By Daniel Kusner | Life+Style Editor
As she races to the airport, Liza Minnelli has only five minutes for a phone interview.
That's not enough time for someone who's involved in so many lurid, headline-grabbing scandals.
What about the bitter divorce from estranged husband David Gest?
Since they're battling it out in court — last month, a New York judge chided them for their "whiny" behavior — Liza can't comment on it.
Nor can Liza discuss the recent sexual harassment allegations (and $50 million lawsuit) made by former bodyguard M'hammed Soumayah.
And what about in December 2004?
When Liza was raced to the hospital after falling out of bed?
First and foremost, Liza is a showbiz legend.
When it comes to probing interviews, she usually pivots her answers to reflect a 59-year-old entertainer who hasn't lost her sparkle.
With that in mind, I drafted questions that might draw out how she manages to keep working. Because it's a miracle she's alive.
Four years ago, Liza was struck down by a brain disease and could neither walk nor talk.
On top of that, she has had two new hips, surgery on her knees and back, double pneumonia and polyps on her vocal chords — not to mention battles with booze, pills and flab.
Now she's on television, getting rave reviews for her role in "Arrested Development."
She just finished a movie, ''The OH in Ohio," which stars Parker Posey and Paul Rudd.
And she's back singing and dancing.
On Wednesday, Minnelli returns to Dallas to perform at the Meyerson Symphony Center to benefit the Vogel Alcove Childcare Center for the Homeless.
Liza calls from her limo with her 9-month-old schnauzer, Emmy, in her lap.
A faint image of Dorothy and Toto springs to mind.
ME: I just saw a picture of you taken with Dame Edna.
Liza: How weird that you've seen that already.
I just saw her show last night.
That's when they took the picture.
You look pretty good.
Thank you so much.
The last time you performed in Dallas was at the 2003 Two by Two for AIDS and Art benefit.
And you helped raise $1.5 million.
Yes, I was.
And thank you for remembering that.
I was thrilled that that happened.
Is your upcoming Dallas gig all part of an enormous comeback?
No, not really.
You sit down for 20 minutes.
And they tell you you're having a comeback.
I hear you're still a big junkie — that your drugs are adrenaline and audience feedback.
I have always loved being onstage and being with an audience.
It's so wonderful to feel so healthy and good about my life.
I'm just so happy.
Are you at your best as a live performer?
I feel like I'm at my best when I have the right direction and the best people to work with.
I'm a director's daughter.
So I appreciate and listen to other people's talent.
Onstage, it's always been with Kander and Ebb.
There have been great directors in film — Scorsese and Alan Pakula.
I've been so lucky in television because I've worked with the best.
You're performing in concert, shooting a TV show and you just wrapped on a film.
Is the 'Bionic Liza' slowing down at all?
It sounds like I'm doing a lot.
But I don't do all those things at once.
They're spaced out properly.
And I have a wonderful, terrific life.
I wake up and go to dance class for an hour-and-a-half every morning with my dance teacher, Luigi.
And then I'm ready to do anything.
Is the dancing painful?
It's only painful when I don't do it.
Luigi's motto is to never stop working — when you stop moving, things tighten and freeze up.
So I always keep stretching and moving.
I came back from brain encephalitis and complete paralysis by learning slowly to move again and to never stop moving.
Over the years, you've had such an unwavering loyalty from your fans — especially your diehard gay fans.
They've watched you go to court and get rushed to the hospital.
They've seen your name appear in so many juicy headlines.
Any chance your Dallas gig might be interrupted by some new scandal?
My gay fans are just fantastic.
As for being rushed to the hospital...
Just don't get up in the middle of the night and trip over your dog.
Because it hurts.
But the headlines and everything else...
Oh, just tell them to come see me.
When performing, do you feel like you have a lot to prove?
All I have to do is look into the audience and realize that I'm singing to human beings.
When I'm onstage, I'm not all alone.
"A star in the spotlight ...." and all that baloney?
I'm communicating with people.
Like a conversation.
I've never been bored onstage or thought "Ugh! This is a drag!"
I love it too much.
Some people may think of you as Judy Garland's daughter.
Some people see you as an unforgettable, tragic diva.
Do you think you're misunderstood? Do you know who you are?
Ha, I'll say.
If they think of me as Judy Garland's daughter, they might be right.
If they think of me as Vincent Minnelli's daughter, they're really right, too.
I don't know what a diva is.
I guess it's a big compliment.
I just think of myself as somebody who works hard.
Do you consider yourself a star?
I think of myself as an entertainer.
ls your sister Lorna in your corner nowadays?
Oh, of course.
Sometimes she keeps her distance.
I think she does that because she may need to.
I don't know why.
She's my younger sister and she's got issues.
And they're not my issues — they're hers.
All I know is that I adore her. And I'm always there for her.
And she's always there for me.
Someone else who has been there for you and who was at your most recent wedding: Michael Jackson.
How do feel about what he's going through?
