Bambi Lake is the performance artist that reestablishes your faith in Art. She extends her stage presence into her everyday life. She will change your life because she uses knowledge from the past to be combative in the future. Bambi Lake is unsinkable and immortal. Watch out world because she is coming back strong.
BRASHcore: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Bambi Lake: Tall, thin and wistful.
BRASHcore: Do you believe in magic?
Bambi Lake: Not anymore.
BRASHcore: What made you believe in magic in the past?
Bambi Lake: When I was a child I was very into fairies and fairy tales. I actually believed in fairies until I was about 26. [Laughs]. There is a book called The Real Book of Fairies with photographs from Scotland in 1915. It was a big thing because it made everyone think it was real. Houdini, the guy who wrote Sherlock Holmes, and all these people were involved with it. Johnny Depp, or somebody, made a movie about it. I showed it to my friend Jack, who was Hibiscus’ boyfriend, when we were walking down Polk Street. Jack just burst out laughing; the pictures were obviously edited! [Laughs]. Jack and Hibiscus used to cut out pictures of fairies and put them on the Angels of Lights posters. The book looked like an Angels of Light poster. I realized at that time fairies weren’t real!
BRASHcore: How long did you believe in them for?
Bambi Lake: Until I was 26…
BRASHcore: Has anyone ever put a curse on you?
Bambi Lake: [Laughs]. I think I might have had…
BRASHcore: Tell us more about that!
Bambi Lake: I’m not gonna say it!
BRASHcore: Come on, this is going to be your definitive interview.
Bambi Lake: No… I’m not gonna say!
BRASHcore: When did you move to San Francisco?
Bambi Lake: When I was 20… My father is from up here and was raised here. I grew up coming here on the weekends, with my cousins going to places like ChinaTown. I grew up in Redwood City. I moved into the Angels of Light Commune in 1970.
BRASHcore: What did you expect San Francisco to be like? How was it different than that?
Bambi Lake: I already knew about San Francisco because I did all my shopping up here. I got all my school clothes here… I transitioned out of a Leave It To Bauver suburb into the Angels of Light Commune. The newspaper called the commune “A Hot Bed of Screaming Faggotry,” but it was a wonderful. I was living with Bauver Bower and Martin Wong. Bauver Bower was the the head-mother, and became a famous costume designer with ACT (American Conservatory Theatre).
BRASHcore: Did you go to Catholic School?
Bambi Lake: Yes, when I was younger. I went to a regular high school.
BRASHcore: Do you like the ideas of commune? Why didn’t it work? Where was it?
Bambi Lake: It was almost in the Castro, near Mission High School. In between the Mission and the Castro. It was a big house full of artists. They just don’t happen now. If you can imagine, we were paying 50 bucks a month. 50 bucks a month to live! We had two people in a room, and everyone pulled the food money together (even though there wasn’t that much to eat). Instead of a $1,000 you could get a really beautiful vintage gown for 30 bucks! Housing was available in these times too…
BRASHcore: How did you first meet the Cockettes? Who was the first Cockette you met?
Bambi Lake: I was in theatre all through school. It’s all I’ve ever cared about, and I didn’t have much interest in anything else. I finally got a lead role when I graduated and did “The Boyfriend.” I was hitchhiking to this theatre at a junior college, and this boy picked me up in a 1932 Coupe, a fabulous little gangster car… He was my age, and he had a tape deck and played a tape of his own piano playing. That was the piano player in the Cockettes. Actually, I don’t think he had quite joined the Cockettes yet, his name was Peter Mintun. Now, he is the toast of Manhattan, and has been for many years. He only plays for the richest people in the world. He plays for Donald Trump… He used to play in Nob Hill after the Cockettes. He is just an amazing person… He came and played at my rehearsal for “The Boyfriend,” and he played for a couple shows I did in college. I knew him for a year and half before the Cockettes, and then one day he invited me up to meet them. I wasn’t gay at this time… He invited me to a rehearsal and I met all of them. This was about 1970… I was 20…
BRASHcore: What and when was your first performance?
