Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pride People in the Press: my interviews with singers, actors, dancers and artists of note: 2015-2017

Cazwell and his dog Elvis
I've long wanted to pen a blog post with mention of all -or most- of the talented LGBT artists and straight allies I've had a chance to interview.  

But I've been so busy doing the work, and editing others' interviews, that I didn't have the time. And now that the Bay Area Reporter's annual Pride issue is out, I'll get this underway.

Yes, it's a bit of fame-chasing, but since it's part of my job, I feel justified to reshare these favorite interviews, particularly since our website has different links for each article (updated 2018).

I've got about 30 years of interviews to go through. But I'm going backward from this year, since it'll take me longer to find the older ones, many of which are not available online. So, here goes! 2015-2018.
Heklina, iconic local drag producer host and performer, got roasted in February at The Castro Theatre in 2018 by a crew of her campy colleagues. Our chat is here.

May 2018
I've admired singer-songwriter Tom Goss' music for years. In advance of his Hotel Rex concert, we discussed his musical mission of gay visibility.

March 2018
Broadway and TV star Jeremy Jordan popped into San Francisco for a show with Seth Rudetsky. We talked about everything from Newsies to Bonnie & Clyde and Supergirl.

June 2017
Most recent: my second interview with the funny, sexy, adorable Cazwell, who basically introduced openly gay male hip hop to the music scene a dozen years ago. His new video "Loose Wrists" features the quickly trending men's pastel lace outfits. Too cute. 

Nancy & Jef
Accomplished local nightlife and theatre performers Nancy French and Jef Valentine are among the MCs at the 2017 SF Pride celebrations. Having seen this talented duo numerous times, it was fun to chat with them about show business and being fabulous.

January 2017
Celebrated chanteuse Justin Vivian Bond returned to San Francisco for a few shows. As fans know, Bond got a start in San Francisco, but rose to wild acclaim in New York with cabaret shows and concerts.
Justin Vivian Bond

Of a recent project, Bond said, ""We're exploring non-binary approaches to the world. That's gonna be fun."  (Also, here's a 2008 short piece on the closing of Trannyshack).

February 2016
The fab Fauxnique shared the deeper meanings of her outwardly wacky dance-performance works. The award-winning faux queen blends ballet and drag in a unique performance style.

March 2016
Britain's classy cabaret performer, Miss Hope Springs offered anecdotes and wisdom from her decades-long career as an actor. Under the frost-white wig is a no less fabulous persona, British-born Ty Jeffries. The multi-talented actor, composer, writer and former supermodel has wowed audiences in the UK and around the world, and brought his Miss Hope Springs cabaret concert to Oasis.

Honey Mahogany
April 2016
This was a big year for the Bay Area Reporter's annual Besties, and with photographer Georg Lester at the helm, I organized a massive group photo shoot of nearly 50 winners at the multi-winning club Oasis. 

My interviews included chats with Honey Mahogany, who has recorded albums, performed in numerous drag parody shows, and hosted countless events, as well as being a Season 5 RuPaul's Drag Race contestant.

As a host, she says, "I just tell people to do what they love. I want people to be entertained, and for the performers to do what they're happy doing."

 I also wrote up Oasis, and got quotes from the industrious co-owners, Heklina and D'Arcy Drollinger, whose original-scripted plays like Shit & Champagne and its sequel are among the club's longest-running shows, said, "It's been a ton of work, but so worth it. We did know that this type of venue was needed in the city, but it wasn't until we opened that we realized how much."

Squeezing in quotes from more than a dozen SF nightlife celebrities wasn't easy, nor was arranging a photo shoot with 30+ winners, but with this feature, I managed to get mini-interviews with Peaches Christ, Marga Gomez, Jason Brock and several other Bestie winners.

In another multiple-winner feature focusing on DJs, gogos and others, Andrew Slade said of his second win as Best Male Gogo, "Getting paid to do what I did in front of my bathroom mirror for ten years is not a bad gig."

Kurtis Wolfe

And hey, why not interview a porn actor? 
Our regular porn columnist was not available, so I thought, why not? Cutie Kurtis Wolfe is eloquent, a smart businessman, and a sexy fellow.

June 2016
The mass murders at Orlando's Pulse nightclub led to my writing this essay and expansive discourse with others,  "Kissing & Bars" (reposted on my blog.)
July 2016
Local visual artist Brian Busta, aka "Chickpea," created the neon-glow look for many comfort & Joy parties. The daytime event at the National AIDS Memorial Grove inspired my interview with Busta about his artistry, and the "Burner Faerie" aesthetic, "Glow in the Park."

August 2016
SoMa's historic Stud Bar saw big changes in 2016. In "Stud Savers," I interviewed members of the Collective that took over the bar after its change of ownership.

Sharon White
Also that month, The Lone Star Saloon, another SoMa bar with a rich history, gained Legacy status as an historic business. My feature, "Lone Star's State," included interviews with the owners, who offered some tales of the groundbreaking gay bear bar's history, and the original owner and founder Rick Redewell.

