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By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo Waa! - Waa!


By Will "the Thrill" Viharo



Overall, it was a very good year. And as usual, I always think it will be my last year as “The Thrill,” but no, I’m already booked at least through next May. Next April will mark my seventh anniversary performing this strangeness, and while I’ve had many successes to be proud of, being in the public eye has taken its toll on me personally. I’ve always considered myself essentially a writer, till head honcho Kyle asked me to create and host a live cult movie show for The Parkway when it first opened in its current speakeasy incarnation back in January of 1997. (I got my “act” together by that April, and I’ve since become full-time programmer and publicist for The Parkway, the only job I’ve held which I was really qualified for, or enjoyed). It’s been a weird, wild ride, and I’ve been very lucky to have such a unique gig, spreading my own vision of movie madness and lounge livin’ to the masses. Nowadays, it seems like live-hosted cult movie/midnight shows are everywhere. There’s even a guy in the Midwest named Rock ‘n Roll Ray who hosts “the Atomic Midnight Show” wearing a fez and a smoking jacket! So I’m not as unique as I used to be. I probably never was, really. Though I did create a local niche that remains unchallenged, or at least undiminished, even as across the Bay, characters like drag diva Peaches Christ are creating their own stir. Good for them. I know when I finally retire someone will be around to pick up and carry the tiki torch. Meantime, I still have work to do.

I think the biggest drawback to being a local lounge lizard in the spotlight is the bizarre negativity that sometimes gets unleashed my direction, especially during that whole Ocean’s 11 boycott thing, still one of the most amazingly odd experiences of my entire screwy life. Why such a silly stance (I was aesthetically opposed to the remake, in case you haven’t heard) from a seemingly insignificant pop cultural commentator such as myself would inspire this media attention, not to mention the barrage of “hate” mail (or even the “love” mail) from all over the globe, I’ll never know for sure. In hindsight, I think it may have had something to do with the fact it all came down a couple of months after that other infamous “Eleven,” and people were thirsty and grateful for the distraction. Glad I could provide it for them, even though initially my platform was very personal and limited, I thought, to whoever happened to read my column, where the rants began a full year and a half before the remake even came out. I could’ve done without all the flak, especially that ridiculous backstabbing slam piece, but I guess I asked for it. I guess. I mean, how did I know so many people were paying attention? I was a bit naive to the wicked ways of this wacky, wired world, I must admit.

Now I know to be careful. Just because someone asks for your opinion doesn’t mean you have to give it. If the media ever comes knocking on my door again, I’ll know to be a bit more discerning, and ask them a few questions first. I was too gracious and innocently accommodating for my own ultimate good. I also know that the Internet can be as devious and destructive, as it is positive and powerful. From my perspective, it’s a great networking tool. But for too many malicious malcontents out there, it’s also become a perfect way to anonymously slime and slander anybody within target range of their bile and bitterness. I mean, there are many public figures I’m not crazy about, like Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt, but I don’t go so far as to actually write them “hate mail” or post personally offensive tirades about them in chat rooms. I don’t hate them, because I don’t know them. Im just not a fan of their work. Do I resent their success? A little. I prefer it when celebrities are people and artists I can actually admire. But there are still a few contemporary actors whose work I do enjoy, like Billy Bob Thornton, Johnny Depp and Salma Hayek, so there’s no reason for me to grouse. I do anyway. This column is about politics and pop culture and apparently, a few people out there are interested in my humble opinion. People like you. Thank you! That also keeps me going, just having an appreciative audience (even if they love to “hate” me). Some guy who really had a mysterious grudge against me publicly claimed there are “legions” of “Will haters” out there. I wasn’t even aware legions of people know who the hell I was. It was hard not be flattered, though that clearly was not his intention. So far, he’s the only “Will hater” I’ve heard from, and that was indirectly. Imagine, hating a guy who wears a fez hat and hosts B movies. I wasn’t aware that I had such an impact on anyone’s life that they’d feel compelled to react so strongly, one way or another. Live and learn.

