A Strange Fruit – Joey Arias

Joey Arias is a rare bird. A strange fruit. And they don’t exist like this anymore. They broke the mold many, many years ago.

Joey’s had a storied career. He ran around town with Warhol. Lived with Klaus Nomi. Performed with David Bowie on SNL. And then he embraced drag and started channeling Billie Holiday. He moved to Vegas and starred in Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity.

Joey has harsh features. His look is unique, severe even, definitely not pretty. He owns this look. He’s old school, with a voice and beauty, that for many, is an acquired taste. The visual matches his strange blend of talent. He’s got vocal chops. He improvises. He’s a true musician. And he’s an impassioned performance artist.

Joey’s performing this weekend in NYC with Ben Allison’s jazz troupe. Do not miss the show. I was in the audience last week, surrounded by downtown legends like Justin Bond and Penny Arcade, and I was blown away.

Joey brought the house down. His costumes were divine. And he did Billie and covered the Beatles and he did a nuanced, vocally impressive reading of “Strange Fruit,” backed only by Allison. The song, made famous by Billie Holiday, is about racism and lynchings and hangings of black men in the South. Written as a poem in the 1930s, and tonight performed by a seasoned performer who knew Warhol and Nomi, the song took new meaning in the wake of news this week about the 5 suicides of gay kids across the country. Joey then made me laugh. And his shtick, vocal chops and a fully-developed stage persona, barely exists in drag these days. It barely exists in music too. Too much bubblegum and not enough depth and darkness. But he’s still doing his thing. And his impressive reading of that song, and it’s name an obvious label for himself, came to life in that packed theater on Grand. Joey Arias makes memories. The kind that last forever.