Script for May 2007, QMH:
Christine Jorgensen - Welcome To My World (1985, part)
Yes, welcome to my show, and if you're interested in Transgender Music, then it was indeed built with you in mind. This is Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and I think I have a special show for you this month, focusing on transgendered artists and performers. Later in the show I will feature interviews with Terry Noel, one of the performers in the early 60s from the famous Jewel Box Revue, and then jump to the present to hear from Sarafina Marachino, a founder of the all-transgendered rock band, Lipstick Conspiracy.
I opened the show with Christine Jorgensen, and many of you know that she was the first person to gain widespread attention for having sexual reassignment surgery, or SRS. Starting out as a young man from New York City, George Jorgensen Jr left for Denmark in late 1952, and when returning in February of 1953, as Christine, she was a media sensation. For over thirty years she was popular on the lecture circuit, and known for being an author and a poised and articulate speaker.
Now, I've read her very interesting autobiography and knew that she also did nightclub engagements, but until last year I never suspected that a couple of those shows had been captured. That was done by record producer David Cunard. David grew up in England and was an actor and early in his career also got involved in the recording industry. In 1967 he moved to Los Angeles and in 1975 founded AEI Records, a label devoted to musical theatre and cabaret artists. Being a fan of gay musicals I already knew this, as I have several of those recordings in my collection.
I was very pleased when he contacted me last summer, having seen my extensive coverage on my site of Christine Jorgensen, and he told me he was readying a recording of her nightclub show. Of course I was fascinated, and that project was completed and uploaded to iTunes in December. I thought it would be interesting to hear how this project came about and interviewed David, but before we get to that, let's hear just a snippet of Christine in her show. It's a show of music, stories and impressions, and here's her intro to a very logical song choice.
Christine Jorgensen - intro and "I Enjoy Being a Girl" (1985, part)
Very appropriately, that was a bit of "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and let's hear now from David Cunard how the recording came about.
Tell me about the project to make Christine's cabaret show available.
In 1985 there were a number of cabaret ladies playing around Los Angeles, one of whom was Vivian Blane, and Miss Blane was the first celebrity of any kind to do public service announcements for AIDS, APLA, and I ran a small label called AEI, and I thought it would be a nice idea to record some of these ladies, Vivian Blane was one. And then I saw that Christine was going to be appearing at what was then Studio 1, a discotheque in what is now West Hollywood and I don't recall exactly how I contacted her, but anyway I did and she was delighted at the idea that it would be recorded and so we set up the recording equipment and recorded two evenings, and that's how it started. And then after that we re-recorded it at a restaurant called The Frogpond, and that was right in the heart of Silverlake, which is a predominately gay area. And Chris did a couple of shows there and we recorded those, and that's what you hear on the tape.
[editor's note: after the show aired David wrote me of a correction, Chris was recorded at the Back Lot in December 1982 and the second show (at the Frog Pond) in early 1983]
And how did you get interested in recording Christine?
Well, I suppose just the fact that she was a novelty. Small labels like my own strived on unusual projects. AEI was the first company to ever release London cast recordings in the United States, and a young man whose name is Alan Eichler, who represented a number of older ladies who were maybe just past their prime in stardom and he initially brought Vivian Blane to me. So there was a little circuit, and of course knowing who Christine was and that she was doing her show out here just seemed to be an obvious choice.
How did her show go over?
At The Frogpond it went over very, very well, and that was the second time. At Studio 1, and I doubt you or your listeners have ever been there, they had a small theatre there I say small, small by comparison to regular theatre, but it was very big for a cabaret space and it wasn't really intimate enough, and some of her material fell rather flat, I'm afraid, and it wasn't particularly well rehearsed. She of course had been doing a lot of material on the lecture circuit, talking about sexuality, transgenderism and so on, and she'd been away from the cabaret stage for some time, so this was in a way a sort of comeback for her, not that she'd ever been away, but a comeback in terms of cabaret. And maybe some of her material was just a bit old fashioned for what was a very young group at the discotheque. But at the restaurant, The Frogpond, which is a much smaller, intimate space, that was very successful, and they loved her.
For such a speciality niche market it can be cost prohibitive to release CDs, so what was your approach for the marketing?
When iTunes came along, I approached them, initially they weren't interested in independents to start with, but 18 months ago they said yes, we would be interested and I uploaded some of the material. I think about 25 or 30 albums, including Christine's on iTunes.
What other gay related recordings have you uploaded to iTunes?
