I once witnessed a young woman pull down her top in the smoking area of the Casbah and twirl rapturously, her breasts angled and horizontally elongated under the influence of centrifugal gravity. Bored indie rockers, for a moment, gawked in delight. Save for appearances by Peaches and Har Mar Superstar, that was as sexed-up as San Diego's iconic rock cavern gets.
While most humans presently blessed with active blood flow enjoy sex, and the whole survival-of-the-species thing depends on its regular execution, the punk/alternative/ underground society has long acted as though its loins are on sabbatical. Which makes sense, figuring that mainstream singles bars are oft packed with cleavage-happy socialites with "predator" or "prey" written in their eyes.
In reaction to such slobbering pursuits, the men and women of the underground tend to embrace less lascivious forms of personal expression-artistic acuity, anti-commercialistic fashion, intellectual sustainability. People at places like the Casbah still fuck-they just don't tend to "freak" many strangers on the dance floor or speak loudly of their desires and/or conquests over designer cocktails.
They'd rather silently drink their Steinlägers while smugly ignoring their classless friend's attempt to glean coital particulars.
Such pseudo-chaste environs are the reason why the arrival of Suicide Girls' Live Burlesque Tour on the dingy Casbah stage is such an aberration: the sexless are about to get sexed up.
Or, at least teased.
Assuming you're not one of the 500,000 unique weekly visitors to suicidegirls.com, and that you don't count among the 24 million page views the website registers each month, or that you haven't read about the site in Wired, SPIN, Rolling Stone, Elle, Punk Planet or seen reports regarding the site on MTV, HBO's Real Sex, ABC's Nightline or Insomniac with Dave Attell, allow me to waft the smelling salts under nostril.
Since its inception in 2001, suicidegirls.com has spearheaded a revolution in sexual media-recasting mainstream erotica as the artistic self-expression of women who are a boob job, a nose job, a butt tuck, face lift... ah, hell, a spiritual and physical reincarnation away from Pamela Anderson.
Now, mind you, the 200-plus Suicide Girl models are hardly victims of brutal ugly stickings. But it's not uncommon for them to have multiple facial piercings, studded labia, purple hair or tattoos the size of wall posters.
"There's such a reality about the girls that have the piercings and the tattoos," says Suicidegirls' co-founder, Missy Suicide. "Everybody that I know has a piercing or a tattoo. I wanted a place for my friends to be themselves and be appreciated for being themselves."
Punks, goths, emo girls, indie chicks, weirdos, freaks-call 'em what you will, but on suicidegirls.com, they're called pin-ups.
"I wanted to do a site where the girls would be viewed the same way that the pin-up girls of the '40s and '50s were," Missy explains. "I'd always loved the Bettie Page photos and the Alberto Varga drawings. I always thought they had such class and treated the girls with such respect and the girls had this air of dignity and grace and beauty.
"I wanted to capture the punk-rock girls-the girls that were my friends-with that same sort of beauty and dignity. I thought that was missing in mainstream media."
Little did she know it would spark a worldwide phenomenon. The site is no longer just a site-it's described as "a contemporary lifestyle brand" that is part fashion boutique and part modeling agency, with a DVD and a coffee table book on the way.
For Missy and her co-founder Sean, the glorification and empowerment of women is tantamount. The models on Suicide Girls, she explains, "have full control of how they're presented. They pick out their outfits, they do their hair, they pick out the setting. They decide how much they're showing and what they're showing."
Perhaps it's this girl-friendly business model that accounts for the fact that 52 percent of the website's subscriber base is, indeed, female. And though the site is very friendly for gays and bisexuals, most of these female subscribers mark "heterosexual" in their personal profiles.
Siren, a Suicide Girl model, explains that the 44-city Live Burlesque Tour that she is choreographing and spearheading for the company is also female-focused.
"It's not often that you can go to a sexy show or a strip club or even a sexy movie and have it be made for a female audience," she explains. "Generally that stuff is targeted towards men.
"[Our show] is for men, too, but we want it to be comfortable for young women and girls-that's why it's all choreographed and done by women."
While the tour is something new for the Suicide Girls, live performances are not. For the past two years, models from the site have put on a similar "punked up and Suicide Girls style" burlesque show, Siren explains, in the clubs of Portland, Ore., where the site was formed.
The approximately 45-minute show is a partial throwback to the times when women couldn't get nude onstage, and thus had to rely on the intimation of nudity, a strong act of flirtation and the art of tease. The girls will wear homemade costumes, decorate themselves in tape and perform to songs by both Shirley Bassey and The Ramones. Expect the use of duct tape, pastries and possibly whipped cream, beer and chains.
Missy hopes that the show in San Diego-the fifth city on the tour-will be pulled off with enough panache to embody how she feels about Suicide Girls overall:
"It's art and it's beautiful."
The Suicide Girls Live Burlesque Tour teases the Casbah, 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 11. $10. 619-232-HELL.