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Kembra Pfahler on 30 years of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, with exclusive Richard Kern pix!


Photo by Richard Kern, courtesy of Kembra Pfahler

On February 15, Marc Almond, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Sateen, Hercules & Love Affair, and DJs Matthew Pernicano and Danny Lethal will perform at the Globe Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. This absolutely mental, once-in-a-lifetime bill will celebrate the second anniversary of Sex Cells, the LA club run by Danny Fuentes of Lethal Amounts.

Because I am so eager to see this show, and because the life of a Dangerous Minds contributor is high adventure, last Sunday I found myself speaking with Karen Black’s leader, the formidable interdisciplinary artist Kembra Pfahler, by phone, after she got out of band rehearsal in NYC. My condensed and edited take on our wide-ranging conversation follows. If I’d noted every time Kembra made me laugh with a deadpan line, the transcript would be twice as long.

Kembra Pfahler: My guitarist is Samoa, he founded the band with me; he’s the original Karen Black guitarist, Samoa from Hiroshima, Japan. And then Michael Wildwood is our drummer, and he played with D Generation and Chrome Locust, and Gyda Gash is our bass player, she plays with Judas Priestess and Sabbathwitch. I just came from band practice, and I am one of those folks that really enjoys going to band practice. Doing artwork and music isn’t like work, and being busy is just such a luxury. It’s been very pleasant preparing for this show we get to honorably do with Marc Almond. We’re so excited!

We played with Marc Almond at the Meltdown Festival that was curated by Ahnoni in 2011. That was a great show with Marc Almond and a lot of other incredible artists. And I have an art gallery that represents me in London now, which is called Emalin, and I had an art exhibit there, and Marc Almond, thankfully, came to it. He’s friends with one of my collaborators called Scott Ewalt.

I’m not a religious person, but I did think I had died and gone to heaven. When artists that you have loved your whole life come to, for some strange reason, see the work that you’re doing, it’s one of the truly best things about doing artwork. I’m very much looking forward to this concert.

Can you tell me what you have planned for the show? I’m sure you want to keep some stuff a surprise, but is the disco dick in the pictures going to be part of the set?

You know, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black has always made a lot of props and costumes, and I never really just buy things. I’m not much of a consumer. I’m an availabilist, so I usually make the best use of what’s available, and we are going to have a lot of props and costumes in this show that I make myself, and I have art partners in Los Angeles, collaborators. We’re going to have a big grand finale sculpture that’s going to be my Black Statue of Liberty holding the pentagram. That’s a huge pentagram sculpture. I made that with a friend of mine called Brandon Micah Rowe.

That sculpture lives on the West Coast, and it comes out when I go to the beach and go surfing. I usually take the Black Statue of Liberty with me, ‘cause it’s a great photo opportunity on the beach. And the last time I was photographing the Black Statue of Liberty—‘cause of course I have several—I took this Black Statue of Liberty in a truck and drove down to Sunset Beach, right at the end of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, and I just have a great memory of almost drowning with the Black Statue of Liberty. It was very much like reenacting Planet of the Apes. That was the impetus for the Statue of Liberty; I’ve always loved the last scene in Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston realizes that the future is just a disastrous, anti-utopian, dead planet. Kind of similar to what’s happening to us now.
 

Photo by Brandon Micah Rowe
 
[laughs] Yeah, it’s uncomfortably close to the present situation.

To me, it’s very close. I mean, film has always been very prophetic, to me. Orson Welles always talks about magic, and historical revisionism, and truth, and the ways that film can actually inform you of the truth in politics, mythological truth, cultural truths. And I’ve always learned the most just by watching films. That’s why I named the band Karen Black, because I was so educated by the films of Karen Black. I know that sounds sort of wonky, but what I’m getting at is I love listening to Orson Welles speak about magic and truth and film as a way to articulate that truth.

Are you thinking about F for Fake?

I’m thinking about the little tricks and happy accidents that occur in film that are what Orson Welles spoke to. I mean, Kenneth Anger talked about magic and film constantly, and light, and Orson Welles just had a different articulation of the same side of the coin.

I grew up in Santa Monica, so I always loved Kenneth Anger; I was always happy that I lived near the Camera Obscura on Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. I thought, I don’t fit in with any of these other Californians, but Kenneth Anger was here at the Camera Obscura. I can’t be doing everything wrong.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and my family was in the film business, and I left for New York because I wasn’t accepted by my family and the community, because I was interested in music, and it wasn’t fashionable to be a goth or be into punk when I was in high school. So I moved to New York. But no one was going to New York when I first moved there. I really just moved to New York to be as contrary as possible, and I knew no one would follow me at the time.

You moved to New York in ‘79 or thereabouts, right?

Yeah, I did.

I think the LA, probably, that you were leaving was more, I don’t know, provincial. . . I can imagine the appeal that New York would have had in 1979.

Well, also, the thing was that I really wanted to be an artist, and I got accepted to School of Visual Arts when I was in 11th grade at Santa Monica High School. That’s why, really. The Los Angeles that I was familiar with wasn’t provincial at all. I mean, there’s been generations and generations of weird Los Angeles. My grandparents met on the baseball field: my grandmother was playing softball, my grandfather played baseball, and my father ended up being a surfer, and I’ve always had exposure to a really incredible kind of lifestyle that I think people mostly just dream about. Like, Beach Boys songs at Hollywood Park race track in the morning and surfing in the afternoon. If you think about being born into this time when the Beach Boys and the Stones and the Beatles are playing, and then Parliament-Funkadelic’s playing, and then. . . just the most incredible exposure to music and art and nature, surfing even, surf culture. I mean, when most people are born in countries where they can’t even eat dirt for breakfast, I was born in the most incredible place, that I’ll never forget.

It’s such a huge part of my work, I named my interdisciplinary music and art class at Columbia University “The Queen’s Necklace.” Because when I was a child, I used to meditate on all the beach cities. Starting from Zuma Beach, I would meditate on the cities by saying: [chants] “Zuma, Malibu, Topanga, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Venice, Torrance, Palos Verdes”. . . I’d say all of the cities that represented the Santa Monica Bay area. That was in my field of vision, that was what I saw every day. All those piers, all those waves, and all of the mythology that I grew up with was all about beach culture.

So Los Angeles, I feel closer to writers like John Fante than anyone else. Do you have books in your library that you’ve had your entire adult life that you would say represent your thinking, more so than any other books? Do you have your favorite, favorite books? One or two books that always are with you.

Oh my God, I’d have to think about it. 

I do. I mention that because one of them is Ask the Dust. Another one is David J. Skal’s Cultural History of Horror.

What’s that?

It’s a great book that talks about the horror film genre being quite prophetic, and it’s kind of what I was trying to speak about, as far as how film and horror kind of teach us about the future. That’s one book, and also Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies, Volume 1 and 2 is important to me. Do you know that book?

I do not. Is it like a case study?

It’s a case study of men’s relationship to women during World War II and pre-World War II. It’s about men’s relationships to the women in their lives, in Germany, particularly.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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02.07.2019
01:18 pm
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Born To Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey
01.10.2019
08:15 am
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Cultural critic Mark Dery, whose erudite essays have appeared in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, Village Voice and his own collections, The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink and Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century, returns with his remarkable biography of the comically sinister author and illustrator Edward Gorey. This delightful combination of biographer and subject has been praised in the New York Times, the New Yorker, at NPR Vogue and other prestige outlets. We’re pleased to present a short excerpt from Born To Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey (Little, Brown) at Dangerous Minds.

In the following excerpt from my just-published biography, Born To Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey (Little, Brown), I explore Gorey’s role, alongside Seuss and Sendak, in the postwar revolution in children’s books, a gleeful insurrection that killed off those insufferable, simpering Goody-Goodies, Dick and Jane, for good. In so doing, Gorey and other writer-illustrators reshaped American notions of kids lit and even childhood itself, making way for a more honest acceptance of the facts of life: divorce, death, racial tensions, queer desire. As well, the new wave slyly satirized not only the mainstream culture of the ‘50s and ‘60s but the conventions of children’s literature itself, many of which dated back to the cautionary tales and nursery-rhyme sermonizing of the Victorian era, when the children’s book as we know it was born. Whether Gorey’s work really was kiddie fare or arsenical treats for adults ironically disguised as picture books is still up for debate. Regardless, his influence is stronger than ever, identifiable at a glance in the YA novels of Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), the twee-goth movies of Tim Burton, and somber memoirs of “the miseries of childhood,” as Gorey put it, such as Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home.

— Mark Dery

Nineteen-sixty saw the publication of Edward Gorey’s sixth book, The Fatal Lozenge, by the New York publisher Ivan Obolensky. Subtitled An Alphabet, The Fatal Lozenge was his first foray into the ABC genre. He would go on to perform variations on the abecedarium theme in six books, one of which, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, would become his best-known title. [They are, in chronological order, The Fatal Lozenge, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Utter Zoo, The Chinese Obelisks, The Glorious Nosebleed, and The Eclectic Abecedarium.]

The alphabet book is one of the oldest forms of children’s literature. Rhyming couplets, illustrated by woodcuts, aided memorization. Early examples wedded ABCs and Calvinist catechism. The New England Primer, ubiquitous in late-seventeenth-century America, is typical of the genre:

A In Adam’s Fall We sinnèd all.
B Heaven to find; The Bible Mind.
C Christ crucify’d For sinners dy’d.
D The Deluge drown’d The Earth around.

