issue 3 :: Fall, 1995

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Interview: Juliana Lueking

At the time that this interview took place (very long ago!), Juliana Lueking had only a couple of releases out, and I had only heard the pieces on the Simple Machines Machines compilation (see review in MMPP#1) and a Kill Rock Stars 7”. Coincidentally, the weekend I was in New York, the Village Voice ran an article on her and her Dixon Place show: I had no idea that she even lived in New York. She said she was doing a performance at Printed Matter (an extremely cool bookstore, just perhaps the coolest bookstore I have ever been in) the following week, so I should drop by. I missed all of the performances due to a trip to Albany, but managed to catch up with her after the show (Azalia Snail was at the show as well, but I was too shy to say hello). Juliana was kind enough to let me tag along with a group of her friends for a pizza pie extravaganza at John's Pizza, and afterwards we had the following chat. It's been so long since then, that her CD, which then was in the making, is now out. We talked and talked and talked, and I feel bad for having to leave out some large portions of our talk, but that's [paper] zines for you. The interview then:
Juliana Luecking
MMPP: How much improvising do you do when you perform?
Juliana: Quite a lot. I end up with several headlines in my head from the story, and I know I want to hit each one of those topics, but the way I hit them each time is different. I've been doing pieces from the CD and I have a soundtrack that goes with it, but I guess because every audience is different, some of them find things that I think are really serious, really funny. And then things that I think will just blow them away and make them laugh, they think are very serious...
Such as?
One, for instance, is called Rescue Squad, that depending on how I do it, people take it very seriously or not. A woman, maybe in jail, she just says, “when I get out of here, I've got six months of community service.” And she has a desire to help women when they get their periods to be their comfort nurse, and they can call her like they would call a Rescue Squad; and totally very serious about it, what she's going to bring in her bag, hot camomile tea and acupressure charts, all the things she's going to do, just like things you would do for a woman friend that is in bad pain, you know, you run a hot bath, you change the sheets, you tell her stories, you know, stuff like that, so..
It has a humorous quality to it.
It does because parts of it are really, really personal, you know, like part of it is and I get an extra long maxi with wings and put it in her underwear and fold them back and stuff like that. But, either it's so personal to people that they won't do anything, they won't even smirk, you know, or it's so odd that they think it's the funniest thing.
I mean, it sounds like it's a really wild idea, but yet it's a good idea, you know?
Yeah, and it's honest; it's a lovely thing. And it's a thing a lot of women, when they have horrible pain, when their period comes, just live through it and it's a crazy idea that gosh, the government or the parole board or somebody would pay for someone to take care of women in this time of pain, almost every month.
Yeah , it sounds sort of similar to some other [of your] works, it's kind of humorous, but yet it's serious.
Yeah, and the tampon story, the playing doctor thing, yeah. Yeah, it's similar.
How much character do you get into, like when- here's a question. In the Perfect Lesbian Bar story?
It's the one with the typing and stuff, is that the one?
Yeah, who is this person? Is she just a dreamer? Is she a big business mogul? Do you think of these things, like who these people are?
I don't think of it while I'm doing it, but then, after some time goes by, then I think, “oh, this is what this person is” and she's like a homo-exploiter, you know, and she's very busy and she's on the phone and she knows what will work and what will get big money at the door. I mean, she's in a position that she can be dictating and somebody can be typing her words, which puts her like a level above most organizing dykes that I know who are putting flyers up. But then also, it's like, you know, if you've gone to enough gay bars and been bored to tears because they put you all in a “Are y'all getting a room together?” There's music that is just cheap on the taste scale, and they let you make what you can of this time and there are a lot more experimental things to do. I guess also the strip joints for women that I've seen get their ideas off of women stripping for men, and I think lesbians have a kookier attitude toward that, and so it would be funny to see like a girl scout or a field-hockey goalie stripping, because, you know, it's the strong athletic or chubby, whatever kind of women are just sexy, you know, way sexy and real and tangible and I think that's what lesies look for. I don't think of it deeply while it's coming out but then I guess a lot of things are founded in (?) But you also know how much in character I get into it.
Yeah
The thing on Simple Machines, the Baltimore Joe character.
That's the one talking about-
So fuckin perfect
Yeah
I got in many stages of that character over a couple of years, I guess, up to the point where it was like a fifty minute piece. And he goes through all this stuff, like having sex in the back room of a bar and feeling like he's persecuted; and not understanding how his lover changes through his, through their (shared?) HIV status. Sometimes I just slip in a little mimic thing and then a lot of times it's very much me telling a story and having the feeling in my voice of when I first saw the story or it first came together in my head to tell it.
When you play a character, do you try to only play characters that you empathize with, that you would enjoy being?
