Lady Bunny- Reviving Wigstock, Manhattan’s Kiddie Clubland and Ten Walls (Interview)
“Some straights hate gays. When they voice it publicly, we learn who our enemies are. I may get hate mail for this, but I believe in free speech. That means that you’re free to say whatever you like EVEN IF I DON’T LIKE IT. Even if you’re saying that I’m sick or that you hate me and my kind.
But then again, I don’t personally believe that I’m sick so that accusation doesn’t bother me. And I know that festivals cancelled Ten Walls to be PC, but was he hired as a preacher or as a DJ?”
Chatting to Skrufff this week about the revival of her seminal counter-culture drag festival Wigstock, New York iconic drag queen Lady Bunny, stresses she’s firmly against censorship, whatever the circumstances.
“Stevie Wonder made some anti-gay statements a couple years ago that shocked his fans. But he’s a musical genius and I still play him,” she said.
“And I’m really tired of this attitude of banning what words or opinions you dislike.”
Which is just as well, given her own willingness to speak her mind such as on the current state of New York nightlife.
“Manhattan’s gay club scene is hanging by a thread. No large nightly gay club exists in Manhattan at the moment. There are plenty of Disney shows, though: New York City is hopping if you’re five years old”, she laughs.
“And as for bottle service and VIP areas, I despise them, “she continues, “I honestly don’t understand who would spend $500 for a bottle of vodka that costs $50 in a liquor store—a banker trying to impress a model/hooker girlfriend?”
Fellow gay icons Madonna and Lady Gaga are also up for debate though she’s aware some will be upset.
“You can’t even criticize Madonna among certain gay men. Through her Sex book or back-up dancers, she provided some of the first images of homoerotica to an entire generation of gay men. So their self-worth is always tied to her. If you criticize her, you criticize them,” says Bunny.
But . . . I was just always mystified that everyone thought Madonna was so cutting edge. She always seemed behind the curve to me,” she chuckles, “And by the time she was tongue-kissing Britney to appear scandalous, she started to seem ridiculous.”
And Lady Gaga?
“I just got so sick of the trying-too-hard looks. I know this sounds odd coming from a drag queen who wears giant wigs and outlandish costumes, but I think if Gaga had focused more on quality songs, maybe her audience would have stayed more loyal.” (see below for more Bunny on Madonna and Gaga)
Dominating New York’s drag scene since she first arrived on Manhattan’s underground club scene in the 80s (with fellow Atlanta future drag star Ru Paul) Lady Bunny started her club career at Pyramid, the tiny though seminal post-punk club located close to Tompkins Square Park.
Then a genuinely dangerous no-go zone for regular citizens at risk from packs of crazies, smack addicts and/ or the local skinhead gang who made 8th street and Avenue A their home) the park was the main location for Wigstock, the drag queen festival Bunny and friends invented in 1984.
Attracting up to 30,000 revellers at its height, the annual event was celebrated in Wigstock: The Movie in 1995 and continued for ten more years until rain stopped play (‘no-one likes soggy drag queens’, as Bunny points out.
Ten years on, Wigstock is returning though this time on a cruise ship setting off from Pier 40 near Christopher Street on Saturday August 16 featuring performers including Sister Dimension, Linda Simpson, HRH Princess Diandra, Flotilla Debarge, Sweetie, Sugga Pie Koko, David Ilku and Flloyd and DJ Johnny Dynell. Tickets are US$40 in advance, a rate Bunny says is higher than she’d like.
“We’re just trying this on the boat as part of an annual summer series. I wish the tickets could be cheaper because many folks are plain broke. But they are getting 10 performers, 2 djs, free food and a glorious boat ride around Manhattan’s skyline for that price,” she says.
“Wigstock used to be free and I wish it still could be. But if this cruise version of the event goes well, we’re going to work on approaching existing festivals about having a Wigstock stage as part of them in the future.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): You’re reviving Wigstock following a ten-year gap since the last time; what have you learned in the last decade?
Lady Bunny: “To do events in spaces with a roof or at least partially covered. And to stick with talent or at least something that makes you scratch your head and think “How insane.” Reality TV has taught youth that you need no talent to be a star. So there are lots of young drag queens who look gorgeous with perfect make-up but have no clue what to do on a stage. All of the performers on board for this event are well-seasoned and have worked for decades.”
Skrufff: Will there be any dress code/ door policy on the boat?
