I LEFT THE LUSH PLANT-FILLED INTERIOR of the Nellie Dean and headed down the grey windy September Dean Street, into Sunset Strip, paid my money, down the death trap stairs, into the dark fug of cigarette smoke, jazz music, gentlemen sitting in cinema style seats reading their Evening Standards, before the curtain squeaked open and on came a girl dancing to Tallulah. It was the first naked woman I had ever seen. "My name is Tallulah, I live till I die. I take what you give me and I won't ask why. I made a lot of friends in some exotic places. I don't remember names but I remember faces." I knew for the first time in my life I had found somewhere I belonged. It was an overwhelming feeling.
Thus my career in infamy began. After that my illicit thrill seeking settled into a routine. A pleasure becomes a habit, and habit becomes an addiction, then one's addiction gets worse and worse and worse.
It must have been a month or so later that I discovered the other strip club in Soho, the Carnival in Old Compton Street. I paid my money to the old Chinaman upstairs, down the stairs to a similar dark basement filled with cinema seats to the Sunset, the curtain opened and there on stage was the most voluptuous huge-breasted brunette in short shiny silver dress who started dancing to Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls. My mind blew again. Never in my life had I wanted a woman so much as I wanted that girl during those first three minutes. I did not know what had come over me. After a lifetime of pain and outsider loneliness and despair, I had found the most exquisite delicious pleasures.
One night at the Carnival I was so rapt in the silver dress girl and all the others that I stayed all the way to closing time not even realising that I had shit myself, and only discovered when I got home. There can be no higher compliment you can pay to a stripper than you shit yourself while watching her and never even noticed, nor any better indication of how strong my scopophilia is. Not only am I a scopophiliac, but I am an erotomane--someone consumed with a morbid sexual obsession.
I never saw anyone dance to Tallulah again after that first time, but if there was one song that will always sum up the Sunset Strip for me it is Grace Jones's La Vie en Rose. There was a beautiful tall Welsh brunette who always used to dance to this, two or three times every night. Most girls had to dance to two tracks but this girl just danced to this full 7½ minute track. She would come on in bikini and red boa and after quickly divesting herself of her clothes would just shimmy from foot to foot with that red boa in a kind of Soho can-can. The song starts quietly and then just climbs up into the stratosphere, making your head want to blow off. It was an incredibly beautiful performance every time. Wherever that girl is now I hope she is happy and rich and healthy, because she gave me so many happy nights. It was truly beautiful. Beauty comes in many places and people who look down on strippers and strip clubs and the dirty old men who go to the strip clubs have no idea what beauty can be created on that stage for 3, or 4, or 7 minutes at a time.
Soon after the Welsh brunette, the famous Marisa Carnesky used to dance with boas and fans to Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose followed by Je Ne Regrette Rien. Legendary amazing performances, by a big voluptuous girl, with real artistry and beauty and sexiness. This was the heyday of Sunset Strip and of Soho for me.
"Another breed of lodger was the "gentleman slummer," who, like thrill-seeking men of every era, would leave his respectable home and family to enter a forbidden world of low-life pub-hopping and music halls and cheap, anonymous sex. Some men from the better parts of the city became addicted to this secret entertainment, and Walter Sickert was one of them."
After these early spectacular forays into seedy Soho I became absolutely hooked. I went as often as my dole money would allow me.
My day would start with a midday train into Charing Cross then straight down onto the Northern Line to get the tube to Goodge Street to the newsagents that sells the Italian magazines filled with paparazzi shots of Italian starlets naked at the beach or on their yachts. Walk back down to the bookshop on the corner of Old Compton Street with the porn magazines downstairs, then down Charing Cross Road for the second hand bookshops looking for Fu Manchu books. Then I would start my imbibing in the Chandos on the corner of St Martin's Lane.
In those days three pints was about my limit and then I would be off, walking back up to Sunset Strip and the Carnival. Incredibly, it was not until after more than two years of this that I developed that growing feeling that just watching them was not enough anymore, and I wanted to take that next step.
One of my favourite scenes in all cinema is in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold when Richard Burton meets his contact in a Dean Street upmarket strip club called The Pussy Willow.
It was Sunset Strip Dean Street that I saw my first ever naked woman, and it was in the "model"'s room on the corner of Dean Street that I lost my virginity, so how can Dean Street not always be my "shining road"? It was in 1994 that Cranes released Shining Road and this instantly became my theme song for the longing to return to Soho, at a time when I was out of work and could barely afford to go outside the house. Also loved by me at this time was The Auteurs Upper Classes, and Sneaker Pimps. All these songs become bound up in the seedy glory of Soho. Music has always been central to the Soho experience for me, though people scoff when you say one of the best things about a strip club is the music; as central as drinking.
This is a story of pubs, strippers, whores and porn cinemas. The glory that was Soho. It was a time, crucially, before I had internet, and whenever I was randy to satisfy my erotic needs I had to go to Soho. Those fabulous first years in Soho were the Golden Age of my life, and I constantly yearn to bring that Golden Age back to life.
My trajectory was always the same. To the Chandos to get myself to the perfect point of inebriation, to Sunset Strip and Carnival to make me randy, to the Astral Cinema to bring me to the perfect point of priapic arousal where I was ready to absolutely explode, then to a "model" to release it all, or more often than not, being so drunk, to end the ten minute triste unable to release, and to be thrown out with my juices still intact.
This is a story of perversitude, and of priapic glory, and it was always so much more thrilling for me to have to walk back through the night time streets of Soho, across Leicester Square, round the corner of the bottom of Charing Cross Road back to Charing Cross Hotel and Station, with my manhood still swollen and throbbing, unsatisfied, and refusing to go down, swaying from side to side in one's trousers like an iron road for all to see. This was so much more pleasurable than finishing with the "model" and then experiencing that instant ennui, and shame, as if waking from a spell, looking around at one's surroundings and thinking "what the hell am I doing here?" and going home feeling down in every sense of the word, depressed. Better to keep one's juices, and finish it off when one got home! The last thing before falling asleep!
To this day I still prefer sex without resolution, to keep bringing oneself to the point of pleasure and then pulling back, prolonging the moment of ultimate pleasure for as long as one possibly can.
It was then that Soho, my Soho, began to be destroyed. My Golden Age started to fade away. In 1997 the Carnival closed. In 1998 the Astral Cinema closed. Two of the central pillars of my sinning had been knocked away. A year later the Sunset Strip changed hands from Freddie Bass to new owners who began the process of modernisation--gone the darkness, gone the curtains, gone the jazz. A bar was built at which the girls would sit upstairs, so no longer could they be seen and used as anonymous objects. No longer a club for old men in mackintoshes. The Boulevard followed it along the same path.
The destruction of all that brought me to life. The Demolished Eroticism.