Dusty Springfield bravely comes out as bisexual in ‘The Evening Standard,’ 1970
01.03.2014
09:30 am

Topics:
Music
Queer

Tags:
LGBT
Dusty Springfield


Damn straight
 
I adore Dusty Springfield—the voice, the pathos, the wigs, everything. But it wasn’t until I read Dusty!: Queen of the Postmods (amazing book, if you ever get the chance), that I learned about her affairs with women. That part wasn’t particularly shocking—she’s one of the great gay icons, though I assumed it was more due to her drag-ready femininity. I was, however, surprised to learn that her Sapphic tendencies were such an open secret. Of course, gossip mainly travels by whisper, and the scandalmongers often exaggerated her exploits, but Dusty’s love of the ladies was apparently quite common knowledge.

Kind of puts her appearance on The Dating Game in a whole new perspective, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t until a 1970 interview with Ray Connolly of The Evening Standard, that she decided to get candid and set the record straight. The interview is uncomfortable in places, partially because Dusty herself doesn’t seem totally comfortable with characterizing her sexuality—the language of “gay” and “bisexual” doesn’t really enter into it, and she certainly didn’t consider loving women a part of her identity at the time; she was a super-femme lady who also purported to desire men.

Tragically, Dusty’s career took a hard hit after the interview (Ironically, copping to his bisexuality was a huge boost for David Bowie’s career just two years later). Feeling hounded by the British press, she left for the US. For 15 years she didn’t have another hit, and her romantic life was incredibly turbulent. It wasn’t until a 1987 collaboration with Springfield super-fans Pet Shop Boys that her career got a boost again. She died of breast cancer in 1999, the day she was scheduled to receive the Order of the British Empire, and two weeks before her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Dusty Springfield looks as though she’s playing at doctor-during-consulting-hours sitting in a white walled room at Philips Records, meeting the all and sundry members of the musical press.

I’ve never met her before, and the first thing she says is: ‘You’re sinister. Would you mind if I go to the loo before we start?’ And then with her tassles tinkling like summer 1967, she goes off down the corridor in a Mini-Ha-Ha embroidered suit, and wearing a great chunk of fancy iron and brass work around her neck which looks like something she might have pinched off a Russian Orthodox altar.

She’s thirty and hasn’t really had a big hit record for some quite considerable time. It’s a cliché but it’s true. Pop does have an awful lot of obsolescence hanging over it. She’s still singing as well as ever, dreamy and romantic, and I like her very much, but the public aren’t buying her records in the volume they used to.

Her new one is called ‘How Can I Be Sure?’ and was originally a hit in America for the Rascals. She’ll be surprised if it’s a hit for her in Britain.

‘That,’ she says, ‘comes from a backlog of doubts in myself because the last few records have gone wrong. And I’m always a bit surprised to sell records anyway. It would be a souring experience if I were not to have any more hits, but I would survive. It would be a test of character for me. I very seldom think about it, but if it did happen I’d probably get out unless I could find some other direction to go in. I don’t particularly want to be a cabaret type of entertainer. Whether or not I could be defeated into accepting that type of existence I don’t know.’

She’s plumper than I’d expected (‘I’m nine stone and I should be eight-two or eight-four. But I’m too lazy to bother about slimming’), and amazingly she still apparently buys her eyelashes by the yard, and mascara by the hundredweight. Her eyes aren’t as black as they were, she insists, looking short-sightedly through a pinkish coloured Perspex ruler at me.

‘This,’ she squints, ‘is the best colour in the world. It’s really erotic. I supposed I’ve got very erotic tastes. I like purple and magenta and all the tarty colours. I don’t wear them any more. I should go back to them because I’ve become very sedate. I’m all talk and no action. I’ve been very un-newsworthy recently. Haven’t been throwing any custard pies at anyone or anything.’

She was brought up a Catholic but never goes to Mass now. ‘It’s about six years since I made my Easter Duties. My mother’s going to love this. I still think that because I don’t go to confession I’m going to go to hell but I haven’t really done anything evil. I’m just lazy and self-indulgent.’

She’s a strange lady of contradictions. She wants me to send her a copy of an old Maureen Cleave article but she won’t give me her address. She never gives it, she insists, and then in the next breath tells me. She has a pretty, lumpy little face which looks best when she smiles. I notice she has a big shiny grey filling in her pre-molar bottom left. Her hair is the colour of dried leaves.

