by Julia E. Hamilton
“If I was your woman, here's what I'd do, I'd never, never, never stop loving you, yeah
You’re part of me, and you don't even know it, I’m what you need, but I'm too afraid to show it…”
I recently heard two different live covers of Alica Keys "If I Was Your Woman" in the same week, both on the campus at UC Berkeley, where I happen to work. The first time was when I happened upon the annual "Take Back the Night" event, where the song, performed acoustically by a guitar toting willowy blonde, was meant to function as a mobilizing anthem against domestic violence and sexual abuse. The second was during a performance by the multidisciplinary drag-clad, soap operatic Southern artist commonly known as Kalup Linzy at the Berkeley Art Museum. I’m really not sure what this might mean, but I’m going to assume that it has something very significant to do with art.
A song about longing is an odd choice to be sure, but never mind that for now. Though daring and necessary in its way, the “Take Back The Night” rally was what one might expect in these parts. To be honest, I didn’t really stick around for, so I can't report back about the songs reception. Linzy's version of the song – part of the first of two sets he performed that night – was just awesome.
A series of new video work curated by Sarvia Jasso of Brooklyn Is Burning preambled the performance. The film shorts – all tiresome reincarnations of warmed-over 70s body art – were wretched. It just so happens to turn out that there is no part of the body that a camera can’t explore, and the exploration is less provocative and or transgressive than what a bored, but intrepid teenager can easily discover without flicks of his wrist online. I was about to leave when thankfully, with what appeared to be some sort of jam band, Linzy took to the stage to lead us into the future.
He is by far my new (and really only ever) favorite drag performer. He is hilarious, churning countless cultural references into his own totally unique thing (enterprise, shtick, venture). The fact that he’s in drag is seems to be really a non-issue: the wig and unitard were the subtlest aspect of his routine. It is his physical embodiment of a whole host of characters makes the performance so fantastic. Linzy loosely bases his characters on family members, combined with those of daytime soaps, the chitlin circuit, Tyler Perry, and the whole history of video and performance art. Blaine and Antoine of “Men on Film” also came to mind.
The use of signifyin(g), Henry Louis Gate Jr’s explanation of the “trans-valuation” of language, an open ended process of reworking existing forms of expression in potentially subversive ways, is (of course) what’s happening. Yet something else is at work as well. Watching the hip audience not only mouthing all the words to every song, but also really feeling those words, it struck me that the color line (and perhaps a whole host of other lines) was literally being transgressed. It was if all the irony had doubled back on itself, and the sign had become universally understood, embraced, and earnestly lipsynched.
Also, my aunt has a karaoke machine in her basement in Cincinnati, and if you substitute Maxwell for Alicia Keys, I had seen this exact scene play out, over and over again in front of my own painfully Midwestern relatives.
It’s funny because it’s true.
- Julia E. Hamilton