THE LISA JACKSON DOCUMENTARY
Lisa Jackson is first and foremost a musician. Therefore, it’s only fitting that Becca Goldstein’s film “The Lisa Jackson Documentary” open with footage of Ms. Jackson during a live performance. She’s screaming out to the audience, “Are you a rock and roll star? I’m a rock and roll star!” Throughout the movie, we get to see a lot more footage of Lisa turning it out with songs like “I Am A-O-K”. On stage, Lisa Jackson’s “look” is sometimes influenced by the androgynous style of David Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust era. Other times, she adopts an “80’s bad girl” look (Think Debbie Harry and “Like a Virgin”-era Madonna), with the lacy blouses, miniskirts, high heels, and a lot of makeup. Musically, Lisa Jackson is undisputedly guitar and vocals-driven rock and roll, with the spirit of punk running through. As those who have been in that scene know, that spirit was all about intense performance, pageantry, an “anything goes” mentality, and…breaking the rules! Early on, Lisa Jackson probably realized that breaking the rules– in this case, society’s rules– would be necessary for her own survival: The singer/songwriter started out life down South as a handsome, dark-haired boy named Steve. But Steve knew that beneath the masculine surface, there was a woman inside.
Whether or not she’s performing, Lisa Jackson is appealing to watch. In street clothes and without makeup, she has the androgynous appeal of a cute New York City boy; when done up, she evokes a earthy, European-style beauty. Throughout the film, Jackson displays an impish quality whether she’s opining about the empowering qualities of taking estrogen, getting her electrolysis treatments, or giddily declaring, “Vaginas can be icchy– but I like them!” Other aspects of her personal life are shown, including Jackson visiting her hometown in Georgia, where her Southern accent mysteriously resurfaces. Director Becca Goldstein also gets a lot of lively input from Lisa’s peers, many of them musicians and artists themselves. The first one we meet is Jayne County, a transsexual music artist in her own right. Although Jayne needs a little prompting (Remember, this rock star has been in the NYC music scene for a L-O-N-G time!), she offers some of the funniest moments in the documentary. Ms. County states she admires Lisa because, as opposed to a lot of the drag and transgendered performers she knew, Lisa wrote her own music, sang in her own voice, and played her own guitar– which was presumably rare when genderfuckers were just starting to appear on the queer music and performance art scenes. The late Dean Johnson of the Velvet Mafia calls Lisa’s persona that of a “warrior goddess” and likens her to the berdaches– the high-regarded Native American people who were of dual genders and reportedly held special powers. Other interviewees include legendary drag artist Mother Flawless Sabina, Rose Royale, and actress Rosie Perez, who compares Lisa’s gender outlawism (“A trans rock star!” Perez proclaims excitedly) with Little Richard, whose flamboyant looks and antics broke the mold back in his day as well.
A documentary about a trans person always has the potential to be exploitative, or focus too much on the titillating aspects of the subject’s life (i.e.: the actual sex change). But “The Lisa Jackson Documentary” is never exploitative, perhaps because in mirroring its subject, we realize that Ms. Lisa Jackson is clearly in control of her own life and persona. The film is really bolstered by montage-style footage of Jackson doing what she does best: making music (Her performance of “Fabulously Done” is a high point of the film.) and, well… just being Lisa Jackson. In one scene, Lisa takes us to her “day job”, where one of her co-workers calls Lisa, “one of the most down-to-earth people that I ever met– and she just happens to be a trans woman.” Indeed, that’s the gist of the documentary: Lisa Jackson is a down-to-earth person who happens to have an extraordinary story to tell.
After a showing of the film, Lisa Jackson and Becca Goldstein gave an exclusive interview to Jed Ryan.
JR: So, how long did it take to make “The Lisa Jackson Documentary”– from the decision that you were actually going to do it, until the movie was finished?
LJ: We decided to do it in late 2005, and we started filming the whole year of 2006. It took a good two years to finish up the editing, and then all the press production. We had to do some fundraising and stuff like that. So, I’d say, all and all, that it was a good three year process, maybe three and a half years. Becca had started filming me without any real goals probably six month prior to that… which kind of led into making a movie. It was a long process!
JR: Do you find, throughout your career, that people– especially the press– have tended to concentrate more on your being a trans person more than on your music?
LJ: When I was heavily performing, especially in the beginning, I think that’s what people focused on: the transition. It was like, a gimmick or something. And I was still somewhat unclear at the time: Was I transgender? Was I a cross-dresser? For me, I was working it out as I was going, figuring all these things out. So, I think they did focus on the trans issues a lot, but I think that once the music got better and the band got better, a lot of the focus did become more on the music… and also how I was expressing myself through the music. That was the connection. I never minded so much being labeled a “trans artist” as long as it wasn’t holding me back from anything. If people weren’t being judgmental about it, I didn’t mind.
BG: I think that if you would have kept performing, it would have been a bigger deal though… because towards the end, you wanted to break the mainstream barrier, not just be identified with the gay music scene…
LJ: Yeah, we weren’t just playing at gay clubs. We were playing at The Knitting Factory and the Canal Room. We were the headliners. It was definitely getting to that point. I was very much an alternative type of person, but playing in a very straight venue. Which is good. You’re not “preaching to the choir”! (Laughs)
JR: Jayne County, when I interviewed her years ago, called you her “spiritual goddaughter”!
LJ: I love Jayne. Jayne did everything that I’ve done, like, 20 years ahead of me. She was doing it when she was being threatened by a gun in a bar. Not to take anything away from what I’ve done, but she’s very much a…
LJ: Pioneer, yeah. And there were a lot of those people in the scene. Dean Johnson, who’s in the film… Hattie (Hathaway), who’s running the HOWL Festival… All these people who really knocked down the door for someone like myself to really be able to go to CBGB and play. Like, I didn’t have to beat down the door to get into CBGB; they had already done it. Which is great!
JR: Yeah! What’s your relationship like with the New York City music scene now?
LJ: I think that right now… well, I don’t think about it! I am definitely not a part of the scene. And I don’t really think about performing. I very rarely pick up my guitar. The only way I can really explain it is that: Once I quit performing with the band, I did expect to perform solo, and do my own thing. But I decided to take some classes and go to school. It totally opened the door for me with new ideas and thoughts about where I wanna go with my life. I think that as a trans person, I’ve kind of reached this place where I don’t need to express myself through music anymore. As an artist, I feel that I’ve said what I had to say. There’s not much pushing me to do that at this point. And, some changes have happened to me. Becoming famous really isn’t that important to me anymore; playing music just to be famous is definitely not a goal! I just don’t really have anything pushing me to do that right now. It’s not a bitter thing. Maybe some burnout– but it’s just not there. My mind just totally went to a different place. My goals are very different now. I think that as trans people, you can get into a situation like I was in, where you think that music and performing is really all you can do. But once I got into school and the regular job that I have now, I realized, “No! I can have a regular life just like anyone can– a job, and a nice place to live, and all this… just, stuff!” Those things weren’t important to me before, and now they are– and I don’t know if that’s the transition, or just me getting older. It’s definitely a different part of the journey now!
See more at www.LisaJacksonRocks.com/Documentary