November 21, 2009

Tim Miller and (My) Friends

Tim Miller, at Yerba Buena all weekend

I had to dress up to see Tim Miller at Yerba Buena tonight, because my friends are so fashionable. Like, Page McBee and Michael Braithwaite are the cutest couple ever, both looking like andro Blythe doll with cooler haircuts and more plaid. Page is a writer working on a collection of poetic essays about the body and until recently was stirring shit up as a Bitch Magazine blogger, posting  a controversial piece about trans women that really should not have been controversial at all except for pesky 2nd wave feminism rearing its tranemy (that would be Enemy of Transpeople) head. Page is over the drama but check out the excellent, smart writing at

Calender by The LGBT Collective of Madrid, sourced from

Calender by The LGBT Collective of Madrid, sourced from

Michael is a brainiac and a painter whose current day job is organizing events at the San Francisco Zen Center. Their big January shebang is going to be Nick Flynn, a straight man who writes memoir, thereby making it safer for everybody else. He wrote the best titled book ever, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and will be traveling around reading from his new book, which is not out yet but stealthy Michael had a advance copy in her backpack! I would have stolen it but I don’t want the karma, man. Also present was Ben McCoy, the performance artist who just killed the crowd at the Porchlight Storytelling Series earlier this week with a story about actually being a MCCOY – you know, the Hatfields and McCoys. Ben talked about the feud, in which ‘bitches got killed” and brought it home at the end with tales of her own lunatic yet righteous temper, beginning with climbing onto a moving school bus to terrorize the child that called her a witch (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and ending with  more mature Ben getting a gang of teenagers who threw a chicken wing in her hair on the subway arrested! Take that, youth! You do not throw chicken wings in a girl’s hairdo! Ben is one of my most favorite performance artists ever. I miss getting to watch Ben perform every night like I did on Sister Spit, her amazing piece where she opens acting like she’s going to lip-synch Lady Gaga, shames the audience for falling for it, then proceeds to lip synch a spoken word piece about drag queen jewelry theives and how crappy the world is to transladies.

Ben McCoy recovers after bringing it hard at Sister Spit's show at The Lab, lifted from Mission Local

Ben McCoy recovers after bringing it hard at Sister Spit’s show at The Lab, lifted from Mission Local

And finally there is Jerry Lee Manhattan, wiped out after doing the lighting for the Chanel party on Maiden Lane last night. Jerry Lee is a lighting designer and has done tech for The Sex Workers Art Show Tour, and curates music for the gigantic Homo-A-Go-Go queer arts festival that just moved to San Francisco this summer after a childhood spent in Olympia, Washington. Jerry Lee has the best eyeglasses. This is why I had to have an outfit to attend the Tim Miller show tonight, not to mention it is always nice to pay your respects to a performer by coming to their show in hot pink sequins with a bow in your hair.

