June 2008, Interview with Phoebe Legere
Phoebe Legere, photo by Susan Rakowski
The Demystification of Phoebe Legere: Language and Light
Kofi Forson interviews Phoebe Legere
Phoebe Legere (her real name) was a fixture in the East Village, New York counter culture of the 1980’s. Her song Marilyn Monroe was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Mondo New York, a depiction of New York underground. Her background in music and performance art has led to her role as resident composer for the Wooster Group. She received a NYSCA grant to write The Queen of New England, an experimental multimedia opera about the Massachusetts Native American Holocaust in 2001. Hello Mrs. President, a multi-character live art work about the first African American woman president of the United States was presented at Theater of New City. Her text, Waterclown, about the formative movements of fluids, music by Morgan Powell, with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Music 2000. Dark Energy, her astrophysics poem, music by Eric Mandat, was performed at the University of Illinois at Carbondale in November 2004. She has made numerous appearances on television and radio and worked as Artist in Residence at the School of Visual Arts Computer Art MFA department and at the University of Victoria Graduate School of Engineering and Music, among other achievements of inventions and interventions. Collaboration with Eno and Leo Abrahams called Ultra Romantic Parallel Universe will be released on Mercury Records.
Kofi Forson: Phoebe, I look at you I think you were the creation of a whimsical Italian filmmaker…Only he hung out at the Limelight and listened to Professor Long Hair. (Laughter)
Phoebe Legere: Oh Kofi! I see why you have so many friends…you make everyone feel famous, hot and glamorous!
KF: Phoebe your works of art include many different forms of media: film, music, installation, electronics, performance… Can you talk a bit about the gathering of the conscience to fulfill such a multiplicity of thought and action within an artistic scope?
PL: I AM A TRANSMEDIA ARTIST. My hybrid artform explores the reciprocal relationships between disciplines in an interaction of location, science, music, painting, television and gender. I frame music in layers of visual art.
KF: Why the fascination with the female body?
PL: I am obsessed with human anatomy. My parents were artists. They taught life drawing classes and encouraged me to draw from live nude models when I was 6 years old. The nude is in my blood. I put many figures in my paintings, to show a multiplicity of angles, features, and aspects of the figure. Eskimo Art, African Art and cubism all do the same thing, I paint generative energy. Even the vegetal and architectonic motifs of my pictorial grammar are rooted in a feverish longing for love and sexual communion…
KF: Much of which I think is circumstantially rooted in our psyche not as sexual creatures but fundamentally given our hybridity and need to survive within the politics of a city… love and sex take on a whole new meaning.
PL: The representation of sex in my paintings is a sign of the miraculous, spiritual power of creativity…I paint skin longing for skin, for connection, for the power of the Other, for the total dissolution of ego structures, I load my brush with fluid from the Universe of Supreme Love.
KF: This then again brings to front the exigency in our current sexual structure. Does the libido warrant such excitement that a woman is able to have more than one partner?
PL: Monogamy is hypocrisy, an outmoded creed, a total fiction propped up by an exhausted system of laws and values. But hey, don’t think that I’m a swinger! It’s all happening in my imagination. I am very shy.
PL: Don’t laugh! All my art is a sublimation of instincts so passionate that they would tear me apart! For people who have trouble comprehending that my art is a multivalent sign, may I remind you that among the Navaho, there are special medicine men who do the elaborate sand paintings that cure illnesses. These medicine painters are always called Singers….The Sand Paintings of the Navaho only exist from Sunrise to Sunset. The gallery system can do violence to the creativity of the artists. Art works become trapped in the viscous, fluorescent netherworld of the Institution. Art needs air. This is why I became so deeply involved in Live Art Performance. Art should be like a meal prepared by your mother. You eat it, you love her, it disappears, on to the next meal. That’s healthy art, can’t we get beyond commodification? It’s 2008 already. In the Navaho world you sit on the sand painting and you are cured of your illness. I’d love to sit on Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon. I would feel so much better. Picasso worked on that painting for months. It is about Sacred Prostitutes. Picasso really knew the score: Abstraction is figuration. Painting is always about the body. Go back to Balzac’s story Le Chef D’Oeuvre Inconnu. The centerpiece of that story is St. Mary of Egypt. Check it out. She is the root of Cezanne and Picasso’s abstraction. You can get it at Project Gutenberg. It’s better in French.
