When the world seems cold and cruel, devoid of the kind of seasonal spirit that motivates you to throw back the covers and forge ahead instead of curling up and calling in sick, there’s one surefire way to give gloom the heave-ho, ho, ho: Knock back a cocktail, wrap yourself in Mink, and laugh it off.
“I want Christmas to be a secular holiday. I want everybody to have access to it, because everybody lives with it – the decorations, the cards, the parties,” said Mink Stole, whose appearance in every John Waters film since 1966 makes for a clip reel that includes pleasuring Divine with rosary beads, waving a “No Grinding” sign at dancing teenagers, and being phone pranked into unleashing a tirade of expletives on Kathleen Turner. In real life, however, when discussing the holidays, this cult comedy icon is not prone to salty language… right?
“Love it or dread it, dammit, ya gotta deal with it,” insisted the Baltimore native, whose comforting and joyous use of that swear word also gets star billing in the title of her upcoming solo show, “Mink Stole: It’s Merry Christmas, Dammit!”
First performed in Manhattan two years ago – and consumed with gin-soaked delight by a certain representative from this very publication – it’s a tart, consistently engaging, occasionally introspective collection of unconventional songs, vivid recollections (a downscale winter in Provincetown with Waters, Divine, and friends), and origin stories that rebuke the party line so many of us grew up with.
“Christmas was a holiday that the early Christians stole from the Romans,” said the Catholic-raised Stole. “It was not originally about Christ at all. Early Christians just co-opted it.” Likewise, the record is set straight, or at least bent toward justice, in her roster of secular musical numbers — which includes a “Twelve Days of Christmas” rendition that turns that soul-crushing endurance challenge into an uplifting (albeit mandatory) exercise in audience participation.
“I’m also singing ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ in French,” promised Stole, “which is a really different story. It has noting to do with the Christ Child. I’ll be doing standards and originals. I try to cover all the moods of the holiday.”
In deference to the current mood of the country, this year’s show will veer considerably from the 2014 model, as Stole was quick to point out in our post-election phone interview — mutually, if naively, scheduled with the notion of adding a female president to our list of topics. Instead, the call had Stole recalling her day-after reaction to Trump’s victory.
“I spent Wednesday in a virtual fetal position,” she recalled. “I was physically numb. I felt like I felt when my sister was killed in a plane crash. I’m devastated. I mean, I am sad, truly grieving — and I tell you what’s making me madder than anything: It’s that we who voted for Hillary are being called on to put aside our differences and unite with the powers that be. I can remember when Obama was elected. None of that came from the Republicans. But at the same time, I am a Democrat, and Democrats are kinder, gentler people, generally. I don’t want to be a hater.”
So far, Stole hasn’t had the opportunity to see if her face can execute a 180-degree turn of the cheek: “No one has admitted it [voting for Trump] to me, and I think that’s sad, too, that people are ashamed of it. Maybe they just fear my wrath.” Still, Stole noted that the chilly scene of winter set for January 20, 2017 “adds another element to my ‘Merry Christmas, Dammit!’ title. It’s an element I wasn’t expecting, but it makes sense. We have to fight the negativity, to keep our sense of humor. So I have updated [the show]. I probably will not be telling my sad stories, that my father died on Christmas. I think I’m not going to go there this year.”
Given the weight of the holiday since the loss of a parent as an adolescent, she explained, “The most I ever hoped for from Christmas is a nice day. I feel like if Christmas has been pleasant, that’s a win.”
This year, “there will probably be 35 to 40 people” celebrating with Stole on December 25: “It’s a big group; brothers and sisters, their kids and their kids — and we get along pretty well,” which is a far cry from her early days as a member of the John Waters “Dreamlander” ensemble.
“For years,” recalled Stole, “I was this huge embarrassment. Basically, my mother would try her damnedest to keep anything I did away from anyone she knew, especially her [second] husband, which is ludicrous, because he didn’t care. By the time [1988’s] ‘Hairspray’ came around, many of my mother’s friends told me they liked what I was doing, and she’s actually an extra in the movie, so things did change.”
The American landscape has changed, as well, having managed to make peace with the brand of depravity that Waters and Stole once trafficked in. Earlier this year, a scrubbed-up version of 1970’s Waters-directed “Multiple Maniacs” played the IFC Center for several weeks.
“I love the restoration,” said Stole. “For me, ‘Multiple Maniacs’ is like watching home movies. So many people who are in the movie are no longer alive that it’s bittersweet. There were things I had completely forgotten, like when Divine takes a sledgehammer to a car. I love that… and I am still amazed when the stuff we did when we were practically children has any relevance now.”
Indeed, “cinematic atrocity” acts such as Divine’s straight-from-the-source, real-time ingestion of dog poo (the final scene of 1972’s “Pink Flamingos”) may no longer offend in an era when far greater transgressions await on YouTube — but the old gang’s celebration of recreational pleasures and uncompromising individuality in the face of repression is just as relevant today, and will perhaps be even more so over the next four years. Which begs the question: Isn’t it time for Stole to pen her memoirs so struggling artists and budding activists can benefit from the wisdom of this swear-spouting, card-carrying Democrat?
“Writing is the hardest thing in the world to do,” said Stole, though she didn’t necessarily rule out an autobiography. “When I imagine writing a book, I imagine walking around my house with a joint in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, while some amanuensis is writing down everything I say.”
Spring for the VIP tickets to Stole’s show, and you can quiz her on this matter, or any other, during the meet-and-greet. Just be sure to wish her a merry you-know-what, instead of a happy… well, you know.
“I really hate that phrase, ‘Happy Holidays,’” said Stole. “I want to be wished well for every holiday: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s. I think ‘Happy Holidays’ is just a cheap shortcut. So Merry Christmas — and if you celebrate another religion, that’s an extra.”
MINK STOLE: IT’S MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAMMIT! | The Cutting Room, 44 E. 32nd St. | Dec. 10, 7 p.m. | $25; $50 for VIP meet & greet, plus $20 food & drink minimum at spincyclenyc.com or 212-352-3101 | Debut CD “Do Re Mink” at minkstole.com
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