Thursday, 19 August 2010

lynnee breedlove on kathy acker - an interview

Bloody ages ago in 2009 I did an interview with Lynnee Breedlove. I thought I'd put it up here for folks who want to read it. The interview was about inspirations...

Lynnee Breedlove is the founder/frontperson/main yeller of the first American out dyke punk band Tribe 8. Tribe 8 has always stood for queer, transgender, multiracial, and working class visibility, and influenced and inspired the hell outta me in my late teens.
Lynnee is also the author of the highly acclaimed autobiographical novel – Godspeed - later converted into Godspeed the short film. Lynnee has also toured regularly with the spoken word troupe, Sister Spit.
Most recently though, Lynnee has been touring the world with One Freak Show, a solo, queer, punkrock spoken word/ standup comedy show on transgender bodies, feminism, family, and "community." It was after the Leeds and Manchester shows and subsequent workshops that this interview, about the influence of American writer Kathy Acker happened…

How have the shows/the tour been going so far in the UK/Europe?

Great. I was reminded that English and American are two different languages. Not to mention my own made up words and the fact that I am a member of one of the most miniscule cultures in the world: sf queer transfeminist. So I drew pictures like I do for Germans and Frenchies, and it helped a lot.

What is ‘One Freak Show’ all about, for those who haven’t seen it?

It’s about being a bridge between warring factions that are supposed to be on the same side but aren’t. It’s about being a no-op transguy who is not a real fill in the blank. Doesn’t measure up to anyone’s standards but his own.

Thinking about this interview, I recently read Tobi Vail state,

‘as with any oral history, my favorite part is listening to those involved track their influences. It involves hours of research and hanging out, [with] people who have been around longer than you, asking them questions, listening to how they discovered what means the most to them and learning how what they unearthed evolved into their own art and how it provided them with the tools to create a meaningful existence and try to change things via be more than a realize your place in history....that history forms you ...and then to try and use that same methodology to impact future use being in a band or making a fanzine as a way to create the world you want to exist...and to recognize that this is totally possible because it has happened before and it will happen again.’

In thinking about this, how important to you was knowing and working alongside/under Kathy Acker, as somebody who had ‘gone before’, doing what you were embarking on doing at the time (writing)?

Kathy was a queer leather clad Harley Davidson riding gnarly death bitch. We were all posers. She had her shit together but had been to some dark places. She had risen to a place of power in academia and used it for good, still bringing in the punks and encouraging us to make art out of whatever we were doing. She was a mom and a big sister to us. We all need older role models to bring us up. She believed in us. We needed someone who was like us to believe in us. Our parents didn’t get it. But we needed parenting. She said ok, so you’re a bike messenger. Write about it. She validated our experience, instead of what I was doing which was more ephemeral, in the moment, and just out of total self destruct mode, flying through life. She encouraged me to chronicle it as I went.

Kathy’s writing classes encouraged you, with Kathy telling you to write as a result of your attendance; leading to Godspeed chapter 1 being written (and beyond)

How important to you were those classes?

The classes were the seed of the writing community that supports me today. Writing is lonely work. We need each other to read to , to listen, comment on each others work.

What were they like? (format/ideas shared/atmosphere)

Kathy would talk about some esoteric shit I didn’t comprehend, then read some Bataille or de Sade I didn’t comprehend. Then she would tell us to write then we would read what we wrote. Sometimes there were shows where her students would read and the rest of us would listen.

Who attended?

We were punks, queers, whores, strippers, messengers, junkies, survivors. Many of us went on to become university professors and published writers like Daphne Gottlieb and Anna Joy Springer. Some died of AIDS. Some died of overdoses. But what we created was a moment in time that would inspire all of us to keep passing on that encouragement: “write.”

What was it about Kathy’s presence that was so inspiring?

She was a badass. She didn’t take any shit, she was an intellectual, and she did shit like jerk off and write like Jean Genet and challenged us to do it too. She brought the ghosts of literary heroes into our lives. She brought queer history to life. She lived it.

I read that those classes were secret, open classes that Kathy did (unpaid) in order to make such education open to poor punx (etc).

Well the cool thing was she got paid by SF Art Institute and she held them at a pub called Edinburgh Castle where anyone could come in addition to the students that were paying tuition.

How did you hear about them / become involved/active?

Anna Joy, one of the singers of Blatz, a punk band at Gilman Street who did a split 45” with us called Bitches and Brew, brought me. I thought she was the hottest most fascinating babe on the planet so whatever she told me to do I did.

How important do you think it was that it was Kathy’s intention to increase accessibility to writing in that way?