Bambi Lake: “Brigadoon” at Sequoia High School. There is a person named Kenny Ortega. He is really gay and latin. He choreographed “Dirty Dancing.” Kenny is a big time choreographer. He directed “High School Musical.” I grew up with him, and we went to highschool together. When we were both sophomores he got me in the original broadway cast of “Oliver” at the Circle Star Theatre. It was epic… It was the original broadway cast! I didn’t get my union card, they said I was an “apprentice.” At 14, I was performing with those people.
BRASHcore: What would a union card have entitled you to?
Bambi Lake: I would have been able to go to union auditions and I would have gotten paid a lot more. We weren’t getting paid. I would have been in show-business. It wasn’t until Kenny got in “Hair,” and “Hair” was the big time. If you could get in “Hair” in those days then you were in show business! All those people seemed to start here. Kenny got in “Hair,” and I couldn’t so the Cockettes were the alternative to that.
BRASHcore: How old were you when wrote your first poem?
Bambi Lake: That came a lot later. In school I couldn’t spell very well, and I flunked English. I never thought of myself as a writer until spell check came around. It was in the late 1980’s, when John Doe, Exene and Henry Rollins did their spoken word tours. That started to flow out there and so did I. All of a sudden it was poetry readings everywhere you went, it was a part of the culture. One of the first poems I wrote was “Golden Age of Hustlers.”
BRASHcore: How old were the songs at that point?
Bambi Lake: They were 20 years old by that point. I did the CD in 2005; and “Jaded Lady” was 25 years old. When me and Birdie [Bob] got together we did a show based on the 25th anniversary of the Cockettes. It was to “Celebrate the Silver.” It wasn’t until the 40th anniversary came (Justin Bond was there) that the age was a big deal. There was an event at MOMA and things like that… A lot of the rest of CD is stuff I learned from Peter Mintun and beautiful-old-rare 1930’s songs.
BRASHcore: Who are your favorite poets? What “literary movement” is your favorite?
Bambi Lake: As a college kid I would read Shelley and Keats. I liked Gregory Corso in college. And who’s that guy that killed himself and wrote Trout Fishing In America? [Richard Brautigan] The hippie guy… He came to my college.
BRASHcore: Did you ever meet William S. Burroughs?
Bambi Lake: No, I didn’t… One of my boyfriends did. It seems like everyone he met turned into a junkie. It wasn’t until years later, when I was up at a Burning Man party in Placerville, that I heard this poem he wrote. It was like “Thank you America, Thank you KKK, Thank you tight-lipped Church ladies.” It all sorta made sense, but he was always kinda perturbed me.
BRASHcore: Were you drafted for the Vietnam War?
Bambi Lake: The year I was up for the draft was the year the lottery was installed. There was a time when if you missed 8 o’clock ballet class, they would drop you from school and you would go straight to Vietnam. If you weren’t in school, you would get drafted really fast. I went to the Oakland Induction Center, and I went through all the mazes. I wrote “I AM GAY” in really big letters on my paperwork. My mother was so ashamed, but I just wasn’t gonna go. It wasn’t really until I was living with Hibiscus that I felt some kind of Gay Liberation spirit. The Cockettes weren’t political people.
BRASHcore: Why did you go to Europe in 1973?
Bambi Lake: It might have been 1972. One of the Angels of Light, Sister Ed, a really funny person and one of the first people to do nun-drag, had inherited $50,000 or something from his grandmother. Hibiscus was already there, and he took Beaver, Rodney, and me to the Roundhouse in London. Actually, we thought it was going to be at the Roundhouse. It was at the Ovalhouse. Everyone was like, “Oh the Roundhouse, the Roundhouse, the Roundhouse!” But no, it was the Ovalhouse. It was off in the “fringe.” We got written up in Time Out Magazine. The Lindsay Kemp people came to see us. I remember running off to see Canvey Street. I loved London so much that I just had to stay. Just to be dishwasher there was wonderful. We just did one show for a couple weeks, and then it was pretty much dishwashing all year. [Laughs]. My friend Gregory and Chandra (Gregory was gay but married her to live in London)… We all lived together in an attic room. It was at the time of Bowie and Roxy Music, and it was a wonderful time to just be in the streets. We went to Dingwalls’ which is a very Amy Winehouse place in Camden Town. It was the coolest rock ‘n roll club you can fucking imagine. They are just slick when they go out at night. You just can’t beat them. They are well dressed, great musicians; they are just cool.
