Script for March 2003, QMH:
And now for a Queer Music Heritage exclusive...
Mark Weigle - jimmy / 867-5309 (2003)
Welcome to Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and I'm here on the 4th Monday of each month to bring you an hour devoted to our culture's music. I'm very pleased to have been able to open the show with a brand new song by Mark Weigle, from his next album, which won't be released until late Spring. The album will be called "Different and the Same," and the song "Jimmy" is a cover version. It was originally called "867-5309/Jenny," and was a hit for Tommy Tutone in 1982, but I like Mark's version much better.
Camp Record Label
The first feature of tonight's show will be a little different, because instead of being about a particular artist, it's about a record label, a very mysterious record label. And it's a subject I've been meaning to cover ever since I started Queer Music Heritage over three years ago. The label was called Camp Records and it is indeed mysterious because almost nothing is known about it. It was active in the early to mid 60s, and was kind of an underground label. It was based in Los Angeles, but the only address given was a PO box in Hollywood. They released two albums and ten 45s, and the artists singing most of the songs were uncredited, or with names obviously made up, like Byrd E. Bath and B. Bubba. The first album was called "The Queen Is In The Closet" and it was full of campy parodies, done with very stereotypical singing voices. Here's a song from it, called "The Weekend of a Hairdresser."
weekend of a hairdresser
Camp Records also released ten singles, on 45rpm records, and many had picture covers, again with stereotypical poses. The 45s are all very rare and I've only got 8 of the 10. The first one was a parody of a popular TV commercial of the early 60s for Benson & Hedges cigarettes. The tag line of the commercial was "I'd rather fight than switch," and if I'm remembering correctly, they often featured smokers with black eyes, proving that they would indeed fight before switching brands. But the Camp Records 45 took a twist on that, making it "I'd Rather Fight Than Swish." And the 45 gave two versions of it. Here's about a minute of "I'd Rather Fight Than Swish."
B. Bubba - I'd rather fight than swish
You get the idea, on the flip side of the 45 was the same song, with different lyrics, called "I'd Rather Swish Than Fight." I prefer this version.
B. Bubba - I'd rather
swish than fight
Following "I'd Rather Swish Than Fight" was "Homer the Happy Little Homo." And an interesting thing about that 45 is the credits. The song, according to the label, was done by Byrd E. Bath and the Gentle-Men, with Tap Dancing Solo by Rodney Dangerfield. This is the only real person's name on any of the Camp Records releases. This would have been very early in Rodney Dangerfield's career. I'm guessing this 45 was released around 1963.
The second album on the Camp label was entirely different. It was called "Mad About The Boy," and was filled with mostly well-known Broadway and cabaret songs that were originally sung by women. The album kept the pronouns intact, making them very gay. I think this was the first time this approach was deliberately used on record. The songs were done in lounge style, without a campy approach....in other words, done "straight." The liner notes state: "The primary reason for doing this album was to prove that good songs could and should be sung by everyone. Gender should not be the determining factor as to who should sing what." The notes later say that the male soloist and other artists on the album are, and this is in quotes, "well-known Hollywood, TV, and screen personalities" but "we are not at liberty to reveal true names." I have no idea if all this is true, or simply hype. The album probably came out in 1964 or 1965.
So, from the album "Mad About The Boy," here's a medley I've put together giving you a taste of three of the songs, "Mad About The Boy," "Make The Man Love Me," and "One Boy."
mad about the boy/make the man love me/one boy
Yes, I think so, too. I've set up a special section of my website as a tribute to the Camp Records label, where I give more tidbits and observations about it, and scans of those campy record covers, and I've set it up so you can hear almost every song on the label, from the two albums and the 45s. So now, Camp Records, the unknown gay record label of the 60s, has a home on the internet. It's a unique look at gay humor of that time.
