Content Warning: Material linked to in this post may contain partial nudity and radical queerness. More than likely NSFW.
Greetings readers and welcome to another edition of “In Search of Our Queer Gardens” in which I explore the work of yet another Queer artist in my continuing efforts to define what, exactly, the Queer arts are. This week there will be Queer sock hops! A Cadillac full of menacing lesbians that look like they escaped from some Queer version of an S.E. Hinton novel! Glitter! Sparkly gold cloaks! Men in leopard print g-strings! Meet punk-queer rockabilly Seth Bogart and his band Hunx and his Punx!
For this week’s edition, I picked Seth Bogart for numerous reasons. Not only are the subversions contained in his music absolutely delightful, I also thought that he was a fun contrast to last week’s caustic and melancholy Jamie Stewart, but also for shameless advertising! Hunx and his Punx will be performing in Harrisonburg on April 7th this year as part of Macrock! That means that if you are around, dear readers, you can come hear some raucous Queer jams!
Hunx and his Punx were introduced to me a few months ago by a friend via this video and it was love at first sight (fair warning: Seth Bogart bounces around a lot in that leopard print g-string you heard about):
The reason I loved it so much is not only did it remind me of the trashy queer John Waters-esque aesthetic that is so deeply a part of Queer pop culture, but that also Seth Bogart was rejecting a stereotype that is pretty saturated into our culture: that gay men only listen to warbling divas like Liza Minnelli and Barbara Streisand (a pretty dated stereotype, I’d say) and he instead just rocks out with his all female band. The song and video both subvert the hyper-masculine rock aesthetic and gives it a flair that is distinctly Queer.
In the next two videos: “Teardrops on My Telephone” and “Lover’s Lane”, the musical style is more reminiscent of something that makes you want to wear a poodle skirt, drink chocolatey Ovaltine and then make out with a partner of the same sex.
What? Hold on a second here. Don’t poodle skirts and Ovaltine, wholesome cultural symbols of a “time gone by,” stand in direct conflict with Queerness in our collective cultural imagination? When we think of films that are supposed to evoke our nostalgia for the culture of the 1950′s like Grease and West Side Story they are narratives that are entirely exempt of any Queer presence. It was a time before the second wave of Feminism and the Gay Rights movement and had a incredibly rigid system of gender roles: what boys and girls were supposed to be was certainly not to be Queer.
“Teardrops on My Telephone” is a Queer revision of the classic breakup song, usually sung by a pining female, think “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.” Seth Bogart subverts gendered expectations by being the one pining for his lost boyfriend, sitting on a giant paper mache phone and kicking his stocking-laden legs are effeminate gestures that undermine both constructed gender roles and heterosexuality. The video for “Lover’s Lane” contains a similar inversion with the gang of cruising lesbians instead of macho male youths with slick backed hair and Seth Bogart being the crooning singer inviting us to lover’s lane in his skimpy attire and a glittery microphone.
As mentioned before, the 1950′s are often recollected in very heterosexist terms. It’s interesting to consider that when this period of cultural history is waxed upon nostalgically, particularly by the more conservative right, it was a time (to quote Archie and Edith Bunker in the opening theme for All In The Family) where “girls were girls and men were men.” It was a time when the heteronormative nuclear family was at the core of “decent” American culture and there was no visibility for Queer culture. It is no accident that when the phrase “Family Values” is thrown around that it contains an image of the values that “were lost” in the counter-culture of the 60′s and 70′s, values that were challenged by the second wave of Feminism and the burgeoning Gay Rights Movement. It is his reappropriation of these images and culture that Seth Bogart truly succeeds in creating an aesthetic that subverts heterosexual American culture at its core. His distinctive style of dress and unapologetic feminine voice challenge our notions of what is Rock and Roll and also parodies a culture that was so entrenched in a hierarchy of sexual norms.
When trying to build my definition of Queer arts, Seth Bogart is a splendid example of how gendered and heterosexual expectations can be subverted and recast in a new and invigorating way. While his work is in stark contrast to the violent and disturbing work of Jamie Stewart, they are both participating in a distinctly Queer artistic aesthetic that interrogates our musical culture and the numerous social norms that often silence Queer voices.
Enjoy the music, dear readers, and I hope to see you at the show!