(pause) nooo
no
(laughs)
ok
They are certainly the attractive and actually the emotionally easiest, I guess. Baltimore Joe is definitely a character I empathize with. The cut that you probably haven't heard that's on As Is, I would do with the Holy Rollers and I did several different characters in it and the piece is about a man in Sabine, Texas, and his name was Lowell Gardner Junior and, I don't know if it was '78, maybe '88, he was picked up by the cops on Christmas Eve, taken to jail and killed. Three cops did it, it's just, there's no contention about why he died or anything. They murdered him, you know, so this piece goes, it's modeled after the 12 Days of Christmas so its:

12 boots and fists, 11 night-stick thrashings, 10 blows of rage, 9 cries for help, 8 hours unconscious, 7 loved ones weeping, 6 children fatherless, Lowell Gardner Junior, 4 racist justices, 3 officers killed him, 2 men were witnessed, and a black man was beaten to death.

So just like that song goes and builds and builds and builds like at 6, I played one of his kids; at 7, I played his wife; at 8 I was him falling to the ground getting beaten; 9, I guess I was a news reporter; 10, something else; and finally the drunken slob cops that are extremely stereotypical, probably, but I had to do it, and so I was the person that was killing him too. And you know, I guess there are a lot of things that are very cruel and vicious and you want to believe that you're not part of that and most of us are in some way supporting the things that happen or that we have let happen. So, to step more deeply into it and be the actual, the person doing the action, it's really hard-boiled and...
Difficult to do?
Very difficult. And very difficult also to be the victim as well, which I think is what I was doing for a few years there in Washington, because that was the—I guess I was feeling up against a wall while I was living there and so, a lot of the things came to me to do, were really sad and about not having any power or say over that so I was lining up with victims and it's changed, I guess, over time because I feel, I don't know, coming from a different place so I feel like I can offer some positive scenarios that people may go into as deeply as they want to because they're a bit radical but have some positive, I don't know if positive is the word, have some hopeful parts to it.
So you mentioned two other projects that you have that you want to do, so any words about them?
HA HA!! One of them is secret. That's the second one that I, ah-
Is it secret as in you're embarrassed about it or secret as in if you don't do it you'll feel foolish(?)
No, actually, I'm sure I'm going to do it, and I think it's going to make a lot of people really happy. That's what I think. Ok, so I say a secret just because it's really dopey, but I've told a couple people and they're like 'don't tell anyone.' And unfortunately it's kind of reality that, you know, if the idea got around, somebody else would probably jump on it and do it like real quick or something.
Yeah, and then you'll be a copycat.
And the other one...do you want me to talk about the other project that I can?
Please.
Ok, I can talk about that. It's the one I was talking to you about between Printed Matter and John's Pizza and I'm not sure what it's going to be like in final form, but I have about 40 minutes of these interviews, the sex interviews.
Ok, yeah.
And I got this inspiration off of this magazine called Teen Fag. It comes out of Seattle; It was written by Gordon Gordon (??) who used to live in D.C. He had an interview with a guy about going to bathhouses for sex. And the interview was a very sensitive one, and most, a lot of it was about how this guy felt about himself going to a public place, knowing that different times in his life he's more attractive, less attractive. What it's like to the the people outside of there because Seattle is kind of small in that way, and I learned a million things from this interview. I was really impressed by the questions that Gordon asked and the guy's sensitivity in answering them. So I was on a plane going to San Francisco, and I have a recorder like this, a AIWA that has a clip on mike, a little stereo mike, so I started the next day asking women questions there.
Just random women?
No, I started out with people I knew, because I didn't know what was going to happen with these. And I lived there for a while so I know several people that would answer very openly probably. So, the first person I asked was Crystal, who I mentioned before, and I asked her “What makes you come?” and then, “How do you go down on a woman?” Two things that I'm totally curious about and I think a lot of women, girls, straight, gay, whatever, guys who want to know more about women, you know, don't always have the chance to talk that openly with people about it. And it's scary, because each time, you know, dating someone new, you don't know all the possibilities with [garbled]. So there's that reason, but also I just thought it would be really funny and quirky, you know. So, Crystal answered like well, “fisting makes me come. Being fisted while someone's biting my nipples really hard, that makes me come, my vibrator all the time makes me come.” You know, she just had this whole list and I was like, “wow, this is going to be good.”
Just off the top of her head?
Yeah, yeah, and she answered it just like that. She laughed some, and I interviewed a bunch of people after a show at Gillman(sp?) Street which is the community center where they do (?punk?) shows and there was an outpunk showcase that night. Mr. Fisty and Tribe 8 and Pansy Division and another band I can't remember, so I got between sets and did a little performance thing and then said “I want to do an interview, a sex interview” so all these girls came up to me afterwards and they answered just like one word answers, you know, “What makes you come?” — “Melanie, she makes me come” or you know “How do you go down on a woman?”— “Gracefully,” you know, stuff like that.
