Johnny CapsArticles, Books, Film, Interviews, Music, Paranormal, Television1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, Belly dancing, burlesque, california, Firecracker, Little White Lies, Love Slave, Mr. T Luv Boogie, Pleasant Gehman, Princess Farhana, Psychic, Punk, punk rock, Screamin' Sirens, Stitches In Time, Sweet Freedom, The Casserole Club, The Divination Nation, The Pyrex Glitch, The Runnin' Kind, Vendetta1
Pleasant Gehman is the definition of the phrase “renaissance woman”. Pleasant is a talent who has done a whole lot of work in multiple different fields, and done a great job with everything she’s tackled. She’s been a musician with groups like The Screamin’ Sirens and The Ringling Sisters. Under the name Princess Farhana, as seen in the cover photo by Maharet Hughes, she’s been belly-dancing for so long that she’s written books and created instructional videos on the art form. As an actress, she’s well-known for her work in independent film, whether as a screenwriter on, and actress in, a movie about The Screamin’ Sirens called The Runnin’ Kind or as the muse of independent filmmaker Steve Balderson. She’s written books, poetry, magazine columns and her own magazine called Lobotomy. On top of that, she’s also a paranormal investigator. Pleasant Gehman is a busy and versatile woman, and on Monday, March 12th, she took the time out of her busy schedule to speak to me. I hope you all enjoy getting to know this versatile and kind talent.
Say hello to Pleasant Gehman!
Johnny: Hello, Pleasant.
Pleasant: Hey, how are you?
Johnny: I’m doing good. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. I have my questions ready to go, and I’d like to start with some questions about The Screamin’ Sirens’ music, starting with “Mr. T Luv Boogie”. (Pleasant laughs) Mr. T appears to have been something of a subject of fascination for you in the 80s, as you also mention putting his name up at Disgraceland in your writings. What was it about such a mainstream figure like him that you found so interesting?
Pleasant: This was back when the mainstream media were not used to any kind of punk rock. They were always making fun of the way people had mohawks or lots of belts on, handcuff jewelry and crazy clothes, and yet Mr. T was on one of the most popular television shows. He was idolized by millions, and he looked exactly like a punk (laughing). We just thought that was funny and ironic, but also, he was such a character. I wrote that song as kind of a lark, you know what I mean? Kind of a funny “Weird” Al Yankovic kind of thing, and it wasn’t even supposed to be a real song for our band, but one day at rehearsal, we were bored. My guitar player, Rosie, just started doing this total funk groove, and our bass player joined in, and then I just started rapping. Rapping wasn’t really a thing back then, but I started chanting the words to it. We would just jam on it for fun, and then one day we were like, “Let’s do this on stage”. I invented a dance that was kind of like a predecessor to the Macarena where we would make a T with our bodies, stand with our feet together, put our hands down and have our arms out like a T. It turned into one of our biggest live hits. People would love it because it was just so crazy, and that’s how it wound up on the album. People liked it so much. None of the other songs on that album sounded anything like it. It’s not like we were a funk band or anything.
Johnny: Right. To the next question: “Love Slave” reminded me a lot of girl group songs of the 60s, but with a harder edge to it. What was the inspiration behind that song, and since The Screamin’ Sirens were known for outrageous live performances, what was the wildest thing you can recall doing while performing that song?
Pleasant: Oh, my god. Well, when we first formed a band, I wanted us to sound like a cross between girl groups like The Andrews Sisters and sort of like Kitty Wells or Tammy Wynette, but none of us knew how to play very well, so it sounded like that crossed with punk rock, which was a fun combo. “Love Slave” was inspired by some old 45s that we had, titles like “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” or “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore, which had an S&M-like feel to them. “Love Slave” and “Mr. T” are probably our two most well-known songs. There’s a radio station in Australia that has “Love Slave” as a theme song. On stage, we used to do funny, crazy things all the time. One time, I bit all the buttons off a guy’s shirt with my teeth, and I had them in my mouth before spitting them out at the audience like a machine gun. Another time in Vancouver, Canada, there was a guy who was heckling from the audience, so I made him come up on stage. I had a handcuff belt on, and I took the belt off and handcuffed him to this pole that was in the middle of the stage of our band set-up for the show. At first he was struggling, but then one of the girls would put a cigarette in his mouth and give him a few puffs of that, and when he was on stage, if someone had to tune up their strings, they’d get him a drink or something. We were doing a weekend of two shows a night at that club, which was called The Town Pump. People came up to us the next night and said, as though this was a thing with us, “Could we be the guy handcuffed to the stage tonight?”. We said sure, and then that got to be a thing. We did that everywhere we went, and people would volunteer for it. They would hear about it through word of mouth, and then there would be all these people who wanted to be handcuffed in the middle of our band while we played.
Johnny: That’s fantastic to hear. To my next question: “The Runnin’ Kind” became another one of your well-known songs, even lending its’ name to a movie starring the band, which I’ll be asking about later. What was it about that song that’s made it stand out in your discography?
Pleasant: Boom-Boom wrote that song, and she was an amazing songwriter. She was our drummer. I think it just had a sort of old pulp fiction/cowboy romance to it, but it was also sort of about being outsiders. It had a sort of romantic feel, and her songs always had such great hooks.
Johnny: They certainly did. The Screamin’ Sirens were a great group, and you did a lot of great stuff in it. “Little White Lies” sounds like it was written about a specific individual. Can you name names on that, or is it a song that can be used as a “Reason You Suck Speech” for anybody?
