Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hippie Acid Freak Drag Queens

Picture a cross between a young Brad Pitt and Jesus Christ, wearing lipstick and a crotchless frock, perched camply in a tree and singing '30s show-tunes. Now drop acid and you will be close to visualizing Hibiscus, the etherial, messianic founder of notorious drag-and-drugs troupe The Cockettes.

When the hippie San Francisco of the '60s was paving way for the gay San Francisco of the '70s, The Cockettes documentary captures the precise moment when hallucinogenics, gay liberation, hippie communism and transgressive art collided. The Cockette House was just one of the three hundred communes in the city during the late '60s, but whilst most other communes were working together, trying to mutually sustain their utopian vision of life outside the economy, The Cockettes were living at the end of their chemically enhanced imaginations on ATD payouts (Aid to the Totally Disabled) and food stamps. Though most of their money (and time) was largely spent on acid and rummaging through third hand shops, they also used it productively to stage free 'theatre' for the hedonistic Haights-Ashbury community, even though most of them were tone deaf and/or couldn't dance.

Their 'Let's-Put-On-A-Show' attitude lead to freewheeling, improvised performances of LSD fueled fairy tales and '30s style musicals, which were an instant success - as tales of their rascality spread they attracted fans as illustrious as Diana Vreeland, John Lennon and Alan Ginsberg. Though nudity was definitely encouraged, their aesthetic was decadent, slightly spooky thrift-shop couture; a heady combination of satin, velvet or silk robes worn over layers upon layers of lace and chiffon dresses. During the documentary, one of the members explains that they expressed themselves and communicated through their clothes as "they were often so high they were non-verbal". Ribbons, flowers and tinsel were weaved into hair and sequins, beads and pearls were draped everywhere else. Huge elaborate headdresses were made out of cardboard; psychedelic, glitter make-up was applied more than generously and though eyebrows were shaved, beards were always left in tact. But drag wasn't just for the queens, The Cockettes were a motley bunch of both men and women, homosexual and heterosexual, and included a married couple and even an oblivious baby. To watch all of this moving wildly in profusion, can-canning to show-tunes and Mick Jagger, leaves me that deep lament that I have missed out on an enormous party.

I thought the DVD box was being evasive with "Too Good For Words" but I see it is difficult to convey the energy and euphoria of The Cockettes, so here is a link to a one of those montages obsessive fans make for Youtube

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