Look at the new catalogues for the National Queer Arts Festival 2014. Did you know I’m in it??Twice! And “Give Out Day” goes on until Friday May 16 9pm PST. Donate to QCC (the Queer Cultural Center who is supporting my work & the work of a great many other artists) don’t forget to click *dedicate* to support my book: the Cha Cha Files!! http://bit.ly/QCCGiveOUTDay Help me raise money for the release of my very first book! ———Lovely picture by @saranflas

Madonna is My Spirit Animal

I’m listening to country music in an Irish pub and a bass player with sad caterpillar eyebrows is hitting notes with a tired resignation, the music is good, but full of emo and sadness and FEELINGS and this is one of those moments when I realize why I love pop music. I love it for its joy- for it’s keeping it together - for it’s like a virgins and for its relentless desire - even during the ballads - of making you want to move your ass.

20 years before I sat in this bar - I was a punk rock goth in a small farm town - and music was my life preserver. And while Kate Bush and The Dead Milkmen may have shown me another way to think - another kind of music to connect with - nothing was the life preserver that Madonna was.

Back in Michigan in the mid-80’s I was a young aspiring dancer, singer, and all around performer. I’d gone from make shift and improve recitals in my grandparents living room to dance classes and community theater. I had the lights of Broadway in my eyes because I knew it could happen. It had happened to her. Madonna. The myth, the legend. She had gone to dance classes in a Detroit suburb just like me. She had even enrolled at the college I planned to go to. And then after getting in to the prestigious University of Michigan, the end all be all of colleges for the artsy set in the mitten state, she packed it up with $27 dollars in her pocket and landed herself in Times Square. Positive she was going to make it. And she did. By the time I was hearing the legend and deciding that my own future was going to follow the exact same trajectory no matter what she was already one of the world’s biggest pop stars and still climbing. She was it.

However there was one wrinkle in my plan. See I wasn’t a pop music kind of gal. At least not in my circle of people. I was a goth punk rocker. I was voted most likely in my high school class to be a communist and start a commune of artists in Brazil. So when my clove smoking mohawked small town rebels heard about my big Broadway plans there were supportive, until they realized I wasn’t planning on hitting CBGB’s to glom onto the newest punk band but instead was hoping to hit gay discos and make my own mark on pop culture ala Madonna the confusion was palpable.

However I have to think that somewhere in all of my love of pop music and Madonna specifically my gaydar had turned on. I knew there was something under the surface of her, of her music. Some references I wasn’t getting but was responding to, some sort of subversive element that I couldn’t put a finger on. Much like in later years I would threaten barfights defending the validity of Courtney Love, Britney Spears, and Lil’ Kim, my defense and love of Madonna was about something bigger than her. Bigger than the music, which regardless of politics, really is pretty amazing. But Madonna gave slutty girls a voice that wasn’t apologetic. Hell she was confrontational in her sexuality, and reveling in it. It almost seemed like her sexuality wasn’t even for the enjoyment of the masses, though that was a good side effect, especially for the marketing department, but it was for her. She was a dancer who knew what her body could do, and she enjoyed that strength without apology. She was a feminist role model for me before I knew what the word even was and I would be damned if I would tolerate someone trying to silence her, or me for my appreciation of her and her music.

There two Madonna songs that mark huge milestones in my life, milestones I wasn’t even aware of at the time.  Those super-charged moments where something just shifts. The first would be Borderline. From the artsy black and white photo shoot to the choreographed dance number in the video, I saw Madonna’s dancerly body, her unconventional prettiness, her messy blonde with roots hair, her strikingly dark lipstick, and I saw a way into pop culture. A person who made sense to me. A far cry from the pastels and big suits of the 80’s, despite her disco pop sound, her look cried out New York and the Village and artsy, and I saw a way in. Looking back I think it was that moment that my mother should have feared. Not the next year when the sounds of Black Flagg and the Dead Milkmen emanated from my room and she wondered what was happening. But to me it was a logical progression. Madonna, who was unapologetic for being female and powerful and full of desire, to Cyndi Lauper who was unapologetic for being female and strange and loving fun, to punk rock which was just unapologetic for everything and pissed off for good measure.  What 15 year old doesn’t want to be pissed off?

The next big moment came from Justify My Love. I was just starting college, and my budding gayness was still pretty hidden from me. Talking with friends from back then it wasn’t hidden to anyone else, but I was, at least for then, clueless that my enjoyment of looking at naked lady pictures and attraction to super butchy women was anything other than straight and normal. Looking back I can only blame small farm towns and a lack of language. But Justify My Love – it was the beginning of giving me the language. The video was one of the hottest things I’d ever seen, and the sex book allowed for a entire catalog of queer reference points hidden inside of a sex book which was masquerading as an art project. She made an art of being out in plain sight. While gay papers on the coasts may have complained of appropriation, the papers that made it to Michigan only ranted about the smut. And of smut I had no shame. The sex book introduced me to how beautiful gay men could be. It’s queerness was overt and in your face, hidden behind the sexuality of a ‘straight’ pop star. It was one of the founding points of my gay aesthetic. Molded moreso later on by Fosse and Liza. A circle which came around nicely when Madonna did her cabaret / fosse tribute number to her gayest song Keep It Together – essentially the Madonna version of ‘We Are Family’ as the finale of her Blonde Ambition tour.

