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Note: one of my
friends, Jed Ryan, also happens to be a talented reviewer,
and I love
his work. He's graciously allowed me to repost here a review of the
Lisa Jackson is first and foremost a musician. Therefore, it's only
fitting that Becca Goldstein's film "The Lisa Jackson Documentary"
open with footage of Ms. Jackson during a live performance. She's screaming
out to the audience, "Are you a rock and roll star? I'm a rock
and roll star!" Throughout the movie, we get to see a lot more
footage of Lisa turning it out with songs like "I Am A-O-K".
On stage, Lisa Jackson's "look" is sometimes influenced by
the androgynous style of David Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust era. Other
times, she adopts an "80's bad girl" look (Think Debbie Harry
and "Like a Virgin"-era Madonna), with the lacy blouses, miniskirts,
high heels, and a lot of makeup. Musically, Lisa Jackson is undisputedly
guitar and vocals-driven rock and roll, with the spirit of punk running
through. As those who have been in that scene know, that spirit was
all about intense performance, pageantry, an "anything goes"
mentality, and...breaking the rules! Early on, Lisa Jackson probably
realized that breaking the rules-- in this case, society's rules-- would
be necessary for her own survival: The singer/songwriter started out
life down South as a handsome, dark-haired boy named Steve. But Steve
knew that beneath the masculine surface, there was a woman inside.
Whether or not she's performing, Lisa Jackson is appealing to watch.
In street clothes and without makeup, she has the androgynous appeal
of a cute New York City boy; when done up, she evokes a earthy, European-style
beauty. Throughout the film, Jackson displays an impish quality whether
she's opining about the empowering qualities of taking estrogen, getting
her electrolysis treatments, or giddily declaring, "Vaginas can
be icchy-- but I like them!" Other aspects of her personal life
are shown, including Jackson visiting her hometown in Georgia, where
her Southern accent mysteriously resurfaces. Director Becca Goldstein
also gets a lot of lively input from Lisa's peers, many of them musicians
and artists themselves.
The first one
we meet is Jayne County, a transsexual music artist in her own right.
Although Jayne needs a little prompting (Remember, this rock star has
been in the NYC music scene for a L-O-N-G time!), she offers some of
the funniest moments in the documentary. Ms. County states she admires
Lisa because, as opposed to a lot of the drag and transgendered performers
she knew, Lisa wrote her own music, sang in her own voice, and played
her own guitar-- which was presumably rare when genderfuckers were just
starting to appear on the queer music and performance art scenes. The
late Dean Johnson of the Velvet Mafia calls Lisa's persona that of a
"warrior goddess" and likens her to the berdaches-- the high-regarded
Native American people who were of dual genders and reportedly held
special powers. Other interviewees include legendary drag artist Mother
Flawless Sabina, Rose Royale, and actress Rosie Perez, who compares
Lisa's gender outlawism ("A trans rock star!" Perez proclaims
excitedly) with Little Richard, whose flamboyant looks and antics broke
the mold back in his day as well.
A documentary about a trans person always has the potential to be exploitative,
or focus too much on the titillating aspects of the subject's life (i.e.:
the actual sex change). But "The Lisa Jackson Documentary"
is never exploitative, perhaps because in mirroring its subject, we
realize that Ms. Lisa Jackson is clearly in control of her own life
and persona. The film is really bolstered by montage-style footage of
Jackson doing what she does best: making music (Her performance of "Fabulously
Done" is a high point of the film.) and, well... just being Lisa
Jackson. In one scene, Lisa takes us to her "day job", where
one of her co-workers calls Lisa, "one of the most down-to-earth
people that I ever met-- and she just happens to be a trans woman."
Indeed, that's the gist of the documentary: Lisa Jackson is a down-to-earth
person who happens to have an extraordinary story to tell.
After a showing of the film, Lisa Jackson and Becca Goldstein gave an
exclusive interview to Dish Miss' Jed Ryan.
JR: So, how long did it take to make "The Lisa Jackson Documentary"--
from the decision that you were actually going to do it, until the movie
LJ: We decided to do it in late 2005, and we started filming the whole
year of 2006. It took a good two years to finish up the editing, and
then all the press production. We had to do some fundraising and stuff
like that. So, I'd say, all and all, that it was a good three year process,
maybe three and a half years. Becca had started filming me without any
real goals probably six month prior to that... which kind of led into
making a movie. It was a long process!
JR: Do you find, throughout your career, that people-- especially the
press-- have tended to concentrate more on your being a trans person
more than on your music?
LJ: When I was heavily performing, especially in the beginning, I think
that's what people focused on: the transition. It was like, a gimmick
or something. And I was still somewhat unclear at the time: Was I transgender?
Was I a cross-dresser? For me, I was working it out as I was going,
figuring all these things out. So, I think they did focus on the trans
issues a lot, but I think that once the music got better and the band
got better, a lot of the focus did become more on the music... and also
how I was expressing myself through the music. That was the connection.
I never minded so much being labeled a "trans artist" as long
as it wasn't holding me back from anything. If people weren't being
judgmental about it, I didn't mind.
BG: I think that if you would have kept performing, it would have been
a bigger deal though... because towards the end, you wanted to break
the mainstream barrier, not just be identified with the gay music scene...
LJ: Yeah, we weren't just playing at gay clubs. We were playing at The
Knitting Factory and the Canal Room. We were the headliners. It was
definitely getting to that point. I was very much an alternative type
of person, but playing in a very straight venue. Which is good. You're
not "preaching to the choir"! (Laughs)
JR: Jayne County, when I interviewed her years ago, called you her "spiritual
LJ: I love Jayne. Jayne did everything that I've done, like, 20 years
ahead of me. She was doing it when she was being threatened by a gun
in a bar. Not to take anything away from what I've done, but she's very
LJ: Pioneer, yeah. And there were a lot of those people in the scene.
Dean Johnson, who's in the film... Hattie (Hathaway), who's running
the HOWL Festival... All these people who really knocked down the door
for someone like myself to really be able to go to CBGB and play. Like,
I didn't have to beat down the door to get into CBGB; they had already
done it. Which is great!
JR: Yeah! What's your relationship like with the New York City music
LJ: I think that right now... well, I don't think about it! I am definitely
not a part of the scene. And I don't really think about performing.
I very rarely pick up my guitar. The only way I can really explain it
is that: Once I quit performing with the band, I did expect to perform
solo, and do my own thing. But I decided to take some classes and go
to school. It totally opened the door for me with new ideas and thoughts
about where I wanna go with my life. I think that as a trans person,
I've kind of reached this place where I don't need to express myself
through music anymore. As an artist, I feel that I've said what I had
to say. There's not much pushing me to do that at this point. And, some
changes have happened to me.
really isn't that important to me anymore; playing music just to be
famous is definitely not a goal! I just don't really have anything pushing
me to do that right now. It's not a bitter thing. Maybe some burnout--
but it's just not there. My mind just totally went to a different place.
My goals are very different now. I think that as trans people, you can
get into a situation like I was in, where you think that music and performing
is really all you can do. But once I got into school and the regular
job that I have now, I realized, "No! I can have a regular life
just like anyone can-- a job, and a nice place to live, and all this...
just, stuff!" Those things weren't important to me before, and
now they are-- and I don't know if that's the transition, or just me
getting older. It's definitely a different part of the journey now!
See more at www.LisaJacksonRocks.com/Documentary