spontaneous and untrained – i.e. fearless – as I am, they are incredibly musical, hooky and full of spirit to boot. And interested in news ways of doing everything – from the music itself to the mediums it will live on. And they’re very, very fast. No nudging notes around on a grid until everything snaps into place as stiff as a corpse. It’s not about precision; it’s all feel all the time, just the way I like it. And we’re all indie, which means no pansy ass decisions by producers or entertainment conglomerates to dictate our fate. We live or die by our own sword.
And then there’s this. When Love, Chance and Real were 11, 12 and 13 they were discovered by Paulino DeCosta, the percussion maestro of Earth Wind & Fire, the band that discovered me when I wasn’t much older than Stallionaires are now. My obsession with percussion came from watching Paulino. They’re equally obsessed with percussion because of him.
I wish I could leak the record we just finished, “Does She Love Me?”, but it’s the first single and theme song to their VH-1 series so I have to play by the rules and wait til the show airs. It’s an eternally happy song like “September”, my first Earth Wind & Fire hit. You’re in a good mood from the downbeat and you can feel the writers’ joy in every beat.
I know some people won’t understand how I went from The Color Purple to this reality universe. But for Bubbles & Stallionaires it’s all about people being all they can be and experiencing genuine joy as they do it. It’s the same basic story.
I’m not the type who stays on a ship that sails the same course every time it sets out to sea. I get bored, I fall asleep and I’m outta there. Thank you, Stallionaires, for slipping me a big, fat happy pill because I’m way onboard.
This Friday night, Sept. 12th, Bubbles and I have a piece in the DOLLYPOP show at the World Of Wonder Storefront Gallery in Hollywood.
Featuring works that are a salute to the country and breast icon, Dolly Parton, whose musical (God help her) “9 to 5” opens in Los Angeles next week, my/our piece is a sensitive 3-dimensional portrayal of the songstress on stage with former paramour, Burt Reynolds.
To see how this piece went from an empty canvas to the anatomically endowed wonder that is the final painting go here.
Yours in Dolly and other big things,
OK. I reallllly should be writing a detailed blog about the party I threw last Thurs. night here at Willis Wonderland to launch the new Bubbles & Cheesecake video, “Editing Is Cool”, and to debut my first official painting collaboration with Bubbles the artist, the Print Painting series, featuring canvas prints of five of Bubbles’ most popular images that I hand embellished with paint and vintage found objects. That sounds pretty ho hum, a party to promote something, but anyone who knows me knows I’m a hostess with mucho mostess and stiff is at the north pole of oppositeness of what went on here.
In order to do this party justice I need to go through 14 hours of video footage and this is not a job to do when you’ve slept for 21 hours total the previous week and your brain mass is still dripping through a strainer trying to get back to any semblance of normal. So I’m slogging through all of it as fast as I can but know if I drive myself nuts to finish in the timely fashion bloggers are wont to do I won’t enjoy any of it. So please know that the merriment of the “Launching Allee” party is forthcoming – you can look at a few photos from it in the meantime – and instead this blog is about how I took my own advise as offered in my brand new shiny video, “Editing Is Cool”, and got through the party without killing someone.
An example of “Editing Is Cool” philosophy at work: It’s 102+° in LA all day/all night last Thursday. You know you’re a sweating and potentially smelly party hostess and that all your guests are equally uncomfortable other than when they hug you and you accidentally spill your drink on them which coincidentally cools them off. Your choice of psychological mental states is either I’m a sweaty, smelly, sloppy party hostess or the funky jungle is alive with wild sweaty natives and I’m the effervescent jungle captain. I EDITED out pathetic choice #1 and opted for #2.
For months now my server has been going nuts. Files get corrupted and disappear, the network is so constipated it crawls like a turtle with corns. All in the midst of me getting ready for this party – finishing the video, redesigning my website, making speed movies of the 23 hours of video I took documenting every second of creating the 45 paintings in the Print Paintings series, designing and printing signs, order forms, name tags, artist’s statements, bios, size charts of all the paintings, cards to hand out and that’s not even a quarter of the list. I’m working off of eleven different external drives as the ones on the server choke. I’m overwriting files faster than I can create them I’m so confused trying to keep track of where everything is. My internet access is fluttering on and off and the backup DLS goes down.
And through it all I’m still trying to figure out how to conceptually tie together everything I’m presenting at the party so the theme is cohesive – 45 new paintings, the first ever I’ve done by printing the image on canvas and embellishing on top of that as well as the first time Bubbles and I have openly collaborated on paintings. Plus a new video that happens to not only be my most ambitious work but one that more than anything I’ve ever created embodies my personal philosophy on Life. I cannot say I remained cool throughout the neverending cascade of technical disabilities but I didn’t lose it like I would have in the old days. I EDITED out that part of my personality that is exceedingly skilled at maintaining misery so that at least a few moments of peace pop through.
Which is good because the night before the party a bridge breaks in my mouth and I can’t open it without feeling like razors are dragging across my gums. So less than seven hours before 300 people knock at my door I have oral surgery. The anesthesia from which leaves me hallucinating all day as I work outside in the blasting, scorching sun with 25+ people in various degrees of non-readyness tweaking everything I turn on, hang up or create on the spot.
