Dina Martina Time!

23 12 2010

There is a God.

For the first time ever, I attended the Dina Martina Christmas Show, held each December in the divey Rebar, a mixed bar in downtown Seattle. I was not disappointed. What the hell was I waiting for?! Words cannot adequately describe the surreal and carnivalesque experience of peering into the colourfully twisted imagination of what may be the most deliciously bizarre drag comedian of our age. In fact, I would even suggest that Ms. Martina might be Seattle’s most boast-worthy import to the rest of the world.

While drag comedians such as Shirley Q. Liquor often exploit racist stereotypes to engage and shock their audience, Ms. Martina is able to achieve the same effect without resorting to cheap shots–instead, what we observe is an innocent, almost childlike naiveté characterized by a whirlwind of perfectly-placed malapropisms, random, out-of-the-blue references, horrifyingly unflattering fashion-pieces, and dyslexic lyrical errors. (Yes, she does poke fun at Irish culture, the elderly, and rural, southern Americans, but it’s all done so sweetly and harmlessly, and it’s so silly and over-the-top, that it can’t possibly be taken seriously.) The result is a charmingly old-fashioned self-mockery which is so outrageously pathetic as to make one rupture an intestine from crying with laughter. Imagine Dame Edna on a cocaine bender after inhaling helium from a balloon.

Unfortunately, this is over the head of most Americans, who are so accustomed to humour of the artlessly normal, safe, and straightforward variety. But maybe that’s why she does so well in Seattle–which produced the likes of Almost Live!–a corner of the U.S. which seems to have developed a wackier, more ironic comic tradition than the rest of the country, a tradition that is reminiscent to some extent of British or Australian sensibilities, and which just may be as irreligious as these (Seattle is supposed to be the “least-churched” city in America). This might also be said of the gay subculture, which, I personally believe, is more humorously subsersive, whether this is because they have been motivated to be subversive as a reaction to the mainstream, or because they are deemed subversive for being outside the mainstream in the first place. At any rate, Ms. Martina might be said to embody this much-beloved, off-the-wall buffoonery.

Despite the fact that my cheeks were so sore from laughter that I thought my face would explode, I was able to retain a few tidbits from the show I attended. In the first half of the show, which was a matinee, Dame Martina graced the drunken audience with her rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High”, which is memorable not only for the fortuitous substitution of “angles” for “angels”, but also for its totally out-of-leftfield allusion to the early ’80s disco classic by Laura Branigan, “Gloria”. This was followed by the teary ballad about Christ’s birth, called “Christmas”, in which she reverently describes Mary’s water breaking, her violent contractions, and a Christmas dinner inside the barn followed by a campfire replete with roasted marshmallows and campfire songs. Then there was an original version of “Edelweiss”, which merged seamlessly into “I’m Every Mountain”, a soulful homage to the Chaka Khan hit “I’m Every Woman”. Then there was the gift-giving–I mean “jift-jivving”–ceremony, in which Ms. Martina bestowed on a random audience member the jifts that keep on jivving–a stick of Cheetos-flavoured lip-balm, an inflated plastic turkey, and, perhaps most generous of all, the world’s largest pair of underpants, which she thoughtfully pressed against her face, leaving an imprint of her caked-on make-up on the crotch, before jivving it away to the lucky fan.

Perhaps the highlight of the show, however, was a story of hope in the midst of tragedy which Ms. Martina related whilst sitting next to a plastic Santa Claus statue. In it, she told about the goiter which cursed the neck of her 11 year-old adopted daughter, and how, one night, while her daughter slept, she tied one end of a string to the goiter, and the other end of the string to the door, and then slammed the door shut, removing the goiter quite effectively. She then told how she dried the goiter and filled it with candy to give to the poor Mexicans who lived on the other side of the railway tracks in the apple maggot quarantine area she calls home. You see, this Mexican family was celebrating a birthday and had no money for a real piñata. It took them several hours to finally break the makeshift piñata open, after which all the candy…and stuff…spilled out onto the gleeful children. The end.

One London reviewer was less than impressed with Ms. Martina’s graceful and elegant performance–the “ironic homophobia” was not to his liking, and, for him, the spoken interludes between songs dragged. This I cannot understand. I couldn’t take my eyes, nor my ears, away from the otherworldly spectacle gracing the stage throughout the entire show, and I couldn’t wait to get back after intermission to see what else the gal might pull out of her plastic shopping-bag of delights, or what other disco tune she would integrate into her deferential commemoration of Christ’s birthday. Could you?

