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Four trumps 19: The Kinsey Sicks’ COVID-era creations

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L to R: Trixie (Jeff Manabat), Winnie (Nathan Marken), Angel (J.B. McLendon), Trampolina (Spencer Brown). (Photo by Paco Ojeda)

When the going gets tough, the tough get on the go—even if they’re quarantined. After all, they’ve got ample time on their hands, and it handily beats letting our present/future COVID-19 crisis beat you down, or leave you to spend your days beating your own… well, you know how that one goes. Actually, come to think of it, that second option’s not bad.

Sheltering in place but not standing still, veteran Dragapella® Beautyshop Quartet-cum-satirical/political group The Kinsey Sicks—who would have been touring right now, were it not for shuttered venues—have amped up their online presence, with timely new music and a determination to get back on the boards just as soon as the all-clear is called. (The national tour of their “Electile Dysfunction” musical extravaganza has been postponed until further notice, although in the spirit of “subject to change,” it’s presently noted on their website.)

But if anything good can come out of this end-times scenario, count among that short list drag queens who’ve employed everything from gallows humor to heartfelt advice to score-keeping tales of woe to get them out of bed in the morning, in the hopes that one day soon, they’ll be bed-hopping again.

Chief among those able alley cats, The Kinsey Sicks: Trixie (Jeff Manabat), Winnie (Nathan Marken), Angel (J.B. McLendon), and Trampolina (Spencer Brown).

The group, whose “Social Distance” parody of The Divine Miss M’s “From a Distance” dropped at the tail end of March, finds our quarantined quartet biding their time indoors by playing Jenga-for-one, eating peanut butter straight from the jar, binging on Disney+, waiting for that stimulus check, and, sans a man, spooning toilet paper. Hey, we’ve all been there. And if we haven’t? Girl, it’s only a matter of time.

Similarly, yet differently, early May’s “Don’t-cha Touch-a, Touch-a-Touch Me!” found our girls one month into self-isolation—feeling the strain of no human touch, and making due with suggestive cameo appearances by bananas and carrots. Still, their collective dry spell finds some solace in non-stop digs at Trump.

“I’ll trade off satisfaction for strong leadership and action,” goes the tune, based on a certain ditty from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” And if you don’t get the reference, you’d better hand in your Gay Club Membership Card. (Unless we can take a rain check on the secret handshake, in which case, all is forgiven.)

But it was sunny skies ahead, when the bill came due for The Kinsey Sicks to answer our burning inquiries.

The Los Angeles Blade: How did “Social Distance” come about? How was it written/shot, and what sort of feedback has it gotten from fans?

Spencer/Trampolina: Anyone familiar with The Kinsey Sicks already knows that the group’s origins were inspired by attending a Bette Midler concert in the ’90s. When her classic hit “From a Distance” got into my head, I immediately sat down and hammered out the lyrics. Then Jeff, one of our other members, whipped up the arrangement and sent the music file for all of us to learn and record. Within a short amount of time, those individual recordings were sent back to him for mixing, and the combined four-part harmony track was then sent out for us to sing along to for reference. Over the next few days, we each got in drag and shot our videos, which were then sent back to me for a few more days of editing.

Finally, after a little more than a week since I was inspired to write “Social Distance,” we released the finished video to our fans all over social media. Their feedback has been nothing but positive! Though we are devastated to cancel our spring tour (something we’ve never done in our 26 years of this group existing), this video is a gift for our fans, and lets them know we’re still here fighting the good fight!

Blade: Are there other group projects in the works?

Spencer/Trampolina: This first video (“Social Distance”) was an experiment. All four members of the group live in different states across the country (Kansas, Maryland, California, and Illinois, presently). Being able to write a parody, get it arranged, learn it, then record it (individually!), and edit/mix everything in a short amount of time is something we’ve never attempted, but having done that and seeing the reaction of fans both old and new, we’re now inspired to create more. We’re planning on even more performance-related content, and are excited to already be in pre-production for more parody music videos, and possibly live or pre-recorded appearances (depending on what technologies all four of us can master!).

Blade: What mpact did the realities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic have on the group’s worldview, and what parallels, if any, do you draw to the current COVID-19 crisis?

Jeff/Trixie: By the time The Kinsey Sicks was formed in San Francisco in the early ’90s, almost a quarter-million people, most of them gay and bi men, died from the epidemic, and San Francisco was one of the epicenters. Although thousands were dead and dying, mainstream American society still had a negative view of the community, and the American government had barely made any response to help. For several years, the LGBT community and its allies were almost entirely alone. And yet there was still a need to find some measure of joy amidst all the pain and tragedy, perhaps a creative yet politically charged way to respond to the incredible injustice from not just politicians, but our fellow Americans. Amidst this atmosphere, and soon after a fateful trip to a Bette Midler concert, a group of close friends was inspired to create The Kinsey Sicks.

To get a fuller picture of the beginnings of the group, and to trace its origins to the current political atmosphere, it’s worth watching this remarkable monologue by Emeritus member Ben Schatz (“Rachel”), a Harvard-trained civil rights lawyer, former Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, and one-time presidential advisor on HIV issues, who created the first national AIDS legal project and authored Clinton’s HIV policy during the 1992 presidential campaign: (https://youtu.be/qnEHzeN0kHI).

Our worldview is still heavily influenced by this genesis. It’s embedded in our DNA. For decades, The Kinsey Sicks has produced works commenting on that nexus of politics, culture, and sexuality through drag and a cappella, and we will continue to be influenced by, comment on, and respond to the world around us that way.

There can be parallels made between the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the current crisis, such as the extreme measures by the GOP to use tragedy for their own political gain, and to pit communities against each other whilst hoarding more power. However, the swift response of the government on all levels—from federal to state to local—and the mobilization of the majority of Americans to support those in crisis is much different. Back then, it was several years before the federal government even acknowledged the existence of AIDS/HIV, let alone begin the search for treatment.

Today, the Coronavirus response has been a matter of weeks or months, and the search for a vaccine has become a national priority. However, for both times, higher powers have acted in ways that merit a critical response from artists—and for us, as it was then, it’s a response of the musical variety.

Blade: Has this forced time away from public performance impacted the group’s output, and approach to using online/social media as an expression of your artistry?

Spencer/Trampolina: Absolutely! When we’re not on stage, the group is always working behind the scenes on how we can effectively produce new material, and the traction that this new video [Social Distance”] has gotten really inspires us to keep going.

Blade: Has the group had any notable virtual interactions with fans during this period of social distancing?

Spencer/Trampolina: The Kinsey Sicks is no stranger to social distancing. Many, many, of our audiences have been avoiding us for years. So we keep our virtual interactions with fans to a minimum for their safety.

Blade: This one is for every member of the group: The all-clear is called and we’re allowed to gather in public again. What are the first things you’re going to do?

Nathan/Winnie: As soon as we can go out in public, I look forward to getting back on the campaign trail with The Kinsey Sicks, sampling all the delectable vegetarian fare from coast-to-coast.

Jeff/Trixie: I can’t wait to go back to modern life’s basic public pleasures: dinner-and-a-movie dates with my favorite boyfriends, shopping sprees with my favorite sugar daddies, and multiple anonymous hookups via my favorite apps.

J.B./Angel: I’m planning a three-way with Mitch McConnell and social scientist Peter Navarro. It might not happen but I’m trusting my intuition on this one.

Spencer/Trampolina: Vote.

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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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