Danielle WillisJD: We were talking about the Cleveland Torso Murderer.
DW: Well I had to figure out something interesting about Cleveland. Apparently he killed a bunch of people during the thirties. Elliot Ness had become the Public Safety Director of Cleveland after his big success with Al Capone. In Cleveland however the Torso Murderer fiasco basically destroyed his reputation and career. He had to resign in disgrace because he never found the killer. I think there were ten people killed. They found all these truncated corpses: heads and bodies wrapped up separately. I went around to all these different sites there. He mostly preyed on hobos. He killed one guy who was a bisexual pimp/gigolo but that was about it. He killed black people, white people. He did not discriminate both men and women.
JD: So Cleveland's really not a great night-life place?
DW: Well the problem is I don't have a car. It's kind of like LA in that respect. It's hard to get… Basically if you want anything, if you want drugs, if you want to go out, you've got to hook up with a friend who has a car. If you want any kind of drugs you've got to go to the East Side.
JD: Why did you move to Cleveland?
DW: Well I lost my apartment in San Francisco, I was doing way too much crystal meth here and I had to get out of town so I moved to Cleveland. I'm paying $400 a month for a one bedroom. I work at Taco Bell (laughs) and I can actually live on it there. I chose Cleveland because my boyfriend, Ixe/Matt, his family is from there and we were living on the street here in San Francisco so he e-mailed his mom and his mom sent him a bus ticket. He went out there and got an apartment and I followed him out there. I've been in Ohio since November.
JD: You are still writing?
DW: Yeah. I've been blocked for a while but I just started writing again after being a celebrated poet/performer in San Francisco for ten or fifteen years.
JD: When did you first come to San Francisco?
DW: Nineteen eighty-six. Well I came out to California in '86 and I settled in Santa Cruz and then I moved to San Francisco in '87.
JD: You worked for the Mitchell Brothers for a while and you got a great pull quote on the back of your book Dogs in Lingerie: "One mean bitch" -- Artie Mitchell. What went into that statement?
DW: Well I threw him down some stairs (laughs). He was fucking with me one night in the dressing room and it got a little violent and we got in a scuffle before I went on stage. When you go on stage at the Mitchell Brothers you have to go downstairs from the dressing rooms and when you come back upstairs you pass the DJ booth and there's some navigation involved. On my way back up I had my shoes in my hand -- the stairs you have to climb up are really rickety -- -- at the top of the stairs Artie was waiting for me and blocking my way to get back in the dressing room. I attacked him with my shoe.
JD: Was it a spindle-heeled stiletto?
DW: It was a steel-heeled stiletto. He went to the hospital for that and Jim [his brother] had to put him in rehab.
Violet: What was funny was you guys became friends after that. He would bring all his friends over and be like: That's the chick who kicked my ass!
DW: Yeah we became good friends. His brother hated me.
JD: That was the dead one right?
DW: Yeah, Artie's the dead one.
JD: A lot of your writing seems to draw on the experiences you had working in that industry.
DW: Yeah the sex industry is a very rich area of inspiration because you meet basically every walk of life. As far as the women who work in this field, I think I've found the most intelligent and together women in that industry and also some of the most messed up. As far as the customers go it's always very interesting to meet people with their public faces off. You get to see behind their masks: they're not the person that they're being at the office; the person that they're being for their co-workers or their friends: they're behaving in a way that they wouldn't behave in public. I can look at people and see what they're really like.
JD: All walks of life. Do you wanna talk about the 49ers and Jack Davis' [SF political consultant] birthday party?
DW: Sure. Basically I had just kicked heroin at my friend's house -- David Aaron Clark. His roommate, Steven Leyba, was going to do a performance at Jack Davis' 50th birthday. Steven needed someone to dress up like Disney's Pocahontas and sodomize him with a Jack Daniels bottle because supposedly there was this ritual he made up that he had convinced me was a real ritual: The Apache Whiskey Rite. In this ritual the braves of the tribe that had become addicted to the white man's fire-water would be humiliated by being sodomized by a bottle of said fire water. I actually went on the news and defended this as an actual thing and only later found out that he had made this up so I was pretty pissed about that. [laughs]
V: That culminated in hours of argument with Rush Limbaugh.