Gorey’s interest in the alphabet book was undoubtedly a byproduct of his interest in Edward Lear, well known for loopy abecedaria like “Nonsense Alphabet” (1845) (“P was a pig, / Who was not very big; / But his tail was too curly, / And that made him surly”). His library reveals a longstanding fascination with the form, with a predictable focus on the nineteenth century. On Gorey’s bookshelves, we find A Moral Alphabet (1899) by Hilaire Belloc, A Comic Alphabet (1836) by George Cruikshank, a Dover facsimile of The Adventures of A, Apple Pie, Who Was Cut to Pieces and Eaten by Twenty Six Young Ladies and Gentlemen with Whom All Little People Ought to Be Acquainted (circa 1835), and of course Lear in abundance. 

At the same time, he couldn’t have been oblivious, as an illustrator working in commercial book publishing, to the waves Dr. Seuss was making in kid lit. Alphabet books were playing an important part in reshaping American ideas about childhood. Consider Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra! (1955), whose boy narrator dreams up a new alphabet for kids who think outside the Little Golden box (“In the places I go there are things that I see / That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z”). Or Maurice Sendak’s Alligators All Around (1962), in which “shockingly spoiled” reptilian protagonists throw tantrums and juggle jelly beans with abandon. These and other unconventional abecedaria celebrate Romper Room radicals who flout the rules. Seen in their cultural and historical context, they look like premonitions of the hippie era, with its worship of nonconformity and its elevation of the child to a cultural icon, not to mention its stoner humor and acid-soaked song lyrics.

Though he seemed barely to notice the counterculture of the ’60s, beyond the Beatles, Gorey was in his own quietly perverse way more iconoclastic than Seuss or Sendak. In The Fatal Lozenge, as in The Listing Attic, his earlier book of macabre limericks, his combination of a children’s genre (in this case, the ABC book) with dark subject matter and black comedy is both mordantly funny and unsettling, especially when he crosses the line, as he occasionally does, into the “sick humor” of contemporaries such as the cartoonist Gahan Wilson. When an interviewer mentioned to Sendak that the grisly drawing of an infant skewered on the point of a Zouave’s sword in The Fatal Lozenge was the moment when Gorey went “down the road of no return as far as publishers were concerned,” Sendak quipped, “That’s why he was so loved. There’s never enough dead babies for us.”
 

 
The literary theorist George R. Bodmer places Gorey’s ironic, sardonic ABCs in the context of a postwar pushback, among children’s authors such as Seuss and Sendak, “against the limits of imagination, or the limits the outside world would impose on imagination . . .” In his essay “The Post-Modern Alphabet: Extending the Limits of the Contemporary Alphabet Book, from Seuss to Gorey,” Bodmer calls Gorey’s “anti-alphabets” a “sarcastic rebellion against a view of childhood that is sunny, idyllic, and instructive.” Gorey’s mock-moralistic tone satirizes received wisdom about the benignity of parents and other authority figures: a magnate waiting for his limousine “ponders further child-enslavement / And other projects still more mean”; two little children quail in terror at the sight of their towering, bearded uncle, for they “know that at his leisure / He plans to have them come to harm.” Yet Gorey also punctures the myth that children are little angels: a baby, “lying meek and quiet” on a bearskin rug, “Has dreams about rampage and riot / And will grow up to be a thug.” (The rug’s enormous, snarling head, with its bared fangs, is an omen of mayhem to come.)

Talking about The Fatal Lozenge in 1977, Gorey said, “This was a very early book and at that date I was not above trying to shock everyone a bit.” In that sense, his sixth book is so similar to his second that it might as well be called Son of Listing Attic. A good part of the book consists of the usual droll riffing on stock characters and situations borrowed from gothic novels, penny dreadfuls, Conan Doyle, and Dickens.

But just as clearly, there’s more going on in The Fatal Lozenge than enfant terrible-ism (“trying to shock everyone a bit”) or the larger trends identified by Bodmer: the bohemian backlash against the suffocating normalcy of the Eisenhower era and the growing resistance, led by Drs. Spock and Seuss, to outdated, repressive ideas about childhood and parenting. The recurrence of themes closer to home—the beastliness of babies, the depravity of the clergy (a nun is “fearfully bedevilled”), the furtiveness and shamefulness of homosexual desire, here associated with child molestation and even more monstrous perversions (“The Proctor buys a pupil ices, / And hopes the boy will not resist / When he attempts to practice vices / Few people even know exist”)—makes us feel, at times, as if we’re eavesdropping on a psychotherapy session. That these disconcerting images come to us in the reassuring wrappings of a children’s book makes The Fatal Lozenge even more disquieting.