The next big Madonna moment hit me after I had traded poetry for accordions and had a fairly regular gig playing onstage at a local burlesque show. Usually I played with my band but occasionally I would be the soundtrack for dancers. I was (and still am) in love with the loud and colorful vaudevillian nature of burlesque variety shows, and the sense of humor that pervades them, along with the lampooning of pop culture. So when a couple of friends told me they wanted to do a pirate number to Material Girl – I was unsure of how the music would translate, but I was in. It was alone at my practice space before our first rehearsal, as I was learning the 80’s pop hit and trying to arrange it into a pirate shanty that I realized pop music is just fun. There was a gleeful delight in the song that wasn’t getting lost in translation. Within the next six months I would hear Americana versions of Britney Spear’s Toxic and Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back by Richard Thompson and Rock Plaza Central respectively – but at this time I hadn’t heard the translations yet. And as I turned this consumerist ode to love into a pirate shanty, to be sung by two queer feminist lady pirates, I fell in love with the subversion of cultural tropes. Lady pirates were taking their lives into their own hands and taking control of their fates – shunning the patriarchal set up of their time, much like Madonna was singing about taking control of her own fate, and getting paid for her time and not suffering fools gladly. I felt empowered and emboldened to make the song my own. Adding minor chords and a bouncy waltz. I felt the power of being able to reconcile all of my music and cultural crushes into one place and for one moment – onstage as we three pirates plundered pop culture for our own amusement.

A Cha Cha Chapina getting ready for Second Helpings at @somarts. You all should check out the amazing art show this month at somarts. The show tonight was hot stuff! #femme #selfie #nqaf #qcc

Home Series #3

I Found home again in West Oakland.

I used to live in West Oakland. It was my second California home. I am protective of it - of how wonderful it was and how it was family and generations of people living there and I saw my old apt again last week and the house looks the same and good old Eloise is still living upstairs and a lot of it is still just what I remember. And there are other good parts that are new. The shoreline park finally got finished. The messed up pothole heaven of 8th Street got fixed. But folks. Other things broke my heart. I saw old Victorians in ruins like I haven’t seen since I was last in the West Canfield area of Detroit. With gorgeous facade husks and burned out interiors without even a roof to their centuries old credit. Some of them in West Oakland had been like that since I lived there. Some were more newly ravaged. And in sharp contrast are the shiny expensive gated loft / condos. It felt like they were shining with a promise of what the residents can’t have. They hulked above the other neighborhood architecture and stood out like sore thumbs, Mandela Gateway, standing next to the new projects and the old victorians and the legacy of a neighborhood in their wake.

The biggest break in my heart isn’t about lofts. It’s about loss. I tried to go to my favorite store ever. In the world. Cooper Bros. A charming awesome teeny tiny store attached to a huge yellow house where Fred Cooper would fresh roast peanuts daily in a machine from 1920, sell veggies that he got weekly from local farms and sell sodas out of old school ice chests from the 50’s.

Cooper used to sell me my american spirits and give me free lettuce for what he called my dragon. (iguana). He loved to talk and tell me stories and ask about Lydia the  dragon iguana and how i was doing over on 12th St up there. After I moved whenever I was in the neighborhood I tried to come by and buy something jsut to say hi again. The past few times - the store has been closed, but that was usual, it seemed sometimes like he opened when it was good for him so I didn’t think too much of it.

Last week the house was falling apart. With a chain link fence all around and the store boarded up. I got home and googled and Fred is gone. With him a neighborhood loses the strength of a pulse. It loses a patron saint. It loses that one person that every community needs that holds the past and the future in their smile. I’ve lost a family that didn’t especially want me, but was glad to have me once I was there. I’ll miss you Fred. We all will.

-Cindy M Emch, from the Home Queer Home Performance at the National Queer Arts Festival

@themargagomez as Susan Sontag. Hilarious! Thrilling! Who knew readings from Gertrude Stein & Susan’s diaries could be so much fun.@margagomez #nqaf #qcc

This Is Why Everyone Should Go to the National Queer Arts Festival, S.F. Pride 2014

I am so so proud to be a part of the National Queer Arts Festival. Seriously. As an artist who has consistently been on the grind I couldn’t be happier to be among these beautiful artists who are telling truths and bringing joy to our lives. Couldn’t be more honored. Not only can you catch my show June 4th at the Mission Cultural Center but enjoy some fun from my alter ego at Second Helpings June 7. One way to battle cultural erasure? Asses. In. Seats. GO!

