Marla Wing begins talking before we actually meet. She comes huffing up the stairs at Nixon's Lounge, trailing scraps of paper and shiny pamphlets that sneak out from the pile of mangled folders she's got clutched to her chest. We settle into an upstairs booth, and, surrounded by the bar's vast collection of political paraphernalia, Marla (who's wearing a red-white-and-blue-sequined visor and has pink plastic thumbnails) launches into a nonstop discourse on her political career. Until lately, she's contented herself with collecting signatures for politicians of every stripe. Today, she's running for office herself, as a write-in candidate for one of 252 Precinct Committee seats.
Marla likes to talk. Her normal speaking voice is pitched high and loud, as if she's hollering into a wind tunnel. She'll respond to any query, but her answers don't always match the question she's been asked. A discussion about gubernatorial candidate Alfredo Gutierrez veers quickly into a reminiscence about Alice Cooper; a question about Proposition 203 elicits a story about a Bruce Springsteen concert Marla attended in 1976. We talk for more than an hour, and I'm never entirely sure whether Marla is a crackpot politico or a wacko who collects signatures for a living. I finally decide that, because she talks and talks and never really says anything, Marla Wing is the consummate politician.
New Times: You've got a lot of folders there.
Marla Wing: I brought you some blank petitions. Here's one on the new tax act, here's a ballot for John Keegan, here's one for medical marijuana. My whole car is filled with this stuff. Political propaganda. It's what I do.
NT: Right. You work as a political advocate for nonpartisan politicians, initiatives and referendums.
Wing: Here's one on the tobacco tax initiative. Have an Alfredo for Governor bumper sticker. Oh, here's a pamphlet on the Indian gaming petition, and here's one about John Keegan.
NT: I've already got the Keegan one. You're running in the election primaries as a write-in candidate for a seat as a District 6 Precinct Committee person. Why?
Wing: District 6 has 252 spots open for Precinct Committeemen, but they only have 20 spots filled, and 10 of those guys moved. So they said, "Will you be a Committee man?" I'm also a music therapist.
NT: What's a music therapist? Someone who counsels sick songs?
Wing: Music therapy is rehabilitation through music. I studied the effects of music on human behavior at ASU. I was at ASU today, I went there to ask them if I could mention them in this interview, and I got a flat tire, that's why I was late today, I'm driving on a spare, and . . .
NT: Stop. So you're one of those people with the clipboard who stands outside the library and collects signatures.
Wing: I'm what's called a canvasser. I hate sitting in front of a Bashas' or a post office, though. How boring is that! I wait until there's a big event at America West Arena. I get the cops called on me at every place I go.
NT: Well, you're not supposed to collect signatures on private property.
Wing: Yeah, but it's always the same six cops! I start crying and they usually let me go. You know, I even got Ralph Nader on the ballot for president.
Wing: No. But I walked with Dick Mahoney last week in the Payson Rodeo Parade. I was so honored.
NT: I heard about that. He was scooping up horseshit as some kind of metaphor for cleaning up Arizona politics. So, you have to have 10 signatures to become a Precinct Committee person. Can you swing it?
Wing: When I'm out registering people to vote, I can ask them to vote for me. So I'm sure I'll get way more than enough. Aren't you going to ask me my platform?
NT: I didn't realize that a Precinct Committee person needed a platform. Uh, what's your platform, Marla?
Wing: Since I'm a safe-sex advocate, it's "Love thy neighbor, but use protection." I e-mailed Bill Clinton and said, "Since you like to cheat on your wife, can I be next?" And his secretary wrote back, "If this is how you feel, I feel sorry for you!" I think they thought I was kidding.
NT: I understand that you support Proposition 203, which promotes the use of medicinal marijuana.
Wing: Marijuana is good for cancer, AIDS and leukemia. AIDS is a digestive disorder. It definitely hits your intestines. People are dying because they can't digest their food. People . . . it's not a gay disease anymore. I'm heterosexual, I'm a mom, I have HIV, you know what I mean?
NT: No. We were talking about Prop 203. Medical marijuana?
