"I am a literary anthropologist who loves people and wants to know their souls and hearts and tell their tales."
Joan Jobe Smith: Tales of West Coast Pearl
Joan Jobe Smith, founding editor of Pearl and the Bukowski Review, worked 7 years as a go-go girl in Southern California before receiving her BA from CSULB and an MFA from UCI. Since 1973 her art, poetry, stories and reviews have appeared internationally in more than 1000 publications that has included Ambit (UK), Beside the City of Angels, Outlaw Bible, Beat Scene, Nerve Cowboy and Wormwood Review. In June 2012 she appeared at the Tongue & Groove Bukowski Tribute and with her husband, poet Fred Voss, she did her 6th reading tour of England (debuting 1991, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival), featured at the Humber Mouth Literature Festival in Hull and the Betsey Trotwood Pub in London. Photo by Elaine King, 2014
A Pushcart Prize recipient, a Forward Prize finalist (1999), she’s published 22 books of poetry including Jehovah Jukebox (Event Horizon Press, US) and The Pow Wow Cafe (The Poetry Business, UK) and a cookbook; fall, 2012 Silver Birch Press published her literary profile Charles Bukowski: Epic Glottis: His Art & His Women (& me). A respectful, affectionate literary profile of novelist and poet Charles Bukowski. Awarding-winning writer Joan Jobe Smith -- a Pushcart Honoree -- shares up-close, personal recollections of her mentor and friend, Charles Bukowski. Charles Bukowski Epic Glottis also includes remembrances and comments from the women in Bukowski's life -- including Frances Dean Smith (francEyE), Ann Menebroker, Linda King, and Pamela Miller Wood (aka Cupcakes). Joan's new book "Tales of An Ancient Go-Go Girl", is a picaresque True Tale spanning the 1965 Los Angeles Watts Riots, near death at the hands of a homicidal ex-husband, the counter-culture go-go swinging let-it-all-hang-out 1960s and 70s, single Motherhood and Feminism. Rarely does a natural poet and historian such as Joan Jobe Smith endure such ordeals and challenges and survive to tell the tale. A Tale that ends with her dancing to Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger in 2014. A Tale told with heart and courage and humor to make all our lives richer and wiser.
Photos by Joan Jobe Smith's Archive, Elaine King, Fred Voss, Bettie Morck / All rights reserved
Literature and Music: how can the arts to confront the “prison” of the human spirit and mind?
German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche said: “Without Music, life would be a mistake.” American jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker said: “If you haven’t lived it, it won’t come out your horn.” And the classical music lover, poet writer Charles Bukowski wrote: “Music gave heart to my life; helped me get to here.”
What experiences in your life make you a good writer and poet?
Perhaps my unusual life experiences have hindered with my being per se a good poet and writer since it has made it inevitable that I became and remain an autobiographer. However, my strange and hectic life has created for my Muses a vast and truthful landscape of fabulous events.
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
Yesterday, Now and Tomorrow. Because I have lived an extraordinarily, inestimably strange and hectic life as a daughter, mother, divorcee, writer, poet, go-go dancer, teacher, publisher, wife of the poet Fred Voss--and human being trying to stay alive in these new and tougher strange and hectic times.
"My favorite time, my choice of all times to live: 1940-Now. So I guess I’d shut off the engine of that Time Machine. But first, I’d like to make a quick trip to Paris in the 1920s, for a night or two to meet up with the young Anais Nin, dance the Charleston with her, ask her to introduce me to Henry Miller; chat with Gertrude Stein, exchange cooking tips with Alice B. Toklas, give her my Charles Bukowski Vegetarian Chili recipe." (Photo: Joan & her husband poet Fred Voss, 2014)
What characterizes Joan Jobe Smith’s Philosophy? How do you describe your poetry?
I am a first-person narrator who writes about humanity and life. I am a literary anthropologist who loves people and wants to know their souls and hearts and tell their tales.
What does poetry mean to you and what do you learn about yourself from the Poetry?