I don't feel legally qualified to answer any questions about that.
All I can tell you is that he's a wonderful friend — a great entertainer.
And I love him.
The hardships in your life.
Do they stem from being needy?
Are you nuts?
Of course they do!
What on earth do you need?
I don't know.
If I did? I would have found it already.
Actually, I think I got exactly what I always needed and didn't know it.
And that's my health, my happiness and my career.
Are you still reaching for the brass ring?
When I walk onstage. I still feel like I've never sung anything good enough.
So when I get up in the morning, I'm so excited about might what happen.
I don't feel my age at all.
I'm too curious.
Do you think your Dallas performance could be the last time you ever play here?
Are you nuts?
I can't believe you just asked me that.
Let me ask you, is this the last interview you' II ever do?
Gosh, I hope not.
Well, I'm with you.
You're almost 60.
Are you planning a career with many decades to come?
I'm planning for every day of my life for as long as I got.
As many as God will give me.
Liza performs at Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. April 20. $35-$150.
INTOLERANCE DESTROYER: Aggro bachelor HENRY ROLLINS discusses his rumored sexuality, his animosity toward homophobia and what it's like to be a gay hero
BY DANIEL KUSNER | Jan. 15, 1999.
Punk stud Henry Rollins understands the allure of post-modern sex symbols — like Tom Cruise, Troy Aikman and Richard Gere.
Rollins rose to stardom as Black Flag's often-shirtless, raw-voiced frontman.
He's also distractingly buff.
So it's reasonable to believe that Black Flag's male fans have confronted being attracted to Rollins' physical magnetism.
In the past year-and-a-half, gossip mills began spilling rumors that Rollins was expected to come out of the closet on MTV's "Alternative Nation."
That grapevine also claimed Rollins would reveal his alternative sexuality during a CNN press conference.
However, Rollins has unleashed two signature rants — both queer-themed and previously recorded.
First, there was the release of "Think Tank," a live spoken-word album.
Then he issued "You Saw Me Up There," the video edition of the "Think Tank" tour, which Rollins taped in Los Angeles.
"When I got that whole 'gay rumor' thing, it didn't bug me that much. It was more humorous than anything. But I think it was something that needed to be said. Because it made me more aware of how evil homophobia is," Rollins says from his California office during a recent phone interview.
Although Rollins has been sweating it out as a thrash singer for more than 15 years, in 1995, he won a Grammy for Best Spoken-Word Album.
And the indie-punk king's multimedia creds keep ramping up.
On top of running a publishing imprint 2-13-61 Publications (the company's named after his birthdate), Rollins is turning into a celebutante, who now models for Macintosh, Nike, The Gap and General Motors
His acting career is also in bloom — with cameos in films like, "Lost Highway," "Heat" and "Johnny Mnemonic."
In whatever medium, Rollins' outspokenness is part of his appeal.
Although Black Flag's music doesn't often make playlists at gay discos, Rollins is aware of his die-hard queer following.
"I get a lot of letters from gay fans. And I do a lot of interviews with gay publications. They always tell me that I'm a hero to them, which I consider an honor. I would never be exclusive or dismissive to anyone who appreciates my work," Rollins says.
Rollins is almost apologetic when he's obliged to clarify to fans that he's straight.
"I always take it as a compliment when gay guys hit on me, which happens fairly often. I always feel bad for them because they'll ask, 'Are you sure?' And I'm like, 'Yeah ... I'm definitely sure.' They're usually so bummed. Then I tell them that I'm really sorry," Rollins says.
Though Rollins says he's not gay, he's vividly familiar with Tom of Finland's erotic illustrations.
Come to think of it ... Rollins fits the TOF mold perfectly.
Abundant tattoos caress his bulging, beefcake frame, which compliments his butch, military haircut that practically screams, I'm A Proud-But-Bossy Bottom.
"Oh, what? Like I'm a big, macho cop with a cum-catcher mustache getting it in the ass from a sailor?" Rollins laughs. "Actually, we have his work in our office. Someone sent us a Tom of Finland picture. And we ended up framing it and hanging it up on our wall. It's kind of a joke, though. People send us all kinds of stuff."
Rollins can easily joke about being a passive slut.
But being pegged as gay isn't always funny.
Rollins knows all too well.
He was confronted with sexuality suspicions during a nightmarish tragedy.
One December evening in 1991, Rollins and his roommate, Joe Cole were returning to their Venice Beach home after a grocery trip.
On their porch, two gunmen stepped out of the darkness.
Rollins and Cole were marched inside the house.
Cole was shot point-blank in the head and died.
The assailants fired at Rollins, but missed and fled.
During the homicide investigation, police asked Rollins if he and Cole were lovers — or if Rollins was bisexual.
"As soon as they found out that we weren't gay, they were much more friendly. But that's the LAPD for you. So typical. That's not anything that surprised me," Rollins says. "But it goes without saying that was not a very fun night."
