QMH Script, June 2007

Alexandra Billings - Rhythm/I Got Rhythm (2000)

Welcome to Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and this month I'm bringing you Part 2 of an exploration of the more of the music of Transgender Artists, including some special interviews. Starting the show off was Alexandra Billings, an acclaimed actress and singer and the first transsexual to play a transsexual character on television. I've got a lot more music by her, but first, my regular listeners know how I love to dig into our history and share musical obscurities.

First up is Beth Elliott, who besides being a singer is especially known for her activism in San Francisco in the early 1970's. For example, she was a co-founder of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian & Gay Democratic Club, and on the Board of Directors of the California Committee for Sexual Law Reform, and a member of the Daughters of Bilitis. That group was a pioneering lesbian organization during the 1950's and 1960's, but times were changing. The lesbian community was becoming more radical. In 1973 Beth was elected as vice-president of the Daughters of Bilitis. Later that year, she was "outed" as a transsexual, and hounded out of the organization by transphobic lesbian seperatists. You know how they can get.

I'm sharing with you a song she wrote in 1970, which you may know was before Olivia Records ever dreamed of a woman-loving-woman song. The song is called "Lady on the Subway," and in an email Beth told me it was her way of getting to hear a "girl group" love song addressed from one woman to another. Specifically, it was inspired by one of her all-time favorites, the song "Popsicles, Icicles" by the Murmaids. Here's "Lady on the Subway."

Beth Elliott - Lady on the Subway (1976)

That was "Lady on the Subway," written in 1970 and recorded in 1976. In 2005 Beth Elliott finally got around to releasing a CD of music spanning her career, and appropriately called it "Buried Treasures."

It contains one of her most-known songs, called "The Ballad of the Oklahoma Women's Liberation Front." And you'll quickly see why this is reserved for the internet version of my show.

Beth Elliot - Ballad of the Oklahoma Women's Liberation Front (1976)

You could hardly get more obscure than this next recording. It's a 45 rpm record that was definitely not affected by any politically correct considerations. It's from Holland from 1974 and has a picture on the record sleeve of the singer, reportedly named Roberto. Both sides of the record were written and produced by Dutch singer Wilfred de Faria, and while google doesn't know much about him, he looks like Roberto to me, and he does Not make a good-looking woman. I guess I might use a different name if I were releasing a song called "He-She." Here's Roberto.

Roberto - He-She (1974)

And I can't resist playing the other side of the record, cause gee, where else would you ever hear it? Its title is "I Am What I Am." Of course it's not related to the song by that title later made famous in the musical "La Cage Aux Folles."

Roberto - I Am What I Am (1974)

Again, that was Roberto.

Okay, I'm anxious to get to my interview with Alexandra Billings, and what a delight she is. She's gotten critical acclaim as an actress on stage, on television and as a cabaret performer, garnering her a slew of awards, but in the early 1980's she was a successful female impersonator in the clubs in Chicago, so that's what I asked about first.

When I first started performing I was in Chicago in a club called Club Victoria, which is now, I believe a GAP, they've changed into a GAP store. But back then it was on Belmont, sort of on the north side, and I performed there for about two years. And I then moved to La Cage, which was on Wells, I believe on Wells, which was owned by Barbara Eden, of all strange people. So she was sort of my boss for a long time, which was fantastic. I got to work with "I Dream of Jeanie," which I loved. And then I sort of moved from club to club, and then I ended up at The Baton for about four or five years, something like that. And it was great. I loved doing that. I love the art of pantomime and I really enjoyed the world and the people I met were the best friends I think I've ever had in my life at that time, still are great friends of mine.

What was your drag name?


And where did you get that?

I got it from the back of an album cover. I don't remember which album it was. This was back when they were actually making albums, so this was 1922 or whatever it was. And I got it from the back of an album cover, and I remember the group actually was called Shanti, spelled with an "i." So my name for a long time was Shanti, and then I saw it in print once and it looked like Shanty, and I thought I don't want to look like a house, so I'll change the "I" to an "e." So that's what I did.