It’s precisely that insinuating knowingness that Sendak loved about Gorey’s little books. “They all had what appealed to me so much—aside from the graphics and the writing—[which] was the wicked sexual ambiguity that ran through all of it.” Even Gorey’s artlessly brilliant covers for Anchor Books, Doubleday’s tasteful paperback line, exhibited an arch wit, Sendal thought. “I remember a jacket he did for…a novel by Melville, Redburn. And the jacket summed up completely the kind of confused homosexuality of that novel….So erotic and yet so simple. You can look at it any way you like. . . . [H]e buried a lot of information about himself in the art.”
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.10.2019
08:15 am
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William S. Burroughs’ time-traveling experimental flexi disc, ‘Abandoned Artifacts’
08.10.2018
07:04 am
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Talk Talk Vol. 3, No. 6, cover art by William S. Burroughs

The Lawrence, Kansas label Fresh Sounds had a long-standing relationship with William S. Burroughs. In ‘81, owner and proprietor Bill Rich introduced Burroughs to Fresh Sounds recording artists the Mortal Micronotz, to whom the author gave his song lyric about child-chewing, “Old Lady Sloan.” Burroughs later read his Civil War tale, “Death Fiend Guerrillas,” for a Fresh Sounds compilation, and he recorded his own interpretation of “Old Lady Sloan” for a 1995 Mortal Micronotz tribute album.

Bill Rich also edited a magazine called Talk Talk, some of whose numbers came with Fresh Sounds flexi discs. One such issue was Vol. 3, No. 6, published in September ‘81, with cover art by WSB and, inside, a square, six-inch disc of the author reading from the first chapter of The Place of Dead Roads (page 10 in the Picador paperback)—or, more precisely, three Burroughses reading the same text at three different points in space and time. Abandoned Artifacts superimposes recordings from performances in Toronto, Chicago, and San Francisco, and it is downright spooky when they match in cadence and tone. Percussion by one Martin Olson juices the passage’s weird, incantatory power.

The interview with Burroughs from Talk Talk Vol. 3, No. 6 helps make sense of the title Abandoned Artifacts, especially if you don’t have The Place of Dead Roads handy:

Mr. B.: We are squandering time and time is running out. We must conceive of time as a resource. That is one of the concepts central to this book. Another is that people are living organisms as artifacts made for a purpose, not cosmic accidents, artifacts created for a purpose.

TT: What are some of the purposes?

Mr. B.: Space. Leaving the planet. We are here to go. This first chapter shows you the concept of living beings as artifacts which is developed much more in the rest of the book. Artifacts created for a purpose, just like arrowheads.

TT: Have you decided on a title?

Mr. B.: Oh, yes, Place of Dead Roads… The planet earth, place of dead roads, dead purposes.

Leaving the planet? Yes, please!
 
Have a listen after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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08.10.2018
07:04 am
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The perverse and the transcendent: An interview with Ron Athey
06.21.2018
09:27 am
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One of the great challenges of considering the work of a groundbreaking artist like Ron Athey is that we must consider how temporal and ephemeral his medium is.  Peggy Phelan wrote, “Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance.” Athey’s artwork runs the gamut from actions at Club Fuck! and Sin-A-Matic to collaborations with performers like Rozz Williams and Vaginal Davis and includes multiple-hour staged duration pieces with a team. 

No documentation, audio recording or visual record could ever capture the drama or reverie achieved from actually attending a Ron Athey show but the existence of Catherine Gund’s documentary Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance (1997) is an excellent moving image tool to remind us how Athey altered the landscape of body modification, AIDS activism and performance art forever.

The Outfest Legacy Project is the largest publicly accessible collection of LGBTQ films in the world and was created specifically for the preservation and restoration of LGBTQ films. They will be screening Gund’s documentary in 35mm at UCLA this Friday in Los Angeles. Ron Athey and Catherine Gund will be there in person, as well as guest curator Zachary Drucker! Don’t miss out!

I thought this would be a great opportunity to ask Ron a few questions about his career and the film and other things he has been working on.
Please enjoy our conversation conducted via email this week.

**Heads’ up: the images contained are graphic. But they do represent some out of this world performance work, the likes of which we will probably never see again.**


 

I read an interview where you talked about growing up in a Pentecostal home in Pomona, CA and described the experience as an “apocalyptic opera.” While the links to ritualism, body focus/faith healing and automatic writing are clearly present in your various works, would it be fair to say that the romance of opera also plays a part in your constructions?

Ron Athey:I internalized all these images from the Book of Revelations and I think that even as a child I understood that they took on something else through the hillbilly gothic lens of Inland Empire revival meetings.  I had no experience whatsoever with opera as an art form until I was fully adult and out of home. But in this school program for smart ass kids, the MGM program (mentally gifted minors), I was taken to the Pantages Theater to see Timbuktu, a spectacular starring Eartha Kitt. This had a huge effect on my sense of drama.  But back to the setting of small Pentecostal meetings in storefronts, tents, private homes- the poverty and austerity of these settings was grim.  Being raised in a neighborhood that was half Chicano (the other half black), I felt the iconography and glamour of Catholicism on a very deep level. What I lacked at that age was any way to reach the rituals.

The film Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance (Catherine Gund, 1997) playing this Friday as part of the Outfest Legacy Project covers four specific works and before you began exploring solo work with the glorious Solar Anus. Can you speak to Martyrs and Saints, Four Scenes in a Harsh Life, Deliverance and Gund’s film?

