Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Most Perfect Story Ever Written

My Mother told me this story earlier this week. I've written it down verbatim, I think it's storytelling perfection. (For context, she was 19 when she had me, she was unmarried and living in social housing with my Catholic grand parents, in Liverpool).

"My Mother hadn't knitted for years until I told her I was pregnant with you. She said,

'Go over to number 27 and ask Margey McQueen for some patterns and some knitting needles.'

So I did. I went over to number 27 and I said,

'Margey, me mum said, can I have some patterns and some needles?'

She said, 'What do you want with them then girl?'

I said, 'I just found out that I'm pregnant Margey.'

Margey said, 'Friggin' 'ell! What did your Mother say like?'

I said, 'She said "'Go over to number 27 and ask Margey McQueen for some patterns and some knitting needles."'

Isn't that THEBESTSTORYEVER?

Margey McQueen is a familiar spectre from my infancy. Though I don't remember her at all, she stalks through nostalgic remembrances like this one; council estate queen, kind-hearted, generous, tough as old boots. She was a cleaning lady and used to ride on the back of her husband's moped to work each day. Seems fitting for a McQueen to ride a motorbike, no?

I swear, on Spring days I can SEE her on that moped, whizzing by in her navy crimplene slacks, flat sandals, oversized cardigan with pockets stuffed full of fags and lose change, a pink round neck t-shirt over a bulging bra, hands full of sovereign rings, glinting like a magpie, decked out, necklaces upon necklaces spelling out MUM and MARGEY. Half Roman Holiday half Greaty market, partial to half a stout, a martyr to her back pains, handy with her fists when she needs to be, shoulder pads saturated with all the tears that had been sobbed on her shoulder over the years. I think about her saving up for Christmas, putting money in the toni, teary-eyed at her grand daughter's first holy communion, threatening to throw her husband out if he made a show of her one more time.

She couldn't have known that she'd be remembered decades down the line by someone who's first pieces of clothing came from knitting patterns she'd kept in plastic sleeves in the magazine rack at the side of the couch, for just such a situation to arise, could she? These every day acts of kindness, support without judgement, keep the world on its axis, and make me proud and grateful to have been raised by working class women. God bless you Margey McQueen! <3

Friday, March 3, 2017

Select Images from Performance

Notorious Beauty, Dixon Place (NYC) 2008

Practically Royalty, Hackney Attic (London) 2015

That Girl (with Ming Wong and Bendik Giske), Ping Pong Galleria (Hong Kong), 2016

Boy in a Dress, Oval House (London) 2012

GEIST, The Arcola (London) 2016

Alexander Geist live! RVT (London) 2014

Alexander Geist live! Paradise (Milan) 2016


Cover Her Face , BGWMC (London), 2014

What About Matriarchy? , The Old Police Station Gallery (London) 2009

Everything Must Go reading, Raumsweiterlanghalle (Berlin), 2014

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Studio

Today team 2D hit the studio in Heywood, "the Hollywood of the North, as it's known. We had a full 12 hours of filmic fun, as 2D Joan made her way into the world, bestowing her regal reminiscences upon the world. She talked us through the end of Francoism, sang us some Andrew Lloyd Webber, and even had time to visit a sick child in hospital, Lord love her. Yes it was a day of intense artistry, endless green screening, and a minor mix up with the butties at lunch time, yet somehow we made it through.

Approximately 8 hours in, I remembered how horrible film making really is, how tedious and exhausting and frustrating. You know when the mic pack jammed into your undies is making it impossible to breathe in your frock, and you feel like you've been stood about since the dawn of time repeating the same (increasingly meaningless) words ad infinitum? Thankfully I had a very cheery team, and with the help of Bren's pep talks, and Grace's circular breathing techniques, we actually made it out of the studio alive.

Highlight of the day? Perhaps it was working a can of Fanta into a scene in a very French and Saunders manner? Or maybe signing 2D Joan's name next to Cristiano Ronaldo on the celeb autograph wall? But probably it was the moment my sister fell asleep during her scene in the hospital bed and woke herself up snoring. That was encouraging.

