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David Trinidad

David Trinidad

Sheena Is a Punk Rocker

So I’m in the frozen food aisle
at Jewel, trying to find the right
veggie burger, and I realize
“Blitzkrieg Bop” is playing on
the store’s P.A.  Thirty years later:
the Ramones as Muzak?  Hard to believe.
My hair, reflected in the freezer door
and highlighted by fluorescents,
is turning from salt-and-pepper
to gray (or “silver,” as Lisa Fishman
says).  Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee
are all dead.  Hard to believe it’s been
over three decades since Christopher
(my roommate) and I went to see them
at a small club in San Francisco, their
first-album tour.  Twenty-three,
with black, straight, shoulder-length hair
and tight T-shirt and jeans, I looked
like I could be a Ramone.  The bartender
thought so; before the show, he kept
serving me free drinks.  That’s about all
I remember, except that the music was
so loud, my ears rang for days afterward.
I was afraid they’d never return to normal.
On the way home from the market, the right
veggie burgers in one of my plastic bags,
the sky above Chicago was clear blue;
a plane quietly moved through it.  How
did I, shy Valley boy, end up at a punk concert?
Jenny.  Friend of my friend David, who
before he introduced us, enthralled me
with tales about her: “kooky” overweight
art student who lived in a guesthouse in
Granada Hills with cats and movie posters
and a mannequin dressed in thrift-store finery;
who, when she threw parties, greeted her
guests in the driveway, wearing a flowery
muumuu and feather boa, and blowing bubbles
as she sped towards them on roller skates.
She had gay friends, and frequented Astaire
& Rogers marathons at revival theatres.
Still in high school, such a creature seemed
to me a free spirit worth venerating, a kind
of San Fernando Valley Sally Bowles.  After
I graduated in ’71, David finally got us
together; we became fast friends.  I loved
spending time with her in her guesthouse,
surrounded by objects: her collection of
vintage ladies’ hats, her childhood dolls;
Art Nouveau pictures taped to the walls,
jars filled with peacock feathers and pinwheels.
She introduced me to Debussy and Fauré,
Anaïs Nin, Joni Mitchell and Dory Previn.
Every week, she’d read TV Guide, circling all
the Garbo and Katharine Hepburn and
Hitchcock films she wanted to watch.  She’d
sit at her loom, weaving colorful and textured
wall hangings, while I wrote poems and
short stories about her.  Our blissful asexual
relationship lasted several years, until
Jenny completed her master’s degree at
CalArts.  Though she was beginning to
make a name for herself as an artist, her
life took a sharp, overnight turn in early
’76: she discovered Patti Smith.  You’ve got
to see her!
  I resisted as Jenny dragged me
to the Roxy, but found myself spellbound
when, before the band came out, Patti, in her
Rimbaud-esque Horses getup (rumpled white
shirt, tie, black jacket), read poems and spit
on the stage.  For the rest of the seventies,
Patti would be God.  Encouraged by the
pictures she’d taken of her, Jenny decided
to become a rock-’n’-roll photographer.
While I, inspired by Smith’s credo of
fearlessness, quit school (six credits
shy of my B.A.) and moved from L.A.
to San Francisco, “to live the poet’s life.”
Which translated as very few poems, but
lots of sex and alcohol.  Christopher
and I met and hit it off; he moved
into my appropriately seedy apartment
on O’Farrell.  We’d hang out with Toni
(a.k.a. Tonette), his friend from high
school, who made decent money as a
dominatrix-for-hire.  Jokingly, we called
her “brazen hussy.”  The three of us
drank and smoked and listened to music,
Tonette’s neighbor pounding on the wall.
They introduced me to Sparks and Eno,
Rocky Horror, and Leila and the Snakes,
a campy local act whose lead singer,
Jane Dornacker, had co-written the
Tubes’ song “Don’t Touch Me There.”

