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Friday, April 30, 2010

Deeper Dish with Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes

Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes is an interesting guy - to say the least. The singer/songwriter describes himself musically as a blend of "George Michael, Emmylou Harris, The Handsome Family and Elvis with a splash of author Louise Hay and filmmaker John Waters" - and he recorded and toured for many years as Yolanda (his fabulous transgender persona) and The Plastic Family (his indie/alt/cult/jazz/rock/pop band). Now I will let him tell you in his own words all about his fascinating life and career, but I must mention what he's been up to lately. A few years ago Tony decided to take his music in a different direction and return to his bluegrass gospel folk and Southern rock roots. The wonderful result is his new CD, House of Joy, which combines Yolanda and Roger Anthony Mapes into one entity while sharing his transformative and spiritual journey with us - and it won "Best Produced Record of 2009" from Pride In The Arts Music Awards. He's also featured in the forthcoming documentary musical, What's the Name of the Dame?, about New York City's top drag queens performing ABBA tunes. So I am delighted to have the one and only Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes here on the Dish to discuss where he's been and where he's going and, of course, answer a few pop culture questions.

Let's begin with House of Joy. What was your inspiration for the CD?
My spiritual and earthly journey from my Southern heritage to my career as Yolanda and now as The Rev. Roger Mapes. When I was a high school senior, I wanted to be a music minister, and I began that spiritual journey with a gospel bluegrass band before moving to NYC to become a singer/songwriter/actor/artsy person. I then became Yolanda and moved to Vermont to live with the Radical Faeries in a commune. I later moved back to NYC as Yolanda gender warrior/performance artist, met my now husband and became interested in a conscious spiritual path again. I now have enrolled in One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in NYC and will be ordained as Rev. Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes in 2011. That overall journey is what the CD is about.

If I asked you to sing one of your favorite songs from the album, which one would you choose and why?
Has to be two - "Muscle Shoals" and "Control Queen". "Muscle Shoals" is about growing up in my hometown, while "Control Queen" is about my Ego. When I am run by my Ego, I have the overwhelming compulsion to CONTROL everyone and everything and that desire makes me a victim of the world I see. The song is about me being unaware of when I am doing that. It's meant to be humorous and serious at the same time.