Pleasant: No. It was actually about my roommate, Iris Berry, who is now my publisher at Punk Hostage Press. She was just lost on drugs at that point. She was throwing her life away, and we had a huge falling-out about that because that was when heroin was taking over so much of Hollywood. She finally got clean a few years later, and we resumed our friendship because she wasn’t a bad person, but she messed up when my band was on tour. Even though my name was on the lease, she got us evicted from the house, so that was just a song that was written in disgust that I wrote, but it was a great song, and she thinks so, too. We’ve been friends again since that happened. We didn’t talk for about two years, but seriously, Iris and I are probably like the most stable relationship in each other’s lives ever, and we’ve loved each other for decades. When we met, we connected immediately. That song was just me being disgusted with her drug habit. It was kind of a metaphor for what was going on in Hollywood in general at the time, you know?
Johnny: I can see that. That album, Voodoo, was a rather more serious album, and one of those more serious songs would be “Stitches In Time”. It seemed like a reflection of all you had experienced at rather young ages, not knowing what the coming years would bring for you. Would that be accurate to say?
Pleasant: Yes, definitely. I mean, there was a lot of bad stuff going on at that time, and I was writing about it. The first album, “Fiesta!”, definitely had a more party feel, but I started taking my lyrics and personal experiences out of my diary, and putting them more into song lyrics at that point.
Johnny: I see. To my next question: One of your more unusual detours came when you appeared as a bartender in the music video for Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” from the Running Scared soundtrack. Although I love the song and video, I can imagine it was rather out of your wheelhouse musically. What are your favorite memories of that shoot?
Pleasant: Well, yeah, it was out of my wheelhouse musically. I had no idea who Michael McDonald was, but I heard that Gregory Hines was going to be in it. I didn’t even know anything about the movie, but I loved Gregory Hines. I loved his dancing, and I thought it would be cool, plus it was a well-paying job. That was how most of us supported ourselves in those days because, this is going to sound crazy, it was hard to get jobs if you had weird hair. There was such a thing as discrimination. My hair was white-blonde. It wasn’t weird, but I couldn’t get normal jobs from it. There was this woman named Janet Cunningham who had an agency that would provide any kind of production with real punks, real bikers, real bodybuilders, whatever. She kept all of us working constantly through the 80s and the early 90s. Sometimes you’d show up at a production and there would be a bunch of people there from central casting with actors trying to look like punks, and there were at least three or four times, I remember, where they saw what we looked like and they’d send the central casting people home. They’d keep us because we were real people. My favorite thing on that set was that not only was it on the Santa Monica Pier, but Gregory Hines just grabbed me at one point between takes, and we started dancing because there was music playing. It was like a dream being able to dance with him. He was like Fred Astaire. He was partnering me all around, and it was just so much fun. That whole shoot was fun.
Johnny: And it definitely shows up in the video. The Screamin’ Sirens appeared in Vendetta, a noted women-in-prison movie. “Love Slave”, performed in that movie, would also be heard in another 1986 women-in-prison movie, Reform School Girls, and you yourself would play Dutch in a women-in-prison homage called Stuck! in 2009, so what do you think the appeal of the women-in-prison genre is?
Pleasant: Well, I grew up with black-and-white television and no cable channels. On the four channels we had in the 60s and 70s, there were lots of films like I Want To Live or other 50s noir women-in-prison movies. I always loved them, and I also loved Roger Corman so much from Little Shop Of Horrors onward. This was obviously before it was trendy to like (laughing) trashy B-movies, so when we got the call that they wanted us to play in Vendetta, I had already been in one Roger Corman movie. I was in the film Hollywood Boulevard, but that was when I was around 16, and I was just an extra in a very short scene. When we got the call to be in Vendetta, we all just jumped at the chance. I was like, “Okay, this is bucket list material to be in a real women-in-prison movie” (laughing). Later on when I played Dutch in Stuck!, I really got to be a main character in a women-in-prison movie. I just always had a fondness for that genre of films/ I loved all those old, trashy movies. All of them, you know? Whether it’s a B-movie or a higher-end studio film, I just love them. I’m a film buff.
Johnny: That definitely shows up in a lot of the work I’ve seen from you, whether it’s your writing or your performances, which I’ll be getting to in due time, but first I would like to ask about the movie The Runnin’ Kind, which you not only starred in, but wrote as well. Since even the best writers may have their words rewritten when it comes to film, how much of your original screenplay made it into the movie?
Pleasant: Well, here’s what happened with that. That movie started because Max Tash, the director, wanted to do a story about an all-girl band. Max later went on to produce and direct The New WKRP In Cincinnati and a bunch of other shows I can’t remember right now, but he was already well-known in the television business. He interviewed The Go-Gos, The Bangles and my band, The Screamin’ Sirens, because he wanted to find out as much as he could about all female bands. I knew The Go-Gos, and I lived with Belinda for a pretty long time, and we’re still friends. I knew all the girls from The Bangles, and Joan Jett, but of all the interviews, he said he liked mine the most. It was probably because my band was also at a much-earlier state and not as propelled into fame as The Go-Gos and The Bangles were. I said, “Come to our gigs. Come see what some of our shows are like”. I started taking him out, and he was still interviewing all of us and then, somewhere during that time, he found out that I wrote. He approached me and said, “Okay, instead of me writing it, why don’t we co-write it?”. I said okay, so he had a sort of basic premise set up as we were writing on it, but then I would say, “Oh, this would never happen” or “No, when you load in equipment, it goes like this” or when it comes to an incident, “This incident happened at this club”.You know, there’s a lot of discrimination against women. You try to buy strings and people think it’s for your boyfriend. A lot of the conversations in there are taken from my real life. They really happened and it was not doctored up. Some of it we made up together specifically for the movie, but it had details that someone who wasn’t in a band would never have known about the logistics of how things go. It was pretty good. It was just supposed to be an indie film, and then it got picked up by MGM, which was kind of insane because it was when indie film wasn’t regarded the way it is now, and has been for the past 20 years. Indie film was like a 15 minute underground movie at that point. There wasn’t that much of it going on. I don’t even remember how it got picked up by MGM, but it got picked up, and then I remembered being sort of sad it went through demographic tests. They said that it should open to Texas, and we were like, “Why isn’t it opening in L.A? We’re all from L.A. The whole cast is in L.A. All the people in it who were in actual bands were from L.A.”. It could’ve went so much better, but that was how studio marketing went in those days.