Although Rollins might appear fiercely enraged, he insists his work isn't filled with anger.
He aims for strong performances.
While speaking, Rollins shares plenty of hysterical anecdotes about his adventurous life. But it's his disgust for narrow-minded bigotry that endures.
In Rollins' rant — titled "The Gay Thing" — he compares homophobia to racism and explains how he intends to to destroy all discrimination.
"I'm just so sick of homophobia. How people get their asses kicked for something that's as natural as eating. Just because you're a guy who likes guys, you can lose your job. Or have people tell you that the Bible says that you're a bad person," Rollins says. "When someone started those rumors [about me], they did it as a putdown. You never hear, 'Oh, he's straight." And have it be a putdown. But I realized how homophobia is just a symptom of ignorance and weakness. It's really something we can all do without."
Henry Rollins speaks on Jan. 19 at The Galaxy Club, 2820 Main St. in Deep Ellum. Tickets $15. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. 214-373-8000.
Literary giant, stunt-casted closet-case GEORGE PLIMPTON gets huffy while unthreading his stitched-together CAPOTE bio
By DANIEL KUSNER
A new work about gay author and gadfly Truman Capote hit the shelves recently, an “oral biography” edited by literary lion George Plimpton.
Like Plimpton’s first foray in this genre — a joint effort with Jean Stein on Edie Sedgwick, the ’60s superstar from Andy Warhol’s camp — the new Capote bio is cobbled together from interviews involving celebrities and other folks who knew the diminutive, squeaky-voiced Capote in some capacity or other.
The format of Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career is chatty, even gossipy.
The idea is to make the reader feel like a guest at a swanky cocktail party, overhearing various bitchy-to-tender-to-hilarious anecdotes assembled in chronological order from Capote’s anchorless childhood (his parents abandoned him and he was shunted about to various relatives) to his death as a lonely man whose friends had mostly deserted him.
Plimpton, something of a gadfly himself, is the 70-year-old editor of The Paris Review — which features works by and about the biggest names in 20th century culture, from Hemingway to Angelou — and one of the acknowledged literary giants working in the second half of this century.
A celebrity sports enthusiast, Plimpton is also well-known for his bit parts in certain movies.
There’s a cameo in Nixon, and he recounts memories of Muhammad Ali in the award-winning documentary When We Were Kings.
Most recently, he portrays a closet-case psychologist whose gayness is quickly perceived by the misunderstood but smartass genius played by Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting — one of the film’s quickest but most hilarious scenes.
But when it comes to discussing his latest book, Plimpton turns defensive, even combative. Perhaps he’s stung by the wave of criticism which met Truman Capote’s publication two months ago.
Several reviewers said Plimpton’s excursion into Capote’s life bears a distinct been-there-done-that flavor. For instance, The New York Times Book Review says the interviews “have the flat, regurgitated quality of people who have been talking about their subject for way too long. Capote knew better than anyone that for gossip to be good, it has to be fresh.”
The Austin Chronicle said the book “doesn’t add all that much to the dialogue that hasn’t been covered already.”
Plimpton began working on the book about seven years ago, he said during a telephone interview from his office in New York.
“It’s more like stitching that it is writing. It’s an interesting way of presenting a biography, I think,” Plimpton chirped in his otherworldly Northeast Establishment-via-Cambridge voice.
Despite Capote’s effeminacy, his frank acknowledgment of his homosexuality in his later years and his classic remark about the subject (“A faggot is the homosexual gentleman who just left the room”), Plimpton’s book fails to index the subject at all — a fact Plimpton, remarkably, doesn’t seem to recall, since he referred me to the index to locate the book’s few references to the subject.
With his open hand, Capote once nailed a drunken belligerent who was making fag jokes and disparaging Capote’s voice.
On yet another occasion, Capote grilled a biographer of British writer E.M. Forster for not including references to the author’s homosexuality.
Still, Capote “wasn’t overtly militant about homosexuality,” Plimpton maintained. “He hated the word ‘gay.’ He thought the term was inappropriate, so he reversed it — he called them ‘yags.’ But . . . you’ll see there are some rather interesting things he had to say about it, particularly his defense of those who are [homosexual].”
The fact that Plimpton’s name is on the cover gives the book an instant cachet it fails, perhaps, to deserve.
Plimpton’s original contribution amounts to a brief letter to the reader.
The remainder of the book is given over to the interviews themselves, and the author credits seven others for substantial work on the final product. (Plimpton himself refers readers to Capote, the definitive biography by Gerald Clarke, for a complete picture of the fabled author.)
This is probably why Plimpton seems unfamiliar with some of the book’s details.
For instance, he is unaware of whether Capote ever met Dorothy Parker — yet the book contains Norman Mailer’s recollection of appearing on the David Susskind television show with both Capote and Parker.
And former Esquire editor-in-chief Lee Eisenberg describes a bitchy piece about Parker, which Capote submitted for the magazine’s 50th anniversary edition.