Tim Miller considers setting some flags on fire in Lay of the Land

Tim Miller considers setting some flags on fire in Lay of the Land


Tim Miller started doing solo shows about being queer in the 80s, and his work at this point contains the history of all the work that has already happened, and I love the accumulation of real, lived life that builds throughout a lifetime of work created by artists who use personal narrative and the raw material of their own experience as the inspiration, the content and the delivery. Tim’s work is big – it takes on the enormity of the individual and multiplies it by taking on that individual’s place and time, making the circumstances, indivisible from the artist characters in the work as well. Lay of the Land, making it’s San Francisco debut this weekend is about Tim – Tim as a child choking on steak while his father is trying to get him to go to the ‘gender re-education camp’ that is a baseball game. It’s about Tim the queer, choking in the throat of America, and it’s about Tim’s dad, who saved him with a heimlich maneuver but not before preparing to give him a tracheotomy, wielding a knife in a moment that triggers recalls of Abraham about to slay his youngest son, prompting a psychedelic flash of all the myths in which the youngest, fairest, queerest get killed, bringing in images from The Brady Bunch and an obscure and totally creepy-amazing song by The Buoys called, creepily-amazingly, Timothy, about some coal miners trapped underground who decide to kill and eat the youngest, fairest, queerest miner, Timothy. It’s not a far jump from this to hate crimes and Tim has us all bear witness to some of the most recent atrocities – the decapitation of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado; the Ecuadorean brothers read as gay on the streets of Brooklyn and beaten until one is dead and the other in a coma. Indeed, in Lay of the Land, anti-queer American culture is revealed to be one long hate crime, taking shape in the form of ballot measures like the recent Proposition 8 catastrophe, the passing of which prompts Tim to pull a lube-sized bottle of lighter fluid from his cargo shorts and consider setting the California flag on fire there on stage at Yerba Buena. But Tim has long felt the bear on the California State flag to be his spirit animal, and we are treated to tales of wild bear encounters and fantasies of bears text-messaging, and here is another thing I love about Tim Miller’s performance and about personal narrative based-work in general: the ability to follow a tangent through all its twists and loops, to trust the logic of it, to trust in the performer, really, that there is a pattern at play, only we can’t see it, we’re too deeply embedded in it, but we’re being carried through it by the artists’ wild vision and, as the whole work is ultimately about him, the artist, we always end up right where we’re supposed to be. I love the surprise and mystery of a tangent and Tim Miller’s work is full of them, witty and clever and high-energy, just like him, running around he stage like a kinetic maniac. He opens the whole show pretending to look for his Blackberry, which he claimed to have lost while talking to Annie Sprinkle, who is actually sitting in the audience, looking like a queen in feathers and velvet. The performer goes on to recount the many things he’s lost, such as his virginity in the Haight, and then realized he’s lost his right to marry (“Isn’t that careless of me!”) So much of the show is about queer marriage, an issue super close to the artist as his long-term boyfriend, the writer Alistair McCartney, is Australian and the couple live in fear of his visa being denied and having to split the country. And, as a queer who super supports gay marriage but it often frolicking amidst queers who poo-poo it as not radical enough for their care, it felt important to be presented with one of the real-life consequences of queers not being able to legally marry. I mean, I would firstly for sure sign on to the complete smashing of the state, but barring THAT happening any time soon, why not let everyone get married so there can be more big frivolous love parties? I personally would like to be able to abuse the privilege a la Elizabeth Taylor and countless trashy straight people and get married lots and lots of times! Plus doesn’t it just make you mad that a bunch of ignorant hicks in the sticks get to vote on whether or not you have the right to assimilate? It just steams me! Anyway, these are the sorts of things in my mind this evening after seeing Lay of the Land. It’s sort of amazing that Tim Miller is disappointed in the state and the nation for not supporting queers – I totally expect them not to, and it makes me wonder how and when that happened and if it’s not a little sad. Tim Miller is a real activist who has put his body on the line countless times during the AIDs crisis and during all the many fights queers are forced into to defend ourselves. He’s been arrested I think he said 11 times (once outside the Moscone Center) and sued the United States Government to get his NEA Grant back after it was vetoed by evil NEA chair John Frohnmayer. The NEA swiped Tim’s grant along with Karen Finley, Holly Hughes and John Fleck; thanks to judge Wallace Tashima calling bullshit on decency standards, the grants were reinstated but it took years. Tim talks a bit about the fight in Lay of the Land, crediting Tashima growing up in an American concentration camp for his sage views on mob rule. Tim Miller shows Lay of the Land Saturday 11/21 at Yerba Buena, and Sunday afternoon at 3 there is a performance featuring the maestro with the group of performers he’s been teaching and working with all week.


Comments (2)

  • “we’re being carried through it by the artists’ wild vision… we always end up right where we’re supposed to be.”

    What a great write-up Michelle. I saw it at Yerba too. His use of personal narrative to illustrate greater issues has always been amazing and one of the sources of power in his work. His use of humor and irony never feels too forced or overly jokey. The start of the show was my favorite when he gave a laundry list of the things he’s lost—what all of us in CA lost. It’s pleasing to know he’s been touring this across the country AND teaching workshops. I’m all for cloning Tim Miller.

  • Kenneth Foster says:

    Wow Michelle this was great! You really captured the spirit of evening and the performance itself. Thanks for sharing!

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