Last Sunday I saw Justin Bond perform at Joe’s Pub with my dear friends H____, A____ and J____. We are all great fans of this singular chanteuse and I particularly remember with great fondness her raw rock performances at the legendary SqueezeBox!, her wickedly dark hosting of the party Foxy and the visceral grotesque yet cathartic display of her character Kiki of the musical duo, Kiki & Herb. In contrast, her performance now, her cabaret act, is less raw, less physical; now it is more refined, more mature, less angry and more poignant, but still smart, sexy and compelling. And indeed this recent show at Joe's Pub was just as emotional, just as intimate and just as bitingly funny as when I saw her there in April 2010 and way back in the 1990’s.
After the show, my friend H____ remarked that despite the biting humor and dialogue between songs, a Justin Bond hallmark, there was something essentially “human” about her performance and persona. Her comment deeply struck me at the time and has continued to linger in my head for days. While Justin Bond can be devilishly funny, her choice of songs and the manner in which she sings are full of longing and loss. They are always replete with tough emotion. They are poignant. They are cathartic. In this sense her form and content expresses what is essentially human: that life is about loss- loss of youth, loss of love, loss of friends and family. And despite our best efforts and the capitalist myths of everlasting life that surround us, we can never escape this haunting truth.
The ultimate song of the show, In The End from the 2006 film Shortbus which Justin Bond starred in celebrates this fact and our own demise, our own loss. As your last breath begins/ contentedly take it in/ cause we all get it in the end. What we get in the end is not only death, but I imagine (and hope) a clarity about life and what is truly important- the love we gave and the love we received. At Joe’s Pub, Justin encouraged the audience to sing along with the refrain of the song “…cause we all get it in the end…” as if forcing us to acknowledge what we all try to forget.
This notion of loss found in the song In The End for me pervaded the entire performance, not in a gloomy or depressing way, but simply as an honest human statement and emotion. This feeling was evident in the nostalgic reminiscence of The Golden Age of Hustlers about sex workers in San Francisco lost but not forgotten to a rendition of The Carpenter’s Superstar, a song about love found, love lost and continual longing.
This theme of loss was further underlined by Justin Bond’s outfit. She was elegantly attired in a taupe grey Karl Lagerfeld cocktail dress and black Louboutin heels set off by a coiffed hair style with a black headband reminiscent of the 1960’s. Justin told us that she had acquired the dress from a friend who died of AIDS. This remark was delivered with humor and the audience laughed, but it was humor to get one through, to survive. It was not a joke about AIDS , but a joke to endure and remember. At this moment the dress was transformed into a memento mori, not only to Justin’s deceased friend, but to everyone who has died of AIDS and lives with HIV and further to the horrors we all must suffer and struggle through- the sadomasochism of everyday life. As the song In The End begins: We all bear the scars/ yeah we all feign a laugh/ we all cry in the dark.
So for me, Justin Bond’s performance was a moving exploration of loss and how we all must deal with it and survive in order to be human. In this sense, the show was filled with hope through acceptance of the inevitable. And also as always an evening with Justin Bond is for me utter bliss.