Justin Vivian Bond :: Hail to the ’V’
You would have to be living under some kind of trans-phobic rock to not know that the pronoun V and the prefix Mx refers to Tony Award nominee and cabaret performer extraordinaire Justin Vivian Bond.
Being hailed as "the best cabaret artist of (V) generation comes as no fluke. As stage performer, a recording artist, a film actor, and an author, Bond has done it all, and all the way receiving accolade and awards for V endeavors. With the publishing of V autobiography "TANGO: My Childhood, Backwards and in Heels" in late 2011, the release of V new CD "Silver Wells" earlier this year, and the production V new stage show "Mx America," Justin has been so busy that the fact that V had no permanent address to call home sort of went under the radar.
I had the privilege to catch up with Bond while V was preparing to pack for V upcoming appearances in San Francisco at the Rrazz Room and at a Project Inform benefit, and during our conversation we discussed what projects have been completed for Justin in the past year and a half, how Bond’s busy schedule has prevented him time to find new housing digs, what all children will get from Justin’s authored book, how Bond’s new CD represents V ability to interpret a song, and what the concept is behind the new stage show "Mx America".
Backwards and in High Heels
BeBe: It has been about a year and a half since we have had an opportunity to chat about your projects, and during that time, you have been one busy bee.
Justin Vivian Bond: I have. It’s been crazy!
BeBe: Let me run it down. In April of 2011 you had just released your debut album on your independent label (Whimsy Music), "Dendrophile," and then 6 months later (September 2011) you turn around and release an autobiography "TANGO: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels."
Justin Vivian Bond: You know, I thought they were going to wait awhile on that (the book). It all came kind of quickly. The record comes out in April, the book comes out in September, and then I was kicked out of my apartment. So, from June 2011 until February of this year (2012), I was just on tour promoting my book and CD because I was homeless.
BeBe: Well what a way to be homeless, right? It drives you to go ahead and work, right?
Justin Vivian Bond: Yes, exactly because I thought who knows when I’m going to get an apartment (in New York City)? I had done this series of shows at Joe’s Pub in November (2011) and I thought since I don’t have anything to do until January, and I’m homeless, I might as well make another record.
BeBe: Let’s back up a little bit because I want to talk a little about the book. I have read some of the reviews that the entertainment industry’s A-list folks have given your book. You have people like Sandra Bernhard, Rufus Wainwright, the New York Times. And, Yoko Ono says "Tango should be in the hands of every child who can read". That’s a pretty powerful statement. Yoko didn’t say every gay child or every trans child, she said "every" child. So, what impact do you think Tango has on every child?
Justin Vivian Bond: Well, I think it’s about formulation of identity. I have a friend whose father is a psychiatrist, and my friend’s father has been recommending the book to several of his patients who either have difficulties that aren’t necessarily trans or queer related, but they had difficulties because of the way they were raised with the expectations of how they were supposed to be as opposed to how they were. Using my story as an example has somehow helped them go back and deal with things they went through just within that sort of family dynamic of what your parents’ expectations of you are, and how that can kind of warp you as you are trying to develop as a person whether your trans or not.
BeBe: You have always had a challenge in how society places on us those gender roles. Now, how we address you, we use a non-biased and nondescript pronoun (V) and prefix (Mx) in front of your name that is not gender identified. Does "Tango" explain to us, the reader, how your gender identification challenges came to be?
Justin Vivian Bond: I think so because writing the book helped ME explain to myself as well (said over a little laughter). Going back and reliving that time, and going through all of that again as an adult, gave me a chance to look at it in a different way. By doing that, I started to think about my life, who I am, and how I want to engage in and with the world. I think that led me to just take the plunge and throw out all these ideas that were put on me, and make ideas for myself. It’s been great!
A new CD
BeBe: This sounds like a book I can see Oprah diggin’ her fingers into and get you on television to talk about it. (We both roar with laughter) And going a step further, it appears to be one of those stories that would make a good Movie of the Week, or on the big screen so more people have access to the subject you are talking about. Has anyone approached you about taking this book a step further into other media?
Justin Vivian Bond: I’ve talked about approaching people, but the only difficulty is there is graphic sexuality between young people (in the book). I think the story in the book is also about that because it is about my relationship with a boy who was my age, and it was a sexual relationship. He was sort of the bully, you know? It was a complicated relationship that may be difficult for TV or even the movies to tackle because people have such issues around it (sexual relationships amongst children). My book kind of talks about how adult have the hysterical response to childhood sexuality, but children aren’t sexual.
