We realize that our current reality doesn’t really call for any sort of explanation as to why we’re suggesting a mid-week, 15-minute dance party in your pajamas, but just in case you were wondering: you probably need this. And also, it all ties into our book.
First, let’s check in with Sylvester, who graces the top left corner of the cover of our book. There’s a reason for that. Like all the other people on the cover and spotlighted inside (in his case, in the chapter on gender non-conforming musical artists), this queen was a damn LEGEND:
But his stunning contributions to pop music aside (“Mighty Real” was added to the Library of Congress last year), one of the reasons we insisted Sylvester be included on the cover is because we had a commitment to representing as wide an array of queer identity expression as possible and Sylvester, who often performed in wigs, makeup and dresses (but just as often didn’t) refused to call himself a drag queen. To us he represented that vast swathe of queer folks who defy categorization. He didn’t live long enough to see the terms become commonplace, and we don’t want to impose an identity on him he never claimed, but Sylvester’s presentation would most likely be called genderqueer or non-binary today. When he denied being a drag queen and people insisted he identify exactly what he was, he’d answer, “I’m Sylvester.” And oh Lord, it was more than enough.
Pre-chart success, Sylvester spent years tooling around the San Francisco art and nightclub scene, including a notable stint with the legendary Hibiscus’s legendary troupe, The Cockettes. But when he begrudgingly assented to his management’s pleas to get some female backup singers (so as not to appear quite so gay, although we have to admit, the logic escapes us, since most gays would LOVE a couple of female backup singers), and he selected Izora Rhodes and Martha Washington (billed as “Two Tons o’ Fun”) to lend their soaring voices to his, he took off. The combination was magical, but history showed it wasn’t remotely one-sided. Because Two Tons o’ Fun wound up rebranding themselves as The Weather Girls, and in 1982 they made gay culture history by dropping “It’s Raining Men” on a grateful world of gays and bachelorette party girls.
Remember last year’s Met Gala, when everyone was trying to explain what camp is? This video. That’s camp.
But Martha Washington was not finished making queer history – and also showing up in the chapter of our book on the history of lip-syncing – because she lent her legendary vocals to C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat,” which is, let’s face it, more commonly known by the very phrase Martha Wash made immortal:
EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!
Side note: We had to go back in the studio and record pickups and corrections to our audiobook and one of them was this very phrase, because in the original session, Tom did the full vocal, in falsetto, Martha Wash-style, which you can’t do without getting permission, alas.
Anyway, if you want to know what the essence of Gen-X gay culture is, we can’t think of a better video and song than this one. Martha wound up suing the group because the video depicted the much thinner Zelma Davis mouthing the vocals and getting credit for them.
And this concludes your little tour of queer history. Now hit “play” and dance your way through it.
“Our book Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life is on sale now!
The Los Angeles Times called it “a nuanced exploration of the gender-bending figures, insider lingo and significant milestones in queer history to which the show owes its existence.” The Washington Post said it “arrives at just the right time … because the world needs authenticity in its stories. Fitzgerald and Marquez deliver that, giving readers an insight into the important but overlooked people who made our current moment possible.” Paper Magazine said to “think of it as the queer education you didn’t get in public school” and The Associated Press said it was “delightful and important” and “a history well told, one that is approachable and enjoyable for all.”
[Video Credit: YouTube.com]
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