Vince and I just returned from Smoke, a jazz club at Broadway and 106th. We heard a woman sing, and what a woman, what a singer, what a swinger. What a trio backing her up. Her name is Lea DeLaria. You can buy her recordings. What you won’t see on her discs are the odd charm and unbelievable energy.
Picture a 50-year-old woman, short, pudgy, hair moussed into a rooster crow on top and razor-cut at the sides and back. A woman with a brass stud in the side of her nose; pale blue tattoo on her neck; no perceivable breasts; roll of fat around her waist and belly; key chain swagged to mid-calf; hiking boots with the tongues lolling out (flapping, bent back on themselves); no socks; monogrammed mermaid on one lapel of the train conductor’s jacket; fluffy silk handkerchief (yellow) in the lapel pocket; farmer’s blue-and-white handkerchief sticking out of her hip pocket when she isn’t mopping up sweat with it.
The dining room in Smoke is very hot today. It’s summer in New York, a fact she alludes to and builds on. She’s a stand-up comic as well as a singer. “It’s so hot everyone in New York is taking their clothes off. I was in Times Square last night, just trying to buy some crack, but the place was so thick with film crews and people waiting to see Madonna . . . .”
She’s from St. Louis, a third-generation musician and performer. She makes me proud to be from Missouri. “Catholic School,” she announced. “I was educated by the Nuns. Our Lady of Barbed Wire.”
The table of gay men behind a column separating the stage from diners didn’t escape her: “I see you guys hiding behind that pole.” She called herself a dyke and rattled her key chain. “Anything to perpetuate the stereotype.”
She’s a bouncing butter ball who jumps and sways to the very fine music of her trio. The Steinway has been moved back to its old place on stage which pleases Vince because he can see the keyboard again.
It’s a performance we won’t forget, a woman we won’t forget — Lea DeLaria — and it’s only three blocks from home.