DW: Yeah Steve went on every single right-wing talk radio show and argued with the host and callers. Rush Limbaugh was: "Sir you are an ass! Sir you are an ass!" over and over again. It was really funny.
V: That was the best talk radio ever.
DW: It did not make my parents really happy, let's put it that way. The publicity wasn't just coast-to-coast, it was international. [the story made The New York Times and the international wire services]
Marsha: Willie Brown walked out or am I wrong?
DW: Willie Brown did not walk out. No one walked out.
V: He was front-center. We watched the video that Steven has.
DW: Yeah nobody walked out.
JD: Weren't [US Senator] Diane Feinstein and [California State Senator] Quentin Kopp present?
DW: I think quite a few of those. I don't know exactly everyone who was there but supposedly most of the political elite of San Francisco were there and I don't think any of them walked out.
JD: Were you able to ride the publicity for a while?
DW: Yeah, I got a couple of long-term clients out of it (laughs). San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey gave me his business card and actually told me a very amusing story. He and his drinking buddies were at some baseball game and he was drunk and gave his friend this laminated "Get out of Jail Free" Monopoly™ game that he signed. A couple of months later his friend gets arrested on a DUI and presents this card in jail. The deputy at the jail calls Sheriff Hennessey at home and goes "There's this guy in your jail that has a laminated 'Get out of Jail Free' card signed by you" and Hennessey told him to let him go.
JD: Mike Hennessey went to see the Sex Pistols at Winterland in 1978 wearing a dog collar. He was a punk rocker before he became the sheriff.
DW: That's an interesting leap.
JD: This is an interesting town. What does your fiction tend to be about?
DW: I write poetry and fiction. I've been trying to write this novel for years -- I don't want to go into it right now because I don't want to jinx it -- I'm working on it again. I tend to write about my experiences. It's mostly autobiographical but some of it is fictionalized. I've had short stories published in a lot of horror anthologies: Poppy Z. Brite's Love in Vein; Nancy Collins' Forbidden Acts; Thomas Roach's Noir Erotica. The story from Forbidden Acts was published in Glen Danzig's comic series Verotika; of course the lesbian sex act that was two sentences long in the story was three pages of illustrations in the comic version.
JD: That tends to be what Danzig is interested in.
V: It was pretty good for what it was.
DW: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JD: What's your obsession in your fiction?
DW: Probably vampires. I like vampires a lot. I try to de-romanticize them. I tend to present them as being… I figure that vampires are actually weaker than people. They're slothful, dead, parasitic, bored, useless creatures.
V: One of my favorite vampire movies is Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark.
JD: That's a good one.
DW: Except for the end which is stupid though.
V: But the characters…
JD: Redneck vampires.
DW: "Put it this way son -- I fought for the south."
JD: So you really believe there are vampires out there?
DW: Sure (laughs).
JD: Are you one?
DW: That remains to be seen. Ask me again in twenty years.
JD: Do you believe they are immortal or have longevity?
DW: I don't know. I don't know. It all remains to be seen.
JD: Now when you say "vampire" do you mean beings that suck blood or do you mean psychic vampires?
DW: A combination of the two.
JD: I see. Have you ever met people like that? Actual vampires?
DW: I'd rather not go into that.
JD: Well you don't have to mention any names.
Marsha: San Francisco's full of psychic vampires.
DW: Oh yeah.
M: It's a Mecca.
JD: I don't know if we should dignify "weasels" with the term "vampire".
DW: (laughs) Weasels? Define "weasels".
JD: What's your favorite story so far?
DW: That I've written? Probably either "Happy Couple" or "Tiffany's Shitty Night". For that second one I took every awful thing that happened to me or one of my friends dancing and put it all together on one person in one really annoying night. It was supposed to be in an anthology of Taxi Driver type stories where people finally just have enough and freak out. That's "Tiffany's Shitty Night".
JD: You have a stylized persona that draws attention to yourself when you perform. What comes first? Your art or this persona?
DW: I don't know how to answer that question. I think for me my art comes first but for a lot of other people my persona comes first. My persona is people see me as a vampire, as a dominatrix or people see me as a Satanist. People see me as the person who does everything that nobody else will do or admit to. I'm an outspoken sex worker for instance. I don't really see myself as all that unusual. I just see myself as someone who admits things that a lot of people won't.
