WAY USA host Tesco Vee makes a pact with the Devil to meet John Waters!
In 1988, MTV was still cool, if only for one show. Way USA was an ultra-cool, albeit short-lived, underground travel series that aired on MTV for a New York minute, achieved instant cult status, and then vanished into the great video void. It was notable for being hosted by punk provocateur Tesco Vee of The Meatmen and The Hate Police (not to mention Touch and Go magazine) and for being shot on Super 8 (!) by director Peter Lauer, who went on to direct popular TV comedy shows like Strangers with Candy and Arrested Development. Lauer was one of the original MTV “Incredible Interns” whose ranks also included local boy-made-good Mark Pellington (whose dad Bill was a star linebacker for the Johnny U.-era Colts), who went on to direct the acclaimed television mini-series The United States of Poetry (1995) and Hollywood feature films like Arlington Road (1999), as well as Ted Demme (Blow, A Decade Under the Influence), and John Polson (Hide and Seek).
The pilot episode (of what turned out to be three shows – the others being trips to Niagara Falls and Buffalo, if memory serves me well) saw Tesco Vee selling his soul to the devil in order to visit Baltimore and meet John Waters! The Pope of Trash tipped TV to the underground sights and sounds of Baltimore that would never show up on Chamber of Commerce itineraries, like a tour of “red light” strip clubs on our infamous Block, wig stores in the “Hairdo Capital of the World,” beer bars, thrift stores, massage parlors, and many other sleazy spots.
For years this classic cultural guide circulated only as fuzzy low-res bootleg copies (on top of being filmed in Super 8 to begin with!), until Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds (dangerousminds.net) scored a post-production edited copy (which includes some NSFW “commercial break” add-ons that may have come from Tesco Vee’s The Devil’s in the Details DVD) that got uploaded at last to YouTube. Rejoice, cult video enthusiasts, because this rediscovered reel is a real classic!
Travelogue highlights include
- Tesco eating eating a dozen eggs at the “all the eggs you can eat” Lakewood Grill diner (“If my heart stops, kick me in the chest!”),
- visiting the Narcissus Room at the Pilots Motel off “scenic Pulaski Highway,”
- having an S&M session with the late 448-pound greeting card model and actress Jean Hill (“the prize filly in John Waters’ stable”),
- touring La Fontaine Bleue in Glen Burnie (“the Taj Mahal of Matrimony”),
- eating chili and getting inked at Dark Lady Cafe Tattoo (later to become simply Cafe Tattoo and the Mojo Lounge) on Belair Road,
- dancing to Paul Taylor and his Mighty Wurlitzer at the swank Beltway Motel,
- checking out titillating, tawdry and tempestuous sights at the 2 O’Clock Club on The Block (“Baltimore’s equivalent of Heaven!”),
- eating a stack of “gut bomb” burgers at the “theater district” Little Tavern on The Block,
- going over the Police Blotter with the late crime reporter John Richard “Dick” Irwin of the Baltimore Sun,
- getting “spiritually cleansed” by faith healer-exorcist Reverend Hazel Cassell of WEAA Radio (“15,000 watts of healing power on the Chesapeake Bay!”),
- and buying “large ceramic, useless doo-dads” at Bargain Corner in Fells Point, the better to remember his trip to B-town.
Watch “WAY USA: Baltimore.”
Love the pilot episode’s sign-off, courtesy of John Waters: “See you next time – if you made it out alive.”
Tesco Vee is certainly no stranger to the charms of Charm City now. Over the years, he’s played numerous shows here with various bands and even stopped by Atomic Books as recently as October 2011 to sign copies of his Touch and Go fanzine book.
But like the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. And Tesco Vee’s initial impression of vintage Charm City (and his MTV audience’s) was clearly one that’ll last a lifetime.
“WAY USA” (Dangerous Minds.net)
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