Interview with Croonoir Jimmy Vargas
Jimmy Vargas, a writer, musician and leader of a combo called the Black Dahlias, is doing keenly interesting work in noir music videos, recordings, and live performances. We were particularly struck by the way he layers classic film noir elements with elements of horror and Jack Kerouac-style lyrics. He also runs a blog dedicated to the 1940s Siren or Femme Fatal.
A recording artist with with Dionysus records in Los Angeles, he took time away from his busy performing and writing schedule to talk with Noir Nation editor, Eddie Vega, about his music and filmography.
Noir Nation: Is Jimmy Vargas your real name?
Vargas: Jimmy Vargas is the name I was born with in Chicago 1919, before my death in Los Angeles 1947. I have returned, earned and re-inherited the name after my rebirth in London 1958. It’s been quite a treacherous and tumultuous trip reclaiming my name, story and unfinished life back. Thirty years of living on and off in doss houses on Main, scouring bombed out burlesque houses, and skideroo bars, for a whisper of my racketeer pimp past. My complete story is told in the Requiem for My Shadow Bride DVD Installation / Book series.
Noir Nation: How did you come to create your Jimmy Vargas persona, the seedy crooner who hints of horrific murders to come?
Vargas: I am not a persona… I’m a natural born huckster looking for coins of grace, and rations of redemption from a dissolute and diabolical past that is soldered into my “Silver Cord.”
Hucksterism is my natural DNA.
I earn’t it.
I didn’t invent this.
Mine is not a bourgeois literary fun fair ride.
I’ve lived a life turning coin in the exotic industry performing and promoting striptease and erotic dancers before it became another hip feminist pursuit. I even headed up my own entertainment agency of vintage acts, rockabilly and swing combos, fan dancers and carnival freaks from the mid- eighties over three continents called Teasa-Varga.
I’m merely retracing the exact same life as I had in the nineteen forties.
And that includes the subject of murder.
But this time I’m paying for it.
As for the horrific murders to come?
Well I gotta do the death tango with my past firstly.
My quest now is to get through this incarnation without having her blood on my face, her image scorched in my eyes that I can never un-see, and not having to plug my ears to stop the cursing of her siren voice.
The est of noir is that “Every man walks in the shadow of some other silent grief, a violation and a damnation they had incurred on others or that had been plastered on them.” I’m squaring up on the outstanding ‘vig’ on mine. (Black Halo Prologue)
I’m paying for it by installations of penance in Music, literature and film.
Noir Nation: Tell us about the Black Dahlia. Who was she? And how did she come to influence your work?
Vargas: Elizabeth in her incarnate life was a huckster, though not a trained actress, she beheld an exotic theatrical spirit, that she pitched as trinkets for drinks, dinners, overnight havens and cash “loans.” She beheld a luminous dark glow that beguiled and torched both men and women alike. Her name was given to her by a tarot reader in Los Angeles, a trick sobriquet, both a word play on a movie at the time Blue Dahlia (1946) and a nod to her all gothique black wardrobe of gown, lingerie hosiery and hair, a ‘gimmick’ in which she was seen traipsing and mooching around the Hollywood studios and bars.
Her death was a Mayan voodoo rite.
I’ve been attesting to this fact for decades.
Steve Hodel’s Black Dahlia Avenger, a recommended read alludes to his father as her killer, who lived in the Frank Lloyd Wright Mayan House at the time. His known associates were part of the Hollywood voodoo milieu, Man Ray, Ben Hecht, Jack Parsons.
As for now Elizabeth Short the Black Dahlia remains entrapped in the aether of the Hollywood that spurned her, and her vibration still hums over Los Angeles downtown. Elizabeth Short is the Madonna of every starlet / soubrette / huckster who comes to Hollywood.
Elizabeth wanted fame, she now has it on eternal lease, in the cradle of mortis.
Elizabeth Short is the Satanic Martyr Saint to my work
Noir Nation: Clearly, film noir has a strong influence both on your music and the look of your music videos. What specific movies influenced your work?
Vargas: Silent movies such as The Stranger on the Third Floor Left, Seven Footprints to Satan, Madam Satan. The German expressionists who took their Gotterdammerung vernacular and en-bedded into films of American urban nightmares. Noir prophets like Murnau (Nosferatu, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), Fritz Lang (the whole canon), Billy Wilder (the whole canon from Double Indemnity to Lost Weekend to Sunset Boulevard) Ulmer (Detour). The European surrealists such as Bunuel and Man Ray. Post War Italian neo-realism. Poverty Row noir productions of Monogram and Eagle Lion Pictures. Exploitation peep show burlesque loops and 1940’s Roman Catholic Education Bio-Pics of the Saints. It all feeds my visual output.