Johnny: Since MGM has licensing deals with companies like Kino Lorber Studio Classics and Shout! Factory, I’d like to see one of those outfits release it on Blu-Ray and DVD one day. If they were to do so, would you participate in extras?
Pleasant: Oh, yeah. I would love it.
Johnny: To stay with film: In 2005, you began a long association with director Steve Balderson when you played Estelle in Firecracker, which also starred two of my previous interview subjects, Jane Wiedlin and Kathleen Wilhoite. What drew you to the project, and did you have any idea that you would end up as one of Mr. Balderson’s most reliable players?
Pleasant: No, I had no idea I would end up as that. Here’s how that happened. I think he sent an e-mail, but Steve wrote an actual letter to Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde because he wanted her to do the soundtrack for Pep Squad, his first movie. As he was coming to Hollywood, he came to L.A and went into Johnette’s recording studio. Johnette was producing spoken word and music tracks that I was doing, and we were working together. As he was walking into the studio, she was editing a track of mine called “Super Mega Zsa Zsa”, as in Zsa Zsa Gabor. He was like, “Oh, my God. I want this for this film”. He wanted Johnette to do the soundtrack, but then he said, “I need this. It fits a scene I’m going to do”. I still hadn’t met Steve yet at that point, but the crazy part was that when he dropped that into the scene, my song and the scene were exactly the same amount of time. I mean, to the second. He just used the whole song unedited for the scene, and my song seemed to describe everything that was going on in the scene then. After that, Steve and I started corresponding through the mail, and then he said he had another movie project coming up, and he wanted me to be in it. He said he wanted me to be a six-breasted burlesque dancer, so I said to him, “How about if we just do three?”. I hadn’t even seen Total Recall, so I didn’t know that there was a woman with three breasts in it, but he said, “Why do you want to do three?”. I said, “For two reasons. You have a limited budget, and it would be easier to have just one prosthetic. Also, I don’t know how much dancing you want me to do, but since I’m a belly dancer, if I had six breasts, it would kind of interfere with the dancing that I do. If there’s actual dancing in it, it would probably look better”. He said okay, and so I did that with him, and Jane was obviously in it, and Kathleen, and Enigma from the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. It was so much fun, and immediately from the moment we met, Steve and I got along like gangbusters. It was just amazing. We felt like we knew each other before. It was just kind of uncanny, and then he started to say, “I want you to be in this movie”. “I want you to be in that movie”. After the second or third one, he said, “You’re totally my muse”. We went to the Cannes Film Festival together, and we were always in touch. He now lives in L.A just a few blocks from me.
Johnny: It’s great when you develop a connection like that, and another one of your collaborations with Steve came with your role as Florene Johnson in The Casserole Club. Set in the 1960s, it’s also a deconstruction of suburban life in that era. As you were a child in the 60s, how do you feel about the tendency of older Baby Boomers to say it was an amazing time?
Pleasant: Well, I think it was an amazing time in hindsight. I mean, I totally think it was an amazing time, but I was processing a lot of what was going on through a child’s point of view. However, I did get sent home and almost expelled, I’m not kidding, from 4th grade for wearing a Strike armband. I grew up on a college campus and I was really into any kind of anti-war protest, and even though I was 8, 9 and 10 years old when that stuff was going on, I would just go with my babysitters to demonstrations. It wasn’t lost on me that this was a crucial point in history. However, I was a little kid. For a little child during that time, I was really political, but I was also still a kid. When Nixon and McGovern were running against each other, I had a coffee can and I was campaigning for McGovern. (Laughing) You’re going to laugh. This was so stupid. I would stand outside this little market near my house and campaign for McGovern, but the town I grew up in was fairly Republican and I wasn’t getting a lot of donations. Instead, I took another coffee can and put a bunch of Richard Nixon bumper stickers on it, and I campaigned for Nixon. I got a lot of donations, and then I bought it to the McGovern campaign to donate the money. (Pleasant and Johnny laugh) My mom told me, “You know, that’s against the law. Technically, that’s cheating”. I was like, “Why? I don’t understand that”. Whatever we need to do to push the cause…(Lots of laughter on both ends of the conversation).
Johnny: I’m telling you, this is just more proof of what a fantastic storyteller you are.
Pleasant: Thank you.
Johnny: I’ll return to your film work in a moment, but to stay with the matter of baby boomers, I’ve noticed that many boomers like yourself, born in the late 50s and early 60s, are different than those born in the late 40s and early 50s, whether in the culture you’ve produced or in your outlooks on life. I can relate to that as I was born in 1982, but feel closer to Generation X than I do to Millennials, in spite of a recent study by Pew Research. Apologies if you don’t feel comfortable with this question, but since some refer to those born from 1977 to 1983 as Xennials, what do you think of the term BoomXers as a descriptive term for people born from 1957 to 1963?
