My fellow Offender Alfredo reminded me in his last post of how hot Debbie Harry is. And that made me think of the time I saw her live at a small Los Angeles club called Madame Wong’s West which I can pinpoint as the night I entered puberty (more on this later). But I would not have had that experience if it were not for Esther Wong a.k.a. the “Godmother of Punk.”
Born in Shanghai in 1917, Wong immigrated to the United States in 1949. In the 1970s and ‘80s, she owned two restaurants/clubs—Madame Wong’s in L.A.’s Chinatown and Madame Wong’s West in Santa Monica—that became the beacon for some of the greatest punk and rock n’ roll bands of the era.
I first met Wong as a young boy. By that time, she was in her 60s and looked like your typical Chinese grandmother. Look at her photo above. That does not look like the face of a woman who would revolutionize rock n’ roll, yet that’s exactly what she did. When the Polynesian bands she first started booking at her establishments weren’t bringing in customers, she turned to rock acts, saw her business take off and a legend was born. These are some of the acts that played at her clubs, many of whom got their first breaks there: The Police, The Motels, The Knack, Guns N’ Roses, X, The Go-Gos, Oingo Boingo, Black Flag, Fear and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
It was the place to see the newest and hippest bands. I had to be a part of that scene. Music was my life. Music was what kept me sane. Music was my only friend as I moved from school to school; trying my best to fit in as (usually) the only Asian kid. The only problem was you had to be 21 to get into Madame Wong’s clubs and, well, I was barely in junior high. I won’t go into the highly illegal details of how, but I found a way in.
The other thing you need to know about Wong was that she may have looked like a demure Chinese grandmother but she had the meanest temper I’ve ever seen. She used to walk around her club and if she smelled marijuana on you, she’d grab you by the ear and drag you out. Once she made the Ramones clean up the graffiti they painted in her restroom before allowing them to play and they did it without complaining. They had no choice. She was tough as nails and you did not want to be on the receiving end of her wrath. And one of the things she hated more than anything was underage punks sneaking into her club. I speak from personal experience.
The first of many times I got thrown out by her happened when I was 15. She caught me red-handed with a fake I.D. and a flask of Jack Daniels. Yes, she grabbed me by the ear and dragged me out in front of all these gorgeous “older” women (i.e. college chicks) I was trying to impress.
Normally, she’d throw you out on the sidewalk and that would be that, but she decided I deserved a special lecture. “Aren’t you ashamed?” She tore into me. “A nice Chinese boy like you should be at home studying, not carrying on like a low-life!”
I told her I was Korean.
She stared at me for a long time and then said, “Well…then that explains it.” This was followed by her distinctive booming laughter.
Despite the danger, I kept coming back. The music was too good, the girls were too beautiful (I still love a woman who can rock n’ roll) and it was someplace where I felt like I belonged—I was with my fellow freaks. Wong would occasionally catch me, throw me out and give me the same lecture about being a Korean low-life. But nothing could compare with the thrill of seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers take the stage wearing nothing but socks on their dicks or listening to an unknown band named Guns N’ Roses debut their new song “Welcome to the Jungle” or the night that I’m pretty sure I entered puberty. Which brings me back to Debbie Harry.
Harry was playing a post-Blondie solo set and I managed to squeeze up right to the lip of the stage. And all I can say is she was smoking HOT and all of a sudden I started feeling strange sensations under my belt that I had never felt before. She had this pink handkerchief she would use to wipe the sweat off her face and other parts of her body. At one point, she looked right at me, winked and threw me her handkerchief. It was wet from her sweat and smelled like her perfume and I’m pretty sure I had a full-body orgasm on the spot. Don’t think that’s happened since. And I have Wong to thank for that. Hell, anyone who has a boner for rock n’ roll owes the woman a huge debt.
Wong died in 2005 at the age of 88. I hadn’t seen her since her last club closed in 1991 but hearing of her passing had an emotional effect on me. I’m generally not a nostalgic guy but it really felt like an important piece of my childhood was now gone forever. That night, I drove out to the location of the original Madame Wong’s in Chinatown, blasted the Ramones on my headphones and poured a flask of Jack Daniels on the sidewalk. And I swear I could hear her sighing and reprimanding me like she did in the old days, “well, you’re Korean…that explains it.”