If you get this humour, and you’re in Seattle, you can buy tickets to the Dina Martina Christmas Show at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/46945. In addition, you can celebrate the holidays with particularly horrifying pathos by purchasing the Dina Martina Holiday Album at either Amazon.com or iTunes. She is also on Facebook, for your enjoyment. I can’t wait to go back next year! Or maybe sometime in the crevasse that begs to be filled between Christmas and New Year’s. Or maybe on St. Patrick’s Day. Or possibly Easter. Perhaps Lammas, the harvest day.

<<News Update: I’m going to another Dina concert tonight (12/27/2010)! With my SIBLINGS. I know. I hope they get the tongue-in-cheek, burlesque humour.>>

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Support Gay Youth! And Love!

16 12 2010

For me, the musical highlight of the year is the recent re-release of Erasure‘s “A Little Respect“, not only because the song is sublime musically, but also because every purchase of this track (on iTunes) is a donation to an organization devoted to the protection of rejected youth. This release is a re-recording of the original 1988 soul-pop anthem; this time around, though, it features the choir of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a New York non-profit foundation dedicated to the nurturance and uplifting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth. The Hetrick-Martin Institute is also the home of Harvey Milk High School, a high-school in Manhattan named after the gay San Francisco politician who was assassinated, and designed specifically for youth who have been rejected by their families because of which sex they are attracted to.

The Hetrick-Martin session of “A Little Respect” was motivated largely by the recent spate of gay teenage suicides attributed to bullying in the United States. The suicides have affected multiple races and genders–victims have been black and white, female and male. And, certainly, they have affected the poor as well, since so many distraught and runaway urban youth have few financial resources to depend on. And who cares whether they are gay? Straight people are oppressed for supposedly being gay, too. Consequently, the bullying epidemic has affected almost every class of society within the United States. Shouldn’t everybody be concerned?

The Huffington Post, an aggregated blog based in the United States, posted the original video for this re-recording, but it’s already on YouTube. I adore Andy Bell’s fluorescent make-up:


The song is unnerving. With its kaleidoscopic tapestry of guitar strings, adroit, gradual melodies, insistent bass-drums, and poignant, yearning lyrics, it is truly a hymn to the woes of the inner self, and the turmoil that lurks within. All of this is supplemented by a brand-new arrangement of elegant, sweeping synthesisers courtesy of veteran synthpop genius Vince Clarke, who forms a part of the band. (It does not hurt that the Hetrick-Martin choir assists lead vocalist Andy Bell in building a soul-based vocal ensemble.) Ultimately, it is a message of love and compassion. It always has been about love and compassion, hasn’t it?  That selflessly unfamiliar yet resounding source of pleasure and knowledge one has in the wellness of others? And not just love toward kin, but also love toward the alien. That kind of love is most constructive, most forgiving, most pure.

So while we should fight tenaciously for equality, we should also shed love and compassion on those we deem our “enemies”. Indeed, rather than describe them as “enemies”, we might try to describe them as neophytes to the art of liberalism. That is more diplomatic. This doesn’t mean they don’t do wrong–it only means that we should love them nonetheless, simply because love is good for people, and it makes them better. That is a hard feat to perform. But isn’t it good for all of us in the end?

But that is another blog entry.

Before I bore you to death–dance music! Andy Bell (the lead singer of Erasure) has been quite active in his solo career. Following up with his shamelessly beat-laden (and, oh, I  love it) album Non-Stop, Bell has released a double CD featuring the three singles “Running Out”, “Will You Be There”, and “Non-Stop”, off the same album. Those who adore the quasi-italo-disco sound of Vega or Neon Indian will most likely quiver with delight over this release, given the “Vega Italo Dub Mix” of “Running Out”, which was released under Bell’s club-friendly pseudonym “Mimó”. So we have a very active Andy Bell who enjoys the nightlife. So he should. I do.

And if that weren’t enough, Erasure are planning to release an all-analogue album in 2010. Don’t quote me on that. I remember it from the fan-page discussion threads, but the fan-site doesn’t have a search engine, so I can’t confirm. All I remember is hearing Vince Clarke saying that it would consist of a home-grown, original, analogue synthesiser sound, which is fantastic, since I’m so tired of that cheap, shitty, sampled digital crap which most dance/pop/rap artists use nowadays.

To top things off, these exponents of the pro-gay youth movement are planning to tour the British forests next year. Yes. That’s right. As part of the British Forestry Commission’s annual Live Music series (Britain still has forests, apparently, and its Forestry Commission entertains cutting-edge synthpop acts like Goldfrapp) Erasure will be playing their famed hits in places like Thetford Forest, near Brandon, in Suffolk. (The irony.) I didn’t think Britain had any more forests–I thought they were all mowed down in the Iron Age. I suppose they re-grow them where they seem to be dwindling. Being from Seattle, I am surrounded by a swathe of green, wet, oceanic moss-forests, so it seems odd to me. Well, they visited Seattle in 2007 on their “Light at the End of the World” tour, so let’s hope that they can trudge their way through the moss-forests for a 2011, or, more likely, 2012 tour. If one is lucky enough to live in Britain, one can buy Erasure Forest Tour tickets here.

