Low Life is a variety showcase inspired by the book Low Life: The Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante. Assembled by Chi Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell, nightlife legends and creators of the iconic Jackie 60 party, the show was first held in 2007 at Tompkins Square Park to close out the annual Howl! Festival saluting East Village culture. But the show was on hiatus for several years, returning last week for its eighth edition, celebrating legendary East Village dives from The Slide to the Pyramid itself. Hosts Chi Chi Valenti and Paul Alexander (a former Jackie 60 MC) introduced acts inspired by both 1880s-1920s Bowery life and the 1980s Pyramid life, performed by a bevy of New York nightlife stars. Drag queen Sherry Vine, in a wig of blonde curls and a cascading robe of black feathers, sang the 1920s classic “After You’re Gone in a deep purr. Burlesque performer Dirty Martini sauntered onto the stage, cigarette dangling from a long holder, drenched in a velvet robe and glittery eyeshadow. John Kelly transitioned in song from suit and dress shoes to scarf and corset and heels. Heather Litteer performed a monologue after arriving onstage in a trash bag. Poison Eve performed as Tanya Ransom performing Nina Hagen, a teased purple wig on her head, a dress covered in buttons over her torso.
In between acts, Johnny Dynell, in a Klaus Nomi t-shirt and suspenders, spun ABBA and Grace Jones and people danced, toes tap-tap-tapping on the linoleum floor. Later, I shed my coat and scarf and even participated myself. I walked under the crepe paper decorations and Christmas lights and lanterns. I watched as drag queens in towering wigs and heels tiptoed to the bar.
It’s funny, making my way to Low Life that night I was tired almost to the point of tears. Why am I doing this? Shouldn’t I be home sleeping? What is it all FOR? What does it all MEAN? And all this typical tired nonsense I usually dream up for myself when my brain cells are just about to keel over. And yet, arriving at the Pyramid, seeing the show, I forgot all that. I wondered if maybe that’s how everyone felt when they walked in the door, if that’s what kept people coming back all these years. And I wondered why I had stayed away so long.
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