I went to the Bowman/Bloom Gallery in the Lower East Side because someone had left their cell phone on the bed at poet Eileen Myles’ 60th birthday party, and eventually it rang and Eileen learned it belonged to Richard Hell, and so she arranged to run it by the gallery where Richard Hell is one of a trio of Lower East Side artists showing work in the Nincompatibles show, which actually just came down a couple days ago. I promise you that any disappointment you may feel at not being able to see this show is dwarfed by my disappointment in learning I was at a party with Richard Hell and did not get to meet him. A strong balm for this regret is that I did get to meet the writer Lynne Tillman, who I had previously only sort of benevolently crank called. I had been so enthusiastic about her after reading her book Haunted Houses that I jabbered on about her to everyone I know, and I have the pleasure of knowing the SF writer Peter Plate who has the pleasure of knowing Lynne Tillman and he passed me her phone number so I could leave an effusive, dorked-out fan message on her voice mail. I’m sure she was thrilled to be able to put a face to the hysteria. I also got to meet the writer Joe Westmoreland, whose memoir Tramps Like Us is part of my underground queer canon, and the poet CA Conrad, and Aoibheann Sweeney, whose novel Among Other Things I’ve Taken Up Smoking is so great, though I had actually met her before, in 1999 when she put Sister Spit up in one wing of her giant crumbling mansion in the woods in Virginia, and I read her tarot cards and apparently predicted she and her girlfriend would break up and then they did. The world is small, and got smaller at Eileen’s amazing birthday party, but let me get back to the Nincompatibles show.
The Bowman/Bloom Gallery is in this sort of underground space, you take stairs down under the ground and find yourself in this very tiny white place that has you know art on the walls. Richard Hell’s had scrawled charcoal commentary and square blocks of bright color, plus some phallic illustrations that looked half like an instructional diagram and half like something scribbled on the wall of a men’s room. Richard Hell is of course an Original Punk, singer for Richard Hell and the Voidods whose album Blank Generation is full of the anthems of that time (70s) and place (NYC). He is also a writer and a painter. Walter Robinson is a painter, too, and I really liked his paintings, mostly small but one big one, portraits of women who appear to maybe be porn actresses or in the midst of some sort of sexed-up occupation. They almost looked a little paint-by-numbers-ish, with bold, fat, visible brushstrokes. I have one as my cell phone wallpaper right now. The final artist I’m not posting any photos of, cause they came out lousy and this is tragic because her project is so genius: the artist Brigitte Engler is doing rubbings of things carved into the sidewalks of the Lower East Side. Messages, birds, and spiked helmets are some of the images she captured, and as this is a gentrified neighborhood whose charmed filth is famously vanishing, her project isn’t only clever and cool to behold, it is the sort of art that feel like a necessary historical document.
I can’t stop blogging about Eileen Myles, I’m sorry, she just keeps doing amazing things, like turning 60 years old and inspiring everyone under that age to be totally excited about and hopeful that we too make it that far so that we can have a big luxurious party in a SoHo loft with an original Warhol and Wojnarowicz and James Schuyler broadsides and a Rothko that a fellow partygoer tried to shame me for pointing at but guess what I wasn’t ashamed. Excited pointing is a totally acceptable reaction when one unexpectedly finds themself in the same room as a Rothko. The loft was full of art and people who love Eileen, and many of those people are artists and so Eileen got a fair amount of art for her birthday and I got to peek at it all where it rested in Eileen’s apartment. There’s this one with Eileen smiling casually, looking happy to be Eileen Myles, before a map of Iceland, a favored locale of the writer and the subject of the title essay in her latest book, The Importance of Being Iceland, which I have already gone on at length about right here. She got a black and white drawing of like a chalice with a cartoon animal on the cup. In a pink frame, an illustration of Cinderella totally happy to be rid of the shoes. Louise Fishman gave her pieces illustrating the body parts of female wrestlers. A vintage cloth wall hanging from a fellow Irish-American printed with an Irish recipe and a Leprechaun. Richard Hell gave her The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. Performance artist K8 Hardy gave her a double-sided giant photo of herself.
And maybe my favorite piece is this photograph of a boy in gym shorts and a pair of womens’ pumps. I love the whatever expression on his face and the way it takes you a second to notice the shoes because there are so many other cool things going on in the photo — that spangled, fringed sash, the blue shelving and all the jumble. Also, the Nicole Eisenman painting of a beach ball bouncing down a giant square of blue that was the cover art for her poetry collection Skies is hung above her sofa.