And, this is a good time to remind you to be sure to listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Sunday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude. Also, I invite you to check out my website, at www.queermusicheritage.com where you can view the playlist and see photos of the artists and recordings, and listen to the show anytime. [surrounded by the theme from TV show "Will & Grace"]
On tonight's show I get to bring you a very special interview with one of our musical and comedy pioneers, Lynn Lavner. She's been billed as America's most politically incorrect entertainer, and she's been bringing her special brand of humor and cabaret music to us since 1981. Her first album, from that year, was a musical that played off-Broadway, called "Ladies Don't Spit & Holler," and it featured her writing and three other singers beside herself. She released three solo albums in the 80s, called "Something Different," "I'd Rather Be Cute," and "You Are What You Wear." And 1992 brought us her first live album, "Butch Fatale," which really gives a good taste of both her music and her very funny and often thought-provoking monologues.
She's been given the Christopher Street West award for extraordinary creativity in lesbian and gay music and entertainment. And, she's well known as a very versatile emcee, for events ranging from the National Women's Music Festival, International Conferences of MCC, Dignity and Gay/Lesbian Jews, and the International Mr. Leather and Mr. Drummer contests. That's quite a variety. She was out there doing both Out music and comedy at a time when really no other women were doing it, and I think she helped make it easier for the lesbian comics who followed. Before we get to the interview, I want to introduce you to her music, by playing a song from her latest album, "Butch Fatale," called "A Lesbian Too Long."
Lynn Lavner - lesbian too long (1992)
I've been looking at your albums and I decided that one of my favorite songs was "a lesbian too long" so I'd like to start off by asking have you've been a lesbian too long.
Well somebody asked me if I was always a lesbian and I said not yet, but I expect that probably, you know, I was ever the slow child, I didn't come out to myself until I was three years old. But that's the truth, I knew very very early. They gave me a doll house and I did the electric. But I suppose that everybody gets to a certain age where they've just seen everything that can that can be cute with cocktails, and the say, well, I think I've been a lesbian too long.
Tell me about your early career; how did you get started as an entertainer?
Well, I really inherited I guess a knack for playing the piano and being a wise guy from my father, who was a lawyer by profession, but he was a cantor on the high holy days, and he played the piano and he sang. So he bought a piano, it was the only major purchase of his entire life. And that's why we had one in the house. When he died when I was 8 years old, and I began to play it. And that was just my entertainment for years and years. In high school I was the kid that hid behind the piano while everybody else sang. And began to play piano bar when I was I guess in my 20s, and, as anybody who ever worked in a bar will tell you, nothing good happens after 2 o'clock. So at two in the morning I began to fool around with writing my own kind of satires and take-offs and a few original songs and so I just used to keep my eyes and ears open and watch what was happening around me and write songs about it. And of course eventually wound up putting it together in a cabaret act and I played the Duplex in New York City, my first paying job [that's a good start]. Oh I found out later that people left their homes, apartments and lovers and gave themselves two years in New York to try to play the Duplex. And I sort of got on the subway cause I lived in Brooklyn. I was teaching school at the time. And I would teach during the day and I would come in and do cabaret or I would do piano bar at night. But I held both those jobs together for some time, really until I began to travel with the cabaret act.
Now, when was that, roughly?
It certainly was roughly, I can tell you that. That was in the years of community housing, and People's Express Airlines. But I think that the first time that I went to San Francisco was at the very tail end of 1984. And was taken under the wing of Sharon McKnight, who is a wonderful wonderful cabaret singer, and we had been friendly in New York, in the clubs, and she said, "Lynn, when you play out here, come stay with me." So I did and played a few gigs, and Sharon was very generous and would have me get up for ten minutes in the middle of her act wherever she was playing, and I got more work that way, and I really date the full time travel from playing Chicago in the Spring of 1985, and was really on the road for about 13 years.
[Below, cabaret singer Sharon McKnight from an 1981 album cover, and, right, from her recent NYC show of Sophie Tucker material, "Red Hot Mama"]
Were you doing music and comedy the whole time, or did you start out with one or the other?
It began really, you know it was a cabaret act from the start. I played my own songs but I always had something of a political consciousness and I realized that there were many people who liked hearing that, they liked hearing lesbian and gay words said in a prideful way, and they liked sharing experience and there's so much that's funny or inspiring or terrifying about growing up gay, and that has not changed over time. So I began to talk between songs and that was really the form that the act took. But there was also emceeing, and then I began to record. So it really kept me pretty busy.