Did you do live singing at that time?

I didn't. You know, this was early 1980's and in the drag world nobody was really…not nobody, but there were very few girls that were really using their own voice, and it was sort of unheard of at the time, and so although I wanted to sing most of the club owners just wanted impersonations and things like that, and they really didn't want anybody to use their own voice, so I didn't.

Was your voice different then? Some people when they transition their voice changes.

Yeah, you know, my voice never really changed. It's always sort of been like this. It's always sort of been weird and ambiguous. I think it's gotten lower as I've gotten older, but it's basically sort of been the same.

And I've read that in contests you were named Miss Wisconsin, Miss New York, Miss Chicago, Illinois, Florida.

Wow, you have been doing your research. Good heavens.

I want to know, how do you live in Chicago and win Miss Florida. How does that work?

I did. Like I said, I won some state contests because I wanted to eventually Miss Continental, which I never did, which is very sad. But I never sort of won that. I was always the eternal first runner-up in that contest. And the other big contest besides Miss Continental was Miss Florida. Now, in order to win that most every girl that's won that…well, every girl actually that's won that has been from Florida. So I thought the same thing you did, I can't really enter that cause I'm not from Florida. But Jim Flint, who is the owner of The Baton, said "listen, why don't we just send in an application and see what they say." And they accepted my application and because I had won four or five state titles they allowed me to enter. And I won, which was shocking, but I won.

I've read that you're the first transsexual to have played a transsexual character on television. Could you talk about that?

That's right. Sure, the first role was on a TV movie by Disney called "Romy & Michelle: Behind the Velvet Rope," which was a prequel to the "Romy & Michelle" movie with Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. And the writer who wrote the original "Romy & Michelle" wrote this prequel, and she put this transsexual character in….and, it was so funny. It was very odd because I haven't played a lot of transsexual characters in the theatre. I think I've played like three, maybe two. And it was never out of choice. It just sort of happened that way.

And at the time I had been auditioning for so much television and so much film, and I'd never gotten anything, and so I was sort of tired of it, you know, tired of going down and auditioning and not getting anything. It was very disconcerting. So I told my agent at the time, who called me about this role, and I said "listen, I'm not going to do this, cause I'm not going to get it, cause I never get anything, and I'm tired of doing this." And she said, "listen, I really want you to come down and put yourself on tape and just…it's an hour out of your day, just come down and do it. Get a blond wig and come down and do it." So I did it and I really think that the reason I got it was because I didn't really want to do it. Do you know what I mean? There was sort of nothing at stake for me, cause I was like I'm never going to get this, so it's not going to matter and who cares, so I'll just go down there and read, and then I'll go home and have a Coca-Cola. And I did it and they sent the tape out to L.A. and they liked it and they sort of flew me out here. And it was really an incredible experience.

I've got that issue of The Advocate where you're on the cover, very nice.

Oh, yes, it was me and Greg, Greg Louganis, yeah, that was a fun show. That written by Larry Kramer, called "Just Say No," which was a terrific experience. He and I got to be really, really good friends, and working with Greg was…wow, I'd forgotten about that, that was a really fun experience. I got to play Nancy Reagan, that's exciting.

That's bizarre.

Yes, it was bizarre, in more ways then one. It was bizarre.

Tell me about some of your more favorite TV and movie roles.

Well, I have to say that the last thing I just did was a pilot for a television show called "Nurses," and in it I played another transgender character, and my mother, the woman who played my mother, was Lynn Redgrave. So I got to spend two days acting with Lynn Redgrave, so the experience of sort of doing that with her was pretty much life changing, I have to say. She's an amazing, amazing actor, and she was so generous and so kind. It was really a profound…I know this sounds a little silly, but this was a profound experience working with someone like that. You know, someone that huge you sort of expect to be a gigantic pooh-head, but she was just fantastic. So that was really an extraordinary experience I have to say

Which TV show has gotten you the most attention?