KF: I have to say the delight of Phoebe Legere is more than just the looks. We’ve come far from Betty Page. You are actually a very serious artist.
PL: In my art I seek to restore myself to wholeness, and to integrate myself with the totality of Space, and Time. Much of my recent work is based on Science. I have been writing and painting about the parallels between Darwinian Creation Myths and the Creation stories of the Penobscot/Abenaki people of Maine. There are stunning similarities.
KF: Your drawings and paintings have gorgeous swirls and vortices, eddies and currents…the fluid line of your brush is like the energy trail of a cascading river.
PL: It’s true, I love curves. But sometimes I am seduced by squares and rectangles... I love beautiful houses, I love beautiful cities, I love speculative modern furniture. I had a show last year at the Patterson Art Museum called, Homage to Barney Newman—lots of squares and rectangles, and I did a video for the S.V.A. Digital Salon called Chromatic Wave Cantata that used colored squares and rectangles as vessels for “Chromatic sensations.”
Ultimately what woman in her right mind prefers a square to a circle? For decades the Modern Artist has been forced into the role of geometer, installation conceptualist, or arbiter elegantiarum. Artists must break away from enforced Puritanism. I abhor the desiccated, circuit -driven visual tricks taking up space in so many galleries and museums.
My whole life has been an attempt to visualize and invoke images that point to a higher reality. I can achieve higher cognitive levels through painting, drumming, singing, writing poetry and dance…
On stage I am in a trance. When I perform people think they are hearing me. But it’s not me. I come from an ecstatic tradition of shamanic performance. Art is medicine. Art is better than Ayuhuasca.
In my Celebrity Blow Job series, and Phallocrata Symphonium series, I have reclaimed the phallus as a personal signifier. For many years I have used my own body as a brush, as an instrument, as a poem. Now I am a female penis, thrusting myself into total art synthesis.
KF: More can be said about society’s feminine sphere having undergone something similar as in the labia becoming penial. You’re on to something. (Sigh) Can you please explain the origin of Phoebe Legere. What set of circumstances created this living, breathing example of Brigitte Bardot in the film… And God Created Woman? Or even the Marilyn Monroe reference. Is that where it all started?
PL: Marilyn and the young Brigitte were Magic Blond Women; beautifully lit, impeccably coiffed and flawlessly styled. Marilyn died before I was born, but I saw Some Like It Hot on TV. I was overwhelmed. I fell asleep, and I had a dream in which Marilyn cradled me in her arms and sang my song Marilyn Monroe. I woke up and wrote it down. The lyrics unfolded with a kind of dream logic. I believe Marilyn composed it in another dimension and bequeathed it to me. Marilyn was an avatar of art and love. (Sigh) At the time I was signed to Epic/Sony Records. I submitted the song to the label. They said, “First we find out you are an American Indian, then we find out you play the accordion, and now this…you are a lesbian!” (The song is about making love to Marilyn Monroe.)They dropped me from the label. Thank you very much. I knew my life was over, so I just laughed it off and booked Carnegie Hall for my debut as a composer…It worked. Once I was off the label, and out from under the corporate thumb, I immediately began to get famous. And it wasn’t a hype driven artificial fame, it was the real, old-fashioned kind of Flame—I mean fame (Laughter)—I kept singing my song, Marilyn Monroe.
The Marilyn song seemed to have a strange demon attached to it. When you pierce the membrane and stick your hand into a parallel universe you have to be careful, there are billions of demons in billions of worlds. They are all begging for our attention. Hobgoblins are by nature greedy and narcissistic. They want to be famous just like you do. They cling. Songs are built from mathematical codes. Long complex DNA codes create complex living creatures, but short strips of code create viruses that are half dead and half alive, some songs are like that, they are short strips of numerical code that have a kind of prong that enters the brain. They’re “special.” They don’t die. My song Marilyn was like a virus and I knew it. (Sigh).