I've read a couple reviews where they commented that an amazing ability of yours is that you can appeal just about equally to gay men and lesbians. How do you attribute that?
I think probably to the fact that I started, and got my whole gay sensibility and camp sense of humor from a gay male audience, in those piano bars in Greenwich Village. Many more guys were out, and they had the money to come in and have a nice dinner, and they were the ones who love the same music that I grew up loving, Broadway show songs, and Gershwin, Porter, Kern and Berlin, and so my act, I think, very naturally played to them, and in fact those were my first out of town gigs. The lesbian audience really didn't come until later, and people, you know, who booked me would say, "do you think that women would enjoy this as well?" I think that was probably in the years when a lesbian act was probably a woman with a guitar singing about her dead pony. And that was just never my thing. That wasn't my, I didn't care for that kind of music, I'm not a folkie. And, so the men's leather events, well, now that's a whole other story. That was something that came from, I guess, some of the humorous early songs, and being booked into, I've played actually played the tenth anniversary of gay men's SM association in New York, and I think I'm still the only woman to have emceed both International Mr. Leather, and the Mr. Drummer contests.
When did you start wearing leather in your act?
Very early on. It was really a political statement more than anything else. You know, in the gay world, and remember this is, I guess we're talking now about the early and mid 80s. There's always been an evolution politically of what's correct and what's permissible, and I thought, well who are the two groups who are most despised in our community by outsiders, and by some in our community. And they are of course the drag queens and leather people. And you know I grew up trying to avoid what drag queens wore, so that was eliminated immediately. So I went into our Christopher Street leather shop, and had some things made for me my size (it's not easy to get handcuffs in a girl's size 12). I'm five feet tall, I weigh 98 pounds, and so the visual of my tramping out on stage, no pun intended, in full heavy black leather you know I think made a statement.
Well, you also do the tux outfit, too.
Oh, yeah, well, that was my fantasy. I grew up wanting to be Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable and Cary Grant, and you know, winning the beautiful woman in those black and white 1940s movies. I watched Million Dollar Movies, and loved that stuff and so when I finally worked in a field where I could wear a tuxedo and a bow tie to work, well, I wasn't going to let that chance pass me by.
That kind of fits in with one of the songs I want to play. Could you please tell us about the song "Something Different"?
"Something Different" was the story of the little girl who knows immediately that she is not like the other little girls. And I think the first line is "all the other little girls loved Fred, I fell in love with Ginger. What can I say, it's something different." And it goes through the many ways that I identified with what now would be called a 'soft butch,' which did not appear in your Funk & Wagnell's then. But you know the idea of wanting to slick back your hair, and wanting to play ball, and not dress up and play with dolls. So that's kind of the song that a lot of people relate to.
Lynn Lavner - something different (1983)
That was a little bit of "Something Different," the title track from Lynn Lavner's 1983 album. Who were your musical and comedy influences?
All probably immigrant Jews from New York. In the field of comedy it would be Woody Allen and Sid Caesar and Howie Morris, Carl Reiner and that gang. Mel Brooks, certainly. Musically I just loved anything that was written I used to say by a songwriter on Tin Pan Alley between 1911 and 1943. And I would listen to Gershwin's old records and try to play the piano the way he did. And I think Irving Berlin is absolutely the genius of American music.
Well, that kind of leads into another question I have. I'm not sure I'm going to phrase it right. When I research a lot of my shows, especially in the lesbian artists, I run into the fact that a lot of the people that I really respect, like Alix Dobkin, RobinTyler, are the most Out artists, and their lyrics are the most Out, and they are all Jewish, and what is the connection between that?
