Diary

Funeral Parade of Roses

Friends and admirers of the late Hattie Hathaway. (All photos: Linda Simpson)

BACK IN THE 1980s, drag queens worldwide were stuck in a time warp, impersonating all the familiar divas in dowdy gowns. One major exception to this sorry situation was the counterculture of Manhattan’s East Village, where drag was being wildly reinvented. Outfits were pieced together at Salvation Army, and nobody cared if your wig was askew or your lip sync imprecise. What mattered was unleashing your eccentricities and raw talent.

Among the prominent personalities to emerge during this liberating era was Hattie Hathaway. As tall as a basketball player and with a wry sense of humor, she often strutted around in a nun’s XL habit and combat boots. Passing as a pretty girl was never the goal; it was more amusing for her to look like an ancient battle-ax. Out of drag, Hattie was Brian Butterick, the drummer for the experimental rock band 3 Teens Kill 4, which he played in with his boyfriend, artist David Wojnarowicz.

Matthew and Andy flank a picture of Hattie.

In January, Brian died of cancer at the age of sixty-two. He kept his illness a secret from most of his friends and cohort. On April Fools’ Day, a few hundred of them, many of whom carried parasols and tambourines, gathered in Tompkins Square Park for an exuberant New Orleans–style funeral parade led by the jazzy Hungry March Band. (The event was spearheaded by Howl! Happening, where Brian was a board member.)

The first stop was the Pyramid Club on Avenue A. Throughout the 1980s, the venue was the epicenter of the neighborhood’s dragquake—Hattie was one of the stars from the Pyramid’s stable. Behind the scenes, Brian was the club’s creative director, booking an eclectic mix of drag revues and hard-core bands. Yet as the decade wound down, he resigned, later to return as a manager in the early ’90s. During that time, he helped nurture the edgy Blacklips Performance Cult, founded by the singer Antony (now known as Anohni).

As the procession continued, with the NYPD blocking traffic, some bystanders cheered while others seemed baffled or indifferent. The Pyramid is no longer a queenly stronghold, and the parade represented a bohemian underground that has mostly disappeared from the gentrified East Village. The journey came to an end at La MaMa Theater, and the crowd piled in for a memorial service emceed by nightlife impresario Chi Chi Valenti.

Several speakers focused on Brian’s days at the Pyramid. Writer Kęstutis Nakas recounted the club’s radical “genderfuck perspective,” and artist Marjan Moghaddam hailed Brian for creating an atmosphere of “inclusiveness and collectivism” for freaky outcasts of all persuasions. There were also performances by club alumni Tabboo!, who sang a newfangled version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and Blacklips member Poison Eve, lip-syncing to Kate Bush.

Actors David Ilku and Nora Burns.

But as downtown doyenne Penny Arcade recalled, Brian “always kept several plates spinning at once,” and his legacy extends far beyond the Pyramid. Over the past two decades, Brian frequently collaborated with Valenti and her DJ husband, Johnny Dynell, including coproducing the innovative nightclub party Jackie 60 and the long-running annual tribute to Stevie Nicks, “Night of a 1,000 Stevies.” (This year’s event, on May 4, is sure to honor him.)

Other speakers mentioned a string of projects that Brian had been involved with over the years, ranging from operating his own restaurant to appearing on Broadway in The Threepenny Opera. Last year, the surviving bandmates of 3 Teens Kill 4 reunited to play at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the memorial featured a duet by two of them, Julie Hair and Doug Bressler. And more than one participant cited Brian’s role as a nightlife historian who knew the dish going as far back as the Mudd Club and Danceteria (he worked at both).

Hapi Phace.

“She was a renaissance gal,” said performer Hapi Phace, who listed botany, vaudeville, and great literature as just some of Hattie’s varied interests. About the only thing that didn’t enthrall Ms. Hathaway, according to her hair stylist and makeup artist Torin, was her beauty regimen. “She told me to make her hair a tumbleweed,” Torin said. “And she couldn’t sit longer than a half-hour for makeup.”

The memorial concluded with a video, featuring a scene from a campy Blacklips stage show called Death, written by the artist Flloyd. In it, Lily of the Valley portrays a bouncy young orphan girl, and Hattie is a dying old woman. Their interaction is humorous yet it pulls the heartstrings, as the girl realizes the finality of Hattie’s situation. The piece goes dark at the end.

Flloyd and Linda Simpson.

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