Performance art pays her bills these days, but Vaginal Davis initially made her name in zines with such titles as Shrimp and Fertile LaToyah Jackson. Davis’s publications took the standard scissors-and-paste approach but distinguished themselves with Hollywood Babylon-style reports on the punk-rock and movie-star scenes. The stories seemed sordid enough to be true, though they usually weren’t–in one, a handsome Brat Packer was outed as both a homosexual and a premature ejaculator (Davis cited personal experience as her source).
There followed a series of stints in rock bands, with Davis–still using the middle name Creme–crooning obscene odes to butt maniacs, transsexual hookers, and penises of various shapes and sizes. The Afro Sisters, an a cappella “girl” group, also counted among its members one Urethra Franklin. Davis’s subsequent metal unit, Pedro, Muriel and Esther (PME to those in the know), became legendary with the release of their eponymous debut EP in 1992. Propelled by guitarist Glen Meadmore–the subject of several paintings by John Wayne Gacy– PME became a club favorite with their aggressively erotic act. Any band fronted by a pair of six-foot-seven drag queens in lingerie is likely to attract attention, but PME was no gimmick; their tight, manic sound equaled their well-constructed image. After a three-year hiatus they regrouped, adopted a presumably tongue-in-cheek racist militia image, and last year released their first full-length album, The White to Be Angry, produced by Steve Albini. Black Fag, another Davis-led ensemble, includes Beck’s mom Bibi Hansen on drums and continues to make occasional appearances in Los Angeles. Davis has also played rock venues and art-world functions with Cholita, a large assemblage featuring punk pioneer Alice Bag on guitar and a legion of leggy backup singers. Cholita’s billed as the female Menudo, offering a goofy take on Chicana identity.
Considering the zeal institutions have for co-opting what’s on the edge, the most surprising part of Davis’s current tour of museums and academic venues is that it didn’t happen sooner. This Saturday marks the Chicago premiere of her performance art piece Intimacy + Tomorrow. Davis recently described this “one-woman show” as “very multimedia–video, slides, shrimping [toe-sucking], lactating, the whole gamut.” The next night, backed by a combo of Chicago musicians–Scott Free on piano, Santosh Isaac (of Lorax and Heterocide) on bass, Frank Youngwerth on trumpet, and Heterocide’s Laura Masura on drums–Davis will embark on a brand-new musical direction at the Bop Shop’s new Andersonville digs. With fresh arrangements of PME and Cholita songs by Free, Davis will present old favorites in an intimate, stripped-down setting–you might call it “Vaginal Unplugged.”
Intimacy + Tomorrow will be performed at 7 PM Saturday at the School of the Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson; admission is $10. Call 773-862-7990 for information; tickets are available at the door only. Davis’s musical set is at 8 PM Sunday at the Bop Shop, 5419 N. Clark; it costs $8. Call 773-275-7771 for information; no advance tickets are available. –John Sanchez
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Vaginal Davis by Rick Castro.