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House of Tudor 

A Clarinet Thing, mammalian minxes, and a Valentine's Day Fabulous Disaster

Wednesday, Feb 12 2003
One of the more talented and inexhaustible musicians in the Bay Area, clarinetist Beth Custer has co-founded the Club Foot Orchestra, Trance Mission, Eighty Mile Beach, Clarinet Thing, and the current Beth Custer Ensemble. By drawing heavily on jazz, classical, ragtime, and klezmer, Custer's music serves as a salve for pop-dehydrated listeners. Her compositions -- which frequently feature her unearthly soprano -- swirl with effervescent humor, melancholy bridges, loping overtures, sultry interludes, and implied narratives, making them ideal for film, television, theater, and dance pieces. But no matter how many commissions Custer receives, she always returns to the stage, conjuring smoky burlesque clubs, grainy cowboy poems, crumbling circus tents, cartoon roller coasters, and desert harems out of thin air. During the "Clarinet Monster Series," Custer serves as curator and composer in residence, offering performances and workshops in collaboration with some dear friends. The series opens with the reunion of Clarinet Thing -- a quintet featuring Custer, Sheldon Brown (Club Foot Orchestra), Ralph Carney (Tom Waits), Ben Goldberg (New Klezmer Trio), and Peter Joshef (Empyrean Ensemble). Other colleagues, including Miya Masaoka and Fred Frith, will join Custer Wednesdays and Fridays throughout February. Clarinet Thing opens the "Clarinet Monster Series" on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the Lab (2948 16th St. at South Van Ness) at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10-15; call 864-8855 or go to

Breasts are not common in nature. In the bovine population, for example, heifers develop udders only when it's time to produce milk, losing them when the calf stops feeding. In many ways human breasts seem to defy reason: They come at high cost to agility and nutrition; they aren't accurate indicators of health, fertility, or availability; and, as any new mother will attest, they aren't well designed for actual breast-feeding. Regardless of variations in cultural absorption or indifference, the biological proof remains: Tits are titillating. Russ Meyer personally blames his fascination on Al Capp, the creator of the buxom, ball-busting women in Li'l Abner, but Meyer did him a dozen pair better, on both accounts. Even in this era of copious surgical enhancement, Meyer remains the master of cleavage. His starlets are the female Übermenschen of exploitation films -- flesh-and-blood creatures with extraordinary attributes, uninhibited by convention and unbound by buttons. What girl of my generation didn't aspire to become a little like Tura Satana -- the chesty, karate-chopping femme fatale who hucked the objects of her desire in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! -- and what boy didn't want to grow up to handle her?

I have often wondered what became of Satana and all the others in Meyer's gang of mammalian minxes. (Turns out, Satana gave up acting to become a nurse.) Surprisingly, some of them have lately -- and largely -- re-emerged. Reuniting with legendary exploitation director Ted V. Mikels, Satana can be seen in the recently released Mark of the Astro-Zombies, a sequel to Mikels' ludicrous 1967 horror film Astro-Zombies, which he made while his star was residing in his notorious Nevada castle. Predictably low budget and utterly hilarious, the film shares its local premiere with the similarly well-rounded The Double-D Avenger, starring Kitten Natividad of Russ Meyer's Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, Raven De La Croix of Meyer's Up!, and Haji (Satana's very stacked, very pissed-off dyke girlfriend in Faster, Pussycat!).While neither of the new movies offers the beauty or the bite of Meyer's best, they are surprisingly pert examples of the sexploitation genre: short on plot, big on breasts, and filled with cheap monsters, cheaper jokes, spotty camera work, and dialogue that was probably written on set. In brief, they're good, biologically satisfying fun. The Double-D Avenger director William Winckler appears in person with actors Raven De La Croix, Mimma Mariucci, and G. Larry Butler on Thursday, Feb. 13, at Oakland's Parkway Theater (1834 Park at Lake Merritt); Mark of the Astro-Zombies starts the festivities at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call (510) 814-2400 or go to

According to "Stinky's Peep Show," love is a four-letter word and you are a sorry fucking sap who couldn't get a date on Valentine's Day if you were one of only two people left on Earth. But, hey, that sort of attitude is what makes "Stinky's" feel like home -- there's no need to wallow in self-pity when you can drown your ineptitude in cheap beer and punk rock. To lend a hand to "Stinky's" big, fat, hairy cupid, the ladies of Fabulous Disaster will be celebrating the release of Panty Raid!, their third CD. I recently read a review of the foursome, which said "they sound way better than the Donnas," and I had to laugh out loud. Comprised of former members of Frightwig, Mudwimmin, Angle Corpus Christi, Piston, and Mermaid Tattoo, any one of the women from Fabulous Disaster could kick all four of the Donnas' asses without breaking a sweat. And the local act is touring with the Briefs, Seattle's masters of punk-pop mayhem. Try to top that with milk chocolate and shitty wine. Fabulous Disaster supports the Briefs on Friday, Feb. 14, at 330 Ritch with Deadly Weapons opening at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 541-9574.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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