Ron Athey:The torture trilogy was almost channeled material. The height of the AIDS pandemic intersecting with the intense coming of age of the body modification scene was double high energy. These were two audiences that intersected but were also very different. I understand that I experience everything important through the archetype. As soon as the sickness and death came into my reality, it personalized as martyrology. Now I knew with that level of glorification, it was important to grab ahold of the issues, the moral polarization of “good girls” vs. “nasty girls”. The distortion of Healing: understand it, not as a restoration, but as an evolution through the sickness. This led me to concepts like the trickster shaman for Deliverance, wherein Divinity Fudge played multiple faces of a Living Icon.  It was largely the same cast of performers through this era, and I work closely with Julie Tolentino. I think the staging of 8 to 25 performers wouldn’t have been possible without these skills! Martyrs & Saints was largely made of tributes of recent deaths (Cliff Diller, David Wojnarowicz) and owning that conviction to embrace the martyrology. Four Scenes was a refining of that St. Sebastian image, the Holy Woman who was largely based on Aimee Semple McPherson, and finally Deliverance, on the concept of healing and shabby shamanism.
 

 


This screening of Gund’s documentary for the Outfest Legacy Project is not the first time you have presented something with Outfest before.  In the early 2000s, you worked with Vaginal Davis and curated an event called Platinum Oasis. Would you talk about this a little?

Ron Athey: In 2001 and 2002 Vaginal Davis and myself programmed Platinum Oasis, 24 hour events at the Coral Sands Motel in Hollywood, just before its debauchery and changing times ended its reign as a crystal meth/gay hardcore sex palace. It was designed as an intervention on both the concept of the group art show, and on abject gay male space.  40 rooms, plus a stage straddling the pool and jacuzzi area.  This was a proper happening that triggered a lot of experimentation. Also the names are overwhelming and formed the repeating lineup of Bruce LaBruce, Kembra Pfahler, Slava Mogutin, Gio Black Peter, and had celebrity one offs, like Ogre of Skinny Puppy’s Japan porn room, Lydia Lunch’s tribute to the recently deceased theatre director Emilio Cubeiro, which included a slideshow of 1,000 self portraits of his own butthole taken throughout his life! Kenny Scharf drove up with his art-RV, and which happened to have members of the B-52s inside, Rick Owens designed a red toga which was custom sewn to attendees bodies in a “sweatshop” room. Ann Magnuson read from a Hollywood script that she should have gotten the part for, I could go on gushing but there was an incredible energy around this event. The hotel was donated, Outfest still had airline and hotel sponsorship, even with low artist fees we created something larger than the sum of its parts. And it was properly polymorphously perverse right up to the Sunday morning baptismal in the filthy bi-sexual jacuzzi, with Vaginal Davis in character as “I preach hate, my name’s St. Selecia Tate”.

Time and again, I seem to encounter variations of these words in reference to you and your work. What do they mean to you and how do you interpret them: Engage, Ecstatic, Extreme.

Ron Athey: How about enhance? I think, going back to the sacred, the passion play, the illustrated sermon, I don’t want to use my art time making commentary as everyday Ron Athey, about the specifics of the Trump presidency, and definitely not about the ‘art world.’ I have a deep impulse to find a higher state. Pure Immanence. Even the illusion of transcendence.  Experimenting with what sounds, sights, smells, vibrations change consciousness. I always return to that.
 

 
Growing up in Hollywood, I used to drive by Poseur and Peanuts all the time. Club Fuck! and Sin-a-matic were constantly on my radar. I know you probably have a thousand stories but do you have one story you can tell about a performance you did that was particularly inspirational to you at the time?

Ron Athey: I was lucky I was able to work through actions on these stages, for these demanding crowds. Its very different then how I see work constructed in the academy, you have to rise up. One piece I made for Leigh Bowery’s memorial event, The Trojan Whore, I kept developing. I did a version at Sin-a-matic and sitting front center were Budgie and Siouxsie Sioux.  I think it was about 1996. And it was a mummified enchanted body, corseted, bustled, boobed, and on a wheeled platform. Inside my genitals were “tucked” via surgical stapler, a two-meter strand of pearls keestered up my arse, and my lips were pieced inside out. When the pearls were removed (after I was placed in a wig and lipstick painted on the inside of my lips), the squeaky clean 2 meter double strand were looped a few times and placed around my neck. Afterwards, Siouxsie exclaimed, how on earth were the pearls so clean? Tricks of the trade.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Ariel Schudson
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06.21.2018
09:27 am
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Freddie Mercury’s flamboyant birthday party drag ball
06.20.2018
08:56 am
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Freddie Mercury celebrating his 39th birthday at the Henderson nightclub in Munich, Germany in 1985.
 
