opinion

Open bar at the Van Halen place

Gram Ponante
Prior to Saturday night, the last time I stood in the parking lot of L.A. Valley Community College was to conduct a transaction of dubious (well, not dubious - let's just say No) legality during the Gary Cherone era of Van Halen.

Fast forward a few years to this past weekend, when I and about 400 other people waited for a series of 14-passenger buses ("We have five," one of the van drivers said at the beginning of the night, looking worried) to cart us south, up an adjacent canyon, to Eddie Van Halen's house.

The occasion was the Sacred Sin "Gathering", a release party for Michael Ninn's new movie, featuring music by Mr. Van Halen himself.

While there was no word that EVH would actually be playing, it had been announced that Billy Idol would be. Already the event was shaping up to be exponentially more celebrity-fraught than other industry parties, in which one feels embarrassed for slumming VH-1 personalities trying to score porn girls on AFTRA day rates.

There had been a rumor that the party would be at Van Halen's studio in Burbank, so I was surprised when my van crossed Ventura and climbed the hill. We stopped at a gate where a tuxedo'd guard waited.

He peeked into the van and asked if it was "all dudes". The driver said No, and the tuxedo guy said, "I wouldn't let you in if there wasn't no ladies in there."

Every producer's assistant, every security guard, every wannabe-something-else in Hollywood and Porn Valley are squeezed from the same tube ("Just shut up and open the gate," someone behind me said).

Like a "Get Smart" episode, we passed through several gates, then we stopped in front of a stairway festooned with candles and four-foot flower vases leading up to a palatial home.

"What a goddamn dump," I said, weeping softly.

Inside, in an anteroom in which back east visitors would place their galoshes and hang up their whale boat slickers, was a vodka bar. It turns out that this bar was the first of many throughout the compound, each based on a different alcoholic theme. If the bar system was the Stations of the Cross, the vodka bar would have been Jesus Falls for the First Time.

I bellied up.

"Give me a Women of Jerusalem Wipe the Messiah's Face and a Red Bull."

"Right away sir."

I became drunk almost immediately and stayed that way until the firemen came. It must have been the altitude.

Across from the bar was an artfully-lit room with a grand piano. At the piano was a lithe woman with a delicate strand of hair hanging in front of her face. She was not necessarily a good piano player. It sounded like what she was playing were synthesizer chords from later Van Halen albums. Above her, hanging from the ceiling by ropes, twirled a fetish aerialist.

In other words, if the substance was lacking, the surface looked great. Will I watch Sacred Sin with the sound turned down? It's a safe bet.

The party was held in one massive wing of a massive house. The billiard room was filled with huge chairs into which people sank, and sank, and sank. I saw newly-minted XBiz publisher Tom Hymes sitting in one of them. "Don't let anyone get a picture of you in this chair," I said. "It will look like Mike Dukakis in the tank." (I was drunk.)

Outside was a large lawn and a stage.

"Yay Lawn, Yay Stage," I said, and went to the tequila bar.

My recent unpleasantness with Shane's World about not being allowed to bring a camera to their party was replicated here. I'd thought of taking a thin camera I could fit in my pocket but I had pangs of conscience. I reasoned that I don't often get to go to parties at Eddie Van Halen's house at which Billy Idol is playing, so I tried to blend in.

Besides, if I didn't have a camera, I would be able to hold more drinks.

Representatives of Porn's four main families were there, which I found astonishing. You don't often see them in the same room. I thought of the circling knife fight broken up by Michael Jackson in "Beat It" (guitar solo: Eddie Van Halen). (I was drunk.)

A band called The Starfuckers took the stage. I had a margarita in one hand and a mojito in the other. They opened with Wings' "Jet". "This is the best porn party I have ever attended," I said to some woman, who squeezed my balls in agreement. "That's not what I meant," I said, but what could I do with my hands full of drinks?

The 'fuckers (we are now best friends) went on to play Badfinger's "No Matter What", Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" and Guns 'n' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine". They did not play "Black in Your Ass #9".

A beautiful blonde woman in a red dress walked up to me. It would be unethical to write her porn name, because she said:

"Did you know my real name is Jamie and that I was named for the Van Halen song 'Jamie's Crying'?"

This sounded like a real dilemma.

"Even though your parents named you for a Van Halen song, is the fact that you're at a porn party at Eddie Van Heln's house something you could tell them?" I asked.

"I told my mother I was coming, but she doesn't know it's a porn party," the once and future Jamie said.

"Neither does mine," I replied. "And I was named for Bad Bad Leroy Brown."

Back inside, I was admiring an original Ludwig bass drum head signed by the two surviving Beatles when the owner of the house walked by. He was wearing taped up sneakers, an open shirt, and was carrying his 5150 guitar. He has completely stolen my look.

