Phoebe Legere’s Old New York

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I’m pretty hooked up for Valentine’s Day, though I better get this writing done fast and go get Amanda something amazing before I’m kicked to the curb. Although it’s an extremely “romantical’ day for those lucky enough to be part of a pair, there are many peeps out there with “One Is The Loneliest Number” by Three Dog Nights on repeat on their iPod. Nightlife assures all of us that we’ll never be alone, and maybe that is the fundamental thing that always applies as time goes by. For those just short of a sweetheart, I’m going to give you one: Phoebe Legere.

She has been one of my idols and inspirations. She’s as talented as you can get, and an all around swell gal. She’s about to go on tour, but you can catch her act at Iridium tomorrow night. If I don’t finish this and score some flowers, charms, and cupcakes quick, I’ll be there crying into my Shirley Temple. Otherwise, come over and say ‘hey’ to me and Amanda. Oh, and if you decide to read any further today, fasten your seat belt. Phoebe tells it like she sees it, and she has seen a lot.

You are known as a singer and actress. Where you want to be next year? My parents are both artists. They started me painting from live nude models when I was 5. I started playing the piano at 3, and composing at age 6. I play many instruments, including “The Rap Shoes,” which I invented for disabled children. I refuse to be imprisoned by obsolete categories like “singer” and “actress.” I am a Transmedia Artist. I am Live Art. There are no ups and downs in the life of an artist. There is only the work. Celebrity goes up and down, depending on how much you spend on your press agent. Celebrity is an illusion. Art is real.

Tell me about a star you have met or worked with that truly shined. I opened for David Bowie on his national tour. When he came into my dressing room for the first time, he was so beautiful that l fainted. I lost consciousness. My friend Susie Rakowski was standing behind me. She caught me and pushed me forward. I recovered and stuck out my hand. “Ahhh, Hello Mr. Bowie.” His voice was soft, like a caress. He said, “Phoebe, I love your voice. I love your songs.” It was like a dream.

Watching David Bowie perform every night was a revelation. He’s good on records, but he’s a thousand times better live. He mesmerizes the crowd with a resonant high baritone and charismatic, Kabuki gestures. Larry Rivers was an idol, and remained so through the 20+ years I knew him. When I get to heaven the first thing I will say is, Where’s Larry? Other killer genius/real American idols? Peter Matthiessen, Peter Beard, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, Hoop, Terry Southern, Joni Mitchell, Hilary Knight, who is the illustrator of “Eloise” and did the album cover for Ooh La La Coq Tail. My idols—all greater, and more magnificent than I could ever imagine!

What are people seeing/hearing these days when they catch your act? My show is called the Ooh La La Coq Tail. It has been called “provocative, sensual, multimedia jazz.” I sing my original songs from the Steinway, which I call “My Long Black Husband.” Then I strut around, singing in French, playing diamond encrusted accordions. I wear a pair of rhinestone bikini underpants, which can be glimpsed under a gossamer, see-through movie star dress of my own design. The Ooh La La Coq Tail is a quintet of musical geniuses: Jon Burr, who played with Stephane Grapelli, Warren Vache, who played with everybody, Sir George Leonard, and Ben Perowsky. I am introducing Chicken Genius (Jonnie Jazz). He just turned 15 and has blond ringlets. He’s like Mozart, only sexier. Our show is called Astrophysics for Young Lovers.

While we play I project my paintings of nude slaves who were the mistresses of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson on 5 DVD screens through the club. Those images are interspersed with photographs taken by the Deep Space Telescopes. Get the picture? You have been around for a bit. How do you perceive the current “scene”? Tell me about clubs that you had a blast in—in the past. Limelight VIP was fun—for a while. Here’s a painting I did about the night I met Matt Dillon there in the Limelight VIP room. It’s called Celebrity Blowjob #2. I’m having a show at Christina Varga Gallery in Woodstock at the moment, where you can buy this painting (if you are rich). We all knew Limelight was turning weird when that car flew through the air and pinned that promoter (Ruth Polsky) against the door.

I was quite inspired by Limelight promoter Michael Alig. I wrote a song about the time he killed Angel. It is called Love Bubble. You can download it for 0.99 cents on iTunes. Michael wrote to me from prison. He really loves the song—it captures his moment perfectly. But of all the clubs, my all time favorite was the Pyramid. The Pyramid still stands at 6th St. and Avenue A. It hasn’t changed. There’s no ambiance, no décor, there are no glitzy effects, no smoke and bubble machines, no lasers. The Pyramid is dirty, dusty, and it smells like it always has—like a bar. It’s nothing more than a badly lit brown box, a 3,000 square foot unfinished space with a great big stage and an excellent PA. But you don’t need a million dollar renovation to make an art renaissance. All you need are a few geniuses, a place for them to perform, and a kick-ass sound system. And we had it all. The Pyramid Club Kids looked fantastic. New York City Punk was morphing into New Wave, No Wave, Hardcore, Ska Punk, Skinhead, Straightedge, and a style so fleeting it didn’t even last long enough to get a name. I’ll call it Vegas Punk. In the late 80’s East Village clubs were patrons of serious experimental music and performance art. Steve Piccolo, of the Lounge Lizards, commissioned a Sound Art piece from me. I wrote about my teenage years as a Club Kid at the Pyramid, and combined it with some of my serious classical orchestral and electronic work.

