Influences: Cabaret singer Justin Vivian Bond
Justin Vivian Bond is one of those rare New York artists to earn serious uptown approval (the New Yorker recently called the singer “the greatest cabaret artist of his generation”) without losing their downtown bona fides. Known best as one-half of the late, great cabaret duo Kiki & Herb, Bond is an eclectic, transgendered artist who dabbles in the dance world, theater (most recently, a new musical being workshopped, written with Sandra Bernhard), visual art (a New York gallery will exhibit a solo show of his paintings in the fall) and, of course, music of all sounds and genres.
This week, Bond’s first full-length album, titled “Dendrophile,” was released by Whimsy Music. Next week the artist will be performing for two nights at REDCAT. These events mark an important turn for the singer, as this album marks the first time Bond will be appearing not just as a cabaret act (even as a “trans-Atlantic cabaret messiah” as one London newspaper gushed) but rather as a singer-songwriter.
Sitting in the living room of Bond’s longtime East Village apartment—which tragically or glamorously, depending on your temperament, is set to be demolished in a few months—the artist spoke of career, affinity for California (“I love playing cards by people’s swimming pools”) and the new phenomenon of appearing in front of an audience, not as one of his richly layered characters, but simply as Justin Vivian Bond. Bond shared some influences:
Judy Collins: I feel like I owe her a huge debt because even though she started out as a folk singer, she moved quite quickly to doing songs by Jacques Brel, Brecht, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell … so through her records I discovered all those people.
Teresa Stratas: I love her, I could never sound like her. When I heard her Kurt Weill music, I was like “wow, that was amazing.” These are people who because they are so outside the box, they give you freedom.
Karen Carpenter: “Superstar” [covered on “Dendrophile” in an arrangement interwoven with “Diamonds and Rust”] is the first song I ever chose to sing in public. I heard it in my parents’ car, I remembered it, and then I dreamed about it all night. By the time I woke up, I thought that I had made the song up in my dream. Then I went to school for Show-and-Tell and sang what parts I could remember, and that was my first performance. When I eventually heard it on the radio again, I confessed to my teacher that I hadn’t actually written the song.
Wassily Kandinsky: One of the first books I read was “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” by Kandinsky because I saw these paintings and they looked like music to me.… After reading it I began to think in terms of different ways of coloring things, of saying things, of eliciting a response from an audience.
Lily Tomlin: What was so great was her diversity, her ability to convey her worldview through all these different characters. She was always saying something other than “Look at me doing these funny things,” there was an intentionality running through everything she did. But you never forgot that it was Lily … I love people like that— Cher is like that too—and I know that because of the way I look, no matter what I do, no one’s going to forget that it’s me, so I just embrace that.
-- James C. Taylor