Josie Cotton was once one the LGBT community's biggest enemy thanks to a little pop song released in 1982 called "Johnny Are You Queer?" Originally the Go-Gos had performed the song in their stage act, but a few years later when the track's writers were looking for a voice to record it, they chose Josie, a young Texan woman born Kathleen Josey. The song became a hit on Canadian radio and a staple in the underground club scene, and Josie even sang the tune in the 1983 film Valley Girl. But the then-controversial use of the term "queer" also caused The Village Voice to ask on its cover "Josie, Are You a Bitch?" and The Advocate called her a homophobe.
Two albums later, she virtually disappeared. In the mid '90s, Cotton returned with Frightened by Nightingales and released two more albums in 2007 and 2008, but none of the singles from her more recent albums managed to receive the attention that Johnny Are You Queer? did. The lack of commercial success hasnt discouraged Cotton, though: This fall, she will release her fifth studio album, Pussycat Babylon, which will feature an updated version of Johnny Are You Queer?
When Out caught up with Cotton to chat about her new project, she got deeply personal and revealed details about a secret marriage, her sexuality, and why Johnny Are You Queer? is still making people angry today.
Out: Lets talk about this new CD Pussycat Babylon. When is it going to be released?
Josie Cotton: Its coming out in September. I was ready to go with this record like a racehorse ready to run the track, and then my publicity people brought up the idea of remixing Johnny Are You Queer? because of the resurgence of the '80s and dance music.
What did you think of that?
They talked me into it. It was not my favorite idea. I was like, Hell no! I have to go through that again?
Where does the title Pussycat Babylon come from?
Its the title of a song from the record. Its the only one I didnt write on the record -- well, I didnt write Johnny Are You Queer? either. This is pretty much a self-penned record; expect this one song that my friend wrote. It was a great song for me live for a few years, and I had done it at Gay Pride in San Francisco. Its about the end of the world. Thats the theme of the record and that song in particular.
Was this album as much fun to make as your last one in 2007, Invasion of the B-Girls, your B-movie theme-song collection?
Nothing is ever going to be as much fun as that. There was nothing to reflect on or learn from [on that album]. It was just all dementedness to the extreme, and thats pretty much where I live, eat, and breathe.
What are some of your favorite B-movies?
Some of my favorites, unfortunately, didnt have a theme song. One of them is called Alice in Acidland (1969). That was a great one! That was about a girl who gets seduced by her lesbian French teacher. Its very artistic and dark. I was praying there was a theme song because it just got exceedingly worse all through it. I was just sick that there was no theme song.
Are there any good current B-movies?
I dont think they can make B-movies anymore. They are just bad movies now! I probably idealize B-movies. Its probably like the land of unicorns -- it never existed. In my mind, B-movies had something slightly profound about them without trying at all. They are like a crack in the universe where you get to see things that you normally dont get to see.
What was it like working with Adam Ant in the 1986 film Nomads?
Very odd. He did say one of the greatest lines. He turned around to me and said, Who do I have to fuck to get off this movie?
Were you thinking the same thing?
No, I was actually enjoying how strange it was. Apparently, we were like these dead Eskimo, punk-rock people who couldnt speak and landed in the future. I could never figure out what I was supposed to be thinking or doing.
Lets talk about your infamous song Johnny Are You Queer? Did people really come up to you and tell you that the song made it possible for them to come out?
Yes, they really did.
Why do you think that is?
It had so many different levels of interpretation. It was just all out in the open. Someone had said the word ["queer"] and expressed a reality that I imagine people arent really comfortable talking about. Ive actually thought seriously about asking people the various reactions they had when they first heard the song. It was pretty dramatic. At the time, people were shocked, either in a good way or they were insulted. Mainly, the religious right were the ones who were insulted.
[Ed note: One religious network played Johnny Are You Queer? at half speed so Josie would sound like a man. They even said there was no Josie Cotton and that she was actually a gay man who was trying to convert unsuspecting straight men into a homosexual lifestyle.]
You came to New Yorks Gay Pride this year. Its interesting because The Village Voice once used the headline, Josie, Are You a Bitch? What are your thoughts on now being embraced by the gay community?
I wish I wouldve handled it differently. I wouldve spoken up for myself. I shouldve had some dialogue about what was so upsetting to everyone. No one seemed to want to have that dialogue. It wasnt really talked about. I couldnt understand what had happened. It was like a big bomb went off.
What do you think of the song today?
I was afraid to do Johnny Are You Queer? [again] because I was afraid it was going to be boring. It wasnt going to be like, What did she just say? Its almost like ho-hum now. I was worried it wasnt going to have the shock appeal. Then, when we got these twin 20-year-old gay rapper white boys from Oklahoma on [the song], and they started doing their thing, all of a sudden everyone got all upset again.