It all started with a beyond flamboyant throw-down in Munich, Germany where Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury and a few hundred of his famous friends gathered together for Mercury’s “black and white” themed 39th birthday at the Henderson club. The Henderson was also used by Mercury to shoot the video for his 1985 solo single “Living on My Own” which includes footage shot at Freddie’s extravagant birthday shebang. Two months prior, Queen and Mercury set the world on fire with their set at Live Aid forever setting the rock and roll bar for greatness at a level so high it will likely forever stand as the single greatest live performance by a rock band ever. When Mercury sent out the invitations for his birthday, he requested attendees dress in drag and only in black and white. Mercury, of course, came as himself, because of course he did. I’ll leave you to think about that for a hot minute before we get to a few pieces of folklore about Freddie/Queen’s party habits as well as his follow-up birthday celebration in 1987 on the island of Ibiza.

If you know anything about Mercury, you know the man liked to enjoy himself, and took on the task of orchestrating nearly every detail of Queen’s debaucherous shindigs, such as the time in 1978 when Freddie booked-up the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter for the band and 500 of their guests to celebrate their upcoming record, Jazz. Dwarves were hired to walk around the party with trays of Bolivian coke and cocktail services were provided by nude waiters and waitresses. In the 2012 biography by Lesley-Ann Jones, Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury, Elton John was quoted saying that Mercury could “out-party” him any day. In 1981 when Queen and David Bowie got together to record “Under Pressure,” they powered through the day-long session with coke and booze. For his party in Ibiza, Mercury flew 700 of his pals to the island off the coast of Spain. To this day Mercury’s birthday is still celebrated at the Ibiza Rocks House (formerly the infamous Pikes Hotel where Mercury held his 1987 gathering). 

As unhinged as Mercury’s behavior could be behind-the-scenes there isn’t much evidence to cite his zealous pursuit of good times altering his ability to slay with his four-octave vocal range and commanding stage presence. To say nothing of the stone cold fact, Mercury knew how to party—something I’m sure you’ll be in agreement with after checking out the photos of Freddie partying like a pro as well as high-quality footage shot at the party to end all parties, below.
 

The invitation for Freddie Mercury’s birthday drag ball at Hendersons in Munich, Germany 1985.
 

Freddie’s black and white-themed birthday bash at the Henderson nightclub in Munich, Germany.
 
More Freddie after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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06.20.2018
08:56 am
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Tricia Nixon’s wedding travestied by the Cockettes, 1971


via IMDb
 
Tricia’s Wedding, a 33-minute dramatization of the solemn rite that joined Patricia Nixon and Edward Cox in holy matrimony, was the first movie the Cockettes made. Per Kenneth Turan, it premiered at the Palace Theater in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco on the very day of the happy event, June 12, 1971. Not only is the Cockettes’ movie much livelier than the televised ceremony, it includes the all-too-brief screen debut of Tomata du Plenty, some five years before he formed the Screamers in Los Angeles.

Incredibly, the Cockettes’ movie was screened in the Nixon White House. In Blind Ambition, John Dean mentions watching it in the president’s bomb shelter underneath the East Wing, John Ehrlichman’s favorite spot for “monitoring” protests. There, Dean saw Tricia’s Wedding on the orders of H.R. “Bob” Haldeman:

I knew I wouldn’t use the shelter for monitoring demonstrations, although Haldeman had told me that that would be one of my responsibilities. The only time I ever returned there was for a secret screening of Tricia’s Wedding, a pornographic movie portraying Tricia Nixon’s wedding to Edward Cox, in drag. Haldeman wanted the movie killed, so a very small group of White House officials watched the cavorting transvestites in order to weigh the case for suppression. Official action proved unnecessary; the film died a natural death.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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05.10.2018
08:28 am
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Meet the priest who was Oscar Wilde’s lover and partly the basis for ‘Dorian Gray’

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The writer Max Frisch once wrote that an author does nothing worse than betray himself. In that, a work of fiction reveals more of a writer’s thoughts, tastes, and secrets than any work of biography.

This, of course, may not always be the case, but for many it is true. Like Oscar Wilde, whose novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) revealed more about his tastes and thoughts and secret lifestyle than he ever ‘fessed-up to in public—as he once admitted in a letter to the artist Albert Sterner in 1891:

You’ll find much of me in it, and, as it is cast in objective form, much that is not me.

The parts that were thought to be Wilde—the story’s homoerotic subtext—led the press to damn the book as morally corrupt, perverse, and unfit for publication.

As for the parts that were not Wilde, they revealed some of the people who in part inspired his story, in particular, a poet called John Gray (1866-1934), who was one of the Wilde’s lovers. Gray later loathed his association with the book and eventually denounced his relationship with Wilde and was ordained as a priest.
 
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Wilde thing: A portrait of Oscar in his favorite fur coat.
 
The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the story of a distinguished young man, Gray, whose portrait is painted by the artist Basil Hallward. On seeing the finished picture, Gray is overwhelmed by its (or rather his own) beauty and makes a pact with the Devil that he shall stay forever young with the painting grow old in his place. In modern parlance, consider it Faust for the selfie generation. Gray then abandons himself to every sin and imaginable depravity—the usual debauches of sex, drugs, and murder, etc.—in order to “cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul.” As to be expected, this has catastrophic results for Gray and those unfortunate enough to be around him.

