Cabaret Barbara: A Shopping Mall Musical

On September 27, I attended a show at the Comédie-Francaise annex, conveniently located in the shopping mall under the Louvre. (Yes, there really is a mall under the museum; it’s called the Carrousel du Louvre and it’s where one of the two Apple stores in Paris is located).

"Starbucks, Jo Malone, Drama" is not the image I generally have of the Comédie-Francaise but it’s their version of a back box theater rather than the home of Racine and Molière, so it’s excusable.

The show was a press preview for Cabaret Barbara, six grand actors taking the texts of French chanteuse Barbara (Monique Serf) and mostly overacting the hell out of them in a diseuse fashion. Good or bad? Doesn’t matter. The show is sold out. If you have a ticket, you know what you’re seeing and you’ll enjoy it it. If you don’t have a ticket, you’re not seeing it. 

At the after-show reception, my celebrity encounters were Anny Duperey and Bernard Le Coq (both in the photo below), the stars of the long-running French TV comedy, Une Famille Formidable. It was the French equivalent of running into Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen. (I believe the show’s director — Béatrice Agenin — was a cast member of Une Famille Formidable, if you’re looking for connections.) 



Another Visit to the 1990s via Ad/Vance (My Per’zine)

This was an Ad/Vance Top Ten list (aka Obsessions to Live By!) from early in 1993. Twenty years later, I never expected Rice Krispie Treats Cereal or Kraft Macaroni and White Cheddar to still be on the market nor that RuPaul would have a substantial career. Record label Great Expectations shut down around about the time I originally drew up this list; Re/Search hung on a while longer but the trails they blazed got many films and LPs back into print that might have been otherwise lost forever.

Rice Krispie Treats Cereal. The forbidden pleasure as breakfast cereal. If this trend continues, look for a “masturbation as exercise” book. 

RuPaul, Dame Edna, et al. The first time we have drag queens as media sensations without a male identity. We all know that Geraldine is really Flip Wilson but who the hell is RuPaul in his spare time? 

Re/Search: Incredibly Strange Music. The sequel to their fluffiest and, therefore, best issue ever, Incredibly Strange FilmsIncredibly Strange Musicis a walk around the musical world from the horror-film rock of The Cramps to the ethereal sounds of god-like genius Martin Denny. How can you not love it? 

Great Expectations. A small British label reissuing on CD the best of the 1980s: Natasha Fatale wanna-be Lene Lovich, Virna (“Leisure Activities: Sabotage and Skiing”) Lindt, and “Miss Beehive of 1982,” Mari Wilson

Robert De Niro at the Inauguration. In which our hero shows off his taste in women by making a play for all four members of vocal group En Vogue. 

The Roberts Navajo Trail Prayer Letter. A newsletter by two concerned Christians who left the wilds of Washington, D.C. to proselytize to the Navajo. The most unintentionally hilarious thing since Liza’s Stepping Out. Sample highlight: The house God provided was a very nice 4 bedroom double-wide mobile home (or “manufactured housing”) that is just right for our needs. Sorry kids, my lord provides his children with concrete homes, thank you very much. 

Kraft Macaroni and White Cheddar. Everyone’s favorite goes upscale, yet still manages to taste like nothing so much as a mushy salt lick. 

Overexposed: Treating Sexual Perversity in America by Sylvère Lotringer. Haut-pretentious semiotician Lotringer visits a clinlc in Chicago that treats sex offenders by literally boring them to normalcy. The technique is very Clockwork Orange except that the clinic staff really care and the soundtrack isn’t as good. 

James R. Porter. And speaking of sex offenders, Porter is a child molester / priest — Quelle surprise! — who claims that electroshock therapy erased all memory of his crimes. Bonus for the fact that he was tried in Lizzie Borden’s home town. 

Chuck Berry’s Private Life. Who’d’ve dreamed the grandfather of rock likes nothing more than to have his lady serve him a special breakfast by defecating on his face? I tell ya, it makes me listen to “Maybelline” in a whole new way. 


Ad/Vance Book Review: On Princesses and Murderesses

A book review from 1994 that appeared in my per’zine, Ad/Vance, and I stand by every word, despite the sad coda that Princess Diana’s death makes to the review.

Background note: Ruth Ellis was the subject of the film, Dance with a Stranger. And for those who saw my performance piece, Should Women Hang? (about the then-living Aileen Wuornos), the title of my piece was taken from a book about Ruth Ellis that argued for the abolition of the death penalty in the U.K.


Maybe Carl Jung was right about synchronicity: you know, the idea that two (or more) unrelated events have a reason for falling within the same sphere. For example, imagine selecting — at random— two books to read. Imagine your first choice is MURDEROUS WOMEN by Frank Jones. Then imagine THE ROYAL FASHION AND BEAUTY SECRETS BOOK by Ann Chubb. Imagine discovering that these two books are sequels to each other. If you get that last point, you’ve got synchronicity. 