Noir Nation: We noticed literary echoes of Jack Kerouac in the lyrics of your songs. Did he influence your work?
Vargas: I dig Kerouac’s jazz breath rhythm but Ginsberg is more my kick because of his street candor, melancholy, and anguished defiance. I’ve also love the rat tat tat tabloid writing of Ben Hecht, Mark Hellinger, Quentin Reynolds Walter Winchell and Mortimer and Lait of the “U.S.A. Confidential series”. Mix that in with six years of reading and studying Latin, and it makes for an interesting bouillabaisse.
Noir Nation: In addition to film noir, we noticed a look in some of your music video scenes that are reminiscent of the work of Quentin Tarantino, especially his From Dawn to Dusk, directed by Robert Rodriguez. We are thinking specifically of that fabulous scene with Salma Hayek… Was it intentional or mere coincidence?
Nor Tarantino for that matter.
I’ve been living in my own hadeian burlesque universe since the seventies, and produced shows and filmed videos of that aesthetic before Dusk till Dawn came out.
Tarantino and myself may well be feeding from the same pulp cesspool of libidinity, lust and death.
A greater influence over my work is David Lynch.
He shoots heroin on film.
Lynch is the master.
As for the Salma Hayek connection?
Well my muse Liliana Scarlatta is of Latina origin, as is Selma.
There’s a serpentine grace to Latin women when they dance.
That’s probably what your keen eye is suspecting.
Vargas: Mine is a trinity of Music film and fiction which work off each other. They are not separate art-forms. They cross breed from the same poppa. When I’m writing, a camera sits on my desk alongside my Epiphone guitar. Each influences the other, so there’s a consistent visual, literary and audio stream.
Noir Nation: Tell us about your collaboration with Liliana Scarlatta and Mia Mortal. Both play 1940s femme fatales in your videos, but they could be femme fatales in any age. How were their characters created?
Vargas: My Muses come complete as mistresses of their own universe. They allow me in. It is they and they alone who divine my work, for my work is inherently female.
They are not characters.
Mia and Liliana are two female exotic sirens who tug and pull at my creative horns. They amaze, torture, honor, sensualize, demonize and exalt me. The whole Vargas canon celebrates the exotic divinity of their female spirit.
They are the Black Goddess and the White Goddess.
Liliana, the Shadow Bride is a feisty raven haired Argentinian. She is an exotic dancer and sorceress who possesses the nitrate glamour of Hollywood film stars of the thirties, forties and fifties. My Shadow Bride series is about her as such a subject, spanning over a fifty year period.
She is a consummate Burlesque Diva and Exotic Showgirl.
Her talents also span Performance Art, Aerial, Trapeze, Art and fashion modeling.
Miss Mortal has earned her Lilith fan feathers with distinction, working in venues all over the world like the Tivoli (Amsterdam) Moulin Rouge (Paris) Raymond’s Revue Bar (London) Nagashaki Music Hall (Tokyo).
Mia has performed with me since 1999. She appears in the Striptease in Noir Series, as well as our forthcoming Black Halo music / video installations
Mia too in her spare time tangos with the tarots, when same fingers aren’t unzipping her elegant Dior Gown or bewitching with a capricious cancan.
I am blessed by her collaboration.
Noir Nation: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I’ll have said what I want to say.
I’d have paid for the murders and the pimping by song, word and image. These are hermetical works of penance and absolution.
A video interview with Jimmy Vargas can be seen here.
Thanks to Ray Ottulich for sending along this little gem of film noir, starring Joan Denyse. When Noir Nation was still in its publishing infancy, Ray kindly allowed us to use some of his masterful Flickr photos to illustrate our first promotional trailer.
Unlike many short films that seem unfocused, have undeveloped characters, or end without resolution or a sense of completion, Not Tonight does it all in 2 minutes and 38 seconds, including opening and closing credits.
The Femme Fatale is glamorous but seedy, which as a matter of language seems impossible, but yet there she is: glamorous but seedy.
She has a choice to make. It involves a man and a gun. She makes it. What happens to him? Watch and see…