How do I begin? Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s only the beginning, and when we begin the beguine, it brings back seven nights of Mardi Gras splendour.
Trevor Ashley (pictured) was to blame for that craptastic little intro. Opening night of Trevor Ashley: Pop Princess and her majesty danced, sang and riffed through an extensive discography of pop hits, remixed with Phil Scott quips and dipped fondue-like in pop cultural references.
It was great fun. Ashley busted a gut and presented a show with maximum gags per minute, accompanied by prerecorded televisual skits that kept it flowing. We grinned as Ashley sang Britney while sitting on his dancer’s face to get ahead. (Oops, he did it again because he’s not that talented). We gasped as Ashley (in a cameo as Cleopatra Coupe) sang I Am What I Am in drinking game mode, and skulled vodka shots every time he said I am. We giggled (a little) at Ashley’s black and white video pisstake of In Bed With Madonna.
Anyone who saw Ashley perform at the launch should not be deterred (as they might have been with Drumdrag in 2002 -“ remember that?). In the more intimate Civic setting Pop Princess worked much better. Be warned: in the tradition of all great popstars, Ashley ain’t a fantastic singer or dancer but he has a shamelessness that was pitched just right. I went home humming Hanson’s Mmmbop, which may or may not be a positive endorsement.
Twenty-four hours later I was back at the Civic, but this time holding a sponsor-blessed cranberry vodka after the opening night of the Mardi Gras film festival. The Trip was certainly that, and was hugely evocative of childhood road trips. The trips where you’re stuck in an un-airconditioned Ford Cortina for seven hours straight and the only radio station is horse racing from Bundaberg hippodrome. Oh, lots of people loved the stupid film and the one with dark hair was pretty hot. You liked the blond? Really? Yes, I will have a refill, ta. God, it’s hot in here.
Thursday night, and there was just enough time to duck into Phatspace for the leather art exhibition before moving on to the Rant readings. Self-Discipline was worth a look, and definitely not what I expected. There were no oil paintings of guys wearing nipple clamps and no sculptures of cocks with Prince Albert piercings. There was, however, a grand piano with leather restraints by Robb Kelly (who strapped himself to it in Hyde Park earlier that day) and sculptures made from plant pods by Diablo that suggested violence and beauty in nature. The exhibition space was unpalatably humid, but if you’ve got a masochistic edge you might be able to make this work for you.
The sole literary bash for this year’s Mardi Gras festival proved again that a huge budget and glamorous surrounds are not necessary for success. Rant featured 10 writers reading from their work, which included excerpts from published novels as well as magazine articles and award-winning short stories. The highlights were Tim Denoon’s expose of June Dally-Watkins Charm School (which he attended), Kirsty Machon presenting a new queer manifesto that actually sounded fresh and Stephen Dunne’s devilish satire/porn fantasy about a gay hawk and dove and their sodomitical romance. Emily Ballou’s reading from Fatherlands was fantastic, though Sara Knox’s reading from her novel didn’t work given the format.
There was also an unexpected bonus. Doris Goddard, host of the Hollywood Hotel and one-time Bob Hope co-star, sang two songs for the crowd. At first there were nervous giggles: Goddard looked like everyone’s gran, except she was wielding a guitar and an air of manic determination. Then she sang two of her own songs -“ a ballad that obliquely criticised Indonesia and an AIDS hymn -“ in an impassioned cabaret style that had everybody glued to her red spotlit face. Goddard is really something: part Billy Bragg, part Marlene Dietrich and all over eccentric. Queer probably covers it.
No such politics the following evening, when the State Theatre overflowed with a crowd that once upon a time might have stepped out for The Stars Come Out. This time they were out to see Joan Rivers in Broke And Alone In Australia, splashing about in the shallow waters of bad taste for a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a bit.
This was not a show for the politically squeamish. The weapon that is Rivers’s tongue is definitely sawn-off and the shrapnel sprayed wide. Cher and Princess Diana copped it of course, as well as Jewish people, lesbians, gay men and her Filipino neighbours. If Rivers wasn’t a gay icon in Australia before, she probably is one now. At her private media lunch last week, she expressed her gratitude to her gay fans. Gay men -“ they’re the first to pick you up and the last to let you go, Rivers said, which makes us sound both astute and desperate. Ahh, from the mouths of dames.
With both Fair Day and the anti-war march on the agenda for Sunday, it seemed apt to drop into Club Arak the night before, an evening of Middle Eastern dance music, Indian vocals and Lebanese drag. It would be easy to gush about how it all felt terribly multicultural and that given the sorry state of the world, embracing the music and company of non-WASP punters is a political act in itself. Which is all true blah de blah, but really Club Arak was a tremendous night in its own right. The music was wild, the crowd friendly and the shows insane. There was belly-dancing, Mouna singing kitsch Lebanese party favourite (I’m told) Habibeh Ya Eina and touch footy pin-up boy Brett did moustached drag to Queen’s I Want To Break Free. Sure it was so hot the roof was dripping with our own evaporated and recondensed sweat, but Brett told me at Fair Day this was all part of the Middle Eastern theme. You know, Lebanon. It’s hot, he smiled as he squeezed past in the drinks tent.
Fair Day was regrettably, a bit of a fizzer. We arrived late after a big but madly random peace march in the city, and soon it started to rain. Punters fled but we stayed, circumnavigating the park like lovesick morons. (Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed.) Congratulations to Aunty Mavis for taking out the mostly coveted Miss Fair Day and for the Oz Showbiz Cares crew, whose show tune request stall went off like Merman in Gypsy.
Two weeks left and I already feel soiled. It must be Mardi Gras.
Trevor Ashley: Pop Princess continues until 27 February. Phone 9263 0488 for bookings. Self-Discipline continues at Phatspace, Room 35, Level 2, 94 Oxford Street, until 2 March.