The Bond Experience
At the forefront of breaking down gender walls is Justin Vivian Bond. With a career that has now spanned decades, a band of loyal followers across the world, two albums and a new show, the Justin Vivian Bond experience shows no signs of slowing down.
*Editor’s note: ‘v’ is the gender-free pronoun the interviewee uses
Justin Vivian Bond’s first performance was at just 18 months old. It was at the local church’s Christmas pageant and Bond’s line was, “I can wish you, though I’m small, Merry Christmas one and all!” Bond believes it may be the only time in a longstanding career that v didn’t “flub” v’s lines on opening night.
Of course opening nights there has been aplenty. Most notably, with the phenomenally successful cabaret duo that Bond was part of for over 15 years, Kiki and Herb. For those not familiar with Kiki and Herb, Bond played Kiki DuRane, an aging, alcoholic, female lounge singer while Kenny Mellman was Kiki’s gay pianist.
While the duo were the darlings of New York’s avant garde, they also garnered international success and had quite the celebrity following. Sandra Bernhard, Jake Shears, Rufus Wainwright and film director John Cameron Mitchell were all devotees with Mitchell even casting Bond in his groundbreaking 2006 film, Shortbus.
In 2008 Bond went solo and Kiki DuRane was put to rest.
“Being an artist is hard,” Bond says, “but it’s practically impossible if you don’t love what you’re doing of if you’re feeling uninspired.
“I’m so proud of all that Kenny Mellman and I accomplished as Kiki and Herb but after 15 years I felt very droopy and knew it was time to move on.”
Since going solo Bond has released an EP Pink Slip and two albums, Dendrophile (2011) and Silver Wells (2012).
In Bond’s upcoming show, Mx America, Bond will be performing songs from both albums. However, like Kiki and Herb’s shows, Mx America is a multi-faceted experience.
“I’ve also written monologues which comment on the state of the world and how I see myself fitting into it,” Bond says.
“I’ll be accompanying myself on piano and I may even dance a little. Actually ‘dance’ may be a generous term for what I do, it’s more like throwing shapes.”
Bond has also incorporated video and fashion into the show and says, as with most things v does, “it’s all about the subversive power of glamour and identity.”
The title of Bond’s second album, Silver Wells, was named after a town in Joan Didion’s novel Play It as It Lays. The themes of the book resonated with Bond who also cites the book as inspiration for some of the song choices v made for the album.
While Bond does write original songs these days, Silver Wells mainly comprises covers. The album includes songs by Kate Bush, Tracey Chapman and Joni Mitchell.
“At the time I was recording Silver Wells I was going through a painful breakup,” Bond says, “What can I say, sad songs cheer me up!
“The songs on this record are mostly very emotional. I find that comforting. These songs and songwriters give me spiritual sustenance. My motto is “Keep it shallow. Keep it pretty. Keep it moving.” But when I slow down it's women singer-songwriters who always return me to myself.”
Bond’s exploration of tragedy and sadness is often handled with humour but is never flippant or without thought. Likewise Bond’s examination of identity is an ongoing and mindful journey. The blurb for MX America includes this quote, “My friend Billy’s father once said you could tell the depth of a person’s tragedy by the amount of distance between how they see themselves and how they’re seen by others. As an American and as a transperson I find this hypothesis to be really interesting”. In asking Bond to expand on this v said:
“As a transperson I’ve dealt with the fact that my gender identity, unlike the gender identity of most cisgendered people, is constantly being questioned. People have a tendency to assume I’m male based on my physiognomy, so I’m forced to assert my gender identity, preferred pronouns etcetera, if I’m to be seen as I really am. The majority of people don’t have to do that. To be honest it can be exhausting but I feel that the way in which I deal with it really does define the quality of my life and my relationships.
“Similarly, I feel that as an American citizen I often deal with the same thing. Having travelled extensively I can say that the way we see ourselves as Americans or ‘patriots’, if you will, is quite often very different from the way we’re seen by other cultures and therein lies the American tragedy. But I don’t think that having a divide between our perception of ourselves and how we are seen on the world stage is a uniquely American phenomenon. It’s just that the US is such high profile country internationally.”
To add to Bond’s bow as singer, songwriter, social commentator and author, Bond can also add perfumier, with the release of v’s scent, The Afternoon of a Faun. The idea was inspired by Vivienne Westwood who came to see one of Bond’s shows wearing her signature perfume, Boudoir, which Bond also wore.
“Once I smelled it on her I couldn't separate it from my memory of her so I could no longer wear it,” Bond says.
“I decided to create my own fragrance. Fortunately, my girlfriend Tilda Swinton had the same idea and after she created her fabulous scent Like This for Etat Libre D'Orange she introduced me and I wrote them a letter with my idea and they liked it.
“When I was in Paris I met with Etienne de Swardt and two years later, voilá, The Afternoon of a Faun - a transcent, for the person who is everything!”
[Image] Photo: David Kimelman
SYDNEY: Justin Vivian Bond is Mx America, Saturday, February 16, 8pm, Carriageworks, Eveleigh. Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au
MELBOURNE: Justin Vivian Bond is Mx America, February 24-25, 9pm, The Famous Spiegeltent. Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au