Monday, June 23, 2008

Sandra Bernhard Kicks-Off Toronto Pride 2008

I have always remembered Sandra Bernhard because of her vulgar lips--she looks the part that she speaks. Her performance to kick off Pride week in Toronto yesterday was exactly what was needed to get this party started! Bernhard did not show any hesitation when she entered Massey Hall walking in 6 inch stilettos and a little black dress. Bam! She is there and she is queer! To set the tone to the show she marched up to an on-looker and serenaded him as her black woman alter-ego, singing “I am Telling You,” while confronting the woman he came with. She broke into “The Boy is Mine,” which got a roar of laughter from her audience of mainly mature gay men and lesbian women. You could easily recognize the respect she had from those who have grown up watching her provoke, offend, engage and criticize the American life and the illusions of equality that many seem to accept without little actual analysis of reality.

This lady is crazy! A veteran of the stage with 25 years of stand-up under her garter, she was full of excitement and energy to be in a room full of her fellow queers as folks. Sandra came with a small entourage: an electric guitarist, a drummer and a pianist/keyboarder who accompanied her in various pieces throughout the show, both originals and covers. A highlight of the show included an audience member asking her “Are you still friends with Madonna?” This question led her into a 5 minute freestyle Madonna performance in which she tore the Queen of Pop to shreds mocking “4 Minutes” by repeatedly chanting “we only have four minutes to save the world,” screaming “my chicken is raw” and imitating various Madonna iconic moves and stances. It was too funny for words and the gays howled though they felt like it was some sort of cultural betrayal! She also flipped through an interview piece in a European fashion magazine that had posed the question of “what is the riskiest thing you have ever done” to a group of important fashion influencers and in her inherent humour dished out some wildly funny impersonations of Mario Testino, Karl Lagerfield and others.

Many are unaware that Bernhard has a fantastic singing voice and there is more behind the vulgarity of her fat lips. The stage is where you see this woman take control of everything: her sexuality, her sex, her image, her jokes and her witty and ironic sense of humour. But what impressed me and surprised me was SB’s integrity to have an opinion of the state of the world and communicate her frustrations with the falsifications that modernism purges us into buying/following. This woman is clearly fed-up and angry. Bernhard is much an advocate for change as she is a great comedian. She seemed to be there to enlighten her people and tell them to fight for their rights (though unlike in typical gay manner it was not to party, but to make a change in the world). I was not expecting that I would be as emotionally moved as I was by her performance. She sang beautifully and let out the frustrations of her pain, her struggles of letting go, the difficultly and past lovers in well-written and composed original songs. She powerfully urged “all I know is that love is all that matters.”

This seems like a perfect way to think of Pride—peace, love & pride.
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