“Well, fuck you! You wanna fuck me, don’t you? I know. I know. I don’t blame you. If I was all of you, I’d want to fuck me too. You don’t see too many of THESE in Dayton, do you, honey?”
Who could deny the demented allure of our putrid and preeminent filth deity Divine? Certainly not anyone with a stake in sleaze! And if you have any doubt, just take a glimpse at the vivacious and salacious vision she creates, crammed in a skin-tight strappy dress, smeared with a heavy-handed slash of liquid eyeliner (and perhaps a shot of one before the show), and topped with a shock-wig that looks like she stole Dolly Parton’s wig collection and shoved it in a light socket. Why, she’s so beautiful I can’t even stand it myself!
I feel that in the past few weeks I’ve thrown at you, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, a couple too many lengthy rambles. Everyone deserves a breather now and again–even you! And because I care about you so much, I wanted to go one step further and give you a treat! Since we’re all still stuck inside without any semblance of nightlife, unless you count swapping germs with green-adorned St. Patty’s Day puke machines, there’s nothing really left to do but to take a spin around the dial of YouTube and sigh heavily about the times when we used to be out late. Even past 8PM! Remember that? Me neither. But if we’re going to reminisce about bygones, why not reach way back to the performers we missed but would have committed felonies to see!
So the gift from me to you is–no, not a bowel movement–a video of a full concert by Divine from 1985 at 1470 West in Dayton, Ohio, a “gay club and sanctuary” which originally opened as the Sweetwater disco in 1978. This sacred show was recently uploaded on the YouTube channel VideoMusicManiac (which also has some other spectacular footage from the club including Sylvester) and was shown to me by fellow in filth, Graham Russell. This concert captures Divine’s prime touring days as an unlikely disco and hi-NRG star. As The Face quipped in 1984: “The time is right, Divine’s prime time is now. For those who want to miss his fifteen minutes, duck and cover…”
And it is an acoustic assault, acting as a reminder of what true punk performance looks like. Divine’s likeness has recently been tarnished by the self-proclaimed arbiters of taste–the fashion industry (yuck!)–with a collaboration between Divine and Loewe, whose Creative Director Jonathan Anderson seems keen on doing everything in his power to coopt all those we hold dear like David Wojnarowicz. Though certainly not as bad as his J.W. Anderson Rimbaud catastrophe, Divine’s appearance on a high-end fashion brand is way too high class for my bad taste. While the feather boa draped muumuus were nearly tacky enough, Loewe had the gall to slip them on slender mannequins that featured merely slightly exaggerated eyeliner. No! That’s not it! Divine was born to be cheap! A true fashion collaboration with Divine would be made from materials scraped from a dumpster.
Thankfully, this 1985 Divine performance should be enough to remind everyone of why Divine is the true hero of the perverse, the deranged, and the deviant. The first thing viewers see is a set of cheaply constructed, semi-wonky letters spelling out Divine’s name that look as if they were snipped from posterboard, hung precariously over a small zebra or tiger print backdrop. I can’t tell the exact color given the aged 1980s camera footage has disintegrated to a golden hue. Rather than being distracting, this seems just gaudy enough to be appropriate–either Divine is bathed in a glowing heavenly light or it’s the drag version of Piss Christ (or both).
Even without an elaborate stage set or spectacle bells and whistles, Divine certainly delivers. It’s a 49-minute barnstorming psychotic tour de force as she shimmies, shakes, prowls around the dance floor, and wipes her face with cocktail napkins to take a breather. She snarls, growls, and bellows her way through her biggest hits with a voice of an angel that ate a carton of Marlboro Reds. Native Love. Shoot Your Shot. Walk Like A Man. I’m So Beautiful. You Think You’re A Man (which I recently learned was originally written for Gloria Gaynor. Imagine!). The only Divine classic I missed was the nearly unlistenable “Alphabet Rap,” which luckily appears in another recorded Divine performance.
Combined with the, let’s say humble, stage set, Divine’s musical accompaniment is also a lesson in simplicity. She just sang along to her own records! As Steve Pafford explains in his “Simply Divine: The Story of You Think You’re A Man and the Drag Queen of the Century”:
“He was clearly singing along with his records, like karaoke, but with the original vocals still present. I assume the idea must have been for his planet-sized personality to overcome the performances’ showmanship deficiencies. But such was the nature of Divine’s large cult that the between-song banter was absolutely worthy of that trash-diva reputation. This was what they wanted.”
Or as Divine says of herself:
“I don’t know what that stuff is they give me backstage. But I could sing all night! They stick this white powder up my nose, then they dress me up like this, push me out here, make me talk dirty. I fucking love it! Yeah!”
More than the musical numbers themselves, what makes this concert footage so exciting is the audience. They’re pure Midwestern charm–preppy, good-natured, smiling, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You can just smell the mayonnaise and the politeness radiating off of them. Move over, Ru Paul–Divine conquered the Midwest for drag back in 1985. And she did it without giving up some of drag’s subversiveness or turning her show into some sort of cruise ship lounge act conforming to Midwestern taste (rather than, as Divine does here, violating it).
Now, us big city dwellers can sometimes act smug about the provincialism of small-town, U.S.A. But, this Ohio audience clearly ate up every explicit, foul-mouthed, lewd, and lurid utterance spit from Divine’s mouth, whether her sweet introduction (“Shut up! Well, fuck you all very much!”) or her coughs and belches into the microphone. It’s like watching a floodtide of filth wash over Middle America.
And it shows in the sublime audience interactions. She insults them, mocks them, comes on to them, teases them, and drags them up to dance for the song “Twisting the Night Away” while hollering “COME ON! PICK IT UP!” to those slow-footed Ohio queens. And all they want is more, even though I’m sure they’re terrified. I mean, who wouldn’t be?
Beyond dancing under duress, Divine’s biggest talent seems to be crowd work. Between flicking the audience off and rubbing herself, she turns her sights to the audience with demands like:
“How big is your dick? Whip it out right here and shoot a load right there. Shoot over there because I don’t want to slip in it.”
“How much did it cost to come in here? $7? That’s $5 to get into the club, $2 to see the show, and nothing to fuck me right after. It’s the best deal in Ohio. You all line up at that door over there and we’re all out of here by Christmas. Forget this summer. I’ll be on my back and you’ll be in heaven…You’re first. So start jerking baby. We need a fluffer over here!”
This dynamic tension all comes to a head in her so-called Q&A session before her final number “Hard Magic,” though I don’t think one person asked her a question even as she commanded, “Stand up and speak, bitch!” Instead, audience members wandered up to the stage, yearning for cheap kisses or grating guttural “Happy Birthday” songs. Some seemed to be a tad unsure of what they wanted other than to bask in her radiant glory (hole). And Divine handles it as you can imagine–with aggression! She screams, “What the fuck is THIS! SIT DOWN!” and threatens, “You’re fucking with the wrong one this time, baby, unless you want to go home with a heel up your ass.”
All in all, it’s a trash reverie so grab some maracas, fashion a zebra print backdrop for your studio apartment, and enjoy. YEAH!: