Miss Lady Swamp Pussy steps onto the stage of the Shatner Lounge to the general disinterest of everyone exiting the room. Her performance during McGill’s Nuit Blanche program follows that of Effusion A Capella, and almost everyone who has just endured their admissions brochure-ready display of amateur soulfulness is leaving. She introduces herself shyly, and after a few beats of her discordant backing track begins a set that blows the few remaining spectators’ minds.
Equal parts spoken word, abrasive noise, and general vitriol, the performance is like a drag rendition of a mental breakdown. Every lyric shouted over her minimal, harshly hypnotic electronic backing riffs is more violent, hilarious, and disgusting than the last. No one can stop laughing, but they seem bewildered, as if expecting someone to provide an explanation as to what this lipstick-smeared male in a muumuu, teen-girl tights, tied-on hair, and snow boots is trying to accomplish by yelling, “I bet your mother wanted to abort you but she spent all her money on cigarettes!” It occurs to me that the Shatner Lounge might be one of the few venues in the city in which this spectacle might seem truly shocking.
Because it’s true: hearing Miss Lady Swamp Pussy chant, “I came in your ass and I pulled my dick out / I licked off the semen and I pulled my knife out / I cut off your nose and I pulled my teeth out / I licked off the blood and then I got the fuck out” in a room generally dominated by students having loud phone conversations about why they can’t come to Bifteck that night is a genuinely bizarre experience. The aggressive normality of the space helps turn Miss Lady Swamp Pussy’s set into the most incongruous, challenging, and hilarious performance I have ever seen at McGill.
Miss Lady Swamp Pussy is the creation of Jake MacLeod*, U3 French Translation. He originally conceived of the character as a “sloppy drag performance to go with some Windows Sound Recorder sound collages,” and only later began recording vocals to “add some personality and pare down the noisy factor.” He considers the persona a “third-gender male” alternative to the female performance artists admired by many other gay men. MacLeod cites one of these artists, Karen Finley, as his main inspiration, followed by the “shouted word” of Toronto cult icon Corpusse. He uses samples from the video game Street Fighter in some of his backing tracks, and the repetitive nature of early video game soundtracks is a clear influence on the musical strategy MacLeod describes as “trying to hypnotize my audience by hitting them over the head with a hammer.”
“I’d say my whole concept is an exploration of camp in unexpected places,” MacLeod explains. “Camp in feminism and queer politics, camp in fat camp.” He considers his thematic emphasis on filth, sex, and violence (sample song titles: “My Pussy Abhors a Vacuum,” “Threw Up On My Cat,” “Don’t Motherfucker”) an integral component of this exploration. “It’s used in a purposely immature gross-out way in the hope of abstracting the concept of disgusting things.”
“I’m not very interested in all the squeaky clean gay imagery in the popular media. It really excludes the more interesting aspects of the gay community,” says MacLeod, a former bathhouse attendant. “I’m interested in the backroom situations, you know, just being filthy and disgusting.” He makes a very serious face. “It’s an important tool in the battle against heteronormativity.”
When I ask MacLeod who he considers to be his target audience, he immediately answers, “Slightly overweight gay men with bad hygiene.” He pauses to cough for an alarmingly long time. “I am writing it for specific sects of people, but I hope everyone enjoys it. Lesbians particularly. But really all queer people, fat people, ugly people. My sisters.”
When MacLeod performs for a Radical Queer Semaine event on March 8, it is in an atmosphere totally devoid of the cognitive dissonance that characterized his Nuit Blanche performance. Everyone is queer, everyone is wearing challenging outfits, and all the performances that have just occurred are about as unusual as his. Though he gets fewer surprised laughs, he gets more informed ones; there are sustained cheers when he introduces an extended rant entitled “Skinny Naked Boys” with the dedication, “This one goes out to all the gay artists who work primarily in the medium of being very, very hot.”
Whatever the audience, Miss Lady Swamp Pussy’s attitude and wit prove to be nothing less than commanding. As the performance ends and I exit, I overhear a girl laugh and exultantly tell her male friend, “Eat shit.”
Miss Lady Swamp Pussy (www.myspace.com/missladyswamppssy) will be performing at the Radical Queer Semaine Monster’s Ball on March 13 at La Chat des Artistes.
*Name has been changed.