Pleasant: I don’t know if I’ve heard that term, but I definitely fall into that category. I would say I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, or kind of the tail end, but I feel like my end of the Baby Boom, or 1959 when I was born, got to kind of experience the era Mad Men spans. When I first started watching Mad Men, in the first three episodes I thought, “Wow. This show’s amazing”. I then had to step back and go, “Wait, am I just thinking it’s amazing because it’s giving me warm fuzzies remembering my mother drinking a martini and smoking when she was feeding my baby brother?” (Laughing) Before I realized it was fully a great series, I was just like, “Wow, maybe I just like it because I’m this age”. I think that people my age, and a little bit younger, got to experience the really amazing parts of the 60s and the early 70s. It seems so near and fresh to me now, but if I look back and happen to be on YouTube or watch a documentary on TV, any time I see the footage, I go, “Damn, I’m old!” because the footage looks so archaic, but the memories are so vivid to me of that time. It was a very special time period, but I’ve got to say I’m one year away from being 60, and I feel like all time periods are my life. They’re unique and special, and I don’t just mean my life. I mean the decades I’ve been growing up and being a grown-up in, I guess. I never actually heard that term BoomXers, though, but I like it.
Johnny: I actually made it up myself…
Pleasant: Okay. No wonder I didn’t know it. (Laughing)
Johnny: I figured that since an Xennial combines Generation X and Millennials, perhaps BoomXers could combine Baby Boomers and Generation X to describe a micro-generation. I mean, men born from 1957 to 1963 didn’t have to worry about being drafted to go to Vietnam…
Johnny: And people like yourself made music along the lines of punk rock and early rap, whereas the earlier Baby Boomers were Woodstock and jam bands.
Pleasant: I just remembered something that happened right around the same time I was almost negated from the 4th grade. I had a male babysitter as my mom taught theater at a college that was not yet co-ed. I broke his right index finger because he asked me to so he wouldn’t be drafted.
Johnny: That was definitely something I’ve read a lot about, like how Gregg Allman had a “foot shooting party” where he had someone put a bullet into his foot so he could avoid the draft. That was definitely something that the earlier Baby Boomers had to worry about, whereas the later Baby Boomers did not.
Pleasant: Yeah. I didn’t even really think twice about breaking his fingers. I mean, I did. He was my favorite babysitter, and I loved him, but I just remember I thought, “I need to do this because he can’t go to Vietnam”. I don’t even know why he asked me and not a friend, but I did it. No problem, no questions asked. Later as an adult, I was like, “Wow, you asked an 8 1/2-year old kid to break your finger?” (laughing). It was kind of crazy.
Johnny: Returning to film, another one of your collaborations with Jane came with 2012’s The Pyrex Glitch. The IMDB doesn’t have much info about it, so what was the story behind it, and has it seen release yet?
Pleasant: The real story behind it is that it started as a joke when we were doing The Casserole Club. On the very first night, Steve had a party for everybody in the cast. I can say this now, but I don’t think it was common knowledge when the movie came out. The two houses that were featured in The Casserole Club, we were all living in. The cast and crew were spread out between two houses. Steve told the people he rented the house from that it was a writer’s retreat, and so we had to have a sentry posted at the door in case someone came and noticed that we were filming. It was a complete guerrilla film-making experiment. Anyway, on the first night, Steve had a big party at one of the houses, with alcohol, of course, so everybody could get to know one another. Jane and I were pretty tipsy, and we were with Anthony Pedone, the cinematographer, as well as Michael Maize, one of the actors. I think I started being obsessed with the Pyrex because there were so many real vintage casserole dishes and I remembered Pyrex from my childhood. Jane and I made this crazy little two-minute video wearing our 1960s bras, saying, “I dreamed I was cooking casserole in my Pyrex in my Maidenform bra”. Anthony shot it, and he stayed up all night editing it like a commercial. He showed it to Jane and I the next morning, and we were dying laughing. We showed it to everyone, but we kept it a little bit quiet from Steve because we didn’t want him to know that we were that drunk that we were doing stuff like that, and also, we didn’t want him to know that his cinematographer was up all night. The morning after, we noticed that one of the houses had these crazy sculptures of horse heads on these fake barn doors. They were these three-dimensional sculptures coming out of a fake barn door on the side of one of the pool houses at one of the houses we were staying in. We talked Anthony into filming a fake scene from Brokeback Mountain (laughing), but with Pyrex. Me and Jane wrote the script, and then we were directing it and he was shooting it. We stayed up again all night and did that, and then the next one we did was The Silence Of The Lambs. We did so many. The whole cast got involved in it. Even people that were staying at the other house and didn’t know we were doing this heard word filtering down to them. They were like, (laughing) “Why haven’t we been in one of your movies yet?”. We cast Susan Traylor as Christina Crawford and Jane as Joan Crawford. It was Mommie Dearest, and Joan was screaming at Christina because she didn’t use Pyrex. When we did The Silence Of The Lambs, Michael Maize was Buffalo Biill, the serial killer, but he and Susan Traylor had never seen The Silence Of The Lambs, so we were making someone pull up the “It puts the lotion on its’ skin” scene on YouTube. Of course, Jane and I had seen it, like, 800 times, and we could quote the whole movie, but everyone else that hadn’t seen it was looking at it, and they were so disturbed. They were like, “Oh, my god. Why do you know these lines? Why are you doing this?”