Then at 2 pm. the impossible happens. Someone forgets to shut the water off and the pool overflows and FLOODS the backyard. And then the pump breaks. And then the back-up pump breaks. So mere hours before show time one crew is filling up buckets while others stomp on every clean towel I have trying to soak up the water that’s saturated the grass as mud wrestling is not on the party agenda. It takes every ounce of mental strength to not go completely psychotic as all my red button panic issues have been fully engaged – medical emergencies, technical failures, flooding. But I remember that EDITING IS COOL so I take a deep breath and decide to move on to something easy like hanging paintings.
3 pm. One side of the yard is finally in shade so we bring half of the paintings out and start to hang them on palm trees all over the yard. But it is SO hot that all the objects I’ve glued on to them start sliding off. So we climb back up the palms, take them down and store them back inside. Which then makes it impossible to clean any of the rooms they’re stacked up in. I re-glue everything and keep repeating the mantra, “EDITING IS COOL”.
The heat continues to pound even as the sun goes down so we wait until the last possible minute to re-hang all 45 paintings. Less than half are up before the first guests arrive. This kind of stuff makes me CRAZY. I’m an efficiency freak and have been planning this schedule for months. How could this be happening?! But I know my options are complete hysteria = horrible party hostess or just hang on for dear life, plug whatever holes in the dyke you can and keep smiling. I EDIT out option #1.
But that’s when the real challenge begins. Starting four days before the party the air conditioning in the submarine where the servers are shuts off every 20 minutes turning the room into an instant inferno. Every millifiber of information re my life and career is on those servers. Fire is no good. Only two years old, this piece of shit Soleus unit was installed by a company that knew it was “overly sensitive” and constantly shut off but never told me or offered to do anything about it other than try and sell me a new unit when I finally confronted them. Oh, wait…. Bubbles is insisting I tell you that if Nicholas Aire Systems of Santa Clarita, CA. knocks don’t answer the door.
So the ac is going down every 20 minutes. That means 48 times a day multiplied by four days so please picture this process 192 times as you continue to read and remember to multiply that exponentially for how many times since then it’s happened until today when a new unit was finally installed by a new company for half the price. And don’t forget to factor in that I haven’t gotten more than 15 minutes of sequential sleep for 11 days now as I have to reset the Soleus shit box to keep it going for another 20. One hour before the party I call Nicholas of Nicholas Aire and say to him, “You know what’s involved in turning this unit back on and know I have to do it every 20 minutes and you’re telling me this is what I have to do while the I’m hosting a party that’s introducing some of the most important work I’ve ever done in my career?!” He says, “yes”.
So here’s the drill: First I have to pull out two racks of equipment that each weigh over 1000 lbs. in order to get a clear shot at the sensor button on the Soleus with the remote. After five or or six body bending tries – the room is only four feet wide – the hot air spitting unit shuts off. Then I have to carry a 25 foot ladder to the front of the house, CLIMB UP ON THE ROOF, pull this scary looking electrical thing out of this scary looking black box, hang out on the roof in the blasting sun or dewy moon for 5 minutes before thrusting it back in, climb back down (more scary than going up), return the 25 foot ladder to the backyard so as not to provide incentive for anyone wishing to break into the house, race back inside and down the stairs, body bend again to turn the unit back on and wait in the inferno for 5 minutes to see if cold air actually kicks in. Then I have 15 minutes until it all begins again.
It’s ten minutes until the party starts. This Nicholas guy has made me miserable for months, ever since I found out he knew he installed a unit that wasn’t fit for the job it was supposed to do. When “the best he can do” is send someone out in the morning and I’m stuck hiring a party guest to sit at the side of my house and race up on the roof every 20 minutes I tell him where to stick it and feel completely liberated. Now I’m in a great mood because I’ve EDITED the Nicholas out of my life!
Jerks must be EDITED from your life. Calamity must be EDITED from your life. It gets easier every time you make a cut. Exercise your power and EDIT your life. Because EDITING IS COOL.
I loved Issac Hayes. Who didn’t I guess? He was totally innovative, his own man, one of the most classic soul songwriters in history and a MASSIVE influence on me. “Soul Man”, “Hold On, I’m Comin'”, “B-A-B-Y” not to mention ‘Shaft” and “Bumpy’s Lament”! First Black composer to ever win an Academy Award, busting it open for Black composers for all eternity. How much better does it get?
Those chains and wild pantsuits, a soul fashion icon of the highest proportion. A total individual following his own path. This photo of him holding the Bubbles’ ceramic he owned, Mr. Issac Hayes #7, is about my favorite photo of my work ever taken. I loved how he autographed it ‘To “Allee”‘, as if I was the one who wasn’t real and Bubbles was who really mattered.
I finally got to meet Isaac Hayes when he came to the opening of The Color Purple, my musical that opened on Broadway Dec. 1, 2005. I stumbled over Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Sidney Poitier, Chris Rock, Oprah, you name it, to get to the one who really mattered to me.
Isaac Hayes was the kind of artist I adored, not content to do the same thing over and over again just writing songs, recording them, going out on the road and starting the exact same process all over again. That bores me. As far as I can tell Isaac Hayes followed his heart, stretching his limits and going places few if none had gone before and looking sharp all the while. A master at reinvention, he dug deep into his hot buttered soul and made music that soaked into the very fabric of humanity. He shall, of course, live forever. I’m only sorry I never got to share a meal with him on that plate.