Attended a read-through of Justin Bond and Sandra Bernhard’s new show at Joe’s Pub Monday night. Then watched “Without You I’m Nothing” last night with Chris. He pointed out (admiringly) Ms. Sandra’s “vulgar vibrato,” to help me as I try to put into words exactly what makes certain vocalists “sound queer,” as I think Bond, Bernhard, and Kalup Linzy (who I also saw earlier that evening in a separate) all do.
Virgin America had 24 channels of satellite TV on the flight home from LA, where I spent four glorious days at the Experience Music Project’s annual Pop Conference. But none of them had the Oscar telecast, so I had to content myself with following the events from co-presenter James Franco‘s Twitter feed which, at one point, was beaming up video recorded live from inside his tuxedo pocket.
Franco may wanted to have debuted some of the singing chops he has been honing with his new high concept performance duo Kalup and Franco, with performance artists Kalup Linzy, whose work I have written about recently in TDR. But musical honors went to co-host Anne Hathaway, who delivered a surprisingly robust musical tribute to Hugh Jackman, who apparently makes everyone light in the loafers (not me).
Franco had to be settle for an attempt at upstaging Anne’s number with that surefire frathouse crowd-pleaser, joke drag. It seemed to be the mainstream afterimage of the subcultural drag act he and Linzy do in hipper venues, with the blond bombshell, which suggesting Marilyn Monroe to the mainstream, suggesting the black female and queer performers from whom Franco, our latter-day Carl Van Vechten, draws such inspiration.
Will post a wrap-up on EMP Pop conference soon. Have to work through the extensive Twitter feed the conference generated first at #popcon2011.
PS: Read J. Doyle’s fabulous response to the “ball and chain” dynamics of this performance here. An excerpt:
Taking the stage as if one’s been left at the alter is an old gag: The performer sets herself up as abandoned, standing before her audience if she’d been left there alone and unloved. She proceeds to seduce an entire theater. This kind of performance toggles back and forth between “nobody loves me” and “love me or else.” The genre has been remastered by diverse figures – Judy Garland and daughter Liza, but also Sandra Bernhard (e.g. “Without You I’m Nothing”). That dynamic shapes some of the most compelling queer performance, in which the artist emerges as both intensely vulnerable and invincible. (eg Franko B’s “I Miss You!” or just about everything from Dynasty Handbag.)
THIS, I think, is why when Franco walked out in drag, it seemed like such a failure: not just because he was styled in a jokey sort of drag more apropos of a Judd Apatow movie than a drag club, but because “showy” Hathaway was always already working drag territory.