Oh, "Boy Meets Boy," of course, and "Joseph McCarthy Is Alive and Living in Dade County." [Charles Pierce?] Oh, pardon me, Charles Pierce, yes, that's a thank you for reminding me. It didn't come to mind because I didn't actually produce it but a friend of mind did, and he had the label Wanda Records.
Any plans for additional recordings?
Well, with regard to Christine, she did do an interesting part, which I had not considered 20+ years ago. Towards the end of her show, after doing the singing and everything else, a few jokes she did a lot of quick changes as well, which was very clever, she did a question-and-answer sequence, which apparently she had perfected in her lectures to students, when she was lecturing on sexuality. And she learned to deal with all kinds of people, and she said, even though there was alcohol being served, she would do it, because she knew that she could handle any questions that were maybe not so proper. And that's a very interesting part of what she did was to answer questions about what she felt about gay life, and so on. She actually wasn't I can't say that she was in the forefront of gay rights at all. I think she had very ambivalent feelings about gay men I mean, she was surrounded by them, and this is a whole generation ago.
Well, hopefully David will proceed with the project for the interview recording, I'd love to hear it, but you can find the nightclub recording on iTunes. It's called "Christine Jorgensen: I Enjoy Being a Girl, An Evening of Songs & Laughter."
Before we leave this segment here's just a little more of it. This time she's doing an impression of Marlene Deitrich.
Christine Jorgensen - See What the Boys in the Backroom Will Have (1985)
Christine Jorgensen had her sex change in 1952 and for my next guest that process started in 1965. That story is very interesting but also is her earlier history. Her name is Terry Noel and she was a performer in the famous Jewel Box Revue and also at the 82 Club in New York City. She was therefore a professional female impersonator. A note about the Jewel Box Revue. Before Stonewall there were a number of well-known drag clubs, such as Finnochio's in San Francisco, the Club My-O-My in New Orleans and the 82 Club in New York, but there was really only one touring company of female impersonators that became famous, and that was the Jewel Box Revue. It started in 1939 at a club in Miami and in the early 1940's starting touring the country, billed as "Twenty-Five Men and a Girl." The company lasted until 1975, although there have been others since then using that name.
I was delighted last year when one of the Jewel Box Revue performers, Terry Noel, contacted me and we've been corresponding ever since. I simply could not pass up getting her story captured for this show.
Where did you grow up?
Well, I grew up in a small town in Kentucky and actually it's a good thing, because I wasn't mistreated, you know, by the folks who lived there. A lot of people I hear about were mistreated in their youth and I wasn't. I was lucky.
Tell me about your start as a female impersonator?
In 1958 I won a drag contest at a local bar where I was hanging out, first time I'd ever done any such thing as that, and somebody handed me a magazine that had the address of the Jewel Box Revue in New York. And so I wrote to them on a lark and sent them pictures. And they called me like two weeks later and asked me to join the show. So I joined the show in Asbury Park, New Jersey, early in 1959. And I was with them for, oh I guess 15 months until I landed in New York City. I really hated the road, because the Jewel Box Revue was a traveling show.
Did you have the name Terry Noel then? Is that your real name, your stage name? How did you pick that name?
Well, Terry is my actual middle name, and it was my mother's maiden name. Noel was taken from a guy I used to know. He was French Canadian. And his name was Noel, so I just took that.
Human nature being what it is, people are going to be curious about your age, do you mind sharing that?
No, I'll be 71 at the end of this summer.
What was your performing experience up to the point where you joined the Jewel Box Revue?
Absolutely nothing. I had never performed anything except piano, cause I played piano all my life. But I never performed you know, if you're asking about performing in night clubs or anything, nothing like that. I played for church, and I played for, you know, various activities at school and so on, but nothing, nothing that you could call a professional performance, no.
That's kind of amazing that they hired you.
Well, I wasn't hired as a performer, I was hired as window dressing, I was hired as a showgirl, and all you have to do is stand there and sing and parade around and, you know, participate in the production numbers and so on, so it was an easy gig really.
What were some of the more famous venues at which you performed?
Oh, my gosh, here we go. We performed you're talking about the Jewel Box Revue? We performed in a lot of supper clubs and we performed in regular theatre houses, and we also performed in big movie houses. And in that situation we would go in, start getting ready. They would show a film, and then after the film was over we would do a show. And it went on like that, film show, film show, into the evening, and in the supper clubs they would serve dinner to a bunch of guests and we would do a show while they were eating, and like that, you know. And in the theatres we would do like two a day, something like that. It was fun but boy the travel would just wear you down to a nub.