I think that it's well, Robin, for whom I have a enormous respect, she really the beginning of us all, and also talk about generous and helpful to everybody that followed her. Robin was born in Winnipeg. Winnipeg was one of the great Canadian sites for Jewish immigration, that was interested in culture, and that creative people, whose values included family and learning and a love for culture. They flocked there, the way that the Russian and European Jewish immigrants flocked to Ellis Island, where my people came from. So I suppose that being have-nots at the beginning, we were raised with a great consciousness of right and wrong, and a sense of justice. And a sense of if what we were wasn't good enough for other people, it was always good enough for us. [More out and proud] More out and proud. But being an outsider, you're either going to hate yourself or you're going to go for it, and that was the spirit that gave us our American culture, was people who were oppressed.
Tell us about that first recording, "Ladies Don't Spit and Holler"
Do I have to? [well, sure] I call it the Lynn Lavner white album, because we couldn't afford a cover, but ah "Ladies Don't Spit and Holler" was a feminist musical that was put together on a very limited budget in New York City, by some women, college women. And they wanted it to be a musical and they asked me to write the songs for it. So I did, and we played locally and we did a lot of freebees, and college campuses and so on. And I don't where we got the money, or whether someone produced it, I really don't remember, but we played off-Broadway just for a couple of weekends. And at the end of one performance a woman came up to the piano and she said to me, "those songs are really great. Are they available on LP? Can I buy them?" And I said, well, no, actually, we've looked into making a recording, but it's prohibitively expensive. And without missing a beat she said to me, "Well, I'll pay for it." And I thought, well, honey, go home and sober up, and come see the show again next week and maybe, you know, things will get better in your life. She called me the next day to ask why I was so reluctant to talk to her about this.
And it was a very funny story. She was a true feminist who had inherited, of all horrible things, a hunting lodge from her uncle. And she couldn't get rid of that hunting lodge fast enough. And put the money toward something that she thought politically enlightened. And so she paid for that album, and we made 300 copies of it, and, it's amazing, but there are still people who will be in touch about it and who like this from it and that from it. I don't think you've been able to buy it for some time. [Roughly what year was "Ladies Don't Spit and Holler"?] 1982, I believe [Was it vinyl? Or tape or what?] It was vinyl, it was never made into tape. Actually [I have a cassette tape of it] a good friend of mine, Bruce Reeves, in Houston made a CD of it, and I think I made some homemade copies on tape, but I don't think it was ever sold as a tape. [Okay, yeah, the cassette I have looks very homemade] Then it's one of the homemade ones. It's probably I mean, how many women bootlegged themselves? You know I probably copied my own songs, and gave them away.
Of what song that you've written are you the most proud, and why?
It's hard to explain. Unless you're a songwriter, I don't anybody ever wrote a song that they were pleased with when it was finished. Or that lived up to their expectation of what it was going to be when they started.
Okay, then at your concerts which of your songs seem to be the most popular?
[laughs] I guess the one you mentioned, "A Lesbian Too Long" is a big favorite. And, it's a funny thing, the song "(I Like) Older Women" has caught on, not only among younger women, but among older women and among children. And of course I think the song that has moved people the most is "Such Fine Young Men," which was I believe is the first song ever recorded on the subject of AIDS by any woman, straight or gay. And was a response of mine at the time to some early criticism of the people with the virus: you know, if they hadn't been this, that and the other terrible thing, well, they wouldn't have caught this. And it just made me so angry that I wanted to personalize it, so I sang about three friends who had died of it. [Yeah, that's a beautiful song] And I think that because that means so much to me maybe it was conveyed to the audience, and I think it struck a chord as we all suffered so terribly, directly or indirectly with the spread of the epidemic.
Lynn Lavner - such fine young men (1986)
That was "such fine young men" from the 1986 album "I'd Rather Be Cute." I want to ask about just a couple songs in particular. Please tell us about "A Mother's Lament."
