Dune magazine essay about Black Bananas

From behind, you might not be able to tell Jess Holzworth and Jennifer Herrema apart—they both have these amazing heads of tangled long blonde hair which are less emblems of their beauty, and more weapons of mass hell-raising. Like, if you piss ‘em off, they’ll face whip you to death with their follicles. Jess has a hippie-hesher-wild child energy about her that has made her the center of every scene she encounters, whether it’s with the NYC downtown art kids or the heavy metallers in the Sonoran desert of Tucson, Arizona where she currently lives. And Jennifer is the epitome of feminine rock ‘n roll badass-ness, a haute-couture outlaw with model stats, and Brigitte Bardot lips (cigarette always hanging forth). She’s the former front woman for Royal Trux, RTX, and now, Black Bananas. Jess just directed a video for Jennifer, for the Black Bananas’ track My House, taken from their latest album Rad Times Xpress IV. “Jennifer didn’t ask me to do the video, I just told her I was going to do it and she said yeah,” says Jess.

Who knows whether it was intentional, but the video seems to visually encapsulate Jess and Jennifer’s combined creative DNA which, when refracted through Jess’ director’s lens, emerges as a dreamy collage made from shards of the American underground. There are flashes of Chicano lowriders, Apache feather dances, punk rock hula hooping and train-track head-banging, all of it a kind of treasure map, laying out the roots of Jess and Jennifer’s inspirations—Native American spirituality, heavy metal, and rebel youth, thrashing like birds of paradise in the dust.

The video opens with Jennifer lighting one of her cigarettes with a cluster of smoldering sage leaves, the kind that will cleanse a house of bad smells and negative energies. A hazy backdrop of stars and stripes glows behind her, overlaid with detail from the micro-beaded turquoise, red, black, and yellow regalia of a Native American warrior. Jess got the footage at a Pow Wow close to her home in Tucson, where there are Hopi, Navajo, Tohono O’odham and Yaqui reservations. “I go as often as I can,” she says. Being at a Pow Wow is a holy feeling. To be immersed in the chanting, costumes, tradition and history…I cry at them…it’s a nice feeling.” The image fades and we see the silhouette of a long-haired kid head-banging in front of a suburban desert mountain range, hair spinning like a windmill. Then we cut to Jennifer wandering down the aisle of an Asian supermarket, clutching a shopping basket, wearing snakeskin boots and skinny blue jeans. “The grocery store came to mind because of the naturally vibrant color palette in them,” says Jess. “They said we weren’t allowed to film in the store, but we did anyway.” Somehow, even grocery shopping becomes a subversive act when Jess and Jennifer are involved.

Then the monstrous sight of a Monte Carlo hydraulic low rider, lurching up and down before crashing to the earth like a gleaming dinosaur, its rear wheels landing heavily on the tarmac of a parking lot, a little girl looking on in the background.  “The low-rider bit came out of nowhere,” says Jess. “I have a keen interest in Monte Carlos, especially ghetto tricked out ones—I love the way they look, mean and sexy.” She had originally wanted a black guy with braids cruising around smoking a blunt in one of those cars; instead she found a low-rider outfit from Tucson called The Sophisticated Crew to star in her video. “I scouted them at a church car wash on Sunday morning in South Tucson,” says Jess, “they then invited me to a low-rider gathering later in the day at the Rodeo Park. It was amazing.”

The low-riders are as flamboyant as peacocks, but heavy, lumbering and menacing as the tattooed Chicanos who ride them slowly through the streets of Tucson. Their weighty masculinity contrast with the sight of a gang of beautiful hesher kids who skip light-footed along the train tracks, running towards who-knows-where with their romantic greasy hair, scuffed leather jackets and dusty boots, waving at the freight trains as they rumble by. One of those metal kids is Jess herself, you can tell by the long blonde hair that tumbles down her back. She’s hanging out with her hasher friend from Buenos Aires, who’s wearing a beat up denim jacket, the back of which is decorated, it seems, with an iron-on kitten patch. There’s a humorous softness to these kids’ rebel defiance.