Anyway, after Epic booted me out for being a gay Indian, I spent all my money on a recording and video of that song. Yeah, yeah I should have bought a building on the Bowery, but a seductive little voice kept whispering, “Phoebe, record my song.” And in those days, 1988–9 recording costs were astronomical. I spent $20,000 recording four songs, 24 track. Nobody under 30 remembers this era because now it costs 3 cents to record a song. (Sigh).Within two weeks Marilyn Monroe was immediately picked up by Island Records for the soundtrack of the film Mondo New York. It became a huge hit on college radio—with no promotion! And me with no manager, no agent, and now, no record company! (Sigh) You don’t want to hear what I know about the music industry: The drugs, the lies, the corruption, the sexual harassment. That’s where I spent my teenage years; in a putrid snake pit.
KF: It’s quite appealing how you play off the divadom with a sense of humor.
PL: Thank you, that’s because I am the farthest thing from a diva, I am very down to earth. I have endured so much sexual, emotional, financial and musical abuse at the hands of the record companies, I learned to laugh as I clawed my way up the corporate ice wall.(Sigh) America demonizes female artists—look up the origin of the word Diva. Once you are proclaimed a Diva—or Musical Shaman—you can be sure that within a very short time, people will try to crucify you. You have to make many satanic deals in the Underworld to survive as Diva for more than 2 or 3 years. Read The Golden Bough.
KF: After all you have many great concerns about the world we live in. How did you get from the fun-loving persona, downtown diva to someone with concerns about the environment? When did the city girl go country?
PL: I am country. My love for nature is the most important thing about the real me. I grew up with a traditional Native American Grandmother. We were raised to respect and revere the environment. On my white side I am descended from Harriet Hemenway, who founded the American Audubon Society. Have you seen my landscape paintings?
KF: I’m familiar with your paintings about nature…yes.
PL: I came to New York City at age 15 to study jazz with African Americans. I came here to get the funk. I learned to swing hard, as only New York musicians can swing. I stayed because I got my claws in a pretty cool slice of downtown real estate. But I suffer in the city, now I spend most of my time in Maine and Canada. That is my soul place—the Northeast Coast.
KF: I have a feeling the inspiration for having fun as a child has never left you.
PL: I’ve been beaten, raped, ripped off, and abused ever since I was a little kid—that’s why I’m such a scream! (Exhilarating laughter)
KF: Were you always this clever and playful? It seems as if you’ve tapped into a creative source that continues to replenish you with ideas. What is it…Yoga? Nature? Is there something to New York water that we’re missing?
PL: My neurology is like a melody machine, the music is running 24/7 even when I sleep… and at the same time I have graphomania which means I draw compulsively. My parents were both creative geniuses. My mother is fierce ruling Diva. It’s congenital….I am so creative that when some corporate pop stars are stuck for ideas they just google me and see what I’m doing and then do their own lame imitation of me…either ripping off my persona, or my outfits or the subjects of my movies and operas, or in the case of the TV show, Friends, my name and my school (Vassar). Luckily, I am so creative I keep having new ideas. I lose respect for Pop Stars when I see them paying money so they can be on the covers of Vogue and Interview wearing all my old clothes.
KF: After all is said and done it’s about the work isn’t it?
PL: Good work will find a global audience. I feel that. It may take 300 years. Personally, I work for me and for the Gods. The Gods have excellent taste. When you work like that, and joke like that, you mean business.
KF: Your passion for music… It’s never been understated. There’s an open vault…meaning you express yourself to the fullest. Where did this sense of courage come from?
PL: My courage comes from the Great Spirit . Music took hold of me at a very early age. An ancient Counsel Oak and a singing grasshopper named Willy were my first teachers. Then, before I was age 3, as soon as I could walk, I went right across the street to Mrs. Clark, a piano teacher. As usual, the Holy Mystery put the teacher I needed quite close by.
KF: And obviously there are many textures to your music.