Upset? About what?
The guy who wrote the song said, This is outrageous. You cant have these angry, sexually explicit gay boys on there. Then, I was thinking, Why is it OK for straight rappers to talk about sexually explicit things and be angry, but its not OK for gay guys? That was fascinating to me. Everybody got up in arms. My promotion guy was going to quit. The guy who wrote it said it was homophobic. It just brought up the whole thing again about what it is to be gay.
Do you think you brought the word "queer" into the mainstream?
I really dont feel like I am the one per se. I didnt write the song. I wasnt the first to perform the song, but apparently, I was the first one on the airwaves. I imagine that is what Im going to be known for forever.
Nowadays its Lady Gaga who is raising eyebrows. What do you think of her?
I say God bless Lady Gaga. Im so glad. Shes raised the bar. Shes a real talent and entertaining as hell. Shes brought commerce and art and entertainment all together. Its a rare thing. I salute her.
You once said: The truth is I never wanted to be a singer. I don't even think I'm that good at it. I just happen to love doing it. Why dont you think youre good at it?
I say way too much. Obviously, if I didnt love the sound of my own voice, I never wouldve begun singing. I would say in the world of singing there are much better singers than myself. I have a certain style, but I think of myself as a writer and a performer. Im not someone who goes out there and exalts to another plane of singingness. There are much worse singers than me who went much further than me, so I dont think talent is all what its cracked up to be. Its a relative thing.
What were you like as a little girl growing up in Texas?
I was a strange little girl. I was like the little girl in The Addams Family. I was the dark, alienated kid. I was really being groomed to be a dancer from the time that I was 2 years old. That was my childhood. I was taught to be an artist and not a kid. Then I became the really angry kid and then the fat, fucked-up kid. I went through different phases, but I would say that I was the strange, quiet child walking by herself.
You left Texas at age 20 and moved to Los Angeles. Do you ever go back?
I dont. My mother just moved back, so I will be going back to Dallas. I could live in Austin. Thats a great town. Its got great architecture, Mexican food, and music.
You once said that you attract bipolar-type men. Youve never been married --
No, I was married. I was accidentally married to a German psychopath.
Wait! How were you accidentally married?
This guy didnt speak English -- this German. I met him while I was in Europe. OK, this is a crazy story. This is someone I met, and apparently, he was an international art smuggler who almost got me involved in taking stolen cars out of Germany and driving them to Iran with these artifacts. Luckily, I kind of got pulled out of this deal that was going to happen in Greece. So he tried to kidnap me in Mexico.
Are you serious?
Yes! The fact being, we ended up getting married in Vegas. Its really sad that I had to tell you all that.
Did you know you were getting married at the time?
I knew, but I didnt know quite how and how much danger I was in. Theres a part of me that finds this interesting and thats even sadder. What Im doing now that Ive never done in my life before is that Im dating different people. Im usually in a relationship, and right now Im dating a few different people. What Im doing now is creating a Frankenstein boyfriend. One guy has one thing I like and another has something else. So its about four of them, and there is a perfect guy in there.
Maybe you should try women.
I made the worst lesbian on the planet. I was horrible!
Was? Does that mean you tried it?
I did! I didnt know if I was the man or the woman. I know how to manipulate a man. I dont know how to do the other. Its too complex.
Do you have any regrets about not having a bigger career?
Someone asked me, Whats it like to be a one-hit wonder? I said, I dont know what you mean by hit, and I wonder what you mean by wonder. I really dont know how it could be different. I cant imagine it. I have to say its better than the alternative of having never been known at all. This is going to sound egotistical, but I dont know what Im capable of. I dont know where my talents are going to take me. I feel humbled by everything Ive been given. Ive been given way too much, and I feel guilty because I feel like I havent done enough with it. I just hope to keep plugging away at something until I drop dead.
While were talking about regrets, Nicolas Cage asked you out while you were doing Valley Girl. You turned him down. Do you regret not going out with him?
No. I was a one-guy girl. I never cheated on my boyfriend, and I had a boyfriend, so I dont regret that.
What is on your mind lately?
Im mad about latex right now. Someone took me to a latex store, and Im just loving what happens when I get into those dresses. It just feels so sensual and wonderful. Well, until the sweating begins and then you sound like a squeegee.
What are you most proud of?
The thing that really makes me happy is this insane video I did for the Maneater song. I wish I had done more videos. It amuses me terribly. The fact that I get to kill seven men in under three minutes is highly rewarding. What I am in the process of doing -- and this is something I havent told anybody -- I am trying to document visually the records that nobody heard just so Im not totally forgotten. If you dont have visual representation of your music, its just so easy to forget.
To learn more about Josie Cotton, visit her official website.