Set the Wayback Machine for the Sunset Strip in 1974, at a decadent rock ‘n’ roll palace during the peak of glitter-mania, with special guests David Bowie, Elton John, and two ‘Rainbow Ready’ ladies
It was a cool spring night as my fellow glitter goddess Dee and I set off for West Hollywood in a glam-rock blaze of freedom that comes from being young, fabulous, and ready for anything. “Rebel Rebel” blasting from the radio, the Quaaludes had kicked in and we were geared up for a good time. Destination: the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Boulevard. Elton John’s birthday party was taking place that night and was sure to be a spectacle, beyond the usual debauchery and nightly partying that went on at that now iconic landmark in 1974.
Bowie miming “Rebel Rebel” on Top of the Pops, in 1974:
I spent hours getting ready, having scoured second-hand stores for unique 30’s and 40’s vintage garments to create a one-of-a-kind sexy, enticing look. I haunted a Goodwill outlet called “As Is,” digging through enormous bins alongside women shopping for their families while I dove in with a fiendish grip and a well-trained eye for Lurex, lamé, velvet, satin or anything sparkly for a mere 25 cents a pound. With my seamstress skills, I was able to transform these bits and pieces into glistening, glam-rock getups, tailor-made for my statuesque physique. Multi-colored platform shoes lined my closet floor.
I meticulously wrapped dozens of perm rods around my long blonde hair to achieve a Marc Bolan/Mott the Hoople look, which took hours to set for the desired outcome. I carefully shaved my eyebrows and applied Mary Quant makeup and a heavy dose of glitter. Very Ziggy Stardust in my custom-made lamé halter top, silver satin pants, and at nearly 5’ 10” with 4” high platforms, I was a sight to behold. I was “Rainbow Ready.”
Dee and I downed our ‘ludes with cheap brandy on the way, timed to come on as we arrived. Pulling into the noisy, packed parking lot, we did a final and serious mirror check. After reapplying a fresh dose of glitter, we convinced ourselves that we were more than fabulous. We were a pair of fun-loving high-voltage sirens ready to party. I thought I was a walking Roxy Music album cover under the influence.
Stepping out on the cigarette-butt-lined gravel, we spotted a young girl lying on her back on the hood of a blue Ford Cortina. Her velvet hot pants twisted down her thighs as she got head from a gaunt boy in a T. Rex shirt while skinny glam rockers teetered around the car in their platform boots idly watching in glazed amusement. We sauntered past them, impervious to the sounds of her orgasmic squeals as though this was a common, nightly occurrence.
Feeling sublime under the starry Hollywood sky, we glided in line with the throng of arrivals. This was a private party and we were not on the guest list, but Dee, an absolute cocktail of wit, intelligence, glamour and chemicals, could bypass any velvet ropes, especially with me as her alluring sidekick.
Very Ziggy Stardust in my custom-made lamé halter top, silver satin pants, and at nearly 5’ 10” with 4” high platforms, I was a sight to behold. I was “Rainbow Ready.”
Under the Rainbow’s flickering Christmas lights, we moved toward the roaring brick-lined fireplace directly across from a big circular booth, considered to be the prime booth where a cigar-chomping Bill Gazzarri could be seen on any given night surrounded by a bevy of foxy young girls. A high metal table-stand with an extra-large pizza took up most of the space among the overflowing ashtrays and red votives, although I rarely saw anyone actually eat a slice since everyone appeared to be high on cocaine. A dark sea of red, half-moon-sized fake leather booths lined the main room and the walls were plastered with photos of rock stars. An electric 70’s drug-fueled energy vibrated in the air. Wrought iron fixtures and large speakers hung precariously from above, blasting out rock music. This room was great for cruising, and tonight it was full of famous musicians, rock celebs, an assortment of luminaries and super groupies decked out in all their finery to celebrate Elton John’s birthday.