Poetry is a magnificent, magical place to go: a cloud, a star, a warm sandy beach, the eye of a hurricane, a dance in the dark, champagne in sight of the Eiffel Tower or a treetop in Oregon. I’ve learned I am only a small piece, a mere mote amongst the universe. I am a seer, a listener, a feeler, a fingerprint.
How started the thought of Tales of an Ancient Go-Go Girl? What characterized a Go-Go Girl philosophy?
In 1973, a creative writing major back in college for the knowledge, 2 years out of the lively sock-it-to-‘em, rock-‘n’-rollin’ Los Angeles-Hollywood, California go-go bars where I’d danced or bartended for 7 years, I began to write narrative poems and short prose pieces about my experiences I titled then, when I was age 33: Tales of an Ancient Go-Go Girl. When I became friends with Charles Bukowski in 1974 (4 years before he became an overnight international best-selling poet) and told him about my days as a harried and hard-working go-go girl and showed him the first draft—a 40-page chapbook. Bukowski liked what I wrote, wrote encouragingly to me in a letter: “You’ve cut yourself loose into the stratosphere ... contained and clean and emotional and touched with the knowledge and have the reality of force properly put down on paper ...” But Bukowski objected to the title which he wittily changed to “The Crotch-Watchers”—because, he said, I wasn’t ancient—yet. Four decades later, in 2004, when I wrote this final, book-length version, that Swinging ‘Seventies Bukowski-named rhyming title seemed too nitty-gritty. So I restored the original autobiographical title because now I really am ancient!
In 1973, my “philosophy” expounded a mode du jour feminist tone. Embittered, angry at men, especially those drunken salacious, often misogynistic men to whom I’d served drinks in go-go bars, and those mean exploitative men bosses who’d harassed (and over-worked) me. I wanted to tell it how it really was. Postulating a tell-all exposé, I’d wanted to parody in my prose those misogynistic go-go-girl-leering men I’d known by emulating the tone, context, and texture of George Grosz’s cynical-satirical art portrayals of the sexist “capitalist pigs” patrons of the 1920s’ cabarets. I also planned to illustrate the tell-all book with a series of my own satirical cartoons I drew similar to Grosz, but only created one, “Vice,” the cover of the original 1973 manuscript. However, my poems and prose, prompted by personal pathos and Bukowski’s blessings--Buk had no kinsmen loyalty for nor tender delusions about his own gender-- subconsciously turned to uptight, solipsistic, polemic—and sometimes damning-- diatribe rather than the upright, investigative, objective disclosure of Modern Men I’d intended. Upon re-write in 2003, looking back at those ancient times as an older-but-wiser and forgiving purveyor, as I explored the past to capture old memories and emotions to find epiphanies and raison d’etres for my go-go girl memoir that eventually became My Glotessey, I realized how worn out I was at only age 33, battle-fatigued as a young soldier in a world war—or Ulysses in combat with haranguing harpies and psychotic Cyclops. My particular fatigue, however, was caused from that ancient, global, yet romantic conflict: that endless, ever-inflammatory War between the Sexes. A feminine Post Trauma Stress Syndrome. And, today, that same war between the sexes rages on. Life much harder today for men and women all over the world to learn how to love each other respectfully and tenderly. And my final epiphany at the conclusion of my investigation of my ancient life and the time and place in which I endured it: how lucky I was to have Been There. The 1960s music, the soundtrack you heard everywhere in your car, your radio, the jukeboxes, TV, that included The Doors, the Stones, The Beatles, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, et al was magnificent background rhythm to swing and sway to as I lived through those ancient, down-and-out blues! And so fun to dance to! (Joan Jobe Smith / Photo shopped by Dirk Velvet)
"I am a first-person narrator who writes about humanity and life. I am a literary anthropologist who loves people and wants to know their souls and hearts and tell their tales."
What do you learned about yourself from the counterculture and what does 60s underground mean to you?
