Vicki Marlane – The Lady with the Liquid Spine, beloved San Francisco transgender drag queen, passed away yesterday morning.
Vicki was my favorite performer at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a small sticky bar in the tenderloin where the drinks are stiff and cheap, and the performers are quirky and fabulous. For me, a trip to San Francisco just isn’t a trip without a visit to Aunt Charlie’s. And a trip to Aunt Charlie’s just won’t be a trip without a little Celine Dion, perfectly lip-synched by Vicki Marlane.
The last time I was there with Bee and Mr. Tapperass, the girls greeted us warmly, and we got a great seat right near the front. We ordered something sweet and pink, got our dollar bills in order and settled in for the show. And what a show it was. There were serious ballads from the eighties, bawdy burlesque numbers, even a little country twang.
We watched as the young women sitting next to us, obviously there for some sort of birthday or bachelorette party, turned from happily tipsy to exceptionally drunk. The more they drank, the fewer dollars they held out. They sang along with the music, getting louder and louder, and they started to dance wildly in their seats, often drawing attention away from the performance in front of them.
Suddenly, one woman couldn’t take it any longer. She had to get up and dance. And sing. Now, like I said before, Aunt Charlie’s Lounge is a very small place. In fact, there’s no stage for the performers – the aisle through the tables becomes the stage. Anyone who goes knows that if you have to slip back to the bathroom, you do it between sets or when the performer is at the other end of the bar, not while she is right in front of you. That means that when this woman could no longer contain herself, she was dancing right in the way of the performer, who just happened to be Vicki Marlane. The song was Celine’s “My Heart Will Go On,” and Vicki was giving it her all. The drunk woman lifted her arms in front of Vicki and began singing at the top of her lungs.
The three of us let out a collective gasp.
If there’s one rule in this life, and only one, it is this: Never upstage a drag queen.
Vicki deftly swiveled her liquid spine around the woman, moving her arm in such a way that it came a mere millimeter or two away from the woman’s nose. Without missing a beat, Vicki turned around to face the woman, giving the audience a little wiggle of her rear end to distract them, and giving the woman a look that to this day gives me chills. Even through her drunken haze, the woman knew that she had been schooled. She sat her ass back down, reached in her purse and held out a whole fistful of dollar bills which Vicki gracefully accepted on her way backstage.
Rest in peace, dear Vicki. I hope the journey is paved with sequins.