I think she’s a bit sad, but she says no, not at all. The last thing she wants is to be pitied. Only occasionally, when she needs someone to lean on is she lonely. Much of the time she shares her house with songwriter/painter Norma Tanega.

She is concerned that whatever I may ask her will make her sound conceited. So I suggest that she tells me her little vices, and with an enthusiasm which is almost self-destructive, she sets about it, giggling from time to time at her own ability to rattle me.

‘Well, I don’t pick my nose, but I burp like everyone else. I don’t cut my toe nails, but I pull at them and tear them off. And I’m promiscuous. Not often, but when I am, I really am. I’m not a nymphomaniac. In fact, I could do with a lot more action really. I think my laziness even spreads so far.

‘It’s an effort to be promiscuous. I don’t mean that I leap into bed with someone special every night, but my affections are easily swayed and I can be very unfaithful. It’s fun while it’s happening, but it’s not fun afterwards because I’m filled with self-recriminations. The truth is I’m just very easily flattered by people’s attentions, and after a couple of vodkas I’m even more flattered.’

She’s giggling a lot now. ‘I suppose to say I’m promiscuous is a bit of bravado on my part. I think it’s more in thought than in action. I’ve been that way ever since I discovered the meaning of the word. I used to go to confession and tell all my impure thoughts.’

Suddenly she becomes serious again, and begins to space her words out carefully and thoughtfully. ‘There’s one thing that’s always annoyed me – and I’m going to get into something nasty here. But I’ve got to say it, because so many other people say I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve almost learned to accept it.

‘I don’t go leaping around to all the gay clubs but I can be very flattered. Girls run after me a lot and it doesn’t upset me. It upsets me when people insinuate things that aren’t true. I couldn’t stand to be thought of as a big butch lady. But I know that I’m as perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t.

‘There was someone on television the other night who admitted that he swings either way. I suppose he could afford to say it, but I, being a pop singer, shouldn’t even admit that I might think that way. But if the occasion arose I don’t see why I shouldn’t.

‘And yet, I get such a charge out of walking down a street and having a guy who’s digging the road give me a whistle. This business makes me feel very unwomanly sometimes and I love to be admired just for being a woman. I don’t feel masculine. If I did I’d have more drive. But being a woman is very precious to me, and that’s probably why I could never get mixed up in a gay scene because it would be bound to undermine my sense of being a woman.

‘I’ve had this reputation for years, but I don’t know how I got it. I’m always hearing that I’ve been to this gay club and that gay club. But I haven’t. I sometimes wonder if it would be nice to live up to my reputation.

‘I got raided the other day by the police. But they didn’t find any drugs. I’ve hardly ever smoked as a matter of fact. As it happens I think I know who tipped them off, and it relates to what I’ve been saying. There was a rather hysterical lady who was upset because I didn’t fancy her. I think it was her.’

She is not involved with anyone at the moment, and I wonder if she fears that she may never have a family.

‘I don’t know whether I want children or not,’ she says. ‘The urge to reproduce is always there, of course, but then I think “what for?” I probably wouldn’t be a terribly good mother. It would be great spasmodic moods of affection which don’t last and that wouldn’t be very stable.

‘I would like children psychologically and physically, although there’s something which stops me from just reproducing. But there has to be something more than what I do. There just has to be something more for me.’

I offer to take her home and out we go through the doors past the Philips records executives who smile and wave goodbye to their lady star in great hearty fashion.

‘D’you realise,’ she laughs, ‘what I’ve just said could put the final seal to my doom. I don’t know, though. I might attract a whole new audience.’

POSTSCRIPT Dusty Springfield was then, and remains, one of my favourite singers. She was one of the true witty originals of the Sixties with a beautiful voice and I hope she never regretted saying some of the things printed in this piece.

Via Ray Connolly

Below, Dusty doing “How Can I Be Sure?”
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
Sleep well my love: Goldfrapp bases song on tender letter from one World War II soldier to another
12.23.2013
01:51 pm

Topics:
Music
Queer

Tags:
Goldfrapp


 
The tear-jerker of a letter below was written by a World War II veteran named Brian Keith to another soldier, known only as “Dave.” The two began their romance in 1943 while stationed in North Africa together. This letter commemorated that anniversary.