At the time, I did not approve of the 1960s counterculture, felt deracinated, counter-countercultural, and out of it. I’d been a suburban “princess”, only child of Dust Bowl-Great Depression-WW2-survivor Texas parents—and a War Baby brought up to be a Good Girl. I didn’t drink, do drugs. I didn’t want to let it all hang out, nor did I want to Do It In the Road (as the Beatles approved of doing). But when I had to earn a living, support three children, I did it: I put on a fringed bikini and let it all hang out in noisy, smoky, stinky maelstrom-of-men-filled go-go bars—which I often despised at the time. Jim Morrison and The Doors would describe me in “L.A. Woman” as I was 1965-1972: “A woman so all alone … just another lost angel in the city of night.” But nowadays, looking back, comparing Then with Now, those crazy, purple-hazy, electric Ladyland-sexy ancient times were virtually harmless and often rather innocent, and often quite inspiring and idealistic with posters like “Make Love Not War.” Good-hearted activists kick-started many movements to try to make things better, end the war in Viet Nam, expand our perceptions about women, gays, poor folks, old folks, Blacks. Intelligent, well-intended music from the likes of Jim Morrison and The Doors spoke to us; Mr. Mojo Rising wrote in a poem about the uptight Establishment: “They’re making a joke of our universe.”
What do you miss most nowadays from the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
To be ancient for a moment: I miss the simplicity of the past. The ease—and intelligence--with which I could turn on a machine, start a car, sans computer interference. An actor in an old, 1938 movie I saw the other night on tv said, when he tried to turn on some machine and couldn’t find the On button: “I wish they’d stop inventing things!” I agree with him. I also miss the once-abundant rain forests, snow on Mount Shasta and the Sierras, sparkling California rivers and clean oceans, wild horses and abalone, herds of elephants and black rhinos, pods of whale and dolphin, flocks of eagles and geese, ice caps populated with polar bears and penguins, seashells, silver dollars, my white chiffon waltz-length 1956 prom dress with the seed pearls on the bodice; and I also miss dandelions, ladybugs, Monarch butterflies, bats and honeybees, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O, Princess Di, Maya Angelou, my father’s baritone Texas voice that could imitate Caruso and Elvis, my mother’s chocolate-colored hair, her smile, and marshmallow icing, good movies, truthful, REAL newspapers—and love songs—and hopes for a good future, that once seemed just around the corner: good-paying jobs, good schools, good nutrition, good air, good water, goodwill for one another. Again, to quote Jim Morrison (from An American Prayer): “I want roses in my garden bower; dig?” Even though, to quote Eric Burdon, too: “The environment is going to hell.” My hopes for the future? All the above I just mentioned: Good Everything which would surely bring the end of poverty. Fears: that poverty will prevail.
"Perhaps my unusual life experiences have hindered with my being per se a good poet and writer since it has made it inevitable that I became and remain an autobiographer. However, my strange and hectic life has created for my Muses a vast and truthful landscape of fabulous events." (Photo: Joan Jobe Smith & legendary drummer, John Densmore of The Doors, 2013)
How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?
Music meant a lot to me when a very small child from the moment I first heard music on the radio in the 1940s: music of Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, all those crooners and dance bands and lady band singers. My parents, when we lived in San Francisco 1942-1948, were into jazz and the blues, took me with them to see Billie Holiday, who, having lost her New York cabaret license performed at a bowling alley in San Francisco in 1946. When Billie performed at a roadhouse outside Walnut Creek, I fell asleep to Billie Holiday’s songs as I listened in the backseat of my father’s Ford coupe parked out front of the roadhouse—the night club’s front door left open so my parents could keep an eye on me. And I’d always love Billie; love the Black-Soul sound always: the be-bopping rhythm ‘n’ blues of my teens, then Motown soul sound in my go-go girl days. (My jukebox choices to go-go dance to were Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally,” Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Dock of the Bay”-- and my favorite of them all: Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”—which I first heard her sing, live, in person, in a night club in Watts, L.A., California, 3 weeks before it was a big hit in 1966.) Age 5, I taught myself to dance boogie-woogie to Artie Shaw’s clarinet swinging out “Stardust” and “Begin the Beguine”-- thrilling inspirations for a little girl to fly to the moon. Even today I get a chill behind my ear as if from a sweet, cool kiss when I remember Shaw and Billie and Aretha, et al.