Wilde disingenuously claimed he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray “in a few days” as the result of “a wager.” In fact, he had long considered writing such a Faustian tale and began work on it in the summer of 1889. The story went through various drafts before it was submitted for publication in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Even then, Wilde contacted his publisher offering to lengthen the story (from thirteen to eventually twenty chapters) so it could be published as a novel which he believed would cause “a sensation.”

It certainly did that as the press turned on Wilde and his latest work with unparalleled vehemence. The critics were outraged by the lightly disguised homosexual subtext, in particular, Wilde’s reference to his secret gay lifestyle:

...there are certain temperaments that marriage makes more complex…They are forced to have more than one life.

The St. James’s Gazette described the tale as “ordure,” “dull and nasty,” “prosy rigmaroles about the beauty of the Body and the corruption of the Soul.” And went on to denounce it as a dangerous and corrupt story, the result of “malodorous putrefaction” which was only suitable for being “chucked on the fire.”

One critic from the Daily Chronicle described the novel as:

...a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents—a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction…

While the Scots Observer asked: “Why go grubbing in the muckheaps?” and damned the book as only suitable “for the Criminal Investigation Department…outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys.”

The last remark related to the “Cleveland Street Affair” of early-1890, in which young telegraph boys were alleged to be working as prostitutes at a brothel on Cleveland Street. It was claimed the government had covered-up this notorious scandal as the brothel was known to be frequented by those from the highest ranks of politicians and royalty.

Little wonder that when Gray was publicly identified by the Star newspaper as “the original Dorian of the same name” he threatened to sue for libel. Gray asked Wilde to write a letter to the press denying any such association. Wilde did so, claiming in the Daily Telegraph that he hardly knew Gray, which was contrary to what was known in private. The Star agreed to pay Gray an out of court settlement—but the association was now publicly known.
 
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John Gray: ‘The curves of your lips rewrite history.’
 
More on the life of John Gray, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.02.2018
01:16 pm
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Meet the David Bowie of Brazil: The wild, weird glam tropicália hybrid of Secos e Molhados
04.23.2018
01:03 pm
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Secos e Molhados (“The Dry & Wet”) was a hybrid glam-rock/Tropicália band formed in Brazil in 1971 during the most repressive phase of the military dictatorship. The band was short-lived, recording just two albums, but launched the career of feminine-sounding vocalist, Ney Matogrosso. Their name apparently refers to different categories of food in Brazilian supermarkets. Their unusual sound combined elements of baião, jazz, pop, glam and prog rock, along with Portuguese folklore, Brazilian and Portuguese poetry, and instruments of Latin American music.
 

 
Matogrosso’s distinctive voice is “sopranino” meaning that he can hit notes higher than F6. Now 76, he’s still a huge star in Brazil, but has dropped the wild costumes and make-up, concentrating more on the purely vocal aspects of his talents, and re-interpreting classic Brazilian pop songs.
 

 
João Ricardo, who founded the group, and Gerson Conrad were the other two members. Secos e Molhados recorded in a wide variety of styles. Their innovative make-up and costuming caused a sensation, if not exactly scandal, in early 70s Brazil and they sold millions of records. An urban legend in Brazil was that KISS copied their makeup from them. Although entirely possible, this seems unlikely as their albums were released only in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Portugal.

Below, Secos e Molhados performing “Flores Astrais.”

 
More Secos e Molhados after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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04.23.2018
01:03 pm
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William S. Burroughs on the cut-up technique and meeting Samuel Beckett & Bob Dylan
03.22.2018
09:35 am
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“It’s the stink of death, citizens!” (Photo by Peter Hujar)

This hour-long BBC Radio special opens with “Old Lady Sloan,” the Mortal Micronotz’ interpretation of a Burroughs lyric about a happy pedophage, a record the host, John Walters, borrowed from John Peel for the occasion. If the program starts out sounding like a clip-show tribute to Burroughs’ cultural influence, it’s more than that. Aside from a chat with future WSB biographer Barry Miles (identified only by his surname), a little music, and Burroughs’ performances of the now-classic routines “The Do-Rights” and “The Wild Fruits,” the broadcast is given over to Walters’ lengthy interview with the author, champion of apomorphine, and devotee of the Ancient Ones.

Burroughs tells Walters about his years in England, and meeting Samuel Beckett and Bob Dylan; he observes that certain American politicians boast of their ignorance and stupidity. His (camp, I think) misogyny has softened by ‘82. What really sets the interview apart, though, is Walters’ enthusiasm, his openness, his willingness to risk sounding uncool. Here he is grappling with the implications of the cut-up technique:

Walters: What always attracted me when I first heard about that—I suppose, a lot of students at the time—it seemed to introduce a random effect, a found work, do you know what I mean? I wonder if it was so random as all that.