It was first re-printed for wide distribution in 1961, by pioneering gay publication, ONE Magazine. But this love letter could very well have never seen the light of day. ONE put out their first issue in 1953, and brazenly sold on the streets of Los Angeles. In 1954 the magazine faced obscenity charges from the U.S. Post Office Department. They sued, and in 1958, won in a Supreme Court trial that set new legal precedent for First Amendment protections. ONE Magazine ran until 1967.

Dear Dave,

This is in memory of an anniversary — the anniversary of October 27th, 1943, when I first heard you singing in North Africa. That song brings memories of the happiest times I’ve ever known. Memories of a GI show troop — curtains made from barrage balloons — spotlights made from cocoa cans — rehearsals that ran late into the evenings — and a handsome boy with a wonderful tenor voice. Opening night at a theatre in Canastel — perhaps a bit too much muscatel, and someone who understood. Exciting days playing in the beautiful and stately Municipal Opera House in Oran — a misunderstanding — an understanding in the wings just before opening chorus.

Drinks at “Coq d’or” — dinner at the “Auberge” — a ring and promise given. The show 1st Armoured — muscatel, scotch, wine — someone who had to be carried from the truck and put to bed in his tent. A night of pouring rain and two very soaked GIs beneath a solitary tree on an African plain. A borrowed French convertible — a warm sulphur spring, the cool Mediterranean, and a picnic of “rations” and hot cokes. Two lieutenants who were smart enough to know the score, but not smart enough to realize that we wanted to be alone. A screwball piano player — competition — miserable days and lonely nights. The cold, windy night we crawled through the window of a GI theatre and fell asleep on a cot backstage, locked in each other’s arms — the shock when we awoke and realized that miraculously we hadn’t been discovered. A fast drive to a cliff above the sea — pictures taken, and a stop amid the purple grapes and cool leaves of a vineyard.

The happiness when told we were going home — and the misery when we learned that we would not be going together. Fond goodbyes on a secluded beach beneath the star-studded velvet of an African night, and the tears that would not be stopped as I stood atop the sea-wall and watched your convoy disappear over the horizon.

We vowed we’d be together again “back home,” but fate knew better — you never got there. And so, Dave, I hope that wherever you are these memories are as precious to you as they are to me.

Goodnight, sleep well my love.

Brian Keith

Goldfrapp’s moving “Clay” from their latest long-player, Tales of Us, is based on the letter. Here they are on Later… with Jools Holland performing the number:
 

 
Via Letters of Note

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
‘I saw Daddy kissing Santa Claus’: The Divine David spreads a little festive cheer
12.18.2013
11:35 am

Topics:
Queer
Television

Tags:
David Hoyle
The Divine David

divdavxmas.jpg
 
It was the first week of the new millenium that The Divine David Presents first appeared on British television (Dangerous Minds own Richard Metzger’s TV series
premiered immediately before it on the Channel 4 network). The show was the creation of performance artist David Hoyle, who each week offered up a choice selection of his alter ego, the Divine David’s thoughts, views, and takes on life, sex and everything in between. It was bitingly satiric, often indulgent, regularly offensive, but ultimately a show that hit like an earthquake and left hundreds of after-shocks that continue reverberate all these years later. As the press fumed at the time: “there had been nothing like seen on our screens!” And sadly there’s been damn few things like it ever since!

Hoyle was born in Blackpool, the seaside town famed for its bright lights, shows, candy rock, its kiss-me-quick hats and its Tower. As a gay child, living in Blackpool was “horrendous.” Going to school everyday was like “was like walking to your death on a daily basis. Knowing that you were going to get assaulted, knowing that you didn’t have anybody to talk to.” As he told The Times there was no one to turn to, even his teachers were unsympathetic:

“They would watch as my bag was emptied out of the window, three storeys up. They would allow it because they believed that by subjecting me to violence it would make me heterosexual. Your life is a nightmare but you can’t tell them why, because what you are is so massively wrong that what people are doing by assaulting you is the right thing. You should be assaulted for being a homosexual. That’s what was going on in my mind.”

Hoyle coped by turning his pain into comedy. At 17 he made his stage debut at a working men’s club, the Belle Vue.

“I created this character who was the illegitimate offspring of the Duke of Edinburgh and Dorothy Squires. His name was Paul Munnery-Vain, taken from the pulmonary vein in your heart.”