All grown up, when a go-go girl, I’d dance live to some of the great blues bands of the 1960s: The Rivingtons, Little Junior Walker, Charlie Musselwhite, Albert King when I worked at The Fort, summer 1965; at Whisky a Go-Go, June, 1966, I’d dance live with Jim Morrison and The Doors when I auditioned for a go-go girl job and The Doors played there that night; 1967-1969 I’d dance live to Dick Dale and his surfing guitar at the Playgirl Club; and most fun of all: I’d dance live with the fabulous, inimitable Tina Turner when she and Ike played at Daisy Mae a Go-Go.
"The poems of Joan Jobe Smith have the reality of force properly put down on paper…a game girl…she cuts herself loose into the stratosphere…a strange woman, a strange, good, basic woman." ~ Charles Bukowsi (Photo: Pamela “Cupcakes” Wood with Joan and Fred Voss)
You have interesting projects Pearl and Bukowski Review. Where did you get idea?
Pearl I founded in 1973, named after Janis Joplin and Margaret, my mother, whose name is a Greek derivation of pearl which means “purity.” I wished to provide pages upon which to publish the work of fine poets alongside the excellent emerging poets having difficulty breaking into the Big Presses in America. I founded Bukowski Review in 2000 to honor Bukowski with expertise of writers and critical theorists who had no place publish their modern views on Bukowski, the man and the writer.
What first attracted you to Bukowski’s texts and how has that changed your life?
Bukowski, whose work I first read in 1973, showed me I didn’t have to rhyme or write abstractly to be a poet. I identified with his counterculture life--I’d been a go-go girl for 7 years to support my 3 children and in 1972 had just returned to college. Bukowski gave me self-respect for having lived an extraordinary, outsider life. Knowing him personally changed my life because he told me it was a good thing to be a narrative, straightforward poet and write the truth about my life and not obscure my content with formalistic language. I had true tales to tell, similarly to Charles Bukowski’s.
What do you miss nowadays from the late Bukowski?
I feel his presence everyday, if that’s what you mean by “feel.” I own a bronze sculpted head of Bukowski designed by Bukowski’s former sweetheart, the artist Linda King that sits on my desk so I see his smiling face every day.. Bukowski’s books fill my bookcases so I read much of him nearly every day. My husband poet Fred Voss respects Bukowski the way I do. Bukowski changed his life, too, taught Fred, via his fabulous writings, to Become a Poet. The “feel” I miss nowadays, if you mean “feel” this way: I miss his new poetry, his opinions about Life happening now, much of it not very good or beneficial to mankind.
What motto of Hank you would like to stay forever?
“The World has shaped me and I have shaped what I can.”
"Bukowski gave me self-respect for having lived an extraordinary, outsider life."
For Bukowski Happiness was: Writing Poetry, his typewriter and Women and music and a tall drink of beer, wine, vodka.
Peace of Mind: Writing Poetry while classical music played--and a good drink.
Music: Peace of mind and meditation and soul salvation. “I’ve had my crutches,” he wrote, “…Mozart, Mahler, Bach, Wagner.”
The BEATS: Entertainment and Competition. He once told me he should’ve been as handsome as Kerouac.
Women: the central core of his inspiration--his beloved, mighty Muses: Linda King, Annie Menebroker, Pamela (“Cupcakes” aka “Scarlet”) Miller Wood and Frances Dean Smith, mother of his only child Marina Bukowski--and his wife, now widow, Linda Lee Bukowski.
Why do you think Hank’s art continued to generate such a devote following?
His indefatigable wisdom, his wit, his grit and guts, his honesty, his flaws, his inclusion of the common man and great empathy and love of humanity--his prodigious genius to capture readers’ hearts.