Ironically, most of the publicity I accidentally generated on my behalf was positive (like a great review of my web site in Entertainment Weekly, and a featured spot in a French documentary on Vegas), and so were most of the emails. Maybe I’m accentuating the negative too much, playing the sensitive card. I shouldn’t bitch, really. It’s all good, ultimately. My lounge lizard skin has grown much thicker than it used to be, and that’s a healthy asset.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to confront this kind of insane hostility, anyway. Things have calmed down considerably since the “Ocean’s 11” flap exactly two years ago as of this writing. Whew, what a relief. Some people think I crave the attention. I don’t think so, but then I haven’t slowed down enough to check if my public displays are an addiction, a habit, a responsibility, or a creative outlet. At this point, I’m inclined to think it’s a combination of all of these, and more, or maybe less, I don’t know. It’s not the money, that’s for damn sure. The glory is minimal. But the rewards come from the people who write in and tell me what a great time they had at the show. And that happens frequently enough to keep my engine humming. Again, I thank you.

My biggest accomplishment as host of Thrillville was probably, at least according to loyal supporters, bringing local “Creature Features” icon Bob Wilkins back into the limelight for three major appearances at The Parkway. That was a feather in my fez, I must say. Bob didn’t make it down for the show this past October, but there’s always next year.

Some of the highlights of this past year, probably my best yet, include:

The Conga Lounge in Rockridge re-opened with a full exotic bar, which makes all the difference (I never went there before!), and I became fast friends with the owners, Michael and Mano, introduced to them their idol, Otto Von Stroheim, who now DJs his own “Forbidden Island” the last Saturday of every month, and began hosting my own Thrillville theme nights there, which have proven as successful as they are fun.

At The Parkway, I was proud to host many great live acts this year, Bay Area icons like Project: Pimento, The Devilettes, The Phenomenauts, Dane’s Dames Burlesque, The Atomic Lounge Show and the Mocha Velvet Combination. I was also greeted to visits by Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, the Metaluna Mutant, and the Monster of Piedras Blancas, not to mention zombies, killer clowns, and theremin master Robert Silverman. Then there were the special guest co-hosts: “Creature Features” legend John Stanley, Doktor Goulfinger, Mr. Lobo. A personal milestone was achieved when my stage was graced with the presence of Russ Meyer’s sexiest babe Raven de la Croix, who became my new pal, and of course my old pal Ray Dennis Steckler, who let us celebrate his 65th birthday here in Thrillville. He also helped close down the Fine Arts in Berkeley, but Keith Arnold will return one day, bigger and badder than ever. Besides the Conga Lounge, Monica and I hosted another hit road show up at Copia in Napa. Thanks to Richard Miami again for inviting us – looking forward to the next one.

Sadly, amid all this coolness, I also lost a great friend this year, Julie Parrish, on October 1. At least she didnt live long enough to see Arnie become Governor, and I know she'd be happy to miss that, wherever she is. A terrific actress, champion of battered women, talented singer, and dear pal with a great sense of humor, she was simply one of the best people Ive ever known. Aloha with love, baby.

Back on the upside, I actually got my own theme song this year too, courtesy of a great lounge/surf band from Chicago who’ve never even caught my act (except on the web). The magnificent Moon-Rays wrote and recorded my new and eternal theme song, Thrillville,” a stunningly sublime combo of beatnik jazz and space age lounge, stylishly summing up my whole existence as The Thrill in less than a minute. They inadvertently gave me one more reason to keep going, just when I was ready to toss in the fez. Recently they recorded a full-length version for their next album, too. I’ll keep you posted and where and when you can pick it up.

tiki barAnd finally, thanks to my old pal Dave Ortiz, who recently acquired an old tiki bar headed for the scrap heap, cleaned it up, added wheels, and donated it to my stage show. Now I finally have an actual tiki bar for the show, after years of improvising. Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in. Mucho mahalo, Dave. Here’s to another thrilling year in 2004.