I love interviewing legends of gay culture, and who better than veteran DJ Sharon White? Sharon's music mixes go back to the Saint Party days in New York, and she was in SF for a few events. 

the B52s
September 2016
Once in a while, I get to interview an artist whose work has been a part of my life for decades. I have to calm down, not giggle or be a 'fanboy,' do my homework in advance. Usually, I end up being relaxed and charmed through an interview. 

Such was the case with B52s' Fred Schneider. He was funny, dishy and matter-of-fact about the amazing legacy his band has made on music and pop culture. This was certainly a favorite.

And then, in November, B52s cofounder Cindy Wilson came back to town for her solo shows at Oasis. We talked about her new music and of course, the legacy of the B52s from her perspective. The 20-something me from decades ago never imagined being able to interview these iconic musicians.

In the same month, I discussed the Champagne White drag comedies with creator and writer D'Arcy Drollinger. This series of slapstick parodies were a hit!

This was a big month for rock music. Not only did I get to see them in concert, but my interview with Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson proved challenging and inspiring. I was a bit starstruck over the phone at first, but Manson snapped me out of it by asking that we have a 'smart' interview, i.e., use the platform to discuss serious issues. 

Shirley Manson and Garbage
Here's an excerpt:

"The records that we always love are the ones that are really grounded, so that you're getting an entire picture of the human experience," said Manson. "I don't think there's one person in the world who's entirely one thing. When we hear records that are one-note, we get bored pretty quickly. We want to have a record that's full of contradictions and contrasts, because that's how we feel human beings are.
"As artists, we want to call on the human experience," she continued. "Our job is to chronicle, to witness and also to reflect. I think that's always what we attempt to do when we go into the studio. With Strange Little Birds, we've managed to do that well. With some of our records, we've tried and failed. But with the new one, we've managed to bring a lot of complexity to the record, a lot of shades."

October 2016
Juanita MORE! raises thousands at benefits and nightclub events. She's a pillar of nightlife and LGBT communities in the Bay Area.  When her weekly event at the downtown Starlight Room was abruptly cancelled, we had a chat.

December 2016
Jersey Boys star Daniel Reichard visited San Francisco for his Feinstein's cabaret shows. We discussed musical theatre and the challenge of reinterpreting holiday-themed songs.

Kathy Najimy
January 2015
Actress, activist and ally Kathy Najimy performed her one-woman show, Lift Up Your Skirt, also at Feinstein's. We discussed her animal rights causes, her feminist perspectives on life and comedy, and her legacy of acting (yes, including the camp favorite Hocus Pocus, and her numerous voice-over projects.

"The newest club is opening up," goes the wry Nina Hagen song. But when it actually happens in San Francisco, where I assign more stories about bars and nightclubs closing, an opening is a cause for celebration. So it was with Oasis, the new home of drag shows, musical and sitcom parodies and fun dance and comedy nights. Co-owners Heklina and D'Arcy Drollinger gave me some chat time, and the opening night was fun. This is more of an event review of their New Year's Eve party, but we do what we can.

Matthew Martin
Another local icon of both drag and theatre, Matthew Martin got a well-deserved lengthy feature by me. I think Martin's performance in a Baby Jane drag parody was one of the first live shows I saw in San Francisco almost 25 years ago.

"The sheer number of previous shows which have featured Martin are so numerous that the performer can't recall them all.  'It's surreal,' he laughed. Some early shows include Christmas With the Crawfords and Baby Jane? at the Victoria Theatre."

In February 2015, one of Oasis' first dance nights was Polyglamorous, organized and DJed by Mark O'Brien and the Burning Man-rooted DJ collective BAAAHS (Big-Ass Amazingly Awesome Homosexual Sheep). If that's not intriguing enough, I can't help you.

Christian Cagical
March 2015
When popular comic Marga Gomez calls - or emails- you answer. And when she organized a variety show of comics and storytellers at Oasis, to go with an in-progress showing of her solo show Pound, it gave me an opportunity to interview several local talents: music journalist Barry Walters, Mission drag star Persia, and charming magician and storyteller Christian Cagical.
April 2015's Bestie Awards gave me another opportunity to focus on nightlife locals, and I assigned write-ups to my clever freelancers. But I had to use the opportunity of his reader poll win to ask beefy adorable Andrew Slade about his story from Iowa cheerleader to popular Bay Area gogo guy and Amazonian drag star.
Veronica Klaus

An excerpt: "While a bit flirting is 'par for the course,' Slade admits, 'I'm dancing in my underwear in a bar. People are going to get touchy-feely, but I draw the line between respecting myself and getting money. I don't need the money that bad.'"

Slade also became a regular guest performer at the then-new Baloney, the male burlesque show created by Rory Davis and MCed by Michael Phyllis. Fans got a chance to enjoy some of their favorite gogo guys in mini-theatrical story dances.

Also a regular Bestie winner, Veronica Klaus discussed her accomplishments in the local music scene, her love of classic jazz, and more.

Nightlife journalism isn't always just about dancing and DJs. Sometimes, an organizer has a fascinating back story, as is the case with Ghazwan Alsharif, the founder of Asheq, the Bay Area middle Eastern dance night. Alsharif is a chef and military veteran, and the parties are welcoming to all.

