If you've ever been to Squeezebox, the Friday night queer rock and roll party at Don Hills, you might have seen Patrick Briggs scurrying about, looking both menacing and angelic as he set the stage for the performers. With his floppy long mohawk and contemplative face, Briggs might be taken for a groupie, or an East Village artist, or even an incognito drag queen. In actuality, Briggs is a little bit of each.
As lead singer for the heavily-hyped glam rock band Psychotica, openly gay Briggs is a rarity in the industry. Briggs turns the stereotype of "hard rock" singers on its ear with his highly-theatrical persona rooted in Ziggy Stardust-style ambiguity. Growing up in Los Angeles, the Hawaiian-born singer found theater an early haven, appearing in a community theater production of "The Seven Year Itch" at 8 years old. After a relatively uneventful adolescence, Briggs moved to New York to pursue music. He took various jobs in clubs: bartending at Mars, dancing at both the Cat Club and the Pyramid. In 1983, he met an up-and-coming fashion designer named Michael Schmidt, who was moonlighting as the manager of the macho Soho bar Don Hill's. The pair immediately clicked, but it wasn't until over a decade later that their similar affinities would bring about a minor revolution in nightlife.
Throughout the 80's, Briggs tirelessly pursued his singing ambitions, going from band to band, unable to find his niche. He secured 3 record deals over 10 years, but the only album that saw the light of day, recorded under the Prince-like moniker R U Ready, was a packaged stab at arena rock. It fizzled fast.
"All these highly conservative businessmen wanted Pat to be a 'big hair' act like Bon Jovi or Poison," analyzes Schmidt. "Pat's a naturally flamboyant lead singer and they were desperate to tone down his image. They wanted to subdue his natural sex drive, but you just can't shackle somebody like Patrick." It didn't take long for Briggs to realize that his R U Ready bandmates, despite their name - were, in fact, not ready for his brand of showmanship.
"Squeezebox was my rebuttal to the male testosterone-fueled music business," says Briggs. He and Schmidt conspired to create a mixed venue for live bands defined as "sexually ambiguous: not necessarily queer, not necessarily straight." By also booking drag queens who sang live, Squeezebox was a major force behind queer rock's launch into the mainstream. (More evidence: Toilet Boys, a band fronted by Squeezebox DJ Miss Guy, releases a 6 song self-titled CD on Halloween day.) Squeezebox quickly bloomed into a major hotspot, drawing a celebrity clientele and cultivating an international reputation.
Meanwhile, Briggs returned to his theater roots, taking a role in a developing new musical, an unassuming slice of East Village life which later exploded into the phenomenon called Rent. Director Michael Grief cast Briggs as Tom Collins, the teacher who falls for the drag queen Angel. "Pat's voice is so extraordinary," says Grief. "He can sing two notes at the same time, something Monks do. And he captured the authenticity of the character, reacting to it in a real and profound way. But just prior to Rent's meteoric success, Briggs left the production, riding a meteor of his very own.
Brigg shad been struggling to find "enough bands that fit into the Squeezebox format." So he and 5 musicians ("of all orientations," he's quick to point out) formed the band Psychotica. While rehearsing their glam and punk inspired tunes at Don Hill's on the day before their very first performance, a woman who was passing by outside the club stopped in to listen. She offered to sign them on the spot. "I thought she was kidding," claims Briggs- but it was no joke. She turned out to be a representative of American Recordings. So long, Rent. Hello Iggy Pop and Lollapalooza.
Psychotica toured as the opening act for Pop, followed by a booking as the opening act for Metallica on the Lollapalooza mainstage, a major coup for a neophyte band. Though thrilled, Briggs had concerns about audience reaction to Psychotica's avant guarde stage show. Briggs' entrance featured him mounted on a giant spinning mirrored crucifix, wearing a reflective rubber suit, his face painted into a chalk white fright mask. But the Midwestern crowds ate Psychotica up.
Schmidt believes it's a natural progression: "For so long, highly theatrical bands have been dormant. anything to do with glamour was shunned as superficial and inauthentic. Kids wore loose clothes, denied anything sexual. They feigned boredom with sex, perhaps a response to the AIDS phenomenon. But out of that extremely dull, grunge environment bands like Psychotica, Marilyn Manson and KISS have found popularity and represent a desire to break out of the old."
"I think we greatly underestimated the open-mindedness of middle America." says Briggs. "We on the coasts are more closed-minded."
But is Psychotica more than just flash and show? "Hopefully people are drawn to us because they like our music too," says Briggs. Album sales are impressive for a band with no single on the chart and no video. (That may change soon: plans are underway to release Psychotica's cover of Devo's Freedom of Choice as a single with the original Devo spuds as directors.)
Does Briggs regret missing out on the Rentphenomenon? "Broadway's not my scene," he confesses. "It would have ruined my career. Besides, that Pulitzer Prize for Rent is a bunch of crap. It's the Emperor's New Cloths. I was in it, I know firsthand. It's a highly overrated, safe, politically correct product for white middle-class America."
Well, judging from fan reaction, white middle-class America is also intrigued by Psychotica. even the relatively conservative Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has included Briggs in an exhibit alongside his heroes David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
So former go go boy makes it big and buys the farm - literally. Briggs lives in a farmhouse in upstate New York among a menagerie of animals. Not exactly the image one might expect of the shock-rocker. But then again, who'd guessed that he worships Madonna, whom he adoringly calls "his favorite shape-shifter." On the subject of shape-shifting, we asked the sexy paradox what costume he's planning for Halloween.
"Oh man," he replied with a weary chuckle, "for me, every day is Halloween."
(If anybody knows what magazine this article is from please let me know the title and the date! - - EVB (firstname.lastname@example.org))