A hospital bed

Unknown woman on a couch

Unknown woman in a gorgeous chateau

2D Joan relaxing in her dressing room

The team hard at work

2D Joan's signature on the wall next to Roanldo's

Now all I have to do is subtitle the film, colour correct it all, and edit in the music. But that's for next week. Tomorrow I'm off! I'll be spending the day catching up on all the films I've missed out on, with a can of Fanta in hand of course.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Preparazzione

Here in Manchester I've been busy under the tutelage of my drama coach, Colette (still not bored of saying it). Today we spent two whole sessions pulling the text apart to find the different voices (poised, relaxed, aspirational, and faux-apologetic), the accompanying physicality, and of course the subtext. I can exclusively reveal that 2D Joan is heavily stage managed and manipulated by those in the shadows, and unexpectedly sociable, almost effervescent in her love of sharing gossip with strangers (especially if they've been wheeled out for a photo op).

This is the script looking turbulent. My drama coach Colette, not pictured

Also of note, my sister arrived today in preparation of her feature film debut. Having played a role in last year's documentary on Alexander Geist fans ("Hello Lover!") she's had some experience with the biz, but tomorrow marks a change in direction for her career. It's her first dramatic role, and she's changed her professional name to Bethany Rose, so look out for her imdb page and Best Supporting Actress nomination, coming soon. She's also been busy with a face mask, to get that picture perfect look

Celebrity beauty treatment

So that's all for today. I'm hoping in the bath tub with a bag of revels and Episode Two of "Six Degrees of Joan Crawford" to get in the movie star mode. Tomorrow we are making motion picture history on the set of "182 cm Queenie"!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2D JOAN is being born

So here I am blogging from my gorgeous suite overlooking the canal in Manchester, prepping to film "182 cm Queenie", my new mini-masterpiece commissioned by HOME for their new La Movida group show. The film is the central piece of a new work which will be unveiled in April, comprising sculptural, performative and video elements, collated to loosely rework three speeches given by Juan-Carlos I of Spain during his reign. Of course, the material has been run through a psychedelic filter, processed to enhance the subtext and gossipy overtones, and bent into a shape which questions some cherished notions of Western democracy. The text is to be presented by my newest incarnation, 2D Joan, herself a combination of Princess Margaret circa 1951, Joan Crawford, and a Liverpudlian council estate housewife. She is in equal parts horrifying and compelling, and these are her shoes (which I think are really the cornerstone of any given persona).



Today her face also arrived, courtesy of Grace "the face" Oni Smith, Manchester's killer queen maquillage demon, who took an aristocratic template and blew it up to Hollywood proportions, via some classic Kabuki gestures. This is Grace with project producer (and tbh total ride) Bren O'Callaghan, enjoying a spot of tea after our make up tests at the top of the Hilton this afternoon.



And this is the first test for 2D Joan's physical manifestation through cosmetic manipulation (I.E. glued eyebrows).



Tomorrow I meet my drama coach, Colette. I have said that sentence approx 1m times today already but I will never tire of it. Also my sister arrives in Manchester to make her film debut as a hospital patient lucky enough to receive a visit for 2D Joan herself.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"So why don't we make a little room in my BMW babe?"
or
How George Michael can help us survive the Trump-Brexit era.


The ribald gloss of "Too Funky", the disco satirical "Outside", that downbeat melancholy which built to a whirl of saxophonic melodrama, in "Careless Whisper", the pavement poetry of "A Different Corner", the rub of perversion and salvation oozing from "Father Figure." From such a slick, stellar catalogue who could pick George Michael's singular artistic achievement? And let's not forget the duets with Aretha, Whitney, and Mary J. Blige (though please DO let's forget the dire duet with Elton - nobody's perfect).

Yet, I can't help feeling that until his sudden death on Christmas Day, that George Michael had in the popular cultural imagination at least, slipped into Norma Desmond territory. A diva in a mansion watching Wham! videos in the home cinema, fenced in by ever more scurrilous gossip. All those ever circuitous stories of upcoming comebacks, drug problems, sex parties, and legal troubles took him out of the zone of pop artist and put him squarely in the Lohan ruled domain of "hot mess". But to my mind, he hadn't lost his way as much as recognised all too plainly that the "wall-to-wall homophobia" (as he once put it) would forever define and confine his artistic efforts, and so, perhaps brattishly perhaps bravely, he simply refused to play. That is not say he just gave up all hope, as all of the now surfacing stories of his charity work and tremendous acts of generosity express. Rather he switched tactic.

