a revealing look by b. jone

Portland may lack many things, but without argument, two things the city has no scarcity of are strippers and musicians. This also means there’s lots of strip and rock clubs. Local dancer Miss Mona Superhero began blurring the line between the two segregated venues by bringing her Carnal Carnival into local rock clubs. Union Jack's, the town’s most cleaned-up and classy strip club, has gone one further by having bands play on select nights. And ever since the packed and highly profitable shows from Jesus Presley and The Miss U’s, the psychedelic cave on East Burnside has become one of the hottest rooms in town.

Of course, there are also dancers who walk both sides of our slippery streets. Yes, the woman you ogle one night might well turn up on a different sort of stage the next. It’s well-known that The Dandy Warhols recruited keyboardist Zia McCabe from rack-side; the vocalist for Strawberry, Stacie Jane, has danced at a few area joints and can currently be found at Palace of Pleasure. The late/great Rattlecake’s bassist chronicled her experiences as a private lingerie model for Willamette Week and the dancer known as “Kennedy” has cycled through several projects and toured with Hitting Birth. But the reigning champ of Stripperock is, without a doubt, Viva Las Vegas.

Viva arrived in Portland last year. “I moved out here with a guitar and a dream – like a bad Journey song,” she said with a laugh. Viva has been able to earn enough money dancing at the Magic Gardens and Mary’s Club to survive, remit to the student-loan department (BA in Anthropology), and pursue her other creative outlets. “An $8.50 an hour job wasn’t going to pay the rent╔ that’s what got me into stripping. I came to Portland on pure intuition. I moved here last July right after I got out of college. Charged travel. Charged rent, charged everything to get out here╔ I figure that the average is $100 for a five-hour shift, but lately I’ve had a lot of $300, $500 nights. A $900 night once╔ $30,000 a year working half-time╔ That sounds good. It’s a dream job╔ Stripping has really freed up time and allowed me to do exactly what I want to do. The only down side to stripping is that you realize that your job really isn’t all that secure and it’s up to the whims of management. Other than that, the flexibility, the money╔ It makes being anything else creative possible. In the last six months, I’ve filmed a couple movies, done a few photo shoots, worked on performance art, and done this band╔”

That band is Spectator Pump – a charged up and sexy rock `n’ roll outfit that recruited Viva to serve as keyboardist and back-up vocalist. “The first time I saw Spectator Pump I was, like, `Right-on!’ They were the only local band that really grabbed my attention,” she stated with amazement in her blue eyes. “I’m a huge Pretenders fan and I love girl punk-rock. I saw Stephanie and thought she rocked. I never had any intention of joining╔ I wanted, and still want, to be a front-woman in my own right. It really came out of left field when they asked me to join. I had been with a few bands and tried to stay with a couple╔ One got signed to Sub Pop, allegedly, while saying I was their lead singer. By that time I was `blonde stripper-girl’ and thought that was what I was going to do.”

But Viva couldn’t ignore the comfort and delight found in the musical glove she found herself pulling on. “It’s so good to be working with that group of people. We really clicked and I think that the chemistry is working really well,” she assured me with a smile. Though a bit hesitant to return to her youthful piano tutelage, she admitted, “I do like playing keyboards now and it fits the direction the band is going – from a guitar band to more of a new wave band, and I love new wave – Buggles, Go-Go’s╔”

For Viva, both stripping and rocking-out serve the desired end of artistic expression. And attaining power. “I use stripping as my warped pulpit. My father is a preacher and I’m very much my father’s child,” she confidently observed. “I get up there and preach my values: `Stripping is art, you motherfucker╔ This is the best song ever╔ God bless me and The Rolling Stones’” she mused. “I force The Ramones on them, Iggy Pop on them... I really feel that I can communicate and that they can communicate with me╔ I really thrive on that transaction.

Deep down I’m an exhibitionist,” Viva casually stated “A Leo to the core. I guess I thrive on the╔ attention? I guess it is the attention.”

But admittedly, it’s the music stage that rocks her boat most completely. “Music has always been my number-one dream,” she confided with wide eyes. “I’ve always dreamed of being a rock star – I use that term loosely╔ When I got here, I checked out all the bands and all the clubs and my dream was to play Satyricon.. A Monday night, a free night╔ I didn’t care. I just wanted to play there at least once.”

And during a recent Saturday night, churning out a humid headlining slot with the rest of Spectator Pump alongside, Viva Las Vegas fulfilled that dream.

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