The Poetry Project

Endless Kindness by Macy Rodman (Sweat Equity, 2019)

Album Review by NM Mashurov

One of the many utopias I return to in memory takes place during Macy Rodman’s performance at the 24 hour show at DRTY SMMR last August. Macy was supposed to go on around midnight but the show of course ran late so it was nearly 3am. The room stayed full. People who had turned to leave opted to wait. Imagine: a packed storefront, gate rolled down. Mirrors on the walls, flowers on the ceiling, lush clubwear on display. The light is purple. The smutty heist-themed fashion show just wrapped and the “models” are still spiky in zip-tied chain harnesses. All your friends and lovers and all of their friends and lovers are in a semicircle dancing, beaming, jumping up and down, chanting: “Greased / Up / Freak! Greased / Up / Freak!” Macy Rodman is at the center of it all.

Macy Rodman’s second full-length album, Endless Kindness, came out on Sweat Equity in the fall. As with Rodman’s first album, The Lake, it’s sugary dance pop and combative punk, comedic gold and performance art. Rodman’s bio used to read “trans-pop Courtney Love.” Recently, Paper magazine opted for “Marianne Faithful covering Britney Spears.” Both are apt. Rodman’s performances, currently as a musician and a co-host on the genius Nymphowars podcast, formerly as a host and performer at Bath Salts’ unhinged drag weekly, feel like marathoning reality TV while downloading a decade’s worth of celebrity gossip directly to your prefrontal cortex and chasing it all with Family Dollar’s post-Easter candy sale—deeply chaotic, deliciously excessive, utterly glamorous. Traversing the viscous sludge of total information, we are the sum of our influences as well as the animating force behind them. In Kindness, that force is smart, absurdist, and demonically funny. Rodman’s referentiality is equal parts fire sign trolling and full-hearted celebration. As she asserts in “Best Actress,” it is the role of a lifetime.

Macy and I worked at the same dive bar for years. The owners were kind, kind enough to give some lovable but unemployable freaks a paycheck and the free reign to take time off for tours or shows. We rarely had shifts together. Every time I came in to find last night’s special something grotesquely sweet, the name poetically hilarious, it was a safe best it was Macy’s doing. I don’t usually do sweet drinks but who alive is not a sucker for a frozen marg or maraschino cherry—the sugar buzz that makes ideas and jokes come rapid-fire, makes mischief spread across your face like smeared lipstick.

The penultimate year of working at the bar I found myself extremely over it. The novelty of being a Bushwick-famous NPC was wearing off—I was depressed, I just wanted to sleep. It was then that I leaned most into the fake-it-til-you-make-it party praxis. Waking up from the devil’s nap at 8pm at my absolute lowest, knowing I would have to serve ‘fun’ and ‘desirable’ for a dollar or two at a time for the next six hours? I blasted pop music til I believed it. The more dysphoric I felt the more glitter I put on, the more abject the more mesh. The performance gave me energy—made the night fun again.

“I’ve always had a weird relationship to [sex],” Rodman said in an interview with Document journal. “‘Greased Up Freak’ was written from a space of imagining what it would be like if that weren’t the case… if I were as freaky, reckless, and without reservations as possible.” The magic of pop is a magic of wish fulfilment: leaning into the fantasy makes it so. The result is of course tongue in cheek (perhaps pantomiming a blowjob) but it creates a very real space of desire, as well as the most unabashedly joyful and accessibly danceable track on the album. “Freak” plays with genre conventions of club music and desire in a way that recalls trance and Eurodance, as well as the oiled up spring break babes who market it. Halfway through the song a particularly energetic breakdown drops out and the chorus comes in on a gauzy synth wave, with Macy crooning, “I’ll give you anything you want / long as you fuck me all night long / This is a fantasy to me / I wanna be your greased up freak.” By the time the beat comes back, any lingering questions of parody are off the table: we have been transported, we are called upon to be the greased up freaks we want to see in the world.