After offering 20 years of escapism to '80s pop pickers and (after his "outing" in 1998) to'90s non-conformists from atop his pop star pedestal, he stepped into a quieter, more direct mode, offering anonymous cash donations to strangers in cafes he overheard spilling worries over overdue loans. He worked in homeless shelters, and secretly donated royalties to AIDS organisations, gave free concerts to NHS nurses, and (I find this one strangely amusing) paid for a woman he saw on the TV show "Deal or No Deal" to have IVF treatment. Can it be said then, that in recognising the limitations of even his own mega-rich, mega-famous persona in the face of a homophobic, sex-phobic, scandal driven, sensation fuelled culture such as ours, his decision to withdraw from the all conquering, top-down Olympics of celebrity culture, and move towards an intimate horizontal economy of small but meaningful acts of kindness, that he presaged the kind of interactions which will be necessary for us to survive the Trump-Brexit era?


The homophobia George Michael endured throughout his career, and which peaked to hysterical highs in 1998 after his arrest for lewd conduct, ultimately destroyed his commercial appeal. He and Rupert Everett are the twin patron saints of 90s fags doomed by sexual frankness, their kneecapped careers functioned for a decade or so, as the heads of traitors on pikes might, to deter any one else from such statements of heterodoxy. Thankfully now we have Frank Oceans and Beth Dittos, illuminating our still magnificently less than perfect landscape, but in the 90s being out as gay meant inescapable marginalisation. (Ironically of course now, in our new internet age of fracture cultures and impossibly niche markets, artists can maintain careers almost entirely outside of the mainstream - but 'twas not so in the 90s when a record label with the budget to buy every billboard and crowbar you onto every play list was essential to stardom). George Michael's legacy is the frankness that carried over into his refusal to complain about his lot in life, to recognise how fortunate he was, and to share that good fortune. He made his point clearly, concisely, but didn't become a martyr to it. As he told Oprah, "I'm not interested in selling records to people who are homophobic". If he wasn't what people wanted, too fucking bad for people. Because he refused to be part of the system of, "sexually unthreatening" gay people "comforting the whole of British society", and kept on smoking, drinking, fucking around, making it clear that his long-term relationships were open, non-monogamous.

Speculation runs wild now, was it suicide, was it heroin, or a heart attack? That's not something I'm interested in digging into. Instead I want to celebrate his unabashed and wickedly subtle exercise of sexuality in his lyrics and iconography. Well, the 2nd half his career at least; the George Michael of Wham! happened mercifully before I had, "entered fully into subjectivity" (to quote an old lover). I know the hits of course, but I still don't enjoy them, much less the look. The blond highlights, stubble, crucifix earrings, mirrored sunglasses, and stone-wash jeans is to my taste so reprehensible, so Mumsy and embarrassing, but come mid-90s "Older" era George and I'm in. That blunt, pristine black cut, the graphic goatee, the boxy Versace suits, the leather pants and the wrap-around shades spoke to me. He seemed so urbane, always surrounded by super models, subtly giving "Fony" records (and on tracks like "Star People", his pop contemporaries) the finger. His approach to sex in his songwriting was neither as graphic as Prince nor as quasi-spiritual as Madonna, but there was something that seemed so disconcertingly dirty about prosaic lines like, "Why don't we make a little room in my BMW babe?" ("Fast Love") or "Well I guess it would be nice, if I could touch your body, I know not everybody has got a body like you," ("Faith"), or even the outré outro, "I'm Dancing on the D-Train" from "Outside".

