article and illustrations by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol
Things aren’t always what they seem. When the lights are low in a nightclub the magic comes to life. Smoke and mirrors present a world of fantastical images and the Luv-A-Fair was that mythical land. It was the “new wave” club where most hard-core punks would not be caught dead. The air was infused with the heart-pumping mascot drug of the dance floor: poppers. And as the drinks flowed the Look of Love looked increasingly better as the night wore on. But if you have ever been in that club before the magic starts or at the end of the night when the lights come back on, that enchantment has long caught a cab with its new best friend: illusion. You know what I’m taking about. Let’s face it, the majority of people look better in the dark and for the rest good lighting is everything.
The Smilin’ Buddha, punk’s premier destination, on the other hand, had no chance of even attempting to be anything more than it was-- a narrow little beer-soaked pub. It was a rock bottom ‘warehouse’ with rock bottom prices. However, it did carry one claim to fame: Jimi Hendrix once played there. (At least that’s what my parents would boast). That room held as much mystique as its doorman Igor was debonair. Still, it was an exciting dive, our dive; the only club in town that would consistently allow punk bands to perform.
I couldn’t help myself and in the late 1970s to early ‘80s I would traverse the two worlds --sometimes racing from the Buddha to the Luv-A-Fair towards closing or vice versa depending on that night’s talent line-up. These hot spots were Vancouver’s answer to CBGB and Studio 54, respectively. Despite the fact that Poly Styrene was belting out “I am a poseur and I don’t care” on the PA, patrons of the Buddha considered being labeled a poseur a challenge to a duel. In the Luv-A-Fair they were vying to make a career out of it, or at least to get a free drink. People made it a point to look fabulous and fashionable -- they really put in the effort. Giant speakers sat against the walls and doubled as gogo dancing platforms beckoning, “Hey, you just spent 35 bucks on your new black vinyl Le Château pants, jump on up here and showcase those fuckers!” And they would.Many club-goers were art school students, aspiring models, designers, hair stylists and make up artists. The hair was big and flawless. I’m sure that Flock of Seagulls dude had backed a truck full of Dippity Do into the loading dock and showed everyone how to use it.
Mike Score of Flock of Seagulls flew the hair standard high.
Before becoming a pop singer, he cut the stuff for a living.
Before becoming a pop singer, he cut the stuff for a living.
Meanwhile many of our Buddha counterparts (aspiring or practicing anarchists), were busy using toothpaste, beer, Jello, egg whites and even the very bad choice of glue to achieve serious spikiness.
Usually we frequented the Luv-A-Fair during the week. Saturday was considered “Squares Night Out” but it also offered the most opportunities in terms of ‘acquiring’ drinks. People would abandon fresh bottles of beer while they hit the dance floor. I felt less remorseful if it happened during a lame song, anything by Split Enz or Haircut 100. (Notice their names are really all about hair?) Fair game, I’d say. However, towards the end of the night my pals and I would get sloppy and disregard the telltale sign of a room temperature beer bottle that offered the special sunken treasure of a cigarette butt or two. Touché. Life’s a gamble. I did not, however, play those odds at the Buddha.
Luv-A-Fair scene-makers took their dance moves very seriously and had their own signature steps, i.e. the iconic “Dan Schnell”, who owned Duran Duran’s Planet Earth, or maybe it owned him. Many affected an expression of ennui while working a cool, slow moving twist or Ska type of swing that communicated something to the effect of, “Oh this dancing thing? It’s so pedestrian, but really what else is there to do except go home and cut...” I considered myself a bit of a bon vivant and would bop in a lively fashion to even the darkest tune. Enola Gay? Bombs away! Love Will Tear Us Apart? I gotta go cut a rug! Fade to Grey? Well, okay! Give me some space, people! Bela Lugosi may be dead, but not me.
Sharing the dance floor was a little different at the Buddha. The strategy was to actually stay somewhat vertical. Sometimes a playful push to release a heavy Dayton boot from my foot was necessary, other times a little shove to navigate a beer bottle from slamming into the side of my head made for a more coherent evening. There was nothing malicious about the mosh pit, just exuberant sloppy fun-loving kids bouncing around. No one had a true set dance style but when things got rockin’ the ear to shoulder side headshake manifested (which allowed for some great hair resuscitation). Change sides as needed.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my night was the preparatory stage of hair and make-up. Our primer was of the alcohol variety. However, applying one’s make up sober is, of course, paramount to a successful night of looking good. Touching up one’s make up while slightly tipsy is touch and go. And retouching whilst plastered is just a cry for celibacy.
Inspired by some of the masters and mistresses of illusion at the Luv-A-Fair I tried my hand at a few beauty aesthetics. I was excited about the idea of having glamorous nails -- those would really accentuate my dance moves. Enter the Lee Press-On Nails kit. Always classy. I was extremely pleased with my way too long smart pink nails even though they prevented me from putting my hands in my pockets; it meant sacrificing a favorite pose. It’s important to decide if your night is going to involve snapping your fingers along to any of those thunderclap and whip cracking enhanced tunes like Master and Servant or Whip it Good. If the answer is yes, the wearer must ensure not to form too strong a relationship with those prosthetic nails. Eighty percent will abandon your fingertips and only about ten percent will be returned to you, usually with the comment “your fucking nail landed in my drink, bitch”.
Another beauty embellishment that backfired was my Mod false eyelashes. (They went extremely well with my Mod white gogo boots). They stayed in place almost till the end of Tainted Love. It was a remix, extended version, so really, that’s a good chunk of time. At the end of the song my pal informed me that I had a caterpillar walking across my eye. When I got upstairs to the girls’ loo I saw Malcolm McDowell circa Clockwork Orange staring menacingly back at me.
What a Kick In the Eye; I realized then I would have made a shitty drag queen. There is a definite art to the magic of self-transformation. I started to understand that I had to work within my limitations. Sure, I can paint my face and tease my hair adequately enough; still, I was never going to achieve anything near the perfection of those glam Luv-A-Fair kids. They had mastered the elusive skill of illusion. They emerged from the darkness while the music and strobe lights were in full swing and the clever ones vanished into the night before the end of Love Song.
The Luv-A-Fair ended on February 1st, 2003.