Justin Bond’s excellent adventure

by David Lamble

Bay Area Reporter

Friday February 12, 2010

"People wonder what I do when I'm not entertaining you people. I spend a lot of time watching CNN. I was watching when that whole Concubine [high school] thing unraveled, and I was devastated, ladies and gentlemen, because, you know, certain stories you can sort of relate to, and others you find horrible and you can't really relate to, for instance that whole big blowup they had in Bosnia-Hertzovagina with all the refugees. I felt terrible for them and my heart went out to them, but they remained as an abstraction, because let's face it, ladies and gentlemen, they're never going to be a part of our audience!" - Justin Bond as the boozy chanteuse Kiki, from his Tony-nominated cabaret act with Kenny Mellman, Kiki & Herb.

Back in the last decade of the last century, Maryland-born Justin Bond spent some crazy days and nights trying on various roles in the cabaret/theatre scene South of Market, from starring in a brilliant theatre piece by Kate Bornstein to ad-libbing to a trendy crowd at Clubstitute, to forming a distinctly odd-couple act, with his friend and piano accompanist Kenny Mellman, as the aging female lounge singer Kiki DuRane. When Kiki & Herb found their groove, their eclectic repertoire ran from Nick Currie's satirical "I Was a Maoist Intellectual" to juicy treats from the Fred Ebb and John Kander songbook ("Cabaret," "New York, New York") to offbeat numbers from Patti Smith and Kate Bush, to a potent doubleheader of Lou Reed's "Heroin" and "Walk on the Wild Side." They usually climaxed with Martyn Jacques' "Bringing in the Nails," a frenetic duet that has Kiki taking responsibility for instigating the Crucifixion. Kiki boasted it got them condemned by the Catholic League of Decency "as one of the 10 most anti-Catholic groups" in Gotham.

Following awards, critical hosannas, a Broadway run and a world tour, Kiki & Herb broke up in 2007, and Bond launched a solo act. On Valentine's Day, Bond sings the complete Close to You album by the Carpenters accompanied by a 10-piece orchestra, as another of impresario Marc Huestis' long-running Castro Theatre extravaganzas. For information and tickets, call (415) 863-0611.

The last time Justin Bond and I had a formal sit-down chat, he was preparing to headline a benefit for queer protestors arrested for attacking the State office building in 1991, in the aftermath of the veto of the LGBT jobs bill AB1. After a gap of almost 18 years - long enough, I joked, for us to have raised a kid to college age - we caught up by phone as Justin was having his hair done in a New York salon.

Justin Bond: I think it was 1992, when I hosted the Pride Show at the end of the parade. I had a gig at Cafe Du Nord that night with Kenny, and as I had been screaming and cheering at the parade all day, I didn't think I would be able to sing that well as Justin, "so I'm just going to do it as Kiki." We got a standing ovation, booked ourselves some gigs at Eichelberger's, and played there for a year and a half. Then Kenny and I moved to New York, and the rest is show business history.

David Lamble: It was certainly a wild ride from cult act to Broadway.

Justin Bond: It was a wild ride. It was certainly not something I expected to devote so much time to in my career. I figured it was a sketch character running amok, she sort of took over my life for 15 years. It gave me an opportunity during the years of frustration to make political statements that would have sounded more strident from a young person, but from an old, drunk woman, I could get away with a lot more.

David Lamble: You had some pretty exciting years here as a member of the 1990s activist groups ACT-UP and Queer Nation.

Justin Bond Everything literally felt like life or death at that point, and I found Queer Nation gave me a voice and a sort of grounding in politics that served me and my community. Sitting in on all those meetings and seeing all those radical people, I had a great education, and it also coincided with my being a performer: when I was doing Hidden: A Gender with Kate Bornstein at Theatre Rhino, and we went up to a Seattle theatre festival the same week the NEA de-funded the queer artists including Tim Miller and Karen Hughes. The fact that we were being attacked artistically as well as in the context of AIDS was eye-opening. My desire to maintain the integrity of those views and to bring them to as wide an audience as possible was probably why I didn't quit Kiki sooner.

David Lamble: When you moved to New York, you found yourself in the middle of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's draconian crackdowns against queer clubs.

Justin Bond It was tough. I worked in many bars where the police would just come and shut us down and throw us all out on the street at 2 or 3 in the morning. It was crazy.

David Lamble: Have things changed under Bloomberg?

Justin Bond People don't do as many exhibitionist things as they used to because of YouTube. It was a kind of spontaneous thing that people would do, these kind of crazy acts, they could do it and be drunk and it would be over the next morning, people might talk about it, but they wouldn't fear their bosses seeing it on the Internet. The eye of the Internet has disrupted a lot of public sexuality because people can't just be in the moment, the moment is extended by technology.

David Lamble: Ever had any of your things put up on the Internet that you didn't want?

Justin Bond Plenty of things, but none of me naked!

David Lamble: Let's talk about your Valentine's Day show at the Castro.

Justin Bond I'm doing the Carpenters' Close to You album in its entirety. The Thrillpeddlers are opening, and my lovely lesbian mate and show business husband Elvis Herselvis is going to be one of the special guest stars. Marc Huestis is also doing a short film, based on Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, based on footage we shot when he was making Sex Is, that didn't make it into the final cut. Now with blue-screen technology he's able to realize the vision that he had hoped to create back then. I've seen some clips, and it's hilarious.

David Lamble: So you're "married" to Elvis Herselvis?

Justin Bond I look upon us as the sort of old-school version of gay marriage when dykes and fags married each other, that's the way it used to be. And of course we never had children, we just stole them.

Justin Bond performs Close to You liveon February 14 at 8:15pm at The Castro.At Noon: a matinee screening of Marc Huestis' cult hit Whatever Happened to Susan Jane? The screening celebrates the DVD release of the film, director and cast will be present. 

on stage at the Castro, Sun., Feb. 14 at 8:15 p.m.

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