Okay. I just got back from London where I had the unparalleled pleasure of seeing Kate Bush in concert TWICE!
I came back to NYC because I’m returning to Joe’s Pub with my latest show The Drift which I put together with the Brilliant Scott Wittman (who has been pretty busy working with Bridget Everett on her hit new show ROCK BOTTOM -don’t miss it!) and premiered in the Spring. It’s my favorite show of all the ones I’ve put together so far and I hope you’ll come if you haven’t been able to make it yet. Here is a great piece written about it by THE HELIX QUEER PERFORMANCE NETWORK
Click the photo below for tickets to The Drift
Since I was so overwhelmed by Kate Bush’s show I lay awake in my room at The Ace Hotel in Shoreditch the other night thinking about how lucky I was to have been there and making a list of the most memorable musical performances I’ve had the privilege of attending in my life. I’ve seen some pretty amazing artists over the years so I decided to share some reminiscences of the top 15 or with you and why they were so important to me. I’ve put them in chronological order beginning in 1981 and I’ll be blogging a few each day (when possible) over the course of the next week or so.
Here We Go!
Judy Collins Christmas at Carnegie Hall, December 11, 1981
When I was a kid my cousins were older than me and they were the people whose musical tastes I was first exposed to in the 1960s. The first record I remember falling in love with -even before my love affair with Karen Carpenter began- was Judy Collins’ Widlflowers album which came out when I was four years old and it belonged to my cousin Jan. Fortunately for me my cousin Jan became devoutly religious some years later and gave me many of her “secular” albums which I cherished and have kept throughout the years. I wore out Jan’s copy of Wildflowers ages ago but because I’m a sentimental sap it has moved with me to every place I’ve lived since. It’s with me here in the East Village to this day and it still says “Jan Gamby” in black magic marker in the upper right hand corner. Quite frankly, , I could write a whole essay on that album alone.
Shortly after I started college at Adelphi University in the fall of 1981 I saw that Judy Collins would be playing at Carnegie Hall and I convinced a girl a had a terrible crush on named, a dance major named Pam Schultz, to come with me. Despite the fact that Judy Collins was really not thought of as very cool at that time Pam was game. We’d already been to an extremely memorable concert our first week of college when we went to see Simon & Garfunkle in Central Park but the Judy Collins concert begins my list because it was my first concert at Carnegie Hall. It was at this concert that I finally realized I had escaped my hometown and was finally beginning to live the life I’d dreamed of. As we left the legendary venue the snow was gently falling on 57th Street. It was a magical moment indeed, like leaving church after you’ve been saved.
I would never have believed that 26 years and a day later on December 12, 2007 I would be standing in the very same spot myself…
Or that a year after that, on December 10, 2008 I’d be singing “Silent Night” while standing in between Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson during “The McGarrigle Christmas Hour”.
I still love Judy Collins. I’ve seen her perform many times since. She’s the person who made me want to be a singer. THANK YOU JUDY!!!
Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music at The Adelphi Theatre, London, August 1984
My dad had a great Lena Horne record when I was a kid. I thought she had the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. Aunt Judy, my mom’s best friend, had a gay brother and their mother Leola Miller was super nice to me. Looking back now, I think I know why. She had a gay son and she knew something about me even I didn’t know at the time. I loved Leola Miller, she reminded me of Lena Horne because they had the same smile. Leola and I had the same birthday so we had a special bond. We were born on May 9th. Lena was born on June 30th but she died on May 9th. Circles…
Lena was so beautiful and had been a real trailblazer as the first African American woman to be signed by a major Hollywood studio. She fought for civil rights her entire life and has been a major role model for me as a transperson struggling for visibility and respect in show business and the media. I was a senior in high school when bought the double album for her Broadway show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music and I played it nonstop for weeks. I must have driven my family crazy singing along with Lena, “From this moment on…” and dancing around my bedroom. Her mixture of autobiographical storytelling, song and politics was potent. Looking back it’s obvious that she had a HUGE impact on me as an artist. I went to see her with my friend Victoria Leacock in the summer of 1984. Victoria and I were both studying theatre in London that summer. I was at LAMBDA and she was living in her grandmother’s townhouse near Camden Town. Because Victoria was friends with Jenny Lumet, Lena’s granddaughter, we were able to go backstage and meet Miss Horne after the show. As we approached her I was shaking. I’d never meet anyone so glamorous in my LIFE! She was icy, intimidating, beautiful and talented -everything I hoped to be one day. At the time she was 67 and from 8 feet away she looked as if she had no wrinkles AT ALL but as we got closer and she extended her hand I noticed that she had the finest wrinkles I’d ever seen -like an ancient Chinese crackled vase. She was exquisite. As soon as she found out Victoria was friends with Jenny she warmed up to us and began asking about our experiences in London and graciously signed our programs. After graduation I worked with Jenny Lumet at Details magazine for a short time and got to know her a bit and really liked her. Victoria was much closer to Jenny and I guess, knowing how much I loved Lena Horne, Victoria somehow convinced Jenny to find out if there was something her grandmother wouldn’t mind parting with and she very generously gave an old pair of earrings she no longer wore to Jenny who gave them to Victoria who then gave them to me. I couldn’t believe it -LENA HORNE’S EARRINGS!!! I treasured them and kept them in a special box for years and eventually ended up wearing them as part of my costume when I created the character of Kiki Durane. The last time I wore them one of them flew off and broke while I was onstage in London at The Royal Albert Hall when Kenny Mellman and I were touring the UK with The Scissor Sisters. More circles…
I still have those plastic hoops in a bag with the rest of my Kiki paraphernalia. Lena’s magic inspired me and I’m sure the energy carried in those earrings helped carry us to the heights we achieved as Kiki & Herb. Lena Horne was one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived. Victoria Leacock Hoffman, who is still one of my greatest friends, has always been like a fairy Godmother to me. Over the years she has made so many wonderful things in my life possible. I love you Victoria. Thank you for everything!!!
Come back soon for the next installment: Divine and Ella Fitzgerald