She put her money where her mouth was. She modeled integrity. And she let us know that punks and academia were not mutually exclusive. Where I went to school, I was the only queer punk stomping around in a Mohawk and a leather jacket with a skull painted on the back. So for her to say yeah you are writing something important and you don’t have to put on a suit to do it, that was different than what my parents and my school said.

And, as a result, is this something you too also hope to achieve by performing internationally to punk/DIY/queer crowds, and by doing associated workshops?.. To increase those waves of participation?

I do feel we created community through art, we encouraged each other to talk about our lives intimately in a public forum, politically, humorously, wildly. I do want to pass on that gift.

Kathy believed in the performative function of language.
I know that verbal expression is really important to you – as heard in Tribe 8 lyrics; there’s a definite urgency there to be heard and understood.
However, did Kathy’s ideas of the performative function of language lead (in part) to your wish to present your writing as spoken word performance; performance that elicits audience attention?

Before then I had written for 25 years, journals, poems, but it was private. Yes, I handed them to girls, but I never read them aloud in front of an audience. I had performed other people’s work onstage since I was a kid though, so it was natural for me to fuse the two forms.

Going back to talking about punk, and performing to punk audiences, how influential to your current work is your punk background / present?

It’s integrated. When I perform solo shows, comedy, it’s in your face, funny, naked, impertinent, asking questions designed to wake people up.
I am working on a book with my mom, working title, How I Became an American Anarchist. It’s about not understanding what’s happening politically as a child but being a product of it anyway, and later as an adult putting it all together and choosing actions based on a retrospective analysis.

Do you still believe punk is about Intellect, Education, and Social Commentary?

Yeah. That sounds right. Why, did I say that? It’s also about humor. I know I am at a punk show when I am cracking up. There’s all this jumping around and childlike stuff. It’s about freedom, not censoring yourself. The government will take care of that. It’s our responsibility not to hold back.

Kathy too was deeply entrenched in punk, and this showed in her portrayals of subcultures, and in her experimental/anarchic approach to literature that created her transgressive writing style.
Was Kathy’s body of work influential to you; in terms of it confounding expectations of what fiction should be? (i.e. showing you that fiction could be transgressive and punk and queer)

She was a balls out plagiarer. She said, “That’s right. I plagiarized it. What. Men have plagiarized women forever. Anon. is a woman. Shut the fuck up.”
That told me I could freely incorporate pop culture into my work without trying to come up with something new under the sun. It was punk for me to admit that I was a product of pop culture, that I was old, and quote a led zeppelin song, without worrying, oh they’re not punk enuff, I have to prove I am cool, all this self conscious bullshit. I felt free to just be as uncool as I was, and that I had the balls to admit it, that made me cool.

I see a huge parallel in the use of “queer theory” and queerness in yours and Kathy’s writing and performance.
Kathy’s work [not to sound too poncey] was incredibly post-structuralist and deconstructive. She played with characters and autobiographical personas and pronouns, upsetting conventions, and thus opening up gender possibilities (in a time before this was to become more commonplace).
Her writing wasn’t universal writing that would be maintaining a skewed concept that rested on normativity.
Was this encouraging to the queerness of your work to come? To you, as a no-op trans writer?

I actually never read Kathy. I knew Kathy. It was who she was and who we all were together in the bearded Lady cafĂ©, dykes reading to each other about acting out politically incorrect straight rape fantasies on our girlfriends that let me know, like Pat Califia let me know, like diet popstitute, and all the homocore queens and fags and dykes and transsexuals, it didn’t matter what our bodies were or what anyone told us feminism was or what rules we had to adhere to. We were going to break down every barrier that we had built for ourselves. We stood by as each of us did it brick by brick. Kathy stood with us shoulder to shoulder. It didn’t matter if I understood Foucault. What mattered is Kathy and all of us stood up for each other’s right to be any kind of fucked up way we wanted to be. As long as we wrote it and lived it and made art and made it funny or hot as long as it was smart and called society on its shit by saying what real people felt. Thanks to her I read Genet and knew that a whole line of queer writers and outsiders came before us. And it was up to us to carry on the tradition.

How do you process all of your influences in life in terms of ways in which you are then able to share it all, creatively, with your community?

I integrate into my life what I have learned everyday. So when it is time to pass it on, it’s easy to put together spiritual and intellectual concepts. What I see as key to building the community we want to live in is looking inside, bringing it out in art, sharing it. That is trust. When you trust a group of people with your deepest emotional experience, you create community. However you bring it, you are modeling it for the rest. So bring your very best, and what you want to see in your world everyday, because it will instantly be reflected back to you.

Huge thanks for this Lynnee,
Thanks pal. My pleasure…

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