Freaks and Geeks

It's barely noon on a Tuesday, and Bob Judd is wearing lipstick. And a sarong. That might seem awfully dressy for a guy who works at home, but it makes sense when you learn that Judd is the Web master (actually, he prefers the title "misteress") for www.thecockettes.org, an official site of the Cockettes, the 1960s/'70s drag queen commune whose most famous featured performer was the late Divine.

Judd pads barefoot to a back bedroom that holds his enormous computer and drawers overflowing with incense and electrical cords. At first, it looks like a typical messy home office, 'til you notice that a framed snapshot on the bookshelf is of a guy waist down, holding open the fly of his blue jeans to expose himself. Every surface is covered with some kind of pornography, except where it's covered with newspaper for Judd's parrot, Poky. Poky is locked in the bathroom, Judd explains, because she's jealous of other women. Her smell lingers under the incense and cigarette smoke. Judd's dogs, Cosmo and Butch, crowd into the room, an English bulldog and Havanese, respectively. There's barely space to turn around, and Judd promptly knocks over a pile of Cockette photographs. He picks up the photographs, sort of, and settles in at the computer to show off his latest work.

Along with the Cockettes, Judd has several other clients -- if you can call them that, since no one pays. But in Bob Judd's world, the cachet of including feminist performance artist Lydia Lunch or queerpunkpagan icon Scott Treleaven of The Salivation Army on your collaboration list is priceless. Judd pulls up images for a page he's designed that will coincide with the release of Asia Argento's new film, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, about a very young boy whose mother dresses him in girls' clothes and forces him to work as a prostitute. Lunch has a role in the film, and so far she's traded Judd an autographed book for the work he's done on the site. He's excited because Marilyn Manson is also in the movie, which premièred at the Cannes Film Festival; years ago, Judd shot photographs of Manson during production of one of the creepy-eyed rock star's music videos.

Judd is the multitasker of the underground, the groupie of the weird. When Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point, about how "super connectors" bring members of a community together, he probably didn't have this guy in mind. But Judd fits the profile exactly. He's not really a starfucker -- he confides that he and Kreemah Ritz, one of the surviving members of the Cockettes, had a falling out years ago because Judd refused Ritz's advances -- but he does collect his friendships with the likes of Vaginal Cream Davis, the outrageous black 6-foot-6 drag queen, like notches on his belt. And he likes nothing more than hooking his friends up with one another.

The Web work is relatively new for Judd, who at 41 has worked a lot of jobs. But he's really a filmmaker. Davis starred as a talking penis in Jesse Helms Is Cleaning Up America, but Judd is better known deep in the underground for Bovine Vendetta, which features a talking cow who channels Charles Manson's voice. Both took honors in the experimental category at the Chicago Underground Film Festival in the late '90s.

So what is a guy like Bob Judd doing in a place like Phoenix?

The same as the rest of us -- taking advantage of the low cost of living. For Judd, it's extra low, because his parents lured him here with the promise of free rent in a house they own in Tempe. After years in San Francisco, where he hustled and eventually kicked a heroin habit, and a stint in L.A., where he worked as a lip-synch animator for South Park (good work, lousy pay), Judd has found himself here. The temptation to make Phoenix just a little bit weirder is too much for Judd, who has been trying, with very limited success, to bring some of his favorite freaks to town. He did help pull off an event at the Icehouse in downtown Phoenix earlier this year that featured burlesque performer Kitty Diggins and included a showing of a recent documentary about the Cockettes, but the turnout wasn't really what he'd hoped for.

Judd's coup de grâce was going to be a multimedia festival at the Icehouse this October. Go to www.theesecondcouming.com, and you can still see the vestiges of the planning for Thee Second Couming: The Rising Phoenix of Artistic Freedom, planned by Judd's close friend, surrogate mother and former associate of Timothy Leary's, Iona Miller, and Bobbee Precious (a.k.a. Judd). The show was to include Judd's pals Laurence Gartel, a digital artist (GARTEL: The Art of Fetish), and DJ Don Bolles, former drummer for The Germs. But the biggest star would have been Genesis P-Orridge. P-Orridge -- of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV fame -- is foremost a musician, but is also a performance artist. He and his wife are currently undergoing surgery to transform themselves into the same person. So far, P-Orridge has had breast implants, and recently, Judd says, he had copies of all of his wife's moles tattooed on his body. (Judd also confides that P-Orridge and his ex-wife are not getting along.) Judd struck up a friendship with P-Orridge online -- he's been a huge fan for years -- and invited him to play in Phoenix. The deal ultimately fell through, but P-Orridge was really interested in learning more about the Cockettes, and also introduced Judd to Scott Treleaven of The Salivation Army.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.