Burroughs: Well, how random is random? Uh…

Walters: Well, let’s put it like this. I was in a pub in Charlotte Street, of all places, in Soho, and a mate of mine had read Nova Express—this was ‘64, ‘65—was talking about this, “You must buy this book,” and started to try and explain to me his interpretation of cut-up and fold-in techniques, which he probably got wrong. And I couldn’t remember the name of the book when I got outside, and then an Express Dairy van from the Express Dairies came by, and I thought, “Express, Nova Express!” And I thought, “That’s what he’s trying to tell us. Random events can have a hidden meaning. We can get messages.” But I don’t think that’s what you see in it, is it?

Burroughs: Oh, exactly. Exactly what I see in it. These juxtapositions between what you’re thinking, if you’re walking down the street, and what you see, that was exactly what I was introducing. You see, life is a cut-up. Every time you walk down the street or look out the window, your consciousness is cut by random factors, and then you begin to realize that they’re not so random, that this is saying something to you.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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03.22.2018
09:35 am
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Gore Vidal and Roy Cohn debate McCarthyism, 1977
02.22.2018
09:59 am
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In 1977, Gore Vidal went head-to-head with Roy Cohn, onetime mentor of the president*, on the NYC talk show Midday Live. Cohn was promoting his new book, which sported a cover blurb by, uh, Roy Cohn: an “answer to” the recent TV movie Tail Gunner Joe, in which Peter Boyle portrayed Joe McCarthy as a crapulous commie-baiter who lied about his military service. Roy was hopping mad. He published his book-length screed a month after NBC aired the movie, and he sued the network for libel, and fought all the way to the Supreme Court. (He lost.)

Cohn’s performance is a master class in demagoguery. He accuses everyone else of lying. McCarthy is the victim of a vicious smear campaign. If elites in New York and Washington, D.C. don’t like what McCarthy stands for, it’s because they’ve lost touch with the decent, vital, God-fearing people of the heartland, who understand the stakes in the fight against Communism. Most instructive is his fluid interpretation of the word “McCarthyism.” Vidal defines the term early in the broadcast and uses it consistently throughout; for Cohn, it means anything that confers a momentary rhetorical advantage. In the same breath, he casts doubt on the validity of the concept (the word first appeared in The Daily Worker!) and tries to use it like a curse (the real exponent of McCarthyism is… Gore Vidal!).

The real fun starts when Vidal brings up the topic of personal sexual habits, which is right in the wheelhouse of Jack Kerouac’s seducer, and a subject Cohn would rather avoid:

Vidal: To me, the nicest thing—let’s be affirmative. The nicest thing that I have ever heard about Joe McCarthy was told me by Senator Flanders of Vermont: that he was a full-time homosexual. Is this true?

Cohn: No, I’m sure you’d think that merited a badge of honor, but it is not true.

Vidal: Well, I’m getting to you in a minute, but what about Senator McCarthy?

Cohn: Oh, sure, that’s your favorite topic of conversation. I know that.

Vidal: I know; it’s aroused by the obvious.

Vidal later remembered telling Cohn on this broadcast, “We regarded [you and G. David Schine] as the Damon and Pythias of the homosexual movement,” and said Cohn responded by “shaking all over in a ghastly way.” This moment, alas, does not appear on the tape; I like to believe it occurred during a commercial break. But Cohn does appear shaken by all this talk of manly love, and eager to change the subject. Immediately, he produces a sheet of paper and reads some of Vidal’s cutting remarks about LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and General MacArthur, to prove that Vidal is the real McCarthyite. (As if “McCarthyism” just meant “saying unfavorable things about public figures.”)

Don’t worry; host Bill Boggs circles back to Joe McCarthy’s sex kicks—a hot topic since the early Fifties, when, as McCarthy ginned up the Lavender Scare, the Las Vegas Sun reported that the senator himself was “the queer that made Milwaukee famous”—and Vidal makes Cohn squirm some more.

Cohn: I hate to eliminate or eradicate the one plus you ever did give to Senator McCarthy, but the statement and the charge is totally untrue.

Vidal: You would know.

Cohn: Well, I don’t know, you’ve been around a man for a certain period of time, you know his wife, uh, you know his family, uh, you see him, I suppose you can know as well as anybody can know, and if I knew or didn’t know, I’d wanna have a little more proof before I start throwing it around the way you’ve done.

Vidal: But Senator Flanders did.

Cohn: Well, that’s McCarthy—Senator Flanders apologized for having made a statement which was not based on fact, but based on something somebody told him, which when he checked it out, felt was so unfounded that Senator McCarthy deserved and received an apology from Senator Flanders—

Vidal: I would be happy to see that.

Me too. When 67 senators voted to condemn McCarthy on December 2, 1954, the New York Times reported that Flanders apologized for one thing only: comparing McCarthy to Hitler.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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02.22.2018
09:59 am
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