articles

You Gotta Have Faith

Nonagenarian. Perennial candidate for Mayor of DC. DC Statehood activist. Burlessque dancer. Actress. Comedienne. Cabaret performer. Faith has done many things. Once upon a time, she was a key component of the Broadway musical Gypsy, in its original run with Ethel Merman, as well as the film version with Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, and Karl Malden. Faith developed the role of Mazeppa, an aging burlesque dancer who blows a bugle while doing her bumps and grinds. She schools the young Gypsy Rose Lee on the necessities of stage life in the song “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” Contemporary reviews of the stage version and YouTube views of the movie version show Faith stealing the show with sassy hip snaps and a voice that could peel paint off your wall.

I first met Faith circa 1998 when she was doing her Campaign Cabaret performances in various nightspots around DC, adopting show tunes and calypso numbers to serve as self promotion, accompanied by her husband Jude on guitar. Film auteur Jeff Krulik (of Heavy Metal Parking Lot fame) was acting as their manager and booking the gigs. It’s hard to forget such a magical entertainment. Some images are more indelible than others. Like seeing a 75-year-old Faith rollerskate onto the stage in a nude body stocking to blow her bugle.

Recently while at work in George Washington University’s Burns Law Library, I ran across a book called Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance by Anthea Kraut. The back cover blurb mentioned Faith’s lawsuit against the producers of Broadway’s Gypsy for infringing on her copyright to Mazeppa’s dance routine. She had developed the number during her time on the actual burlesque stage, and reprising it during audition got her the part in the play. The climax of her performance made it a unique signature and brought the house down: bending over to blow her bugle between her legs, derriere facing the house. This “derriere pose” was deemed too risque by the film’s director, so she did a deep back bend instead, which is what you see in all the pictures. The case turns out to have been an important one in the struggle to gain copyright protection for dance choreography. But Faith was unsuccessful in gaining damages. The judge ruled that her dance–and the story it purported to tell of an ex-military woman now earning her living on vaudeville–was not significant enough to warrant protection, being both too low-brow and created by a woman.

I interviewed Faith extensively back in the 90s, writing a short article on her for The Washington City Paper (you can read it here), and later publishing the full transcript in my fanzine Mole. Over 30 years after her lawsuit, she was still angry about the copyright rip off,  But it was hard to tell if the story was just a part of her self-myth. It was great to see it confirmed in a big way.

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Using the article in Kraut’s legal monograph as a hook, I put together an exhibit for the display case in the Burns Library about Faith, her copyright lawsuit, and her mayoral candidacy. Included are vinyl LP copies of the soundtracks for both stage and screen versions, photos from her 90s cabaret shows, campaign ephemera, and a dented and warped old bugle I got on eBay. In fact, Krulik told me to get a beat up horn “just like the one Montgomery Clift gave her.” You see how the legend of Faith just seems bottomless? There’s always another amazing story about her. If she makes a visit to the exhibit, I’ll let you know.

 

Le Scat Noir Encyclopedia

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As a contributor, I’m pleased to announce that the latest issue of Le Scat Noir literary journal happens to be a weird and wonderful encyclopedia! This tome contains “entries from Acrostic to Zwine, and features contributors from around the world…Discover rare factoids, flash fiction, nubile moon spew, mythological arcana, cabalistic pathogens, pataphysical detritus, scatological schemata, crypto-heuristic scripture, and radical homomorphism. Over 100 pages of profusely illustrated weirdness.” It’s available only in paperback from Amazon. You can check it out and buy a copy here.

All my contributions come from a short text I called the “Space Word Book.” I lost track of how many entries from my work ended up in the Scat Noir book, but it includes pieces on “Earth,” “International Control Board,” “heatshield,” and “interstellar space.” These articles stand alongside those on Alphonse Allais, fart bear, ouija scramble, phubbing and reducing windows. Some entries are funny, some are weird, and some are deadly serious. It’s an exploration of the hinterlands of human knowledge that should prove edifying to anyone.

Flashback: Rubber Band Ball article reprinted in Utne Reader

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I recently discovered that my article on rubber band balls can be found on the  Utne Reader website. You can read “Rubber Band Balls: The Ultimate Collector’s Item” here.

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The article was first published under the title “The Joy of Rubber Balling” in my music fanzine Mole, issue #12, back in May 1999. It describes my obsession with creating and maintaining a rubber band ball. On the next page, I interviewed my friend David Craig about his own experiences creating a rubber band ball (see below). As with a lot of things, he got in on the trend first. The “director’s cut” version appears on my website here.

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Needless to say, I was rather shocked when Utne Reader picked the article up for reprinting, which they did under the title “Bandarama” (Utne Reader #101, Sept-Oct 2000). Especially nice: getting paid for the piece. In some way, a paycheck helped justify all the wasted time putting together a fanzine. Not to mention the time wasted assembling a giant rubber band ball. (Coincidentally, I found the images of the Utne cover and my article in an Ebay listing; strange that “Bandarama” was one of the sample pages!)

One of the major differences between the two printings was the title, and the omission of my subtitle. The more professional rag seemed not to like the vague innuendo contained in my version. It’s funny that for their website, they changed the title again.

Yes, you do see Vanilla Ice’s name in the lower left corner of the Mole cover. I interviewed him about an outsider art site in Homestead, Florida, called the Coral Castle. It featured in a promotional photo his record company provided with his comeback CD. Turns out, he was quite an authority on the place. But that’s another post.

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I still have that rubber band ball today, although I’m not as diligent about maintaining it. It’s gotten pretty furry with neglect, so I’ve been doing some serious re-surfacing with fresh rubber. It could still use a lot more bands. At this point the ball weighs 7 lbs 11 oz.

Flashback: Article on the Bride of Frankenstein’s singing career in Cool and Strange Music magazine

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That time my article on Elsa Lanchester’s Bawdy Cockney Songs LPs appeared in Cool and Strange Music #28. You know Ms. Lanchester best as the titular star of Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale’s 1935 horror masterpiece.

Later in her career, she took up a kind of cabaret act where she sang silly ditties full of innuendo and double entendres. Many songs from this act ended up on two LPs, originally titled “Songs for a Shuttered Parlor” and “Songs for a Smoke Filled Room.” (Reissued as “Bawdy Cockney Songs” and, naturally, “More Bawdy Cockney Songs.”) Both are great examples of weird and strange thrift store scores.

Cool and Strange Music no longer has an online presence, but you can read the “director’s cut” of the article in my own archive here.

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