Over the weekend one of my witch friends texted me, “Hey, you know Ann Magnuson is coming to town this week, right?” I, swamped with writing a grant proposal, had no idea. Unlike other acquaintances, witches have the special ability of texting you things you actually want to know about. Ann Manguson: The Drawing Room Apocalypse is the kind of end-of-the-world party you definately want a ticket for.
Ann Magnuson is one of those rare breeds; as bright as a star, but cut like a diamond, with just as many facets and reflections. The kind of artist that is so unforgettable, you will also find yourself indebted to the person who turned you on to them (Thanks, David Savoy!).
I had seen Ann perform a few times before when I lived in NYC and knew that seeing her perform live was like hanging out in the common’s area of a brothel stocked with twenty or more vivacious and cunning vixens who lounged about all day quoting Nietzsche, playing sing-a-longs on a piano in between improv-ing monologues based on their dream journals while shimmying around in velvet drop-waist flapper gowns and recounting nights on the waterbeds of Hollywood. A very good time.
Magnuson is like a six-armed Shiva, each hand holds a different aspect; enchanting song-bird, pop-culture critic, wise-cracking comedienne, camera-ready actress, sassy temptress, and an extremely poignant, emotionally provocative performance artist. She is a one-woman mandala of brilliance. And she has the wardrobe to match!
I’m not going to even attempt to slice into the four-story multi-tiered red chocolate velvet cake that is Ann Magnuson’s impressive and staggering career. That’s what Wikipedia is for! But let me ask you this: have you ever made out with David Bowie? In a movie, not your daydreams.
“Once you put a wig on, ” Magnuson has said in the past, “you can do anything.” Like, start the following:
Any groupie in stretch tube-tops and satin hot pants can make drug-induced boasts of such dalliances, but Ann can file it under “something I did in a movie.” Performance art, downtown ’80s NYC club queen, albums, music videos, movies, television, columnist for magazines. While the rest of us are reading Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS, and watching documentaries online, Ann Magnuson could easily say, “Been there. Done that. Wrote a one-woman show about it.”
But, perhaps most shockingly of all, neither Magnuson’s writing or performance ever comes across as flippant, cynical, or jaded. A working artist for several decades, a Reagen-era survivor, and there at the wake of the AIDS epidemic, it would be all-too easy to shut down and lock one’s self in a psychedelic sewing room, staring out the window, petting the hair of Nick Cave dolls.
But a triumphant and passionately creative artist like Magnuson works it through and decides to, oh I don’t know, create a persona called Mrs. Rambo, who leads an armed mission into Bloomingdale’s to save Nancy Reagan from getting a bad makeup job at the Yves St. Laurent counter; or form a band called Bongwater and write a ten minute manifesto in folk song format. Have a life-changing moment, on Ann:
Check out this testamonial from a fan: “I listened to Bongwater ‘Power of Pussy’ one million times when I was getting clean off speed it gave me hope that I could become an artist instead of a drug addict. I could recite it line and verse. Much love and appreciation.”
Magnuson’s style can be campy, impishly clever, and wickedly funny, but is just as often insightful and powerful, casting a spotlight on some of our darker, more subterannean vices. To say that she is inspiring, is an understatement.
But this is a style blog, right? If the Ironing Board Collective is the thinking person’s style blog, Ann Magnuson is the thinking person’s pop star. While Madonna injects more and more silicone and saline into her face looking like a chipmunk holding nuts in its mouth (something I suppose she’s used to), and Demi Moore pushes her youth-fetish to an embarassing extreme by over-doing WHIP-ITS and being rushed off with the paramedics, Ann Magnuson will be serenading us with Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories, skin naturally luminescent and glowing fresh from a trip to Joshua Tree.
Taking the stage on Tuesday at Yoshi’s jazz club in Oakland, Ann was appropriately dressed to belt out her stories and songs for the Drawing Room apocalypse. While some of us will undoubtedly meet the end wearing faded and tattered cotton pajamas and oversized sweatshirts, clutching a pint of ice-cream and wondering what happened, Ann Magnuson will possibly be showcasing a golden brocade Edwardian gown paired with deep burgundy velvet gloves, hair perfectly coiffed with a sparkly headband sitting atop her ‘do like Titania the Shakespearean Fairy Queen that she is.
Regardless of what she chooses to wear, sing, or say, we would all be so lucky to have Ann in our presence for the armageddon.