Next year is our next best chance to bring Hope back to humanity for at least another four years. Face it: this ticket is our (people interested in social justice and real freedom) best chance of beating that evil grinning joker Bush and sending him on a permanent vacation back to his beloved ranch. I know many Lefties feel neither of these candidates is liberal enough for their tastes, but here’s a reality check: neither are the vast majority of your fellow voters. We live in conservative times, bred and bolstered by the climate of fear, intimidation, bigoted “patriotism” and religious rhetoric the Right has so ingeniously propagated in the wake of 9/11, a national nightmare that was their biggest dream come true in terms of securing a choke hold on our society. Citizens who oppose this hostile, cynical power grab by right wing fanatics who want to force their ideology on our diverse culture need to organize and prioritize in a hurry. The Left is weakened and rendered impotent by its own internal dissension and lack of focus and will. The Republicans are also comprised of moderates and extremists, though it seems the latter are the most vociferous, and dedicated, in their quest for conquest of our nation. The irony is, as Clark has pointed out, our Constitution was founded on liberal ideals of debate, dissent and diversity, words and ideas that seem to seriously rankle the Right, who, as a further irony, deem themselves the purest of patriots.

I can’t believe it whenever I hear about the term “compassionate conservatism” as if it’s a good thing – doesn’t it bother conservatives that in order to win over the masses, their ideology has to be qualified with the word “compassionate,” meaning that normally, conservatives are NOT compassionate? It would bother me, and make me question my allegiances. But that’s me. If you’re happy being labeled a naturally cold-hearted bastard who has to re-invent his/her image to win votes, how nice for you. Of course, that is the nature of politics. Which brings me back to my original point.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled Howard Dean has surged to the top of the Democratic presidential candidates, since I’ve thrown my full support behind him from the very beginning. I should feel vindicated for choosing the front runner so early in the race. But to be honest, I’m also a bit nervous: the recent and completely random upswing in the economy and Bush’s depressingly successful staged photo ops (like that embarrassingly transparent Thanksgiving whirlwind, gimme a god damn break – secretly serve some turkey to the poor soldiers dying in the desert for a couple of hours, then speed back to the safety of his ranch, wow, what a hero!), combined with the general population’s astonishing gullibility for the most obvious bullshit, cause me serious concern. I think in the current conservative climate, someone with Wesley Clark’s military credentials has a better chance of dethroning Bush – even though I think Dean would probably make the better president all around.

Dean is fiery, articulate, passionate, smart, witty and for my money, a very shrewd and savvy politician. I think his stand on gay marriage, for instance, is just right for this moment in time: he supports equal federally recognized rights for everyone, regardless of orientation. But he strategically stops short of openly supporting the institution of gay marriage, since it is essentially a religious issue, and most religions are still based on Stone Age perceptions of morality. You gotta play both sides of the fence if you want to be President. That’s just the reality. Lefties often share the same delusion Right Wingers do – that ultimately, deep down, everyone will eventually go along with their views if they just stay the course, because Their Way is the Only Way. If you want to win the high office these days, you gotta shoot for the vast bullseye in the Middle. This pie in the sky crap is going to do nothing but curse us with four more years of the most conservative, arrogant administration this country has ever endured. I mean, sure, Dean won’t go all the way in his support of gay marriage, at least not publicly. But you can have his more balanced POV in charge of the show, or let Bush continue to push his radically religious views on the country by trying to actually amend the Constitution in favor of heterosexual marriage. (Like that’s been such a popular success, but whatever – I’m happily married, but I haven’t procreated, either, so I might as well be gay and shooting my seed up a hairy male butthole instead of the Tiki Goddess’s sacred shrine, at least according to these fascists.)

As long as human beings fear Death, and we always will, Religion is here to stay, and it has every right to be – so long as it doesn’t become a political mandate. I fear Death, and so far no religions I’ve encountered and dabbled in, from East to West, have assuaged that innate terror, but that’s just me. If you’ve found a church or sect or doctrine or text or guru or whatever that meets all your spiritual needs, good for you. Meantime, no matter what happens to our souls when we cast off this flimsy flesh, I also cherish Life, and I don’t anyone telling me how to live it. But I am also painfully and acutely aware that the majority of voters are probably religious, and we who reserve the right to question the Ultimate Truths as well as our government’s actions need to acknowledge that – even if they don’t give us the same consideration. Unfortunately, we’re in the minority, at least for the time being.

