BEHIND THE MUSIC
HE’S A ROCK CLUB IMPRESARIO, BUT TO JOSEPH BROOKS, “THE STONES” MEANS MORE THAN JAGGER & CO.
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
HOLLYWOOD — Jewelry designer Joseph Brooks has this dream in which he finds himself at the scene of a car wreck, picking up pieces of a shattered windshield and threading them into necklaces. In the dream, fashion-philes appear and instantly covet these strands of jagged glass.
“They were bleeding from the broken glass. But we all kept crying out, ‘It’s couture! It’s couture!”‘ Brooks explained, still obviously amused by the implications of his fashion-is-pain vision.
Surreal, yes, but Brooks thought he recognized something inherently beautiful in the concept of the shards. Inspired, he began stringing together hammered, rough chunks of tourmaline, garnet and aquamarine. These pieces, like the ones in the dream, have been snapped up quickly — although nobody’s bleeding as a result, apparently.
If this all sounds a little like a rock video, there’s a reason.
Brooks is currently one of the West Coast’s top club impresarios, spearheading several of the coolest nights in underground L.A. Indeed, L.A Weekly named him “club deejay of 2000,” for his knack for working a crowd into a sweat.
Hundreds line up at the doors in their finest glam and club-kid drag for his Club Makeup, happening the first Saturday of each month at the Art Deco-historic El Rey Theater. The glam ball attracts the freaky and famous and has been the subject of two specials on the E! channel’s “Hollywood Nights” series that were among the cable network’s highest rated shows.
He also currently stages the fetish-themed Sinematic and the Brit pop party Bang, both on Saturdays. On Friday nights, Brooks can be found spinning everything from Bananarama to White Zombie at Cherry, the endlessly popular glam romp at the Play Room.
Brooks has always been best known for his connections to the music scene. A native New Yorker, he arrived in Los Angeles in 1978 and two years later opened the seminal Melrose Avenue record source, Vinyl Fetish, which he has since sold. In 1981, he opened some landmark nightclubs, including the Cathouse, where Guns N Roses were regular fixtures.
But this is no jacked-up, overgrown club kid with a New York attitude. Brooks is always on an even keel, his mild-mannered personality seemingly antithetical to his role as purveyor of rock scenes. “I love the freedom of L.A. It takes so much less effort to live or work here,” observed Brooks.
That undercurrent of serenity in him has deep roots, and infuses his craft of jewelry making. It was the natural kind of rock that first caught his attention, at around age 6, when he started spending afternoons at the Museum of Natural History. “I felt really different, and there, I felt a connection with something, with nature,” he recalled.
As a child, Brooks spent summers at camp in New Hampshire, exploring caves. He still savors his favorite rocks from those early adventures, keeping them in a bowl next to his bed.
“I don’t care how hokey it sounds, stones have a power,” he declared.
He reacquainted himself with that power only recently, after a decade’s hiatus from jewelry design. Back in the mid-Eighties, he was hand-tooling and etching heavy sterling silver necklaces and pins, guided by an artistic, and not very commercial-minded, sensibility. He sold these pieces to galleries and to the occasional leather-and-rock client, notably Cher.
Now, he finds himself drawn once more to the medium.
“I just started handling stones again. The feeling I got from them…well, I was compelled to work with them again. Everywhere I looked, I started seeing patterns. I found the sky was the same color as the turquoise I was playing with in my studio.”
Brooks generously makes use of the stones he hand-picks, their earthy naturalness becoming the focal point. There are ropes of uneven blue and green turquoise splashed with spiderwebs of brown and black. Vermillion coral and chalky Afghanistan lapis provide accents. Jasper and agate minerals snake through porous pockets of petrified dinosaur bone from Montana, the layers of reds, yellows and browns creating a visual marvel.
The turquoise that Brooks works with is a far cry from the blue nuggets that are typical in jewelry. He prefers rocks from Arizona over the more common dyed and treated Chinese variety of turquoise, which he considers “dead” on an organic level. On the other hand, when he works with stone from Arizona, “There’s something vibrational. When I handle this stuff, it really speaks to me. This is a remedy.”
Brooks will tell you turquoise symbolizes the fusion of sky and water among Native American cultures, which herald the stone as a blessing of nature. He draws from that spiritual heritage and others, cutting pendants into shield shapes inspired by symbols that vary from medieval crests to Superman’s chest plate.
“It’s for added protection,” he explained. “Even if you don’t believe in all of that, [the jewelry] feels good because it’s right out of the earth.”
His suppliers, meanwhile, can’t believe he forgoes glosses and other treatments on the stones, but Brooks is content. “Nature isn’t perfect,” he said, “so I don’t want that homogenized look.”
His affinity with nature extends beyond rocks. Since his childhood, Brooks has been an avid birdwatcher.
Today, he and his partner, Garry George, who manages singer/songwriters, travel extensively throughout the year in search of feathered species, particularly those dwindling in number due to environmental ravages. The pair spent May in Peru’s Amazon basin, where for two days they sat perfectly still in hopes of catching sight of an Antthrush. In November, they’re off to Madagascar, their objective to spot a Helmet Vanga or a Grand Roller.
At the mid-Wilshire home they share, some 56 bird species have been tracked on their property. Maybe the birds come for the foliage; the front and back gardens thrive with Manzanitas, California lilac and other native plants. Brooks and George are members of the Theodore Paine Foundation in Sunland, a statewide native plant society. Brooks also illustrates wildlife for the Los Angeles Zoo.
It’s a side of Joseph Brooks that most of his nightclub patrons know nothing about.