Me and My Idol
On paper (or, I guess, onscreen)), the idea must have been brilliant. Sure, there have been tribute books on our great gay celebrity icons. These eventually metastasized into club events that mimicked the "Night of 1,000 Stevies," one of those "concept club evenings" in Lower Manhattan that was picked up by the intelligentsia, analyzed, deconstructed and cross-referenced in serious academic journals. A far cry from a few fans of the non-affect tremolo of the gifted songwriter, not-so-gifted love partner, who casually banded together in a Downtown club to pay tribute by donning the oversized scarfs and other neo-hippy wear that made Nichols such a stand-out even apart from her musical gifts.
Certainly, there are many famous drag queens who have made whole careers by monetizing their uncanny physical attributes, style and quirks of the great Broadway, music and Hollywood actresses, dancers, comedians, models whose out-sized personalities and affinity to their gay fans eventually transformed them from stars to icons. Two incidents that took place
Among the constellation of mega-talents who were adopted by (and thrived in the embrace of) gay men, a certain few stand out. Which makes the selections of subjects that comprise "Me and My Idols" seem so random. The drag queens selected to impersonate their idols seem equally to have been chosen at random.
Male performers have been donning wigs and dresses to honor their idols probably ever since real women took to the stage in the 17th century. Sometimes this has resulted in a rich cultural interchange: Joni Mitchell has attended the tribute concerts by John Cameron Mitchell. The great folk-rock singer-songwriter visited one of his shows and said he resembled her more than she does!
But that’s not the most serious omission here. Tommy Femia has made a career out of bringing to life Judy Garland. Not having the ultimate gay icon in a collection of them is like leaving out the Virgin Mary in a Catholic iconography.
And where the hell is Carmen Miranda?
German photographer Peter Warner’s photo shoot of Daft-Nee Gusentheit is a good example of something lost in translation. (I won’t even go into a sentence like "At the age of 42 Lucille filmed the birth of her son on live TV, breaking a taboo." Filming a woman having birth would certainly have been taboo-breaking!) How can you do replicate the great Vitamitavegamin episode without the pillbox hat while she drunkenly holds up the bottle and smiles?
Some of the choices for "idol" status are questionable; I, at least, had never heard of Ivy Queen or Mineko Iwasaki, although I found the profiles of both enlightening. But if you were a member of the family of one of the victims of "the Manson girl," featuring them as drag idols is about as tacky as Ilse Koch, "the Bitch of Buchenwald," or Eva Braun.
Some of the girls do a decent homage. Pollo del Mar does a pretty good Anna Nicole Smith. The best part of the book are the photos of the drag queens in male clothes. I can’t imagine how del Mar got such realistic boobs!
Too many of the photos, however, don’t resemble their real-live counterparts at all. Lady Bear would have been better off doing his take on Beth Ditto than Liz Taylor. And some of them, such as Ades Zabel as Madonna, seem more like putdowns than shootouts.
"My and My Idol" is a noble attempt to pay tribute to both celebrity icons and drag queens. If you’re a serious fan of either or both, or know someone who is, get the book.
by Peter Werner, Kriss Rudolph
Photo book, 128 pages
Hardcover with dust jacket
Published by Bruno Gmünder