Clownvis Presley Prepares in the Green Room at the Firebird: A Paint Story

Clownvis Presley prepares in the green room at the Firebird. - Brian Heffernan
Brian Heffernan
Clownvis Presley prepares in the green room at the Firebird.

The rooms where music is made and experienced affect everything from the sound of the instruments to the mood of the people in them. Each week in Space Explorer, Brian Heffernan will tell you about a different room with significance to St. Louis music.

A hypothetical: "Would it ruin it if you went to see Chuck E. Cheese perform, but you saw Steve walking around all night before the show, and everybody knows that Steve is Chuck E. Cheese?" That's the question Mike Leahy, the man behind the Clownvis Presley makeup, poses backstage at the Firebird.

See also: -Clownvis Presley at the Firebird, 10/11/2012: Highlights -Thousands of Old Singles, Looking for Some Love: The 45 Room at Record Exchange - Clownvis Presley, King of Clowns, Pisses Off Sharon Osbourne, Mocks Howie Mandel on America's Got Talent

St. Louis is a homecoming gig. Leahy lived here until 2010, when he moved to Hollywood. A handful of close friends trickle into the green room to see him, ask how family members are doing and reminisce about his days fronting local psychobilly-glam rockers, the 7 Shot Screamers. Leahy still looks much the same now as back then--a wardrobe mostly of black, a chain wallet, black spiked upright--more rocker than clown. He steps out of the room when the openers, The Griddle Kids (led by 7SS bassist Chris Powers Jr. on guitar) and Little Rachel (featuring 7SS drummer, Kevin O'Connor) start performing, but keeps a low profile for most of the night before suiting up backstage.

The green room itself is three years old and just wide enough to squeeze an empty-shelved mini-fridge alongside a worn, autumn-colored plaid loveseat. And yes, the walls are green, a deep hunter-green, but they weren't always. Mike Cracchiolo, owner of the Firebird, says for a while they were accumulated an eclectic assortment of signatures and drawings, including a self-portrait by a member of Dead Prez, a spot-on Mona Lisa, and love letters that members of Bomb The Music Industry! wrote to fellow bands scheduled to play the Firebird after them. Then, almost inevitably, the penises came, loads of them. (Ahem.) The prickasso collection grew until it covered the walls then got greenwashed.

Rather than curate a signature wall, Cracchiolo says, they'd prefer to just keep the room looking clean, a small refuge where the touring artists can find privacy and a clown can try out a new gag. Tonight, it's a wand that packs a hidden stem of flowers that bloom in a dinky plastic potting plant. He bought it for $21.95 at Gibbol's novelty store in Laclede's Landing and tests it out a few times in front of friends backstage. The third time, he waves the wand, does a jokey little dance and wahlah, nothing happens. The audience, a few of his former band members and long-time friends chuckle and heckle their seemingly unpolished pal. He tries and fails once more before getting it on the third attempt.

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