PL: I have a new single on Mercury Records. Check out this texture – it’s called Utraromantic Parallel Universe. It is on Leo Abrahams’s record Unrest Cute. You can hear it at: www.myspace.com/sexbrain. It is about astrophysics and desire…I have a long history of guitar addiction. In the 80’s I was obsessed with the color and textures of the modern rock band….Then, I moved back toward, toward the succulent beauty of my favorite instrument, the Piano…I was exploring political and intellectual cabaret…but soon I craved tougher political commentary. I needed a violent texture….So I invented the “Suicide Piano,” It was a meat cleaver, a sampler and a guitar bolted together. Every note of the keyboard was a different pitched scream. You can hear the Suicide Piano on X Rated American at www.myspace.com/sexbrain
My band the 4 Nurses of the Apocalypse was Riot Grrrl postpunk. I wore a Nurse’s costume made from the pages of New York daily newspapers. Everything was based on Medical themes and the need for Universal Health Care…. When I had expressed everything I had to say about Western Medicine, I turned back to ancient Native American medicine. I made a record called Children of the Dawn, available at www.myspace.com/phoebesongbundle. The record is based on 10,000 year old medicine chants from the Native American people of Maine, played on natural instruments like tree branches and rocks. I collaborated with Little Hawk, a Mic Mac elder. Many of the songs are from an Opera I wrote in 2000 called The Queen of New England. Queen Weetamoo was a proud and beautiful Wampanoag Chief. She was murdered by the Puritans in the Massachusetts Native American Holocaust.
You didn’t ask but Legere is my real name. My father’s family is French Canadian. I am active in the drive to recover our American French culture and language. The Legere’s are one of the original 17 Acadian families from Nova Scotia. Legere’s are all musicians or mathematicians. My cousin Jesse plays accordion and Ray plays fiddle… We had a family reunion in Canada. The Legere’s from Southwest Louisiana drove up in their pickup trucks with gorgeous Acadian flags lying… wearing cowboy hats… I loved it…. I find that Cajun and Acadian music both spring from a common root—the ballads of 18th century France. I produced a project for Smithsonian Folkways that brought together the Legere’s from Canada and the Legere’s from Louisiana - all playing together!So I have the roots music that is my heart, but I also have a downtown side of me.
Blue Curtain (on iTunes) is experimental. Blue Curtain was a long poem written after the death of Allen Ginsberg. I was there with Allen’s body. He was propped up in bed. Patty Smith was there, and Orlovsky and Larry Rivers, and about ten Buddhist monks all ringing bells. I wrote down the poem and then gathered Ikue Morie (of DNA) Steve Butters (master percussionist) and Jim Staley (trombone wizard) to play with me. It’s pretty amazing that something like that is on iTunes. You will love it. Listen to Magically 14th Streetat www.myspace.com/sexbrain.
One day Dae Bennett called me up. He said, I’m just looking at your website. You sing and paint, just like my dad. Let’s do a fun record! So we made an Americana roots record called Midnight Legere. Dae is singing with me on almost all the songs. Dae sings like a bird. And there is Last Tango in Bubbleland which is famous for a song called Madly and of course I have several jazz records because I love jazz and all my life I have made my living playing jazz.…I wrote a song called Hot Sicilian Pizza Boy that seems to have touched many nerves. There’s a greatest hits CD at ithinkmusic but Marilyn and Lamborghini are at iTunes.
Now I guess I have finally found my way back to whatever small part of me is actually Caucasian, because I have become completely obsessed with classical music, as I was when I was a child. I have a new DVD coming out in late June called The Imaginary Opera available on Einstein Records (2008). It’s jazz and classical but very nice…with beautiful young girls from Juilliard playing cello, violin, and viola. I am conducting and wearing a low cut Valentino gown. Order The Imaginary Opera from www.roulette.org. In this DVD I play the Rap Shoes, the wearable computer I created: Sneakers and String Quartet! You can see me playing this invented instrument on YouTube.
KF: You managed to escape the sound of club music. But that’s what it was…right?
PL: Not so! I love to dance and I have made several dance records. Even Trust Me which is on Youtube. I just never had a major corporation putting up 86 million dollars to shove it in the public’s collective face. You’ve got to fuck the right guys if you want to play the dance club game. M----- used to line them up at the Roxie and suck them off in a line with her big beer belly going up and down. Bless her heart. I love her. Too bad she can’t sing or play an instrument. But that’s not what music is these days, as we all know! It’s just the sound of machines and simulacra, the sound of money in the cash register beating an industrial strength groove down the lonely corridors of our neurons and forcing the brain into tight oops where the familiar breeds false affection.
I have a new Club Mix coming out that is called simply The Gay Anthem. It’s dirty house, very progressive, you can hear it at www.myspace.com/teamsappho. I wish Ellen and Portia would use it to walk down the aisle!