I wonder then why since his '98 fall from grace, he was never again classified alongside Madonna, Jacko, Prince, and Bowie as the superstar he should've been acknowledged as? Or maybe it's self-evident? Outrageous as the aforementioned four were, they all in some way came back to the fold of conventional morality. Prince, the most unstoppable of perverts became a Jehovah's Witness, Bowie the cross-dressing bisexual married a supermodel and fathered her child, Michael Jackson as eccentric as he was presented as a heterosexual family man, and Madonna (whilst still flashing her ass at sexism as she approaches 60) is not only matriarch to an ever growing brood of babies, but also unequivocally an agent of commerce (the world's true religion). What place then for a pop star who is outed in a traumatic, humiliating tabloid set-up (light years away from Bowie's stage managed "I'm Gay" NME interview) and who refuses to counterpoint the situation with a big gay wedding in Hello! magazine. No children either. Asked about fathering or adoption, he replied, "Can you imagine? No, thank God I didn’t. Can you imagine being George Michael’s son at school?” Instead of even flirting with a populist notion of gay fatherhood, he instead professed his love for smoking 20 joints a day, which kept him, "sane and happy." Worse yet, as early as 2004 he said, "I really don't need the public's money," and offered to make his music available online for free, with the option of a voluntary charitable donation. I suppose it's not hard to see why a man so uncareful with morals and business models alike would be only ever referred to as "Former Wham! singer", in spite of his 100m+ record sales.

Rather than getting all bo-hoo-hoo but it's Christmas about it we should recognise George Michael as an artist whom even from inside the insanity of celebrity, saw the world for what it was and spoke truth to power. An artist who was grateful and generous, an artist gone too soon, but not a victim. Let us remember George Michael, for all the fucks he did not give, for the Prince-esque stance he took against his record label, for the inexplicable friendship with Geri Halliwell, and most of all for songs so insatiable that they brought pleasure to even the horrors of abdominal exercises.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Becoming


Alexander Geist's SPECULATIVE tour is well underway, so I have been spending a lot of time being him, and taking care of him lately. Just because he doesn't exist (or rather exists only in short but exuberant outbursts) that doesn't mean he doesn't have needs. The dry cleaning and ironing alone takes up half my life, but he will have his shirts pressed just so! Then of course there's the jewellery to polish and pack (Alexander only wears silver, while I prefer gold) and all the eyeshadows to organise for each gig (who knew a person could own so many shades of green?) The Balenciaga boots need a pre-show buff, and Alex needs his own preparatory cocktail of espresso, Coke, spirulina and a few muscle relaxants, served in his Garfield mug before he can step out into the spotlight. I'm also responsible for liaising with the venue tech staff, whilst he takes his power nap, and for briefing security, and any journalists as to the correct protocol. All in all it's a fairly challenging role.



My sister (who does objectively exist) was at the show at HOME in Manchester last week. She and I watched a movie and ate a salad in the break between soundcheck and showtime, that agonising ever expanding, ever contacting period of rocketing anxiety, which threatens to go on forever (or at least until you have lost yr mind with nerves) and simultaneously to end violently, before you've even finished your kit-kat. My sister and I gossiped like a pair of grandmothers in the dressing room, amidst the warm up vocal trills and stretches. The 5 minute call never came, instead there came a thunderous knock on the door, and the squawk, "They've started!" My sister ran to her seat and I was escorted to the stage, barely buckling Alexander's boots before hitting my first cue.

Afterwards she asked, "How did you go from that to THAT in 20 seconds?"

"It's easier than you might think," I replied, "I just leave for a while and let him take over. Some people call it acting, but it's not me up there."

"No," she acknowledged, "It's really not."

I'm onstage, but just in a the capacity of supervisor, I'm there to make sure things happen as they should, but I'm not doing it. I suppose that's why he's called Geist isn't it? (Incidentally not a name I chose for him). Somebody compared the process to the way Patti Smith channels whatever she's tuned into when she's onstage, somebody else suggested it might just be high functioning schizophrenia, but to me it's something else.



You know how her co-stars have often described working with Sharon Stone, and how she has to wait until the character had possessed her before filming can begin? Well it's like that, just like that. Sharon screams, "She's here!", and cameras roll. Conjuring Alexander is a lot less laborious, but equally mystical, and he has always been (up to this point) good enough to show up. So maybe then there's a touch of Bambi Lake to the proceedings too. The iconic San Francisco torch singer, forever without a phone, a steady home, or an email address, who would reply to fraught promoters' pleas that she give them SOME way to contact her with, "Just put my name on a poster baby, and I'll be there."

Et voila, look in the mirror and say ALEXANDER GEIST five times, or better yet, put his name on the poster, and he will appear.

(PS This wk he's appearing at Hackney Showroom on Thurs Nov 17 and Tom Thumb in Margate on Fri Nov 18)