JD: What kind of responses do you get to your writing and performances?
DW: Pretty much positive. I think a lot of people come for the sensationalism of who I seem to be and they stay for the writing.
JD: Who do you think your "fans" are? -- If that's the word for it.
DW: I'd say a lot of goth kids, the old-time San Francisco poetry scene and people who are also fans of the sex industry. I'd say I have a fairly large, diverse group of people as fans. How did you hear about me?
JD: I used to read out a lot at the Chameleon and the Paradise and did intern work at Maximum Rock and Roll and saw your book. I had my ear to the rail, so to speak. You were saying that when you work somewhere like the Mitchell Brothers you see people without their public façade of propriety and respectability. You don't have an investment in parading this image of being this perfect Christian, middle-class entity. It's like Iggy Pop or Keith Richards going "Yeah I've done these drugs, I've had a good time doing them." Most people, if they're ever caught doing drugs and they're in any kind of public position or place of societal recognition, they have to make a public confession and say "I'll go into treatment." You seem more candid about the whole thing, more honest.
DW: Yeah, I've been a junkie for 20 years. I just recently quit methadone. I went off 120 mm of methadone. That was really hard. Heroin takes three days to leave your body -- methadone takes three weeks. You don't even start feeling the withdrawals till the seventh day. It's awful. It's awful. I'm not trying to do the NA thing but I am trying to make drugs less a part of my life now just so I can write. The drugs have cut into my productivity.
JD: Where are you from originally?
DW: I'm half from New York and half from California. My parents are academics. My dad is now at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor teaching Economics. My mom was a middle school teacher though now she's like a full-time housewife. My dad taught at Stanford up until when I was in sixth grade and then we went to Stony Brook. I ended up going to Barnard then and moved to the University of Chicago. So basically I was an academic brat which is a lot like being an army brat. I went from campus to campus. That's my background.
JD: So did you drop out of Barnard or did you get thrown out?
DW: I got asked to leave because I had a nervous break down. My first girlfriend dumped me my second year -- my second half of my sophomore year -- and I flipped out. I tried to commit suicide. I did all kinds of gross stuff then. They sent me on psychological leave.
JD: So you lived in New York City then?
DW: I left New York City and went to California.
JD: I found your description of Barnard interesting. "All the girls look the same…"
DW: Back in the eighties they all had those little bob haircuts: very annoying.
JD: Have you spent much time in New York? [I ask this because Danielle's non-"granola" style, while frequently apparent in San Francisco, is generally not considered to be very "California" hippy/surfer/nature etc. The goth thing, while everywhere in the last 10-12 years, at Danielle's level tends to have a very London/New York aura about it]
DW: I've lived off and on in New York. I lived at Second and Seventh in the early nineties. Mostly I'm a San Francisco person. I'm living in Cleveland incognito now. I'd like to start doing a scene of some kind there. I don't know if there's any kind of cohesive writing scene or if it's all Def Poetry Jam. I get sick of the whole poetry slam thing. It's all kind of… poetry slams seem the opposite of what poetry is supposed to be about. I think people are supposed to get together and share each other's work. It seems like anytime you make it into a competition it becomes… it just becomes…
V: It's like debate class.
DW: It becomes assoholic. I don't know.
M: It sort of got made popular by rap -- the poetry slam thing.
DW: I can understand the rap thing but that is the nature of competition but I find the whole poetry slam thing as being very limited.
JD: Like a basketball game.
JD: Tell me a little about Dogs in Lingerie.
DW: It's fiction and poetry. My first book was Corpse Delectable which I wrote in '86; my nervous breakdown poetry. Dogs in Lingerie has some of that and it also has a lot of my obsessions with Bambi Lake and Omewenne Grimstone -- two notorious SF drag queens -- and it also has some of the nucleus of this novel that I've been trying to write forever that I've been more successful at living than writing.
V: Her novel's more or less done.
DW: He's helping me edit it.
V: She has a wealth of unpublished stuff.
DW: I'm a perfectionist.
V: She would edit her work till the day she died.
M: The problem with writers.
V: So I pretty much have to steal her work from her and sell it.