Give some advice to the young talented gal just off the plane with dreams as big as the wheat fields she left behind. It all depends. I would ask, “Darling, do you want to be Immortal, or do you just want to be a Celebrity?” If you are a young teenager, and want to be a celebrity, become the receptionist for a powerful talent agency. Wear a short skirt and keep bending over. Soon you will inspire a penile fixation in one of the powerful men who runs the show. Marry him. Marry as well as you can, as young as you can! Spend his money on getting the most powerful press agent you can afford. About $8,000 a month should do it. After about 3 months you’ll be as famous as anyone. Don’t waste your time with art or music. Do nothing, just perfect your blowjob techniques. Learn to take it in the ass and like it. Above all, perfect my signature technique: the snapping turtle pussy. If anyone gives you shit for being a whore just tell them, “making love is an art, too.” And then laugh all the way to Bergdorf Goodman.

If, however, you are like me, and you want to be an immortal, don’t take it in the ass. Instead, work your ass off. Do genius work for many decades. Cultivate solitude. Read as much as you can in the little spare time you have. Learn as many languages as you can, as young as you can. Don’t drink and don’t do drugs. One day you will find that all the people who rejected you in your youth are trying to imitate you, or imitate imitations of you. Don’t be distracted. That is not fame. Keep working. Keep nailing yourself to the cross of your art. Cultivate friendships with geniuses even if they hold a gun to your heart, as Hunter Thompson did to me. Stay with the great ones, hang in there, drinking in the super brilliance. The people with whom we hang out rubs off on us. Do not be like the dummies you see around you in the East Village. Do not be an age-ist. Talent has no age. I attached myself to A. Ginsberg, G. Plimpton, P. Beard, L. Rivers, T. Southern, J. Mitchell. The Elders are the ones who can guide you. Have sex with kids, of course, but when you have real problems, go to the elders for advice. Don’t get plastic surgery. Do not mutilate yourself in order to get attention. Cultivate a killer technique and cultivate your own madness. That is what will get you noticed. Talent is beautiful, madness is Immortal. Celebrity, dance music, and fashion tents come and go. Art is forever. When the sun burns out and the earth is nothing but a cold, black ashtray, Michelangelo’s Slaves will still writhe in their impeccable bondage.

All around town there is a revival of classic sounds and atmospheres. Why is this happening? Are we seeking a time when we were sure, or safe, and looking for it in classic American joints? Humanity is the super star of New York City. Art is the heart of New York. Some visionary club owners have stopped trying to bully people with excessive volume and machine made music, or worse—numb them with stale trance crap. The people are calling for a return to the irresistible seduction of musical virtuosity and real singing! What is better than a real song? People will pay anything to get close to genius and madness. That is New York. New York must be a place where there are no curfews, no parents, no middle class values, no reputations to defend, no fashion police. There is only one law: BE ORIGINAL. When they let the franchises in and froze out the Mom and Pop clubs, New York became a lame suburban mall. Clubs sounded and looked like Duane Reade. We had the nightlife we deserved. As long as people were sucking up computers to entertain them, nightlife sucked! There is a revolution afoot. Do we want machines calling the tune while we dance? The heart and soul of New York nightlife is not electroclash, nouveau dubstep, techno, robot disco revival, pitch correction and mass-produced couture. The core musical value of New York is jazz, deep groove, musicianship, poetry, song, imporivisation. Let’s get back to crazy!

Clubs I like? I’m still going over to the Meat district when I feel the vague urge to get drunk and score. But for a real night out, I like a place with a grand piano and a real singer singing real songs—not some narcissistic American Idol shit with people screaming for their lives. I like to sit and drink to a swinging, intelligent groove, with lyrics about something other than drugs, murder, ego, labels, prostitutes and money. I like Old New York. Instead of an antagonistic, trend-driven doorman, it’s so wonderful to be greeted by a welcoming host who knows your name and knows what questions you don’t want to answer. One of my favorite hangouts is Iridium Jazz Club. Another is Campagnola’s. Clubs don’t need a velvet rope to make themselves popular. Just give people gorgeous and charge them an arm and a leg. They’ll love you for it.

Photo by Bill Bryant