Lady Bunny: “Anything goes! Sister Dimension, a founder and resident DJ at the Pyramid Club, is planning such an elaborate costume that we had to check the boat to make sure it would fit onto the stage. One thing that I loved about Wigstock is that the audience dressed up as well as the performers, which made for a carnival atmosphere. Something about wearing a wig just pushes your adrenaline button.
We’re having a Wackiest Wig Contest to get the ball rolling. I DJed on a different cruise this past Sunday and if you explore the top deck, the wind will destroy any delicate coiffure. And the boat does rock, so I do recommend lower heels or wedges for a firmer footing. I know that drag queens are supposed to wear only the highest stilettos imaginable, but just this once, use a little caution.”
Skrufff; I understood you stopped because of the rain: how was the weather one year on?
Lady Bunny: “We were so lucky with the weather for 16 years. Then we had downpours for a couple years in a row. No one likes soggy drag queens. The year that we would have done it had we continued, it poured all day. So I called Scott Lifshutz, my co-organizer, and we rejoiced that we’d made the right move in discontinuing it. And we’d thrown this party for 20 years. I went on to tour constantly and Scott’s become a successful painter, but we’re now ready to try and make it happen again.”
Skrufff: Lydia Lunch said in a recent interview: “Madonna and Lady Gaga have stylists who are cultural vampires who steal the ideas from the underground then elevate transgression to a mainstream,” she adds. “Complete fraudulence on every front. These are my enemies.” (Guardian; http://bit.ly/1IbSOU2 )
Lady Bunny: “You can’t even criticize Madonna among certain gay men. Through her Sex book or back-up dancers, she provided some of the first images of homoerotica to an entire generation of gay men. So their self-worth is always tied to her. If you criticize her, you criticize them.
I’m not a big fan but she’s had some undeniable pop smashes. I even like Living For Love—the Djemba Djemba remix. I think I like it because as with Like A Prayer, a black female vocalist or two jumps in to help her vocals.
Most of Gaga’s music isn’t my cup of tea. However, she can really sing. When she sits down with just a piano and belts, she’s a rock star. I’ve seen her electrify even a jaded fashion crowd in NYC. So I guess it’s a good move for her to use her strong voice on the standards she’s currently doing with Tony Bennett. I prefer those to songs she writes.
Few current pop divas can sing at all, so at least she has that.
I just got so sick of the trying too hard looks. I know that sounds odd coming from a drag queen with giant wigs and outlandish costumes, but I think if Gaga had focused more on quality songs, maybe her audience would have stayed more loyal. The fashion parade may have kept her name in the papers, but it seemed desperate and it deemphasized her actual music. And the looks were more creative than some of her later tunes.
I adore Lydia Lunch and when she covered Spooky, she totally made it her own. I love the discordant horns of that whole album—I’ve really never heard anything like it since. But not everyone is as unique as Lydia, so they will appropriate other’s creations as Madonna, Gaga and many others have done.
And some don’t want to be too imaginative because their goal is to become as huge as possible—and their product is tailored to that end. But I’m not sure that I would call them fraudulent on “every” front.
I was just always mystified that everyone thought Madonna was so cutting edge. She always seemed behind the curve to me. And by the time she was tongue-kissing Britney to appear scandalous, she started to seem ridiculous.
However, I do question the people who dismiss Madonna because she’s old. If the music is good, I could care less which age she is. As a DJ, I evaluate artists on a song to song basis. I worship Patti Labelle’s voice, but she’s put out some stinkers. That doesn’t make me love her great stuff any less.”
Skrufff: How much of a problem for you has it been of cultural vampire stylists stealing your attitude?
Lady Bunny: “None at all. I doubt if anyone wants mine! Actually, I get a kick out of the fact that many drag queens copy Drag Race queens like Bianca Del Rio and now wear upper and lower false eyelashes. I’ve been wearing them for decades and I certainly didn’t invent the look—it was all the rage in the late 1960s.
I just hope that when the queens have moved on to another look they aren’t going to wonder why I’m still working the lower lashes long after they’re out of style. I’m working it because my eyes are beady and close together. It’s corrective make-up for me—not a quick trend which will go out of fashion.”
Skrufff: You’re off to Greece: any concerns about getting caught up in a revolution? or famine?
Lady Bunny: “Famine? Hardly! Better warn them that I may bring a food shortage to go along with the recession. Oink! I was fascinated by the leftie party winning, but they seem to be backtracking now and giving into the european banks and more austerity. Which is sad, because Greece might lead the way to a real power to the people moment which could influence the Spain, Portugal and the UK in turn. But I’m not an expert on Greek politics. I hope to become an expert on Greek foreskin.”
