I attended the third and final performance of Justin Bond’s Talk/Show at Joe’s Pub, with a panel of guests that included Doug Wright (Quills, I Am My Own Wife and the book to the musical Grey Gardens), Kembra Pfahler (of “The Voluptuous Horror Of Karen Black”), and punk rock impressario Danny Fields ( the man who signed Iggy Pop to Electra Records and discovered the Ramones). The meme of the evening: the pearls of the harridan.
The dictionary defines a harridan as a bad-tempered, scolding old woman; a nag. Yoko Ono was immediately referenced, but really, the panelists were debating the position of empowered women, branded as harpies because they were non-conformist and outspoken. Little Edie Beale (Grey Gardens) was naturally brought up, as was Joni Mitchell, among other trailblazing inconoclasts.
Lest you think the whole evening was some musty academic debate, there were plenty of jokes and way too personal anecdotes. Wright told an intriguing story about Laura Bush attending a performance of his play I Am My Own Wife (apparently, she cried and led the standing ovation.) Fields floated a theory that Yoko was behind the assassination of John Lennon. Interspersed was a performance by the the petite Phaler, in street clothes and sans her band .
An intelligent, canny emcee, Bond kept the show moving, entertaining questions and comments from the audience and keeping Danny Fields on topic, all while managing to casually reel off hilarious one-liners. He seemed to blend his Shortbus role with the demented diatribes of his alter ego Kiki DuRane to find the right balance.
While the evening, along with the previous two, was being filmed for a potential television pilot, I’m not sure how it would translate. Sitting in the intimate confines of Joe’s Pub, watching, was like being at a really amazing party with your closest, most creative, artsy friends, having one of those deep, philosophical, late night conversations. You know the ones. As ideas are bandied, voices raise to a din, everyone overlapping, wine glasses filled and emptied (or other substances are taken.) Then, over in the corner, someone starts strumming a guitar. The focus shifts to music, everyone joins in. That moment passes, and you’re again enmeshed in a discussion of politics, or sex, or sexual politics. That’s the spell that Talk/Show conjured. I imagined watching the spectacle filtered through the cold, flat medium of television. I’d be missing the primacy, the immediacy. I’d be missing the contact high.
Bond ended the evening with a rousing outro number, “The Bible Says,” a catchy little ditty with a chorus of “God hates a fag” (for the record: the song, attributed to ex-gay preacher Donnie Davies, ingited a debate in the blogosphere regarding its authenticity. It’s either earnest hatespiel or a tasteless, poorly executed joke– the Tenacious D of Christian rock). But like the theme of the evening, redeeming harridans maligned by society, Bond co-opted the song and worked his magic to turn it into a thing of art.