. We were like, “No, no. You just have to study the way he’s saying it. Say it: ‘It puts the lotion on…”. (Laughing) I was the abducted girl that was in the pit and Michael Maize was Buffalo Bill. Precious was (laughing) a roll of paper towels with a fluffy white kitten mask stuck on the front of it with duct tape. (Pleasant and Johnny laughing) I was clutching a brownie pan going, “Please, mister, please, I swear I’ll use Pyrex next time”. We did a Jaws parody. We had the make-up girl swimming in the pool, and someone had the corner of a square Pyrex casserole pan swimming behind her with the Jaws music. We made a movie every fucking night during that whole shoot, but we didn’t want Steve to know that everyone in the whole cast was staying up until the wee hours. Finally, Steve got wind of it after the production was done, but then, when they were editing it, I think something happened to the footage. I’m not entirely sure. I’ll have to ask Jane. That’s why it never came out, but we did a film noir one. We did Beyond The Valley Of The Pyrex, where someone had all these pills in a Pyrex jar. It was insane. We just did any movie. When it came to our Silence Of The Lambs movie, one of the Casserole Club cast members, Nick, who played Jane’s hot husband or boyfriend when she was a church lady, was our Hannibal Lecter. (Laughing) Jane and I dragged the mattress off a double bed in the little guest house we were staying in. We put it up so that it looked like the box springs were a jail. We had him handcuffed to the mattress, and he had a salad spinner colander on his face as Hannibal Lecter (Pleasant and Johnny laughing), and he had a Pyrex dish full of beans that were supposed to be fava beans. This was like “The Little Rascals put on a show” run amok at three in the morning kind of film-making, complete stupidity. We were trying not to laugh and disturb the neighbors, and trying not to let Steve know we were doing all this crazy stuff until the wee hours. It was total insanity. Stuff like that happened on this set that never happened on any other set I’ve ever been on.
Johnny: That’s another fantastic story, and more proof of your do-it-yourself spirit. That’s fantastic. Moving from film, we now come to dancing, where many you know not as Pleasant Gehman, but as Princess Farhana. Had you considered any other names before deciding on that one?
Pleasant: No, and i’ll tell you how it came to be. Hana, in Arabic, means “happy girl” or “pleasant girl” because the word “farhat” is “happy”. No one ever thought my name was my real name. They thought it was a stage name or my punk rock name, and I’d be like, “Really? If I was picking a fake name, why would it be Pleasant and not like Sid Vicious or something?”. It’s my real name, so when I started dancing, I thought, “I don’t need a stage name. My name already sounds like a fake name”. I was working belly-dancing in LA, which is such a diverse ethnic city. I was working in Arabic clubs, Armenian clubs, Persian clubs. In Farsi and in Arabic, there’s not really a “P” consonant, so my name kept getting mangled. I finally asked one of the club owners what would my name be if it was in Arabic, and he said, “Farhana, because you are very happy and pleasant girl”. I said, “Oh, okay”. I still wasn’t quite sold on it, but I thought it would be cool to have a name like most of my sisters or cousins or friends did, that had an A on it and actually sounded like a girl’s name and not just a word. I got in a cab for some reason, maybe to go to a show, and the driver was Arabic. I could tell by his name on his cabbie I.D. We were talking about Arabic music, and then he said, “What’s your name?”. I said Pleasant, and he said what? I said Pleasant, and he said what again. I then said Farhana, and he said, “Oh, Farhana!”. I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to use this now”, because now it made sense.
Pleasant: Most of the places that I was working in those days didn’t even announce stuff in English. They announced in whichever language, whether it was Persian or Farsi, Armenian or Arabic, and it made so much more sense to use that. I wasn’t going to have Princess on it, either. That was not my choice. It started to be a nickname because, apparently, there was a dancer when I first started dancing whose name was Farhana. It was kind of a faux pas to take someone else’s name. It would be like if a pop star called herself Lady Gaga or Madonna, but I didn’t know that because when I started dancing, there was no social media and no e-mail or Internet or anything. It took me a long time, but people in the community started differentiating me early on because they knew there was another dancer. I used to wear headdresses all the time, and still do, but I was one of the first belly-dancers that did stuff like that. I would always wear a crown or a tiara or a headdress, so people started calling me Princess Farhana From Hollywood, as opposed to Farhana From Long Beach, or wherever the other dancer lived. What blew my mind about that, that I didn’t even realize until after my name had already been Princess Farhana for 10 years, was that I had gone to this psychic who had been recommended to me by a bunch of people. I had never been to a real psychic before, only the sort of fake ones who would be at a carnival. This guy was doing a reading for me, and this was around the time my book Escape From Houdini Mountain had come out, which was 1994. I was already belly-dancing then, but he said to me, “I know this is going to seem really cheesy-sounding, but I feel like you have a lot to do with Egypt and Ancient Egypt”. I’m thinking, “Wow, this is weird. He has no idea I’m a belly-dancer”. He then looked at me and said, “You know, I feel like if you changed your name to include a symbol of royalty, you will be very successful in what you do”. I thought he meant change my name, Pleasant Gehman. I wasn’t even thinking of a stage name because I just had a book out under my real name, and that was what I considered my real career at that point. I said, “But I don’t want to change my name”, and he said, “Oh, but I think if you do, you’ll find you’ll get a lot of success”. 10 years later, in this box that was shoved in the back of my closet were a bunch of cassettes, and I found the cassette from that psychic. I played it, and within the first five minutes I heard him say that, and I was like WOW! The reason I changed my name to Princess Farhana was because it wasn’t even an intentional choice. I was one of the first handful of belly-dancers to actually have a website because it was barely developing at that time in the mid-90s. I thought, “I need to do this because this is going to be the wave of the future”. When I went to see if the domain name farhana.com was available, it was a plastic surgery clinic in Jalalabad, Pakistan (laughing). At that point, I don’t even think I knew there was such a thing as .net or .org or anything. I looked to see if Princess Farhana was available, and it was, so I took it. That’s how I got my name, but in hindsight, with the psychic saying that, it was kind of nutty because I DID have a lot of success. My career really started taking off around that time when I got the website. Well, obviously, because you’re on the Internet, but that was just kind of bizarre that I found it in the box way later.