Skrufff: How likely is a revolution in the US?
Lady Bunny: “Jonty! You really threw a curveball with that one. It’s forcing me to align current affairs with the hour-glass of my advanced years you’ve forced me to turn over. And it aint an hour-glass figure!
People are waking up slowly. I think video footage of police murdering black people and usually not getting charged has caused a real awakening to the fact that we pay police to protect us, yet they sometimes do the opposite. This isn’t just a case of a few bad apples in the police force. It’s many bad bushels within our law enforcement agencies which may not commit acts of brutality themselves, but their silence permits it. And the higher ups who tacitly approve of it or may even encourage it.
I’m not anti-police, but there is a certain type of person who seeks the job of an order-establishing figure. Often, it’s someone who genuinely cares about the community they live in. But you run the risk of also getting sadistic types who get off on abusing their power, especially against those they’re prejudiced against, with the knowledge that their position close to the law gives them the benefit of the doubt.
Many whites are now realizing that what blacks have complained about for ages is actually a real horror that many live. If it won’t change under our first mixed race president, when will it fucking change? If you stop and think about having to state that #blacklivesmatter, it’s incredibly sad that people are begging for their lives after a spate of these killings.
There are so many incidents to choose from, but Freddie Gray (who sparked the Baltimore protests) was killed in the back of an ambulance during a “nickel ride”. That’s when they put an injured suspect in the back of a police van and drive so roughly that they’re killed en route to the police station. Can you even fathom that this happens often enough to warrant it’s own nickname as a known police tactic? It’s barbaric! And if your law enforcement agents are barbaric and you don’t rise up against them, you’re either stupid or have a death wish.
At the same time, people are growing weary of Washington’s corruption. Although Hillary Clinton has most of the Democrats’ campaign dollars, Bernie Sanders’ star is rising and he’s being forced to move to much larger venues for his campaign events.
Bernie is an old, grumpy socialist jew from with a bad haircut. He has none of the trappings of a “political rock star” like Obama or Hillary. Yet his ideas of getting money and corruption out of politics and benefitting the average worker are really seeping through. Even with some Republican voters, who sense his honesty and appreciate that he hasn’t waffled on big issues like Hillary, Obama or other corporate Democrats who are so centrist that they’re Republican lite.
So Bernie’s sincerity may reach those disenfranchised voters who didn’t see much fundamental change under Obama. As under Bush, the wealth has kept flowing to the 1% who are getting richer and richer as the middle class dies and people become the “working poor”—with two heads of households working full time but still needing food stamps to survive.
More timid—or maybe practical—Democrats will whine that while they agree with Bernie’s ideas, he could never win in a general election so we’d get a Republican douchebag like Donald Trump. That’s why America needs to vote with courage instead of fear. Because if Hillary wins, we get a Republican who’s just better on social issues.
But all of her top donors are banks—so she’ll never go to bat for working Americans. Just as Obama failed to. Obama proved that corrupt DC good ole boys come in all colours. Hillary will prove that they can be female as well.
I actually wish Bernie would leave the Democratic party. Obama has tainted it with war and currently with his disastrous Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is a secret trade deal designed to shaft American workers. It governs 40% of world trade and will outsource US jobs, make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to gouge and even allow corporations to sue any country’s government which gets in the way of it’s profits. Even it’s perceived, future profits.
So the president is weakening the sovereignty of the nation he’s running. And we only know what’s in it because of Wikileaks. As with the police who are meant to protect us killing us, the politicians we elect to represent us are actively screwing us. It’s very dark. How much darker does it have to get before people revolt? Blacks are out in the streets now. I’m ready to join them. Did I mention that I’m changing my name to Lady Bernie?
The thing that’s bizarre to me is people’s apathy. They’ve been in a worsening financial pinch for decades, yet it’s beyond most to search for politicians with remedies. However, almost everyone has an opinion on Bruce Jenner transitioning into Caitlyn Jenner and some reality TV star who was a serial pedophile a decade ago. Very lurid and fascinating tales, but at the end of the day, a celebrity sex change isn’t going to change your life one bit.”
Wigstock performers include Sister Dimension, Linda Simpson, HRH Princess Diandra, Flotilla Debarge, Sweetie, Sugga Pie Koko, David Ilku and Flloyd. DJ Johnny Dynell FOR TICKETS: http://bit.ly/1Was94o