If his oral biography is a bit like “stitching,” it’s apparent other tailors played a substantial role in the final product.
With famous names being dropped left and right, it’s also difficult for the reader to keep track of who is and who isn’t of any real importance to understanding Capote.
Most of the anecdotes yield more heat than light. Giving the bulk of the book up to gossip rather than illuminating the harrowing twists and turns of Capote’s life — a path which ultimately led to alcoholism, drug abuse and death.
During our interview, Plimpton also reveals himself as a puzzling, prickly character. He admits he has no use for the internet.
“I’m not very good at it,” he said. “I don’t understand it. I’ve tried research on it, but I’m so poor at working the machine that I’d much rather do the research by going to the library.
“I don’t know how to use the internet,” he proudly declares, as if this fact grants him additional stature.
Asked about his appearance in Good Will Hunting, Plimpton is equally glib.
He says when he accepted the role, he didn’t even know who director Gus Van Sant was.
And he hadn’t read the first-time script by the twentysomething stars (Damon and Ben Affleck), a work whose precision and insight has left Hollywood breathless.
Instead, he says, it was the famous comedian Robin Williams who attracted his interest.
“I thought that anything with Robin Williams in it would be sort of interesting,” Plimpton said. “But I had not seen Gus Van Sant’s first film or second film — whatever it is, the one about Missouri. My Own Private Missouri?”
Is he fucking kidding?
I would like to have known more about Plimpton’s book, but that turned out to be impossible.
Plimpton became increasingly combative during our brief exchange, abruptly terminating the interview by hanging up his telephone when I disagreed with his assertion that renowned jazz pianist-bandleader Bobby Short was no celebrity.
But there’s no question about Capote’s celebrity (if he were still alive, you could just ask him, since discussing himself was one of the author’s favorite occupations), and no question that the celebrities he rubbed shoulders with have plenty of recollections about this colorful, if tragic, literary figure.
Truman Capote is an alluring book — easy to pick up and put down whenever you like.
At $35, it seems a bit expensive for readers looking for more than recycled information and gossipy recollections.
Straight people we love — CRYSTAL WATERS says voguing houses helped her come out of her shell and ‘come on down’
BY DANIEL KUSNER: Aug 31, 2001
After taking a four-year break, Crystal Waters — the diva with the narrow vocal range and wispy timbre — is launching a comeback.
She’s tight-lipped about her new single. But since Waters creates some of the strongest, hard-edged commercial beats, Waters is sure to win … the Showcase Showdown…
“The song is called ‘Come On Down.’
All I’ll tell you is that we sample the theme song from 'The Price is Right.’
And I’m Lady Luck,” she laughs, explaining that she just wrapped a photo session, and she splattered with gold glitter.
Born in New Jersey, Waters comes from a distinguished line of musical ancestry. Her great aunt was singer-actress Ethel Waters, who popularized “Stormy Weather.”
“I never even got to meet her.
Unfortunately, there was a family rift.
And we weren’t allowed to speak to her,” she says.
But Ethel wasn’t the only influence in the Waters family. During girlhood summer breaks, Crystal went on tour with her dad, jazz musician Junior Waters.
Crystal graduated high school early and earned a computer science degree from Howard University.
After college, she scored a job with a musical production company and initially wrote a song intended for Ultra Naté. But Waters’ idiosyncratic vocal stylings on the demo recording convinced producers to turn Crystal Waters into a solo artist.
The song was “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless).” And it became the summer anthem of 1991.
Waters found her own sense of “home” within the gay community.
“Growing up, I was taught not to speak unless spoken to,” she remembers. “But the gay community was my first fan base. I didn’t have a clue as to why they liked me. But they took me in like a family member.”
Before immersing herself in the gay community, Waters says she used to be painfully shy.
“It was the drag queens from the House of Milan and the House of Revlon who helped crack me out of my shell. They gave me lots of tips. Like how to have a stage presence. To have a good time and kiki it up,” Waters beams.
Waters’ crew is legendary for having fun — just ask her back-up dancers…
“Texas is where the rumor started…. The rumor that after my shows, all my dancers have a big orgy. I believe that was in Austin,” she laughs.
Although she can lace hit songs dealing with consciousness-raising issues like homelessness or chilling tales of child abuse (“Daddy Do”), when it all comes down to it, Waters says dancing to straight-up pop is a social necessity.
“Dance music gives people an outlet. Just to let go of some stress. And smile. Even if you’re dancing by yourself in your living room,” Waters says. “It makes me happy to think that somewhere in the world — at any moment of the day — there’s somebody dancing. At all times. Just people getting together to dance.”
That time I interviewed JENNIFER JASON LEIGH
By Daniel A. Kusner — Lifestyle Editor
One of the more bizarre criticisms about Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming’s new film, The Anniversary Party, concerns Cumming’s ability to portray a man who’s attracted to women.
Cumming, one of the sharpest all-around actors, plays Joe Therrian — a bisexual novelist who’s directing a film based on his marriage to Sally (Leigh), an actress who’s too old to play the character she inspired.