Johnny: I’ll be asking about matters of the psychic in a moment, but before I do that, what’s the most unusual music to which you’ve ever created a belly-dance routine?
Pleasant: Probably the soundtrack from the movie The Elephant Man. I made a wild dance to it that I still do. I was one of the first pioneers of theatrical belly-dance, which means it’s not the traditional party style. It’s very stagy, and it usually tells kind of a story. I wanted to do a fusion of belly-dancing with 1940s fan dancing, and I had this cool-looking vintage net dress that was flesh-colored with some turquoise sequins strategically placed. When I wore flesh-toned underwear, you couldn’t see through it. It looked like I was totally nude. I then got this Louise Brooks flapper bob-type wig, and I wanted to do something that seemed very ethereal and dreamy and looked like an Erte painting come to life. I found a quote from Erte that said, “My life is but a dream, a dream that invites oblivion”. Even in the 80s, I painted eyes on my palms like an Arabic hansa or the evil eye palms. At one point, I wanted to get them tattooed on me, but the tattoo artist steered me away from it, saying it will hurt like hell and it’ll last three to six months because so much skin is shed off the palms. I never got them tattooed, but I wanted to include them in the dance. I had to figure out something that was going to stay on my palms for the whole first part of the dance where I was doing fan work, and then I had this point in the dance where I would put the fan down and go out and do some very pretty floor work. There was a crescendo in the song. Even at that point I hadn’t picked the song yet, but I wanted dreamy, vintage circus music, which is how I wound up with the theme from The Elephant Man. I wanted to make it seem like I was grabbing eyes out of the sky, so I did that, and I was manipulating the fan the whole time during the dance so no one could tell there were eyes on my palms. I knelt down the floor and then put each palm in front of my eyes and they were big, glitter and rhinestones. That was probably the weirdest dance I’ve ever done.
Johnny: That sounds beautiful, and I have seen videos of your dancing. It is very beautiful, and you’re really great at it.
Pleasant: Thank you.
Johnny: No problem. Moving on, you also describe yourself as a spirit magnet, and as such, you’ve investigated ghosts and hauntings. I, myself, saw a ghost as I was roughly 12 or 13. I walked in the door from school one day to see my dad, who had passed away several months before, sitting in a chair and waving at me. People I’ve told that about tend to vary on whether they believe it or not, so that leads me to ask: What do you say to people who think ghosts aren’t real?
Pleasant: I’ve been hunting all sorts of paranormal experiences since I was really little. I think a lot of us are societally conditioned to not believe any of that stuff. People don’t believe they have intuition. People don’t believe that we’re all naturally psychic. Some people are more naturally gifted than others, just the same way that someone has more musical talent or is better at sports. People have been obsessed with the spirit world and goddesses and gods and the supernatural. I mean, the whole Bible is supernatural, if you really think about it, with voices coming out of the air and crazy things happening and predictions and stuff like that. I never really argue with people that don’t believe in it. There’s no point in arguing, but whenever I’m working with the paranormal or supernatural, or whenever I’m doing some kind of investigation, I always have to rule out the mundane first, you know? Do we think that statue fell off the shelf because someone slammed the door or because there’s a spirit here? People have all sorts of different beliefs, so I’m not one to debate with people who would argue over whether or not there’s spirits, or whether Hindus or Muslims are better than Christians. It all depends on what you believe in. I do have a funny story about someone who didn’t believe. I’m writing a Tarot book with my friend Crystal RavenWolf.
