La Dolce Musto
by Michael Musto
At Boy Bar’s Thursday night transie-thon, drag Ziegfeld Matthew Kasten urged us to call the mayor’s office and complain about the new ordinance shortening Wigstock – the Labor Day dragfest – from eight hours to four hours. The next day, they all apparently did, unleashing an avalanche of anger unseen since the Kris Kross buffet turned out to be pretzels. “The decision is inflexible, “ a city rep told the event’s organizer, Lady Bunny, in the midst of this protest. Some zillion calls later – including a teeny one involving a lawsuit – and the same person rang Bunny to slither, “We have worked things out in your favor.” And once again the drag queens outsmarted the mayor.
Wigstock – where “You’d better work, bitch” has become the catchphrase of the downtrodden – was so gorgeous in all its required length that they should add a book to the school curriculum called MyMommy Is My Daddy. The fest brought a diverse crowd to Tompkins Square Park, including the guy who plays Young Indiana Jones and his girlfriend, who confessed (when probed) that her man has a sizeable tool. The peace and love atmosphere encouraged one to say such things about love and piece. Bunny MCed with her usual sass, announcing things like, “The fabulous – move it! – Wigstock Dancers.” And the other acts are still spinning through my head like eye-shadowed apparitions: Tabboo! Doing a grung-rock-vs.-Wigstock rap which compared Mudhoney with Lady Bunny, and Nirvana with Anna Conda; Endive turning “Pretty Woman” into “Big Fat Drag Queen”; the purposely atonal and abeautiful DeeAundra Peek massacring “Losing My Religion” as Daisy Chain wanly twirled a baton behind her; topless Codie Ravioli warbling “I am Woman” while unzipping her pants to show either an operation or a tucked penis (only her hairdresser knows for sure). And so on, until your hair raise itself into an involuntary bouffant.
The Boy Bar beauties elaborate production number climaxed with Anna Conda, Sweetie, and Faux Pas as a riotous Wilson Phillips who’d clearly been in the sun too long. But the shiniest moments of all were the political ones, like Liz Holtzman’s rallying speech and the urgings to visit the registration booths set up around the park as part of “Drag the Vote” campaign (slogan: “Beauty with a purpose”). Borough Prez Ruth Messinger lauded Bunny’s creative costume, which she said “shows her commitment to recycling,” upon which Bunny grabbed the mike away from her to yell, “Security!” And when it all ended, a wig attached to a mass of balloons was fancifully set free into the sky. I hope it lands right on Patrick Buchanan’s head.
A Good Hair Day
by Guy Trebay
In a season of sleaze conventions, and of politically expedient disguise, there’s our gathering whose participants are proud to flout Pat Buchanon’s fears/longings and cross-dress. Wigstock is many things to…well, to a few people. But they’re influential people, if you keep in mind the p.c. orthodoxy that tells us drags are sexual politics’ front line. Now celebrating its eighth anniversary (appropriate gift: an electrical appliance says Tiffany’s), Wigstock has evolved from a small and grotty celebration of bad style, big hair, demi-drag, and crotch-tucks to a civic extravaganza of bad style big hair, demi-drag, etc. Last year’s gathering, forced from Tompkins Square Park when the parks Department closed it, ostensibly for a $2.1 million renovation, felt flat, hemmed in. Now that Tompkins is open again and spruced up (minus its homeless population, minus its bandshell, and plus a heavy contingent of Police and pro squatter demonstrators), Wigstock returns to its, you’ll pardon the expression, roots. As they put the final touches on their Labor Day ensembles, three of Wigstock’s most famous alumnae, organizer Lady Bunny, Paris Is Burning star Dorian Corey and Tommy Boy recording artist Rupaul, took time out to chat with The Voice.
“I’m so happy Wigstock is back in Tompkins Square Park,” said Lady Bunny, on her way to 14th street for a wig. “It belongs there. For one thing, the event is not just the show, it’s the crowd. The more people who dress and wear outrageous clothes, the better a backdrop for the stage antics. Last year we didn’t have any choice with Union Square. I think it worked out, but a couple of things I didn’t like about it. Everyone had to be contained in this island of park. You couldn’t mingle in the streets too much. The sightlines to the stage were actually better with the walkways and benches but, I mean, honey these girls are in heels for eight hours. Nobody can watch the whole show.
“Another thing that I didn’t like was the fact that we had a little holding area fro performers. It’s true that, when you’re performing you need a moment to collect your thoughts, but the holding area turned into a VIP area and a VIP area is very UN-Wigstock. When we didn’t know if Tompkins Square would be open in time, someone very nice offered to let us use Central Park Summerstage. But I hate the idea of cabbing it uptown. I don’t even know where the stage is in central park. Tompkins square is perfect. It has a real feeling of nitty-gritty. You can bum right over from your skuzzy east Village apartment.