We moved on through the violet haze of cigarette smoke and the smell of sizzling mozzarella as saucy cocktail waitresses whisked by with platters of pizza. Rockers, drummers, roadies, one couldn’t always tell, would invite us to join them for a drink. We happily slid in next to them and downed shots of Jack, hoovered up their coke, split Quaaludes and made small talk until it was time to move on. The atmosphere was intoxicating as we continued to navigate the room turning heads and spotting various rock gods well ensconced in dark booths with models, groupies, or girlfriends. We prowled around enjoying the glow brought on by the ideal mix of liquor, ‘ludes and blow to the sounds of “Bang a Gong.” Like wading through a warm viscous liquid with each rubbery step; “Freak out in a Moonage Daydream oh yeah!”
We strolled past the cigarette machine and cloudy fish tank to the crowded bar and hustled white Russians before making our way up the infamous stairs. Packs of rhinestone- and sequin-studded boys and girls stumbled up and down in their sky-high platforms, glitter flying. The goal was to make it to the upstairs bar and dance floor to mingle with the likes of Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper or Keith Moon, among others, who frequently held court at an upper VIP table. At the top of the stairs landing to the right was a dark nook that could easily fit a couple of nubile young girls ready to roll down their Lurex tube tops for guys with quaaludes or a silver spoonful of blow. Sometimes they were so high, they just crumpled up and passed out on the way. Little girls in big shoes. You had to step right over them and make your way through all the drama in the stairwell and onto the upstairs bathroom.
Groups of teenage nymphets in hot pants and feather boas could be heard snorting up a storm in the stalls, shrieking about which rock star they planned to have sex with that night. Mirror whores, they all vied for a turn at the full-length mirror, primping, posing and piling on lip gloss while trying to keep their balance on the damp, slippery floor. Dee and I felt like mature glamazons next to these rowdy, underage vamps.
Laughing at it all, we proceeded to elbow our way up the next few steps to the second-floor bar, while overhearing the same catty tartlets offering oral favors for rockstar hookups. We hit the small dance floor to the sounds of “Suffragette City” with one eye on the VIP tables. The upper enclave was the throbbing heart of the Rainbow, a steamy, bacchanalian room full of rock ’n’ roll revelers. Apparently there was a hidden alcove behind the raised floor where one can only imagine what decadence took place, later referred to as the Hollywood Vampires Lair.
The buzz circulating among the groupies on the dance floor was that Elton John and David Bowie had arrived downstairs. Dee and I had met Bowie right after his Ziggy Stardust show at the Santa Monica Civic in ’72, at a private party at Wolfman Jack’s house and were, of course, huge fans. We scurried out of there towards the landing and veered through a herd of glassy-eyed glam rockers all attempting to descend the stairs at the same time while gazing vainly at their reflection in the huge mirror that flanked the opposite wall on the way down.
Elton John, spectacularly resplendent in outlandish glitter rock attire, sporting his oversized rhinestone signature glasses with the brilliant Bowie at his side; was pure glam rock heaven.
An enormous, radioactive-style super glam cake, in the shape of a giant platform boot with sparkler-like candles flickering madly, arrived to the sounds of “Rocket Man.” Elton blew out the candles to much applause by the lustrous crowd surrounding him. I savored this stardust moment, but it looked like we couldn’t really get anywhere near the famous duo or the cake. No longer in the mood to tackle the upstairs again, we ventured off to Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco down the street.
“Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, followed by “The Ballroom Blitz” was blasting throughout the dance floor surrounded by mirror-lined walls and sparkly decor.
The club was filled with an androgynous crowd of loaded glitter queens, young hustlers and preening, prepubescent groupies. A teenage sea of tiny hot pants and see-through tops made us feel way too sophisticated to stick around very long. Last stop further down Sunset, another late night hang out: Ben Franks 24 hour restaurant. We rehashed the evening over shared fries and coffee under the horrid fluorescent lighting. A number of lean rockers swaggered by our booth with bad late-night pickup lines.
Laughing all the way back to the car, we decided to head home. Shaking the glitter out of my hair, I couldn’t wait to do it all over again.
Nora Novak is an artist, actress, writer and designer. Novak is the author of Art Damaged and Los Feliz Confidential A Memoir. She is currently working on a sequel about the eighties and a new art series, “The Femme Fatale Collection Vol.1.” noranovak.com