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Drag’s pivotal powerhouse, Brian Butterick, aka Hattie Hathaway, dies at 62

Behind the scenes maven who nurtured some of drag’s most famous talent

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Brian Butterick, at 2017’s 3 Teens Kill 4 album reissue launch at Howl! Happening gallery. (Photo by Yoon)

Brian Butterick, 62, who performed in drag as Hattie Hathaway and played a pivotal role in defining NYC nightlife from the early 1980s onward, is being remembered by friends and colleagues as the definition of kindness and generosity — a far-reaching creative force in his own right, who gave others a public forum in which to both express themselves and evolve.

Butterick passed away in the early hours of Jan. 30. “Under treatment and fighting lung cancer for the past six months, he was surrounded by all the friends who loved and cherished him,” read a notice on the website of Howl! Arts, Inc. — a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the past and celebrating the contemporary culture of the East Village and Lower East Side.

“His warmth, intelligence, wit and friendship, have sustained all of us throughout his many years as a fierce, visionary creative force in the community,” the message noted, further praising Butterick as a “provocateur, satirist, and magnet for brining together diverse individuals.”

In recent years, Butterick served as a Howl! board member, alongside Chi Chi Valenti, co-creator of Jackie 60, the 1990s Meatpacking District-based nightclub where Butterick worked, after his years at the Pyramid, on Avenue A.

In written remarks accompanying the 2015 Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project gallery exhibition, “Secrets of the Great Pyramid: The Pyramid Cocktail Lounge As Cultural Laboratory,” legendary columnist and nightlife chronicler Michael Musto described the club as “the jewel in the East Village crown, a hotspot with a unique set of anything-goes ethics and its own stable of stars… filled with oddballs, outcasts, and fabulosities angling to throw on some tinsel and get their attention-hungry asses on that stage.”

As a producer, curator, and creative director at the Pyramid, it was Butterick who fed that desire to perform.

NYC-based drag queen Lady Bunny, in a Jan. 30 Facebook post, called Butterick’s demise “the first time that queen ever ‘passed’ in her life!” Recalling the Pyramid as “a crazy yet inspired East Village dump which provided a home to many a fledgling drag queen,” Bunny noted the club’s function as a proving ground, and said there “definitely would be no Lady Bunny or Wigstock without the environment which Hattie fostered.”

Deee-Lite, They Might Be Giants, Dean Johnson, Baby Gregor, John Kelly, Billy Beyond, Wendy Wild, Page, Christine, Mr. Fashion, Alexis Del Lago, Tabboo!, Barbara Patterson Lloyd, French Twist, RuPaul, Tanya Ransom, Frieda, Lypsinka, Ebony Jett, Kestutis Nakus, Tom Rubnitz, Peter Kwaloff, Flotilla Debarge, Sweetie, Linda Simpson, Madame, The Now Explosion, and Ethyl Eichelberger were among the artists who “honed their crafts” at the Pyramid, Bunny noted. “On invites, the Pyramid proudly proclaimed that it was ‘Drag queen owned and operated.’ Although my favorite thing about the Pyramid was that both its staff and clientele were mixed.”

Hattie Hathaway in front of the Howl! float, at NYC’s Pride parade, 2017. (Photo by Yoon)

As for recollections of Hattie, Bunny noted “Ya hag!” was among her favorite greetings, “and she was queen of the eye roll, typically with a cocktail in her hand” — a “smart cookie” and a “rocker at heart” who would “often ‘mistakenly’ book a rockabilly band or trans jazz singer Stephanie Crawford to perform on the upbeat Sunday night disco party called Whispers. It was as if Hattie wanted to challenge the disco dollies with something she felt had more substance. And it worked…. Curating all of this was Hattie’s genius. Try booking a rockabilly band or Jayne County or Gwar or ESG at a Hell’s Kitchen gay bar today.”

In his written contribution to the “Secrets” exhibition, Butterick noted, “Certainly we had no idea how this would all begin on that cold day in early December 1981. We were a young confused group, like many, searching for something — anything that would shed some light on the murky future that stretched before us… We knew we were dissatisfied. We left what we felt was an oppressive atmosphere. What New York’s West Village had become. And the Castro, and Hollywood. And countless other places. We headed East. Unlike the men who flocked to those places, we loved women. And we rejected labels.”

Speaking to the Pyramid’s own take on drag, Butterick noted, “Certainly, we embraced drag and what was then called cross-dressing, which many at the time insisted was a crude parody of all things female. And although we embraced parody wildly because we always loved a good ‘send-up,’ the drag we did was deconstructive. More like gender-fuck at first. Ripped fishnets with hairy legs, panty hose beneath Wall Street suits. Women in top hats and tuxedos.”

Blurring the lines of gender, and “beginning to erase the binary world,” the performing artists and patrons of the Pyramid “came to realize (more through instinct than intent) you had to own your own gender, sexual preference or role. And this was the last great revolution of the Twentieth Century. The beginning of what we now call ‘Queer,’ though it didn’t have a name then.”