How do you describe Bukowski’s philosophy of life? What characterizes Hank’s bohemian way of life?
Often a living oxymoron, he was a humanitarian but often a misanthrope, a Hedonist with a puritanical side, a Cynic, a Luddite, an autodidact who read volumes, drank a lot, loved women. He was only a Bohemian until he got rich off the vast sales of his writings and then he relished his wealth, bought a fine car, good clothes, a home in San Pedro with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. “This is a big house. I love my cats,” he wrote me in 1981. “Come do a Greek dance with me.”
What memory from Bukowski makes you smile and what advice has he given to you?
Many memories of Bukowski make me smile; he was a smiler and he laughed a lot and had a lot of self confidence. Long ago in 1975 when I commented that he someday would be the Greatest Poet in American, he answered: “I already am.” I called him an epic glottis and he laughed, said, “Yes, I am that, too.“ The advice he gave me was not to censor myself; to write the truth.
Which incident of Bukowski’s life you’d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?
So many good artists and photographers have caught fascinating images of Bukowski at readings, at the racetrack, in the arms of a beautiful woman but one image I wish I could’ve captured on canvas was the benevolent look on his face when he ate a bowl of my soup I fixed for him in 1975. Bukowski loved to eat. He had a healthy appetite and he loved my soup.
Do you believe that there is “misuse,” that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of Bukowski?
Bukowski’s tough side, his oft-called “coarse and vulgar” language and his many scenes of eroticism or strife with women, turns off the academics, and possibly rightfully so--since their literary sensibilities lean toward gentility and often pedanticism. However, Bukowski’s depictions of his outsider experiences attract the ordinary man, the non-academic, who understand him because they’ve lived the hard life, too. They buy his books. They’ve validated him, made him the best selling poet in the world; they care nothing about critics.
Do you know why Bukowski’s art and texts are connected to the underground and avant-garde culture?
Because Bukowski wrote about the underground and avant-garde. He lived there, reveled in the life style of freedom to drink, carouse, flop in a cheap room, bed women without moral restrictions, and write, write, write. The underground and the avant-garde are interesting, filled with interesting people doing and saying interesting things. It is never mundane. It’s always moving and shaking with art nouveau. (Photo: Joan & Linda King, 2014)
"He was also very bossy and opinionated and one of his didactic commands is engraved on his headstone: “Don’t try.” And by that I think he means: don’t try. DO IT."
What’s the legacy of Bukowski nowadays? If was between us, what do you think he would tell us?
Bukowski’s legacy are his volumes of books filled with tales of extraordinary madness and wisdom and wise, inimitable and crazy words. If he were alive today, I am certain he’d be astounded by what’s happened in the world: the poverty, the precariousness of the ecosystem that threatens our actual existence and future here on Good Old Mother Earth.
What would he tell us? Bukowski was very unpredictable and might say anything. He was also very bossy and opinionated and one of his didactic commands is engraved on his headstone: “Don’t try.” And by that I think he means: don’t try. DO IT. Inertia was never one of his flaws. He was always moving. Writing, writing, and telling it like it is: the Truth According the Charles Bukowski.
What was the relation between music and “Hank”? How does the music come out of Bukowski’s words?
In many of Bukowski’s poems and story scenarios, classical music plays in the background; often he critiques a piece: Bizet’s Carmen (Nietzche’s favorite) Bukowski calls “very corny, especially when sung in English” (“Flower Horse”); Rossini he calls “an intolerable idiot,” in his poem “All the Great Writers.” When he was heckled in Germany during a reading he told the screechy heckler he “should’ve been a Wagnerian soprano.” Music must’ve played in Bukowski’s mind a lot of the time for him to so often use music for simile comparisons in his writings. Finally, one of Bukowski’s best music quotes might just describe Bukowski’s written words as well: “…astonishing FORCE of sound. (Photo by Bettie Morck: Marilyn Johnson & Joan)
"Poetry is a magnificent, magical place to go: a cloud, a star, a warm sandy beach, the eye of a hurricane, a dance in the dark, champagne in sight of the Eiffel Tower or a treetop in Oregon."