MURDEROUS WOMEN is a “true crime” compilation, each of the 15 tales being the story of a woman who killed. Unlike most true crime books, this one has a feminist agenda: to prove that women have been condemned to death in murder trials because they were women, not because of the crimes committed. 

For example, Jones discusses Britain’s well-known Ruth Ellis trial, stating, “Even today, the Ellis case retains its relevance as a classic example of male injustice meted out to a woman” and then spends the remainder of the story proving why. 

He does this to a greater or lesser degree in all the stories, including his retellings of Jean Harris' killing of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor and of the Clara Ford saga, a cross-dressing woman of color in the late 19th century. 

While Jones shows how men have repeatedly punished women who’ve transgressed lines of behavior, Chubb shows how women punish themselves to be the line of behavior. The bulky subtitle of Chubb’s book is AN INTIMATE LOOK AT HOW PRINCESS DIANA ACHIEVES HER RADIANCE, STYLE, AND GRACE — REVEALED FOR WOMEN EVERYWHERE. 

The format of Chubb’s book is the beauty makeover. In chapters like “Reshaping the Royal Curves” and “Inside the Royal Jewel Box,” Chubb tries to proves that you, Reader, can be a princess just by following her simple tips … the same ones that have worked so well for the former Lady Spencer. 

And while THE ROYAL FASHION AND BEAUTY SECRETS BOOK is meant to be an inspiration to all aspiring princesses, a reader will most likely walk away deeply saddened. 

After reading all ten grueling chapters, you come to understand how hollow to the core Diana’s life must be — and deeply saddened that, even if only for one brief moment, you thought, “I’d like to be her.” 

By end of this book, as by the end of MURDEROUS WOMEN, you realize that your life is, after all, a pretty good place to be. 

And what more is there that you can ask of literature, really, than to leave feeling good about yourself?


Alan Parker, pack your bags!

This is another 1994 piece from my per’zine, Ad/Vance. While neither Rosa von Praunheim film I discuss ever became a hit, the story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf became the basis of a highly successful Broadway play,called I Am My Own Wife. While I didn’t like how the play adapted the story, I appreciate that Charlotte von Mahlsdorf will not be forgotten. 

You’ve all heard me ramble about my appearance in Alan Parker’s film, ANGEL HEART. Look in lower right hand corner of the screen during the New Year’s Eve sequence in Times Square. See the bum? It’s me! 

Well, since then, I’ve always spoken of Alan Parker as my director. But no longer. I’ve now been filmed by one of the elder lights of the New Wave of German cinema, Rosa von Praunheim. For the record, Rosa is a man; the name is a political choice. The occasion was a retrospective of his work at the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, D.C. 

Now I’m not saying I’m a Praunheim star. I am saying is that he had a movie camera, he pointed it at me and I heard the motor running. That’s enough for my curriculum vitae. 

But after seeing two of his films (and seeing him in the bathroom), I’m not sure I want to be a RVP star. 

You see, Rosa does these sort-of documentary things. It’s all real people telling their stories with dramatizations of key events. As you might guess, his films are only as compelling as the object of the action is. I saw SURVIVAL IN NEW YORK, about three youngish German women trying to "make it" in the Big Apple and I AM MY OWN WOMAN, the story of a 70-year-old, East German drag queen. 

SURVIVAL IN NEW YORK was a big hit in Germany. Well, I guess for the people in a former communist satellite, anything looks good. But can you think of anything more tired than a real-life version of HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE without Betty Bacall? 

The only interesting thing is the film was Ryan, the love interest of the young lesbian of the group. Ryan was severe. Never smiling, Ryan was an art-house version of Julia Sweeney’s Pat from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. I’d go to see RYAN: THE FILM in a heartbeat. 

I AM MY OWN WOMAN, on the other hand, was out there. The movie was the true tale of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, East Germany’s answer to Quentin Crisp. He lives his life as a woman — a badly dressed woman. No Dolly Parton drag for him. He walks around like a charwoman with babushka, apron and no make up. I wonder why he even bothers. He also runs a museum full of furniture that’s the Teutonic equivalent of circa 1900 Sears & Roebuck specials. 

And what AD/VANCE would be complete without a celebrity encounter? This time, in the Hirshhorn bathroom with Rosa himself … I’m in a stall at in the bathroom. I walk out. Standing at the sink, washing my hands, I glance up and see a tall-ish man with a baseball cap, stripey polo shirt and ultravogue lederhosen walk out of another stall. He turns around and I recognize him as Rosa von P. He glances in the mirror and walks out. He doesn’t stop to wash his hands.


Ad/Vance asks the musical question … Which Diva Must Die?

This is a 1994 piece from my per’zine, Ad/Vance. It was just an early version of the FMK game, not a prediction of how things would end up 18 years later. 


