A True Hollywood Goddess
By: Ginger Coyote
I recently ran into Iris Berry at Kim and Joe Dallesandro's wedding party... I thought it would be great to do an interview with her. She is as talented as she is pretty. I hope you enjoy the interview......
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for the interview Iris. Can you give the readers some background on yourself. Where were you born and grew up?
Iris: Ginger, you are so welcome! I’m a native Angeleno, born in Beautiful Downtown Burbank and grew up in a pretty dangerous suburb called Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. The only redeeming facts about Pacoima is that it was the home of Ritchie Valens and Kurt Russell. Other than that, Pacoima was the kind of place you spent your life trying to get out of. It was such a tough place to grow up, lot’s of gangs and violence, by the time I was 13, I started hitchhiking over the hill to Hollywood to get away from it all. And I eventually found glam and punk rock. But first I found some really lovely transsexuals who took me under their wing and made sure I was safe. I loved them for that.
Punk Globe: I know you have done it all in the world of entertainment. I know you have been in Bands, Acting not to mention an Author.. And we can't forget Spoken Word. Which came first?
Iris: Even though I have been writing since I was seven, it took me a minute to feel ok with letting the world see it. It felt really personal and I wasn’t comfortable with opening myself up to that kind of vulnerability. So while wrestling with that, I was working at Dukes coffee shop underneath the Tropicana Motel as the “To-Go Girl,” and Alison Anders, Kurt Voss and Dean Lent came in one day. As they were leaving, they said, “we apologize for staring at you, but we’re making a movie called Border Radio and we have a part that you would be perfect for.” And literally the next day, we were filming. Right after that, my roommate and dear friend Pleasant Gehman and my then boyfriend Dave Alvin found my writing and insisted that I go public. So Pleasant and I started making our own Chapbooks of poetry and selling them for drinks at the bars. Gary Eaton who was in the Devil Squares got a hold of one, and asked if he could put music to some of the pieces, one of which was something that Dave Alvin and I had written together called, “56 Reasons To Go Downtown,” about some friends of ours who were doing way too many drugs. And the other piece was called, “Kimberley Rose,” a beautiful poem that Pleasant wrote. And the next thing you know we had songs and we were a band, completely unplanned, which became the Ringling Sisters, which consisted of Pleasant Gehman, Debbie Dexter, Annette Zilinskas, Johnette Napolitano, Texacala Jones, Deborah Patino, Gary Eaton, Dave Catchings, Larry Mullens and myself. Shortly after that we got a call from Lou Adler. He signed us to his label, Ode Records, a subsidiary of A&M and we found ourselves in the studio making a record. And of course everything under the sun that could happen to a band, happened to us. It all happened so fast, and I don’t think we were together long enough to have a strong enough foundation to get through all of the mayhem that ensued. I love them all and we still all talk and see each other all of the time. And Pleasant and I have continued to do creative projects together.
Punk Globe: Can you tell some of the bands you have played with?
Iris: The Lame Flames, Ringling Sisters, Pink Sabbath, Leather Mumu, The Bittersweets, The Flesheaters, Honk If Yer Horny and Pleasant and I sang on the Dickies Record, “Killer Clowns From Outer Space.”
Punk Globe: Do you play an instrument and can you tell us about some of your best moments while playing with the many bands you have been in?
Iris: I play secret guitar and I’m learning the ukulele. As far as memorable moments, Ginger, there have been so many... All of The Ringling Sisters Benefits were always so much fun, all the bands that played, bringing the city together for Christmas to make money for the orphans so they could have a Christmas. It was always like a scene out of a Frank Capra movie. Or when MTV came to Disgraceland. Or the time Len Fagan sent a limousine to Disgraceland to pick up the Lame Flames for our show at the Coconut Teaser. Or when Guns n’ Roses sent a long white Limo to pick me up from Millies when I was working the late shift, and I made the limo wait because I had to do my side work. Touring with Pleasant Gehman and S.A. Griffin on a spoken word tour called White Trash Apocalypse. The name pretty much says it all, it was so fun and crazy! And of course after running amuck and growing up in this crazy, lovely town… standing between Pleasant and S.A. as the three of us received awards from the city of Los Angeles, for our literary contributions and the charity work we have done. It doesn’t get much better than that. I didn’t think anyone was paying attention.
Punk Globe: Who were some of your inspirations when you first started doing music?