You know probably, probably the one I did on "Grey's Anatomy," I think, only because…you know that show is just huge, I mean, everybody in the world watches that darn thing. And I really had no idea. I mean, I knew it was huge but like you I don't watch a lot of television, and if I do it's "I Love Lucy," really, that's pretty much the only thing I watch. And I really had no idea. We live in a suburb of California that is, I'm telling you, we're in the middle of horse country out there. People ride their horses to the local Denny's, I mean, it's crazy. It's a beautiful town, but we are way out and we were, my partner Chrisanne and I, were at the grain & feed store, don't ask me why, but we were at the grain & feed store and the woman behind the counter recognized me, at the grain & feed store. Why, I mean I knew something had happened when the woman sort of said "are you Alexandra Billings?" And I went "oh my God, I'm recognized at the grain & feed store. What the hell is happening?"

I understand you just missed the excitement on the set of "Grey's Anatomy" involving TR Knight.

[Note: Last fall one of the stars of the show, a black actor, referred to TR Knight as a faggot, denied it, and then did it again in public, raising much stink. He sort of apoligized and checked himself into a rehab program of some sort. The big news as I type this is that he will not be returning to the show. The producers are not saying he was fired due to the incident but blogs are making that the case.]

Oh yes, that particular incident, which was mortifying to everyone, actually happened the day after I left. So yes I missed it by 24 hours, thank God. They're very lucky I wasn't on the set when that happened to be honest with you. I have a real…how do I put this…I'm a stickler for responsibility, and I'm also a true believer in consequences. It's about consequences for your actions.

But that actor went to Bigotry Rehab.

Yes, didn't he just. Isn't that lovely. Bigotry Rehab, which I think is just terrific, and yes, he's just a whole new person now, I'm certain of it. The whole thing is so insane. It's so ridiculous, and you know quite frankly, there's no cure for racism, there's no cure for homophobia, there's no cure for stupidity. You know, there's no treatment that you can take for that kind of stuff. That's about how you're raised. That's about what kind of parental guidance you had, and that's about social graces. And obviously there are some people on the planet that don't have any of those. And there's no place that you can go to sort of regain your self-worth when it comes to that kind of stuff. You either have it…you know, like Rose says in "Gypsy," you either got it or you aint, and that's it.

Tell me about playing Mama Rose in "Gypsy"

Oh, my dear, that was…that was a dream come true, honestly. I'd like to do it again because I have a feeling I was a bit too young. I would like to do it again. I would do it one more time. The experience in it as itself just…I mean, singing that kind of music. Every time I opened my mouth and sang, you know, "You'll be swell…" When the words came out of my mouth I couldn't believe what was happening to me, so to sing that kind of score and to be involved in that kind of musical, which by the way has one of the best books ever written for a musical. It was amazing. It was an amazing experience. Yes. That was really fun, really fun.

Alexandra Billings - Some People (2000)

Of course that was the song "Some People" from "Gypsy." You'll find that on Alexandra's first album, which was called "Being Alive," which was released in 2000.

Why did you choose "Being Alive" as the title track?

Um, that's a good question. Why did we choose that? I think that was sort of a committee vote. That was myself and my producer, Ralph Lampkin, who's a terrific guy, an amazing guy whose been with me for twenty-something years. I first album I did I wanted it to be very positive. I wanted it to be, you know, uplifting, so I think that's how we arrived at it…that was a long time ago. We might have just done eenie meenie miney moe, I don't remember really.

When you wrote me to accept doing this interview you wrote that you thought your first two CDs were very difficult for you.

Yeah, Yeah, you know, I….I mean, look, let's be honest. I'm not…I'm not a great singer, I'm just not. I don't a fabulous…you know, I'm not Barbra Streisand, I'm not Christine Aguilera, I don't have that kind of voice. I like performing, you know, I like singing in front of people. That's what I love to do. And so when I got in the studio there was sort of no one there…

No give-back.

That's right. Yes, that's exactly right. I was sort of singing to Ralph and the two people in the booth. It was very odd, you know, a very lonely experience for me. It was hard for me. It's hard for me to do.