A nameless, faceless girl in a Misfits t-shirt spins a glowing hula hoop around her body, as the pow wow dance picks up speed, dancers in magnificent tasseled regalia spinning in a whirl of color. Then you realize, these kids are all warriors, from disparate tribes, fired by some common ancient spirit that compels them to spin, preen, battle and laugh. The result is a visual cyclone of a film, circular tropes evoking America as seen through a kaleidoscope, luminous, angry and transcendent. Veils upon veils of culture, ghostly visual membranes that are separate but interconnected, feeding each other through some cosmic osmosis as visualized by Jess, with Jennifer as muse.

I met Jess and Jennifer four years ago. Jennifer was talking about doing some writing projects together; she said, “you gotta meet Jess…Jess has to be a part of this.” I’d never before been invited to work on a writing project that involved a best friend as a third party collaborator. But I figured there must be a good reason Jennifer wanted Jess on board. We all hung out in Silverlake, at an Italian restaurant and I got see the cool energy that bonds them, a sort of instinctive, intuitive, co-dependent trust based on massive mutual appreciation for one another as artists. They’re deeply spiritual badass motherfuckers who like taking care of kittens but also appreciate tequila and will fuck shit up when and wherever necessary.

They met around 15 years ago, backstage after Jennifer’s old band—the groundbreaking Royal Trux—had played a show at New York’s Westbeth Theatre. Their mutual friend, musician Mike Fellows (who played with Royal Trux, Silver Jews, and Will Oldham) introduced Jess to Jennifer in a quiet dressing room. “It was chill; we shared some funny West Virginia stories about this infamous dude named Kirwood who ran the club Gumby’s in Huntington, West Virginia,” recalls Jess. “He was a notorious crazy ass mofo.” There was an instant natural rapport between the two women—Jennifer lived in Virginia at the time, and Jess came from the wilds of West Virginia, and they had an unspoken “outlaw sophisticate” understanding going on. Then they met again backstage at another Royal Trux show at the Cooler in NYC a year or two later. “I asked Jennifer if she had any more tee shirts, she said yes… and gave me one.” The friendship was sealed. When asked to explain why their friendship is so tight, both women are relatively guarded. “Jennifer is a Pisces and I am a Sagittarius, and she is Sagittarius rising. We speak the same language,” offers Jess. Also, “We talk jive slang 24 7 and we both love to call people MOTHERFUCKERS.”

She’s a little reluctant to share one of her favorite Jennifer stories, about the time RTX played the Hotel Congress in Tucson. But when she tells it, it’s worth the wait. It’s a kind of a heavy metal Thelma and Louise yarn that takes place about four years ago, around the time the smoking ban was implemented in Tucson. Jess recalls how Jennifer lit a smoke or two on stage, “and the hotel went bananas. The bouncers grabbed her off the stage and slammed her up against the bar.” On that same tour Jennifer had already had an altercation with some bouncers in San Diego, and Jennifer had spent the night in jail as a result. No one wanted that to happen again, so Jess was summoned by the band members. They asked her to pick up Jennifer at the hotel, and take her to a safe place. “We high tailed it out the back door to another joint, then Jennifer was like ‘shit, I need my suitcase.’ Our plan was to cruise over around back again and have Brian from RTX bring out her bag, which he did but within a split second this asshole was standing in front of my car, yelling at us saying he told us not to come back, blah blah.” Jess’ protective instinct for her friend reared its almighty head, and she confronted the angry security guy. “I was like EAT SHIT A-HOLE! If I was a dude I’d f**k your white ass up, you can’t stand in front of my car and hold us hostage’.”  Jess and the security guy went back and forth, with Jennifer just observing. “I told the dude if you don’t get out from in front of my car I will run your ass over, and he kept on saying the cops were on their way.”

Jess wondered how she was going to get her and Jennifer out of the situation. She revved the engine a little. She saw fear in the asshole security guards’ eyes. “Then I said to him I’m gonna count to 3 and if you don’t move… I will run your ass over.” She counted, and then ploughed forward. The security guy rolled over the side of the car. He grasped at the door handles, trying to get in the back of the car (“thank god the doors were locked,” recalls Jess) and then Jess and Jennifer “sped out like wild west bandits.” Jess was banned from the Hotel Congress for two years after that incident, which perfectly illustrates their friendship. Soul sisters with a wild streak, they keep things mellow and high vibrational unless you challenge them to a battle—at which point, watch out. You might end up a motherfucker.

Story with photos and stills from the video, coming out soon in Dune magazine