KF: Every artist is true to his generation but he has to evolve. Look at Bowie…You toured with David Bowie. In what shape or form was he an influence?
PL: He is one of the greatest performers in the world. I will never, ever forget the feeling of playing for 20,000 people. I almost regret not having sex with the appropriate executives at Epic back when I was 17, because the sound of 20,000 people clapping is the same as the sound of one hand clapping: It is God.
So I played the shows with my bass player Susie Rakowski, my old roommate from Vassar College. David put a white baby grand on a fork lift and elevated it onto the stage. I almost had an orgasm watching that piano go up on the stage.Remember this is two years after Epic told me, “We are canceling your career.” Why. Because I wouldn’t let some schmuck fuck me in the ass for the ‘crime’ of being a gay indian?” Anyways, there I am opening for David, and this was before anyone had ever seen a girl singing and playing her songs at the piano, before Nora and Alicia etc. etc. It made me famous overnight in every city where we played.
Bowie is so handsome that when I first met him I fainted. He has outrageous performance technique. He has the best hand gestures of anyone and he sings his ass off. David is a fascinating artist—We have one of his works at the New York Underground Museum. I heard that his cock is so hard that he could punch a hole in the wall with it. In 1991 he was already in it with Iman, who has that amazing African grace… she is awesome and a good friend of my friend Peter Beard.
KF: You studied with John Lewis of The Modern Jazz Quartet. I sense that similar notion of transference in your art.
PL: John was a major influence on me, he had Apollonian clarity. He was all about elegance and refinement. He taught me how to lead an ensemble, he taught me how to use a riff to give structural strength to a composition, he taught me that the proper frame for serious music is the concert hall, not a bar or club. And he taught me that if you get high you lose your shit.
KF: That it’s more than just a trip…It’s a passage way into something other than what you’re experiencing…Kind of like latter day Ellington. You like Duke Ellington.
PL: Duke Ellington is a name to conjure with…he brought classical music and jazz together. He gave jazz the dignity it deserves. What arrangements! He combines sinuous, gorgeously formed melodies with deep majestic harmonies. He was a seeker and a seer: a man who continues to inspire every American musician. He was the epitome of class. Artists are the true aristocracy, and he knew it. He called himself the Duke—the heraldic rank just below King. Also a rock hard unstoppable cock from what I hear. Lena Horne slept with him. Can you imagine? Gorgeous.
KF: By the way, you are a wonderful painter.
PL: My parents are geniuses, both are painters, my mother was the art director of the Harvard Co-op for many years and a fashion illustrator for the NY Times and the Boston Globe. My father was a curator and a teacher at the Museum School in Boston. They thought visually, and expressed themselves visually, and gave me a rigorous classical education in painting and drawing, starting me at age 5; I learned perspective, anatomy, color theory, drawing, geometrical forms…the works. They played instruments and sang very well but they were into some kind of rebellion against music, because their parents and grandparents and great grandparents were famous, fabulous musicians. It must have skipped a generation because in me the music is VERY strong. That is why I have two art forms—it is exactly like being totally bilingual. I am fluent in two art forms.
My father always does funny drawings… Hysterical…Daddy is very funny. It is my nature to make visual jokes.The Fur Bikini was a visual joke. Humping the guitar in Mondo New York was a visual joke. How was I to know that they would take a camera and shoot up my skirt? I should have killed them all. Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery. After 17 years Joseph comes back and the brothers say, Oo OO we’re so sorry we covered you with blood and sold you down the river. And Joseph says, “Don’t mention it. You didn’t do it. God did it. It’s all OK. I forgive you. “Isn’t that a totally awesome story like beyond super cool?
KF: I once asked Jay Mclnery if he listened to music when he wrote. It is common isn’t it? Some how as an artist we are forced to embrace the drama and theater of music…
PL: Hunter Thompson listened to music while he wrote. Good writing requires a highly musical ear. It’s all about sound. Writing is an illusion—letters are not dots on a page any more than musical notation is, it is sound, rhythm and meaning springing to life in the inner ear. The inner ear is a vortex that spirals into the brain. That is where the music is born…reading is like accepting a lover into your inner ear, into your brain, into your being. Come sweet music. Yes. Come.