Your second album, from 2004 was called "The Story Goes On" and from it I really love the duet you did with Stephen Rader on "The Grass Is Always Greener"

Oh, thank you. Yeah, that was fun. He's also been a really, really good friend of mine for a very long time and when we first got the song he said, "well, I guess I'll play the housewife and you play the big star," and I said "oh, no, no, no, let's switch it. That'll be much more fun and much more interesting for both of us. So it was great, because I got to come out in a big blue muu muu and with a shower cap on my head and little catseye glasses, and he got to dress up and look fantastic, so it was really fun to do. It was really fun.

I love that…of course he comes across as gay in the song…"you can have my husband, I've had your husband"…

That's right, that's right. Yeah we wanted to sort of mess with the genders. You know I love to do that. I love to screw with people's heads so they have to…they listen to the song and a couple minutes later they go "What? What'd she say? Eh?

Alexandra Billings & Stephen Rader - The Grass Is Always Greener (2004)

That song, "The Grass Is Always Greener," was written by Kander & Ebb from the Broadway show "Woman of the Year."

Also from that album tell me about "I'm Not My Mother"

That particular album was really a theatrical…how do I explain it? A theatrical show, cause that was recorded live. We put the show together that had a through-line of sort of…it was sort of an autobiographical feel to it. And the "I'm Not My Mother" song sort of harkened back to the very top of the show where I actually talk about my mother, and her passing and how much she gave me, and how much I learned from her. And then I just sort of wanted to wrap it up at the end by saying, well, even with all my neuroses and with my constant cleaning habits, and with my touch of OCD and my paranoia about myself and my life, I realized how much I'm not like her, I'm pretty much the exact same thing

Alexandra Billings - I'm Not My Mother (2004)

What do you think is a good definition of transgender?

Oh my goodness, wowee. What do I think is a good….you know, it's funny because I remember the first time I heard that word, which was only about maybe ten years ago, and I was in a library and I was getting music for something, some show. And I heard that word from two people that were sitting, reading something. I think they were college kids doing research or something. And I heard "blah blah blah transgender." And I went "what the heck are they talking about?" So I actually had to go ask people what it meant, and for me I guess, I really hated it when I first heard it. And now, in the last four or five years I've come to really like it, because I think that it means…it's sort of an umbrella, which I think is great, which includes transsexuals, pre-op and post-op, transvestites, a whole community now has one unified word, so I think it's basically a big trans-umbrella. It's a transbrella, so to speak.

I like that it doesn't draw lines. It doesn't put people into camps, pre-op, post-op, stealth, whatever, it's just how they self-identify.

That's right. That's the reason I like it, too. I agree with you, yes.

Have you ran into transgender stereotypes in auditioning for acting roles?

Well, oh, how do you mean?

Like, are they all victim parts?

Most of them are, yes. But I don't…I say no to those, and so does my agent. Billy Miller's a…I'm very lucky to have him. He's not only a great manager, he's a great manager for my community. He gets it. He understands it. So he says no to a lot of that stuff. It's just very difficult for me to play the transsexual murderer, or the transsexual with the deep dark secret, or the transsexual who can't get out of a box, you know what I mean?

And who doesn't live through the episode.

That's right, yes. For the past three years I've been playing a lot of transsexuals in the hospital. I'm sort of the queen of the transsexual in the hospital right now. You got a hospital? You need a transsexual? Call me, I can do it in my sleep. So I'm a little, you know, I'm sort of at the point now where I'm like, I really want to do some other things. That would be really nice

It seems like the characters for transgender folks are maybe twenty years behind gay and lesbian folks, in writing.

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We're at the very, very tip of the iceberg here. And I have to say…I've said this a million times, but I'm going to say it again. I have to say that I lay a lot of the blame at our feet. I believe that it is our community's fault and our community's problem, because you have to remember that, and I think you probably know this, a lot of transsexuals, be they transvestites or pre- or post-op, whatever, a lot of them when they decide to transition, or start to transition, go into hiding, you know. They change their name, they change their identity, they lie about their past, even to their spouses. And they sort of move to some obscure place in Idaho or something and set up camp and live their lives.