“People accuse us of selling out. But that’s just ridiculous. They don’t realize the costs incurred. You need a vending license to sell programs and T-shirts. ‘Now these programs are free but there’s a suggested donation of $1 and I suggest make a donation or you aren’t going to get a program.’
When we started out we thought $1200 was expensive. But our sound system cost $10,000 last year and about a month before Labor Day we were sending out begging letters to anyone we knew who had money. Now we have corporate sponsors. Absolut has turned us down every year. But we have Limelight and Naya Spring water. MAC – Makeup Art Cosmetics – gives us money and we love them. They don’t test on animals, and they make Madonna’s favorite color, Russian Red. Do I use it? You know I do.
“I’m really sorry that we have to end at eight. Wigstock used to go until ten. I hate that we can’t go on after eight. The stage that we rent has lights and it’s really glamorous. And, honey, sequins don’t start to cook until after dusk. Ideally, we would have a parade go crosstown to a big free outdoor festival to a Mafia-bar-coke-den-stab-your-mama-in-the-back-for-toot-of-cocaine place, with $5 drinks and a snotty door policy. I’d love to see an auxiliary sound system at the pier with tons of kegs of beer. It would be good for the piers too. You know, that they don’t allow cars, there’s nowhere to take your tricks.
“What am I going to wear to Wigstock?” Dorian Corey purred by phone from her Harlem apartment. “It’s an inspirational thing. Something new and current and loud, I’m sure. I’m weather conscious: if it’s hot like it has been, I’ll be wearing something flowing and very light. Last year I put on a beaded gown and lots of feathers. People think feathers are light. Feathers are not light. Feathers stick to your skin.”
“What I’m hoping is this madness with the city and the park does not flow over to Wigstock. You now, from the city closing Tompkins Square down after dark. I personally don’t think the homeless should be there. But I don’t think the homeless should have to be there when there are millions going to welfare hotels and all these empty buildings are sitting all over the city.
“I’ve been a performer so long I sometimes think, what am I doing out here sitting in the daylight at Wigstock? But, you know, it’s kinda cute. It’s much better than doing drag shows at someplace like Fire Island because Fire Island is no longer a drag queen haven. It’s turned its back on drag queens and minorities and reverted to the place it was 30 years ago: very white and off center. Its drawn its doors closed and shut off into little cliques. I am quite through with Fire Island. After Wigstock, I might try and find another beach where we could start another Fire Island of our own.”
“Wigstock has always been a loving event,” said Rupaul still sweating from an aerobics workout at Mega Fitness. “If you don’t count the year those boys came back from a lacrosse game and attacked some queens. I’m sending love energy to the park right now. I hope, hope, hope it’s peaceful. I wouldn’t want to make little of the feelings of the homeless people in the park. I’m just channeling peace.
“At this point in the history of civilization, people are discovering a truthful vision of themselves. Republicans are scared because their whole world is coming apart at the seams.
“Drag is satire of façade. It’s a sign that people want to be free and wild. I’m wearing a total look created by Matthew and Zaldy, the new trend fashion czars. I don’t know how the Pat Buchanon’s of the world will take me. But I’m a registered voter, so I don’t care. The mere fact that I’m out there is an affront to them. Every time I bat my eyelashes it’s a political act.”
by Michael Musto
Sometime in the last year the oddest thing happened: drag popped out of the box.
Suddenly, talk shows can’t get enough of drag queens’ sensationalism. Pop rock videos milk their well-accessorized charisma. This year’s wigstock, the eight annual celebration of outrageous coifs, too much eyeliner, and too high heels, drew television cameras and larger than ever crowds to New York’s Tompklins Square Park. Drag isn’t just more socially acceptable now: it’s the baton twirler at the head of th3e parade.
As with every sexual trend these days, Madonna gets a bit of the credit – for putting her male back up dancers in Gaultier bras. But so do The B-52’s and George Michael for casting drags in their videos, and the novelty band Deee-Lite for its crossdressing entourage. Designer Todd Oldham introduced runway model Billy Beyond, whose feminine strut titillated the fashion world. Jennie Livingston brought drag to the movies last year with Paris Is Burning, her documentary about a group of colorfully oppressed voguers. Everyone felt sorry for the drags, and as a result , the most unlikely people were to be around them. Or even be them. Drag was so ready for mass consumption that it seemed almost passé when marketing whiz Tama Janowitz titled her new novel The Male Cross Dresser Support Group.