Do you ever play hair-splitting games? I mean the sort where you start with a premise like, “I’m Lord God King of the Universe and I have the power to decide who lives and who dies … so, OK, who goes first?” 

That’s where the game begins. Start with a phraseology along the lines of that apocrophal Oscar Wilde deathbed quote, “Either these curtains go or I do.” For example [via Elton John], ”There are too many ‘divas’ in this world … you know, the kind who sing every song like they’re a contestant on STAR SEARCH.” 

You follow that with a sampling like “Well, the worst offenders are Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Therefore, one of them must die. But who?” 

Your first criterion is with the talent per se. "Well, Mariah Catey always makes an obnoxious Minnie Rippertonesque squeal on her singles, so she should die. But then, Whitney has the vocal subtlety of a pair of Doc Martens and has forever ruined I’M EVERY WOMAN for me. So she should die.” 

You can quickly see how troublesome this gets. 

Criterion Number Two: This I would usually be a fashion face-off; however, Mariah and Whitney are equally bland with their ensembles. 

Criterion Number Three: Number of times we’re forced to listen to them while (a) driving and (b) having drinks. Well, they’re tied here too since they both insist on releasing ballads and dance songs. You see, it’s not as easy as it seemed on the surface. 

Criterion Number Four: Song choices. While Mariah Carey claims to write her own songs, her biggest hit has been with a lame, unplugged remake of a Motown classic, I’LL BE THERE. (Which reminds me, is anyone game for a TV music show called UNHINGED, to be hosted by poor Connie Francis?) Whitney not only recorded, but also released a version of THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER. 

Patriotism has a place, even in the sacrilegious pages of Ad/Vance, but there ARE limits. 

Criterion Number Five: A vital one. Who are they married to? Let’s see, Mariah had the good sense to marry Tommy Mottola, head of her record company — Sony — destined to never, ever go under. Whitney married former New Edition member Bobby Brown, a man with hideous ensembles and some hit singles to his credit (and who is at 14:49 and counting with his 15 minutes). 

As you can see, it’s pretty much decided that Mariah Carey gets to live because of her advanced brain power in making the decisions that matter. Mariah, ADIVANCE salutes your survival; it’s a harsh world out there in popland. 

And so long, Whitney, and not a minute too soon. 


Yet Another Visit to the 1990s via Ad/Vance (My Per’zine)

Welcome to 1994: a peach of a year …

THE SUMMER HOUSE — Not a great film, but 90 screen-eating minutes with Jeanne Moreau at her most, well, Moresque. That henna’d hair, that rum and cigarette voice, those jowls. 

THE ELIPTON — Extremist Vladimir Zhirinovsky claims the existence this weapon that kills by producing a massive impulse of sound. “It would leave no mark on its victims,” the WASHINGTON POST reported. Not only did Kate Bush predict the weapon in her Eurohit, “Experiment No. 4,” but bonus points for Zhirinovsky’s comment, “There will not be a single trace of firearms wounds … just the corpses of 18 Muslim soldiers lying there.” I bet that when Vladimir knows what he wants, he just goes for it. 

THE DONNA SUMMER ANTHOLOGY — I don’t care what she said; at least she had the good grace to deny it. Instead, think about the string of immaculate singles she left behind, now in digital glory. And consider this, would you rather be listening to AIDS-cash pilferer and Psychic Friends embarrassment Dionne Warwick? 

NWPCA — Only blocks from my house resides the weirdest association ever, the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. And people thought my days at the National Hydropower Association seemed goofy. 

PEACH AS A SCENT — As "toffee" was the taste-sensation of 1992, peach is the nose-candy of 1994. Yardley has a soap, Glade an air-freshener and Toilet Duck is bound to follow with peach-scented bowl cleaner. 

TALES OF THE CITY —It didn’t translate right to the small screen, but it was a lot of fun. Just seeing Chloë Webb back in action was worth it — and any show that can piss off so many people is all right by me. 

HITS 1 & 2: PRINCE — They’re all great songs, but it’s here mainly because the “new” song from the collection is called — what else? — “Peach.” 

ROSEANNE PETERSON — Dig this: Peterson has been ordered to stand trial in California for decapitating her lesbian lover. I don’t know about you but I smell performance art piece. 

LARRY SMITH — Managing editor of PARADE who responded to my letter of upset that people should spend 75¢ to call and say if they’re against homelessness. Smith said, “There is no profit for us in this; our aim rather is to inform our millions of readers about the plight of the homeless and their cause.” Thanks, Larry. Why didn’t I see that spending 75¢ on a phone call is so much better than just giving it to a homeless person? 

ETHYL MEATPLOW — A new band out of L.A. They have a very cool video based on the murderess and blood-bather Countess Bathory called “Queenie.” They also have a single out called — wait — “Ripened Peach.”