Joe and Sally — who reconciled after a yearlong separation —decide to throw a party to celebrate their sixth anniversary.
The guestlist includes close friends (major Hollywood players, played by major Hollywood players), contentious next-door neighbors ... and the ingénue (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s been cast in the role Sally helped create.
In the film, Joe and Sally nuzzle each other affectionately. Looking adorable while radiating a loving onscreen chemistry.
Cumming and Leigh, who star and share writing, directing and producing credits are close friends. They met during the recently much-hailed Broadway revival of Cabaret.
The co-stars, who didn’t have much onstage interaction during their run in Cabaret, wanted to collaborate on a film that scathingly pokes at celebrity culture while examining the chaotic beauty of flawed relationships.
“What I think is so cool about The Anniversary Party is that this might be the very first movie where you have a couple that’s married. And the man is openly bisexual,” Leigh explains. “It’s a totally accepted part of their marriage. And no one is judging it.”
During one scene, the party guests offer loving testimonies about their ties to Sally and Joe — including one of Joe’s former boyfriends (played by an uncredited Matt McGrath, The Broken Hearts Club).
“But Sally’s totally not threatened by [Joe’s former lover]. She’s actually threatened by Gina [a former flame played by Jennifer Beals]. And that’s the difference,” explains Leigh. “I think it’s great because Alan is very sexy and charming. He’s one of those guys who appeals to both men and women. And he’s completely out.”
What most critics seem to have forgotten about Cumming — who has turned in some tremendous performances (Urbania, Eyes Wide Shut) — is that from 1985-93, he was married to actress Hilary Lyon.
“And when Alan used to be married, he’s wasn’t really someone who was in the closet. Which is such a fabulous thing. Because these types of marriages do exist. I’m not going to name names. But it’s nice to see it. That it’s a real thing … and not a big deal.”
Leigh says bisexuality is similar to other elements contained within marriages. Sometimes bisexuality works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
“And their relationship isn’t platonic whatsoever. They make love all the time. They have a very good sex life. Joe is just bi. He doesn’t prefer men over women. It’s just a part of his life. And that’s what we wanted to convey,” Leigh explains.
According to Leigh, collaborating with Cumming on their directorial debuts was easier than they expected.
“It was so effortless and seamless. This whole project, from beginning to end. We wrote the first draft at my house in mid-February. And by July, we managed to arrange the schedules of our rather large ensemble cast and shoot the whole thing on digital within 19 days,” Leigh says. “I was shocked at how miraculously the whole thing came together. And we worked with all of our friends. The whole experience was nothing but gratifying and total fun.”
The film reunites Leigh and actress Phoebe Cates, who taught Leigh how to give a blowjob by practicing on a carrot in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Annivesary Party is first time they’ve worked together since Fast Times.
“I didn’t realize that because we’ve actually have been best friends since we made Fast Times. And we also play best friends in the movie. In fact, I dragged Phoebe out of retirement for this project. She gave up acting a while ago. Her kids are even in the film,” Leigh says.
The notoriously shy Leigh, who refuses to discuss her romantic life in the press (“I think it’s nice to have something you don’t talk about”), confesses that the prefers the company of men.
And except for her super-creepy performance in Single White Female, where she played lonely psycho who wanted to “merge” with another woman, she hasn’t portrayed a character with lesbian tendencies.
But what about the indelible characters she has played? Like her dead-on portrayal of Dorothy Parker. That harrowing gang-rape performance as the insatiable hooker Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn. And the strung-out rock star in Georgia.
With a penchant for choosing raunchy, gutsy and heartbreaking roles, Jennifer Jason Leigh has been compared to a post-modern Meryl Streep. With close to 40 feature films under her belt she has no plans to quit in the near future.
“But I really do want to have children,” she says while exhaling a plume of cigarette smoke. “But I think I want to try directing more. And I think in a few more years Alan and I will try to make another film like this. One that’s so liberating on a creative level that we make with a bunch of our friends.”
DIVINE SACRILEGE: Visionary god David LaChapelle surprises with new volume of insanely brilliant miracles
By DANIEL KUSNER
It's the ultimate package of sinfully vulgar gloss.
After opening the box that contained David LaChapelle's "Heaven to Hell" (Taschen $59.99), a venerable hush fell over my office at the newspaper.
Leafing through the 344 pages is a vivid journey through the sacred, the profane and the supernatural.
The arresting image on the book's cover "Pieta with Courtney Love" features the Widow Cobain posed as Mary, post-crucifixion. Shot in 2006, the wounded corpse wears bloodstained FTL undies and a tube sock with stigmata holes.
Our troubled mourning wife rests on an ambulance stretcher. And the Grunge Messiah's arm hangs down, revealing his veins — black and punctured.