Basically, love gay people, and be jealous of puny British forests for the tolerant people that inhabit them.

Over and out.





The “Divine Feminine” and New Age Sexism

11 12 2010

Greek Minoan Snake GoddessDespite my spiritual predilections and fascination with the occult and all things arcane, there is one current of thought within the New Age movement which I find irritatingly sexist. It is one of the reasons I can’t pick up a deck of Tarot cards. It is the concept of the “divine feminine”. In popular New Age thought, we find a strong tendency to revive the goddess, but this goddess is yielding, nurturing, life-giving, and emotional, in contrast with a god which is aggressive, disciplinary, life-taking, and rational. Not much different from the Iron Age. The concept of the “divine feminine” reflects a philosophy which simply recycles the old paradigm of male dominance over a female who is glorified for her self-sacrificing, self-effacing submissiveness.

The problem is that we attribute virtues such as emotion with one sex, and virtues such as logic with the other sex. All of these, however, are universal human virtues which one would think we would want to exploit as much as possible in either sex whenever the situation demands. If this is so, then the “divine feminine”, with its ostensible equalization of the sexes, actually inhibits this equalization and the realization of these universal virtues. In occult thought, the goddess is traditionally associated with various esoteric symbols, such as water (emotion) and earth (nurturance and fecundity); the god, on the other hand, is associated with symbols such as air and sky (logic) and fire (manipulation and authority). The result is a binary of characteristics consisting of these “feminine” and “masculine” attributes.

Already, many young modern people will view this binary as romantically archaic and saccharine, which is ironic since New\ Age thought is supposed to be more radical than that. At any rate, the New Age movement has attempted to balance out the sexual pre-eminence embodied in the monotheistic male-god religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) by reintroducing a female divinity. This I resonate with, for I was raised Christian, and all I imagined was a god with a penis and long, white beard telling me that sex was wrong. (It really is a literal image one has when God is constantly associated with all that is considered male.) And I was told the first human was male, and this male was created in the image of God, who was male (somehow). It left me feeling empty, and always questioning, wondering why this “other sex”–the other half of humanity–should exist at the periphery. If our prototype for humanity was the male, what, then, was this “female”? Where did she come from–other than a rib? And I believe a lot of New Age thinkers have asked the same questions, but I think that in doing so, they are accidentally reviving the mainstream paradigm.

Freja Norse Nordic VikingThis brings us to the crux of the problem of New Age sexism. New Age thinkers often claim that in each male there is a feminine aspect, and in each female, a masculine aspect. The problem is that the statement “in each male is a feminine aspect, and in each female, a masculine one” consists of a circular argument. By using the terms masculine and feminine to neutralize the sex binary, New Age thinkers inadvertently reinforce that binary, because the terms masculine and feminine themselves constitute a sex binary of male versus female. In other words, one cannot describe males as part male and part female, and females as part female and part male, without presupposing a male and female to begin with. (It should be noted that in typical New Age parlance, feminine is associated with actually being a female human being, and masculine, with actually being a male human being–whether this association is right or wrong.)

So what should we do? First, we should get rid of misleading terminology such as the “divine feminine” and the “divine masculine”, because a lot of people associate feminine with “being female” and masculine with “being male”, and yet a lot of women aren’t feminine, and a lot of men aren’t masculine. And if men are indeed more aggressive than women because of testosterone (which is questionable), so the fuck what? Maybe they shouldn’t be. (I thought y’all believed in spontaneous evolution, anyway.) To assume that they should be would constitute multiple logical fallacies: the is/ought fallacy and the appeal to nature fallacy. That a thing is true doesn’t mean it should be, and that a thing is natural does not mean it should be, either. Even if you proved that men are more aggressive than women, it doesn’t constitute a moral imperative.

To illustrate, we do not say that black people should be more susceptible to heart-attacks because they have higher cholesterol levels, or that Native Americans should be more susceptible to liver disease simply because they are more susceptible to alcoholism, or that East Asian people are well-organised. It is a very socially-influenced phenomenon–not a principle to be lived by. So why not prescribe estradiol supplements to males who are overly aggressive? We wouldn’t excuse rape or murder on the basis of testosterone. Their behaviour is maladaptive and needs to be fixed, although I believe the ultimate solution is allowing boys to be feminine.

What we should do is attend to the demands of the modern-day environment, not the ancestral one. This may require more men to take care of children, and more women to work outside the home. (Women are working outside the home anyway, but men aren’t picking up the pace when it comes to domestic chores.) Concomitant to this, more people demand a female presence in their religion. But Western religion lacks the multitude of female figures available in the typical pagan pantheon. What is our recourse? In the Christian West, it is the Virgin Mary. Initially, it would seem as though Mary is a new goddess. But Mary is non-sexual, and a mother. She performs her duty as a mother by conceiving the Christ-avatar, but she does so without having intercourse. She is defined contrarily by her maternality and her virginity. Mary does serve as a crucial figure of feminine authority and divine intercession in the Western world, but most women need or want to have sex (for every male who wants to fuck because of testosterone, there has to be a consenting female–and hopefully an excited one), and many also undergo childbirth as a direct consequence, so Mary is an impossible archetype to live up to. If we want to identify the “divine feminine”, we must seek further. We must discover the woman who is equally sexual, maternal, aggressive, and strategic. . This brings us to the sovereignty goddess of pagan lore. The sovereignty goddess was basically a goddess of the earth who granted fertility by bestowing kinghood on the man who drank from a well occupied by her, or from her chalice of menstrual blood. Something which constituted fertility, or a male union with the feminine land. The idea was that the aspiring king (male) would unite with the earth (female) to render the land fertile, hospitable, and long-lasting.  The most famous sovereignty goddess of all is probably Medb (pronounced literally as MATHV [Medhbh] in Old Irish, or as MAV in Modern Irish) of Iron Age Ireland. Medb might be either a humanized goddess or a euhemerized (deified) heroine. In the great epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), pronounced as Toyn Bo Cool-nya, Medb, Queen of Connacht (a region in the west of modern-day Ireland), seeks to outdo her husband, Aillil, in terms of number of cattle. In anticipation of her triumph, she consults with Fedelm, a fili (a learned poet) and powerful druidess, a mistress of law and decision-making as well as divinatory lore, who, ironically, prognosticates her own mistress’s defeat. This might seem feminist except that, during this long, drawn-out battle in the Irish countryside, Medb basically pimps her own daughter, Finnabair, out to various enemy suitors–including the most ferocious of them all, the infamous Cú Chulainn, of Ulster–in order to win a battle over a bull which would make her property equal to that of her husband, Aillil. (In actuality, neither side won [the bulls on either side killed each other], highlighting the futility of avarice, in my opininon.) Finding out how she is being used, Finnabair dies of  shame. Showing her sovereignty goddess potential, weirdly enough, at the end of Táin, Medb is desribed as fighting in battle and having all of a sudden to take an exit because her bladder is full. Cú Chulainn finds her urinating behind a bush, but doesn’t slay her since she is a woman, and the scribe describes her motioning him off as she actually creates furrows in the ground with her urine. According to traditional scholarly lore, this was either a very humorous, or very mistaken, interpretation of her menstrual potential as an earth-goddess. You can see how ideas get distorted when one plays telephone, as oralists did in the olden days. (Personally, I find the story of Scathach more interesting. Scathach is a master warrior queen of northern Britain [Pictland] who is assigned the task of training Cú Chulainn in the arts of war on the condition that he help her defeat a rival queen. But that is another story which falls outside the scope of this article and its theme of sexism. Indeed, this particular story challenges traditional sex roles and attracts my attention for the same reason.) Medb has been described as a virago, based partly on the Latin vir, or man (hence virile) First, why is it manly to be strategic? Second, how loyal is she to her own sex if she pimps out her own daughter to get a cow? BIG ego. So, Medb may be a trailblazing goddess of fertility and war, but she is basically an avaricious egoist who prostitutes her own daughter to get what she wants. She is ambiguous at best. But still I want to imagine what this goddess might be. It may not be complete in its mythology, nor is it necessarily the foremost example (there may be others, like Athena), but I think of the Norse goddess Freja (after whom the English day Friday is named). Freja was neither just a fertility goddess, nor just a war goddess. Rather, she was the realization of both. She was fertile and war-like, capable of nurturance and of destruction when required. And she didn’t pimp her own daughter for a cow. This, to me, is redolent of sexual possibility, which I believe is most important. Usually, the revival of the goddess has consisted of a revival of traditional sex binaries–the logical, barefaced, aggressive male and the emotional, invisible, clever female. I do not agree with this duality. It assigns some virtues to one sex, and other virtues to the other sex, when all virtues should be present in every person. Why shouldn’t men be more sensitive when they can be? Again, it is environmental stimuli which should mould our behaviour, and not genetic ancestral precedence. What do you think about the “divine feminine”? Do you think it hearkens back to an age when a sun-based god fertilized an earth-based female, or do you think it reflects a potentially multi-faceted, and truly new-age, archetype of womanhood?