“It’s a reaction to the political climate,” says drag performer La Homa Van Zandt. “Everyone’s snapping from what we’ve been living through the last 12 years – this horrible family values garbage.” Family values as the White House dictate traditional roles – man as breadwinner, woman as homemaker, single mother as tramp – so dated they’re almost campy entertainment in themselves. In it’s counterassault the gay community has bonded even tighter, and drag has become a politics of defiance, of sexual freedom, of pride. But the culture is diverse: for every angry statement, there’s a joke to offer relief from the crisis of AIDS and the realization that at the highest levels so little is being done.
Why such mass appeal? PERHAPS BECAUSE most Americans realize they don’t fit into Dan Quayle’s stereotypes, either. Nor are prejudices as widely felt as the White House seems to think. Especially after Houston with the Bush-Quayle ticket wrapped in far right, born again rhetoric, a lot of voters feel downright contentious, ad able to appreciate the light rebellion of drag. The fact that drag performers deal in positive, likable energy marked them easy to embrace – as does the audience’s awareness that the drags are spoofing themselves in the act.
Amid this new burst of sequins, some drag stars have emerged and made strides not seen since the late underground-film star Divine became a celebrity in John Waters’s films. Mannequin Lypsinka (real name John Epperson) elevates the lip synch experience to an art form, mouthing perfectly every inflection, every punctuation mark, every breath of well-known songs. This year you could have read her lips in George Michael’s video “Too Funky”. Chanteuse John Kelly who has capped many a Wigstock with his warbling rendition of Joni Mitchell’s famous tribute to the original Woodstock festival, performs regularly at Lamama and at The Kitchen; this Spring he will play Carnegie’s Recital Hall as Dagmar Onassis, illegitimate daughter of Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. Dame Edna Everidge has gone so far as to and her own specials – on NBC yet! Edna is a middle aged frump who fancies herself royal as she sniffs bunches of “gladdies” and performs a love/hate tango with show biz that’s even edgier than Lypsinka’s. Television is definitely drag’s new medium. Liquid Television, on MTV, recently featured a segment called “Art School Girls Of Doom” starring Cody Field and Gina Varla Vetro as wacky gals in search of love and laughs. New York cable offers ‘Come’nget it” a deadpan cooking show in which a stubbly beauty whips high cholesterol treats.
For eight years now Bunny has crystallized the downtown drag scene by organizing Wigstock, featuring drag performers strutting their stuff until darkness falls and their makeup melts. With the audience dressing up as much as the performers, the event made for a stunning visual treatment to the widening drag boom. Acts include DeAundra Peek, who purposely (one hopes) Sings off key; the BoyBar Beauties; and tall, glamorous RUPaul.
Wild About Wigstock
by Billy Van Parys
Wigstock is serious business. Just ask Lady Bunny. On a recent afternoon, the event’s esteemed founder was waxing nostalgic over the 1990 Wigstock memorial tribute she’d organized in honor of the downtown performance artists Ethyl Eichelberger and International Chrysis. There she was the lady remembers, in the midst of yet another ordeal at Thompkins Square, her infamous hypoglycemic fit during Wigstock ’87 (we won’t go into it, except to say that all drag queens were NOT created equal) still fresh in far too many minds. This time Bunny was apoplectic because the giant balloon –suspended wig she had launched was bound for the trees rather than the heavens. As Bunny spastically watched the wig’s progress, the audience was convinced she was heading headlong into the grips of Tourette’s syndrome.
“I wince when I watch that scene on videotape,” she confesses.”Instead of being stately, all I see is myself barking ‘NO! NO! Keep passing! Keep passing! I wanted the crowd to move the balloons over so they wouldn’t get stuck in the trees. It kind of ruined it for me.”
But Bunny is never one to – well almost never – leave her fans with a bad taste in their mouths. The instant her dutiful mission was accomplished, her faux-ditz demeanor took over once more, and Wigstock resumed its wacky and well-executed course. The balloons went up, and the Lady’s spirits soared. “It was touching,” she demurs. “Lord knows those queens can’t get enough recognition.”
Which at Wigstock is the name of the game. Recognition is what mainstream pop culture has begun to bestow on Wigstock Generation drag as it impacts music and fashion – everything from Deee-Lite to décolletage. It is the obscure object of desire craved by the talented, self-promoting drag queens who reign over the city’s second largest annual gay event. For the past nine years Bunny and her collaborator, artist Scott Lifshutz, Have nurtured this off beat love fest from obscure parody into a world-renowned “rambunctious outdoor dragfest, unparalleled “fashion” spectacle and sick-a-delic spiritual gathering.” And along the way, Wigstock has revolutionized drag while promoting an entirely new cultural aesthetic.
