There is a moment early in Joseph Cassara’s debut novel in which Angel, a 17-year-old trans girl from the Bronx, sneaks away to a boutique in Manhattan’s East Village and, for the first time, tries on a dress in public: “When she finally stared at herself in the mirror, she raised her arms to the side like she was about to launch into flight. Head back, mouth open, she closed her eyes and laughed. ‘Free,’ she thought, ‘totally free.’” It’s this kind of freedom—transformative, empowering, often dangerous—that informs much of The House of Impossible Beauties, and it’s a state of mind that flows directly from its source material.
Surrounded by computers, effects pedals, and noise-amplifying gear, Camae Ayewa—the artist more commonly known as Moor Mother—cuts an imposing figure onstage. Gripping a microphone and obscured behind a tangle of black dreads, Ayewa toes the line in performances between spoken-word poetry, public exorcism, and jet-engine levels of manicured sound.
When asked if he always knew that he’d be a singer, 27-year-old Josiah Wise—better known as serpentwithfeet—can only laugh. “I always had big ambitions,” he says. “I wrote a letter to Oprah when I was really, really little basically telling her that I wanted to be the first child talk show host. As a kid, I remember every day waiting for a phone call from Oprah being like, ‘I’m going to give you money to start your own talk show!’ When that didn’t happen, I had to figure out other ways to express myself…and then I just never stopped.”
Warm Leatherette, Grace Jones’ career-shifting 1980 release, gives a glimpse of the artist just as her true genius was coming into sharp focus.