Performance legend Justin Vivian Bond's elemental romance with the city blossoms in new show 'Love is Crazy!'
I was at the Alice B. Theatre in Seattle when the NEA Four were defunded. Three of the four were at that festival. That was when I decided that I was going to devote my life to queer performance and to having the voices of queer people heard in as many places as possible. That propelled me to stay in the role of Kiki longer than I might have liked to, because it eventually brought me to Carnegie Hall and a Tony nomination on Broadway. [After that] I thought, OK, now I can really start honoring my own creativity, aside from making political statements. Fortunately for me, once I gave up that character and started performing as myself, I feel like things have been going pretty well. And it all started for me in San Francisco, which is why I love it so much.
SFBG Was there always a political dimension to your work?
JVB Having my art spring from a political place — exposed to the queer politics, really the life-or-death politics, that were happening back then — really justified my impulse to be an artist. I'm not saying that everything I've ever done has been politically astute or important, but there is a political perspective behind everything I do. That helps me justify asking a bunch of people to pay attention to me. If I didn't feel like I was actually saying something, I'd probably be embarrassed to be on the stage, really.
SFBG What are the origins of Love Is Crazy!? You took it first to Paris. Was it a show you made specifically for that city?
JVB It kind of evolved. When I was last in San Francisco, actually, I was getting ready to host a benefit for the Lambda Legal Defense [and Education] Fund. Sometimes I'll just pick a word and put it on my iPod, then let all the songs with that word in them play. That particular day, I had recently become single, so I hit "love," and this list of songs played. I thought, "I should just write down this list and that could be my next show." And that's what I did for a show here in New York called "Mx. Bond's Summer Camp." I liked that show but over time I sort of finessed it. Now, not all the songs have the word love in them. Some are songs from both of my records. I was going to Paris, and I decided I wanted to do this Valentine's Day show in front of the Eiffel Tower. I had a really wonderful time with it, so I decided to tour that show this year. So that's what it is, craaazy love. And it's got some good anecdotes in it.
SFBG I'm curious about the origins of your distinctive singing voice.
JVB For Kiki, I sang with a character voice. I started performing Kiki when I was like 28 or 29. I was just coming into my own voice at that time, and I kind of sang in that voice for 15 years. In San Francisco, during the last run of Kiki and Herb, I met this person who I fell in love with, and went on the road with, from San Francisco up to Canada. I kind of got back in touch with my queer roots, and I started writing my own songs, because I needed to find my own voice. It really helped me to get myself into the mindset of what I wanted to say, as opposed to what I wanted to say as this character.