ONE 4 • SQUEEZEBOX! The Movie: a rock review by NYC’s Glenn Belverio

While firmly rooted in Scotland, ONE Magazine has strong international ties. Issue 2 featured an excerpt from Martin Belk’s upcoming nonfiction chronicle, Pretty Broken People: lipstick, leather jeans, a death of New York — which includes his account of 8 years as a producer for the NYC Gen-X answer to Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s.

Squeezebox! The Movie, made its debut at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Fellow ‘boxer Glenn Belverio gives us his take on all the Sex, Drag, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. There’s going to be a lot of life after Party Monster…

The print version of ONE Magazine features an excerpt, but we are happy to offer Glenn’s full review at Friday night I attended the world premiere of the long-long-awaited SQUEEZEBOX! The Movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. As a veteran of the now-historical weekly gay/bisexual/drag queen/freak rock ‘n’ roll party, I had been highly anticipating this film for years. I attended the first Squeezebox back in April 1994 with my friend Bruce LaBruce and became instant BFFs with Squeezebox creator, Michael Schmidt, on that night. (The following year he was a creative consultant on the film I made with feminist rebel Camille Paglia, Glennda and Camille Do Fashion Avenue.) For the next 7 years I was a regular at the club, performing several times as my alter ego with the house band, putting in a one-night stint as a go-go boy, and meeting some of my long-time idols: Marc Almond, Tura Satana, John Waters, Patty Hearst, Veruschka, Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Jayne County, and James Chance. I danced to Miss Guy’s well-curated DJ sets (I never grew weary of hearing Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation” or The Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” among countless others). I became friends with their notorious door bitch, Thomas Onorato, and he became a subject of my book, Confessions from the Velvet Ropes. I was even invited by Squeezebox co-founder Patrick Briggs to perform with the Squeezebox band (with my friend Jackie Offie aka Stevin Michels) at Lollapalooza on Randall’s Island in 1995—the year Hole opened for Sonic Youth. So many memories.

So, while it may be difficult for me to maintain a critical distance from the film, it’s not entirely impossible (stop rolling your eyes, I’m looking at you Onorato.) Overall, I felt the film captured all the energy, attitude and hedonism that was Squeezebox. Most of the film’s talking heads (Michael Schmidt, Misstress Formika, Miss Guy, Sean Pierce, Martin Belk, John Waters, Jackie Beat, Jayne Country, et al) made brilliant, hilarious observations about the club, sex, gay/rock culture, D.I.Y. fashions, and show biz. The impressively edited clips culled from the myriad performances at the club were top-notch; immensely satisfying and entertaining. (Such a feat of editing should not be taken lightly—the filmmakers doubtlessly had to view hundreds and hundreds of hours of video taken at the club over seven years.) History—New York, punk, drag—played a key role in telling the story. Some of the historical bits were important, others cliché or incomplete. And then there were chunks of information that were egregiously missing all together.

The best was the story of the bloody altercation between transsexual punk icon Jayne County and Dictators’ singer Handsome Dick Manitoba, which happened way back in the late ‘70s at CBGBs. The tale perfectly outlined the schism that existed between straight punks and gay/tranny punks back then. One of the film’s highlights was the reunion/making-up session between Manitoba and County at Squeezebox in which Manitoba apologized for being a homophobic shit. It brought a tear to my eye. The film also rightly identified Jayne County as the patron saint of Squeezebox as she exemplifies everything the scene was about: punk rock, alternative sexuality/sexual identity, trashy freaky style, and an acceptance of the older generation. Yes, old people. That was one thing I loved about Squeezebox: the range of ages of attendees, from fresh 21-yr olds to 60-yrs (loved the inclusion of the geriatric go-go “boy” in the film!) There was something a bit Diane Arbus about the whole affair, yes?