And so the problem is that Hollywood and most everybody has no frame of reference, because we are silent. We have decided not to come out of the closet. The reason the gay and lesbian movement is so far ahead of us is because I believe they're a lot braver.

And they come out of the closet and stay out of the closet.

That's exactly correct. And they now have said, look, look at TR Knight. He said, I'm gay…I mean, he was forced out of the closet because of some idiocy that happened. But, since he's out, you know, he said "this is the way I am, and that's it, and I'm going to continue acting, and I'm an actor and this is just a part of my life, and it's not all of who I am, but this is who I am." So now Hollywood can look at him and say, oh, that's what a gay man is," as well as these other things, but that's what a gay man is. They can look at Ellen Degeneris and say, oh, that's what a gay woman is, oh, I see. But who do they have to look at for the transgender community? RuPaul? I mean, RuPaul was great but that's all they have… is RuPaul, and Milton Berle in the 1950's. That's all they've got.

That's a different thing altogether though.

Yeah, it is a different thing altogether, right, but you know what I mean. That's the only thing the understand, a man…a straight man in a dress with funny teeth and a crazy walk, or a six-foot drag queen. That's all they understand because those are the only people that are out, that are speaking, that have a voice. So they write these characters and they write from what they know

I was going to comment that for many transgender people, it's like a journey with closets at both ends.

How do you mean?

Well, when they're first starting to self-identify, they might be a man…if it's a man becoming a woman, they might be a man at work but in their social life they might be a woman. So they're still in the closet, for part of their life. And then they transition and then they decide, oh, I was never a man, I'm in stealth.

That's right. That's right. Yes. That's right, and so I understand how incredibly difficult the journey is, and how unbelievably confusing it is. But my point is, like you said, to go from closet to closet doesn't help anybody.

It's got to drive the activists crazy.

Well, it drives me crazy. I don't know if I'm an activist, but it certainly drives me crazy. I get real sick and tired of it, especially when I hear my own…some of my own community saying "well, that's not fair, you can't portray us like that, we're not like that" and I want to turn to them and go "well, then open your freaking mouth, for the love of Christ. Stop sitting in your house and knitting and complaining. I don't' want to hear you. Then stand up and say something. Come out at work. Come out when you start dating. Be proud of who you are. Look at the journey you've had, for Christ's sake.

What transgender issue do you think confuses people the most?

I think the big question is why. I think it's that. I really think it's why. Everybody asks me all the time, why, why, why, why. And I have turn to them and say "listen, I have absolutely no idea why." I don't know why. No one knows why. People are trying to figure it out but no one knows why. So I think that's the big issue. And I think that's part of the reason we're trapped in this closet, because we don't know why we're like this. It doesn't make any sense to anybody. So nobody wants to talk about it and nobody wants to explain it. They just want to say "this is the way I am and this is the way I was born." Which is fine. It's just that, you know, in order for us to have any kinds of rights whatsoever we're going to have to eventually get over that question, and just start living honestly. Let somebody else figure it out.

Probably the follow up question is, if you ended up marrying a woman, why didn't you stay a man?

Yes, that would have made things easier, wouldn't it. Now you sound like my parents. And Chrisanne and I, my partner Chrisanne have always said to other people when they condemn us for one reason or another and say "why didn't you just stay male?" I always say "listen, don't you think if I could have, I would have? Why would I choose…why would I sit in my apartment when I was 18 years old and go, "hmm, do I file my nails or transition into a female? Oh, what a decision!" Why would I do that? This is something I had to do. This is something I was compelled to do. This is something I knew about myself since the day I was born. I knew it.

Do you think there is a divide within the trans community between transmen and transwomen?

Oh, isn't that an interesting question? I don't think so. Well, no, I don't think so. Boy, I would hope not, but I don't think so. I think that all of us, because we fall under that umbrella that we were talking about, that transgender umbrella, we all still sort of understand what all of us are going through. You know, I think we consider ourselves brothers and sisters. So no, I really don't think so. I think there's more of a divide in the gay male and gay female population than there is with us.