Ah, "A Mother's Lament" is a song that I think everybody relates to, because we all come from a family, and we all come from a religious tradition, whether we've taken it seriously or not. And it's the song of a Jewish mother whose daughter is gay. And I introduce it at the piano by saying it's a song my mother would have written for me if my mother could write songs and if there had been no mahjong game that day. And it's basically, don't wear leather pants to the seder. It's a mother saying, Lynnie, tone it down a little bit, please, when you're with your Aunt Adele and your Cousin Larry and so on
Lynn Lavner - a mother's lament (1986)
The relatives that are mentioned in that song really all do exist, and... [Cousin Larry, too?] well, Cousin Larry never wore a dress to the seder. His name is Larry Boxx, and I think he and I are the only blood relatives to have both been grand marshals of Ft. Lauderdale's Pride. Larry was one of the original Stonewallers in New York, and has been honored many times as an early leader in the movement, and I'm very proud of him, and so whenever I'm in a city when he's nearby and can come see me perform. Well, I do that song and have him take the curtain calls.
Is there one message you've tried to convey in your entertaining over the years, what would that be?
It's so obvious, it hardly needs saying. And that is we just need to be true to ourselves. Being in the closet is a sentence, a life sentence of being fearful and vulnerable and frightened and awkward and creating a barrier between ourselves and other people. And if you don't come out, you miss your life. It's not that we can live the first time to please the military, the parish priest, and our grandparents. You don't get a second chance. And, what you try to do on stage is, first of all, to entertain, and in that sense I am actually having somebody work on a website now. I'd love to expand my possibilities for bookings, but what's always exciting is going out and carrying a positive message and a couple of laughs to people who are not sure of themselves and not sure of the politics or people who, especially young men, who have been deprived of the mentoring of older gay men because of the epidemic. You know, that's a terrible thing, not to have that continuity of a culture and know what was accomplished in the 80's, and in the 70's, and in the 60's, and talk to guys that were there. You know, but it's a terrible loss from a cultural point of view, as well as personal .
Well, you definitely need a website. I did a search on you and I found about 800 hits, and almost probably 90% of them are your famous quotes. So that brings up the question, what do you think is your most known quote?
It's definitely, it's definitely that there are six admonitions in the Bible concerning homosexuality, but our enemies don't want us to remember that there are 362 admonitions in the Bible concerning heterosexuality. It's not that God doesn't love straight people, it's just that they seem to require a great deal more supervision.
That's wonderful, a lot of people love that quote. It's on a lot of sites. [There's a lot of truth to it] Is there any song, or part of your career that you want to talk about that I didn't touch on?
What I'd like to talk about is what you're doing, J.D., and how important it is for the radio, for the archives, for the history of our people, that you seek us out and search us out and ask us about this stuff. You know, many of us are gone, many of us look ahead and don't look back for one reason or the other. And so the fact that you keep this alive I think it's a wonderful thing and a great service that you are providing to the community, and I wanted to thank you for that.
Well, thank you. Of course it's a passion. It's a labor of love.
Yes, good that we do it, that we're still out there doing it.
I had one more song I didn't want to miss, "First Dyke on Dynasty."
Ah, there was a time, I guess, when "Dynasty" was in its hay day and there would be a night at the gay bar when you came in and you watched "Dynasty," very much the way that those other people will go and watch the Superbowl in a bar, I suppose. And so I just thought, well, this is too incredible, I would like to be the first dyke on "Dynasty" and get that whole gay sensibility into it, so I got a kick out of the idea.
(Lynn, far right)
Lynn Lavner - first dyke on dynasty (1986)
Okay, I've got one more song for you to hear, but before I play it, I want to thank you all for tuning into the show, and I want to thank Lynn Lavner for that very special interview. What a treat it was for me to be able to talk to her. There was more of the interview I just couldn't fit into the show, but you can hear it all at my website, logically enough found at www.queermusicheritage.com. 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, and I'll be back on the fourth Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage, and that edition will include a special interview with those dragappella divas Kinsey Sicks.
I started the show with a brand new song, and I want to end it with another. But actually, they are both old songs. Mark Weigle's song "Jimmy," at the start of the show, is from an upcoming album that will be all cover versions, and the closing song is also from an album of cover versions. Andy Bell and Vince Clark of Erasure have just released their tenth studio album since forming in 1985, and it's called "Other People's Songs." It's an excellent album, but without a doubt, my favorite track from it is their version of a song by none other than my favorite group from the 60's, the Ronettes. So, closing the show is Erasure, with "Walking In The Rain.
Erasure - walking in the rain (2003)