With her “snakes” (Pamela Wood and
Pearl Gates), Leila sang tunes like “Rock
and Roll Weirdos,” “Pyramid Power,”
“Cathy’s Clone,” and her spoof of Paul
Anka’s recent hit “(You’re) Having My
Baby”: “(I’m) Getting Rid of Your Baby.”
Bona-fide groupies, we showed up
wherever they played.  Toni and I had
a handbill photo (the band in Retro Chic:
’40s feathers, fishnets, and floppy hats)
transferred onto two T-shirts.  When we
wore them to their next performance, Jane,
who went by the name “Leila T. Snake,”
called us onstage to display our “Leila T. Shirts.”
Christopher had to prod me: Get up there!
Late in the year, Jenny phoned, peeved
that one of the Ramones had told Creem
that they’d been followed around L.A.
by “a three-hundred-pound cherub named
Jenny,” and announced that even though
she and everyone else on the punk scene
thought Patti’s new album, Radio Ethiopia,
a complete disappointment, she was flying
up to Frisco to photograph her.  We agreed
to meet at the auditorium.  I remember it
darkly: a mystified Smith, less charismatic
on a big stage, asking “Where are my maniacs?”
oblivious that the fans who did rush the stage
were being pummeled by musclebound
security guards; Christopher and Toni to
my left, looking unhappy; Jenny to my right,
flailing to the music.  When I’d had enough,
I shouted, “Jenny, please stop pushing me!”
She turned, screamed a Ramones lyric (“I
don’t wanna walk around with you”), and
stormed away, but not before Toni brazenly
called her a Jewess.  After the concert, we
sat in Union Square, dejected, while a stoned
Patti Smith groupie, who’d attached herself
to us, kept moaning, “I’m so fucked up.”
Burned out on promiscuous sex, I moved
back to Los Angeles to finish college and
concentrate on my writing.  By then, Jenny
was living in an apartment off the Sunset
Strip, close to the clubs.  She dragged
me to see Blondie at the Whisky a Go Go:
Debbie Harry, in dark sunglasses and
hot pants, coyly enacting “X-Offender.”
One morning the phone woke me at 3 a.m.
It was Jenny, proclaiming with triumph that
she’d just been “butt-fucked” by Iggy Pop.
As the years passed, I avoided her more
and more.  The last time I saw her, she
was house-sitting in the Hollywood Hills.
Freaked out by the Wonderland murders,
she kept checking the window, talking
incessantly.  Shortly after that, we had
a blowout over the phone.  I told her
I never wanted to speak to her again.
“OK,” she said, and hung up.  Years
(hard to believe how many) later, after
I’d relocated to Chicago (after fourteen
years in New York), Jenny tracked me
down via the Internet.  Well, look how far
you’ve gotten.
  We spoke a couple of times,
reminisced about her guesthouse.  She
revealed that it was one of my stories,
depicting her as a lonely shut-in, that
prompted her to branch out, and led to
her involvement with punk rock.  But
we quickly were at odds all over again.
I wished her well; she sent a final, insulting
email.  To spit out the bitter taste, I did a
search for Leila and the Snakes.  (I always
thought if I ever wrote a novel about those
days, I’d call them Vera and the Vipers.)
And was dismayed to learn the fate of Jane
Dornacker.  After her rock group disbanded,
she developed a successful career as a stand-
up comic on the San Francisco circuit, and
also worked as an actress and traffic reporter,
first in California and later in New York.
In 1986, she was killed when the news
helicopter she was reporting from crashed
into the Hudson River.  The raspy-voiced
Dornacker, who referred to herself as a
“trafficologist” and “Jane-in-a-plane,”
was in the middle of a live report when
the chopper stalled, nose-dived, struck
the top of a chain-link fence at a pier, then
plunged into the river.  Thirty-nine years
old, she died on her way to Saint Vincent’s.
Her last words, imploring the pilot to avoid
a collision with the pier below them, were
“Hit the water!  Hit the water!  Hit the water!”




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