When he got on stage I was both happy and sad. I thought: "I will never go to a party better than this one in this business."

"A certain singer who will remain nameless didn't show up tonight," Eddie Van Halen said of Billy Idol, adding, "I've never missed a gig in my life."

He then proceeded to crash through a set with the Starfuckers that included "Mean Street" and Van Halen's version of "You Really Got Me." People were transformed with joy.

Everyone who was not court-ordered sober or working was pretty drunk. Without exception. That every porn consumer in the United States has one or more Van Halen records in his/her collection or at the very least knows that strippers are required to have one song from "Women And Children First" in their repertoire is something you can't say about other porn interlopers like Snoop Dogg or Digital Underground.

It wasn't a stretch to see why Van Halen would collaborate with Michael Ninn. Ninn's work is visually arresting and takes aim at themes other porn directors don't touch. It is porn for people who are perhaps tired of the old in-out and have higher expectations. How many aging rock stars have art collections? All of them.

It is when lofty aims are detached from the visceral nature of what porn is that makes Ninn's work so disappointing sometimes, and the result often seems pretentious. But he tries. I am not the first person who has said that this industry should not forget it is based on women who make men (and other women) jerk off.

So when models wearing plumage and walking on stilts came out, I retired to the racquetball court.

The racquetball court had been converted for the evening to an art gallery. Photographer Jeffery Scott was exhibiting several pieces, all of which were stunning. If someone had said to me five years ago, "You will one day drink a mojito while touring an erotic art exhibit in Eddie Van Halen's converted racquetball court," I would have asked what a mojito was (I first had one last year).

As I made the circuit of the room, though, the disappointing, purpose-defeating almost-thereness of the porn world began to assert itself again. Here were these beautiful, thoughtful photographs, but as I bent down to look at the title, description, and price I noticed that that information was printed on deliberately-crumpled pieces of paper.

"How do we make an artistic statement on the piece of paper the price is printed on?" someone might have asked.

"Crumple the paper!"

I imagined the poor assistants having a crumpling party before the exhibit opened. The connection? If you make porn, people still have to be able to jerk off to it. If you want to sell your art, make the price tag legible. I flattened one piece of paper and bought something regardless. By that time I had drunk about $2,000 worth of free alcohol and had seen Eddie Van Halen play ten feet away from me; it was the least I could do.

Newly-blonde Penthouse Pet-turned-Ninn model Heather Vandeven saw me in the gallery. Her consort was nattily dressed. I explained that the last two leather ensembles I owned had been stolen by a drag queen in Chelsea. He said he would give me the name of his tailor. I never had conversations like that while living in Bogue Chitto.

Outside, Lynn LeMay was angry with me.

"I'm mad at you, Pomegranate," she said.

"You should only write nice things about Lynn LeMay," her escort told me.

"What did I write about you that made you mad?" I asked. I have this conversation ten times a day.

"You wrote something about how my movie will attempt to do for me what Jackie Brown did for Pam Grier," she said.

"Well won't it?" I asked, explaining that if someone wrote "You suck off baboons at the zoo", it would still sell movies.

"No one knows who Pam Grier is," she said. I wasn't about to conduct a poll.

"Would you rather I compare you to John Travolta in Pulp Fiction? Isn't your movie called Phoenix: Risen from the Ashes? Isn't it about a comeback?"

Lynn LeMay stalked away.

Vandeven took the stage at 1 a.m. and gracefully kicked people out. Eddie Van Halen sat at the piano for awhile and a small crowd gathered with camera phones (including me). He started and stopped playing several times. Later he appeared on the balcony with Evan Stone. Things were becoming bizarre (I was drunk).

There were limos for the financial backers of the party. The rest of us waited for shuttle vans like we deserved. In the narrow driveway one van rolled into a wall while turning around. People surged forward as each van made its way up to the house. It was like Saigon 1975.

A fire engine showed up then, I'm not sure why. There wasn't a fire. But the remaining crowd realized that no shuttle van was going to be able to get around the engine, so we walked down to the street. I pushed past people to get on the van, as people had done to me before. I was not proud of this. "Violence begets violence," I said. "They say a gun is real easy/In this desperate part of town/Turns you from hunted into hunter/Gonna hunt somebody down."

Somebody said: "Fair Warning."

"Shuttup," I said.

Back in the LAVCC parking lot the van was met by police. There is only a slight chance that I would have melted a breathalyzer like it was the Hiroshima to my A-bomb. I took out my pad, my pen, and my phone and got out of the truck.

"Really? Well I'll be covering it for Car & Driver," I said to the silence on the other end of the phone. I got in my car and drove home (...). Previously: Open bar at the Rears place; Wicked good hors d'ouevres

See also: NinnWorx, Van Halen

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