I met Samoa when I first moved to the East Village around 1992. From my 20 year old point of view, Samoa seemed like an old timer, having been here since the late 70s. He told me stories about how when he first moved to NYC he wore miniskirts made of of garbage bags, newspapers and duct tape, and how he would get mugged about once a week going back to his apartment from performance art gigs at the Pyramid, but he never had anything much for them to steal. Who was this Japanese heterosexual man ina garbage miniskirt, wandering through an abandoned American wasteland, graciously enduring continuous assaults from desperate petty criminals, and why did he choose this place as his home?
When I arrived he was most visibly playing guitar for The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, and he and Kembra were a special art couple, like the East village’s John and Yoko, or the West Village’s Lou and Laurie. He supported Kembra with his maximal aesthetics, and worked on his own projects, selling original clothing and increasingly, painting. He made a dress for me in 1996 for a hardcore character that I was doing at the time, Jennifer Honkytits. The garment was a pink stretch satin one piece that crept up well past my pantyline and was emblazoned with the words “I Hate You” on the front, with pink fake fur christmas muffler cuffs and fish net arms.
I always appreciated Samoa and loved to be near him. He was so kind and also a bit uncomfortable, with a great sense of humor, really devilishly funny. When I started performing plays as the Johnsons in 1998, he appeared again with me, accompanying Amanda Lepore on guitar as she whimpered the Ronettes classic “So Young.” He has brilliant timing, and he was so knowledgable, up for anything ,and so generous, qualities that characterized the spirit of VHOKB and his partner Kembra as well. Cambria and Samoa were among the only ones that received young artists and subcultural performers to the city without defensiveness or judgement. They didn’t operate on the cat-eat-cat scarcity model that characterized many of the attitudes in the NYC club scene. They were true Mentors, the young caring for the younger, and they both welcomed me into a lineage of underground NYC that snaked back through the eighties and seventies to Jack Smith, The Theater of the Ridiculous, Ethyl Eichelberger, Klaus Nomi, and more. They made me feel like i was welcome and that I belonged.
In 2012, I curated the Meltdown Festival in London. The theme was NYC underground and Future Feminism. Kembra did a film presentation one night and Samoa introduced the evening. He recounted with great humility his years working with Kembra, and expressed his admiration for her courage as a female artist, challenging peers, the art world and a sexist society with her provocative and radical works such as “Wall of Vagina” and “Sewing Vagina Closed”. These feminist works prevented VHOKB from ever entering the main thoroughfare of Marilyn Manson-esque shock rock. That evening on stage, Samoa sadly recounted his frustration with Kembra for having chosen feminist expression over greater commercial success, and he expressed with heart-rending honesty his sadness at not being better able to support Kembra in those moments in the 90s, when they were facing that crossroads. He stated that night on stage his tremendous admiration for Kembra and gratitude for her courage and conviction. He kneeled before her dignity.
This combination of generosity, selflessness and empowerment struck me. I started to call the handful of men like this that I knew in the world “Golden Men.” They were the men that the rest of us dreaming of knowing, and who we wanted to be near. Men who were not afraid to look at their struggle or their privilege, and who would admit when they were wrong. Golden Men make me feel like there is a way forward. The strength of his courage and his commitment to honesty and ethics is like a beacon that lights up a path through the world for everyone around him. Women hope that they will give birth to a Golden Man. A Golden Man is a blessing to the family and the community, and he is so beloved. Samoa is the original golden man of my life.
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