Last year was the best New Year's Eve ever, and this year was too. Soul sister Francine asked me to perform as part of her STORMQUEER event at Dixon Place, and I was very happy to. I have much love for Dan, as well as Dixon Place, of course. Dear heart Thain was working at the bar, and the other performers included some of my favorite people ever: Erin Markey, Glenn Marla, Molly Pope, Kit Yan, Becky Eklund, and Miss Molly Pope at midnight. Everybody did such a good job.
I did a new number which I had never done before. I sang a cover of PJ Harvey's criminally underrated and gorgeous song "Reeling" over the music of Ashford & Simpson's "Bourgie Bourgie". I wore the Halloween costume I didn't get to wear this year (a black Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons dress, a witch hat, gold nail polish and vintage sequined jacket. And gorgeous wig).
The songs are, of course, PJ's "Reeling:
And "Bourgie Bourgie", written by the legendary Ashford & Simpson and famously recorded by Gladys Knight and the Pips:
I sang PJ's words in my deepest possible register. For me, the performance was about something so over-the-top as to be obscene. Lately I'm so obsessed with the logical conclusion of the pleasure drive, which is horror. The uncanny disgust one feels at fulfillment. In PJ's song, she maniacally names her fantasies, caterwauling and calling the corners. Naming a desire becomes a shamanistic command ("Robert DeNiro, Sit on my face!"). "Bourgie Bourgie", on the other hand, is ostensibly a cautionary tale about materialism and wealth. It taunts you with the life you think you want to be living. The music itself is emblematic of a post-disco mortification of the flesh. The sinking feeling that what you want might not be so great, what's so great might be so possible. The opulence of the musical arrangements, the insatiable desire for the forever-unattainable "good life" is a kind of postmodern Shangri-La. We want it but we know we can't have it. For me, I wanted to juxtapose that musical backdrop with PJ's song, where she may well get what she wants. But what she wants is freaky and over the top. The point is losing control. And, for me, the idea was to present it as a kind of quasi-drag. A sort of lazy cabaret performance. Towards the end of the piece I started singing lines from RENT ("...Only thing to do is to jump over the moon...") since it was, after all, new Year's Eve. I like pastiche, and a kitchen-sink effect, as a way of expressing overwhelming, conflicting desires and drives. I wanted to force the audience to recognize something there. Like a collage.
I don't think a lot of people got it. Some people got it. Probably nobody knew both songs I was referencing. Most of the people there probably didn't know either of the songs. And that is OK. Anyone could get something from it, if they wanted to. (Who wouldn't want a young, or even not-so-young, DeNiro to sit on their face?) Maybe people didn't want to get into it. I know I was probably a little bit awkward and freaky and boring. But you know what? That's ok. I actually pretty rarely perform my own ideas like this, inasmuch as any of this was my idea, because I'm afraid of being misunderstood. But I've wanted to do this PJ Harvey/Ashford & Simpson number for so long, I didn't care if I was misunderstood. I was in a room full of my peers, my evident community. And I don't need everybody to know all of my references and to support me. I don't need everybody cheering wildly and exploding with recognition. That's not a tenable goal, for me. What I did want to do, which is what I think I did very well, was bring to the stage the sense of overwhelming, debilitating thoughts. I want you to see someone struggling to sing, jumping through a couple of hoops. Kim Gordon famously wrote: "People pay to see others believe in themselves" but that presupposes something, which is that the people paying don't believe in themselves. That the person they're paying to see gets to the stage and THEN reveals that they believe in themselves. I'm so obsessed with this idea of "getting away with" something (in the Kathleen Hanna sense-- which I wrote about for the first issue of International Girl Gang Underground). I feel like the performance was, for me, a qualified success. I chose my ingredients diligently, I assembled them in the way that made sense to me, and the finished product looked, sounded, tasted, and smelled exactly right to me. If it didn't please everybody's palettes, well, that's not something I can control. My hope is that a few people thought about it for a few minutes afterward. That's all. I think I did that.
I did shed my hat and my coat onstage, and the one fuck-up I'm willing to concede is that I always break that rule about leaving clothes onstage. This is a rule that was taught to me by the drag queens of my generation, which is to say, burlesque stars-- a lady never carries her own coat. I know I'm supposed to just bow and leave and wait for someone to bring me my stuff from the stage, but I'm too caught up in the moment and trying to remember everything that, right as the song ends and the audience applauds (to whatever extent they feel like doing that), I immediately turn my back to them and begin grabbing my stuff. Very unladylike. I wish I could smash not only the fourth wall, but the first, second, third, and fifth as well.