Various Artists: Blacklips Bar: Androgyns and Deviants – Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels, 1992–1995 Album Review

Of course, the album places us in a much older period: one of punk, camp, and the fury of ACT UP. The disc’s generous expansion encompasses a couple of tracks by late musicians in the Dreamlander ensemble of John Waters, Divine and Edith Massey. The latter charms his way through “Punks, Get Off the Grass,” one of the energetic and magnetic singles he released with his newfound band The Eggs. There are club-kid acts from the influential 1988 film. New York World, that inspired ANOHNI and Johanna Constantine; among them, ubiquitous drag performer Joey Arias and queercore pioneers Dean and the Weenies, whose defiant, saxophone-laden “Fuck You” is one of the most hilarious aspects of the record. Inimitable frontman Dean Johnson insults an unnamed nemesis: “I wish you’d choke on a fashion accessory” and then, “You’d look cooler wearing a Frigidaire.” Other tracks harnessed the energy of agitprop of the time, including Diamanda Galás’ viral dirge “Double-Barrel Prayer” and Vito Russo’s exhortation to gays to take political action without worrying about appeasing straights. Many of the selections seem like intimate moments in ANOHNI’s own self-actualization story: Russo, for example, was a visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1990, while ANOHNI and Johanna Constantine were college students. Months before he died of AIDS, Russo encouraged ANOHNI to move to New York.

The troupe’s members’ tracks are often sad, thanks to a considered curatorial agenda. ANOHNI dispenses with Blacklips’ parodies of movie songs, acknowledging that the tongue-in-cheek Hollywood takes weren’t his most unique contributions to the world of drag acting. Instead, we get Ebony Jet’s “Satellite of Love” and Sissy Fit’s “Sister Morphine,” two haunting covers that bring out true despair from the outlaw perspectives of their source material. The ANOHNI originals highlight his mature style, ignoring the haphazard parodies one can find video evidence of online. His wordless humming elevates the Johanna Constantine duet “The Yellowing Angel” into an almost religious finger-fucking anthem, while the brief “People Are Small” is a virtuoso sample of his top range. The organ-driven “Love Letters,” a 1961 Ketty Lester hit that ANOHNI performed under her drag name Fiona Blue, emerges from the confines of camp, leaving behind familiar ground. Her singing reminds us of how Blacklips, at its most forward-thinking, treated drag: not as humorous, archaic, or pop culture, but sincere and introspective, a means of accessing individuality.

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The last work of the group, 13 ways to die Produced on March 13, 1995, it pushed her inner melancholy outward, connecting her to the AIDS pandemic and a changing city and world. Androgynous and Deviant impressively captures elements of the evening, sequencing them into a small suite near the end of the compilation. We hear an introduction from Dr. Clark Render, whose comedic stand-ups have opened the company’s shows for years; a soundtrack to Minty’s dance song “Useless Man,” featuring the commanding vocals of the sensational Leigh Bowery; and finally, “My Final Moments”, a moving soliloquy from Kabuki Starshine. “Dear X,” Kabuki recites: “You understand that it’s nothing personal against you/and I must apologize if you feel abandoned/but we all have to go at some point,/so it may as well be now.” Afterward, the entire cast staged their own deaths and, as the companion book shows in a series of images, “RIP NYC” was scrawled on one character’s buttocks.

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