From such beginnings Hoyle progressed into creating The Divine David who satirized the lifestyles many of his audiences held dear—gay-community narcissism, the chauvinism of drag artists, sexual politics, celebrity culture and sex. Hoyle was not just mining the world around him, but using up large chunks of himself—and it came at a cost.

His Channel 4 TV series brought him some mainstream success, but Hoyle became “mired in drink and drugs,” and to save himself, he decided to kill off The Divine David in an ice-show spectacular at the Streatham Ice Arena in London. He moved back to Manchester. “At the end I was pretty burnt out.” Then Hoyle had a breakdown that left him contemplating the wallpaper: “Just rocking to and fro, you know, the days merging, the seasons coming and going.”

It took time, but the fragile Hoyle recovered and in 2005, he appeared as Doug Rocket in Chris Morris’ comedy series Nathan Barley. He then wrote and starred in a series of shows including Magazine (2007), Dave’s Drop-In (2009), Licking Wounds (2010) and a night of musical entertainment, Unplugged (2011). Hoyle also co-directed and starred in the film Uncle David in 2010.

But let’s go back and have a look at Hoyle as his alter-ego, The Divine David, spreads some Christmas cheer.
 

 

 
More Divine David, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Sylvester’s dog Princess Terry receives “celebrity pet” award, Castro Street Dog Show, 1984
12.17.2013
10:02 am

Topics:
Animals
Heroes
Queer
R.I.P.

Tags:
Dogs
Sylvester


 
Damn my terrible timing! Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the passing of Sylvester; queer icon, incredible vocalist and Disco Diva extraordinaire. Well, I may be 24 hours late, but I couldn’t let another day pass without posting something in tribute here on DM.

And what a doozy of a clip! Yes, it’s Sylvester at the Castro Street Dog Fair in 1984, receiving the “celebrity pet” award on behalf of his pup, Princess Terry, from former Catwoman Lee Meriwether, all under the watchful gaze of a leather-vested cowboy. Yep. It really doesn’t get any more camp than this.

R.I.P. Queen Sylvester, you will forever be missed!
 

 
Major H/T to Matthew Hill!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
Janis Ian is NOT politically correct and brilliantly defends her ‘Howard Stern’ appearance, 1994

Janis Ian
 
My love of “AM Gold” is well-documented on this blog, and I defend the soft-rock/easy listening genres of the 1970s as an artistic movement of intimacy, reflection, and pathos. John Denver? Absolutely! Let’s open the windows, and smell the fresh air! Thank god, I’m a country girl. Bill Withers? Great! I’ll make some chamomile tea and we can wrap ourselves in kaftans! Carol King? Just give me a flowing maxi dress of natural fibers, I think I’m ready for motherhood. And Janis Ian? Do you even have to ask? Janis Ian makes me want to paint my apartment burnt sienna and avocado green, put on “At Seventeen,” and do some fucking macrame.

There’s a lot that’s great about Janis Ian. Yes, “At Seventeen” is a beautiful feminist anthem of isolation and loneliness, but her first hit, “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking),” is also remarkable. Released when Ian was just fifteen (she wrote it at thirteen), “Society’s Child” told the story of an interracial relationship. Despite its “Leader of the Pack” teen-melodrama sound, it was actually banned on the radio. While the lyrics are pretty earnest (she was thirteen, what do you expect?), her subject indicated a serious-minded commitment to social justice. (And that didn’t come out of nowhere. Ian’s family were serious leftists, and often under surveillance for their politics.)

In 1993, at the age of 42, Janis Ian came out as a lesbian. She then immediately shocked her fans by appearing on Howard Stern’s radio show. Below is Ian’s 1994 defense of the appearance, penned for The Advocate. It seems like they have a legitimate friendship, which doesn’t surprise me—Howard always struck me as “the gentleman’s shock jock.” (I don’t really see her being friends with Mancow, right?) After the interview, you can even see video of Ian performing “Seinfeld’s Girl is Seventeen with Double Ds,” a parody of “At Seventeen” with Howard; the lyrics are reworked to mock Jerry Seinfeld’s then relationship with a 17-year-old high schooler.

And this is what’s so great about Janis Ian. For all her humanity and insight and the vulnerable beauty of her music, Janis Ian does not give a fuck about your approval.
 

I did Howard Stern last year, and joined the ranks of the Politically Incorrect.

I love doing Howard. I’ve done his morning radio show, his E! television show, and his disgusting New Year’s Eve special. (Don’t ask.)