Mario Diaz & dancers
Hmmm, another feature about a night of hot male gogo dancers. Do we see a pattern? King of Clubs focused on a new angle, though; Los Angeles club promoter Mario Diaz, the fun documentary about his events and scene, directed by Jon Bush. Oh, and yeah, the event at Oasis, where the gogo guys were more than a sidebar attraction. Cash tips, baby!

 Also an LA import,  John Cantwell's Fade to Connie offered a new cinematic/live crossover. The 47-year-old actor, whose film work includes a scene-stealing small part in Legally Blonde, and TV shows (Pushing Daisies, Will & Grace, Dharma & Greg), has been performing in various media for decades, including with the acclaimed gay sketch comedy group The Nellie Olesons. 

June 2015
Steve Grand
My trip to New York City for the Lambda Literary Awards later inspired a travel feature. My fifth novel, Message of Love, was a finalist; even though I pretty much knew I wouldn't win, it offered an excuse for a Manhattan and Brooklyn vacation, and subsequent feature on Broadway hits of the season, and the Brooklyn nightlife, museum and park attractions.

Read a more illustrated and personalized version of my trip here on my blog.

Ahead of 2015's LGBT Pride celebrations, I got a chance to interview music hunk Steve Grand, who performed on the main stage at Civic Center that year. 

I'd actually visited in 2014, but by August 2015 I'd finally written up a fun travel feature on New Orleans, when I was in town for the annual Saints & Sinners literary festival. Yes, writers, make everything on your expense list doubly deductable by writing travel features!

Margaret Cho
In another case of fanboy vs. professional, having interviewed Lea DeLaria years before didn't make it easier not to fawn and heap praise while forgetting to ask non-boring questions. 

Since we'd last talked, DeLaria had of course become even more acclaimed, with new albums and a costarring role in Orange is the New Black. I'd have to say she handled me well!

October 2015
Similarly, it had been years since I'd interviewed comic and activist Margaret Cho. There is so much she has to say; you want to represent and recreate her voice and wit. Sometimes that doesn't translate to text. But I hope this one worked out.

Kyle Dean Massey
September 2015
Musical Man Crush Department: 
Broadway and cabaret star Kyle Dean Massey discussed his recurring role on TV's Nashville, being openly gay in real life and on-screen, and his starring roles in the musical hits Next to Normal, Wicked and Pippin. As a former theatre student, it was great to hear about his stage experiences, from gymnastics training to onstage snafus. Massey's cabaret show rocked, by the way.

For musical genius of a particular sort, I was thrilled to chat with John Grant, whose music offers a multitude of sounds and feelings. 

October brought more musical hunks; the musician-singer quartet Well-Strung, whose rise from Provincetown favorites to a world-touring ensemble was discussed in a group phone interview, where (I hope) I got each quote attributed to the right man.

Darren Criss
And the effort it took to get an interview with the adorable and talented actor-singer-songwriter Darren Criss was worth it. Initially told to limit a ten-minute Q and A to discussing his Seth Rudetsky show at the Nourse Theatre, we instead ended up chatting for almost an hour. 

I wish I had room and time to transcribe more; a lot more was off the record, but not my prescient query about Criss playing Hedwig in the San Francisco production!

Earlier in 2014, I got to interview Criss' former Glee costar Telly Leung. The Aladdin star  performed his cabaret show at Feinstein's.

Ana Gasteyer
I capped off 2015 with a fun interview with Ana Gasteyer, whose music and comic genius have entertained millions on Saturday Night Live, and the too-short-lived sitcom Suburgatory. Gasteyer was promoting her Feinstein's cabaret show, and her cool jazz album I'm Hip.

January 2014
Grammy-winning musician and composer Duncan Sheik, who is straight, was not surprised to know that his melodic, touching and sometimes ephemeral music has a big gay following. We discussed composition and differences between music and musicals.  My interview is here.

Matt Alber
July 2014
I recently (June 2017) turned a friend on to Matt Alber's music, and after two songs, he burst into tears. No, no, that's a good thing! A heart-wrenching longing pervades the singer's compositions, particularly those directed towards a male love interest. We've waited too long for such intimacy in music.

When asked about his place or role in the local music scene, Alber isn't so sure he's a part of it in a trendy sense, but he knows the Bear subculture is definitely a large part of his audience.

"No place feels more like home than San Francisco. The gay guys here are so supportive," he says. My chat with Matt is here.

January 2014
With a career spanning Broadway, television, film and concerts, actor-singer-composer Cheyenne Jackson and I mostly discussed his music, specifically his own. Those lucky enough to have visited New York City may have seen Jackson in any number of Broadway hit musicals, including Xanadu, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Altar Boyz, Aida, Damn Yankees, Finian's Rainbow and many other dramas and Off-Broadway shows. And let's not forget his two sold-out concert nights at Carnegie Hall with singer-pianist Michael Feinstein. 

That's it for now. I'll go back further when I have time to dig through archives for the previous years and link it here. 2014 and 2013 interviews include  Moni Stat, Big Freedia and more. For articles earlier than that, check out our online PDF archives at the GLBT Historical Society.


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