Phoebe Legere, photo by Susan Rakowski
KF: It’s quite interesting how your life seems to be one big invention. The party never stopped or did it?
PL: The party never stops. Last night I was at the Alvin Ailey benefit at the Apollo Theater. There was a big dance floor, and after the performance (of Revelations) the dancers came out and I danced with them. Total joy. My (girl) friend suggested that we pick up an Alvin Ailey dancer and go home and have a three way with him but instead we decided to go to the new El Morocco on 145 and St. Nicholas way up town - we love to dance salsa, and then we rocketed down to Employees Only on Hudson St. to flirt with more girls and guys. I had a glass of Cognac. I was wearing a really tight dress (Ferre) cut on the bias with see through mesh slits—very short—with hot pink Manolo spike heels encrusted with jewels and a pink orchid in my hair that looked like an inflamed clitoris….
This morning I woke up at 5 Am and continued working on the score for a new movie by Barnaby Ruhe called, The Beautiful Troublemaker. The 80s and 90s were really fun at times, but then when people started dying left and right we were mourning and grieving all the time….
All of us who were in Mondo New York were black listed and discredited. The producers of Mondo killed the East Village scene—they exploited something precious, delicate and beautiful just to make a few bucks. And the record companies resented the fact that I got famous without their help. They were creepy controlling power mad freaks who didn’t know the first thing about music. The first thing about music is of course, that you can’t own it.
It’s a new day…and praise God the record companies have crashed and burned—Die Fuckers! The corporations still keep cranking out shitty, machine-made music, but that’s all people have. They are trapped in their cars, they are compelled to listen. Songs about bad women and fake men are the only thing they have to distract them from the appalling truth; the atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere are fucked, they can die or be maimed in an instant on the asphalt highway. They owe a lot of money on those cards. These thoughts keep twisting through their brain. The only thing that can blot out such disturbing thoughts? Music! And the hamburger they ate for lunch is eating them. They need medicine—music is very good medicine, but the music on the radio is just like a McDonalds hamburger—it’s ninety-nine percent hype and filler and machine made nothing with no nutritional content, it’s fake singing and pitch correctors and machines beating the drum, but they don’t know this because there’s no more music in the schools, no more jam sessions and Lincoln Center owns the only jazz concession in town. Where is the health giving tribal chant and the good danceable rhythm made by a priesthood of musicians who have selflessly dedicated their lives to the art and science of music? Where is the family united in the harmony of group singing? We need to make music. All of us.
KF: What it says to me is that you celebrate life. Everything emanates from the void. But in a sense it’s what you put into it.
PL: Oh God…every minute is so thrilling—don’t you think? Even though they are destroying New York City, pulling down every beautiful building and putting up these disgusting banks and cookie cutter chain stores. Young people are born with wonderful unique faces and they want to run out to surgeons to break their noses and slit their breasts so they will look like everyone else. When I get sick of it all I just hop off to Canada.The Great North Woods is a million times more fun and beautiful and grand than Park Avenue…
KF: You don’t follow the media. You hate anything corporate. Where do you get your information? What is your source? Or who is your source?
PL: Everything comes through the Internet – the AP wire, Reuters and Danny Schecters Alternet . The New York Times is my homepage when I open up the computer. NY Times is a hump to. But what can you do? The photographs are fabulous. I read everything I can get my hands on. I do not watch TV. Drugs, Cigarettes, Sugar, Coffee and TV are so addictive I can’t afford to pick up. I refuse to be an addict.99.9999 percent of advertising is geared to inflaming desire. The root of all suffering is desire…
The Water Privatization issue is much, much worse than people trying to hook you on beer, cigarettes, cars and bad music. Water is something else, because water is one thing you can’t live without. Please find out if your town is privatizing water, and if there is a meeting, go, speak up, and fight! Water is our birthright. Water is our mother. We are formed by the creative movements of fluid. Listen to my recording of The Waterclown at www.phoebelegere.com/waterclown.html
KF: And so now we are living in this age of enlightenment. I truly want to go on record and say you are one of the more stimulating living performers in art and music.
PL: I want to go on record as saying you are one of the coolest interviewers I have ever encountered.
KF: You’ve captured the fancy of many men…and women. You’re no stranger to names like Hunter S. Thompson and Andy Warhol. What made these men unique among the crop of dancers and party people?