"Now is the time to come out (pun intended) and support the arts. Unless you want them to all move to Oakland. Community arts spaces and community-produced events need your eyes and your butts in seats if you want them to keep happening. There are, of course, many, many more shows and performances to experience as we wend our way through Pride month. Check out the full schedule and support your local artists and queerdos."

This Is Why Everyone Should Go to the National Queer Arts Festival, S.F. Pride 2014

and check out:

Peacock’s semi-pride survival guide

(not only because my book release is in it, but yeah, that too.)

Home Series #4

Where Home Begins

this was my home
a history
that sign on the road that every car ignores
a world of wheat fields and ignorance
with poetry and suffering in every blade of grass

And it goes and goes and goes and the road unfurls in front of me
a road to nowhere. a nowhere that I come from
where leeches sucked my seventeen year old calves
while my girlfriends sucked off 14 year old boyfriends
and stories spread. we all had our secrets
we all had the shame, insecurities laid bare in pleasures that sliced deeper
nights spent dulling the pain
looking for transcendence in sweet smoke and brown eyes
where I got lost too many times
while I was hiding in your best friends parents driveway

This town we share whose dragons and wizards lit up the sky with hate
three states wide until six years later on a night in Reno
she remembered to be ashamed of the place that she forgot to not say…

Her mother warned her after the cross burned on the town paper
when you leave the city limits claim the unremarkable town next door

Stupidity isn’t regional, bruises and bones on the girl who led the basketball team to the city. to see the Pixies at the Fox Theatre. beautiful skyline seen off the grit of a sidewalk. fourteen. torn letter jacket. explain it away

This town full of stories and people lost in the thin pages of thinner phone book
the midpoint of nowhere between Lansing and Detroit.

When she asked me if I had a crush on her I asked her if it mattered
before we tumbled into a bouquet of musk and sweat and cigarettes
on a broken down couch with crooked springs in the November barn.
you fixed your makeup when you heard the screen door slam. we never happened
not then, or the next week, or five years later. when the door had a lock
and you had a boyfriend.

This town runs us down with pig farms and rallies in cohoctah
far enough off the radar to let young boys with black mohawks feel their strength as they flyer “jock are cocks” around the school and town. until the flames fell down around them. on more sidewalks warm with flesh among historic cobblestones.

On lost nights Kima and I canvassed the countryside. twin beams of light pummeling the dark that knew nothing else trees and field and danger and mud and gravel, dirt road that could break a car axel and I drove fast.Roads that would curve hard enough to bend american steel, you never knew what was just around the next.

We were on a hunt for a thrill any thrill. smoking out the window ashes blowing back
into 1980 red Chevette windows. drunk on the power of being 16 and without rules
Drunk of the power of being girls that weren’t girly. Girls that hadn’t yet bowed to the pressures of sucking and fucking, and instead just stood, exhaled, and acted mean like marlon brando and robert mitchum. a natural, slit your throat sort of mean.

This town held air sweet with cut grass and lake breeze during the annual Melon Festival Parade. my mother let her daughter join a parade of strangers
I left the parade to find my family
who knew that ten years later i would find the parade and the strangers i had always been looking for 3000 miles away.

At the end of the day waterlogged, from swimming and eating corn roasted in a bonfire
i saw explosions and stars glitter on the lake that in ten years wouldn’t be safe for fish. ash fell in my hair. a caul on the town.

This town held the borderlands with my runaway Alexis who was so beautiful
she would’ve been the first to die in any film. her eyes could eat.
our skin burned against each other, our words too full of songs and joy.
We invited trouble and drove away laughing as the stars cut smiles at us
we wrapped scarves and arms against the crunch of fall night.

Deerfield, Marion, Oceola, Cohoctah talismans, placeholders, names of townships where
me and my tribe ran through these nights

I was running from desires. I was running from a past. I never knew what they ran from.

This town captured the imagination, the seed in the apple. self contained within a core of rot.

I want you to know exactly where I come from.

Before the expressway and the Rollerrama II. when the quaint downtown hosted more than Rockwell and Carnegie I bought her her first punk rock record. the keys to the gates. as comics and culture anger and resistance came together. from the window of the secondhand record store I saw movements in the fringes.

In this town while kfc’s bloom like tumors  three quarters of a miles down the road
the fields are being cleared for Wal-Mart.

In this town she laid on graves to write poetry with the girl from russian class who
was in love with gay Mike and they listened for bagpipes.  

She laid on the graves by the lake to write poetry about the girl from dance class.

She laid on the graves of this town and wrote poetry about leaving this town that we all ran from as the snow covered our paths. we were never there. again.

-Cindy M Emch, Home Queer Home performance, part of the National Queer Arts Festival