BRASHcore: Had you been out of California before you went to Europe?
Bambi Lake: I had never been out of California except Disneyland! [Laughs]
BRASHcore: Was Punk the first time you started performing solo?
Bambi Lake: Well… um… No… Actually, I guess it was, I opened for Madness and wore this incredible gown with feathers and sequins. The thing about really going solo, I didn’t until after punk was on the wane and getting into Hardcore. That’s when I really stepped back, I didn’t want to be a part of the women hating skinheads! It was awful. Exene and those people could sail right through it, but for someone like me…
They had this little cabaret bar in the Tenderloin where the Backflip Bar is now, on Eddy and Larkin. It’s where the rock stars stay now… Anyway, a lot of cabaret was played there and I never really hired a pianist or sold tickets until then. I guess it was 1982… That was like being a soloist, it is what Justin [Bond] does now.
BRASHcore: Did you only sing original songs? Did you have a backing band?
Bambi Lake: I have been in so many bands and have tried so many things. I was in the first all girl punk band, and that’s how I met Exene. I was in a band called VS, with these really severe girls. It was hardcore with a ton of speakers. They had this singer who didn’t have chops, and I got her job… That’s how I started getting to meet these people like opening for Exene. I opened for the Dead Kennedys too… It was later when I started to do my own folky-rock band when I did “Golden Age of Hustlers” in 1996…
BRASHcore: Where did you tour?
Bambi Lake: I did a lot of shows in Los Angeles; they were nice little gigs. Sometimes just to play at a Coffee House (the Pick Me Up, a cool little place). During my book tour, in 1996, I met everyone in the world. Joan Jett was there, the Circle Jerks were there, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were there. One of the Circle Jerks opened for me! There was a band called Stone Fox, they were part of Exene’s touring band when she had a solo act… There were a lot of people there. Viggo Mortensen, of course.
BRASHcore: Did you date him?
Bambi Lake: It almost happened. It was dinner and dessert, and then more dessert! I don’t think Exene liked it… they still have the child together and she is very protective over him. She kinda changed after that happened. She knew my capabilities! [Laughs]. He wasn’t Viggo Mortensen then, he hadn’t done “The Lord of the Rings” films, he was just a model then. During this time he would answer the phone when I called. He did some beautiful films with beautiful actresses. He did one with Nicole Kidman, and “Walk On The Moon” with Diane Lane. He hadn’t become a megastar at the time we met, but he was still breathtaking. He was doing a book tour around 9/11. When I was strung out I used to say “9/11 was the night we were together.” Sometimes when I was strung out I would lie about that. He was doing a book tour, and selling CDs… It was all pictures of Exene. It was quite a scandal when he left her… People would hardly talk about it. It was so intense that he would do that. She’s like, “No one cares… We don’t talk about it.” Who did he leave her for? One of the Arquette Sisters, the one who isn’t Rosanne. He was at City Lights and doing a reading, and I had a copy of my book. He knew that Exene had written for me, and I was her protegee. People were trying to get his attention, and we traded books. He asked me if I had eaten, and I said “no.” I picked the most romantic place in town, L’ Fluer in North Beach. It was a really something! He asked where I lived; it was very intense. It didn’t happen! This was around 2001.
BRASHcore: Who did you tour with?
Bambi Lake: I opened for Black Flag and Henry when he was by himself. I did two gigs with Black Flag. A lot people don’t like Henry because he replaced the charming singer Dez; I played with him too. I toured with the Stranglers, I toured with Frightwig. That was exciting. I played with Frightwig a lot. I played with Specimen, but just in LA. I opened for Jesus and Mary Chain and Specimen at the Santa Monica Civic Center. A lot of kids would come up to me, later on, and recognize me. Iggy Pop had cancelled, and I was going to open for Iggy around 1984. I sang backup for the girl who married Bruce Loose from Flipper, Mary Housecoat’s band. El Duce [the Mentors] would always fucking be there!