All of this, Butterick noted, “was played out against the horrifying backdrop of the AIDS crisis, and yet it was a time of great joy and revelry.”

In a 2016 interview for PAPER Magazine, Butterick recalled the creation of his drag persona, telling Musto, Hattie “was originally Loretta, something that Faye Runway and I had concocted as a country singer. Loretta Nicks became plain old Loretta, and then Loretta B. DeMille as a joke because of all the spectacles we supported.”

One New Year’s Eve, he put $25,000, made from $10 per-head door charges, in a suitcase labeled “Hattie Butterick” (his grandmother’s name), and hid it under the stage. Butterick “came back sober the next day and paid everyone… everyone saw ‘Hattie’ and thought it was the funniest thing on earth, so they started calling me Hattie. And one day [drag performer] Hapi Phace called me Hattie Hathaway, because Jane Hathaway — Nancy Kulp — had just died.” (Kulp, Musto duly noted, for the uninitiated, played Miss Jane Hathaway on the ’60s sitcom, “The Beverly Hillbillies.”)

Declaring him as “one of downtown’s unsung heroes” and “a lovely combination of been-there and totally optimistic” who was “basically sweet and ultra-likable, never mean,” Musto said Butterick’s embodiment of “the ‘Let’s put on a show’ ethic that makes nightlife so great” was the impetus for his 2016 interview.

“I felt he hadn’t gotten the proper chance to tell his story, from doorman to promoter/drag queen/impresario and beyond,” Musto noted. “He was never trying to get famous, just to be part of an event well worth leaving the house for. Hattie truly represented the satirical and bold spirit of the Pyramid club and evolved to reflect the more sophisticated themes later espoused at Jackie 60, where there was a dress code, a theatrical stage, and an abundance of smart references.”

L to R: Richard Move, Chi Chi Valenti, Brian Butterick, and Paul E Alexander, circa 2012, at Alba Clemente’s birthday party. (Photo by Johnny Dynell)

Paul E Alexander, whose 2017 play, “Trinkets,” had as its centerpiece a club reminiscent of Jackie 60, said, “To me, Hattie wasn’t very much different than Brian — smart, witty, sarcastic. Harsh, but very funny, very fair, very honest… an East Village person you just don’t find anymore, the art for art’s sake kind.”

At Jackie 60, Alexander shared emcee duties with Hathaway. “We hit it off from the minute he hit the stage,” Alexander recalled. “We’d make jokes, and puns, and innuendos… We had this Burns and Allen routine going, where we could volley, hit the punchline, and move on to the next thing.”

As for his kinship with Butterick, “I just liked him,” Alexander said, “because I felt he was a fair person, hardworking — and I never really saw him angry at anybody, or cursing them out. Of course he must have gotten angry, but he wasn’t a bullying or bitchy personality. He was very even-tempered, from my perspective, and I like that in a person.”

Doug Bressler said, of his days with Butterick while members of the early ’80s band, 3 Teens Kill 4, “We were pretty loud, hard-rocking… very primitive, a mix of conventional rock instruments, beat boxes, toys. Our sound was ‘post-punk art rock no-wave.’ ” 

Although Bressler said Butterick was “a brilliant singer, songwriter, and performer,” the “most amazing thing about Brian was the acts he booked. He was asked to bring performers together, and he did this absolutely phenomenal job… Brian was the person who could handle the people better than anybody. He was unflappable; this stage mother who could take all the slings and arrows, and had this unique ability to make the kind of environment where everyone was welcome, as long as you weren’t a hater… He was a giant in the LGBT community. He gave these amazing people the opportunity to perform.”

The Jackie 60 contingent, at NYC’s Pride march. At far right, Butterick, standing, with cigarette. (Photo by ©Tina Paul, 1992, all rights reserved)

Jane Friedman, founder of the Howl! Happening gallery, rhapsodized about Hattie’s ability to “solve problems and get you where you need to go” — qualities that came into play when the two of them, along with Marguerite Van Cook, put together the HOWl! Festival, a neighborhood-centric celebration of the arts, held in Tompkins Square Park, from 2003-2013. 

“He was a very exciting person and had great ideas all the time,” she said of Brian/Hattie’s work with the festival. “He was able to do every single chore or job there was. He did the bookings, the poster artwork. He directed a lot of things, and participated in performances… He was just a very amazing human being.” 

Regarding that widely held assessment, Bressler provides a fitting coda, calling Butterick “this sweet, gentle guy — clear-eyed, and unflappable. You could almost say he was like a nun, because he basically had taken a vow of poverty. The guy could have been a millionaire, with all of his talent, but he always put other people before himself. He was wonderful, and generous.”

A memorial service will be announced in the next few weeks, at howlarts.org.

Brian/Hattie gives remarks at the opening of the 2015 Pyramid exhibition at Howl! Happening gallery. (Photo by KC Mulcare)

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Listen to the show here:

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