With so many eye-catching details, you could stare at LaChapelle's "Pieta" longer than the album cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
The gay visionary doesn't waste time with a foreword. The images speak for themselves: nightmarishly sexy, dangerously innocent, vapid and ugly, saturated with God-given beauty.
The photographer's muse, transsexual superstar Amanda Lepore, graces many pages.
On a double-page tableaux, "The Metamorphosis and Other Stories," Lepore shows off her gash while a babydyke tattoo artists puts the finishing touches on flames licking her vagina.
All the other usual suspects are well represented.
Amid druggy-induced references to "Taxi Driver" and "Scarface" are LaChapelle's coterie of celebutants: Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, Whitney Houston, Sofia Coppola, Naomi Campbell, David Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Elton, Dolly, Lil' Kim and Jocelyn Wildenstein.
Some surprising cameos make the short list: Hilary Clinton (or is that a wax dummy?), a panicked Philip Johnson, a happy Muhammad Ali and a sweat-soaked and shirtless Lance Armstrong.
For a brief and welcome detour, LaChapelle flexes his lens.
Abandoning his high-sheen vision, he unveils the "Drunk American" series.
Shot in 2006, this is his strange Polaroid-esque homage to late-'70s U.S.A.
It's a post-Bush apocalypse, where gallons of Carlo Rossi spill onto wall-to-wall brown shag. Where grandmothers hold guns and serve guests tawdry noshes on stars-and-stripes paper plates.
It's kitsch mixed with unsettling prognostication.
Toward the end of our journey, LaChapelle faces death. And it's not totally ugly — it's acceptance.
Titles like "In Heaven, Everything is Fine" and "When the World is Through" give the first glimpse of afterlife.
A celestial hue imbues LaChapelle's vision.
The very end, brings us to the beginning: Jesus himself.
LaChapelle envisions the Second Coming in the 21st century. It's as if Andy Warhol was standing over LaChapelle's shoulder when he shot his gangsta-style "Last Supper."
This is divine inspiration.
If you fork over the $60 for "Heaven to Hell," you'll probably never let it out of your sight.
Kusner meets LaChapelle at Goss Gallery in Dallas.
Toast to Life gala helps Micki Garrison stock the Nutrition Center’s shelves
BY DANIEL KUSNER
Tucked behind Crossroads Market, Bookstore and Cafe is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance for the Nutrition Center, the Resource Center of Dallas’ food-assistance program for people living with HIV.
The Nutrition Center’s supervisor is Micki Garrison, one Dallas’ most devoted transgender activists.
While the Center’s doorway is strategically bland (they can only provide groceries to those who qualify), Garrison is tall, outgoing and her personality sparkles.
At the Nutrition Center (which used to be call the AIDS Food Pantry) about 1,000 clients stock up on groceries each week. That’s at least 1,000 loaves of bread, 1,000 gallons of milk, thousands of apples, peppers, bags of organic lettuce … It’s a lot of food.
To qualify, clients living with HIV have to earn roughly under $25,000 annually. And when they’re trying to keep up with medical expenses, insurance deductibles and sometimes
hospitals bills, every bit helps.
Garrison’s background is extensive and fabulous: architecture, the U.S. military, sound engineering, construction management and parenthood.
Helping clients stock up on food is only one of her duties. She’s more focused on grant writing, negotiating with suppliers and making sure the center is meeting compliance standards — skills she developed while running a lightning protection business that mostly contracted with military bases.
But as HIV medications have greatly improved, AIDS is appearing more and more like a treatable disease — like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
“Ryan White Funding is being slashed, which is why the Waxahachie food pantry has closed and why the Fort Worth pantry recently lost a large portion of their funding,” Garrison says.
On Saturday, the eighth annual Toast to Life gala will be held at Neiman Marcus. The shindig is a food-lover’s feast, and there’s a silent auction.
Garrison’s says approximately 20 percent of the Nutrition Center’s annual budget comes directly from money raised at Toast to Life.
While food donations are always welcomed at the Nutrition Center, Garrison says her negotiation skills can stretch money much further than the average grocery shopper’s buying
JUST IN TIME FOR ST. PADDYS: Sweeney chronicles her funny path from Irish-Catholicism to atheism in one-woman show, Letting Go of God
By DANIEL KUSNER | Friday, March 16, 2007
She's one of the sweetest performers to ever join the ranks of "Saturday Night Live."
And when I tell Julia Sweeney that I really enjoy some parts of the 1994 box-office and critical bomb, "It's Pat," she says, "Bless your heart."
A former accountant who became a professional comedian, Sweeney created the androgynous character Pat Riely when she was a member of The Groundlings.
In 1998, she followed "It's Pat" with "God Said Ha!" a one-woman show that found laughter in the face of cancer.
Now she's unearthed the funny side of examining God's nonexistence.
But first, back to "God Said Ha!"
Shortly after Julia moved into her two-bedroom bungalow in Hollywood, her younger brother Mike was diagnosed with lymphoma.
First, Mike moved in. And then the Sweeney parents moved in.