BRASHcore: How do you think El Duce died? Did Courtney Love kill him?
Bambi Lake: At one point he won a lot of money, and probably OD’d. The thing about Courtney being a murderer, I don’t think that’s true. She loved him.
BRASHcore: Did you know Courtney and Kurt Cobain?
Bambi Lake: I don’t know them. I have met her. She was around when she young. She was charming when she was young. She was around Faith No More and would be at parties at Target Video. She always wore this collar. She would say, “I wanna wear drag queen heels” and wear babydoll dresses with high heels. She put her mind to it: she lost weight, and she got him! She did everything it took to get the guy. I can’t imagine that she did anything. To take El Duce’s word for anything… he was out of his mind. [Laughs]. No… he killed himself, he was tortured. He had guns around him constantly, and always said, “I have enemies… I have enemies…” He was a drug addict! I know what that’s like, to be a paranoid drug addict. It wasn’t until Kurt died that I listened to his music. You know how much she got for the songbook? At least 50 million.
BRASHcore: Did a lot people make the transition from “Hippie” to “Punk?” Were you a Hippie?
Bambi Lake: I was a Hippie, sure! The Angels of Light embraced punk. They embraced the New York Dolls, the in between thing! I remember the Hippie thing went out when I was in London. People were cutting their hair and girls were not wearing long skirts. People were dressing like pin-up models.
BRASHcore: Did you predict the Flower Power Movement’s end? How about Punk’s implosion?
Bambi Lake: Well, uh… Like I say, during that time I was in Europe a lot and touring with Hibiscus. I used to think I could predict these things, I seemed to think that I knew what was coming next. There came a time when I was tired of the Hippie thing and the Punk thing. Punk was good for me because what is more Punk than a transexual hooker. You couldn’t outdo me.
BRASHcore: When did you start performing your poetry?
Bambi Lake: In 1988. I met this woman named Danielle Willis. She was the person that told me how to do it and go about doing it. There was the Cafe Babar that was before me, but I started going to readings at the Paradise Lounge and the Chameleon. You would get “features” at this time. You would go to an open-mic and they would invite you to be a “feature.” You got to talk for 20 minutes and maybe they would give you 15 bucks. It was started by Henry and Exene. They did it at 1984, at the time of Madonna. They would make fun of Madonna at the Stone. They were ahead of the Curve. Henry turned millions of little skater boys into poets which is a great thing.
BRASHcore: What do you think of when you go to Haight Street now? Fuck these kids?
Bambi Lake: It’s an enclave of rich kids. There are these super-attitude kids… There are all these great vintage clothes you really want to buy but you just can’t afford. You just want to steal them or spit on them! Neither of those will get you anywhere, they only gets you in trouble… I was an original Cockette, vintage clothes were my deal! I would spend every penny I had… Time goes by… Now it’s “by appointment only.” It’s all too exclusive.
So what? Now that I have quit fighting it all and am clean I am like, “It’s a vintage store, it’s rich kids… so what?!” They are rich, so what? It was rough [laughs] to go through because there are things I want so much, but now I have different priorities.
BRASHcore: When was the last time you went out on Polk Street? Do you like it anymore?
Bambi Lake: Oh god, wow… You are good! [Laughs]! It’s funny because it was the first gay neighborhood. Now, it’s the worst and it’s not gay anymore. It’s breeders. It’s all just girls with big tits. The tranny scene is wretched. The Mafia owns everything. They bring in these queens and the guys drool over them. What’s going on there? The mafia takes these young boys and give them implants and speed. It’s exploitive and terribly sad.
BRASHcore: What’s your advice to those boys who have been taken advantage of?
Bambi Lake: GET OUT! It seems tragic.
BRASHcore: How many concerts have you played? How many plays have you acted in?
Bambi Lake: In college I was trained in the great rolls. There were a lot of us who went onto careers. I did Shakespeare and Chekhov and Beckett… Basically the Angel Of Light plays were one after another… There were a million different Angels of Light plays. It seems like I was performing every Friday for twenty years somewhere in San Francisco. In the early 90’s I had a techno-pop-fetish band that was quite good. I couldn’t be happy in a rock ‘n roll band, I always had to go back to me and the mic. That is where I have power. It’s not terribly commercial, even though it can be. You have people like Joey Arias with one fucking piano. It makes me jealous because that is what I want to do, but it’s not over until it’s over.