I understand one of the venues was the Apollo Theatre.
Boy, yes, that was a great experience. We were there for a long time, maybe six or seven weeks one summer and those folks were so nice to us. I'll tell you, they were great people. And they enjoyed us. We did have some protesting going on outside when we first opened, you know, big signs and things, but that didn't last but a couple of days and then we got into our regular routine.
What did you do in the JBR, what kind of act did you have?
In the JBR I was a showgirl, like I said, and it was centered around production numbers actually. We had some acts, some singing and dancing and so on, acts, and they did that and we would do production numbers as well. And I was one of the showgirls, just in the background like, and then, when we were in New York, at Maksik's, which was the most beautiful club we ever played, we formed a singing trio and I was one of the girls who sang, so we had great fun doing that.
What type of songs did you sing, do you remember?
With the trio you mean? Oh, gosh I can't remember. Mostly up-tempo things, sort of a la Andrews Sisters things.
Things that would be popular on the radio?
Yeah, yeah, you know but not rock & roll or anything like that. It was standards, mostly, yeah.
How did you move from the JBR to the 82 Club?
I got really tired of the travel, like I said, living out of the suitcase and traveling on a bus all over the country. And when we played New York at Maksik's, somebody introduced me to Kitt Russell, who was the director of The 82. And I happened to have a photo from the Jewel Box Revue which showed me in a scene with the male dancers, where I was sitting on their knees and so on, and it reminded her of herself, Kitt Russell, and so she asked me to join the show, and boy, was I glad to do so.
Who were some of the famous female impersonators you worked with?
Lynne Carter was the headline in the Jewel Box. She was the main person. Robbie Ross was a fine performer who performed in the Jewel Box as well. Billy Daye, who did an impersonation of Billie Holiday, and was really popular at The Apollo, you can imagine. Gosh, there were so many. I'm trying not to leave out anybody but memory fades actually it was 40 plus years ago
Did you work with Ty Bennett?
Now that was at The 82. If you're going to talk about The 82 it was Ty Bennett, Kim August. I don't know if you've heard of Kim August. She was a fantastic singer. And let's see, that was about it so far as headliners were concerned at The 82. It was a pretty stable show. People didn't go, you know, didn't leave, come and go much there, cause it was a solid venue and it was very popular then, and it was easy to live there and work there, in New York.
The people I'm most familiar with, because they had recordings, were Lynn Carter and Ty Bennett, do you have any special memories of them?
Well, Ty was a very private person and very personable, you know, and funny as the devil on stage. And Kim of course was my dear friend. I just loved her to death. She used to sing "Little Girl Blue" for me when it would get late at night, you know, and she would perform that song for me because I loved it so, but she quite a singer. I really appreciated her talent. Ty was more or less sort of reminded you of Sophie Tucker, you know, way back, who did a lot of patter, and was very good at it. He was very good at his craft. And then of course Jackie Maye was also in the shows. Have you heard of Jackie Maye? She sang and did very well and was quite good at her craft too, because she'd been around for a very long time, even then she'd already been around for years and years.
Any special memories of Lynne Carter?
Oh, Lynne was a hoot, yeah. She was very kind to me, I know that. And she impersonated Pearl Bailey, as I recall, and then she also did a flapper number with Robbie Ross, and they came out doing, you know, the Charleston, and she was very, very talented. She did other impersonations too. I believe she did a Josephine Baker impersonations too, and Bette Davis. She did a lot of real impersonations of stars.
Did you work with TC Jones?
No, I did not. TC Jones was gone from the Jewel Box when I joined. But I did see TC Jones at a venue in Greenwich Village once, and boy, was he talented, my gosh, I even saw him on a television program, a drama where he played a killer who impersonated a female nurse. It was really interesting. He did really well.
[Note: he played Nurse Betty Ames on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, in 1965, in an episode called "The Unlocked Window"]
Hermione Baddeley - I Changed My Sex a Week Ago Today (1961)
Back to the interview with Terry Noel.
Of the folks you worked with at the 82 Club and JBR, what percent of them would you say were gay?
Oh, I would say 98%, of course. There were a couple who were not, who were just impersonating for the money, you know, and went home to their wives and so on, but most of them I would say were gay.
Any guess at what percent were transgendered?
There were no people transgendered in the Jewel Box in late '59 and early 60's that I was aware of. At The 82 there were I guess maybe three, tops, three, only three. Cause actually it was a fairly new phenomenon then, you know, and people kind of looked down on it actually, like mutilation of yourself and so on.