Which meetings have been the most important experiences? Are there any memories which you’d like to share?
Knowing the fascinating, exasperating Charles Bukowski, 1973-1984, was one of my most literarily-important meetings. Meeting Bukowski’s Women: Linda King, Ann Menebroker, Frances Dean Smith, and Pamela (“Scarlet”) Miller Wood brought much literary friendship into my life, becoming my enlightening Muses as well to the extent that I featured them in my 2012 literary profile CHARLES BUKOWSKI: EPIC GLOTTIS: His Art & His Women (& me). Also important: meeting in 1973 the brilliant artist David Scott who helped me found and fund the first issues of my internationally acclaimed literary journal PEARL; then came my great-luck meeting in 1974 with the scholar, poet-writer, and exquisite genius-artist-computer whiz—and beautiful--Marilyn Johnson, who’d become a dear, generous friend and co-edit and create, 1987-2014, 44 more magnificent issues of PEARL.
An especially fascinating meeting: Anais Nin, in 1974, with whom I enjoyed a 2-year friendship with her via fascinating telephone conversations. Anais Nin was my only female mentor and she lauded my go-go girl life, and did not think me tawdry, but thought me courageous. Anais loved to dance; she’d studied with Isadora Duncan in the ‘teens of the 20th Century in Paris, France; she’d wanted me to teach her go-go girl dance steps, those goofy dances with silly names like The Monkey, the Funky Chicken, the Mashed Potato, the Temptation Walk, the Pony, the Swim, the Boogaloo, and Shingaling—oh, and that dirty one, The Dog (which I’d never danced but knew the bump-and-grind moves). Regretfully, I never got to meet Anais Nin in person, though she lived in Silver Lake near Hollywood, only 40 miles away, because she had cancer, was ill from chemo, and soon died in 1977. Finally, most significantly, the main meeting of my life, the one who undoubtedly saved my life, my actual life: my husband Fred Voss, poet-writer-human being extraordinaire.
What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in the 60s?
Oh, it was really a Man’s World in the 1960s. James Brown was SO right. Don’t you remember how Aretha begged for RESPECT? But, alas, in 2015, it’s still a Man’s World. It scares me to think that in at least 2/3 of the world, the contents--and especially the cover--of my Tales of An Ancient Go-Go Girl would be damnable and irrefutable evidence of my apostasy, my whoredom, my lurid tawdriness to justify my being allegedly-deservedly hanged, beaten or stoned to death in the streets—by men. While undisciplined male sexuality is lauded as good and manly; and the industrialization of sex has become one the world’s most profitable “commodities.” In the 1960s, go-go bar owners with their slave-driving bossmen got rich off us go-go girls, working us so hard on 9-hour shifts, 6 or 7 days a week dancing and serving beer—with NO breaks except for three-5-minute-per-shift bathroom visits (the bossman outside the Ladies Room door with a stop-watch timing us). Every Saturday night, bossman fired one of us to set an example to the other go-go girls. And the owners owned mansions, yachts, bought minks for their ladies, made so much money they later started up a sex magazine—and got richer. Ah, but it’s much worse now. Now the girls, now lap-dancers, pole dancers in the nudie Gentlemen’s Clubs, exploited as I once was are now extorted, too: they have to pay the owners to work there. Hey, James Brown, music’s fine swingin’-singin’ man: What you wanna sing about THAT? And Maya Angelou: What poems, dearest poet lady, YOU could write about that.
(Cartoon by Joan, which was the cover of the first draft of Tales of An Ancient Go-Go Girl, 1973)
What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the swinging let-it-all-hang-out 60s/70s era?
