Maybe more book release parties ought to feature strippers. At Bunk Bar last Tuesday, renowned former Magic Garden stripper, singer, and authoress Viva Las Vegas flanked herself with a bevvy of babes to help draw the flies to her new book, The Gospel According To Viva Las Vegas: Best of The Exotic Years. In between the typical book-release readings from her latest, Viva introduced stripteasers, conducted interviews with guitarist Kerry King from Slayer and a notorious local fetishist known as "Smelly Sock Guy," and even burst into religious song. Without further ado, Culturephile cedes the page to Viva Las Vegas:
1. As a multidisciplinary artist, what would you say are your signature traits? Is there a single vision that you bring to all your work—whether pen, pole, or song?
An artist has to create. I’ve been writing and making music since I was very young. My hope is that my creations—including dancing—hold up a mirror to society and individuals, and resonate with them and inspire them. As for the pole, I have no use for it. The stage is the thing. Plenty of people think I’m joking when I say stripping is art, but I find those performances to be the most effective in communicating with an audience in the moment the message that life is beautiful, horrible, painful, ecstatic, and brief, and it’s no small miracle that we’re all here now together.
2. Do your clients and fans tend to fetishize your left breast? And if so, is that creepy or poignant?
Most people don’t know/notice. I view my left breast as an interesting tattoo or scar—something that tells a story. Generally in my experience, people see the whole person rather than breaking you down to your bits. Sometimes I wish more people would notice or ask about it, because it is quite a story and I love storytelling.
3. Your latest book is a collection of older writings. What was it like going back through things you wrote years ago?
There was a lot of screaming. "Oh my God I can’t believe I wrote this! And it was published! And now I’m gonna publish it again?!?" But I prefer writing that elicits a reaction, even if that reaction is beating my head against a wall. It was interesting to see my voice develop—a preacher’s voice, full of confidence and passion—because I definitely wasn’t as confident as I come across in my writing. Finally, it was nice to revisit the person I was after I moved back from NYC in 2001 and before cancer. After writing Magic Gardens, I’m very familiar with my early Portland years, and I am all-too familiar with the last two cancer years, but to read my musings from 2002-2005 was healing and instructive. Many of the questions I was puzzling out then I still have now; I’ve taken my own advice very much to heart.
4. You’re a staunch advocate of "ho’s before bro’s." How do we promote that ethos among more women?
Tough question. Maybe all ladies should strip for a few years? Many women seem to feel they’re in competition with each other, and perhaps we are on a primal level. But it behooves everyone if we work together. I grew up around boys and had relatively few close female friendships before I became a stripper. I had a hard time trusting women, but stripping for 14 years has fixed my wagon. Strippers are very nonjudgmental and generally very confident and unafraid. They’re straight shooters. So much societal bullshit is resultant of fear. Lose the fear, ladies. Strip!
5. You sang a hymn at your book release party, citing your Lutheran upbringing. In your adult life, how do you view religion?
My view of religion is that it’s caused far more pain than it has comfort. There are a lot of people who need to be told what to do, and all-too-many righteous charismatic dirtbags to tell them. I’m probably no better. I have very strong opinions and a tendency towards righteousness. For example, I’d like to see all vociferous homophobes burned at the stake. However there are a lot of brilliant religious teachers out there and plenty of people who are comforted and inspired towards good by them.
I consider myself ethnically Lutheran. It’s who I am on a cellular level. I wouldn’t call myself a Christian, although I am a big Jesus fan. But I am a huge fan of Martin Luther. Martin Luther was punk as fuck: he saw something wrong and he said it and tried to right it. That’s in my genes—you see something wrong, you say it. [Don’t get me started on the Missouri Synod…]
Now that The Gospel is out, Viva will shift her focus to a new music endeavor, Lesser Saints, a country music cover band that honors artists she’s informally canonized: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, and others. As the band kicks up a January residency at the Jade Lounge, Viva awaits approval on a grant to work on a book about her dalliance with breast cancer, considers an MFA program in NYC that would allow her to write the continuance to Magic Gardens, and courts a possible TV series. Long live Viva!