I like Howard. He treats me with courtesy, and he recognizes my relationship as valid. In fact, he tried very hard to find an appropriate term for introducing my partner. After rejecting “Mr. Ian”, “Mrs. Ian”, and “Her Better Half”, he finally settled on “Mr. Lesbian”, a term we find appallingly funny and poignantly correct.

Stern is currently running for governor of New York, and I’m betting he’ll get over 50,000 votes. Why? Because he touches people - although by his own admission his penis is too small to touch much. (Another reason to like him: who was the last man you heard admit to that?)

Howard operates from the theater of honesty in a way very few performers dare. He says things I’m afraid to say, and admits to feelings I’ve overheard on tour buses and in mens’ locker rooms when no one thinks I’m listening. He’s thoroughly uncomfortable with gay male sexuality, but he also excoriates anyone who would deny their right to consensual sex.

The fallout of doing Howard has been both educational and frightening. People writing to my “fan club” who identify themselves as politically correct are ‘horrified’ and ‘furious’ that I find any common ground with him. The hate mail contingent seems to mistake theater for reality—and their own bigotry for enlightenment—threatening us both with “dire consequences”.

I’m at a loss as to why they find the friendship so dangerous. Howard’s “Lesbo Dial-A-Date” is one of the hottest shows on radio; during it he treats us exactly like he treats his heterosexual female guests—snidely, with double entendres flailing.

Yet my mail assumes that because many of the guests on Dial-A-Date are women with big hair and harsh rural accents (yes, I consider a heavy Brooklyn accent rural), who strip/spank/tease with gleeful abandon, he’s “victimizing the lower economic strata, who can least defend themselves”.

Excuse me? Do they mean that if you have a sixth grade education, you’re less capable of deciding what to do with your body than if you have a Ph.D? Is someone who makes less money also less capable of choosing their own path? I find that attitude incredibly patronizing, and demeaning to all women.

Political correctness is a form of censorship. I learned about censorship in 1966, when as a 15-year-old singer/songwriter I saw my record “Society’s Child” banned across the United States. Disk jockeys were fired for playing it; a radio station in Georgia was burned to the ground for the same reason. Now that it’s being called a “standard” in the books, everyone forgets that when it was released it was attacked by the politically left-wing as well as the rabid right.

I learned about the dark side of political correctness at the same time. The right-wing hated me for encouraging miscegenation, and my left-wing friends jumped on me because the white girl in the song gave in to peer pressure and stops dating her black boyfriend.

When “At Seventeen”, which I recorded in 1976, received five Grammy nominations—incidentally the most any solo female had received to that date, but who’s counting?—I was accused of selling out to the commercial interests. People said I was “mainstreaming my message” by using strings on the record, “disguising my message with pretty words and music”.

Still later I was attacked for going to South Africa during the apartheid years, though I took an integrated band and played to integrated audiences and (unlike Linda Ronstadt and various black Americans who will go unmentioned here, but couldn’t order dinner there) avoided Sun City. The same English committee that prevented Johnny Clegg, probably the best known white South African artist in the world, from performing at a tribute to Nelson Mandela because he’d performed in his residence country of South Africa, also banned me from playing in England.

And when I came out loudly last year in the media, someone wrote “I find your lesbianism suspect now—where were you in the 80’s when we were fighting for our rights?”

As a matter of fact, I spent a good part of the 80’s trying to get a record deal, because no record company would take a chance on a gay 40-year-old female who’d already had two careers. My partner and I mortgaged our home so I could make the album Breaking Silence. Howard Stern and singer/songwriter John Mellencamp, both dismissed in a recent article I read as “misogynistic breeders”, were the only performers to back me with air-time and money before my record broke and got its Grammy nomination.

 
Janis Ian’s letter continues after the jump…
 
“Society’s Child” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.

 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
‘Born To Be Cheap’: The immortal Divine, drag disco diva
12.12.2013
06:30 pm

Topics:
Music
Queer

Tags:
Divine


 
In 1984, at the massive Hippodrome nightclub in London, I saw Divine absolutely WOW an audience of several thousand people with her Hi-NRG Eurodisco set. The place was packed to the gills with adoring—and very glamorous—people who were there to be bathed in her low rent divinity… if not her flop sweat. Looking around the audience that night, it occurred to me what a personal triumph this event must have represented for someone who was so marginalized growing up. Let’s face it, Harris Glenn Milstead was a full-blown freak (in a good way, the best possible way), and John Waters was absolutely right when he said “Divine stood for all outsiders. A young person could be inspired because anything is possible.”

