EOF TALKS: “SWEET” PAM TENT of THE COCKETTES

Excited to celebrate 10 YEARS of memories and musings through our collective {past}, {present}, and {future} with this interview with Pam Tent aka “Sweet Pam” of the counter culture sensation THE COCKETTES.

The 2002 documentary “The Cockettes” by David Wesselman & Bill Weber premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and brought the glitter-rock drag troupe back into the spotlight.

Starting off with a trippy LSD inspired, gender bending, sequin dripping, experimental, naked, keeps you on your toes music and dance performances at the underground film showcase “The Nocturnal Dream Show” in the Pagoda Palace Theater in San Francisco’s artsy alternative Bay Area in the early 1970s – the group’s dynamic energy and pure irreverence to the status-quo soon began a fasccination that would bring in audiences from near and far – including Truman Capote and even members of European royalty.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of knowing of this motley crew of gender bending creative misfits, you will be surprised to find out the major influence this group has on our culture to this day; with notable members such as disco legend SYLVESTER, and drag legend DIVINE.

Pam Tent was an integral member of this group and we are honoured to have her inducted into the realm of E.O.F. STYLE IDOLS & DIVINITIES. Her book “MIDNIGHT AT THE PALACE: My Life as a Fabulous Cockette” is availble now on Amazon.

“We had such freedom in those days…”

Pam Tent
“Sweet Pam” by Peter Hujar (1971)

Our fateful correspondant, John Wisniewski has spoken with some of the coolest artists and musicians on our behalf, and we are excited for you to delve into the world of SWEET PAM and the epitomal underground camp queer acid rock performance art spectacle that was THE COCKETTES  thanks to him!

JOHN: Pam, you worked as a singer in New York and a film distributor in California. Could you tell us more about this?

PAM: Yes, I sang old blues with a piano player in New York, and rehearsed at the iconic Ansonia Hotel. I did a 2-month run at the Palm Casino Revue at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre, which opened on May, 4, 1974, among other gigs around town. When CBGBs was just a bar on the Bowery, along with two former Cockettes, Fayette and John Flowers, we approached Hilly Krystal, who owned the club, and asked if we could use his empty stage.

That night I sang a Victoria Spivey tune, “Man O’ War,” and Fayette and John did a skit called “Love Dames Die Hard.”

Back on the West Coast, I spent ten years working for repertory film exhibitors and distributors, starting as a bookkeeper for the Strand, Egyptian and Warfield Theatres. Later I worked for Pacific Film where we distributed old cult classics like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and Don Johnson’s first film: “A Boy and His Dog”, set in an apocalyptic world where a guy uses his dog’s ability to sniff out women. Then I went to work for Buena Vista Distribution, which is part of the Walt Disney Company and handles their non-animated offerings.

JOHN: How did you meet the members of Cockettes? Was the troupe fully formed when you met them?


PAM: I met Hibiscus, who was the founder, before The Cockettes were ever formed. We met in Golden Gate Park when I found him singing 40s showtunes with two others, up in a tree near Prehistoric Pond. And in 1968, I lived with Ralph Sauer, who coined the name “Cockettes.”

Hibiscus hand-picked the troupe from his friends and outings, including the rounds he made delivering an inter-communal newspaper called, Kaliflower.

JOHN: Divine and John Waters were members. When did you meet them? What were your first impressions of them?


PAM: After we’d been performing shows at the Palace Theatre following the Midnight Movies, Sebastian showed a film by an unknown filmmaker from Baltimore titled, “Mondo Trasho”, followed shortly after by another Waters’ film: “Multiple Maniacs”.

 We begged Sebastian to bring Waters and Divine out to the West Coast, which he did, paying for their tickets out of Cockette show coffers. We met Divine in a media event at the SF Airport. It was a wild scene and blew away travelers and airport employees alike.

JOHN: What were the audience reactions to the Cockettes when they first performed?

PAM: The Nocturnal Dream Shows’ crowd (official name for the midnight movies) went wild when the Cockettes first took the stage. The first night the Cockettes did a kick-line in drag to the Rolling Stones’ song, “Honky Tonk Women.”

Every month the shows got longer, and more elaborate, even including renting a klieg light outside of the theatre. Eventually the last several shows were scripted. Word spread beyond the hybrid hippie-types who packed the 1300-seat theatre, and soon we were attracting the San Fransisco elite, including New York celebrities. That’s how Rex Reed and Truman Capote ended up at the show.

JOHN: What did the Cockettes contribute to gay culture?

PAM: The Cockettes opened the gay cultural floodgates for glam rock stars like Cindi Lauper and David Bowie. As Lillian Roxon, who wrote in The Rock Encyclopedia said: “Every time you see too much glitter, or a rhinestone out of place, you know it’s because of the Cockettes.”

There was virtually no gay bar or club scene before we began doing shows at the Palace. No Halloween in the Castro District and no Gay Day Parade. We were a natural progression after the hippie movement.

JOHN: Were there any personal problems with the troupe, like drug addiction?


PAM: Most people had no boundaries during the psychedelic heyday and hard drugs became a concern from time to time, and took their toll. No one in the group overdosed, but several were frequent users.

AIDS was also rampant during that time and some years after the Cockettes disbanded, claimed a number of Cockettes.

JOHN: Any memories of them looking back?


PAM: That was such an exhilarating time, I’ll never forget it, or what we shared. After the film, The Cockettes, was shown as Sundance, I interviewed everyone who still remained, and put our collective memories into a book: “Midnight at the Palace; My Life as a Fabulous Cockette“. I’m in the process now of transferring those tapes to CDs for the Hormel Center archives at the SF Public Library. 

JOHN: Do you still speak with members of Cockettes today?


PAM: Yes, we’ve become lifelong friends. The few of us left are still very much in contact, and in fact, Scrumbly drove up to Santa Rosa last night to take me out for a birthday dinner. On November 11, Scrumbly, Fayette and I, along with possibly Sebastian, are doing a Q & A onstage at the Castro Theatre after a showing of the Cockette film: Tricia’s Wedding, spoofing President Nixon’s daughter’s wedding years ago.  

clip from the 2002 documentary “The Cockettes”

To learn more about the fabulous Cockettes you can watch the documentary in FULL on YouTube, Apple Movies, Tubi, and Google Play – and of course, get the memories direct from SWEET PAM herself in her book “Midnight at the Palace: My Life as a Fabulous Cockette“.

Many thanks to all of our friends and fans who have kept coming back to our site to muse and peruse, and hopefully somewhere in there a spark of imagination was ignited and your life left even a bit more enriched.

“Style is knowing who you are and what you want to say and not giving a damn” were famous words by Gore Vidal (who ironically walked out of The Cockettes’ notorious New York debut), and it goes without saying we wholeheartedly agree.

Until next time,

{theEye}

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