Crazy, man! Sponto Gallery in Venice was packed to the rafters on the hot evening of July 18 as nine contestants vied for the top honor in the First Annual Ms. Beatnik Contest.
Based on a contest held in the late 1950s and chronicled in Modern Man magazine, the new contest is designed to be, as host Gerry Fialka described it, “A parody of a parody.” The term “beatnik,” coined by San Francisco columnist Herb Caen, describes stereotypes like Maynard G. Krebs from Dobie Gillis, while “beat” refers to real cool guys like Jack Kerouac.
The Ms. Beatnik wannabees lined up in front of the audience, almost all of them dressed in black. A.J., Cat, Francine, Geneva, Lala, Ramona, Sanyu, Teresa aka “Queen Kunti,” and Veronica were to be judged in five categories: costume, bongo drumming, poetry recital or singing, dancing, and drawing.
Fialka asked each contestant what she would do if she were ruler of the world. “I’d stop all fighting,” said A.J. Francine, in her black outfit trimmed with silver sequins, said, “I’d meditate to have peace and love, and I’d find all the cute guys and just love them all!” Sanyu, with her gray vest and beret, remarked: “I’d legalize marijuana and end world hunger because you can’t smoke and be hungry!”
Next was the bongo drumming, a category in which the overalls-clad Ramona gave what this reporter thought was the best drum-thumping. Queen Kunti and Veronica put on a good show too, but the audience appreciated a minimal bit of bashing from Sanyu.
In the all-important Poetry/Song round, we heard some fairly lyrical poetry from some contestants, along with some really dirty and hilarious material from Queen Kunti. Cat movingly sang John Lennon’s “I’m Losing You” accompanied by her dad, Eric Ahlberg, on guitar. But Sanyu ruled this category with her a capella rendition of “Work Song” that had the audience snapping their fingers.
In the dance category, each young lady danced to jazz music. Veronica from Koreatown, in her striped black and white top, agitated her body like wild, man. Francine did a Gypsy Rose Lee strut, waving the sequined vest she had removed. Sanyu again used brevity to her advantage with a brief bit of wriggling.
Finally, the ladies exhibited the sketches they had drawn during the evening. These ranged from a minimalist effort by Lala (the page looked blank) to elaborate dress designs by Cat to a martini glass by Sanyu.
The judges for the evening were Venice poet and performance artist Linda Albertano, veteran poet Michael C. Ford and Venice singer/musician Suzy Williams, all of whom performed briefly. Albertano’s poem about a date with Captain Marvel was such a stoned gas that one felt a bit worried that the Ms. Beatnik candidates would have a lot to live up to. The judges huddled in the back room later, while the audience watched film footage of Allen Ginsberg singing punk rock songs. It was taking a long time! Someone yelled “Shenanigans!” “Give them time to decide!” said Fialka.
And then the nine groovy Beatnik chicks were lined up. The time for the decision had come. The winner? Sanyu! She received $100 in cash, a certificate of Beatnik-ness, a small trophy and a beige beret inscribed “Ms. Beatnik.”
So if you see a cool chick in a beret and gray vest and sunglasses walking around Venice, give her some respect because she was voted the Gone-est at the Ms. Beatnik Contest of 2007. See ya next year, and don’t forget to be there or be square!