Also, I wonder if the venues would have considered transgendered performers as kind of a contradiction of the illusion.
They might have, but those who were going who were taking hormones and things sort of hid it, you know, it was common knowledge but not to the management, cause the management was very strict on us at The 82 Club. You know, there was no leaving the club in drag or anything. If you did that you could just kiss your job goodbye, except on New Year's Eve.
And why did they do that?
Why did they do that. Well, because there were laws about it, and even though, you know, the club was the club was managing the police pretty well, we just couldn't slap them in the face like that, but on New Year's Eve somehow we would be able to get away with it.
Did you experience any police harassment or problems?
No, never. There was a time though, there toward the end, where I was already in the process of my transition, my SRS, where I came home at four o'clock like we always did from The Club 82, and I got out of the cab, and I ran up my steps and a police car stopped and two cops got out and chased me up the steps, until I told them that I worked at The 82 Club, and I was coming home from work, that's all, and they just let me go.
Describe a typical JBR show.
Well, oh, it would start out with a production number, where we sort of presented ourselves to the audience, and then there would be acts, a couple of acts and then we would do another production number, maybe a couple of acts and we would do a finale. It was about a two-hour show, maybe a little over maybe two hours each time. I don't know what, exactly what you want to know.
Was it original music, or songs of the day?
We took music from for instance we did a number called "American in Paris" and we used Gershwin's music for that. The people who did their own acts, now they the standards of the day and so on, in their acts. But the production numbers were mostly things that had been done, you know, before and had maybe been taken from a Broadway show or something.
And it was all real singing?
Oh, yeah, we had a band every time. We never lip-synced anything. Nothing was lip-synced, nothing was recorded. We always had a live band, even at The 82 and we would have a house band at every theatre we went to.
Okay, what was it like to be an 82 and JBR girl. Was it fun, was it strictly work, showbiz?
Well, the JBR was a traveling show, as I said, and we would rehearse sometimes during the day, but we would also have downtime, and it was during the downtime that we would create new shows from scratch, and then we would I mean we were always working, in the daytime, or performing, one or the other. At The 82 Club we were constantly rehearsing, and the schedule was really a killer because we would we would have our shows until 4:00 am, and our rehearsals would start like at 10:00 am, and we would have to be at some rehearsal hall somewhere to do, to create new numbers. So that was really hard. That was the hardest of all. We would have long periods where we would not be creating a new show, but in general we would be rehearsing a great deal for The 82 Club and working at night all the while.
Oh, it was. And we did 18 shows a week at The 82 Club, for $65 a week. We supplied our own makeup, our own hair, our own undergarments, our own stockings. They supplied the heels and the costumes, so on 65 bucks we also had to supply all those things.
I understand that many celebrities would come to the 82 Club, and that you even dated one of them, Could you tell us about that?
The music you've been hearing in the background throughout this interview was Terry on piano and I'm pleased that she sent me a recording of her playing and singing. Here is her doing the song "Lies of Handsome Men"
Terry Noel - Lies of Handsome Men (2006)
Terry Noel. Do you do much performing these days?
No, I have a little talent on the piano and I play around at some retirement homes here, you know, captive audiences, so they can't get away until I'm through, and I sing a little bit, and I don't know it has to be a captive audience.
How many folks were in the cast of the JBR?
Well, they advertised as "25 Men and a Girl"
With that many female impersonators was there competition, or was it a family affair?
It was pretty much easy go, because we were all under the same stress, you know, it was just get the job done.
So, you joined the JBR in '59? And stayed with them how long?
About 15 months I would say and then joined The 82 Club.
And how long did you work for that?
Until 1966. I had my SRS surgery in September of '65, and I stayed with the show, they were kind enough to let me do that, until I found an office job, which was in February of '66, and then I left the show for good.
Did you say, okay, I'm going to get my surgery and then leave show business, what that your plan?
They didn't want me in the show after I had the surgery, but it was my plan to leave anyway, because I didn't want to be in the show after my surgery actually. I wanted to get a regular life, you know, fade into society, and that's what I did.
At what age did you realize you wanted to be a woman?