Since you sing Bobbie Gentry's 1967 hit, "Ode to Billie Joe" on House of Joy, what did you think of the 1976 film starring Robby Benson as Billie Joe? I loved the film. It was indelibly imprinted upon my mind. I was so totally in love with Robby Benson, and I related strongly to feeling trapped in a rural Southern town - being the oddball somehow. Why did Billie Joe McAllister jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge? I really didn't think much about why he jumped off the bridge at the time I first saw the movie. It just made sense to me that he would do that. Later I began to believe that Billie Joe was gay and he couldn't deal with that. My feeling has always been that he had sex with the narrator of the song in order to find out if he were gay or not. He got her pregnant in the meantime, she miscarried and they threw the baby off the bridge before he jumped to his death. It's a classic Southern Gothic tale that I totally related to. What inspired you to create Yolanda? Yolanda was conceived as a joke at a friend's birthday party in Spanish Harlem. It was my first time doing drag and I dressed in a tube top with big hoop earrings and short shorts with a clip-on pony tail. I walked into the room and my cousin was there screaming out "YOLANDA!!!" From that point on Yolanda was off and running. I soon after met the Radical Faeries and moved to the commune in Vermont. The Faeries raised Yolanda into full bloom. Yolanda became very famous in Vermont with her own band called The Plastic Family and a weekly TV show. I decided to move back to NYC in 2000 and had a fabulous time mixing it up with the queer and drag community there. I re-formed my band and played every gig I could and won some wonderful awards for my efforts. I was OutMusician of The Year in 2003, Best Transgender Artist from The Stonewall Society two years in a row (2002, 2003), and Audience Favorite at the 2004 Fresh Fruit Festival. I was also inducted into the GLBT Hall of Fame in 2004. What is the most memorable and/or funniest moment you have had while performing? Lord have mercy on me! I was performing at Wigstock the last time it was live on the Pier. I performed early in the day, but hung out for the whole thing and took a curtain call with everyone else who stayed till the end. My boyfriend at the time was a Radical Faerie hottie with a HUGE dick. During the curtain call, he came running onstage with a skirt on and nothing else. He pulled up his skirt and said to me "Suck my dick!", so I DID - why not, right? Well, all of the cameras turned on us and we went for it. I don't think Lady Bunny was very happy, but we were dying laughing. I almost peeeed!!!! If I visited Muscle Shoals, Alabama - where you were born and raised - what would you tell me to see or do there? Go in the summertime and go water skiing on the lake. After skiing, go to Newburn's Catfish House for the best fried catfish you ever had - AND they have a vast collection of Jesus action figure dolls proudly displayed in glass cases. You would want to go to the Helen Keller Festival in Tuscumbia to a production of The Miracle Worker as well as attend the WC Handy Music Festival. Ms. Keller and Mr. Handy were both born and raised in the area, and every year we honor them with their own summer festival. Of course, you would go see FAME studios where so many amazing recording sessions were done in the 60's and 70's giving Muscle Shoals the nickname "The Hit Recording Capitol of the World". You might want to visit my Mom's hairdresser, also named Roger, who used to do Tammy Wynette's hair when she and George Jones lived in the area. You can also see the legacy of my Daddy, Bill Mapes, by going to The University of North Alabama and watching a Lions basketball game. Dad was a sportscaster and was famous for being "the VOICE of the LIONS". Before you leave, go to the McDonald's on the strip because it's one of the original McDonald's with those wonderful 60's style Golden Arches - very sci-fi looking. In addition to being a singer/songwriter/performance artist, you are a painter. What do you enjoy painting? In the Shoals area, there is a multitude of artists and musicians. I started taking art lessons when I was in elementary school and started playing the guitar when I was 16, so painting and drawing has always been my first artistic expression. I always loved abstract and surrealist artists like Picasso and Dali. I also loved the Alabama countryside and the lake with all the huge trees. I developed an abstract/figurative/expressionistic/surreal form of painting with mixed media - mostly focusing on how similar tree and human forms are. I continue to work with this theme. Being a painter is every bit as much of who I am as being a performer is. They go hand in hand. Your music is featured in Slingbacks and Syrup, a documentary about The House of LeMay (a group of fabulous Vermont drag queens). How did you become involved in this project? These gals are my sistah friends! Since Yolanda was basically born in Vermont and raised in Burlington, I know all of the Vermont drag community including the transgender community and the Radical Faeries as well as The House of LeMay and various and sundry drag personas. Drag is somewhat of a Vermont phenomenon that I like to think I had a huge part in creating. The House of LeMay began around the same time that Cherie Tartt and I started the cable tv program, The Cherie and Yolanda Show. We and The House of LeMay were in competition for a while as to who were the premier drag personas of Vermont - such fun times! We would battle it out in public and make fun of each other all the time - in a good spirited way, of course. The House of LeMay is now famous for hosting the biggest party of the year in Vermont, The Drag Ball, which was created by Yolanda and Christopher Moes (a writer, teacher and Radical Faerie now living in Berlin) and hosted for many years by Cherie and Yolanda until both of us moved away in 2000. I am so proud of The House of LeMay. They are crazy, funny and just wonderful friends. I was proud to have my music in their movie. In high school I was: The editor of my yearbook and a member of The Lakewood High School Hall of Fame. I was also discovering my sexuality and in love with my straight friend Lyndsey, the guy who led me to Jesus. I was a homo, born-again evangelical pot-smoking hippie Jesus Freak and I LOVED IT! My favorite comfort food is: Cheddar cheese and mayonnaise
When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of: The Beverly Hillbillies, The Addams Family, The Munsters, Dark Shadows, Looney Tunes cartoons and Ed Sullivan. Today I never miss a television episode of: Today I don't own a television. I haven't owned a TV since I graduated high school and moved into a Hippie Jesus Freak commune in 1975. I do know a bit of what's on TV through friends and media and have watched shows I liked throughout the years at friends' houses. I used to watch Zena, Buffy and Charmed with my friend Cherie, but I haven't seen any current TV shows at all. My partner and I love anything and everything Star Trek and are currently renting all of the Star Trek TV shows from NetFlix. Currently we're on Deep Space Nine and lovin' it. I especially love the relationship between Commander Sisko and his son Jake - it is so sweet to see that kind of love between a father and son. The very first record album that I purchased with my own money was: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to: Dolly Parton, Gregorian Chants, bluegrass music (any bluegrass musician will do), Alison Krauss and Cyndi Lauper. A few of my favorite movies are: Talladega Nights, Donnie Darko, Avatar and I Love You, Man. If I was asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be: George Clooney! If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people: Madame Blavatsky [founder of Theosophy and the Theosophical Society], author and inspirational speaker Esther Hicks and filmmaker John Waters. What's next for Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes? I am beginning work on my "gospel" album probably called The Yolanda Gospel Hour. I absolutely love gospel bluegrass, country gospel, alt-country, gospel quartet, and chants or praise songs. I am writing in these styles but with "new thought" lyrics based on the book, A Course In Miracles. I'm also reinterpreting some gospel classics and pop-Christian tunes. Thank you, Tony, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish.  To learn more about the man and his music, check out his website at You can also purchase his CDs on Amazon and become a Facebook fan.

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