First of all, I want to laugh at myself regarding the night I danced live to Jim Morrison and The Doors at Whisky in 1966 (when I auditioned for a go-go girl job). I thought the music was horrible! Impossible to dance to! Because Jim was all messed up that night—or maybe not messed up, just groovin’ genius prodigy that night, creating, composing new sounds right before our eyes and ears. I’d never heard or seen those guys before—that night was just weeks from the release of “Light My Fire” which would make them overnight famous greats. I didn’t know Jim was even with the band; I thought he was a drunken bum who’d just staggered into the place, an officious intermeddler; perhaps one of the homeless hippies, drugged out, deranged, who hopped on to the stage to do his own thing. Little did I know. Shows what a square I was, and how little insight I had as a music critic. A year later, still a square, a Stupid Girl like The Stones sang sneeringly about girls like me the Summer of Love in 1967, when I danced to a go-go bar’s jukebox “Light My Fire” I thought: Oh, NO! THOSE guys got famous? And then, nearly 50 years later, June 27, 2014, I was finally inducted into The Doors’ Adorers Fan Club when I danced live, once again, to The Doors’ Guitarist Robby Krieger when he performed back-up and solo at L.A. Poet and Jazz Maven Michael C Ford’s “Look Each Other in the Ears” CD launch party in Venice, California, at the Hen House Studios. What fun I had recreating my ancient go-go girl dance moves I hadn’t done in decades, plus added a few new moves I picked up from some of the younger, beautiful girls at the party grooving and moving with Krieger’s new sounds, many rifts with back beat reminiscent of the 1960s-70s Doors’ LPs and concerts. I was so astounded by that June, 2014, rockin’ good time, had so much fun listening to Michael C and dancing to Robby Krieger, they inspired me to write an Epilogue chapter to add to my TALES of An Ancient Go-Go Girl.
Photo by Joan Jobe Smith of Robby Krieger and poet Michael C Ford, June, 2014, Venice, CA.
What touched me most about those old days (along with the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy): the American soldiers shipping out for Viet Nam. In a steady stream those brave, often sad, boys came into go-go bars for their Last Party, last look at an American Girl, a California Girl, before going off to war the next day. Some of them wept to me as I’d give them their last goodbye kiss. Some promised to send me a red silk kimono with a big embroidered dragon on the back—but never did. But most of them were brave and cool, strong young guys, doing what they were told to do. I still think of them. Wonder which ones came home. And hope they all came home whole.
What memory of Sam Charters makes you smile? What have you learned from blues poetry?
Sadly, the influential—and beloved—historian of blues, folk and jazz, Sam Charters, passed away March, 2015, in Sweden. I knew Sam these past 10 years via emails and exchange of our books—he was a sagacious, prodigious writer and a diligent editor (co-editing with his wife Ann the textbooks in which my poetry about my go-go days appeared: Literature and Its Writers). Sam was very interested in my go-go dancing life and my having known some of the blues guys he loved and advocated. Sam generously wrote me a blurb for my Tales of An Ancient Go-Go Girl three years before its publication and looked forward to its final appearance. What makes me smile about Sam? Knowing that there were good guys like Sam out there who loved and listened to the blues, cared about the blues, promoted, produced the blues, took blues seriously for the classic art that it was and always will be—as he also did rock music of the 1960s, including The Doors. And he cared about poetry, too (he wrote poetry himself), and counterculture-themed arts where most of the heart and soul of the arts beat loudest and most clear and sharp. Another thing about Sam that makes me smile: a snippet “review” he wrote about my Tales when I emailed him the pdf pre-publication for him to look at the ancient photos of me, modern photo of me with The Doors’ drummer John Densmore taken in 2013. “Lovely and irresistible,” Sam wrote me about my memoir. What I learned from blues poetry is realization, feeling as you hear about the depth of pain some folks live through, pain that often the listener has known, too, as I surely did when my husband left me to fend for myself to provide for 3 children. Beyond the Self one might feel in those blues lyrics is the hope for survival, going on and on, in spite of adversity, into the unknown, humming a phrase, strumming a rhythm that will walk you safely, sanely through the dark nights when you’re all alone with just the beating of your heart—the only thing that knows your name.