Divine’s life and rise to worldwide fame and unlikely icon-hood was the ultimate “It Gets Better” story, whether you are gay or straight! His is a legend that will last forever, truly.

I also met Divine once at a Manhattan nightclub I was working at during the mid-80s. I took up a tray of food to his dressing room. You’d expect maybe that he would have been intimidating—a diva—but I can assure you that he was absolutely a total sweetheart. I still have the autographed invite for the event—a “Father’s Day Party”—with Divine wrapped in an American flag on the front, posed like the Statue of Liberty. In marked contrast to the London appearance, Divine had, just a few years years later, become morbidly obese and appeared to be very unhealthy. I saw him when he walked offstage and he was really out of breath, sweating profusely and it took him some time before he was breathing normally again. I asked “Are you okay?” and he silently indicated that he was fine and waved me off as he stood there wheezing. A friend of mine remarked that he didn’t expect that Divine would be “long for this world.”  A little over a year later, Divine was dead.

Here’s a selection of some of the best of Divine’s 80s disco diva period:
 

1984’s “I’m So Beautiful” made it to #16 in the British pop charts and was the first hit for powerhouse songwriting/production trio Stock Aitken Waterman, later responsible for dozens of Hi-NRG hit records in the 80s by the likes of Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Bananarama and Dead or Alive.
 

“Walk Like a Man,” 1985
 
Much more Divine after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Candy Darling and a drunken Tennessee Williams make for an awkward press conference
12.07.2013
06:25 am

Topics:
Art
Queer

Tags:
Candy Darling
Tennessee Williams

Tennessee and Candy
Candy Darling and Tennessee Williams
 
While many Warhol fans know about Candy Darling’s significant part in the Tennessee Williams play, Small Craft Warnings; many of them don’t know that Darling was cast looong past the golden period of Williams’ career. After the death of a beloved ex-boyfriend from lung cancer in 1963 (a man who Williams had cared for from diagnosis to death, despite their recent break-up), Williams’ life was marked by alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression. He never reclaimed the success of his earlier career, and was often strung out, even in public.

In the clip below, (an excerpt from the slightly low-rent, but super-informative A & E special, Tennessee Williams: Wounded Genius), you can watch a moment from the play’s infamous press conference. While Williams slurs and fawns all over his actors, Darling looks on in what appears to be obvious discomfort. Small Craft Warnings opened off-Broadway in 1972 to lukewarm reviews. In a painful blur of art and life, Williams actually took over the role of an alcoholic doctor practicing medicine without a license—a change he made in the middle of the play’s run.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
Chavela Vargas: Mexico’s great sapphic chanteuse

Chavela Varges
An early photo of Vargas, focusing on her beautiful face, and cropping out whatever masculine clothes she might have been wearing at the time.
 
A word of comfort to non-Spanish speakers: Mexican toddlers have a stronger command of the language than I do, but the first time I heard Chavela Vargas’ “Paloma Negra,” I knew exactly what she was saying. There are some artists that convey such an intense pathos without the benefit of a common language, even attempting to write about them leaves one feeling a little hackneyed, but I’ll do my best.

Chavela Vargas was born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919. In the midst of an unstable childhood, she moved to Mexico at the tender ago of 14 to pursue a singing career in the burgeoning Mexican arts scene. For years she busked, wearing men’s clothing and smoking cigars. She carried a gun and embodied the machismo of her artistic idiom. Though she covered quite a bit of ground stylistically, Vargas was mainly known for her rancheras- traditional Mexican music performed with a single voice and Spanish guitar. Rancheras are often mournful torch songs sung by drunken men; alcohol provided a socially acceptable loophole for Mexican machismo to be shrugged aside for emotional and vulnerable performances. On the more rare occasion that rancheras were performed by women, gender pronouns were obviously switched to keep everything tidily heterosexual. Vargas simply sang to the girls.
 
