Manuel Betancourt

Queer Boys & Mx Bond, or How Vivian Bond suffuses The Drift with a spiky queer sensibility

April 19, 2014 · in Queer, Theater

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED!
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

From Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara

Frank O’Hara’s famous poem is a delightful mix of wit and earnestness, camp and adoration that both mocks and mourns the famous starlet. Ms Turner’s collapse is both a heartbreaking loss and a hilarious punchline (you can see the reaction O’Hara got when reading the poem at SUNY-Buffalo in 1964 here). The poem’s been in mind since I caught Justin Vivian Bond‘s The Drift at Joe’s Pub a couple of weeks ago where v read it aloud with the same sly humor that O’Hara infused in his Lunch Poems.

Statuesque yet loose, raw and quite powerful, Mx Bond put on a hell of a show, mixing readings, songs, and anecdotes threaded together by the eponymous “drift” which v borrows from Tennessee William’s The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone:

“The drift.
Going into a room and drifting out of a room because there was no real purpose in going in, nor any more purpose in going back out again. That was the drift. The drift was everything that you did without having a reason. But where was a reason for anything at all? Oh, you could invent a reason, and some were plausible. Some were plausible enough for being accepted the way a polite excuse is accepted for convenience or social policy. But there had been nothing.”

The Drift! photo by Liz Liguori

The melodrama, the poetic flare, the doomed beauty of the language is vintage Williams; at once nostalgic and despondent. This is precisely the tone V strikes: she acknowledges, for example, that doing Classic Stage’s production of Brecht’s A Man’s Man was depressing and boring, only slightly made better by the perfect ass of one of the stage crew men.

It is in the looking back that the drift incites that V’s show is particularly striking and necessary. Mx Bond, who also recently released a video for her cover of Bambi Lake’s ode to San Francisco “Golden Age of Hustlers,” stands as a necessary advocate for an attentive looking back at gay history, a concept that seems nowadays all too rare, for its invocation usually entails either rosy nostalgia or irresponsible amnesia. In the video, the era that the song speaks to and about is not glamorized nor embalmed. Indeed, its intermix between stock footage from the late 80s/90s and the contemporary queer performers that frame it aims to create a distinct lineage between two seemingly disconnected queer temporalities. This is nowhere more apparent than in V, whose throaty, crooning voice sends you back even as it jolts you in your seat.

This is one of the overarching themes in The Drift, a piece obstinately fascinated with the ephemeral present and the evanescing past, not just in an existential way, but very concretely in the life of queer subjects. Indeed, while the Internet may lead you to believe a twenty-five year old is breaking ground in discussing his (gasp) age, I will point instead to Mx Bond’s delightfully vexing, haunting and insightful musings on turning fifty, looking back at drunken escapades in Amsterdam, and spending her summer in Fire Island reading the O’Hara poem at night in his memory, all of which bubbled up between songs and readings; there was something remarkably refreshing in seeing a performer be as vulnerable, letting us into her drift, while leaving us thinking of these queer icons that can still speak to us with conviction. As I tweeted as soon as I left The Public that night:

Williams. Deleuze & Guattari. Genet. O’Hara. Wilde. @mxjustinVbond‘s The Drift is the Queer 101 course I wish I could take on the daily.

— Manuel (@atweetnextdoor) March 29, 2014