I can't ever remember a time when I didn't want to be female, even when I was a little, little kid. And then when I was about 12, I guess, 11, 12, something like that, I was in the restroom getting some water to wash the green boards in my school for my teacher, and Mr. Morgan, our basketball coach walked out of the shower totally nude. He was the first adult male I'd ever seen nude, and I've never been the same since. And it just sort of progressed beyond that. I tried very hard to be a gay man, I really did, when I learned the facts of life, tried hard, you know, but here's the thing. I could never I never could sleep with a gay man. The instant a gay man showed any interest in my male anatomy it was like somebody turned off the lights. I just didn't I wasn't interested. I wanted a regular Joe and I wanted to be treated like a female. And that's been the fly in the ointment for me because, you know, I should have been a gay man, I guess, but it wasn't that way for me. I don't know why that is, but that was my experience and that's all I can speak about. I just needed I just needed to be the female in the situation, I guess. I adore I have a lot of gay friends and I adore being with them, but when it comes to being down to the nitty gritty I want a regular Joe.
When you moved to New York and joined JBR, did you also start living as a woman?
No, it took me three years to make the decision to have the surgery. No, I didn't think about it for the first couple of years until there were a couple of people that I knew who were having hormones, getting hormone injections and so on, with a famous doctor there who did that sort of thing. And it just sort of seemed like I should do because of the way that I wanted to live my life, you know.
I've read, and I think this is fascinating, that your mother took out a loan to help pay for your surgery and arranged for your birth certificate to be changed.
God bless her, she certainly did. She went to, I don't know, one of those, you know, storefront loan places and got me some money, because I was coming up short on the price, you know, because when I had my very first surgery it was illegal to do in the states at that time. So, what I had to do was pay the hospital administrators under the table to allow the surgery to occur. So it took money, and I didn't have two dimes to rub together actually on 65 bucks a week you can imagine. And so she did go and get a loan and help me pay for it.
And then after it was over the doctor wrote me some papers and I saw a psychiatrist for about ten minutes, and he wrote me a paper too, and my mom took them down to the county clerk and put them on the table, and within a week or so I had an official birth certificate, with no addendums to it. So that there's nothing on there to say that I am transgendered. Now, I know people who are struggling to get something like that. I never had to go to court or anything, they just did it for her.
Yeah, I was going to say, I had the impression it was much more difficult, if even possible.
Some places it is impossible, and will always be impossible.
How did you transition from being a showgirl to an office girl?
Well, I had already been trained in office procedure before I'd ever joined the Jewel Box Revue, and I already had office skills, and I knew I could get a job. I really did know that. That's the one area where I was most confident in all that.
And office work became your career?
Oh, yeah, I worked in several places around New York. I worked in Rockefeller Center, I worked on Wall Street, gosh, I worked at a lot of places, and then I left New York in '69, 1969. I had another surgery in '68 which was the real surgery that made everything right for me, as a woman, and then I left in '69 and moved south.
I understand you moved from New York City to Virginia Beach and got married.
Yeah I did. I went to Virginia Beach and I met a very nice man there, and we were together for 14 years, and we were married, we lived together for three years first, and then we were married, and he brought his son to live with us, from his first marriage. The son was in Europe, so we brought him over and had our little family there, until '85 when we were divorced. And my husband never knew my past. He never knew that I had been a male. He still doesn't know, and neither does my stepson. Now I don't know if that's of any importance or not, but it seems to freak people out, and it's interesting I think to them.
I have the impression that you've lived totally as woman most of your life, and now you're being more public about your story. What are your thoughts on sort of coming out of that closet?
Well, here's the thing. I've reached an age where where I don't want to be totally exposed, I want to be in semi-stealth the rest of my life, but I guess I have something to share, you know, and that's what I'm trying to do, just a little bit, just to let people know that you can have a long and successful life after surgery, and you don't have to be in showbiz to do it. That's really what I'm trying to do. You know, I have no visions of grandeur here about anything concerning me. I just want people to know that you can live a good life.
Do you have any message you would like to get across to my listeners?
I don't know, things are so open now, you know, and people don't have to hide themselves, and you don't have to be ashamed of who you are like I was and so miserable with it all, and I don't think I have any message for them. Any information you want is on the internet. You don't have to do like I did and do everything by yourself, you can get information and proceed to wherever it is you want to go.
And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
Up next, Lipstick Conspiracy.
Lipstick Conspiracy - Welcome to the Gender Frontier (2006)
Yes, welcome to the gender frontier. That's one of the tracks from "A Perfect Alibi," the latest album by the San Francisco band Lipstick Conspiracy. They've been attracting a lot of attention as a very talented and also all-transgendered rock band. The band was founded by Sarafina Marachino and Tori Tait, who were quickly joined by Marilyn Mitchell and Shawna Love. They all write, arrange and sing, which gives their music a variety of influences. Their first release, in 2004, was a 5-song EP called "Don't Tell a Soul," and their first full-length album came out in 2006, called "A Perfect Alibi." My interview is with Sarafina Marachino.
