Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mighty Real

From Joshua Gamson’s book, the Fabulous Sylvester, in which the author recounts a performance the late diva did as part of the influential, groundbreaking late ‘60s-early ‘70s San Francisco-based genderfuck / identity-fuck glam performance art collective, the Cockettes:

Sylvester did not take kindly to Cockettes flouncing around onstage while he was singing, as they were wont to do, or to the amateur-hour mishaps. “Sylvester,” says Sebastian, “took care of Sylvester.” During a performance of the Cockettes’ October 1970 show, Les Cockettes Folies des Paris, while Sylvester was singing “Someone to Watch Over Me,” Hibiscus took to the stage in a zebra-skin costume, dancing around and eventually wandering into the spotlight. Sylvester watched out of the corner of his eye, and his face went steely as he finished the song. After his number, Sylvester left the stage to boisterous applause, and waited for Hibiscus to come off stage.

When he did, Sylvester slapped him right across the face. “Don’t you ever do that to me again,” he said. “You do not come out in my song and upstage me.” He pushed Hibiscus into one of the dressing rooms and kicked him over and over. Another time, a local artist made a beautiful butcher-paper backdrop for Sylvester: a giant bluebird with notes coming out of its mouth. As Sylvester was singing, the rolled-up paper began to unfurl behind him. The audience, keen appreciators of the unintended, applauded so enthusiastically that Sylvester had to stop mid-song. The next night, he insisted that the bluebird be lowered before his song began. He was not about to be upstaged by a piece of paper.

Sylvester made sure he had his own little space apart from the mayhem and sloppiness of the Cockettes, so he could re-create a musical moment from another place and time. He wanted the stage to himself; as he put it later, in simple diva-ese, “My shit was better.”

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