Well, one thing that I was thinking about is that in a way it's a different journey for transmen and transwomen, and there are for example…

Do you think so? How do you think, like…

Psychologically. I think a transman could all of a sudden find themselves in a world where they have male privilege.

Oh I see what you're saying. Yes, isn't that interesting. I think you're absolutely right. I'll never forget…you know, I started transitioning very, very young. I was about 18 or 19 years old, and I lived in California for a long time when I was younger. And it's fabulous weather out here pretty much every day, with the exception of about two months when it rains. And so I spent most of my youth with my shirt off. And so when I started to transition, I started to go on hormone therapy or whatever, I realized all of a sudden…and I know this sounds a bit odd, but it was sort of a metaphor for what I was in for living as a transgender female. I realized I could no longer spend most of my time with my shirt off. I began to have to cover myself up. And what was bizarre was as I began to transition I began to be treated not only as if I should cover myself but as if I couldn't do anything all of a sudden. I couldn't open my own door. I couldn't light my own cigarette. I couldn't put on my own coat. I all of a sudden couldn't pay for meals when I was out on a date, and I wanted to turn to all these people and go "listen, I'm still the same person. I can open my own damn door. Get out of my way." So there is, like you say, there's a loss of rights, I believe, of inaliable rights that happen. And the reverse, when you go from female to male, I would assume that's true. You're right, you actually gain power. Isn't that interesting. I never thought about that.

And I think a lot of the women, who want to become women, kind of buy into the stereotype that they're supposed to be meek and so forth.

That's exactly right, exactly, JD. Which is what perpetuates that stereotype. You're exactly right. And unfortunately we as transgender females buy into that. "Oh, I can't do this anymore" and "oh, won't you take care of me" and "oh, I'm a slight, little helpless creature" and yes, we buy into that. And we become a characterture. We become overly so. We become a living cartoon. And quite frankly, most of the women I know don't act like that. Chrisanne, my partner, never acts like that, ever, she's one of the most powerful women I know.

What new projects are you working on?

Oh, we have a couple of things sort of on the back burner. The pilot, the "Nurses" pilot that I was talking about, I think is going to air in June sometime, and right now I'm co-directing again a version of "Hamlet" which is going to be performed here in Los Angeles outside at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, you know, where they show all the old movies and stuff.

And you're in a movie, "The Socket"

I'm in a movie…oh, yeah, I forgot about the movie. Good heavens, you know more about me than I do, this is really frightening. Yeah, "Socket" just got excepted to the Out Film Festival, so that should be playing in some festivals in the next two or three months while they look for distribution.

It looks delightfully creepy.

It is creepy. It is delightfully creepy. It's delightfully creepy in a delightful creepy way

A couple years ago I played on my show a wonderful duet with you and Honey West, I love that song. I understand you're close friends.

She's the best friend that I have in the whole world. Yes. She and I, we've shared everything, and I do mean everything. Yes, she and I are very dear friends, Yeah.

As I said, I love these two songs and love the way they put them together. From Honey West's 1997 album "Take Honey West Home," here are the songs "Fifty Percent" and "I Know Him So Well"

Honey West & Alexandra Billings - Fifty Percent / I Know Him So Well (1997)

Honey West

Honey West and Alexandra Billings, doing a transgender duet.

Is there any question that I should have asked?

You should have asked me what's my favorite food. Hamburgers and milkshakes. Hamburgers and milkshakes.

I did read that on your website that you can eat hamburgers till the cows come home.

That's right, and when they come home, I eat them.