Chavela Vargas
Vargas in full poncho
 
It wasn’t until her 30s that her career began to flourish, kick-started by a brief but successful visit to pre-Castro Cuba. By the time she became popular in Mexico, she was as much known for her bombastic persona and unapologetic sexuality as she was for her powerful voice and intense performances. She would come to shows on motorcycles, smoke cigars onstage, imbibe heavily, and openly flirt with men’s wives during performances (many swear she took a few home with her). All of this was during a time when even wearing pants was scandalous behavior for a woman in Mexico. While she had a rich sense of humor, one of her stylistic trademarks was slowing down cheeky tunes, transforming what were originally dirty little ditties into something intensely erotic. The scandals cost her a lot of work, but Vargas had no interest in catering to anyone’s notion of respectability.

Much of her life is shrouded in rumor and half-truths. It’s said that Vargas walked with a limp due to an injury incurred while attempting to climb in the second story window of an ex-lover. (Given Vargas’ difficulties with alcoholism, this isn’t particularly difficult to believe.) It’s known that she was incredibly close to Frida Kahlo, even living with her and her husband, Diego Rivera, for a time. I’ve never found absolute confirmation that they were lovers, but it’s largely accepted as fact by fans of both artists. Vargas even made an appearance in the 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic, singing a ghostly version of one of her signature songs, “”La Llorona,” (“The Weeping Woman”). I urge you to listen to both versions back to back; Vargas’ age and alcoholism seasoned her voice with a quality I can only describe as post-beautiful.

While Vargas’ career was fraught with ups and downs, she virtually disappeared for about 15 years starting in the late 70s. Intense depression and alcoholism finally sent her into a long seclusion, but in 1991 she returned to the stage, happy, healthy and transformed. With her famed trademark innuendo, the 74-year-old butch lesbian declared her never-ending commitment to music at a concert in Madrid, saying, “When you like something, you should do it all night long.” She officially came out in 2000, at age 81, and played Carnegie Hall three years later. She continued singing and recording up until her death in 2012, at age 93.
 
Chavela Vargas and Frida Kahlo
Vargas and Frida Kahlo
 
Below is some rare early footage of Vargas performing her famous rendition of “Macorina,” a poem that she set to music of her own composition. During the refrain, “Put your hand here, Macorina,” Vargas’ own hand would wander between her thighs. It was her first hit, and it was originally banned in Mexico, a country that now reveres here as one of its great daughters. The lyrics:

Put your hand here, Macorina
Put your hand here.
Put your hand here, Macorina
Put your hand here.

Your feet left the mat
And your skirt escaped
Seeking the boundary
On seeing your slender waist
The sugar canes threw
Themselves down along the way
For you to grind
As if you were a mill.
Put your hand ...

Your breasts, soursop fruit
Your mouth a blessing
Of ripe guanabana
And your slender waist
Was the same as that dance
Put your hand ...

Then the dawn
That takes you from my arms
And I not knowing what to do
With that woman scent
Like mango and new cane
With which you filled me at
The hot sound of that dance.
Put your hand ...


 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
The Divine (and very young) Miss M: Bette Midler performing at the Continental Baths, early 70s
12.03.2013
12:25 pm

Topics:
Music
Queer

Tags:
Bette Midler

image
 
Although for myself, I can’t even comprehend not liking Bette Midler—for me it was love at first sight—I am told that she is an acquired taste; and one that my darling wife—who has great taste in music and everything else, I hasten to add—has not acquired. This morning, I was blasting her first LP, The Divine Miss M from 1972 —I haven’t heard it in years—and it simply knocked me out. Produced by Barry Manilow, Ahmet Ertegun and the Grammy-award winning producer Joel Dorn, with a crack set of session musicians and back-up singers like Cissy Houston and Melissa Manchester, The Divine Miss M is nothing less than the unveiling of a very major talent on the world, as Midler’s 40+ years at the top of her profession attest to. She didn’t write any of the songs, but trust me, she owns them all. She’s one of those people who just oozes talent and concerning the quality of her voice and its incredible power, well, she belongs in that smallest circle of diva divas, like Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and Ethel Merman. She’s got the lungs, no two ways about it.

This morning I was poking around the Internet reading about Bette Midler’s early career and there are a lot of interesting things I discovered, especially for those of you reading this who think of her more as the Midler-of-the-road songstress of “From A Distance,” than the raunchy, brassy young broad she started her career as.

The short story is that she was a talkative Jewish chick with a BIG personality who grew up in a mostly Asian neighborhood in Honolulu, who was dying to get out of there from an early age. She moved to New York in 1965 at the age of 20 and by 1967 she was playing the small role of Tzeitel in the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof, with Zero Mostel, Maria Karnilova, Bea Arthur and other notables.