PL: Hunter had superhuman verbal ability; He was born super-creative genius. At the memorial his brother said, “Hunter was always Hunter.” Life tried to crush him and it just made him funnier. Conversation with Hunter was unbelievable. He was the best listener. Maybe that is what made him such a great writer. He listened, he locked in with your brain. You felt a ray emanating from him, a beam of something completely supernatural: he was a shaman…
You want me to compare Hunter to people in the Pyramid scene? There were people in it almost as funny. But nobody nurtured us. We didn’t have a Jan Wenner or George Plimpton or Barney Rossett to publish us and promote us. The culture wanted to destroy us. This was the beginning of the Conservative Right Wing takeover of the American mind. The late 80’s were the beginning of the end.
I am reading over the lyrics to Dean Johnson’s Deli Boy. I’m singing it at the memorial for Dean at Mother on May 30. Dean had a black, erotic humor. Joey Arias had absolute visual style and a gift for diplomacy. Ethyl Eichelberger and Jack Smith were dear friends too, smart, brilliant and brave.
We had the stuff. We had the geniuses. We didn’t get promoted. This culture is all about PR. You have to pay to be famous. You have to pay for PR to raise the value of your work. OR get someone else to pay. Nobody cares about pure talent. All they care about is getting a return on their investment.
KF: How has this led to the new age and development of language? By what means do we now connect. Is it love…sex, virtual reality, hyper-reality…Do we begin again to become a community, an international market where we all think from the same tank? Or is that dangerous?
PL: The new personal machines invite us to use every techonological resource to connect visually, musically and verbally. Theoretically these are good things…However, last night I found myself at a hot bar in the West Village. There were two cute people in their early 20s. They grabbed me and said, “Go over and sit in that guy’s lap! Stop him!” I said, “What’s going on?”They said, “ Look at him!” The guy was in the corner, huddled over his iPhone, frantically scrolling and texting… a greenish glare from the screen reflected up into his face. He looked weak and depressed. It was so unattractive.
He looked like an addict, begging for the attention of a tiny machine. I asked his friends, “Why do you care?" The girl and boy said, “We love him! We love our friend!" I could tell you the rest of this story, but why bother you? This story, it is happening every hour, every day, all over the world, people ignoring people who are there for them, People squander precious moments with the people who care about them… while they stare wildly into the blank, absent, simulacrum of a cell phone. We are lonely. We are hungry. We are thirsty. We are chasing angels with our cell phones. We are fucked.
KF: Tell me about New York Underground Museum.
PL: The New York Underground Museum is a permeable internet membrane of ideas, energies, and sensitivities. NYUM is a new model for Museums—a museum surrounded by air and light, open 24 hours a day where interactivity and collective viewer feedback is integrated into the perceptual process. I wanted to create a Museum to present, preserve and curate works that are not held by major institutions. – Particularly works by gay women and men, people of color, disabled, antisocial artists and outsider artists… www.nyundergroundmuseum.org. My co-founder is the great East Village legend and performance artist, Arleen Schloss. She is the curator of Performance Art. Roberta Friedman is the Curator of Video. I am the Curator of Curation, since Curation has become more important and interesting than most Art.
KF: Are you still much the enchantress you were back in the day?
PL: Girls and Guys chase me down the street, they stare at me in restaurants, they look at my legs, they fantasize about my nipples, they want to touch my hair and lick me and kiss me, they get me all turned on. I don’t have much time to have sex with everybody. Being a composer and a painter I have to work 24/7.
KF: Whatever happened to John Sex?
PL: He died. What a wonderful performer. At the time I just thought of him as a great friend with great style, but now, when I look at Nelson Sullivan’s videos of John, I see that he was a major talent. Go to FUNTONEUSA.COM to learn more and order his music.
KF: Well it was quite a time. Is it me or is there a distinct 80’s flavor in the air?
