The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

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MAY 2012 Issue

Bond’s Last Bandstand

It was a busy weekend for Mx Justin Vivian Bond.

Saturday afternoon, like most well-read queers, Mx Bond was shuffling about the Center on West 13 Street. The fourth annual Rainbow Book Fair was in town, and with the Feminist Press at CUNY having published Bond’s first memoir—the sordid but sweet Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels—in August of last year, the author was past due for a pas de deux with the book. Not surprisingly, Bond proved a natural reader to the captive audience.

Awaiting the arrival of Mx Justin Vivian Bond at Joe�s Pub. Photo: Logan K. Young.

Joe’s Pub
Mx Justin Vivian
March 25, 2012
New York

The following afternoon found Bond all the way out in Long Island City—in a geodesic dome, no less. Tapped to curate the last “Sunday Session” in March at MoMA PS1, Bond and artiste provocateur Caden Manson invited everyone from the Lunachicks’ Theo Kogan to CHOKRA for a party proper at PS1. Billed cheekily as Bond on Blonde, again, it did not disappoint.

A scant two hours later, Mx Justin Vivian Bond (Mx V, if you’re nasty) was back in the East Village warming up for “hir” last show at Joe’s Pub. Our story starts, in earnest, here.

Given Bond’s last 48 hours, opening the set with “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” seemed more than fair. Bond’s throaty, sometimes menacing rendition of James Murphy’s ode to Big Apple gentrification was wrought superbly. In fact, if you’d never heard LCD’s Sound of Silver, you might have thought it was Bond’s very own.

Of course, there are plenty of precedents for that.

Back when Mr. Bond was still using standard honorifics and pronouns, like any cabaret act worth the meal, s/he made a name for hirself by singing other people. In fact, Bond’s much loved Kiki DuRayne persona, no matter how drunk she got, often sounded better than the real thing. Now that Bond’s started taking hormones, and Kiki & Herb are no more, V is finally free to take all the credit.

For example, Yoko Ono’s “What a Bastard the World Is” is hardly anyone’s favorite song. Its lyrics are verbose and awkward, and whatever notion of empowerment gets attached to them is wholly subjective. And yet, when delivered via V’s seared contralto, the scansion sounds perfect and, yes, true liberation seems nigh. Magic! This is indeed how that song should go.

Likewise, “The Blizzard” by Judy Collins, if not mostly forgotten, is an innocuous enough tune. But in the hands of V’s longtime piano man Lance Horne, the Joe’s Pub Baldwin really did sound like a carnival. Atop Horne’s graceful arpeggios, V belted out a grace all hir own. To be fair, said grace was an imperfect poise; just before the third chorus, V flubbed a few of the many words crammed into Collins’s verses. That mattered not, though, as it’s hard to imagine anyone but V singing this one now.

And then there were the originals.

Whereas other people’s property was public domain for Kiki DuRayne, it’s Mx Justin Vivian who writes the songs today. Starting with 2009’s Pink Slip EP, recorded live at (Le) Poisson Rouge, V has quickly transitioned into a bona fide singer-songwriter, too. Last April’s full-length studio recording—the exquisite and sorely underrated Dendrophile—remains V’s best, most mature record yet, so it was quite a treat to hear a standout track like “Genet Song” in person. Even without Sam Amidon’s backing band here, this one still retained its uniquely downtown mix of Joe’s Pub glam and fuzz from the Stone (or, if you’re old enough, Fez and Tonic, respectively).

The greatest gift of the night, however, was still to come. Ever the diva, V made us wait for it—until the second encore, actually. Coming back out to rapturous applause, V dismissed the pianist Horne, and plopped down at his bench behind the baby ivories. Judging from the look on Horne’s face, unlike most of their banter thus far, it was clear this particular move wasn’t rehearsed. And looking out into the crowd, speechless just this once, even V appeared unsure if it was the right thing to do. It seemed a rare moment of doubt for an otherwise cocksure performer, so V’s was a glimpse well worth savoring.

As it turned out, there was nothing to fear. No, nothing at all. Announcing only that this was a new song called “Cry” recorded just last week, V followed with a hushed and delicate ballade the likes of which we’ve never heard from Mx Justin Vivian Bond. Bond’s own accompaniment, while pitch-perfect, was appropriately understated, and the overall mood was one of genuine vulnerability. No one dared move a muscle until the last chord had settled.

And then, just like that, V launched into the first verse of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon.” It would be Bond’s last song of the weekend.


Logan K. Young

LOGAN K. YOUNG writes regularly for BLURT, Dusted, and the Baltimore Sun. His book Mauricio Kagel: A Semic Life is out now.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

All Issues