BRASHcore: Do you use your jealousy to push you to go harder?
Bambi Lake: Yes, I try to.
BRASHcore: Have you written any plays?
Bambi Lake: No… I’ve always wanted to, and maybe I will someday. I reached my limits. I never thought I could write a rock song because I was very blocked by Siouxsie Sioux. It wasn’t until… I told myself, “What does Joni Mitchell Do? She writes about her ex-boyfriends.” That was my way in. Everyone writes about their ex-boyfriends.
BRASHcore: Taylor Swift!
Bambi Lake: [Laughs].
BRASHcore: Have you been in any movies?
Bambi Lake: I was in “Pickup’s Tricks” that has never really been distributed but it’s out there, somewhere! That was with the Angels of Light. There is a moving coming out that has had a lot of money poured into it. It’s by man who’s in the Cockette Movie, the guy with crazy makeup talking about the Angels of Light, Jilala. You see his films in the documentary. That’s in the process of being made. There is a lot of beautiful footage of me. I was always the star in the Angels of Light, I always played the leading lady. There is a film of me with a loom, sewing sequins. I was so young and innocent. I didn’t start doing drugs until I was 30, in the 1980’s. I am in the film “Sex Is…” that went all the way to Sundance and the Cannes Film Festival. I am also in a movie with Kate Bornstein, she is Justin’s mentor and invented the word “transgender.” She has a lot of books out. The movie is called “Gender Outlaw,” and it’s a really good movie because Justin is in it and Sofia Lemarr. She was a club kid and a supermodel.
BRASHcore: Besides yourself, who are some of your favorite San Francisco artists?
Bambi Lake: First I would say Justin because Justin was a SF artist for a very long time. He made his name here, and then he was wafted off. He came from Baltimore, and his parents sent him to London. I don’t want to call him a rich kid… but, his parents sent him to London to study drama. I like Connie Champagne, Penelope Houston, I like good old Jello.
BRASHcore: Is the American Dream dead?
Bambi Lake: That reminds me of Exene because when I see her read she always predicts the end of the world. What else can I say to that… I don’t know if I think in terms of the American Dream… [Laughs]. I am going to quote Jello, “The Punk thing renews itself every five years with the new freshies.” All I can say is enjoy it now because you have your golden years, pretty soon there will be freshies who take away from you. Be on the American Dream. Sometimes I think I am dying, I am washed-up and a hasbeen. You have to tell yourself otherwise. I am at a low ebb, but I have learned the hardest lessons. You can’t obsess too much about the small stuff.
BRASHcore: Who is “San Jose Johnny the Libra?”
Bambi Lake: I have been trying to define him for a while. He was a real person and if he would only show himself, it would be great. He ended up moving to Texas to be a fisherman. He was simple and an enigma. He was an oakie with the cutest, butch way of talking. He would say, “I used to ride with the lowriders.” He lost all his teeth from doing drugs, and he was a master thief. He stole a bunch of things and had a garage sale and fixed his teeth. Today that’s 50 grand for new teeth. He had implants and they looked real. They would squeak a little… He was a jail-boy, and had kinda grownup in jail. He didn’t have the slightest bit of menace to him. He was a strange character. We met at a time where we both couldn’t judge each other. He knew what a queen was, and how to respect a queen. He didn’t turn tricks, but he just hung out on the street. He had a wife, and two little daughters in San Jose. He was spending the time he could before he had to go spend the rest of his life taking care of these kids. I actually met his wife, and she was nice and dorky looking. He was beautiful to look at, and a cowboy and had a bubble butt. He always was bouncing a soccer ball. He never looked at anyone else, or at other girls. He only looked at me. We lived in a cheap motel room and listened to classical music at night. We made love. He was in love with me when he was with me. I had these gorgeous punk boys who would stay with me because they needed a place to stay. But with him it was different, he was special. He was sweet and romantic and the love of him my life.
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Post by August Bernadicou