For a decade and a half, as the showbiz has-been character Kiki in the infamous punk drag cabaret act Kiki & Herb, Justin Bond terrified audiences with fucked-up covers of Radiohead, Eminem, Talking Heads, Belle & Sebastian, Nirvana—you name it. The idea was that Kiki, a tragedy-marked boozer born during the Great Depression and still having to scrape out a living, was performing popular tunes to try to stay relevant with the young people. She would tell stories about her life between songs, like about how her father mangled his own body ("When that stock market crashed in 1929, a lot of people jumped out of windows, but not all of them died, ladies and gentlemen") and the yachting anecdote about how Kiki's daughter drowned while Kiki was below deck sleeping with a record producer ("Ladies and gentlemen, where the hell can a kid go on the deck of a boat?").
After a stint on Broadway and a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall featuring a parade of celebrities, Bond and pianist Kenny Mellman (Herb) went their separate ways. Since then, Bond has been writing his own material (he performed songs off his EP Pink Slip last year at the Triple Door), performing covers (the entirety of the Carpenters' Close to You in Central Park), appearing in movies (he played himself in John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus), curating art shows (with the New Yorker critic Hilton Als), flying to Poland for a freaky festival in a smoky basement (a fellow performer shattered his pint glass in time with the music, and then audience members started shattering the glasses they were holding), and a few weeks ago, singing at Brooklyn Academy of Music (on a bill with Yoko Ono, Paul Simon, Bette Midler, Scissor Sisters). Among other things.
He's in Seattle this week to perform Angels of the Morning: The Ladies of AM Radio, which came out of a series of shows he did in the fall at Joe's Pub in New York. One show was dedicated to "the witches of rock—Tori Amos, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Stevie Nicks," another was Halloween-themed, but "people went crazy for The Ladies of AM Radio," he said on the phone last week, as a New York City sanitation truck roared by.
We talked a little about the difference between performing as Kiki and performing as himself. We talked a little about Obama's failure to fight harder for a public option—Bond has an Obie, a Bessie, an Ethyl Eichelberger Award, but he doesn't have health insurance. And we talked about a bunch of other crap.
So, how's Yoko Ono doing?
Oh, Yoko's good. She says hi.
She says paint a cloud on your wall and pretend you're staring out the window at the infinite universe.
How was performing with her last month?
It was amazing. She's amazing. I was really excited to not only be backstage with her but to be able to, when I wasn't performing, be in the audience watching her show, because I love Yoko Ono. I think in the last 20 years, she has just completely come into her own. I did this song that she wrote called "What a Bastard the World Is," and she liked my interpretation of it, but she was talking to me about how important that song was to her because it was about women and empowering women and how difficult it is to be a woman. So I got to tell her that, you know, I consider it incredibly powerful to be a woman artist to begin with, because for a woman to be a recognized artist, she has to be a lot more powerful and strong than a male artist. It's so much more difficult for women to get that kind of acknowledgement, because there's so much bullshit around it. And she commands this respect in spite of all the hatred that has been for some reason focused on her for years. And it was fun backstage, because I shared the dressing room with the Scissor Sisters, and we felt like we were the kids. Of those people, we were sort of like the kooky young people—young nobodies—compared to, like, Bette Midler and Eric Clapton and Paul Simon.
Do you ever do any Bette Midler songs?
Jason and I—or, you know, Jake Shears—when I did The Ladies of AM Radio the first time, he was here in New York, so we did "The Rose" as a duet. [Laughs.]
Tell me more about The Ladies of AM Radio. How'd this idea come about?
When the idea came to me, in August of last year, I was sick, and I was lying in bed for like a week with this fever, and I was sort of fantasizing—clearly I wanted to be anywhere but where I was—and I got on this tangent: "Well, if I could be anywhere at any time in history, where would I want to be?" And I thought I'd like to be poolside in Los Angeles in 1972.
Ah, that sounds wonderful.
Doesn't it? It's post Manson, so everybody's a little anxious, but it's just before we found out that the sun would kill us. [Laughs.]
And Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes are running around making awesome movies.
Yeah, and Joan Didion cracking an egg on the wheel of her car on the freeway, and, you know, it's kind of the last age of innocence. Before the OPEC nations put the screws to us by making oil expensive. Everything seemed possible back then. So I thought it would be a great idea, because I love the music from that period, and I just love the idea of drinking margaritas poolside, and wearing a string bikini, and lying out in the sun, jet planes overhead. There's something very romantic about it to me.
You're not giving out the set list, but tell me some of the songs you're doing.
Well, "Angie Baby" by Helen Reddy. She lives her life through the songs she hears on the rock-and-roll radio, and for a young girl who doesn't have any friends, that's a really nice way to go. That pretty much intros the whole show, doesn't it? I was born in 1963, so I was alive during that time. I sang it as a kid. I mean, that's everything for this particular show—I didn't really have to learn any lyrics. And, let's see, what's another one? "Angel of the Morning," obviously. And, well, I won't tell you any more songs, but I'll tell you some of the ladies: Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt, obviously Juice Newton and Helen Reddy—there, you've got four. And of course these days I try not to do any shows without at least one Karen Carpenter song.
I love those ladies.
I did a little research on Helen Reddy. She's retired from show business, and she's a psychic healer. So the next time I'm in Australia, I'm going to go to Helen Reddy and get a past-life regression thing.
You're fucking with me.
I swear to god. [Laughs.] Isn't that awesome? Helen Reddy's this new age guru for middle-class housewives of Australia.
I saw a photo of you in the New York Times a couple weeks ago, at the Whitney Biennial, talking to a curator, and I've been reading your blog about the album you're working on and the traveling around the world you've been doing—how do you possibly do all this? Uppers?
No! I don't know how it happened. Well, you know, when I'm not doing all that, I'm really doing nothing. I mean, there's nothing I would like better than to just lie on my bed and zone out. I'm either doing something or I'm doing nothing, so it kind of balances out. The night after I was at the Whitney Biennial I didn't get up off my couch.
You were just lying around? Maybe with some AM radio on in the background?
There was a crazy Vanessa Redgrave movie on Netflix or something.
Tell me more about that trip to Poland.
It was great, because I've never been to Poland before, and they put us in a fancy hotel, and they had this amazing restaurant with a menu with lots of wild game. So I had some delicious boar and venison. That's the most memorable part. Wild game. And the hotel was right next to the presidential palace. I was told while I was there that the president of Poland is this homophobic asshole. So I stuck my ass out the window at the presidential palace while I was there, in solidarity with the Polish queers.
Did anyone see it?
I don't know. I would like to think that some sort of closed-circuit television recorded it.
You made some security guard's day.
I hope so.