Three short syllables-not even a sentence-but the two words and a vowel
evoke memories of a time and place that has become legend in New Orleans...and
that legend is the My-O-My.
Younger folks may not remember the club which stood out in West End on the lakefront. It was certainly off the beaten track, but that stopped no one from finding it. Gay and straight alike found their way to the doors of the My-O-My...and had a ball.
My early memories of the club were those that came from my parents. Mom and Dad would gather up a group of friends and head out for a night of excitement. My Dad would come home with his cheeks covered in red lipstick and the silliest of grins on his face. His suit would reek of cheap perfume and cigarette smoke. The My-O-My was all he would talk about for days.
I'd overhear his conversations with my uncle, whispers about men who were women and boys who were girls. There were also tales of people being tossed in the lake when things got a little rowdy-and snickers-lots of snickers about how the wives were so jealous of the beautiful female impersonators who strutted their stuff on the stage. My-O-My was legendary.
When tragedy struck and the club burned to the ground-or to the pilings on which it sat-more than a building was lost...an institution was destroyed. My Dad told me how he went out to the lakefront to see the charred building. Gathered there were groups of people, some crying, some comforting one another. Others were going through the ruins, salvaging what remained-pieces of melted jewelry, charred feathers, mirror shards, photographs, blackened remains of costumes.
One queen leaned over to retrieve something from the rubble. My dad saw her wiping away the charred edges of a photograph-what was left of it. She smiled sadly and then noticed him watching her. She walked toward him with the ruined photograph in her hand. "He wasn't no good for me anyway," she said as she handed the photo over to my father. She then turned away and walked to a waiting car, disappearing into the back seat.
After they had driven away, my dad glanced at the photo. The queen stood regal and tall in a beaded dress, holding a feathered fan at her side. The other figure in the picture was partially burned away...all that remained was a double-breasted jacket and wing-tipped shoes. The brim of a hat was just visible. Dad tucked the photo into his pocket and brought it home.
He showed us the souvenir from the burned club and we all admired the tall, glamorous woman in the picture. We even made up stories about the man now half-obliterated in the fire. "He was no good for her," my Dad would reiterate at the end of each fantasy we would concoct. It was the stuff of dreams.
Finally, the photo was put away in my father's keepsake box which he kept on the top-most shelf in his closet. He laid it carefully inside among the other momentos: the stripes from his uniform, tickets from a train trip years ago, photos of family and friends, baseball cards. The box went back into the closet, where it sat until I opened it in 1986 after my father's death.
Dad had fought a valiant fight against cancer in his final days. We had talked a lot and he told me about the box of momentos he had kept in his closet. "That box is all about me," he had said and it was a very sad day, soon after his passing, that I pulled it down from the closet.
The old My-O-My picture was the first thing I saw, its couple still separated by the fire that had destroyed the club years ago. And from that photo, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, a dream was born.
That dream came to life last week on Bourbon Street. The new club, Some Like It Hot, opened its doors featuring Cajun LaCage-the best of female impersonation in the tradition of the My-O-My. Shows are performed nightly, complete with character illusions, live performance, comedy, and ribald stories about human sexuality. It's all fun and frolic at Some Like It Hot. And it's also my dream come true and my tribute to the performers of the My-O-My who gave New Orleans a show it has yet to forget.
Female illusion has always been my fascination. Maybe my own lesbian orientation has made me think a great deal about the components that equal a woman. What is femininity anyway? In the case of female illusionists, you get to see all the parts that go into creating a "woman."
And so it has been from Eve to the Bride of Frankenstein that someone has been about "making" a woman. I have watched the performers arrive for the shows looking pretty much like anyone else on the street and have seen them transform into stunning creations. The audience is in awe of them; many do not believe that they are watching men perform as their favorite female stars. I tell them it's magic...that in New Orleans, everything is magic-it makes the tourists happy. If Disney can have the Magic Kingdom, we can certainly have our Magic Queendom!
I see people staring at the performers during the shows, wondering how they do it. The show director explains at the start of the performance that it's all makeup and costumes...but I think it is more. Certainly Milton Berle dressed up in drag, and both Howard Stern and Dennis Rodman of late. But no one mistakes them for women.
Yes, illusion is magic. It's the same kind of magic that David Copperfield performs when he makes you believe the Statue of Liberty has disappeared. You get caught up in the illusion ... in the desire to believe your eyes.
So it is with Cajun LaCage. The illusions are so good that people want photographs with the performers. Marilyn Monroe, who frequents her fan box on the street each evening, is already a popular attraction and crowd-stopper. The cameras flash and Marilyn obliges with a wind-blown peak of her panties as her skirt flies up.
Pictures and illusions: it's almost like we can capture the magic and hold it forever on the emulsion sheet. Just like the picture my Dad saved for years...a little piece of the My-O-My captured for eternity by the lens of the camera.
At 216 Bourbon Street, the tourists and anyone else with a camera, is doing exactly the same thing. Each person wants to capture an image of an illusion to take home with them. Marilyn is an illusion up close and somehow real. That expression on her face when her skirt blows up is Norma Jean Baker reincarnated.
And so it is that I am beginning to understand why my Dad kept that picture in his box of memories. Illusions-believable ones-are hard to come by in this life, it's like holding fast to a dream.
Memories and dreams are so interrelated-both are integral parts of our beings. What I hope to do at Some Like It Hot is to let the audience capture the illusions through the medium of their eyes...and to have those images indelibly etched in'their memories. Magic and New Orleans...better things to take back home than a t-shirt. The My-O-My lives on...the phoenix has arisen and we are performing nightly once again on the street of dreams.