I haven't said how I landed this interview with Alexandra. A couple times over the years I've interviewed Steve Schalchlin and Jim Brochu. They are partners and both extremely talented, having written several excellent musicals and plays, including "The Last Session" and "The Big Voice: God or Merman." They were in Houston for Jim's show "Zero Hour" and when I went to see that show I talked with Steve a little and mentioned that I was doing a show on Transgender Artists. He immediately mentioned Alexandra, which psyched me up because she was already on my wish list of folks I'd like to interview, and he helped that happen. But he also told me about a song he wrote that he wants Alex to record. The song is about Billy Tipton, who was a transgender jazz musician who had modest success in the 40's and 50's and it was only when he died in 1989 that it was discovered that he was a woman. There's lots more to tell about Billy and if you want more please check out my QMH show from August of 2000, which was my first show on Transgender Music. Anyway, I mentioned Steve Schlachlin's song to Alex and here are her comments.

The Billy Tipton song. Yeah, it's a beautiful song, it's a great song. We haven't had a chance to record it yet. We wanted to have it ready before we did this interview but we just couldn't get together. But yes, it's a terrific song. It's a beautiful song.

I'd love to hear you do it. That'd be great.

Billy Tipton in Hi Fi  Billy Tipton  "Sweet Georgia Brown" by BillyTipton

That's great. And you know not a lot of people remember Billy. It's funny. He had such a fascinating life and this song sort of really captures that. It's sort of a story song, which I love. I love songs that have a beginning, a middle and an end, and it's such a fascinating story. He had such an interesting life.

Well, hopefully on a future show I can play you Alexandra doing Steve Schlachlin's song about Billy Tipton. But, thanks to Steve, I can share with you his demo version of it right now, and this is a Queer Music Heritage exclusive. Steve Schalchlin and "Brilliant Masquerade."

Steve Schalchlin - Brilliant Masquerade (2007)

Steve Schalchlin & JD, April 2003

Steve Schalchlin & JD, 2003


In this interview I could definitely not do justice to all that's wonderful and exciting about Alex, so please check out her website, www.AlexandraBillings.com.

And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.

The Cliks

For the closing act for this show I chose a new band out of Toronto called The Cliks. I'm very impressed with their debut album, which is called "Snakehouse." They're getting a lot of attention, and have even landed a song on the TV show "The L Word." So I got their lead singer, Lucas Silviera, on the phone for this quick interview.

Tell me about the new album?

"Snakehouse" is a collection of songs that I ended up writing after the end of a six-and a half year long relationship, and after that time a series of bad things happened to me, and at the same time I started coming to terms with the fact that I was transgender, and out of all these experiences together I created the album.

How did you get on "The L Word"?

We did a show at Toronto Pride where we came on right after Betty, Betty who does the theme song for "The L-Word," and I believe that one of the members of Betty is the music supervisor, or knows somebody who's the music supervisor over at "The L-Word" and they asked for one of our CDs. And our manager happened to be there and gave them one and the next thing we knew they asked us if we wanted to have a song on. So that's how it happened.

Have you noticed the impact of that?

Oh, yeah, absolutely, I mean, I think it was the night it aired literally on myspace we got like so many hits and so many emails and people asking where the could buy the CD, and it really, really changed and kind of moved things really forward for us. It was just kind of like the beginning of it starting to do that, so yeah, huge, huge impact.

And from the new various artists compilation "L Tunes: Music From and Inspired by the L Word," is a bit of their song "Complicated"

The Cliks - Complicated (2007)

That version of The Cliks song "Complicated" is the more radio friendly version, the one from their own album is definitely not for regular radio.

What part does being trans have in your music?

Ah, no much, the fact that I'm trans just happens to be who I am and I don't really go into this place in myself and say "I'm trans and this is the music I write." I just write from where I am inside, like my soul and not my gender, so I take everything from experiences.

Do you think it's influenced your writing?

I don't think it's influenced my writing. I think that it has allowed me to be a lot more open with who I am and how I express myself. But I think that that happens in any situation where somebody comes to terms with their identity, whether it be that they are trans, gay, bi, or just with the fact that, you know, they come out of a life experience that has changed them as a person.

You're very out as a transperson, have you found that to be kind of a double-edged sword as far as the band getting recognition.

