If you saw the movie Gringo and thought it was all real, GRINGO was distributed by Troma Films, KINGS of exploitation. (I found myself in a wife beater playing a riotous prisoner in a Georgia women’s correctional institution, they needed bodies for the mob and took me off camera work.)
John Spacely was not a Gringo. He was born in the USA. His grandfather was the Gringo. His last name was anglicized by his absentee father and Spacely retaliated by not using it. When people left Spacely he left them. The name was forgettable anyway. As soon as I pried it out of him, I forget it. Stenton? Something like that.
John grew up in Venice, California. He didn’t finish Venice High School. Busted for dealing his mother’s weed. Mama was an obese pot dealer with thick long black hair. She had two children that still lived at home. Guy, an agoraphobic, never left his bedroom. All communication, even meals, passed respectfully through or under his door. And Holiday, a shy teenager just wanted a normal family.
When I met Spacely’s grandfather he shared naked girlfriend pics. He didn’t speak English, but used a microphone connected to his phone machine, to record our visit, perhaps for later review.
Mama’s house was right off Venice Blvd near Linclon. She had a designated game room with a black velvet painting over the pool table and the first giant TV I ever saw. Everything she did was Texas style, big. Like her kitchen, mammoth. Skyscrapers of dirty dishes. She must have had three sets to create such high rises. I remember the pleasure of taking speed and washing them, attempting to change the architecture of her city.
John before he was 10 years old was the beloved mayor of the Venice Boardwalk. Distributing cigarettes, beer, and weed on his skateboard. Rolling the Venice boardwalk before it was a skateboard park, he was just “Little John,” making deliveries to the artists, the drunks, and the street performers.
After he got expelled from high school, John moved to San Francisco. He heard about Haight Street which must have had a similar appeal to the Venice boardwalk. Met a young girl there and fell in love, got married. It was the first time in his life he had one person all to himself. A blonde mid-western girl who got ill suddenly and died.
John miserable after the death of his wife and drinking heavily, left Haight Street for the Sunset strip. In LA he found The Starwood, The Whiskey, The Rainbow, and the Sunset Strip. He worked the strip the way he worked the Boardwalk, making connections, finding out what people needed, trading, delivering, hanging out.
With his seductive velvety voice he might slide up to you and ingratiate himself, bum a cigarette, or be unbelievably belligerent and drunk. Walking with one arm straight out like a paddle to propel himself forward, scrapping the asphalt with his white scuffed Capezio’s. He kept a blues harp tucked into his vest for an impromptu howling. When he wasn’t pissing people off he could be circumspect and sentimental, whispery and original.
Paul (Picasso-Hollywood) told my friend Audrey Loewy about Spacely, said Jessica need to meet him that we were a match.
Audrey and I almost 18 and seniors at Beverly Hills High School called Spacely at the Tropicana Hotel in West Hollywood. Telling him we were reporters from Rolling Stone Magazine. That we were doing an article on the Sunset Strip and local color. Wondered if we could interview him, bring a photographer. He said bring a six pack.
I was taking a lot of pictures at the time trying to get into Cal-Arts but Spacely tossed Audrey in the pool with my negatives so our first meeting drowned and not in fixative.
I used to sneak John who was 26 into my sliding closet at night. He waited until my step dad and mom went to bed. When the parentals met him they were appalled and distraught by the “street urchin.” Praying I was just going through a stage, yet even my grandmother laughed when he ingratiated himself.
We lived for a spell at the Cornet, The Sunset Marquis on Sunset Blvd. Next-door to Ron Ashton and Dennis Machinegun Thompson #403. His best friend David Gilbert also lived there, lead singer for THE ROCKETS. They would prepare for hours for a night out. Hairspray, make-up, heals. Apt 404 was a back drop of ever changing festivities, mannequin parts, and fascist memorabilia.
After the clubs, Ron in military garb, hosted inattentively playing endless guitar scales while watching cartoons. The windows were wide open to a panoramic view of the Sunset Strip and across the street, before it was The Mondrian, it was a compound dedicated to the fascinating traffic of prostitution.
Spacely saw to cocktails and Hors d’oeuvres. Taking up a collection, dispatching a driver to Turner’s. Passed out people were immediately decorated, first the lipstick and eyeliner layer, the drawings, then the fresh litter box pickings, followed by a fort. A quick construct to immediately collapse upon waking.
After our eviction, we found a studio, that used to be a cloisters. Wooden floors and tall windows in the shape of a single tall saint with an illuminated round head. We slept upstairs in the loft, the kitchen was a hot plate.
Velvert Turner was our neighbor. He lived in the monestary’s main octagonal structure. Moroccan carpets and sequined tapestries. Throw pillows and incense. He was a talented young protege of Hendrix.
I would have to hide that I was doing drugs with Velvert. I was the bad influence. I was the junk yard dog who would smoke PCP then play bongos with Velvert or Venice poet Steve Rose. I was the one running wild and chipping, doing heroin. Spacely didn’t want to partake and he didn’t want me doing it either. He had already lost his first love.
John was practical in his way. He was a hustler, a surviver. At first he did telephone sales. Working for a company that sold office supplies. Then realized, after getting fired, he could be his own boss. Problematic because he didn’t actually have a cache of toner and envelopes.
For a few weeks, he would call his old leads, and enquire about reorders. Then came up with a promotion borrowing the worthy agenda of the Southern Christian Leadership Counsel. I would be off to school and he would be cold calling mostly southern states. Treating bosses to an agenda for black equality.
Impersonating a black male voice that sounded a lot like his regular voice but deeper with more dynamics. Mr. Henderson or Washington would take out articles in the SCLC newspaper. Basically a little classified ad. But charge his new client 50 times more then he paid. In support of the black community. Advertising for a particular business in a particularly racist state claiming to be a black friendly. The exact mechanics were never entirely clear.
I was 19 and not ready to settle down with Spacely. And when I broke his heart he moved to New York. He was mad at me after that. I was never his princess again although I saw him when he would come to California to visit his mom.
“Gringo” the movie is not the TRUE story of John Spacely. John wanted to be an actor. He was an extra in “Sid and Nancy.” And I’m not saying he wasn’t an alcoholic or a pot-head. He was absolutely willing to do hard drugs if they were free. Or on film to be the star of a movie. If you really look at the film you will see those are not real drug dealers in the film dealing.
The guy getting shot and dying is not really dying. The film was made with extras. Troma distributes exclusively exploitation films. Unfortunately, Spacely wasn’t allowed the respect of being a SAG actor. He played the part of being a real junkie to be the star of a movie about himself. A “documentary” style movie.
The bloody scenes are bloody horrible and not accurate portrayals of slamming dope. The most wretched junkie wants to feel good, and booting blood back and forth 10 times only fucks up veins. But it worked cinematically.
Spacely got strung out during the movie and kicked afterwards with pills. He wasn’t a hope to die junkie. He was an alcoholic, fastidiously hygienic about his body and how he looked. The bad news was that not long after the movie wrapped and he kicked heroin, he got the news, AIDS.