DW: We also have an interview with Karen Greenlee that we need to sell.
JD: The necrophiliac?
DW: Yeah she's a very good friend of ours actually.
V: We've become very good friends with Karen over a two-year period and after getting to know her we decided to do an interview with her. She basically told Danielle, over a few bong loads of her pot that she smokes like cigarettes, her entire life story. It's epic. Unbelievably tragic and funny.
DW: We still have it don't we?
V: Yeah we've got the whole thing.
DW: We need to send that out.
JD: You don't mind if this information is in the interview do you?
V: Oh no, not at all.
JD: A lot of people know who she is because of the Adam Parfrey Apocalypse Culture interview.
V: Penn Press was doing an issue called "Bad Words" which was just about fucked up chicks. I was going to give them the interview but I just got to the deadline too late. They already had an interview with Karen but she told us stuff that she never told anyone, stuff like what kinds of fashions necrophiliacs had to wear.
DW: The best is a kind of jump suit that zips up and down.
V: She describes second by second this account where she kidnaps this body. She describes being in this hearst surrounded by cops for 18 hours. It's unbelievable.
JD: You mentioned Omewenne. You're interested in transsexuals?
JD: I'm interested in your take on that. I've known some women who find drag queens and trannys offensive. Of course there's also women that love them.
DW: I consider myself a lazy bisexual. I like the tits and the dick on one person. Like my current boyfriend was a she when I first met him. Now he's just a very pretty and androgynous boy. I'm kind of over my exclusive desire to be with queens -- girlfriends that were transsexual. I find them very attractive.
V: Danielle did a movie with Kelly Mitchells.
DW: Kelly Michaels.
V: Kelly Michaels. I'm not a big fan of hers.
DW: She's from Florida. She came up here to be a Madonna impersonator. She tawks lahk this. We were standing on the corner during the shoot, some guys run by and said "We got the biggest dicks. You get in our truck!" and she says "Ah'll just whip mah ten inches outta ma bikini and ah'll whip you upside the head with it." She was great. Just a little Daisy Mae creature.
JD: She looked like a woman though?
DW: Yeah looked like a woman.
JD: Hung like a horse?
DW: Hung like a horse. Perfect.
JD: Do you have any kind of occult interest in cross dressing or gender alteration, like some magicians will dress as women?
DW: No, not really. It never occurred to me. I just think they're purty.
JD: What was high-school like for you?
DW: Really annoying. I didn't like it. I was definitely too smart to be there. I hung out mostly with college students and older people as much as I could. Just hated it for the most part. I felt like I was being talked down to the whole time.
JD: Did you associate with a bad crowd that you could relate to?
DW: I hung out with my own weird little clique of occult freaks. The only reason we didn't get our asses kicked was because everybody thought we would curse them.
JD: Kind of like a proto-trenchcoat mafia?
DW: Yeah, yeah.
JD: You said you were an abscess fetishist.
DW: Yeah I like abscesses. I think they're fascinating. There's just something fascinating about them. I'm related to Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so I guess there's just this mad scientist part of me that wants to do amateur surgery. I think I'm qualified to be a Civil War battle surgeon. If it were the 1800's I'd probably have a surgery degree. I can lance your average abscess and I've actually stitched people up. I used to hold seminars behind the methadone clinic showing this particular technique of how to get the heroin residue stuck in your skin out of it with -- I can't describe it you'd just have to video tape me doing it. You use Neosporin, a little pinprick of blood, tobacco or tea leaves and you just rub it on the skin. As you rub the heroin residue just pops out.
JD: Do you re-use this heroin?
DW: No it's just the stuff that gets clogged in your skin. [indicating a street person who has walked into the café] She's witnessed my technique. Monica! Come here! Describe my technique for getting heroin out of people's skin.
DW: Come over.
Monica: You want to get the poison out. For some reason -- I don't know why -- she takes it, it can be Vaseline or…
Mon: And then she gets the tobacco and rubs it in and it just pulls the stuff out. It actually takes the little black shit out.
V: I thought she was crazy at first but it actually works.
DW: I know that General Hospital just likes to cut people up.
