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Wig-sporting, cosmetic-caked Chick Cashman saunters onto the Club Congress stage with the Countrypolitans looking like a cross between some Warhol Superstar and Ziggy-era Mick Ronson and a teenage transvestite hooker swathed in mom's scarves, cologne and the aura of the back room of Max's Kansas City. Cashman's porcelain skin, snake hips and low-slung Gibson suggest a childhood adoration of rock 'n' roll guitar heroes, but his band plays a tipple-laced clamor that shows a satiric worldliness by successfully melding surf with smoky jazz, and blues with hints of glam. All under the pretext of some burlesque theory that says anything can happen -- a tradition that says what excitement there is rests as much in throwaway moments as it does in its rehearsed passages.
And tonight Tucson's Club Congress is packed.
Chick Cashman and the Countrypolitans had, until this evening, the swankiest Arizona presence since Lee Marvin ripped it up in Tucson bars years ago. This is Chick Cashman and the Countrypolitans' last show.
From now on, Cashman -- christened after the Cashman star-maker character on Bewitched, the episode involving 1960s hit songwriter team Boyce and Hart -- is back to being Clif Taylor, the hetero wise-ass Tucson native whose father was a hard-drinking descendant of President Zachary Taylor.
The trio of Countrypolitans includes bassist Mike Nordberg, who plays a standup bass poised like a young John Waters; Rob Alper, a drummer with a crumpled suit and half-lidded eyes; and Jeff "Mr. Tidypaws" Grubic, the tenor sax player wearing a ghastly poly outfit that looks like what would lie at your feet should you hurl a gutload of mac and cheese, red licorice and Bullet Popsicles.
Charmed by the band's sequin nature, a Tucson fan base embraced Chick Cashman and the Countrypolitans for nearly three years as they set up weekly residency at Club Congress, where they became a house band of sorts. Variable and spontaneous, those shows played host to drunken comedians, strippers in fetish wear, star-spangled drag queens, polysexuals, cowboys and pop culture oddballs making guest appearances. The latter includes Angela Bowie, Demolition Doll Rods and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, among others.
And this in a city considered by many the soul of the true Southwest? At a hotel that during Prohibition took out newspaper ads that said, "We ain't sellin' no music. No dancin' at the Congress Hotel. We ain't got no booze."?
"Tucson really is one cunt hair short of a cow town," Cashman jokes after the show. "And it still really wants to react that way. That's the fun thing about being here and the curse about being here at the same time. Half of the fun was just to prove to the locals that you can do this kind of shit. The locals are so jaded, just like in Phoenix or anywhere. You know those that go, "Oh, it's just not the same,' yet they go out and have this great nostalgic time. And to look at it as nostalgia is just retarded."
CC and the Countrypolitans had done a couple of road tours, but the difficulties of a traveling show proved too real. "You need to get 12 or 13 hundred bucks a night to have to pay everybody," Cashman says.
A handful of Phoenix shows assembled a small group of hard-core fans here.
"I don't think we really pushed it enough in Phoenix," he says. "It wasn't as fertile a ground to plant the thing as Tucson was at the time. We opened for Los Straitjackets once in Phoenix, and people were like, "What the fuck?' I mean, they got into it as we were playing, but I don't think they really knew what to do, especially with me and the whole drag thing."
Burlesque was the titillating offshoot of vaudeville that surfaced around the country in time to challenge the sexual mores of pre-World War II America. Its collection of variety acts commonly featured female impersonators, dancers and piquant humor.
Mixing in the set tonight among CC and the Countrypolitans' self-penned instrumentals and mid-tempo go-go ditties are the odd covers: Ventures tunes coated with fuzz pedal peach fuzz, Bo Diddley as done by the Dolls, Velvet Underground, etc.
The show is charged with interpretive abandon, the feeling of imminent derailment -- something to which Taylor just shrugs his shoulders and smirks.
"It's such a difficult show to put on," he says. "You want all these acts to happen within minutes of each other and have everybody clicking. But they start drinking and it all falls apart into some bit of chaos, which is half the fun anyway. But by the end of it, I am a nervous wreck. I was a nervous wreck going in, being a control freak and whatnot and wanting everyone to move like a Prussian race horse."
Cashman explains that tonight's show is indeed the group's official farewell; it is also a "stag and doe" party for his pal Grubic, the Countrypolitans' sax man about to be married.
A dildo doubles as a microphone for Alotta Whoremoans, a fleshy impersonator who heartily references Phyllis Diller. Space Ovary is Victoria Galinsky, who puts a Lisa Loebish girl-with-an-acoustic spin on her stories of alien abduction.
A fine-boned brunette with a flapper's mien moves gracefully on and off stage revealing enough flesh and cheek to ensure the bow of the stage is crammed with boys and girls. Odessa, a lovely Mediterranean near-contortionist, maneuvers the inside of a cage and exposes an odds-on ability to reach each orifice with her mouth. The crowd of 300 that fills the club's bar area and main floor hoots appreciatively.
A sugar/noise trio of randy pop-tarts called the BLT's -- led by Cashman's fiancée, Paula Hedder -- puts an oddly alluring rap bit over triads of punk chords.
Al Foul jumps up and does a rousing version of his classic "Spank My Ass," despite the fact that his bass player is a no-show.
For the second half of the three-hour show, Cashman leaves only to return sporting a slut goddess persona with a grace that transcends the masculine borders of his rock 'n' roll shtick, the triumph of his female side. Wearing a Hoover-era girdle with fake breast implants, a Christian Dior bra, red fishnets and giant platforms, he gets his ass pinched numerous times en route to the stage.
It takes a real man to be a sissy.
"I did have on a pair of pink granny's panties, control-top granny's panties. I had to do a lot of shaving," says Clif Taylor, the ex-Cashman.
Control-top panties or no, Taylor decided to kill off Chick Cashman when it was still something that he considered worthwhile.
"I tried to push as many little buttons as I possibly could. I tried to hit every obscenity code. And the show was a good cross-section. But it was a stinkin' fun run. I don't think it was anything before its time; it was just entirely of its time."
Taylor's new band is called The Cocksmen and is rumored to be as much about show-bizzy overflow as CC and the Countrypolitans but armed with a rock 'n' roll purism.
"Tucson is ready to rock -- and I hate to use that word -- but they're ready to be entertained.
He tells me that tonight Hotel Congress is like its former self. "People came out of the woodwork. It was such a weird walk down memory lane."
Does that mean he's feeling nostalgic for a time lost? Didn't he call that kind of longing retarded?
"It was a perfect way to end," he continues. "I am just hoping someone will take the ball and say, "Okay, let's fucking do it.'"
On the way out of Club Congress, I learn that Cashman isn't the only one who offed himself. Starting mid-June, the club is discontinuing live music. Too bad.