Tell me about the new album
The new album, "A Perfect Alibi," is a romp through many decades of pop music to arrive at what we think is an updated version of power pop music that is something that is uniquely us and uniquely Lipstick Conspiracy
How did the band get started?
Tori and I met online. Somehow it came out that the two of us were both musicians, and I had been interested in starting an all-transgender rock band, largely because when I moved to San Francisco I assumed there would be just so much talent out there that every other corner bar would have a piano player and a tranny torch singer. I just kind of assumed that. I didn't find any as many musicians as I would have liked; I was quite surprised and the more that I looked around the more that I realized that this was something that needed to be done and that should be done and I'm surprised hadn't been done. Tori and I had met and said, hey, let's put a band together, and it so happened that one of her close friends, Marilyn, the two of them didn't even know that they were musicians, and, well, the three of us met at a bar in the Mission and decided this is a great idea.
Tell me a little about the members of the band.
Well, let's see, Tori's British, she's in software. Marilyn teaches at State, here in San Francisco. Shawna is a maintenance person by day. Natalie is actually unemployed, she just recently joined the band. I shouldn't say she's unemployed, she changed careers to move up here and join the band and she's still getting settled in. And I am self-employed. I do a lot of contract webwork. I clerk for a legal attorney. I work for a psychologist, and that's about it.
[Natalie is no longer mentioned on their site, and apparently is no longer with the band. This interview was recorded in November 2006]
Musically where do you all fit in?
Okay, I play guitar and sing. Tori plays keyboards and sings. Natalie plays drums and bass most of the time, and Marilyn tends to play more lead guitar than say me or Shawna, and I tend to sing more songs than any of the others. I sing like five on the new album. Marilyn does three and Shawna and Tori each do two.
How did the band get its name?
Let's see, our first show was in May, we got our rehearsal space in April, 2003. During that timeframe it was like, whoa, we've got to come up with a name; we'd never really taken it very seriously, and the others weren't really thinking about anything like "I definitely want this" or "I want that." I really wanted something powerful, something that was memorable, something that was and I really had no idea what I wanted to come up with. And I happened to be reading one night when I was very, very tired, and I just decided to finish the chapter, and somewhere along the line my eyes blurred, and in that chapter was the phrase conspiracy and lipstick. And I don't remember what book I was reading and the two words kind of popped out on the page at me and I was like "Lipstick Conspiracy, that's it, that's it!" And I leaped out of that, I didn't go anywhere, I went and I lit a cigarette, poured a drink and I was like "that is it," and I kept continuing to think about what made it so perfect "lipstick" obviously being very, very feminine without it being biological. "Conspiracy" by definition you know, harmony and you know there's also a lot of imagery therein, and running around, shadows and whatnot. It's a perfect name. And everyone said, you know, I think you're right, let's just go with it.
Sometimes as a music consumer it's hard to say, is this a trans band, is this a drag band, is this a glam band?
We get a lot of that all the time and we get the whole 80's reference, Lipstick Conspiracy is a glam 80's rock band, etc, etc, etc. And a lot of that is because I think the assumptions are guitars and lots of make-up, so that's kind of like it's an 80's glam revival. But many people automatically assume drag queens. Some people do get it without prompting and others simply don't.
What is your stage show like?
Stage show? Our stage show we have a lot of fun on stage, and that's what we've been told is evident that we are obviously friends, we are obviously enjoying ourselves, almost as if we don't even care that there's an audience. But we do entertain, but we don't think of ourselves as an act. I mean there's no shenanigans, no shicanery, or anything like that to indicate that this is rehearsed [no schtick]. There's no schtick, exactly. We kind of have an image that is polite and professional, but not necessarily squeaky clean. For example, I tend to introduce most of the songs, because I tend to do most of the talking. I've introduced the song "I Won't Go," which Marilyn sings with "the political views of the singer do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the band." Cause the song is basically saying she's not interested in this person and she can't be had, and it's kind of funny to imply that actually she may not be but
I get it. Tell me more about the song "I Won't Go"
That's definitely a classic Marilyn hit factory song. She was in a relationship not a relationship, she was seeing somebody who she was quite let's just say not interested in taking the pursuing, prosecuting the relationship farther, and this individual ended up getting a little difficult with her, just with a lot of it was just kind of the, you know, heartstring tugs and the usual b.s., and as a result she wrote a song. She was quite angry with him and she ended up writing the entire song herself in a weekend. And the song pretty much remains, pretty much remains informed the way that she had written it with very few exceptions. But that's about it. It was definitely an I'm-not-interested-in-you-anymore kind of song.
