Over the weekend, I had a vision.
It was dressed in glittery silver pumps, a sequined gown and a wig that was a foot high.
My vision, a talented young drag performer, was getting ready to go on stage. She was well put together, her makeup flawless, her wig properly pouffed and her manners refined and rehearsed.
While her drag momma was helping her put on her eyelashes (she was wearing special contacts and was having a hard time doing detailed work), I told her she looked like a young Ronnie Spector.
My vision soon became blurred.
I asked her a series of questions: Do you know who Ethel Merman is? Dusty Springfield? Nope. No. I felt a little at odds. “Where is your sense of history,” I said. She admitted her ignorance but vindicated herself when I mentioned that Spector had sung with the Ronettes. “Didn’t they sing ‘Be My Baby,’” she asked. She joked with me when I asked her if she knew who Etta James was, saying, “Didn’t Beyoncé play her in a movie?” She winked at me.
Her momma looked at me and rolled her eyes. “I’ve tried,” she said. Her momma and I went on to talk about Carol Channing’s raspberries, Merman’s heinously bad disco record (and how we both loved it) and Stevie Nicks’s bleat-iful voice.
How could a performer not know who paved the way for her? I’ve always made a point of digging deeper, digging back, no matter what the subject. From my background in journalism and researching the history of a person or an event, to crate-digging in record stores, looking for the links from my favourite house track, to a disco backbeat, to the funk and soul records that came before it (and so on, and so on, and so on).
I shrugged it off and went back to what I was doing. I thought about my beautiful up-and-comer. There was no denying the talent that this performer has. She does a better Amy Winehouse than Winehouse could do herself. And then she came on stage, performing a ridiculously campy and fun number to a song I didn’t know.
It was then it donned on me, that maybe because I was stuck in the past, I couldn’t see the future. History is made of consecutive presents. Who am I to say who will and will not be the next gay icon? Who is to say who is and is not worthy of drag treatment? Not me. I wasn’t the one on stage, channelling heartache, camp and drama for the world to behold. She was.
So I give it up to that bejewelled and brazenly coiffed diva-in-training. I’ll make you a deal. You show me the future, and I’ll show you the past. Deal?