Glamour of Glaw
Over the phone Michelle Glaw sings, in a gloomy minor key, the first verse of her band's newly penned theme song: "I'm a Vulga, you're a Vulga, we're the Vulgarians....And if you mess with one of us, we'll mess you up and drink your pus." She giggles then speaks. "Hopefully," she says, "people will hear that song and get scared."
In person, Glaw, with her wide, gap-toothed smile and dark eyes that seem ancient, projects the potential for infinite creativity as well as for infinite destruction. She sometimes wears a necklace made of miniature skulls, her homage to the fearsome Hindu goddess Kali, the great creator/destroyer of all life. Glaw, who is "first and foremost a writer," is really a Jill-of-all-trades. Aside from writing her 'zines, Glaw is also a costume designer, vinyl collector, guitar player, singer, songwriter and former counter person/ resident artist at the downtown coffee house No tsu Oh. Her latest project is a punk art-rock act, the Vulgarians. Given her ability to manifest her numerous creative obsessions, Glaw might be just what the burgeoning indie-style pop revolution in Houston needs.
Glaw, 22, says that when she made her decision to get back into music after not playing for two years, she was determined to have an all-girl band and do it her way. In her late teens Glaw had a "pushy roommate" who tried to "manage" her, which ended in disaster. It steeled Glaw's resolve to stake her own territory. She recorded a slew of teen-angst songs about prostitutes for the tiny Woodlands-based Doormat Records and toured, which was fun but draining. "I wanted to start something that had an image, that was away from the [current] political agenda of girl bands," says Glaw. "I wanted to have more sonic elements, like a Phil Spector Wall of Sound. He's the guy who created the Ronettes, all those '60s girl bands. I wanted to be Phil Spector."
Last fall Glaw distributed anonymous flyers seeking girls "...who like Elvira, black eyeliner and girl gangs ... no poseurs or rockabillies." The only responses came from guys, however, leaving phone messages saying, "Michelle! We know it's you!" and wanting to play with her. She was disappointed. Apparently Houston is low on badass female rockers.
Olivia Dvorak, who works with Montrose Radio and was booking bands for a Halloween "Monster Rock Show" at Mary Jane's, saw the flyer at Cactus and thought the embryonic group had the right attitude for the event. "I didn't know it was Michelle," Dvorak says. "She left a fake name, Christine Eckenbockerheimen or something." The Vulgarians, with a still unsettled lineup, had their first gig.
Dvorak knew Glaw through their mutual thrift-store and clown-art obsessions, and had hung out with her when Glaw worked at No tsu Oh. When the original Vulgarians lineup began to dissolve (because of "stupid band politics," according to Glaw), Glaw invited guitarist Dvorak, who was already practicing with her friend, to join. So far the two remain the only constants in the group's ever-shifting roster, which has included, among others, drummers Josh Barry from Japanic and Dominick from Rusted Shut.
Glaw, née Bock, grew up homeschooled in a rootless Pentecostal household, which may partly explain her creative drive and voracious appetite for pop culture. Glaw's huge record collection encompasses everything from Brian Eno to the most obscure folk music, such as -- according to Jim Pirtle, proprietor of No tsu oH, who has seen the collection -- "the Weavers....Way beyond Simon and Garfunkel."
Glaw's family relocated to Houston from the Midwest when Glaw was an adolescent. When the family later moved from Houston, the 16-year-old Glaw opted to stay here and made a living as a nanny, among other things. She started playing the guitar at 14 but says, "I'm not a riffmeister or anything, you know. I'm probably at the same level I've been for about five years." Which is somewhere between the Donnas and the Shaggs, but it works.
Glaw, who can seamlessly quote Thoreau, Xaviera "The Happy Hooker" Hollander, Winston Churchill and Aleister Crowley in an hour-long conversation, says she was given her pseudonym in 1996, when she was publishing her now-out-of-print fanzine, Glaw! People starting calling her "Michelle Glaw" after the 'zine. But the name, says Glaw, also has personal meaning. It's an acronym for "glamour, love and Waits" -- as in Tom Waits, her teenage passion.
The Vulgarians' second gig took place in early December at the Mausoleum. Glaw, singing and playing her thrift-store Magnus organ, a sort of electric harmonium, was up front and center. Her eyes, circled in dark blue glittery eyeshadow and liner, accentuated her alabaster skin. Dvorak, whose stage name is Flatula McO'Hara, was wielding her guitar, as pimped out as Glaw. Barry on drums, and sax player Ralph Armin (appearing this evening as Elke Pallenberg) from Truth Decay and Culturcide, were in drag (sort of), following Glaw's lead. The leader's voice was strong, clear and sassy. Whenever Dvorak joined in, the two produced an unholy yet pleasing wail. The Vulgarians performed a plaintive, nearly unrecognizable rendition of Marc Bolan's "Main Man" then an ominous, gothic cover of the childhood chant "There's a place in France where the naked ladies dance."
The band's original tunes are impish, with an organ-driven and raw punk sound that almost drowns out the humorous lyrics. The group finished with the very catchy original "Everyone Is an Animal," in which Glaw sings, "Everyone is an animal / Some are wild, some are tame / Everyone is an animal / Some are wicked, some are lame." She practically puked the word "lame" and glared at the audience, who applauded while the band members raised their fists in a mock heavy-metal farewell.
"It's awesome to be in a band with another girl," says Dvorak, who is also the lead singer for the recently reunited Rosebud. "I've never done this before. She has the same musical mentality that I do. I like the whole attitude. Dress up for a show, get all decked out....Every show has a theme."
After the show the band sold all of its homemade Tshirts. Some hick from the audience tried to start some shit, Glaw says almost gleefully. Said hick tried pulling off Armin/ Pallenberg's wig, claiming it offended her. "It was so trashy, so gang-ish," says Glaw of the incident. "It made me feel like a New York Doll -- or at least what I read about them -- how they got a lot of looks at first." Then, in a childish voice she uses from time to time, Glaw says, "I guess no one could handle the glamour."
Says Glaw of the Vulgarians' future: "I have an agenda, but I'm not gonna count my chickens before they're hatched. I think that's death for a band. You know, 'We're gonna be rich and famous,' and 'Let me buy you a fur coat, baby.' " Her agenda is a multimedia onslaught: In addition to selling T-shirts, the band is also working on a Vulgarians comic book. Glaw's new 'zine, which should be out by the time you read this, "is all about literature, cannibalism and nihilism." The band also plans to release a CD and launch a tour by the end of the year.
If you can't take the glam, get out of the way.
The Vulgarians perform Sunday, February 13, at Mary Jane's, 4216 Washington. For more information, call (713)869-JANE.
E-mail Liz Belile at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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