Midler really came into her own, however, in the cabaret of the Continental Baths, a pioneering gay bathhouse where gay and straight culture mixed in the 70s. An Aretha Franklin album hit Midler like a bolt from the blue and she decided to become a singer, mixing campy classics like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Leader of the Pack” with her wacky thrift store fashion sense, quirky personality and dirty jokes. A friend suggested that she might want to consider launching her unconventional stage show at an unconventional place and so Midler took up a residency at the Continental Baths, playing next to a waterfall to an audience consisting of male bathhouse patrons wearing nothing but white towels and “chic” straight couples looking for an unusual night out.
 
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It was here that Midler’s brassy “fag hag” persona (“I am the last of the truly tacky women”) took shape and it was imperative that she do everything she could to capture the attention of the Continental Baths clientele: after all, there was basically a Dionysian orgy going on all around her. When Midler opened her mouth to sing, the orgy parted like the Red Sea. Her musical director for her formative years was the aforementioned Manilow, who would perform, it has been said, wearing only a towel himself, as he sat at his piano.

While this underground residency was going on, Midler was performing regularly on mainstream talkshows like David Frost’s, Merv Griffin’s and even the super straight (but unfailingly sweet) Mike Douglas’ show. Where her star really rose, though, was when Johnny Carson took Midler on as a sort of protege. She appeared on The Tonight Show quite regularly for 18 months and even opened for Carson in Las Vegas. By the time The Divine Miss M came out, she was already a known quantity and Midler went on to win a Grammy that year, the album selling nearly a million copies.

Bette Midler is an important figure in the history of gay rights in this country. Not for any one thing that she did, more for what she stood for. When her show came to town, it was an excuse for her gay fans to come out in force, dress up and get their freak on, at a time there would have been few opportunities to do so in most American cities. With her big personality and “trash with flash” Midler became a rallying point for young gay men of the 70s, not in a political sense, but a cultural sense, Midler injecting sassy gay sensibilities into the mainstream via her megawatt talents.

Here are links to some clips of the Divine Bette performing at the Baths. Considering the scarcity of consumer video cameras at that time, it’s a wonder that any visual records of Midler’s performances there exist at all, but here they are, thank you to the glory of YouTube. The two best clips, “Marajuana” and Fat Stuff” are not embeddable. “Fat Stuff” has a lot of good stage banter. (I liked one of the YouTube comments: “Wow, this was back when you had to be talented to have a career!” Too true, too true…)
 

 

 
Short local NY news story from the 90s on Midler and the Continental Baths:
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Keith Haring’s remarkably uninhibited erotic mural at the LBGT Community Center
11.22.2013
03:45 pm

Topics:
Art
Queer
Sex

Tags:
Keith Haring

Keith Haring at the Tokyo Pop Shop
Keith Haring at the Tokyo Pop Shop
 
Keith Haring had the great good fortune to become one of the most iconic and recognizable of the downtown artists of the 1980s—and while it was fairly obvious that he was gay and that his sexuality played some role in his work, a lot of people may be unaware that, on certain occasions, he expressed that side of himself far more fully in his art. Not all of it was fit for T-shirts or refrigerator magnets, in other words.

In 1989 Haring took over the second-floor bathroom of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center on 13th Street in Greenwich Village—the exact address is 208 West 13th Street—and turned every blank surface he could find into an astonishing tableau of his familiar figures throbbing with every kind of imaginable urge. The title of the mural is “Once Upon a Time.” In effect, it’s a pre-AIDS bacchanal, and the images are at once reminiscent of a smutty Hieronymus Bosch and (this might just be me) the stately public friezes that Gustav Klimt instigated in fin-de-siècle Vienna, which at the time were considered shocking (they don’t seem shocking today). There’s a lil’ Picasso in there, too.

A year and a half ago, the restoration on the site was completed—the space has been converted from a bathroom to a meeting room. According to the LGBT Community Center’s website, the mural is currently “under wraps” because of construction, but ordinarily it’s available to be viewed by the public (however, I’m not certain of the viewing times; it’s not a museum, so it’s probably best to call in advance).

These pictures are pretty NSFW—I think they’re very nice but your cubicle co-worker might not share the opinion.
 
Keith Haring, LGBT Community Center
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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