Pleasant: She and I have done tons of paranormal investigations, and we were doing an investigation at a Halloween attraction called Hobb’s Grove in the central valley of California. They called us because they sent numerous e-mails to us detailing what their employees had seen, paranormal activities and things going on. Even though they’re a Halloween haunt, there are over 100 actors employed there from August through November doing Halloween shows, but all the actors had paranormal experiences, so they wanted someone to do a paranormal investigation there. We did, and that place was so active. At the very beginning of our investigation, the sun had just gone down, and Hobb’s Grove hired a filmmaker to come along with us and just document it. It was Crystal and I, and we had just had a workshop on ghost-hunting at a metaphysical store that afternoon. There were all these people with us, and those people had paranormal equipment. We decided on the route of the places we were going to investigate at Hobb’s Grove, and the first place we wanted to go to was the place that had the most reports. It was called The Redneck Trailer Park, and it was on the route of what they did a Haunted Hayride on. We went out there with the filmmaker, and the filmmaker was around 6′ 3”, a big guy. He was like, “Ha ha, you girls are doing a paranormal investigation. Sure. I don’t believe in ghosts”. We got out to the trailer park, and we set up all the equipment. We also had divining rods, which were lo-fi equipment. We had all the meters and stuff that you’d see on any paranormal show. We set this all up, and there’s a thing called a REM pod, which looks like a cross between Alexa and a very small disco dance floor, a cylindrical object with a very small antenna coming up .It catches changes in the electromagnetic field, and you can ask spirits to come near it and light it up. You can ask, “Can you give me the color green?”, and if they can press on just the part that’s green, or if they get their energy to it, they can make it light up. If it happens once, you have to ask them to do it a few times, so you know that once wasn’t just an anomaly. We were like, “Is anybody here? If you are, light up the REM pod”. It lit up like a Christmas tree, and then we had these little devices called an obelisk, which is a way that spirits can talk to you. They can actually form sentences or short phrases because the obelisk has an 8000 word dictionary going on in it. If you ask a question, and a spirit doesn’t just blurt out one word, instead putting a few together and seeming to answer the question you ask, and you ask it again and get a similar response, I mean, how can you not believe that there’s not something intelligent there? We said, “So, how many of you guys are hanging out in this trailer?”. We numbered the trailers from one through five, and we said, “What are you in?”. They said 5, and then “We’re in 3”, and then, “Two of us are in number 2”. We were looking at it, and all the students that were with us were getting the same kind of responses, and everything was lit up. I’m very serious about paranormal investigations, but my personality comes through a lot, too, so I would just ask crazy questions to spirits sometimes. I said, “So, what is it like haunting at a Halloween haunt? How do you like being here?”. The obelisk said, “It’s perfect!”. (Laughing) Crystal turns to me and says, “Where’s the film guy? I hope he’s getting this”, and I said, “I don’t know”. We turned around and looked, and he was running! He was running away with all his equipment. He was running as fast as he could, like he was finishing a marathon. He was 500 yards down the dirt path, and so we went chasing after him (laughing). He was crying, “I didn’t sign up for this, man! This is crazy! I feel like someone dumped a bucket of ice down my back, and then those things started talking. I’m leaving! I’m leaving! I can’t handle this!”.
Johnny: Definitely not for the weak.
Pleasant: No, but he was the one who was making fun of us, too. We were just laughing, and it disrupted everything. Later that night we had a really funny thing happen. We were investigating this barn with two people from Hobb’s Grove that were with us. They said numerous employees had heard voices and footsteps coming from the hayloft, but they’d check and there was no one up there. We had all the equipment set up, and one of the women that we were investigating with? Her name is the paranormal community is Mom, because she’s kind of been a mentor and a mom to paranormal investigators. Anyway, she was no-nonsense. She was wearing a flak jacket with pockets for all her devices, and she had on Crocs. She was an older lady, but Crystal and I were talking to these spirits for probably 5 minutes straight because the spirit was very talkative. All of a sudden, it just shut up, but the REM pod was still on and we could tell that someone was still there. We were like, “Hey, how come you don’t want to talk to us anymore? We know that you’re here because we can see that you’re here”. Crystal and I said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you want to talk to two hot chicks?”. The obelisk immediately flipped on and said, “Mom’s hotter”. (Laughing) We all looked at with laughter, and then Mom started putting her hands up in there, doing a little hip-hop-like twerk dance, saying, “That’s right! That’s right!”. That kind of blew the investigation for a few minutes while we were all just laughing. No one could believe that just happened, the spirit saying “Mom’s hotter”.
Johnny: Wow, that’s a fantastic story. I know I’ve been saying that phrase a lot, but just interviewing you, this is proof of what a great storyteller you are.
Pleasant: Thank you.
Johnny: That leads me to this question: You released a spoken word CD in the mid-90s called Ruined, featuring you reading selections from your writing. Is there any chance that will come back in print, or at least be a digital download if it hasn’t made it there yet?
Pleasant: I don’t know. I would love to have it be a digital download, but I don’t know entirely what the ins and outs of that are. This isn’t going to help your question, but if you have the ability to play a CD, I can send you a CD of it.
Johnny: Oh, I’d love that!
Pleasant: I have all the tracks. I’m getting ready to do some audio versions of my books. I’m not sure when that will happen, but it should be happening some time this year.
Johnny: I’ll absolutely be buying them.
Pleasant: (Laughing) Thank you.
Johnny: I now come to your writing. I find you to be a very gifted writer. You have a flair for words, and a tremendous empathy for the many people you’ve written about. What has writing provided for you that your other creative endeavors have not?
Pleasant: Writing has kept me sane. I’ve kept diaries since I was about 10 years old, but unfortunately, I don’t have the amount of time to write in them that I used to, you know? When I was bored, I would just sit there during my rock-and-roll years and write conversations verbatim. I’d write about who was there, what songs Blondie or The Ramones played. I would sometimes write 12 to 20 pages in a diary, but I took writing for granted until I really started working on other things. When I first started dancing, I was in classes with women who were 10 years younger. I’d always wanted to be a dancer since I was younger, but I had flat feet and I didn’t know that there was other kinds of dancing aside from ballet. I kind of forgot about dancing at that point. When I was 30, and I really started dancing, I was in classes with younger students who had grown up with ballet, jazz and tap. I was like, “If I’m going to succeed in this, I have to accelerate to be as good as these people who have had dance training all their lives, and are younger than me”. My dance career was going to be more limited. I didn’t realize how easy writing was for me. I didn’t realize it was a gift. I just thought I could always do it, until I saw how hard I had to work for dancing. I mean, obviously I had some aptitude for that, but writing just always flowed out of me. I sort of developed a new respect for my writing talent.
Johnny: And what a talent it is.
Pleasant: Thank you.
Johnny: In the 80s, you wrote several chapbooks like Esther’s Orbit Room, which I see listed on Amazon.