So take your pick: four more years of devious destruction from Bush/Cheney or a fresh start with Dean/Clark – and sorry, but solid Lefties like Kucinich, while admirable, will not be in the running, so they’re not even a realistic option. Don’t blame me – blame the country for being too conservative to accept them. And in truth, I’m basically a moderate liberal, or I used to be, till Bush took over and pushed me about as far to the Left as I can go, so I am not compromising so much this time, making it easy for me to choose.

But here’s another fact Dean supporters better admit, including Dean himself: without Wesley Clark on the ticket, we have no hopes of winning the election. I actually think Clark is more electable than Dean, but so far, Dean has run the better campaign and enjoyed the mounting momentum. I prefer Dean on domestic issues, but since 9/11 and Bush’s shotgun response have basically put us in a perpetual state of war and terror, having a real General, as opposed to a smirking frat boy who likes to dress up in flight jackets, in charge only makes sense. Especially if he’s a social liberal like Clark, which means we won’t be forced to defend ourselves on two fronts at the same time. I fear if Dean chooses anyone but Clark as his running mate (or vice versa), we’re doomed. I firmly believe that. I can only hope and pray he does, too. I hear they’ve talked before about this prospect, before Clark threw his hat in the ring. Keep talking, please.

But if Dean does win the nod and picks Clark, I actually think we have a chance of toppling the Bush regime and restoring dignity, respect, compassion (real, not fake) and fairness to the White House. I will also cease to be embarrassed to be American. I can only take so many atrocities committed in our name, and this White House has gone way, way beyond the pale. They are totally out of control and lack any reason whatsoever with their imperialistic policies, and must be stopped. Howard Dean is the man to do it – but only if he has Wesley Clark around to balance out the ticket, whether on top or bottom. Clark is Batman to Dean’s Robin, even if Robin is driving the Batmobile this time. In any other scenario, as far as I can see, we’re seriously fucked. Mark my words.


I don’t live in SF, but if I did, I probably would have voted for Green Party matinee idol Matt Gonzalez for mayor, based solely on principal and issues. He’s also much further from being a Republican than that other guy is (and SF voters had this luxury of conscientious choice, since it was a two man run-off race, with no right wing party poopers on the ballot). There’s just one problem: Matt needs a fuckin’ haircut, or at the very least, a comb! WHY DO LIBERALS HAVE TO BE SUCH GOD DAMN SLOBS??? Sure, the conservative image is one of clean cut, buttoned down uptightness, but guess what? That discipline, structure and attention to superficial image are translating into Power. As anyone who has the read the last few columns is fully aware, I am no fan of Arnie’s, but I must admit he always looks great (even if he sounds like a mainstream-mongering moron). Contrast Arnie’s sharp, metro-sexual appearance with that of our liberal poster boy, Michael Moore, who always looks like something the cat dragged in, then dragged right back out again. Is it asking too much for him for him to shave and tuck in his shirt once in a while? He perpetually looks like some beer-bellied redneck at the ballpark dripping mustard all over his beard and shirt. I love the guy, but this slovenly image is just not necessary to get his points across.

Liberals need to outgrow this counterculture hippie mentality and develop a sense of Personal Style. Just because you’re socially progressive doesn’t mean you HAVE to walk around wearing fucked up faded jeans and a ratty old Aerosmith T shirt. Look at me – I’m a total throwback, a Rat Pack Democrat. It pays to look good. Why? Because it makes you feel good, and that feeling of goodness is contagious. Like Jerry Seinfeld remarked once, walking around in your jogging sweats is a sign you’ve given up on Life. I mean, if your personal style IS being a rock ‘n’ roll slob like Jack Black, then hell, far be it from me to criticize. Just ask yourself one question: is your greasy, stringy hair and pimply butt-crack peeping over the top of those baggy trousers a form of creative expression, or sheer laziness and self-degradation? I get the idea most liberals think they’re somehow bucking the system when they dress like slobs and let their hair turn into crow’s nests, like it’s some kind of big, anti-establishment statement. That is so old and tired. The Right is right on this one – you need to get out of the Sixties, not philosophically, just sartorially! Dig it, and this is coming from someone who shares your social ideals: YOU’RE AN EYESORE AND AN EMBARRASSMENT. And on top of that, your lack of personal hygiene isn’t winning over any voters. Your messiness is mucking up your message. A tie does not have to be a corporate noose. It can also be the mark of a man who pays attention to little details and sees the big picture at the same time. Put on a snappy bowling shirt, at least. Shit, even the Mafia has more style than you clowns. Not all liberals listen to and take their fashion cues from Bob DylanBobby Darin was on our side, too. Just a thought. It might make the ultimate difference come Election Day, and also take away one more point from the other side, who have recently co-opted the patent on Style. Let’s take it back, whaddya say? Do it for Frankie (Sinatra, not Zappa – who was a Republican, by the way, so not all of them are Fashion Plates, either.) If you really wanna stick it to the Man, dress better than he does. That’ll really piss Him off, if nothing else.


