Spike and That Dress

SPIKE AND THAT DRESS – by Philip Andrew Merrick – 02 August, 2014

Mikey Bean asked about the history of those pictures of me in a dress with Stephanie Pulford. That brought back this flood of memories that seems to have turned into two stories at once…

Clare Glidden, Stephanie Heasley (Pulford) and I all moved into the Little Tokyo Hotel right around the same time. This must have been towards the end of 1981 or the beginning of 1982. Brian Grillo had already been living there for a while. I can’t remember if this was before or after the days of all of us hanging out at Clare’s church basement but I kind of think it was probably before. I’m pretty sure I moved to Little Tokyo when I left the loft on Winston Street. I know it was during one of the many times that I had broken up with Metro.

That loft was a bustling hub of activity for the LA underground scene with all the punks and musicians and artists coming and going. It was an old abandoned flea bag hotel off of 5th and Los Angeles Streets right smack dab in the heart of Skid Row. Some guy had leased it from the absentee owner and sectioned it off to sub lease spaces to artists and musicians. I had five rooms in the front of the building. I think my rent was about a hundred dollars. I pretty much single handedly chipped the plaster off of the outer walls to expose the old brick and tore out the dividing walls, turning it into one big space.

I was the first one to move in and at that time there was only one nasty old bathroom in the back of the building and the only thing that worked in it was the toilet which was black with decades of neglect and had to be flushed with a bucket. I have no idea where the water came from because I remember that I had to walk down to the Greyhound station just to wash my face and I took showers at friends houses. I spent a lot of time at Kelly Knight’s apartment and Brick Wahl’s house, mooching dinners and taking showers and borrowing Kelly’s car for days at a time. There was no glass in the windows and the place was teeming with pigeons, rats and mosquitos. We had glass put in a few times but the skid row junkies would throw bricks and break out the windows every time.

Eventually it all came together. Ellen MacKay was another of the early tenants. She lived in the back and had her Ape Leather operation set up there. Skip Arnold, the now famous artist, had his studio in one of the units for a while. Edwin Letcher was my room mate at one time. Metro moved in and out a few times. Clare often spent the night when she didn’t feel like driving home after a long night at Brave Dog. Kara Bjornlie and her brother Stuart, Pamela Renswick, Christine Manning, Del Mar (now Led Ram), Chris Parker and Lisette Aldama were frequent visitors as well as Roz Williams, Ron Athey and Eva O. I lived there for a few years and at some point Kelly moved in with her lovable but kind of quirky boyfriend and shared my space with me.

The way it worked was you supposedly owned the key, paid a nominal amount of rent and financed all the improvements yourself. You owned the improvements and could then sell the key to get your investment back and whoever you sold it to would pay the same amount of rent to this guy who had organized the whole thing. I guess he probably kept a percentage of the sale as a commission. He was a little shady and I never found out if there was anything legal about it or if the owner even knew we were there.

When I moved out I just gave the key to Kelly and let her have the place. I was dismayed when I went back to visit one time, I think Kelly had moved on by that time and a new girlfriend had moved in. They proudly showed me that they had replaced all the walls I had spent weeks knocking down with my bare hands. I google street viewed the place a couple of years ago and it looked like it had been boarded up and abandoned again.


Stephanie, Clare, Brian and I all ended up living at the Little Tokyo Hotel after I moved out of the loft. Edward Stapleton and Gerardo Velasquez of the band Nervous Gender didn’t actually live there but they were there most of the time. I can’t remember if Little Chris (Chris Eagle) and Ron Athey were part of that little group yet or if they came along later. So one day, I think it was raining and we were all bored and hungover and probably a bit high and everyone was lounging around in my room. I was lying on the bed about half comatose and Clare and Stephanie started putting makeup on my face and Edward or Gerado or someone drew a tattoo on my arm.

Clare dragged out one of her mother’s old silk evening gowns. She had come from a wealthy upper class family somewhere in the mid west and her mother had died when Clare was rather young. The mother had been a very stylish and aristocratic lady called Honey or Sweetie or something like that who always dressed for dinner and had a fabulous wardrobe and jewels, some of which Clare ended up with. I believe this dress was an original from some famous couturiere in Paris, maybe Dior or Balenciaga but I don’t know for sure.

Well, after a while Clare and Stephanie had my face all made up, the fake tattoo was complete and they insisted that I put on the dress along with some of the jewels and a pair of black fishnet stockings. I said I would do it but only if someone took pictures. Gerardo went and got his camera and we all ended up out in the front hallway by the fire escape. Stephanie was naked, Clare and Edward were posing us, Gerardo was shooting away and the nervous Japanese tenants were scurrying past and averting their eyes.

Gerardo was still living with his family in East LA at that time and I think he must have had a darkroom there. Anyway he came back the next day with a bunch of eight by ten glossy prints. We gave one to Edward to use for that flier for the Nervous Gender album launch party at Brave Dog. I used another one as a birthday card for Michael Ely from Red Wedding. I don’t know what became of the rest of them, I know I had a couple of them for years but I can’t seem to find them now. There was no internet then, everything happened by word of mouth and I don’t think any of us could have even dreamed that those photographs would still be circulating and being looked at on other continents more than thirty years later by people who hadn’t even been born yet.

Most of the jewels went by the wayside during the years that followed but that dress was still in Clare’s closet when she passed away. I’m not sure who ended up with it but I think Kelly might have it now. I hope she does and if she does, I hope she wears it from time to time and thinks of Clare and me and all of us and remembers all the fun we had in those days long ago.

–love, Spike


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