3. It the image below of a couple of girls wearing dreidels? Yes, it is. What you cannot see is that they are on roller skates and dancing to Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round. The second Monday of the month brings a cabaret night called Personae to Jacques, a drag-trans bar nestled in Boston’s gay-trans Bay Village neighborhood. Jacques looks exactly the way it did in 1986 when I snuck inside at age 15 and stole half-drunk beer bottles off the tables while queens lip-synched to Whitney Houston. There is a lot of tinsel, a lot of drunks at the bar, a spotlight being operated by a technician at the back of the room. The bathrooms are scary, Mary. But Jacques is one of my favorite performance spots in the world. Are there still live punk shows happening in the basement while Brittney Spears lipsynchs happen upstairs? I hope so. Jacques is where performance artist Ben McCoy got her start, getting so violent during her Courtney Love acts that she injured not only herself but the hapless bachelorette party girls whose laps she was vigorously dancing upon. (An aside: how and when did it happen that women about to enter monogamous commitments with men mark the end of their freedom by visiting a drag bar, while their mens are getting non-injurious lap dances at strip bars?) Jacques has alternative drag nights, Brittney and Whitney-free zones where you are more likely to see, as I once did, a queen with the costume and gait of a Dynasty extra on quaaludes do an act to The Knife’s Rock Classics, eventually tumbling off the stage (Ben McCoy takes full credit for ushering in the new era
of queens falling off the runway, tumbling from tabletops and banging themselves up sliding from patrons’ laps). Perestroika is another monthly club featuring Russian-themed drag performance if you can believe it. The second Monday of the month is Personae. I didn’t know this when I showed up at Jacques with filmmaker Peter Pizzi and our friend Jesse, who kindly had brought along a little jar of kombucha he’s fermenting in his home in Jamaica Plain. Homemade kombucha is sweeter and less carbonated than the store-bought stuff, or maybe it’s just Jesse’s secret recipe. Anyway, we showed up at Jacques’ not really knowing what to expect as every night is a crapshoot at the notorious dive. The last time me and Peter stopped by we were presented with a revue of strung-out seeming performers lip-synching to Sweet. At Persona, we were initially shocked and a bit upset to find no drag queens or trans female performers! Oh no, I thought, Its a burlesque show! At the risk of being kicked out of San Francisco and perhaps the larger queer community, I’m going to keep it real and admit that I hate burlesque. Sorry. I just have seen too much and grown weary. But as Personae chugged onward, I realized that it wasn’t so much a burlesque show as it was an avant-garde performance night featuring a lot of scantily-clad ladies. Some, like the awesome duo Penis Envy, were clad in cardboard dreidels which were removed to reveal really awful Reynolds Wrap menorahs shabbily adhered to their body suits. On roller skates. They came back and enacted a Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scenario,
replete with paper ice skates tied to their feet, and lots of hilarious pantomimed ice skating and the breaking of knee caps with giant candy canes, ending the number wrapped in gauze and stained with fake blood. The sibling duo The Stone Sisters were truly conceptual, singing random tunes to Casio accompaniment. Singer Trudy Stone is a sort of alternate-universe Marianne Faithful is the kind of lounge singer many performance artists try to approximate in jest but she is the real deal, slapping around a blow-up Santa in a pair of boxing gloves and a leather trench coat. Personae took a turn for the surprisingly moving when Master of Ceremonies Vice V’Ersatile (whose chatty banter is perfectly clever and kind and witty, delivered in the perfect tone of regal world-weariness) teamed up with the Stone Sisters to do a cover of that cover of Tears for Fears’ melancholy classic Mad World, while the burlesque girls roamed the stage like holiday shopping zombies in winter coats and arms strung with shopping bags. It was so haunting and gorgeous and really perfect I got those tear-inducing chills I get during really haunting and gorgeous and really perfect performance moments. Beside me, Peter and Jesse gasped as well. No one comes to Jacques to have a profound moment, but at Persona we got one, and then another as Vice V’Ersatile sang Across the Universe in a white suit with tails, ending the evening with the declaration, “Now is the only time we will all be together in the same place.” I felt it, man, and it felt wicked special.