Juliana Luecking
[laughs]
Kooky things. I was in London a little bit, asked a few people here, and I think this weekend I'm going to be asking strangers in the street, stuff like that. The dyke march here, the night before Stonewall is going to be wild like that. So a few things are happening with this that I'm noticing. One is that every woman answers the question with a completely different approach. And also most of them answer my question restating my question and I can see them searching to see if they have some kind of index in their head already about this. And they don't. Most people don't. It seems like. Maybe you've talked intimately with somebody about this but certainly not, you know, person to person, maybe there's a chance other people will hear them, so because of that, there's nothing already in their head about these questions and that there are millions of ways to come down on women.
Are those just your only two questions?
Yeah, yeah. Of course this has been like totally exciting and it makes me think I should get a DAT recorder and a good mike and ask more questions, but it's these questions for now, so I don't know what's going to happen. I thought that I would use them like for a soundtrack or something. But I think that they are interesting and really powerful and strong that I don't even think I have to edit very much. Just put one after another and put them on tape, on a CD or something, because they come out very erotic, and the women are very confident and very powerful and I listened to them with a friend of mine from Switzerland-and before I just like listened and I remembered what it was like to hear them say that and how funny it was- but I listened with him through stereo speakers and I just haven't heard that kind of content before and what I thought was funny and eccentric was super woman power stuff.
Well, I can't wait for it. How did you get hooked up with Kill Rock Stars?
This is a really nice story. I'd been doing my thing in Washington and the record that you know that's on Simple Machines was out for a while. My friend Maria from the Holy Rollers had just moved to San Francisco and told me to come out for a month, so I did. Then one of the things while we were out there, we rode up to Olympia, to the underground summer pop festival they had, and a couple of girls from Tribe 8 were up there and we rode into town, we got out of the car, sat down on the curb with some people that Maria knew and Kathleen Hanna, she recognized me and we hadn't met before, and she told me she was doing like, several things. Like her band was playing, she was doing spoken word readings. She was recording, writing stuff, so officially she had twenty minutes of spoken word time at Smithfield Cafe and she only needed five, so she wanted to give me the other fifteen minutes, so I thought that was beautiful, so I did that and Slim approached me and said there were these word core singles and would I like to do one? It was just like that. He was like, “You can record some stuff now. He had like a bunch of bands recording for an album that they did. But I think he had most of that set up because I think I was kind of a surprise person there. So then he said “Do it.” I said, “I'd like to do it” I made the whole thing, sent them the tape. So that's how that was. And it was also, I guess it was a similar thing with Simple Machines. Actually, Simple Machines have asked for a piece but we already had done it, and then they were very open to what we (handed?) to them with what they printed, and I don't know if nobody just hadn't told me that or what, but Kill Rock Stars it's like (more full?) are just a(?) control than you can ever imagine. I mean they're just like, “Yeah, you wanna do it, do you want a contract? Ok, we'll do a contract.” And also the way that they run it is that after costs for production, the split is 50-50 between Kill Rock Stars and the artist, which is highly unusual and wonderful. So then, between the single and this, I didn't know if they had full length spoken word stuff so I told Slim I was doing it or I wanted to do another one, another single, and he said he had this like large rotation going, there are so many people that wanted to do singles that I had to be way back at the beginning again, so I just started making this with the hopes that they would want it or that there would be a group, a label, that would be similarly cool. I don't think there's one that exists that's as cool as Kill Rock Stars is for this particular project. So, Slim wanted me to try, because their distributor mostly handles hard-core music, a lot of people don't look in their catalog for literary stuff or spoken stuff so he was concerned about that somewhat. And so, I made like 15 demo tapes and sent them around with letters. I didn't get any offers, so finally I wrote Slim a letter that had 10 reasons why I wanted to be on Kill Rock Stars and two of them are that, well, there's a lot of them, maybe I can remember, but I know the first two are that Kill Rock Stars isn't homophobic and the second reason is that they're not homo-exploitive.
Just sort of taking you as what you are.
Yeah, yeah. It's extremely important and I think extremely rare too, to have that combination and we're putting on the outside of the CD that it's available from Kill Rock Stars for 10 dollars because I know it goes into, I mean, everybody can do their business, but the prices get so jacked up in some of these stores, you know. So, people can look at it, if they heard about it, they can copy the address off and get it for ten bucks, you know, it's like that, so that's how that connection happened, and it's been a very good one.
Ok, if you have anything, any final words, this would be the time.
Ok. I like doing 'zine interviews because I never have to pre-think what it is I'm going to say, or try and guess what it is the interviewer wants me to say because my impression is that what the interviewer wants me to say is exactly what comes out of my mouth.
That's the really cool thing about 'zines.
So I recommend them to everyone.
Interview conducted in New York City, June 1994 by Josh Ronsen
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