And amid the dysfunctional-family chaos, Julia was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Director Quentin Tarantino translated the stage version of "God Said Ha" into film.
As much as the story is about Julia, it's also about Mike, who ultimately lost his battle.
And while Julia was the eldest of the five Sweeney kids, the way she described Mike, it was unclear if he was gay or not.
Was Mike gay?
"Yes. He was," Sweeney says from her home in Los Angeles.
She encouraged Mike to come out to the Sweeney parents. But while creating "God Said Ha!" the big sister protected Mike's privacy.
"The family didn't really know it. And it doesn't really matter anymore. I only kept that secret ... Well, I didn't keep it secret. I just didn't put it in the show, because Mike wasn't open about it. And out of respect for him ...
"We used to argue about it all the time. All the Sweeney kids knew," she continues. "But Mike said.. Oh, this is going to make me cry... Mike said, 'When I'm in a long-term relationship with someone I love, then I will tell Mom and Dad.'"
Mike wasn't your typical Cher-loving gay dude. He listened to the Crash Test Dummies. And during chemo treatments, he usually wore his "Reservoir Dogs" T-shirt.
"And then he died. So he never got that person," Julia says.
Now she's learning about the coming out process from a different closet. Because Julia Sweeney is an atheist.
Earlier this year, her new one-woman show, "Letting Go of God" was independently released on CD ($19.95, JuliaSweeney.com). And coincidentally, on May 5 the show will be taped for a film version during its run at the Renberg Theater at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles.
In her signature wholesomeness, Sweeney chronicles her journey to the land of the non-believers.
As devout Catholic, she idolized nuns who taught at her all-girl high school in Spokane, Wash. She loved movies like "The Flying Nun," "The Singing Nun" and Audrey Hepburn in "A Nun's Story."
Like most Catholics, Sweeney was inculcated with Vatican-administered rituals. And like most Catholics, she grew up not as a literalist but as an interpreter of the Bible.
"And I was never a fan of the pope," she remembers.
But one afternoon, some young Mormon missionaries rang her doorbell and asked if she "believed" in God's love.
That question became the pea under her spiritual mattress.
The Mormon boys' dedication to God inspired Sweeney to rededicate her faith.
So she joined a Bible Study class.
Sweeney began with the Old Testament and made her way through the sequel. And through the fresh eyes of an adult, she found the whole idea of a supernatural being rather unbelievable.
"If there was a God, why he would send his son to be a savior to us by telling us incredibly convoluted and vague stories? Also, Jesus was really pissed off most of the time," Sweeny says. "If there was a God and God wanted us to behave a certain way, why wouldn't he just say, "'Look, here I am in the sky. Here's what you got to do. And this is how you have to do it.'"
Through her studies, Sweeney also couldn't get past the Bible's many breadcrumbs of immorality.
"The Bible says if someone has an adulterous affair — if you're a woman — you should be stoned to death. The Bible promotes slavery. And that men should have more than one wife," she says. "The Bible isn't a good place to look for morality. It's just an archaic document."
Not that the New Testament doesn't contain some gorgeous prose.
"The Sermon on the Mount is fantastic. And there's lots of good advice for living. But that doesn't mean that it's sacred," she says.
I mention that in the Rev. Mel White's recent book, "Religion Gone Bad," that Dallas' First Baptist Church is said to be the historical birthplace of anti-gay evangelicalism. And that many gays and lesbians have been kicked out of churches because they're gay.
"Good! They should feel lucky. They shouldn't be at church in the first place," Sweeney says.
Sweeney says she has gay friends who struggle with anti-gay Christianity.
"And I keep saying to them, 'What are you trying to do wanting to be in a church? Why is anyone trying to be in a church? It's like complaining, 'Why can't I be in the KKK? They kicked me out!'"
Just because Sweeney has "let go of God" doesn't mean she doesn't have a spirituality.
"I have a fond appreciation of life. I have enormous appreciation that I exist," she explains. "It's just that supernatural connection to 'spiritual' that I don't think exists."
So why has a gay and lesbian center in Los Angeles become the venue to film her next show?
Because Mike was gay?
Because of the androgynous "It's Pat" character?
Sweeney says the connection to a gay audience might somewhat indirect.
"First, you think you might be atheist. You don't know. Then you do know. Then you consider whether or not you tell your family. How does your family react? How do you reconcile with your family? How many people need to know it?" she remembers. "When I was going through it, I thought, This must be like what it would be like to be gay."
Earlier this week, I phoned Sweeney again to see how the very Irish former Catholic will celebrate St. Patrick's day.
"That's really a secular holiday. It's not like anyone is really revering Saint Patrick," she says. "He probably never existed and never drove the snakes out of Ireland. I've always thought it was just a day to celebrate Irishness and drink."
WHO NEEDS AN ANTI-GAY GOD ANYWAY?