You know, I could, you know, if I was a bitter person and wanted to look on the bad side of things, then I could say, yeah, it kind of sucks because every time I get into a conversation with someone about my music they end up asking me about the fact that I'm transgender, but at the same time I think being visible is extremely important, and it is a point of interest to a lot of people. So I don't mind so much and I think that it has not hindered me in any way so far, so I can't say that I've seen, you know, the bad side of it and the good side of it is I have given something for people to talk about. So it's a good think, it's not bad.

There seems to be a growing number of transmen artists, do you feel like a mentor in this area?

Oh, that's such an intense word, "mentor." I'd like to say that if I can help anybody be okay with who they are, whether it be that they are trans or anything else, then that's a good thing. Whether I'm somebody to be looked at, to represent an entire part of the population, you know, mainly transmen, I have difficulty with that, just because of the fact that I don't represent everybody and everybody's different, but you know sometimes these things can't be helped, but like I said, if I can help anybody be okay with who they are, I'm totally happy with that.

Is there another song on the album you'd like to talk about that has special meaning to you?

Well, that's difficult. They all really, really do…I think one of the songs on the album that I feel really strongly about it "Oh Yeah," which is the song that we have a video for, and that song it itself is just really important to me because it was written at probably the lowest point that I could possibly ever go to, and when I listen to it I found that I went down, just like the song says but then I got back up, but it's also about strength. So it's just a song about hope and redemption and that's kind of what I hope the album comes through as.

The Cliks - Oh Yeah (2007)

That was a bit of the song "Oh Yeah"

I'm trying not to gush here, but I think it's a wonderful album, and the voice is terrific but not only that the person who produced it was wise enough to let people understand the voice.

Yes. That was Moe Berg. He was in The Pursuit of Happiness, a band that was pretty big here in Canada back in the 80s and 90s, early 90s, and he was amazing. He was just such, such an amazing human being to work with, and he really just kind of like what you said, he really served the music and the songs and he doesn't try to make them something they're not, and I really love that.

Well, there are so many rock acts where you say "oh, well that felt good but I don't know what they were talking about."

Well, yes I think it is really important to Moe, and it is very important to me, and it's one of those things that, you know, that through experience and having recorded other albums previous to this, you just kind of realize that the number one thing that people want to hear is…they want to hear your voice, and they want to hear the words that you're saying. And I think that Moe really puts a lot of importance on that and we all do as a band, so it worked out.

You can find out more about this group at www.TheCliks.com, and that's spelled www the C-L-I-K-S dot com. And I can't tell you on regular radio where the name came from, but you can probably do some googling and find out.

I'm down to the last song, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and I want to especially thank Alexandra Billings and Lucas Silviera of The Cliks for the wonderful interviews. And there was so much from Alex's interview that I could just not fit in the radio version of this show so my internet listeners can hear an extended version with a lot more comments and additional music. That of course can be found at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.

I've got one more question for Lucas Silviera and that was to tell me about my favorite track on their album, called "Cry Me a River"

Well, Mr. Justin Timberlake wrote that song, and he wrote it, the take that I got on it anyhow, and I think I might be pretty accurate is, that it was written about his breakup with a certain lady and the loss of trust. And I just really, really related to the lyrics and I had been coming out of a relationship that had sort of the same situation and upon connecting with lyrics I usually start singing songs and playing them on my guitar, and one day I just brought it to the band, and we started jamming it out, and it just sounded great. There was just something about this song itself that I felt a little bit more intense about and since I do rock and roll, I got a chance to use it as sort of a therapy session, so to speak.

I love that you, very naturally, kept the male pronouns.

Well, yeah.

And that sort of makes a statement itself.

Well, yeah, I think a lot of people especially when we play live, if they don't know us or have never heard us play the song or whatever, they kind of "hmm, isn't that interesting." But you know, it's a kind of, you know, it's a kind of genderfuck with people like that sometimes cause it gives them a little bit of an awakening as to, you know, what their world is, and how many other people there are on this planet that are different from them.

The Cliks - Cry Me a River (2007)