Under the Influence: Joey Arias & Pee Wee Herman

I was born and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, a nice enough place. I had friends, went to PS 69 (okay, get it out of your system, I’ve heard every joke possible), played Little League Baseball, and on my birthday, had the Kitchen Sink at Jahns on on 37th Avenue. I was popular, I was brash, I questioned everything. I once had a run-in over my stolen baseball glove with a kid a little bit older than me. His name was Johnny Genzale, and he was, generally speaking, a punk, a “must” to avoid. I got my glove back, and after that scrap, he crossed the street every time he saw me. He grew up to be punk superstar Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers). At Max’s Kansas City we hung out once in a while as two kids from the neighborhood. He was always good to me. I was extremely upset when he died, but I was also surprised he lived so long. Dee Dee Ramone told me that he had been whacked by Louisiana assholes. When I was old enough to know better, I went down to the old East Village, which resembles its current incarnation for only a few moments once in a while, and only at a few places, like Lit or maybe Veselka at 3am.

On St. Marks a zillion years ago, I met Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi. They took some time to chat with me and my friends. After about 10 minutes, my friends got tired of talking to the “freaks” and went off to buy a bong or something. I stayed; I couldn’t get enough. Up until this point, I knew no like-minded individuals. Except for Johnny Thunders, my world was straight and narrow. I’m not referring to gay. We had openly gay people in Jackson Heights during my Wonder Bread years. I’m talking about that downtown edge that’s been my carrot on a stick since meeting them. Joey and Klaus Nomi introduced me to a world of wonder that I haven’t left since. I went to the store that they ruled, Fiorruci, and bought swanky clothes for me and my gal pals. I hung with people that dressed differently, thought differently, lived differently than those I lived with. For so many years I thought I was alone—a freak hiding amongst the sane. Then I hung with freaks like me, and smiled about it. Although my thoughts were always grounded in the old hood and those traditions, I had been redefined. From that moment on I played and ate and read and partied — and always danced to the rhythm of a different drummer. I make my living creatively. If not for Joey and Klaus and the time they took to show me a different way of looking at things, I’m sure I’d be in a different place.

Tonight Joey will bring his considerable talents to Le Poisson Rouge. Over the years, I’ve seen him countless times, once as a backup to David Bowie, another in Vegas with Cirque du Soleil. He was a mainstay at Club 57, the performance-based club that ruled the 80’s St. Marks scene. He has been Billie Holiday in performances that made crowds gasp—he doesn’t imitate the legend, he channels her. He has been a severe Joan Crawford; he was gorgeous at Bar d’Or performing with Miss Sherry Vine and Raven O. He’s been in movies with Pee Wee and Elvira, and made me laugh in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. He starred in Arias With a Twist, collaborating with puppeteer Basil Twist. Brilliant and funny, with an impossibly seductive singing voice and an impossibly tight corset. Joey is a Can’t Miss, so don’t miss him at 7pm tonight at Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker street.

Bowlers at the new Times Square Bowlmor Lanes were surprised to see Pee Wee Herman and the cast and crew of his soon-to-close Broadway Show last night. He was there to celebrate the wrap of his forthcoming HBO special. His fans were invited and showed up in full force. Pee Wee, actor Paul Reubens took the time to pose for pictures with as many fans as possible. The party was put together in a couple of days and was being shopped around by publicists trying to make it work for all parties, and I got to put in my two cents. Although I was pushing a swankier locale for the event, Bowlmor was the perfect venue. Alas, I could not attend, as Sunday evenings are spent in Jackson Heights visiting my family.

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