Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Divine Intervention

Was just reminded by my best friend from my Detroit years that today would have been Divine's 66th birthday. I can't tell you how many people I know remember the hilarious actor and singer (born Harris Glenn Milstead) -- and the movies he made with John Waters -- as their very first connection to the "queer" world. There was something about such outsiders being "stars" that made me feel like I could be somebody too, and that my (out-of-the-mainstream) voice mattered. And the mere sight of Dawn Davenport going ape-shit on Christmas morning when she didn't receive the cha cha heels she'd asked for -- "I hate you, fuck you! Fuck you both, you awful people! You're not my parents! I hate you, I hate this house, and I hate Christmas!" -- made me realize I wasn't the only kid in the world who found humor in the most twisted situations.

I'll never forget being in high school -- my family moved to a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Phoenix at the start of junior high -- and being devastated that my friends Mark and Nina "back home" were going to see Divine perform at the Liedernacht downtown (later known as the City Club). How I wanted to say to my parents: "I hate you, fuck you! Fuck you both, you awful people. You're not my parents! I hate you, I hate this house, and I hate Phoenix [for not being a city on Divine's tour]!" The concert sounded incredible, although I have a vague recollection of Nina badly cutting herself on a broken glass. (Her mom, Olga, immediately became convinced that Nina might have contracted AIDS!) She is scarred for life by the event -- literally -- but it's the coolest scar I've ever seen. (She gets to tell everyone she got it at a Divine concert!!!)

The following year, Mark met Divine at a show at Todd's and I was ready to transfer to Wayne State! A few years later when Debbie Harry joined the Waters clan for "Hairspray," I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. After Divine's shocking death a mere nine days after the film opened to great critical and box-office success, I remember being heartbroken for him (and all of us fans), going out for multiple Vodka Collins at AZ88 in Scottsdale with my friends Debra and Greg in college.

So I was really pleased to learn on this day of Divine remembrance that award-winning filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz has been working on a great-looking documentary about the legendary cult superstar, "I Am Divine." He is looking for financial support for the film's finishing touches, and he can count me in. Watch the pitch below -- and click HERE to make a donation of your own. With a larger-than-life persona that John Waters described as "Jayne Mansfield meets Godzilla," this is one film that needs to be seen on the silver screen!

For more information, click HERE.

UPDATE: My friend Mark just sent me his Divine memories:

So the Liedernacht show was a blast. I was so into John Waters/Divine at the time after having seen Polyester at the Punch & Judy Theater with Brad and Nina. I think he was supposed to come on at midnight, but was about an hour late, which would've been fine if I weren't the type of person who had to be against the stage at general admission shows. Standing there for hours waiting was torture, but it was so worth it once he came on (I hate calling Divine "she" for some reason!). He had on a super tight (of course) blue sequined one-piece dress and a ratted-out white wig that was about 2 feet high. He sang live over pre-recorded tracks and in-between songs would belch, tell the nastiest jokes/stories, and mop the sweat from his face, arm pits and crotch. He even threw his ball sac-sweaty tissue at my friend Carolyn after wiping up after one number and the crowd dove at it like it was Michael Jackson's glove. Last time I spoke to her she still had it! Anyway, it was 80's gay/camp/raunch at its best and I miss Divine so much. I remember hearing he died within weeks of my big move to California and I was so bummed out. I had seen him in '86 at Todd's nightclub in Detroit, too, and that was one of my first memories of being at a gay club. It was just "new wave" on the nights I'd normally go -- not officially gay, but it was a gay club most other nights. The night Divine played the club was PACKED with gay guys, punks and all the "freaks" I loved from that time in the Detroit club scene. Luckily I brought my "The Story so far..." album with me and he signed autographs for anyone who wanted one backstage after the show. I remember him even asking if my name was M-a-r-K or M-a-r-C. I also asked him if he'd done any new movies lately and he told me about having just filmed "Lust in the Dust." He was very soft-spoken and polite and I was so honored to have met him.


ian said...

I remember seeing Divine perform at Connections in phoenix in the 80's. I think it was the year before she died. She was awesome.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@Ian: Was it great? I wondered about that -- I got into Connection a few time with my 5-6 brother's ID back in the day -- but for the most part, I was never able to get into a bar before I turned 21, which was after Divine had died.

James Greenlee said...

Did you know that Divine was set to play Peggy Bundy's mother when he died? He was actually cast, and found dead after not showing up on set.

Anonymous said...

Saw Divine around the same time, London, early '85, in a huge gay club. Many many jokes about Margaret Thatcher's lady parts!

ian said...

@Kenneth Walsh: Yes, she was great! She gave one of the most wonderful performances I've been to. IT's close to 25yrs ago now, and I can still smile about that night.