Wing: I went to this Bruce Springsteen concert in 1976 with this cute blond guy, and we got high on marijuana. I'll admit it. Okay? And on the way home, he flipped the car, and I was comatose for two weeks. I broke all my ribs, I punctured my lungs, my heart, my spleen, they took my liver out. They called me dead on arrival. I had the near-death experience, going up the tube and I saw God and all that.
NT: Hold it. What does this have to do with Prop 203?
Wing: The doctors told me that it was the fact that I was high that saved my life. Because I was so relaxed that when the car flipped that I just kind of went to sleep.
NT: You told me you had a story about Laurie Larson, the State Representative from District 6.
Wing: Laurie Larson paid me a dollar a signature, or whatever it was. When I went to get my paycheck, she said, "If I'd known you were so involved in politics, I would have asked you to run with me!" I would be running for State Senator with her running for House of Representatives. I told her I would be happy to run with her, but she should know that I'm HIV-positive. And if I run for office, it would come out. Because it's like if you're a mayor and you're gay, pretty soon everyone finds out.
NT: So you think Larson stopped returning your calls because you told her you're HIV-positive.
Wing: I don't want to say anything bad about her, because let's face it, look at the ballot, I have no one else to vote for. It's Laurie Larson or a write-in, and there's no write-in. I'm a Democrat, I have to support her. What is it with people? Are they HIV-ophobic?
NT: Maybe people aren't ready for an HIV-positive politician.
Wing: Well, Laurie Larson sure didn't return my calls. My mother says that's what happens if you tell anyone you have HIV. And everyone else in my life is saying, "Tell, tell! It'll be great for HIV people to have a public spokesperson in office!" I married a man that did IV drugs. I brought pictures of him if you want to see them.
NT: Maybe later. You call yourself an AIDS activist, but how can you be an AIDS activist and not admit to being HIV-positive?
Wing: I know. Even my nailtician says I should talk about my health status.
NT: Your nailtician?
Wing: Yeah, you know. It's a person who does fake fingernails. Even though mine are all busted off right now.
NT: You recorded a single, "Phoenix's First White Christmas," in 1987.
Wing: Yeah. It's about how kids in Arizona never see snow. I make copies of my song when I have a little extra money and I drop it off at all the radio stations just before Christmas. Sometimes they play it. I gave one to Alice Cooper, he's the best. I worked in his restaurant, selling time shares.
NT: And I hear you've written songs for Al Stewart.
Wing: I did. I met him at the Celebrity Theatre in 1978. I never had relations with Al Stewart, just his drummer. I haven't seen Al in 10 years, because I got married and I got HIV-infected. I have permanent backstage passes to all his shows. I have them here, do you want to see them?
NT: That's okay. So, which Al Stewart albums do your songs appear on?
Wing: Oh, he never recorded them. I think he writes his own songs. He did call me once, when he was playing at Anderson's Fifth Estate. It was 11 o'clock at night and he said, "Come to my hotel room!" But I didn't go because I knew his plane got in at six o'clock and why didn't he call sooner? He never called me after that.
NT: You're a big supporter of Alfredo Gutierrez.
Wing: He's going to be the first Hispanic in office since Raul Castro was governor in 1972. Alfredo's my superhero! Here's a pamphlet that shows that there are no Hispanic or black politicians. You can keep that.
NT: All your superheroes are named Al: Alfredo Gutierrez, Alice Cooper, Al Stewart.
Wing: Oh, and Alan Parsons! I'm all over the Internet about it, in all the Democratic chat rooms, and everyone says I'm a liar, that I'm exaggerating everything. "You don't work for the Democratic party, you don't know Alice Cooper, you don't know Al Stewart!"
Wing: Well, it's just me and my drummer, who's HIV-positive, and we played at a Christmas party, me and him, we're Daisy and the Democrats.
NT: You've worked in the music business, and now you're running for office. You're kind of the Sonny Bono of local politics.
Wing: I've always liked Sonny Bono, too. I was so sorry about what happened to him. I hope that doesn't happen to me.
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