In 1984, the light of day was a concept foreign to most denizens of the East Village’s Pyramid Club. One night, Brian Butterick, Michael “Kitty” Ullman, Wendy Wild, several members of the Fleshtones and “ a few half baked trannies” closed the club and, six packs in tow, took to the stage of the Thompkins Square bandshell. There someone suggested having a drag oriented parody of Woodstock.
“I guess the idea would have vanished right then and there, but I was into the idea of outdoor things.” After participating in Tom Rubnitz’s glittery Drag Queen Marathon, Bunny wanted to unveil a new dimension to drag. “I didn’t want it to be just running around in limousines being fabulous, because I didn’t think that was where it was at.” Where it was at , she believed was on the stage, and, since every queen knows all the world’s a stage, Bunny was determined to explore beyond the confines of 101 Avenue A.
“I wanted to organize some kind of performance because I think the combination of drag and daylight is so outrageous and freaky,” she explains. Hysterical perhaps but historical as well. “Drag is a bona fide theatrical device that has been used since the beginning of time,” she lectures, “be it Greek classical drama, or Shakespeare, or whatever.”
“Wig stock is not about Lizas. It’s more about Bunnys and Billys [Erb] and Sisters [ Dimension],” says Wigstock generation designer Todd Oldham, who in 1987 named his holiday collection after “Lypsinka, Tabboo!”, “The trannies that have slipped into the true mainstream can’t hold a candle to the genius that Wigstock has to offer.
“Wigstock grew out of the new gay aesthetic,” explains Lifshutz, “a postmodern gayness that’s totally media-wise, and informed about everything. The old gay community was informed by Hollywood, and only Hollywood. This is all about TV, and art, and each other. And the Pyramid, where this started, was like the hub of that whole new expression.”
Over the years , the emergence of trash drag, bunny’s penchant for “a crappy, idiot act” and the ever-changing scene has pruned much of the Woodstock from Wigstock. Bands faded from the scene. Neo-psychedelia died twice. The dawn of the diva descended. House and dance music took over. The sounds of Deee-Lite and Ultra Nate usurped those of John Kelly doing Joni Mitchell and Jelly Joplin. In the process Wigstock developed a character all its own. “It doesn’t need to be so much of a parody anymore.” Says Bunny. “A lot of people see Wigstock as an uplifting spiritual thing, like a hipper version of Gay Pride Day. Besides, what faggot doesn’t want to see a black female vocalist wailing away?”
Whatever the reasons for its success, as the crowds and caliber of the show continue to grow, so do the expenses and amount of time needed to organize the event. Who would have imagined it would come to this?
“It’s been a crash course in bureaucracy,” Lifshutz says.”who knew anything about a vending license? I thought you could just go into a parka and sell things.” Meanwhile, Wigstock’s budget has skyrocketed. “We’ve decided to get serious,” Lifshutz says. The event has put out for a 2 million dollar liability insurance policy, a $10,000 stage and sound system and $2500 for professionally printed programs – and this doesn’t even begin to address Bunny’s gowns and wigs. (Lifshutz points out that Bunny always needs at least three on her head every year)
Wigstock: all's well that ends well
The city narrowly avoided a really bad hair day yesterday when it made an exception to a last-minute ruling that would have left Monday’s annual Wigstock festival about as full as Sigourney Weaver’s “Alien 3” buzzcut. Late Thursday, the drag extravaganza’s organizing committee, led by top transvestite Lady Bunny, was informed that a new regulation that purportedly went into effect with the reopening of Tompkins Square Park limited all “amplified” events at the controversy-plagued site to four hours. Problem is, the Wigstock head hairpieces had earlier gotten a Police Dept. permit for eight hours of amplified follicular fun – and had thus scheduled acts, including Deee-Lite and Deborah Harry, for that amount of time. “This is the time that I should be running around getting my wigs,” sighed Bunny, who was busy getting City Councilman Tome Duane and Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger to argue on Wigstock’s behalf. “The (performers) we’ve got coming in from out of town are going to be greeted with the news, ‘You’re canceled.’ I think it’s insane we’re being treated this way.” Meanwhile, Parks Dept. spokesman Skip Garrett seemed at split, er, loose ends. “My God, eight hours of drag? 'Gone with the Wind' only lasted four hours!” he exclaimed, adding: “When the neighborhood found out that they were going to get blasted for eight hours they raised cain. Last year they had it at Union Square Park. It’s not surrounded by residences.” But shortly after one caller indicated that at least one attorney was threatening the city with a lawsuit, Michael Carson from the mayor’s office told us the event had received an extension to it original full-length.