It's a strong song and a good song to start an album with.
Well it also to start the album I mean, the stereotype is that trannies are easy, you know, all you got to do is buy us a drink and we're going to put out. A lot of people make that assumption and that's why it's a good song to open up, cause it does obliterate that stereotype right away
Lipstick Conspiracy - I Won't Go (2006)
Who is your audience?
Well that's actually quite difficult to pin down. In the early days our audience was a lot of Bay Area more artsy queer kind of sorts, ah, sex workers, fellow musicians, drag queens, etc. And our audience developed from there but also there's quite a bit of fusion and overlap here in the Bay Area. It's pretty hard to be just gay or to be just a rocker or to be just everybody overlaps, there are no exclusive communities. So for us we kind of grew out of that crowd, if you will, into a very youthful, queer-positive crowd, and we anticipated that every transgendered individual in the country would not only hear about us but would clamor to be a part of all this. And we were quite surprised to find quite a bit of bifurcation within the community those who are out and proud aren't necessarily interested in making the association because they've cut and run, they've transitioned, you know, they're stealth, whatever. And those that are just in the just coming out of the closet but don't want anyone else to know are not interested in being seen in public. We don't play just traditional we play all over the place. We don't restrict our shows to just queer audiences, so it's pretty much anything goes.
That reminds me of a comment another trans artist made to me, of a similar problem where it was hard to sell her CD because it was hard to get transgendered people to come to the shows because they were closeted or didn't want to come out, so how do you reach people who don't want to be seen?
Well, we've recognized that the trans audience may not exist as say, for lack of a better description, as a market, I mean a market that is, you know, they follow us around, and that kind of a thing, you know, a true fan base, where you buy the posters, you wear the t-shirt, you show up to every you know, like following the Grateful Dead or something. We have quite a few trans folks that are friends of ours that are fans, that are involved and there's always there's always some tranny in the audience I've never met before in my entire life. That always happens. But I figured that that would be a larger contingent of our audience and that just doesn't seem to be the case.
Over time people would show up for a show and say "oh, you guys are great," I know people who had gone out on their first night dressed, ever, [as a woman] to one of our shows, and was talking with us afterwards saying, you know, they're going to be a fan for life, and then literally having them fall off the face of the earth within a couple of months, and it was like, what happened?
And that's the nature of the community. For those that are committed that say, well, this is my life path, you know, I am transgendered, and then moving in that direction is one thing, versus somebody who is just part-timing it, I guess you could say, where it's like "wow, I'm not sure what I'm doing, I do this to express myself, this is all about gender, not about sex or whatever else. It's reconciling the two halves of that that truly make it kind of a conundrum. You know, I mean, it's like the individuals who are at the spectrum at the extremes are those that we find in the audience versus those that are kind of in the middle.
Do you think being an all-trans band has helped or hindered the band's career?
Both, definitely. We've gotten gigs and notice and whatnot largely because people say, oh, an all-tranny band, this will be interesting. And then also we've been dismissed because they say, well this isn't you're not a real rock band. And I say, wait a second, cause that's exactly what the problem is that we are both. And we can take the angle that we are, you know, we are, as we say, we're a rock band that just happens to be all trannies. We enjoy converting people who automatically assume that we are going to be some train wreck act, you know, something along the lines of what they perceive us to be and then realizing, oh my God, they can actually play their instruments.
For their latest album the band's producer encouraged them to include a cover version of some song, and I think their choice was very interesting, and well done.
Lipstick Conspiracy - Constant Craving (2006)
I understand that not all the band members are out as transgendered at work. Could you talk about the difficulties of trying to preserve a paycheck while being in a band seeking exposure.
Yes. Rachel Swan from the East Bay Express mentioned that that was going to be our biggest our biggest obstacle, overcoming that, and for the most part I mean, you could argue it I think politically in the sense of how can you do this when you're in the closet? Versus, you can argue it also from serendipity or opportunity: it really doesn't matter until it really does matter. Marilyn, for example I guess I shouldn't talk about any of the others, I should just put this in my own personal experience. I'm out, I've changed my name, etc, I am on the fast track to transition and so on. I am legally who I am.
