Pat Briggs(Press release from Red Ant, 1999)
He's masterminded two of the most sensational nightclubs in the U.S., New York's Squeezebox and Los Angeles's Makeup, the latter of which was the subject of an hour-long E! Entertainment special with a follow-up piece already in the works. He's performed in everything from glitzy dance productions at Honolulu hotels to NYC go-go lounges, from the first off-Broadway production of "Rent" to the critically acclaimed indie film "All Over Me." His unforgettable image is immortalized in both a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame exhibit and as a forthcoming 10"-high action figure doll. There are even rumors of a movie based on his yet-to-be published autobiography, "The Tom Sawyer Complex." But the most notable accomplishment of Pat Briggs's storied 15-year career has to be Psychotica, the dramatic and daring androgynous band that's flung doors wide open for the current wave of theatrical, glamorous rock acts.
Though Briggs is certainly not the first frontman in the history of rock 'n' roll to ever wear a dress and lipstick or incorporate elements of theater into his act, he definitely was doing it years before flashy, feather-boa'd bands like Orgy and Placebo made it palatable for easily spooked mainstream audiences. "The part that most irritates me is when bands take what I do and then whitewash it so that it's socially acceptable," admits Briggs. "I can totally respect it if they're willing to go all the way and put their ass on the line and take the beating like I always have, but I'm not cool with somebody homogenizing it."
Because Briggs, who never graduated high school but driven by an uncanny instinct, has never been one to tone down or homogenize what he does -- whether it's his outlandish costumes and performances, defiant genre-hopping, or openness regarding his sexuality -- he's taken more than his share of beatings from music industry types who feel inexplicably threatened by him. "I often wonder why I make people so uncomfortable," he muses. "I think part of it is I ride that line between femininity and masculinity so hard and so ambiguously that it irritates people on all sides. So I don't fit in with the gay community any more than I do with the rock community."
With the public's increasing acceptance of decadent, cross-dressing rockers, it's feasible that all communities are now finally ready for Psychotica and Briggs' deliciously twisted vision, once again manifested in his group's third album, the dauntingly titled Pandemic. The only problem, Briggs suspects (laments), is that by the time the mainstream catches up with him, this New York-bred auteur is already moving on into another realm of self-induced (but drug-free) dementia, which goes far beyond the already freakish sexless "alien Barbie" character he created for the release of Psychotica's 1996 self-titled debut, or the elegant vamp/vampire look he adopted for 1998's "Espina."
"I don't know what people are going to think of what I'm doing now," Briggs considers. "It's so futuristic and over-the-top, I even have a tough time clearly articulating it." But, giving it his best shot, the chameleon-like performer offers that his cusp of the millenium persona incorporates a look that is indulgently glamorous, but not necessarily glam-rock. "Most people think of glam as either of two schools: David Bowie or Poison. And I'm neither of those things. If anything, I want to draw from the real glam -- glamorous artists such as Valentino, Little Richard, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, George Clinton & P-Funk. And Liberace, too--he's got an entire museum. I don't give a shit about being in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame--I want my own museum!"
But it's not all style and no substance on Pandemic, which culls inspiration-- both visually and musically - from the sounds of Briggs's early-'80s adolescence: gender-bending and/ or genre-defying artists like Japan, Visage, Queen, Siouxsie, Devo, Nina Hagen, Bauhaus, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, the Go-Go's, Blondie--rather than the expected '70s glitter-rock influences. The presence of a 12-piece string orchestra, as well as the setting where the album was recorded -- Great Lindford Manor, an 11th century castle in Milton Keynes, England -- also add a classical element to Psychotica's potent amalgam of punk, industrial, glam, Goth, new wave, and metal. The result is both timeless and futuristic, not retro, and a far cry from the trashy, New York Dolls-style gutter-rock most people consider to be glam.
"It was all very Gothic and English," recalls Briggs of the recording of Pandemic with bandmate Ena Kostabi and producer John Fryer, who has worked with Gravity Kills, Nine Inch Nails and Stabbing Westward (though Briggs says he was more impressed by Fryer's experience producing This Mortal Coil and the Cocteau Twins). "I'd look out the castle window and there was this old cemetery across the street, and yet the daffodils were blooming, since it was spring. It all had this sort of dark, sinister beauty to it, and that's probably most representative of what I am in general."
This dark beauty is evident on such Pandemic tracks as "Oceans Of Hunger," "Euthanasia," "Contradiction," "Monsoon," and what Briggs describes as his homage to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," the album-closer "Salome And Valentino." These songs are Gothic in the true sense of that term -- sweeping, harrowing, romantic epics that, if they must be compared to anything else, are reminiscent of big-sounding, triumphant Goth opuses like the Sisters Of Mercy's "This Corrosion" and the Mission's "Tower Of Strength," or maybe a space-age revamping of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." Briggs explains that the motive behind this massive, orchestral sound: "I wanted to make this record classy. I like to think I'm headed in that direction--wild, but classy, with an air of dignity about it. I like people who have carried dignity throughout their career -- who have taken chances and still come out smelling like a rose. I think that's crafty, and I think that I will do that."
