It might seem unlikely that a woman introduced to the world in the second-most shocking scene in a movie full of them — John Waters’s revolutionary classic “Pink Flamingos,” in which she shares an intimate moment with a beau and a live chicken — would go on to become one of the most influential if unheralded figures in late 20th-century American culture. But Cookie Mueller — the late actress, writer, musician and model who died of AIDS in 1989 — was both a fixture of the downtown avant-garde and one of its most perceptive critics. Now, her legacy is being celebrated in “Edgewise,” a new oral history (out from Bbooks Verlag, $25) told in the words of Mueller’s friends, lovers, family and fans.
“I wanted the book to host the whole group,” says its author, Chloé Griffin, “and act as a continuous dialogue of memory.” And what memories: Mueller seems to have been everywhere something interesting was happening, from Waters’s Dreamland Studios in Baltimore to full-flower hippie San Francisco, where she encountered Charles Manson; from the anarchic bohemia of ’70s Provincetown to Studio 54, the Mudd Club and all the art galleries below 14th Street in 1980s New York. Her early fashion sense surely taught the B-52s the punk appeal of a ratty beehive; later, she pulled together the lingerie-and-bracelet aesthetic years before Madonna brought it to the mainstream. Photographers like Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar and David Armstrong made some of their most indelible images with Mueller in the frame.
As an art critic for Details, Mueller brought an enthusiastic eye to the New York scene. “All of it is worthless,” she wrote, “but all of it is true, and that is something.” As an advice columnist for the East Village Eye, she tackled AIDS conspiracy theories and New Age remedies with an affectionate frankness that paved the way for later columnists like Dan Savage and Cheryl Strayed. Through outlets of independent publishing like Top Stories and Semiotext(e), she published fearless tales of hitchhiking across the country, drug dealing among the glitterati and the radical cultural change engendered by the AIDS crises.
Personally, Mueller rejected the limits that any label — gay or straight, amateur or professional, wife, lover or mother — might try to place upon her. “She possessed a fierce freedom about herself,” Griffin says, “and at the same time was a loving mother and friend. These qualities are a fascinating combination.”
Article reblogged from T Magazine