A Few Notes On Black Shampoo By Leon Chase. What always sticks out in my mind is that spectacular opening build-up. The crackle of damaged film, the name of the production company and then—two notes on an electric bass (open E to F#, I believe)—simple, bottom-heavy, sure, and sticky thick with the promise of the sexual ballet to come...

What always sticks out in my mind is that spectacular opening build-up. The crackle of damaged film, the name of the production company and then—two notes on an electric bass (open E to F#, I believe)—simple, bottom-heavy, sure, and sticky thick with the promise of the sexual ballet to come. Remember, please, that we had no idea what we were in for—us, the Original Three, all bored, sixteen and virginal (well, at least I was anyway...)

We had braved blizzard conditions and nard-choking automotive tailspins just to procure this tape. Mike, the brave Malibu pilot; Leon, the unwitting discoverer; and Steve... what did Steve do? Why, it was in his otherwise wholesome family room that our eyes were opened, our loins awakened, and our souls were forever stained with a new filthy joy. I recall at the onset of the aforementioned bass strains remaking, "With bass like that, it’s gotta be good." Oh, the understatement! The cosmic Zen ironies at work in that nondescript suburban home that night! Only an unbridled naïveté like ours could make a person so willingly plunge into such immeasurable libidic depths!

I still shiver at those two notes, repeating themselves as the screen melts, psychedelia-style, into the image of Mrs. Carruthers, about to get her hair washed, cinematic surrogate for our own anticipation. The images stick with me like a primordial dream...a glint of light on the earthtone sink, the base sensuality of running water, the sure and mighty twist of a shampoo cap, and a new, tenser sound: the first staccato licks of a potent wah guitar, careful; testing the waters, so to speak.

One visual is conspicuously lacking, though—who, we ask ourselves, is doing the shampooing? Even as the shampooee begins writhing in her seat, an obvious slave to both the sexuality of her wash-and-rinse and the quickening funk guitar, we see the man only in pieces—at once a clever suspense tactic and implied comment on his larger-than-life persona. A manly brown hand caressing blonde locks. White jeans, impossibly tight. The bass quickens slightly, the guitar steadies, the two reconcile themselves into a leisurely yet popping groove. A woman’s voice, slinky and steeped in echo, slips into the mix and gives name to this faceless follicle-fingering phenomenon: "Jonathan," she purrs. And then (as if we didn’t know by now) she adds, "He’s a real man."

More rinsing, more booty shaking, the woman drags her fingers down her own increasingly-exposed body until, finally, neither she nor her experiential audience can stand it any longer. She sits straight up in her seat. Her frantic bony hand traces abundant fields of black chest so bursting with virility that not even a polyester shirt can quite cover them. The hand winds down to the zippers, struggles to clear the obvious girth beneath, and next we see her hand on the white clad buttocks, the music breaks down into a single, repetitive four-four kick drum, and all of our greatest hopes and fears are realized.

"Oh my god! Mr. Jonathan! It is bigger and better!"

At this point one can clearly envision composer Gerald Lee bringing his baton down hard, signaling the whole PCP-laced crew to jam with abandon—the bassist unleashing an arsenal of fills, the guitarist’s wah-foot working overtime, and the vocals driven into a frenzy of trance-like repetition: "He’s a real man... he’s a real man... he’s a real man..."

One can also imagine the enormity of the collective "Holy Shit!" that exploded from our awed mouths at this moment, and which only grew as the camera slowly tilted up from the gut to the chest to the stone-cool glare of Mr. Jonathan himself, confident yet disinterested, face framed by an as-yet-immeasurable afro, unwavering even as the groove-soaked chorus sings his praises, the timeless portrait of a sex machine.

He looked into our souls then, as he does now, as he always will for anyone with the blind luck or guts enough to sit back and let him grace their once-chaste screen. And here, in my veteran opinion, is where the true beauty of this hallowed film lies. My fellow pioneers can no doubt sing the praises of its complex storylines or the subtleties of its dialogue or the raw force of its realistic contributions to the great canon of action cinematography—and I would be a fool to argue them. But for me, the greatest thrill—whether in my own memory or in the vicarious joy in the faces of the traditional new converts—will always be in that first sublime, sexually-charged, playful and—dare I say—artful initiation into the sweet place in our hearts called Black Shampoo.

Article revised and available in the Impossibly Funky Collection

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