While Briggs has had difficulty finding acceptance within the often undignified music business, he's had little trouble winning over bewildered yet enthusiastic audiences with spectacular, now-legendary performances. "I've been onstage opening for Metallica, Tool, Iggy Pop, Rancid, the Ramones, Soundgarden -- some of the most testosterone-based acts in the country -- and it's very seldom that I ever got any shit from the audience," he laughs. "The fans are really willing to go on a limb to explore something. I remember being told almost 10 years ago by an A&R guy that what I do would never work in middle America, that they'll never buy it. Seven years later, I was on Lollapalooza, playing in front of 20,000 people a day, and they bought it! I think that proves my point: there's a classic rock 'n' roll thing that if you're working your ass off to entertain them, the audience isn't thinking about who you're sleeping with after the show. They're concentrating on what's going on at the moment."
Although Psychotica's stage shows -- which originated at Squeezebox, back when Briggs and various musician friends played Bow Wow Wow and X-Ray Spex covers for fun --have earned comparisons to the excessive, extravagant rock spectacles of David Bowie and Alice Cooper, Briggs refuses to be labeled a shock-rocker. "I don't do things to push the envelope for other people; I do it to push the envelope for myself. That's the big misconception, that I'm always trying to shock people, which is a bore. I'm actually trying to create something beautiful for them. It's not about shock value, and it never was -- it's about fantasy. My life has been shocking enough as it is, so it's not really something I need to work at."
Briggs is referring to, among other things, the five years he spent on the streets of Hollywood as a runaway and teenage prostitute -- an experience that helped make him the fearless performer he is today. "It shaped me into a sort of cunning, tenacious person who, instead of being internally self-destructive, learned how to visualize that stuff and manifest it," he explains. "That's where a lot of my looks and presentation comes from; it's externalizing how I feel on the inside, like my whole body is a giant canvas to paint on. It's how I express myself instead of being high and locking myself in my house, which would be the other choice."
While Briggs has always been outspoken about his past and does draw on it for inspiration, unlike many mopey, angst-ridden artists, he never uses his music as a platform for complaining and self-pity; this is very much in line with his philosophy of offering Psychotica concertgoers genuinely thrilling, 100% entertainment. "I don't feel that audiences pay $25 for a ticket to go and listen to somebody whine. Go tell your therapist," he retorts. "I think the original reason people grasped onto rock 'n' roll in the first place was because it was a fantasy world. That has gotten lost over the last 10 years. I never walk onstage in my day clothes, in jeans and a T-shirt. I don't think people want to see that, and if they do, they can stay home and sing in their underwear to the mirror."
Although Briggs takes great care in creating his onstage fantasy world, he still makes himself unusually accessible to his audience -- inviting underage kids who can't get into clubs to watch his soundchecks, chatting with audience members after his shows, and even allowing fans to caravan with Psychotica on tour. ("I look behind me on the highway and there's this enormous long line of 60 cars filled with Goth kids behind us," he says proudly His personal approach has won him an extremely loyal fanbase, and that loyalty is reciprocated. Unlike most artists deemed "outrageous" and "controversial," he's well aware of the effect Psychotica might have on his young followers, and he takes that responsibility very seriously.
"I always look at like this: There's one particular day that changed my life, which is when I was 13 and I crawled out my bedroom window and never went back. Things were never the same for me again after that. I think if one thing had happened a little differently -- if I'd had one outlet, or one person that could have been my mentor, that could have stepped in and said, 'Let's take this route instead of the one you're planning on taking' -- it could've been different," he contemplates. "You can say that about things like the Columbine shooting: if one puzzle piece were a little bit different, that might not have happened. I think everybody stands at that window at some point in their life. A lot of those kids that I play for are looking through that window. The point is, does that window represent a view to a better future or does it open onto a dark and frightening reality? Are they going to jump blindly through it, or stay safely inside until they understand things better? So maybe, just maybe, I can be that extra puzzle piece, the one that fits in place and makes the kid think it's okay. It's okay to be different and follow his or her dreams. It's okay to be true to oneself, one's sexuality, one's race, one's human condition -- righteous judges be damned! And perhaps, maybe I won't. But even if I convince, through example, one or two kids that there's a way to get along in the world and still maintain their individuality, then I've been successful."
This time around, however, it's quite possible that Psychotica will reach much more than just one or two kids, in spite of - or perhaps because of - Pat's outrageous and sometimes outlandish presentation (which goes far beyond the already freakish sexless "alien Barbie" character he created for the release of Psychotica's 1996 self-titled debut, or the elegant vamp/ vampire look he adopted for 1998's *Espina*--as inspired by Liberace, kabuki theater, Las Vegas, designer Kanzai Yamamoto, Klaus Nomi, and even a bit of the *Mighty Morphin Power Rangerspersona), and will fulfill the promise of the title *Pandemic*--defined in *Webster's Dictionary* as "of a disease, universal; widely distributed; affecting a nation."