Raven O, best known for his gig as the main MC and choreographer at The Box, is turning 50. I have shoes that are 50 years old so I understand the magnitude of the day and all that it takes to get there. Raven O is marvelous. He is talented and unpredictable and well…delicious. He can turn on a dime from the sweet and innocent imp to the monster we keep bottled up inside. I have caught his act a zillion times on stage or on a street corner or a coffee shop. He is always on. He is the consummate downtown performance artist. You can catch him at The Box, 5 nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday. Some say The Box isn’t what it used to be… what is?…except Raven. I like The Box better now. It’s worn-in and true, like an old leather jacket. It has less to prove and therefore seems more natural, less forced, and not necessarily for the slumming swells that played there way too much for my satisfaction years ago. It’s fun now, especially late at night when it gets real sexy. The Box has always been sexy and I lay a lot of that at Raven’s door. I caught up with the maestro and talked up about the past, present, and future, which includes a celebration at the Lounge at Elmo, 156 7th Avenue between 19th and 20th Street this coming Sunday, June 10th. I think you got to know him but he makes everyone feel like that, doesn’t he?
Turning 50 is a good time to reflect back and to look forward with purpose…it’s like standing on some big hill. Tell me what you see looking back and forward, spiritually, not a list of your accomplishments and goals.
My parents raised me to be fearless, never a follower, and always reminded me to be myself and be honest, above all things. I think that being fearless…being the "Hawaiian Warrior" in me…got me through incredibly tough times in my past which included homelessness, drug addiction, and constant rejection from the mainstream-show-business types. I also feel fearless on stage which has helped my career. Looking forward, I believe that all religion is bullshit and I don’t think about "spirituality." I’m a naturalist. I listen with my heart and try to let my instincts guide me. I’ve learned that if I think too much, I fuck shit up – so I fucked up a lot in my past. I’m much more confident these days in my choices and hope to get through the next 50 years without getting jaded or pessimistic about life.
That last question covers a lot of ground.. let’s talk about how you got here. You’ve certainly followed a road less traveled to the beat of a different drummer. Give us a CliffsNotes version of your career.
I started performing as a child in Hawaii. One of my first paying gigs at 18 was as a male stripper in a women’s only club in Waikiki. I was practically raped every night on stage…crazy bitches! I loved it. Got to New York by winning a dance contest. Limelight was my first job as a go-go dancer…that was awesome! I was a Cat Club dancer. Don Hill gave me that job. RIP Don, great man. Did everything from dancing in contemporary dance companies to singing in hardcore bands to performing in drag shows and acting in feature films. Was homeless sleeping on the streets, a hustler, a drug addict. Did “Bard’O” for 10 years (a cabaret show). Went to Vegas with Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity, and I’m now at The Box NYC and in London.
I caught you at The Box a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t the same but it had a different energy – still a sexy energy. How do you balance the art of what you and yours do there with the plain old shock and awe?
The Box is six years old but I try to always approach it like its opening night. It’s always about "sexy,” not shock. I’m turning 50 but I’m still very much a sexual animal. I would honestly say that I look at everything I do as a performer first on a sexual level and then the rest follows. I have no education in theater and I know very little about literature and art but I feel that’s a plus for me because I have to just go with my talent, instincts, and years of experience.
When I caught your one-man show about a year ago, I and of course everyone around me were taken by your humble-pie manners and old-world gentlemanly approach to the sleaziest of subjects. Under it all you seethe and boil and are charged with a hard energy to control. This has affected you throughout. Without the bad-boy imp inside and its demands on you, could you be happy and how do you control that monster these days?
Hahaha Steven, you know me so well. I don’t know if I could be happy without that boiling energy. I think it’s that "warrior" part of me. I control it by accepting it as part of my nature and I just try to not hurt people and myself. Being in love has been the greatest blessing. I’m still a hard ass and can go off, but my fuse has gotten much longer as I’ve grow older. Also, it takes much longer for my body to heal from "incidents," like when I started a bar room brawl in Tokyo.
What are you planning and scheming now, and what challenges you?
Honestly Steven, I have no fucking idea! Haha. Fifty years old and I don’t know what’s coming next. That’s what keeps me going…the unknown…that’s the challenge. I do love living on the edge I guess.