Photo: Joan Jobe Smith, 48 years after auditioning for go-go girl job @ Whisky a Go-Go, 1966, dancing live with The Doors, stands in 2014 in front of "Flying Jim Morrison," a mural in Long Beach, California, created by Jim Coke from a 1966 photo he shot of The Doors performing at a rock concert 2 weeks before they became famous with "Light My Fire." (Photo by Fred Voss)
Where would you really wanna go with a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?
My favorite time, my choice of all times to live: 1940-Now. So I guess I’d shut off the engine of that Time Machine. But first, I’d like to make a quick trip to Paris in the 1920s, for a night or two to meet up with the young Anais Nin, dance the Charleston with her, ask her to introduce me to Henry Miller; chat with Gertrude Stein, exchange cooking tips with Alice B. Toklas, give her my Charles Bukowski Vegetarian Chili recipe. Maybe Anais and I could take some dance lessons from Josephine Baker, learn the Samba. Then I’d time-machine it to Paris in the 1950s, to meet up with the young Blair Fuller and George Plimpton as they are founding The Paris Review, ask them why the hell, in 1979, they’re going to accept for publication my short story “Onions,” pay me $275 for it, and then not publish it? I’d like to sip real French Champagne and nibble escargots with Sartre, Jean Gabin and Yves Montand. Flirt a little with them. Then sip some cognac with Jeanne Moreau and Simone Signoret, two of my favorite movie actresses, go shopping with them at Chanel and Pierre Cardin, and beg Jeanne to introduce me to Miles Davis, Jean Cocteau, Marguerite Duras, and Francois Truffaut, ask Truffaut if he’d make a movie of my Tales of An Ancient Go-Go Girl starring Jeanne Moreau. When Truffaut says, “Non! Allez-vous! Idiote!” I’ll hop back into that time-machine and GO…
Back to 2015 to figure out what 2015 memorabilia to put in the time machine for the Future: Of course: MUSIC! Sheet music, old 78s, 45s, LPs, tapes and CDs of the 75-year era I lived through with all that good music: the boogie-woogie, swing, blues, jazz, be-bop, rock, rhythm and blues, disco, punk rock, rap. I’ll toss in You Tubes of the Rivingtons’ “Pa-pa-pow-pow, ma-maw, maw,” The Doors’ “L.A. Woman,” the Beach Boys’ “California Girl,” dancing Rita Hayworth singing “Put the Blame on Mame, Boys,” Madonna’s and Taylor Swift’s latest rock concert. MOVIES! “Casablanca,” “Vertigo,” “The Third Man,” and a years’ collection of cable TV’s Turner Classic Movies from the 1920s Silents to the 1980s. BOOKS! My TALES, of course, being the egoist I try not to be; but truly believing that My Glotessey exemplifies the ageless plight of Woman. I’ll toss in Charles Bukowski’s WOMEN and LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL which hilariously, outrageously depict the ageless War Between the Sexes; and Fred Voss’s 2015 novel MAKING AMERICA STRONG and his poetry collection Hammers and Hearts of the Gods that document Voss’s arduous 35 years of working class labor during the decline of unions and decent wages in American machine shops. After all that Entertainment/Literary memorabilia I’ll include, too, evidence of 2015’s precarious, nefarious WORLD! Print-outs of computerized 2015 stock market reports, “news” of cosmodemonic, pandemic dysphoria, world-gone-crazy hate, greed, neglect, politics and photos of melting polar caps, polluted, warming seas, fracking, begging, starving jobless, homeless folks, migrants, mothers and fathers and children, borderless war zones, race riots, terrorists and wounded ones everywhere. And the piece de resistence: I shall include the cause celebre and prime suspect of it all: an air-tight, spill-proof jar of OIL! But will anyone in the Future be around to find my time machine filled with good, bad, and ugly goodies? I shudder to think about how bad-ass it might be tomorrow, especially 50 years from Now when the essential, existential question will surely be, as it is right Now: “To be or not to be?” Affirming Jim Morrison’s 1970 lament: “Five to one, baby, one in five: No one here gets out alive … gonna make it, baby, if we try.”
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