Julia Sweeney made an excellent DVD recommendation for gays who feel rejected by Christianity: "The God Who Wasn't There" ($24.98, TheGodMovie.com)
Written and directed by Brian Flemming, the sharply edited, funny documentary questions the literal history of Jesus and chronology of early Christianity.
There's plenty of evidence of gay-hating Christians who worship violence.
And by using unauthorized clips from Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ," Flemming examines the connection between blood sacrifice and transubstantiation.
While illustrating the way things are told so often they become fact, Flemming coincidentally happens to be the guy who's responsible for the term "spam" when referring to e-mail spam. (So weird!)
Great music by David Byrne and queer band LeTigre compliment the nifty soundtrack.
"The God Who Wasn't There" is so hilariously blasphemous, it just might scare the bejesus out of you.
— Daniel Kusner
Lone Star literary lion LARRY MCMURTY is confident that his gay cowboy movie is stronger than Gov. Rick Perry
By DANIEL KUSNER | Dec. 12, 2005
A tragedy about lost opportunity, repression, finding love and never letting it go, “Brokeback Mountain” is a powerful drama. And the momentum behind the film builds on a day-to-day basis.
Critics groups in Boston, Los Angeles and New York recently named the cowboy romance as the year’s best film. And on Tuesday, it dominated the Golden Globes with seven nominations, including one for best screenplay, written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.
A lifelong Texan, McMurtry is the Pulitzer-winner who created “The Last Picture Show,” “Lonesome Dove,” “Hud” and “Terms of Endearment.” A few hours after the Golden Globe nominations were announced, McMurtry conducted phone interviews while in Austin.
Based on Annie Proulx’s 1997 near-perfect short story, “Brokeback” is about the doomed bond between two men who fall in love while herding sheep together. It’s also partially set in the Lone Star State.
Just as the film’s marketing campaign was gearing up, Texas was hit with two historical anti-gay blows: the overwhelming victory of a state amendment to ban same-sex marriages and Governor Rick Perry essentially telling gay soldiers returning from Iraq that — instead of Texas — they should consider a more “lenient” state to settle down.
"If there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas, then maybe that's a better place for them to live," the Lone Star State's longest-sitting governor, Rick Perry.
“If the governor wants to say foolish things, I can’t stop him. And it’s too bad about the proposition. But that’s not forever,” McMurtry says. “Five years from now, Governor Perry won’t be there. And we’ll see about the rest.”
When it comes to statements on Western culture and history, McMurtry is perhaps the most qualified authority. Even Governor Perry seems to agree.
In 2003 and 2004, Perry declared May as Texas Writers Month and, fittingly, McMurtry’s image emblazoned the campaign’s commemorative posters for those years.
But in 2005, is Texas’ image shifting toward intolerance and homophobia?
“I don’t see it that way. I’m not pessimistic. I’m from the plains of Texas — the part that connects the Midwest with the Rocky Mountains,” McMurtry says. “I think there’s more decency in the great American middle class than most homophobic legislation would indicate. Sure, right now these are hot-button issues, but these things are not permanent.”
Raised in Wichita Falls, McMurtry became familiar with gay cowboys when he was 8 years old. That’s when he was introduced to his gay cousin’s boyfriend.
Coincidently, McMurtry’s cousin resembles Jack Twist, the fictitious “Brokeback Mountain” character played by Jake Gyllenhaal: Both worked the rodeo circuit and both were from the same area of Texas — near Childress, a small town not far from Wichita Falls.
His cousin came to mind while working on the screenplay.
“I was supposed to say ‘gentleman friend’ when referring to my cousin’s lover,” McMurtry remembers.
McMurtry’s parents encouraged him to be nice to his cousin’s partner.
“We had no reason not to be nice to him. He was a perfectly nice man,” McMurtry says. “There might have been a little awkwardness, maybe. But my parents were never angry about my cousin. Everyone’s lives went on. And they went on for 20 years.”
That’s the attitude that shapes McMurtry’s vision of Texas.
“Many American families, millions, have a gay member — like our vice president,” he says. “I’m not going to give up on the capacity of Texans to deal with controversy in a fair and compassionate way.”
The big challenge for the film is for people like Governor Perry and the folks who voted for Proposition 2 to actually watch “Brokeback Mountain.”
“I absolutely believe the film will challenge their views,” McMurtry says. “If they go see it, it will have to give them pause.”
Even with a truckload of film awards, McMurtry says the success of “Brokeback” depends solely on one thing: word of mouth. That word is already spreading.
Some right-wing critics have blasted the film, saying it should win an Oscar for promoting the “gay agenda.”
That type of criticism fuels McMurtry’s ire.
“I know what I’m confident of. And I’m totally confident,” he says. “The right wing will not win on this issue. This movie is stronger than they are.”
Even if “Brokeback Mountain” wins an Oscar for best picture, is it strong enough to play in Crawford, Texas?
“Well, the screening room is actually in the White House,” McMurtry says. “The president and his wife have gay friends. In fact, they have gay friends who stay in the White House. So I’m sure they’ll see it.”