Jayne County was one of the few out non-straight performers on the scene back in the ‘70s. One thing the film could have touched on, as a way of explaining the evolution of homos/lesbos/trannies in the punk/rock scenes, was the birth of the Homocore movement back in the late ‘80s—an undeniable influence on the creation of Squeezebox (trust me, I know.) Homocore was invented by queer ‘zine publishers (for the kids in the audience here, ‘zines were the caveman painting versions of today’s blogs) Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones in Toronto. (Not to mention Vaginal Davis, who has also performed at Squeezebox, in Los Angeles with her bands PME, Black Fag, and Cholita.) Whenever LaBruce was visiting NYC back in the ‘90s, he always made a point of stopping by Squeezebox with me. I will give the filmmakers a break here though, since the focus of the film was all New York City (God forbid we should credit Canadians with anything.)

Follow this link for a history of the Homocore/Queercore movement.

One thing I could have done without was the re-hashing of the story of the Stonewall Riots. This is old ground that has been covered in countless documentaries about gay history over the past two decades and beyond (including my film Glennda and Camille Do Downtown, made way back in 1993). An argument can be made, I will submit, that younger audiences will benefit from this information. But in that case, why dredge up the ol’ “Judy Garland is a tired gay icon we oh-so-cool gay rockers have no time for”? Gays in their 20’s don’t have a reference point for Judy beyond the occasional screening of “The Wizard of Oz” on the TMC network. Judy as an icon for “self-hating” gays was debunked a long time ago dears, back in the very early ‘90s when gay liberationists had declared that the supposedly more-liberating Madonna had replaced the old-school Judy/Barbra/Bette paradigm. But it is now 2008, Madonna is 49 and she is considered old hat by many young gays. Just look at the name tattooed across Jason Preston’s abdomen. It ain’t Madonna’s. So the film’s discussion of rock/punk vs. Judy came across as hopelessly dated and derivative. Do I really need to know that Michael Cunningham has no Judy Garland records in his collection? Who cares? (With all due respect to Ms. Cunningham, I do not remember seeing him at Squeezebox. Maybe I was too drunk to notice, but the film’s inclusion of the high-profile writer—“The Hours”—struck me as gratuitous.)

Furthermore, I don’t think there’s anything particularly “un-punk rock” about liking Judy Garland. This was the argument Bruce LaBruce and I made in our 1993 short film, The Post-Queer Tour, in which I roamed the streets of the West Village with a LaBruce done up as a punky Judy. (“Judy is a Punk” by The Ramones plays over the film’s credits.) I’ve always regarded Garland’s hyperactive, drug-addled, messy and ferocious performances during the ‘60s as proto-punk gestures. (Please don’t ask me about Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation. I don’t want to talk about it.) As for enjoying old-school singers just as much as, say, Darby Crash, the proof is in the pudding: Squeezebox creator Michael Schmidt is a huge fan of Liza Minelli’s, not to mention countless other non-rock divas.

One bit of NYC clubland history that was overlooked by the filmmakers were the contributions the late, great Dean Johnson made in paving the way for a club like Squeezebox. Johnson appears in the film as a talking head and performer but I don’t recall any mention of his club Rock ‘n’ Roll Fag Bar which launched in 1987 at The World on Ave. C. R&R Fag Bar featured go-go boys (unheard of in gay clubs then) and drag queens who sang instead of lipsynched (Dean and the Weenies were the house band). And yeah, it was a rock ‘n’ roll club for homos and freaks, just like Squeezebox. The Dada-esque drag/freak shenanigans of early ‘90s club Jackie 60 also went unmentioned.

The film’s ambitious, honorable attempt to document the way NYC has changed for the worst under the rule of former mayor Rudy Giuliani cried out for another documentary in which this mammoth topic could be explored further. While the clip of Giuliani in drag (a “Republican masquerading as a Democrat masquerading as a Republican” he chillingly noted) worked as a devilishly clever contrast to the radical queens of Squeezebox, I did not feel the series of Giuliani clips throughout the film really worked. The anti-graffiti clip made him seem too funny (the audience laughed loudly) and cool, almost punk, rather than villainous, and the other clips lacked a context for audiences outside of New York City.

But I don’t want to end this on a negative note. The film is a fine piece of work and I’m ecstatic and thankful that someone has documented a scene that played such an important role in my life. I urge all fans of club culture, drag, rock music, and ridiculously sexy go-go dancers to run out and see this movie.