Iris: There’s so many bands that changed my life. With three older brothers and growing up in Pacoima, I was raised on Motown music. Then came Elvis, The Beatles and the Doors. I grew up obsessed with the Rat Pack. Dean Martins’ Gold Diggers along with The Bond Girls, were my first female role models, and at the tender age of 10 my Mom took me to see Donovan at the Hollywood Bowl. After that came Lou Reed, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, The Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Chuck E. Weiss, The Clash, The Damned, The Replacements, Johnny Cash, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Candye Kane, The Screamin' Sirens, Tex and The Horseheads, The Hangmen, and Thelonious Monster. And the biggest impact was when I spent most of 85 traveling with X, the Blasters and the Knitters, which really influenced my song writing for The Ringling Sisters.
Punk Globe: I remember your work with The Ringling Sisters. You were such a great band.
Iris: Thank You Ginger.
Punk Globe: I was watching Show Time the other night and I saw you in a Movie with John Doe. Can you tell us about it?
Iris: Border Radio… they’ve been playing it a lot. I love that. It’s such a love letter to L.A., capturing a lot of places that aren’t here anymore.
Punk Globe: Was that your first acting job?
Iris: Yes.
Punk Globe: Tell us about your other acting work?
Iris: I’ve been in a few rock videos, and TV commercials and documentaries about music. I had a supporting roles in Chris Desjardins, “I Pass For Human,” and in Beth Deweys, “Killhouse.”
Punk Globe: Have you ever worked with Steve Balderson?
Iris: Yes, in Phone Sex and soon to be released The Casserole Club. Steve is a genius!
Punk Globe: How many books have you written or collaborated on?
Iris: About 5 or 6, I’m losing track.
Punk Globe: When I first moved to L.A. you were gathering stories for a book about the Tropicana Motel with Henry Rollins. What happened with that?
Iris: I’m coming in for the homestretch with the Tropicana book. I’ve pulled in A. Razor, who is an amazing writer, as my writing partner and Alex Bacon from Slake Quarterly, who is beyond incredible, as the art director. I’m so lucky to have them both on my team. The Tropicana has so many great stories and so much rock n’ roll history that really needs to be told. I cannot wait till it’s finished! I'm really excited about it.
Punk Globe: It does seem like I read somewhere that the book was coming out. Tell us about that?
Iris: In the first issue of Slake Quarterly, they did excerpts from the Tropicana book, Tales From The Tropicana Motel.
Punk Globe: I remember I had given you some funny stories over at that coffee shop on Franklin . We the went to Club Sucker afterwards.
Iris: Ginger, you gave me some of the best stories, the one about Evil Knievel, and believe it or not, you were the only one who talked about him.
Punk Globe: I guess, I am the only person that you interviewed,that was lucky enough to meet the Hustlers from Santa Monica Blvd. They had been living there for at least a month - if memory serves right... You also did a very highly praised book about the LA underground hangouts am I right? Tell us about it?
Iris: The Underground Guide to L.A., yes Pleasant and I co-edited and wrote some chapters along with a slew of extremely talented writers. S.A. Griffin’s chapter on literary L.A. should be a book all on it’s own. I love editing work when I love the writing. And I love that book.
Punk Globe: Do you have any web addresses that you would like to share with the Punk Globe readers to get updates on you?
Punk Globe: Who are some of your favorite writers?
Iris: Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Bukowski, Baudelaire, The Beat writers, Patti Smith, S.A. Griffin, Pleasant Gehman, Joe Donnelly, A. Razor, Jerry Stahl, John Albert, Henry Cherry, Steve Abee, Ellyn Maybe, Milo Martin, Yvonne de La Vega, Jack Grisham, Kim Dallesandro, Lisa Cherry, Danny Baker, Shawna Kenney, Rafael Alvarado… I could go on, but we would be here for days…
Punk Globe: Have you read Lina's book that she released this summer?
Iris: I hear it’s amazing… I’m going to have to pick up a copy.
Punk Globe: Can you tell us about some of your proudest moments in your career?
Iris: Doing all the Ringling Sisters Benefits. And receiving two awards from the city of Los Angeles, doesn't get much better than that.
Punk Globe: Any good advice to people just breaking into the business ?
Iris: Don’t wait for anyone’s permission to do what you want to do creatively. Just start doing it.
Punk Globe: There are so many questions .. I would like to thank you for doing this interview Iris... Love You Much!
Iris: Thank you Ginger, love you and Punk Globe so much!!
Punk Globe would like to thank Iris for the informative interview... If you would like to find out more about Iris check out her website www.irisberry.com and buy her books... She is a true Hollywood Goddess....