by Kevin Allman
Our dear departed music columnist Alison Fensterstock (who left to write for some paper or another) wrote the first major article about New Orleans' sissy bounce scene for Gambit back in the summer of 2008. Since then, the scene has gotten national attention -- partly due to Alison -- from national magazines and various music festivals. But now sissy bounce has either made it or jumped the shark (depending on how you look at it): Katey Red, Vockah Redu, Big Freedia and the rest are all in a huge feature in the upcoming New York Times Sunday Magazine.
The story, "New Orleanss Gender-Bending Rap," by Jonathan Dee is ... well, a mixed bag. Alison seems to have been Dee's main source (and he quotes her extensively), but like so many well-meaning, well-written stories about the city, there's still a New Orleans As Exotic Zoo feel to it, especially when Dee drops phrases like "the cultural Galapagos that is New Orleans." Dee follows Katey Red and Vockah Redu to Austin, Texas, for a performance in "a cruddy little venue" called the Beauty Bar:
Nothing if not old-school, [Katey] led the crowd (and her two backup singers) through a series of shout-outs to the projects and neighborhoods of New Orleans, even though very few in the audience would have any reason to know their names or to distinguish one from the other; she led them in a chant that made Katrina and FEMA into rhyming objects of the same obscene verb.
Why does it matter that no one in the Austin audience would know the Calliope from the Melpomene? It's Katey's song. Why would she alter her performance? Who would expect her to? If Beausoleil played Austin, would it be worth remarking on that very few in the audience knew Cajun French?
And why include this quote from Freedia's DJ/manager, Rusty Lazer?
Ive lived in New Orleans a long time, and I know a lot of people, but youve just seen something that about 95 percent of my white friends will probably never see.
Dude! I bet it's a kick when you're the only non-Chinese guy in the Chinese restaurant, too!
It's cringey statements like that which led a Facebook commenter to note, "This guy is treating NOLA bounce like he's writing for National Geographic, which equals gross."
Anyway, the rappers all come off really well in the story, and it's great to see them get the attention they deserve (and Alison the attention she deserves), but the whole article carried with it the whiff of that occasional New York Times/NPR attitude that the whole world -- and, all too often, New Orleans in particular -- is a subculture in a Petri dish that has to be "interpreted" and classified by outsiders. Which brings us to the smartest line in the whole story:
Vockah Redu who lives in Houston now, having gone there six years ago to study performing arts in college probably chafes at the sissy bounce label more than anyone. My daughters gonna be reading that soon, he told me with a tight laugh. But Ill be able to explain it to her. Its just stardom, and I feel like itll die down eventually. Right now the medias buying it, so sissy bounce it is.
P.S. to the sissies: If Madonna or Lady Gaga comes sniffing around after reading this piece, make them pay you a lot of money up front.
P.P.S. to readers: Alison's story was better.