The phabulous Phoebe
When I last saw Ms. Phoebe Legere, she was smiling and waving goodbye from the backstage area of the Met, where she'd opened for my band the Young Adults. She had to wake up early, she said, to attend her niece's graduation at St. Mark's School in Southborough, Massachusetts.
The next time I saw Phoebe she was whooping it up at a celebration for the New York Underground Museum, an organization she founded in 2006. She had, in less than two days, morphed from musician to museum director. In her introductory remarks at the opening ceremony, she described NYUM as "a museum of friends, dead and alive, a museum of community, energy, buildings, people, music, art, protest, freedom, labor, work, and expression! It is a museum of subterranean, tipsy, aphrodisiac lovers and tumescent admirers of words, colors, and concepts. The museum is a safe space for improvisatory, shamanic, electric mind dances unfettered by banks, art dealers, speculators, and corporations." The assembled artists cheered.
I arrived at the museum about 30 minutes before the scheduled Howl/Happening. "Rudy, how did you get in here? Don't answer that . . . go out and get something . . . buy some alcohol! Buy anything!" she greeted me sweetly.
I rushed out to the liquor store about eight blocks away and returned, panting heavily. "I bought two bottles of gorilla piss laced with sugar," I blurted, hoping to win her approval.
"Great, just pour it into those punch bowls," she said, "and I'll add my secret Ooh La La aphrodisiac."
Shaman and painter Dr. Barnaby Ruhe arrived with a large bag of ice to add to the punch. Phoebe tasted it.
"This is absolutely the worst thing I've ever tasted," she declared. "Now Rudy, make believe you're a woman and make this whole serving area look beautiful." Phoebe is a born hostess.
There is not the space here to describe everything that happened at the New York Underground Museum celebration but here are a few brief highlights:
1) The real high point of the night was the dedication of the official flag of the New York Underground, designed by a brilliant young artist, Beatrice Kim. Phoebe, dressed as Pierrot in clinging diamond tights and deathly moon-white pallor, led a street parade out onto 2nd Street in full-throated song, accompanied by her rhinestone-encrusted accordion. Everyone joined in and life on that particular block of 2nd Street instantly became a street party with people pouring out of their apartments and passers-by stopping and motorists and cab drivers rubbernecking — almost all with big smiles on their faces and some singing along.
2) The band of artist-revelers marched back into the museum to watch a screening of the controversial, virtually impossible-to-see film by the late, legendary artist and musician Larry Rivers, "Tits."
3) After I delivered my poem "Ode to the Founder/Director," I adjourned to the garden in the back of the tri-level museum. Phoebe coaxed actor David Zen Mansley to perform the famous opening monologue from Richard III ("Now is the winter of our discontent /Made glorious summer by this son of York /And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house"). Mansley looked like a combination of Shakespeare and Satan with a highly stylized mustache and goatee. He wore a black T-shirt with a grinning, decomposing skull illustration on it, and a full length black leather coat. Phoebe placed a Madagascar chameleon puppet on his shoulder. Mansley's performance was intense, ferocious, and startling. He is Shakespeare.