PL: I wrote a book about the late 80’s called American Weimar. It is an uncompromising and honest chronicle of my life in the East Village counter-culture. American Weimar examines the vibrant cultural diversity and eclecticism of the East Village in the eighties. The intellectual productivity of this period was enormous; in a fourteen-block radius there were sixty art galleries, seven clubs for experimental music and performance, and five art movie houses. We were a bunch of inspired twenty year olds who came together and cooked up a bona fide art renaissance. My friends were freaky fellow Divas who acted and dressed like alien creatures from another planet. The scene was killed by real estate speculation, sex, drugs and city politics, and the movie Mondo New York. My book has orgies, bitchy gossip, music and art criticism. Who wouldn’t want to read that? You can download it at my site. The kids need to read that stuff so they can know how to live—every art movement is nested in the previous art movement…but in this culture the artists are treated like vermin while bimbo whores are exalted into vapid priestesses of the obscene.
KF: We were carefree then.
PL: The time I call the American Weimar was a time of glamorous poverty, innocent decadence, refined vulgarity; aliveness was the ultimate goal—not money. We lived from night to night, seeking transcendence, life was always perilous it just wasn’t quite so fucking expensive.
KF: Much of the same can be said for the future.
PL: Yes. Soon we will have to pay 4.00 for a glass of water. That will be 24 dollars a day. Can’t you just see some corporate greed fuck asshole rubbing his hands with glee as we all die of thirst?
KF: Language and light. I believe in language and light.
PL: My last name is derived from the ancient word Logos – which means the word hence leggere to read…- and my first name is from Phoebus Apollo, God of the Sun. To be born with such a fabulous name, on the 4th of July, to be of Native American and Mayflower Pilgrim descent… …I am a lucky girl…
It took a civilization in decline, overstretched and bloated with gluttony and greed, with a collective head full of bullshit music and an atmosphere full of radiation, electromagnetic waves and carbon, to ignore the art and music of an artist with a name like mine—but as Gertrude Stein once said, “I’m famous because I’m not famous.” It’s all good.
KF: Language preserves who we are. Light…as in spiritual, intellectual and yeah, sexual paves the way for the future.
PL: I spent 20 years working on Hello Mrs. President, an opera about the first African American president. The idea came to me in a vision, like all of my ideas. Now it’s happening, people in America treat artists like bums, but we are not bums. We are prophets.
KF: Enlightenment can be found in a box of chocolates. But isn’t there something more profound?
PL: Yes. Raw Chocolate is the way to go. You can get it at Whole Foods. Here’s my breakfast. I call it Smoothie Legere. Drink this for two weeks and you will feel fabulous.
In a blender combine:
7 Raw Cacao beans
Granny Smith Apple
a handful of blueberries
a tablespoon of Green Vibrance
1/3 teaspoon Maca
1/3 teaspoon MSM
quarter teaspoon Coconut Oil
half teaspoon powdered Vitamin C
Blend at high speed.
While it’s blending do 20 push ups and a headstand.The key is nutrition and physical fitness. If your body is strong, beautiful people will want to have sex with you and you can be in love all the time. That way life is fun and you live to be two hundred.
KF: What was the 1980’s about? I saw it as the greatest excuse to party. We did that with Woodstock. We did that with Studio 54. The 80’s were different.
PL: I missed Woodstock and Studio 54 but I was not late to the late 80’s…As I said to my landlord Speculotski Loathingmore,“ Don’t even think about killing me to get me out of my apartment…I’m the reason this East Village tenement dump is worth ten million dollars.”
KF: You’re living proof that the 80’s will live on forever. Congratulations on all your success Phoebe Legere.
PL: What a beautiful soul you have Kofi. Have you seen my TV show Roulette TV? It’s on every Thursday night at 10:30 on Channel 56. It’s about the frontier edge of art and music. You remind me of me, you relax everybody by making them feel important. That is the key to being really popular.
KF: Any plans for the summer?
PL: I’m writing a Symphony, I’m going to see my gorgeous girlfriend in Berlin, I’m writing the music for The Beautiful Troublemaker, I am doing lots of paintings of people having sex in groups and I will spend plenty of time in my canoe on the Penobscot River in Maine and the Miramichi in Canada.
KF: What book are you reading at the moment?
PL: This morning I was reading The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
KF: The Beautiful Struggle…how appropriate.
Phoebe is currently featured on the Nickelodeon series The Naked Brothers Band. Her show Roulette TV can be found on Manhattan Cable Television. It's a show about extreme cutting edge of art and music. She’s the head writer and host.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief