In advance of their appearance at The George on Wednesday, legendary New York drag diva Joey Arias talks Trump, resistance, Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford, George Michael’s legacy, and hanging out with Bowie.
Hey Joey! For those not in the know (shame on them), describe yourself in ten words.
Fun, Alien, Thoughtful, Love, Caring, Searching, Singing, Wild, Happy, Crazy!
What do you think drag teach can us about resistance in the age of Trump?
I’ve always said that drag is the punk of the 21st century. Even though drag has become a household name, it still pushes buttons. No matter what, drags, queens etc. will always the first in line to protest, especially against Trump.
I met him years ago at one my shows on Broadway, The Supper Club. I was introduced and he turned and asked, ‘Why the dress?’
I said it was a show based on Billie Holiday. He said, ‘I just closed my eyes and heard you’. I think that’s what Trump does. He closes his eyes and listens to what he wants.
You hung out with George Michael, making his ‘Too Funky’ video. What do you think his legacy is for LGBTs is?
George Michael was in denial of his gay lifestyle for years, until he was busted… and then came out. I think George’s legacy for LGBTs is the songs he sang, and what we can get out of his tunes.
You’re best known for your impersonation of Billie Holiday. What do you and her have in common?
Billie and I have lot in common, including our love of life and being a strong people. She never took shite from no one; she always spoke up and said what she felt was right. It was very hard for a black performer to speak like that and it used to get her in a lot of trouble.
Billie was way ahead of her time. I can relate to this also. Sometimes you’re so far ahead that you’re way behind, but it’s always great to push the envelope. I think all you have to do is just be yourself. That’s shocking to lots of people. Billie Holiday was really such an elegant woman. I can relate to that.
So… Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford in Ryan Murphy’s Feud, is it the right choice?
Jessica is a great actress, now. She had corny parts in the beginning, but she proved herself. I think it was a great choice for Jessica to be casted as Joan. I haven’t seen it yet, and I’m very curious.
I played Joan in a show called Christmas With The Crawfords. I was not a huge fan, so I watched her films and the way she held herself. I did lots of study and research on this woman and got a great insight. Joan was never going to let go, ever. Hopefully Jessica got that, but not to the point where it’s a caricature.
You’ve done so much, Joey, but you must have more ambitions. What are they?
My greatest ambition is to be very happy and not worry about bills and where I’m going, and to always push the button and sing till the very end. At the end, I would love everyone to say of me, ‘Joey always made us happy and inspired us not to ever be afraid to walk into the dark places in life.
And who has been your biggest influence?
Billie Holiday and Bowie. And Charles Manson. L.O.L.
If you were to perform with one person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
David Bowie… and I did, in 1979. Klaus Nomi and I made musical history, performing with him on SNL, and to hang with David for a week was a dream come true. We spoke lots and sang, and shared ideas. He was wonderful to talk to and kept it real. He was very fascinated by us as we were with him. David and I kept in touch through the years. What an amazing person he was.
So, Joey, if the world were ending tomorrow, what would you do today?
I would Look at all my goodies at home – art, letters , pictures… I’d sniff some coke (I don’t do that anymore), put music on and play it very loud. I’d invite friends over to drink and dance, I’d make some phone calls to family, and have a bomb delivered to the Trump’s penthouse, saying ‘thank you, bye bye’. (Of course I’m just dreaming, I’m not a mean person.)
And finally, what’s the meaning of life according to Joey?
Every living breathing thing on earth is so important, and we must respect it all. We must spread happiness and love, and have fun. There should be no walls, no prejudice, and no stress. At the end of the day we’re all the same, even if you’re an extra terrestrial. Respect the light of life – it all goes by so quickly, so enjoy it while you can.
Joey Arias appears at Veda Beaux Reves’ Witchy Wednesdays at The George this Wednesday, February 8, www.thegeorge.ie