Last month I prematurely (as usual, since the family friendly, Oscar-heavy Christmas Season rarely sees the release of quality psychotronic cinema) offered my Top 10 Thrill-sanctioned Movies of 2003. Here’s a couple more: one I haven’t actually seen it but by all accounts will fall madly in love with, BAD SANTA, and one I have seen but forgot to mention last time, 28 DAYS LATER. The latter was over-rated and a basically an arty Romero rip-off, with male but no female nudity, a serious and puzzling flaw, but overall, it was a solid re-working of the old Last Man on Earth/Omega Man chestnut and well worth seeing. So that means my Top 10 really has a dozen titles in it. One more reason to hate me.


But hey, I’ve heard of people who actually hate Elvis. As my friend PM Clary used to say, people who hate Elvis only hate themselves, because they’re denying their own Inner Elvis. Don’t let this happen to you. Come to Thrillville at The Parkway on Thursday, January 8th to celebrate ELVIS’S 69TH BIRTHDAY with my second ever screening of his all time 1964 classic, VIVA LAS VEGAS, co-starring the vivacious Ann-Margret, to whom I am paying special tribute this month for no other reason than I feel like it, and she always deserves the attention. AM embodies the va-va-voom of the classic sex kitten to me, and on top of that, she’s a hell of a good actress, as evidenced by her later roles in serious fare like Carnal Knowledge. But she will probably always be best remembered for kicking up her heels with The King on “C’mon Everybody” one of the highlights of this quintessential American Pop Drive-In Masterpiece. (Actually, AM is probably even better known to many people as “Ann Margrock” on The Flintstones.) “Viva Las Vegas” just explodes in your face from the big screen. Even if you’re not an Elvis fan, you have to experience it (while sitting on one of The Parkway’s new couches!!). I’ve shown this movie once before actually, exactly five years ago, for my first “prime time” show on a Thursday night, after two years of playing to crickets at my struggling Saturday midnight version of Thrillville, called “The Midnight Lounge.” The success of that one gig convinced me to talk Kyle into moving “The Midnight Lounge” to Thursdays at a decent hour, and this strategy paid off in spades, as I’ve been going strong ever since. I owe it all to The King. Thank you Elvis, thank you very much. And Happy Birthday, baby.

Two weeks later at The Parkway, on Thursday, January 22nd, I’m presenting for the first time the movie that really put AM on the map, BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), based on the popular Broadway musical which, ironically, was inspired by Elvis getting drafted into the Army and breaking female (and maybe a few male) hearts all over the world. This is a fun, silly, colorful, vibrant and tuneful romp, with great comic turns by Dick Van Dyke and Paul Lynde, but of course AM steals the show with her combination of innocent ingenue and teenage tease. God damn, that woman is sexy (almost as sexy as The Tiki Goddess, but not quite). I just can’t say it enough. I once knew a gay waiter when I worked as a busboy at Neiman-Marcus in Beverly Hills in the late 70s who was madly in love with AM, the one woman who could’ve scared him straight. Sadly, he succumbed to AIDS like so many of my friends from that era, but on his deathbed, who should give him a personal phone call but his female idol? It was arranged by a mutual acquaintance or something, but I know he died with a smile, thanks to AM, a great lady.

Now if only she'd run for President.


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