Although I’m no Dick Avedon, I have been picking up some rather special photography assignments lately. The most recent was a gig to steal the soul of none other than Little Joe himself. No, I did not have to exhume the body of the late Michael Landon. It was the other Little Joe - Dallesandro. You know, the randy Andy Warhol superstar of such classics as “Lonesome Cowboys”, “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein”, and “Andy Warhol’s Dracula”, not to mention all those one word wonders - “Flesh”, “Trash”, “Heat”, and “Bad”, the four titles summing up perfectly his hustler essence. You may recall his perfectly natural build, his enviably straight and always dirty, dirty-blond hair, the classically chiseled features, the thick brows, the full lips, and, of course, his natural endowment to the arts, if you know what I mean.
In his heyday - or should I say ho-day - Joe Dallesandro was the supreme ultimate gay pin-up, not only having appeared in naked beefcake photos avec hard-on (check out the Bruce of Los Angeles book), but also in several low-rent pornos, one in which, I’ve been told, he is sodomized by something which looks like a broken broom handle. I must admit I’ve never seen the historical artifact in question, so I cannot swear to its veracity, but it sounds terrific (my new superlative).
On my recent book tour, I dropped into the Index magazine office in New York, which doubles as the art studio of the famous artist Peter Halley, its publisher, to see if I could scare up a gig. Index is kind of like Interview when it was good in the seventies, composed primarily of conversational interviews of people not particularly promoting any products for a change, and bound in a large format with big, easy to read type - refreshingly Luddite, unlike those early nineties publications like Raygun and its ilk which tried to make reading unfashionable, and succeeded.
Bob Nichas, editor of Index, and dubbed by his publisher the Jack Benny of the nineties, suggested that since I was on my way to Los And, I might want to essay a photo shoot with Mr. Dallesandro, who had already been interviewed by Tina Lyons for an upcoming issue. Actually, if truth be told, he suggested for the job a photog ex-friend of mine, but I tidily Eve-ed him out of the picture, so to speak.
So it was that I found myself in L.A. pulling a scrap of paper out of my pocket with the glamorous name Joe Dallesandro scribbled on it, plus phone number, and I nervously dialed up a legend.
Joe sounded a tad scattered and more than a little suspicious upon answering the phone, and the fact that I forgot the name of the woman who had interviewed him didn’t help any. He suggested I call back in a few days with more details. Upon my return from a weekend in San Francisco - which is all the time one needs there - I metaphorically hit redial and tried again. This time he was more focused and much more receptive, generously setting a date and time and giving me his address.
Now I have vowed to be a little less forthcoming about the details of my sex life in my various public musings, but this part is truly essential to the story arc. The night before I was scheduled to do the shoot, I picked up a Columbian named Ishmael at a Gino Colbert Film Festival at the Tomkat porn theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard, took him home, did christine with him, and had sex for an alarming number of hours. He seemed kind of dumb and could hardly speak English, but he had a big dick even when soft - and a good thing too, since crystal meth is an erectile inhibitor which, roughly translated, means I sucked on a limp dick for seven hours straight.
Ishmael (he never did understand the Mellville-ian implications) left at eleven a.m. as my driver, Mrs. Glass, was to pick me up at noon to make the scheduled one p.m. appointment with Mr. Dallesandro. When he arrived, I was forty-winkless and wired. On the way I stopped at a pay phone and picked up the receiver with a shaky mitt to let Joe know we’d be over in a few. Joe, also sounding a little strung-out, said he was running a bit late, would we mind hanging out at the Taco Bell on the corner near his place until he was ready for us?
I sat across from the Mrs. Glass, my Rock of Gibraltar, looking down into a questionable cup of Taco Bell coffee, trying not to pass out into it. A long half hour later we drove over to the address Joe had given me. Much to my surprise, the apartment building in question was one of the very ones we used as a location in “Hustler White” - the part wherein Tony Ward scales a wall to escape my character, who is chasing him.
Mrs. Glass and I entered the run-down lobby, where behind the desk sat a bitter old school queen in high, tight-waisted jeans, white t-shirt, and peroxided hair. I asked him how he was doing today. “Old and tired,” came the beyond world-weary reply. I asked if Joe was in, and he gestured a limp-wrist toward a battered couch, suggesting we sit down while he found out.
The lobby, a two-story, high-ceiling-ed affair with large windows and a tiled floor with a balcony overlooking it, hinted at an opulent past in its Day of the Locust heyday. Now everything was chipped and dirty and drab, a Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the corner adding to the depressing effect. A strange cast of characters paraded before us as we waited: two old men, one black, one white, in shabby suits, one in tap shoes (he tap-danced by); a Nina Simone look-a-like carrying a heavy suitcase; a by-the-numbers Sunset Strip rocker; an aging gym queen; a black hipster. Finally Joe appeared on the balcony and descended, accompanied by a shady looking character, both in cheap, gangster-worthy suits. Joe at fifty was short and slightly ashen in appearance, still with the trademark straight, long blond hair and square jaw. He looked good for his age, although a slight paunch could definitely be detected beneath his suit.
