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RuPaul is a survivor
Noted gay performer is back with a new CD

by David Moore . Q-Notes staff

RuPaul comes to Raleigh for the Crape Myrtle Festival July 29.
RuPaul was go-go dancing atop a large box speaker, heavily made up with war paint stripes across his cheeks. His hair was stiff-sprayed into one of the most massive mohawks I’d ever encountered.

He was shirtless, save a pair of football shoulder pads, and he wore a kind of Tarzan-like loin cloth to cover his midsection. He finished the look off with shredded hefty garbage bags tied around his knees over what appeared to be some kind of industrial work boot.

That was the RuPaul of 1987 in Atlanta, dancing at the long since bulldozed nightclub Weekends.

Much has happened for this performer in the 19 years that have passed since that time. He would later move to New York City, where he cashed in on the city’s club kid and burgeoning counter-culture drag scene, which eventually led to the release of “Supermodel,” the dance single that made him a household name. From there, television and movie appearances would follow, among them parts in “The Brady Bunch Movie,” “Too Wong Foo,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “But I’m A Cheerleader” and parts on TV shows like “Nash Bridges,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Veronica’s Closet.”

Now it’s 2006, and I’m talking with RuPaul by phone from his apartment home in New York City.

Although he’s been somewhat out of the spotlight since the cancellation of his VH1 series in 1998, he’s continued to work, accepting roles both in and out of drag. For a time he was a host for a morning drive radio show in Manhattan. These days he’s mostly performing the music that made him famous at various locations around the globe. He’ll be in Raleigh for the Crape Myrtle Festival on July 29. In this exclusive interview with Q-Notes, RuPaul talks about what he’s up to lately, the past, and what lies ahead.

Q. Nice to talk with you again. What can you tell me about the current projects you’re working on?

A. I’ve got a new CD. It’s called “RuPaul Reworked.” It’s a remix album of dance music, some of it is R&B and hip hop. I’m very proud of it and I get total control over it now. No more dealing with big companies with time constraints. And now with the internet people can buy stuff directly from me. The cool thing is that I get to revisit a lot of the old stuff. This time around I own the masters of these recordings. “Supermodel” used to be owned by Warner Bros. Now I own it! I’m very excited about the new version.

Q. What’s your favorite track on the new CD?

A. No question about it — “Free to Be.” I originally recorded it for the “Wigstock” movie years ago, but it never felt quite right to me. Now I did it right, and the words to the song are some of the best I’ve ever written. “Free to love what you want, free to love who you need. Everybody’s got the right to be free.”

Q. I see there’s another version of “Supermodel.” How has that been reworked?

A. In the original I used supermodel names, of course. In this one I use the names of the Jacksons. Shirley Q Liquor plays the role of Lawanda Page in this version. It is sooooo funny. I love this version. Really makes you want to dance.

Q. I see you’re back in New York now. How long were you in LA?

A. I was there for six years. But I decided I needed to get some work done on myself and my family. It was time for me to get back in to the swing of things. For me that’s always meant being here in New York. California is more about solitude and introspection. I was offered a job by my old boss doing morning radio, which is what facilitated my moving back to the east coast.

Q. What else are you working on?

A. I’m working on a new movie that I’m producing myself. It’s based on a character I created with some friends back in Atlanta about a crime-fighting diva — it’s called “Starbooty.” It’s full of crazy makeup and gratuitous violence, full nudity, hard-cock balls-out laughter.

Q. Did I get that right? Full nudity and hard…?

A. Yeah. You got it right! But there’s no penetration. (laughs)

Q. But don’t you think that’s gonna have some trouble with major distribution?

A. I’m not expecting to do anything with it like that. Some film festivals, a DVD release. It’s not rated.

Q. Do you have any plans to do anymore mainstream projects?

A. (Sighs) It’s difficult for me to do that kind of stuff because I’m not mainstream. There was a time, a small window back in the ’90s when I was able to do that because people hadn’t been exposed to it so much. They were hungry for it. Now even most of the gay community is trying to be straight, trying to blend in. Counterculture has dwindled all over the states. I guess it’s not important anymore. People aren’t getting anything out of it and maybe it’s not chic to question authority anymore. Who knows?

Q. Were you surprised by the New York ruling on gay marriage?

A. Not surprised at all. I have no idea how any of this is gonna’ work. Politics have to do with popularity and trying to gage the politics of a fearful mob. Any of the changes we make to our culture we’re going to have to do that. If we’re going to change the way people look at gay people we’ve got to look at how we can change that ourselves. We’ve got to own up to our part of how society sees us.

Q. I was thinking recently about that incident with Milton Berle years back. I remember seeing it on television and seeing how the other performers reacted and then hearing later what really happened. Do you think that had a negative impact on your career?

A. I don’t know. That was 13 or 14 years ago. I don’t really think of it anymore. I’ll tell you this, though. I come from a counter culture angle, a fuck you to authority. My drag was about being told not to do it. It was never about wanting to be a woman. It started out from a punk rock perspective. If I was gonna’ flick my finger at the establishment, that was the time. On a more mature level now, if I could do it again I probably would have handled it differently. But he provoked me and I came out scratching.

Q. Any message for your audience in the Carolinas?

A. Tell ’em I love ’em and thanks for sticking with me! I can’t wait to see them again.

RuPaul in concert . Saturday, July 29, 2006
Crape Myrtle Festival
Museum of Natural Sciences, Gallery Hall
11 W. Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

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