Rodman’s aesthetic is equally in conversation with horror movies: the faux-horror flick poster on their merch, the slasher tropes in the “Violent Young Men” video. The world of Endless Kindness is thus populated with grotesquely dystopian moments: a poetics of terror in the confrontationally visceral, noisy Genesis P-Orridge-inspired “Running Down My Back,” the ominous dissonant techno of “Ice Giant.”

Even the more playful tracks have a dark side to them. On the bouncy “Hell,” which chronicles the lowlights of club life (“I tried and I lied just to get us inside but now I say ‘oh well’ / I think this is my last time getting high in here cuz this is hell”) Rodman’s vocal acrobatics go from low croon to nasally sneer as the Axl Rose-like refrain “Where do we go now / where do we go” doubles as both a quest for the next party and an existential question. “Vaseline” opens on a line about experiencing sexual assault but centers around a sing-songy chorus of “plastic surgery on the beach / isn’t easy but it’s cheap.” To punctuate the sentiment, an out-of-place classic rock guitar lick glitches into a choked up wail. There’s a too-muchness about it all that feels exactly right for the too-muchness of the world.

In a section of Disidentifications regarding Vaginal Davis’s “terrorist drag,” José Esteban Muñoz contrasts “commercial drag [which] presents a sanitized and desexualized queer subject for mass consumption” with drag that, according to Félix Guattari, is meant to “trouble [spectators], to stir up uncertain desire-zones that they always more or less refuse to make bodies...break away from the representations and restraints on ‘the social body.’” Rodman’s performances collapse that tension between the seductive and the monstrous, as well as another of Muñoz’s cited contradictions (this time via Julian Fleischer): between the “glamour”/“clown” dichotomy of drag personas. There is something to be said for both being in on the gag and allowing yourself to be gagged by it.

Two of the biggest gags on the album are “Berlin” and “Ugly Bitch,” the latter featuring Montoya Montana and Magda. Both songs are the height of derangement: “Bitch” takes the playground diss track and elevates it to new absurdities by urging the antagonist to “rip that head right off of your neck and put that dick inside of your head,” and committing to the bit such that it takes over the song entirely. “Berlin” is a send-up of Bushwick’s storied Berlin obsession—narrated in a style reminiscent of Mykki Blanco’s “Mendocino, California,” Rodman delivers a monologue about how “life-changing” the city is, how “sexuality is like a totally different thing” and “drugs don’t even have names” and you can have an intense connection with someone who jerks off at you in a karaoke bar and your first art installation ever will end up in Artforum because “shit like that just happens all the time in Berlin.” It’s impossible to get through without ugly cackling.

Working at a bar, or any public place, as a trans person is not ideal. Along with the regular indiginities of service work there are the constant misgenderings, the assholes, the well-intentioned clueless people who are still, somehow, assholes. There is a hypervigilance you develop when all eyes in the room are on you, wanting something. Learning the shift between the preen and the attack becomes essential. Still, I miss the bar as a space for trans people to care for each other: booking DJ gigs, plotting looks, trading transition hacks, dancing off a bad week, having each others’ backs in a bad situation, and otherwise laying a messy but affirming support network for existing in the world.

Towards the end of the album, the title song unfolds as a moment of warmth. It’s a quieter song than the rest: dreamy synth melodies, sturdy kickdrums like an auditory anxiety blanket, gentle mallet percussion, warbles and coos. In a husky croon, Rodman sings the heart of the album: “Your mother is your teacher / she taught by how she lived / she taught you how to escape / with a slip of the wrist / it isn’t magic at all / it’s just a simple trick / just like her mother before / she taught you how to give / endless / kindness.” Of course, there is a parallel murder plot developing so it could be about anything, but it is emotionally resonant with the lineage of generosity and care that trans people, particularly trans women, give to each other, to ensure survival. It’s one of the softest moments on the album but it is absolutely a showstopper.

#261 — Summer 2020