BeBe: Moving from the book to the new CD, I know you wrote solely or co-wrote the songs on your first album "Dendrophile," is that true of the new CD "Silver Wells?"
Justin Vivian Bond: "Silver Wells" is all covers. I didn’t write any songs on this one because it took me so long to get "Dendrophile" ready, I thought what if I never put out another record and start to freak out about it? And I think I’m a pretty good interpreter of other people’s songs. Because I was so busy, and also adrift, I started listening to all these songs that I would listen to when I was younger and songs I kind of think of as my comfort foods. Songs that make me feel better if I’m feeling down. I gathered all those songs and went into the studio with Thomas Bartlett who produced "Dendrophile" as well, and recorded all of those songs as a way of just being in touch with something that was a facsimile of home.
"Mx America" tours the world
BeBe: You mention your ability to interpret material done or written by others, and I think as an audience that is what we are so accustomed to seeing of you on stage. So, unlike "Dendrophile" with loads of original stuff, "Silver Wells" represents a bit more of what we see you don on stage. Would that be a fair statement?
Justin Vivian Bond: Yes. I think there is a little bit more introspective because it’s a recording, so it is a little more intimate. I didn’t feel I had to sing really loud and make them real showy, you know? It’s kind of a quiet record. That’s nice because when I’m doing my upcoming show at the Rrazz Room in San Francisco, I’m playing half of the show at the piano myself, and doing the other half with Lance Horne who plays with me on tour a lot and was with me in San Francisco before. I’m also doing a segment from a show ( "Jukebox Jackie: Snatches of Jackie Curtis") in the spring where I play Jackie Curtis (A Warhol superstar who died tragically from a heroin overdose in 1985). So, I’ll be doing a Jackie Curtis song and monologue.
BeBe: You have never been one to do anything without purpose. So with that, the title of your show "Mx America," what significance does that title have? What I’m thinking when reading it is a show with a lot of political-oriented material. But, from what you have just explained, that’s not what the show is about. So, when you came up with the title "Mx America" for your new show, what were you thinking?
Justin Vivian Bond: It was inspired by a quote from my friend Billy’s father who says, "a measure of a person’s tragedy is the distance between how they see themselves and how they are perceived by others." So as a trans person,
we constantly are trying to be seen and have other people see us as we see ourselves. But I also think as Americans, there’s another issue. Americans have an idealized version of
what it is to be American and how Americans are seen throughout the world, but that isn’t necessarily always an accurate idea. So the show is kind of an explanation of that state between how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others, as trans people and as Americans. I’m going to somehow work that idea into a cabaret (laughing). We’ll see how it works. "Mx America" is definitely in its first carnation and I’m not going to say that what I do in San Francisco will be anything close to what it will be as I tour this around in 2013. I’m going to Australia in February and Europe in the spring. I’ll be touring it all over the world.
Working with Sandra
BeBe: I have no doubt that you will find that button that will make the whole connection flow like clockwork. I think it will pretty interesting because over the past couple of years you have worked on putting out there how you see yourself and how you want others to see you. You’ve worked really hard on that through a series of interviews that explain your genderless concept and how you use that concept to identify yourself. This may be the show that puts all that in perspective.
Justin Vivian Bond: Let’s hope (with ore laughter)!
BeBe: Before we wrap up, there is one project I want to talk about that I haven’t seen or heard much on since the last time I spoke with you and Sandra Bernhard, is the project called "Arts and Crafts" which also involves Scissor Sisters Jake Shears who co-wrote some songs for that project. Where is that project?
Justin Vivian Bond: To be perfectly honest, BeBe, it kind of got lost in the shuffle. We are all so busy because Sandra’s been busy touring and doing all her television stuff that she does, and my record and my book and my other record came out and I was looking for a place to live, so, we really haven’t done anything about it sadly. It still exists we just need to find the time where we can pick it back up and put our energy into it. And then Scissor Sisters put out there new record ("Magic Hour") and their single "Let’s Have a KiKi" has become such a hit, they have been touring on it. Jake only co-wrote one of the songs, but he too has been insanely busy.
BeBe: Please, please don’t let this die. I think this "Arts and Grafts" thing would be wonderful for the public to see. A modern day KiKi and Herb with you and Sandra.
Justin Vivian Bond: I, too, think it would be a great thing to do.
Justin Vivian Bond will perform V’s new show "Mx America" at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco October 12-14.
Also, Bond will be hosting Project Inform’s Evening of Hope - A Night of Lifesaving Fashion in San Francisco on October 24
at the Metreon.
Follow Justin at www.justinbond.com for future "Mx America" tour dates.