Pleasant: What? You saw that on Amazon?
Johnny: It wasn’t available for sale, but it was listed in their books section, so this leads me to ask: How many of your chapbook writings made it into your nationally published books, and have you ever considered doing a Kickstarter or an IndieGoGo to publish a compilation of them?
Pleasant: You know what? Punk Hostage Press is going to do that because, just about a month ago, I posted some pages of chapbooks on Facebook and Instagram, and the immediate response was, “When are you going to make a book of these?”. Iris, my publisher and art director, the first thing she said was, “This is your next project because I have all the originals”. That’s going to be happening very soon. I’ll just have to write an intro to that, and then have some of the chapbooks in there. I don’t even have to write the book. It’s practically written .
Johnny: Sounds good. I definitely will be buying that because you are a gifted writer.
Pleasant: Thank you. I’m working on three books now, but they’re all only half-done. I’m trying to balance that between all the other stuff I’m doing. Right now, I’m working with Crystal RavenWolf, the girl I do paranormal investigations with, and we’re almost completely done with a book called Walking The Tarot Path, which is all about Tarot. I’m also working on a book on my fanzine Lobotomy with Theresa Kereakes, the girl who took most of the photos for Lobotomy, as well as a book called Super Natural Woman, which will be like Showgirl Confidential, but it’s about all the crazy witchy and paranormal incidents that have happened to me.
Johnny: Fantastic. All those projects sounds incredibly fascinating, and I’ll definitely be buying them. Two more questions. First, you co-wrote and edited three printings of The Underground Guide To Los Angeles. Although I live in New York and don’t drive, I’ve always had a fascination with LA to the point where I follow Facebook pages like Vintage Los Angeles. Considering all the gentrification that these pages have reported about Los Angeles, do you think a book like The Underground Guide To Los Angeles could have a 4th printing, or has too much changed in LA for a fourth printing to be feasible?
Pleasant: I think there’s definitely too much change, but I think also now, because of the Internet and social media, if one person knows about those places, everyone knows. When those books were coming out, there was no Facebook. There was no Twitter or Tumblr, so you told people you knew. “Look, there’s this cool dive bar” or, “Wow, there’s this house that Hedy Lamarr used to live in”, or something. People just had to learn about those things via word of mouth. Now you can find out about them anywhere on the Internet. You can name an architect from LA in the 20s, and there will be a bunch of things coming up on different sites. You can Google some old theater in downtown on Broadway, and all its’ history will come up. That kind of stuff you had to just really know about it and experience it personally when it was happening. You had to actually go there. You couldn’t just read about it in those days, so I don’t think another volume is going to come out.
Johnny: Sorry to hear that, but that is more proof of your great talent and your versatility, which leads me to my final question. Anybody who knows about you knows of that tremendous versatility, as these questions have evidenced, but which talent would you like to acquire next and show off in one of your projects?
Pleasant: I think I’ve done pretty much all of them. I’m still doing shows all the time, but I think now I’m hitting the point that there are a lot of books either waiting to be written or that are almost finished. I think I’m going to be doing that a lot now, concentrating more on that, but I’ll never stop anything I do. I’m still dancing a lot, but I sort of put writing on the back burner in favor of dancing. My thoughts are if I hadn’t blown out all my brain cells in the 70s and 80s, they were going to last longer than my hip and shoulder joints (laughing). I’m not slowing down on the dancing, but I think I need to start writing more now. I mean, there’s been so much interest in not just the time periods I’ve lived through, but all of that.
Johnny: Well, that does it for my questions. I again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. I knew you would be a great interview subject, and it was just a tremendous honor to speak to you.
Pleasant: Thank you so much.
Johnny: Just the depth and the breadth of your experience makes you an amazing storyteller, and I’m just impressed. You have the energy of someone half your age, and you just have this great charisma about you. It was an honor to get to know more about you.
Pleasant: Thank you so much.
Johnny: You were a fantastic conversation, and I’ll definitely keep in touch. I hope you have a good evening.
Pleasant: Thank you so much. You, too.
Johnny: Talk to you soon.
Pleasant: Okay,. Thank you. Send me your address and I’ll send you the CD.
Johnny: I will.
Pleasant: Okay. Thanks.
Pleasant Gehman truly was pleasant, and I thank her for taking the time to speak to me. For more information about Pleasant Gehman’s general entertainment endeavors, you can visit her Facebook fan page, as well as her official website and her Twitter page. For more about Pleasant’s work as Princess Farhana, you can visit her website, her Facebook page and her Twitter page. Finally, for Pleasant’s adventures with the supernatural and the psychic, visit The Divination Nation on Facebook.
As for myself, I would like to mention that this is my 100th article for Pop Geeks. After I stopped writing for RetroJunk, my previous writing base, in 2013, I felt adrift for most of that year. I didn’t know where to turn to for my future writings. That’s why I owe Eileen Cruz a tremendous amount of gratitude for allowing me to write for Pop Geeks, or as it was called in 2014, Bilateral Warp. When I submitted the article 10 Comedy Albums To Fall Asleep To in January of 2014, I had no idea that my greatest success as a writer was to come by contributing here. If it weren’t for Eileen Cruz and Pop Geeks, my writing would still be hidden in a small section of the Internet that lost a lot of popularity. Here, though, I’m doing a lot better with my writing, and I thank all of you for staying with me on this journey. Even if you’ve disagreed with my writing in form or in content, I thank you because you’ve allowed me the chance to expand my horizons and viewpoints as a writer. Here’s to the next 100 articles.