4. I know I write the longest blogs ever but I saw so many excellent things this week, how can I pick just one? In Boston I stayed at the home of Peter Pizzi. I met Peter when I was fifteen years old, sleeping out for Ratt tickets in Boston. He was the only other goth-punk in the sea of hair metalheads, and we bonded and soon thereafter were sneaking into Jacques to watch drag shows and steal booze. Peter has made a bunch of films, all marked by his strong aesthetic, as if PeeWee Herman had been comfortable enough with his double-life to put some glory holes in PeeWee’s Playhouse. Peter’s work references gay sex, spangly punk diva glamour, the horror of heterosexuality, the secret DL hookups of politicians, fabulous nightmares and the criminal elderly. In his film Love Is Blind a self-obsessed lez in a crappy relationship finds a new crush and a fistful of cash when she accidentally helps an old woman hold up a liquor store (I play the lez). In Dream of an Ex-Girlfriend, based on my poem of the same name, a girl dreams that her creepy-hot ex goes on a killing spree, taking out Angie Dickinson and George W. Bush and leaving her to take the fall (the ex is played, with glowing devil horns, by Scream Club‘s Cindy Wonderful, and features cameos by underground scribes Jennifer Blowdryer and Alvin Orloff). Peter has collaborated with Ben MCoy, bringing to life the writer’s pieces The Face of God, in which Ben hallucinates an upscale life while dancing for a trick in a combat zone alleyway, and My Hustler Boyfriend, a maudlin tale of hooker-on-hooker love. Peter gets a lot of inspiration from collaboration. His most recent pieces
include Sucker, a film about the best cocksucker in town based on the short story by Wayne Hoffman, and a video for performance artist Nicky Click’s electro-pop song I’m On My Cell Phone. The music video is a sort of meeting of the minds, as Peter and Nicky’s aesthetics merge perfectly and the end result is a lot of crazy makeup, wiggy wigs, baby dolls, lingerie, people in animal masks and the like. I played Peter Nicky’s CD I’m On My Cell Phone on a road trip to P-Town a couple years ago and it became the only thing we listened to in the car. Her silly beeping beats and breathy breathless hyper-sexy delivery is seriously avant-garde, in the tradition of Lena Lovich, Nina Hagen, The Waitresses and other 80s new wave girl weirdos (plus a dash of Rick James’ proteges the Mary Jane Girls). Her live shows feature lots of parading and stomping in latex and garter belts and are super fun. Like Peter, Nicky shows her work a lot in San Francisco so keep your eyes peeled.
Peter’s visual art tends towards photography and paper mache animals, everything sort of anthropomorphic and cheekily porno’d. At his 2008 solo show, Tea and Sympathy at Atlantic Works Gallery he laid out the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that, once formed, displayed a lady’s snatch. Bright orange plastic viewers, like the Viewmasters of my childhood, brought beautiful and sharp closeups of balls, cocks, moustaches and man-nipples to the viewers’ eyes, and miniature video peepshows let gallery goers become voyeurs, spying on person applying lipstick, a man blowing up a blow-up doll, or a couple of puppets
engaging in oral sex. One of the gallery’s nooks was transformed into a something akin to a video booth at an adult bookstore; go behind the curtain, peep into a hole and get an eyeful of an anonymous stranger jerking his junk. He also had a lot of little dioramas illustrating gay marriage and cat hoarding. Oh and miniature mounted deer heads. I bought one of those.
Right now Peter is at work on a bunch of projects. He’s currently casting Boston-area models comfortable with risque storylines for a film adaptation of SF (that’s San Francisco, not science fiction) writer Kirk Read’s short story Faster, in which a Craig’s List cruiser engages in pee play with a man he doesn’t know is on a ton of crystal meth, until the trick leaves and the narrator is left with the sudden urge to clean his house. He’s building a paper mache chess board with birds’ feet as the pawns. And he is working on a long-term collaboration with sculptor and puppeteer Pat Keck, in which the puppeteer will build puppets (from scratch, as in she chops down the tree and starts sawing the logs) to star in a movie Peter will make about his gay uncle who committed suicide in the 50s after being arrested having sex with another man in a Boston subway station. This has been a story that has haunted Peter throughout his artistic career, turning up in Day of the Dead installations he made in San Francisco in the 90s, and in an elegant, melancholy video diorama shown in the Tea and Sympathy show, and it is exciting to know he will get to purge it in such a massive scale.