Everybody's life choices are their own and as it being a matter of I am this person some of the time and this person the rest of the time, whether that percentage is little or large if that is hastened by the success of the band, no one in the band is afraid of that. Versus, it's not a matter of keeping it in staying in the closet just because of pure opportunity, it's just a matter of recognizing, I don't need to do this, so I'm in no hurry to do so
Have any of the members of the band had SRS?
That is that is a question that is probably best unanswered. Largely because from a political standpoint it is the band's policy, if you will, to not draw those lines as a collective because to say, to make that as the breaking point for many people for many it's just a matter of, okay, have you had the surgery? Oh you have, okay, so then you're legitimate. Oh you haven't, well, do you plan to? It creates a kind of a gradient of legitimacy for many people. And it also kind of creates a line in the sand between the band members as far as who is and who isn't. I answer that usually best by saying, I only discuss my biology with my doctor and my partners.
I was not really sure I wanted to ask that question.
Oh, I understand, I understand, and believe me, we've had people ask that in very, very different ways, somebody that is not from the queer community, it usually involves quite a bit of finger tapping on my behalf, cause I recognize that we have to our very existence is political for many people, and getting the word out and explaining all of this is part of it. I mean, I used to laugh at Sean Penn when he would, you know, beat up a photographer and continually say to myself, "why don't you just go get a job that doesn't involve publicity, you idiot?" but eventually realizing, people still ask that question and as irritated, if you will, as I can get with that, it's part of my responsibility to make sure that people understand my position, my thought and if I am educating anybody, well, that's terrific.
You probably have received a lot of mail from people who look up to you as mentors.
Yes, mentors, inspirations and so on. I had a birthday very recently and I was actually quite down that morning, and that morning I woke and I received I had never received birthday email, fan mail in my life, and it came from as far away as from New Zealand to Germany. And I was really surprised that I could have an impact like this. This is staggering, and yet looking back on it when I was growing up if I would have known what the notion of transgenderism was about when I was growing up it's hard to say what I would have done. But there were no positive role models, I mean, all of the role models were negative. I mean this is a classic, this is a classic argument for any minority. So to think that there are people out there that have that look to us as a band being something positive and inspirational, reading about us in the paper and magazines, and saying, "wow, look, transgendered people in the news and it's not because they're dead." That makes me quite happy.
Is there an overall message you hope the band gets across?
I would hope the message is that well, you know, we're trans and we're quite proud of ourselves, and not proud of ourselves as much as just proud of who we are and even though I don't want to kind of beat that dead horse, I think the inspirational note should be that I just hope that everybody walks away from this feeling like we're making a positive impact.
Well, I think they are. You can find out more about the band at www.LipstickConspiracy.com.
I'm down to
the last song, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for
listening, and I want to especially thank David Cunard, Terry Noel
and Sarafina Marachino of Lipstick Conspiracy for the wonderful interviews.
And as I had expected, the interview was so good that I could not
fit all of into the radio version this show, so my internet listeners
can hear an extended version with a lot more comments and additional
music. That of course can be found at www.queermusicheritage.com.
And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the
music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices
on KPFT in Houston. You'll want to come back next month for another
show on Transgendered Music. While researching for this show I found
so much material I wanted to share that I just needed to make it a
Well, our first quote unquote hit was "Just a Girl," and that was the one that got everybody's attention because in the early days we would usually only do two or three songs whenever we would play, because of where we would play, just because of the types of venues that we would play. "Just a Girl" was also the first song off of the first album, and everybody assumed it was, you know, "the single" or "the hit" and I think it was also something that everybody kind of grasped on to because of the lyrics and the fact that it was a very, very fun party song. And this is what kind of got us our early billings of "the B-52's meet the Police," people were saying.
Can you tell me about that song a little more?
The song was actually written and sung by Marilyn, basically saying, you know, this is what it's like to be, you know, a tranny in a rock band, and this is who I am and what I am. It isn't really it isn't too heavy but it isn't just, you know, complete fluff. Everybody that writes about us tends to write about that song, so this is why coming up with the new album we ended up re-releasing it, for a variety of purposes, but we have grown and sophisticated, if I can use that as a verb, substantially since, and we have gotten to a point where we don't even really play that all of the time anymore, but we save it as an encore, we'll just say.
Lipstick Conspiracy and "Just a Girl"
Lipstick Conspiracy - Just a Girl (2006)