Mon: They also like to scar you or at least they did whereas at another place they'd just give you antibiotics and drain the abscess. In the past they were having problems with skin botulism and Flesh Eating Virus so that was their excuse. The thing is they do this because you can actually see the stuff eating away at your skin so they remove everything as a precaution -- but I think they also mutilated people on purpose. It was like you were given the "mark". You know the "Mark."
JD: How are you related to Robert Louis Stevenson?
DW: He's my sixth cousin on my father's side.
JD: Do you have any other writer's in your family?
DW: No just me.
JD: Do you see much of your parents?
DW: Yeah I do. I didn't used to but now I do.
JD: Do they freak out about things like your fangs?
DW: Yeah they do. They want me to get rid of them. They're on pins and needles about me being out here right now because they just think I'm going to disappear into the firmament and never return. But I love them a lot and I think we've sort of made peace with each other. How about you and yours?
JD: Fundamentalist Irish Roman Catholics. My dad's 82 and looks like he's 60. Works out everyday -- ex-marine. I care about them but we don't agree on anything. Is there anything you'd like to get out there like "Just say no kids."
DW: Well basically experiment all you want but be prepared for whatever the consequences are. I'm not going to tell anybody not to do anything because I did it. I wouldn't give up the experiences I've had for just about anything. At the same time I wish I had been more productive and now I'm trying to get my productivity back.
JD: Did you ever perform your play?
DW: Yeah Breakfast in the Flesh District?
JD: Methedrine Dollhouse?
DW: Yeah that was years ago. I performed that in '89.
JD: Did you direct it?
DW: Yeah I directed it -- well no my friend Bob directed it -- I wrote and starred in it.
JD: What was it about?
DW: It was basically an update of Sunset Boulevard. The Nazis had a studio system just like the Hollywood system but after the war most of the films were destroyed. I figured what if instead of Norma Desmond what if there was a German Valentino who is now a Hollywood B movie producer that is still very embittered about his lost film career and hires two prostitutes to live at his house and act out scenes from his old movies. It just goes on from there.
JD: That's Dollhouse?
JD: Directed by who?
DW: Bob Vernon.
JD: Where did you show it?
DW: At the Exit Theater. My hit was Breakfast in the Flesh District. That was at the Climate Theater in '93-'94. That was sold-out for a year.
DW: It got great reviews and everything. I'd like to bring that back.
JD: Was it a one-act play? Two-act?
DW: Cintra Wilson, who had a column in the Hearst Examiner directed it and it was two-act. I was the one-woman in the one-woman show. It was basically sort of a -- we sat down together and made a collage of a bunch of my stuff -- chopped together in a monologue that was coherent. It went really well. I'd like to do that again. Cintra said she wouldn't work with me until I cleaned up -- so I cleaned up! Cintra, if you're out there I want to work with you again.
JD: Did you study drama at all?
DW: I took a few drama classes. I was in a play in high school but mostly I'm self-taught. I would always go out for stuff and I would never get the parts I wanted. The ony lead part I ever got was at the University of Chicago. I played Mina Harker in Dracula of all people! I played the virgin!
JD: Can you talk about doing tricks in New York as a transsexual?
DW: I had a friend named Page who used… I'm not the prettiest girl in the world but I'm definitely one of the prettiest boys. I had this friend named Page who was a tranny prostitute and she used to pass me off a sex change so of course that made me the number one individual everyone wanted to see. Even if they really wanted a dick they wanted to go with me just to see the "operation". I used to work at a place called Sally's Hideaway.
JD: You once mentioned to me a place called Eidelweiss.
DW: Eidelweiss is no longer there. In fact I don't even think Sally's is there anymore.
JD: Were these exclusively transsexual brothels?
DW: They were brothels where queens went and turned tricks. Basically there'd be a hotel next door and you'd get a guy and go next door.
JD: A break from "granola."
DW: Yeah the San Francisco sex worker's scene can be a little too… When you go to other parts of the country and the people aren't as enlightened you can kind of appreciate this city but you sort of miss the sleaze when you're in San Francisco and everybody's doing sex work for "empowerment".
JD: It's beautiful and natural and everyone should do it!
DW: It kind of takes the fun out of it.
JD: You want something unnatural.
DW: Yeah, you want…
JD: Something dirty?
DW: Something dirty. Broken needles and people screaming outside the door.