Someone once told Andy Warhol that he and his 1970s New York art pals invented punk. "No," he replied. "We just knew a few drag queens." Gender trouble has always been essential to rock and roll, and especially to punk and New Wave, music genres dedicated to tearing apart and restructuring fundamental ideas about identity and power. Who wasn't a drag queen in 1978? Even Joey Ramone borrowed his style from Ronnie Spector.
The Houston band Wild Moccasins takes a lot from the punk side of New Wave; its synth-happy arrangements push forward with a raw aggressiveness, and the vocals, mostly by the glammed-up force of nature Zahira Gutierrez, bring Kate Bush's wail and Deborah Harry's deadpan into the present day. The group's new video for the song "Eye Makeup," from the album 88 92, honors the wigged-out, sequin-flashing drag goddesses who made such a difference in the New Wave scene. Wild Moccasins and the directors Otis Ike and Ivete Lucas set the video in Galveston's long-standing gay bar, Robert's Lafitte, and feature its veteran show folk. Guttierez contextualizes her own act within this scene, while the boys in her band get to know the boys, girls and drag outlaws in the bar.
"Eye Makeup," Gutierrez said in an email, is "about being rejected by people if you decide to not wear a mask that day. Sometimes those people are people you thought were your friends. I wrote the song when I came to the realization that I shouldn't hide behind the mask, but embrace my flaws." The song's chorus laments what can happen when a person risks self-exposure: "I took my makeup off, eye makeup off, you said I looked tired," cries Guttierez, glad to be naked in a way, but knowing the consequences.
Guttierez found her match when she got to know the regulars at Robert's Lafitte, whose owner, Robert Trainor, is something a celebrity himself (he was featured in the award-winning 2013 documentary Before You Know It.) "I met the Queens of Robert's Lafitte — it turned out that performing is what helped them get through the tough times as well," she explained. "And it's no mask we wear, but our self-expression we are dying to convey." In the video, Gutierrez covers up her costume and heads into an uncertain night. But the Ladies of Lafitte, fully self-possessed, dance on.