Joe told us coldly that his friend had to go fill a prescription for
him, and that he wasn’t ready. I said fine, we could wait, but could I use his washroom. “Off-limits,” he said crossly, “But you can use the one at Taco Bell.” He then added, “While you’re there, could you pick me up a chicken quesadilla?”, pulling a crumpled one dollar bill from his pants pocket, “Here’s a dolla.” “That’s okay, Joe,” I replied. “It’s on me.”
Back at the Taco Bell, I expressed worry to Mrs. Glass. Joe wasn’t being very cooperative. Mrs. Glass calmed me down and ordered Joe’s chicken quesadilla. “Don’t forget the receipt,” I reminded him.
Back at Joe’s, we found the ex-superstar outside, leaning against a car and talking through the rolled-down window to some other dodgy looking character. I walked over to tell him where we were parked. “I see you,” he snapped at me. “Whenever you’re ready,” I responded sheepishly. Mrs. Glass and I went and sat in our car and waited. Through the rear-view mirror I saw Joe disappear into his building once more, probably never to return.
Miraculously, ten minutes later Joe reappeared with several changes of clothing, which he deposited in the backseat. I had heard that Joe had done a reading from a script with Tony Ward several months earlier at the L.A. cinemateque, apparently at a fund-raising event organized by some indie film-maker who had the bright idea of putting the two ex-hustlers in a movie together. As Tony’s character in “Hustler White” was essentially a Dallesandro homage, I mentioned to Joe the irony of his building being a featured location in “Hustler White”, and asked him if I could photograph him in front of the wall that I had chased Tony over in the film. “I don’t want to be associated with that,” came his curt reply.
The crabby legend finally crammed into the back seat, Mrs. Glass began to drive us over to my place on North Crescent Heights. After a stilted silence, I tried to make conversation. “That’s a pretty interesting building you live in, Joe. Do you know the history of it?” “Yeah,” he replied. “Somebody built it, and now people live in it.” I gave a sideways look to Mrs., a kind of gulp-I-could-be-in-real-trouble glance. Mrs., behind his big blaxploitation shades, drove on steadily. He calmly lowered a hand to the chicken quesadilla on the seat between us and pushed it toward me slightly. I picked it up. “Oh, here’s your chicken quesadilla, Joe,” I said, handing it back to him.
Maybe it was the chicken quesadilla, maybe it was the realization that magazines are not exactly banging at his door asking for photo ops anymore, or maybe it was just his quixotic nature, but at that point Joe brightened considerably. He began to chat almost animatedly about junk food, sharing with us how great he thinks the chicken sandwiches at Jack in the Box are, and that he has one almost every morning. Then he told us a horror story about how once at that same fast food establishment, where four people died of food poisoning not so very long ago, a ditzy waitress wiped his milkshake with a dirty cloth so that when he tried to drink from the cup he almost gagged and had to send it back. I was riveted. Passing Fairfax High School, in front of which a group of fourteen year old girls stood in a circle smoking, Joe informed us that that was a really good place to pick up dates. I asked him about the movie he was about to start on Monday (playing, of all things, a sleazy photographer), called “L.A. Off the Map”, to be directed by Minna Karismaki, brother of Aki Karismaki, who directed “Leningrad Cowboys Go Moscow”. (Incidentally, I happen to know that Minna and Aki don’t get along, the former being the good boy who went to film school and did things by the book, the latter the renegade, hard-drinking wild man who learned everything the hard way.) Joe didn’t seem to know too much about it. He also told us about another gig he was offered recently, directing an orgy in some performance art piece. “I think I could tell people how to fuck,” he said confidently.
Things were a bit anti-climactic once we got to my place. I wanted to take him to do the photo shoot at a friend’s place on the ocean in Malibu, but Joe vetoed the idea, saying it was too far. I settled for my back yard. By this time the sun was going down and the light was flattering. I tried to make him look stoic and heroic against a grey plank wall with the paint chipping off it. Joe was being almost friendly now, and I was starting to like his no-nonsense, seen-it all done-it-all attitude. I had a little trouble changing the film rolls, my hands fumbling and shaking owing to my drug hangover and lack of sleep and all, but miraculously the pictures did turn out.
As Joe left with Mrs. Glass, who generously offered to drove him back to his place, he stopped in the driveway and turned to me standing at the door and said, “Hey, if they don’t turn out, just call me and we can do it over again.”
Compared to his previous demeanour, it felt like a kiss.
For information about purchasing any of these limited edition photographs please visit Peres Projects.