Catching Up With Josie Cotton


By Dustin Fitzharris

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 hasn't 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: Let's talk about this new CD Pussycat Babylon. When is it going to be released?
Josie Cotton: It's 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?
It's the title of a song from the record. It's the only one I didn't write on the record -- well, I didn't 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. It's about the end of the world. That's 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 that's pretty much where I live, eat, and breathe.

What are some of your favorite B-movies?
Some of my favorites, unfortunately, didn't 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. It's 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 don't think they can make B-movies anymore. They are just bad movies now! I probably idealize B-movies. It's 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 don't 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 couldn't speak and landed in the future. I could never figure out what I was supposed to be thinking or doing.