Bosley’s Burlesque Cabaret

at the Strand Theatre july 20 and 21 at 9:30 p.m.

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Bosley sits at the piano



ready to play. He is wearing a slick, gray suit, and his hair is anachronistically greased. As his fingers hover over the keys, about to plunge into song, the barrista at Bohemian Coffee House tells him he can’t play.

“The Strand has something going on, and it disrupts them. You have to wait til 10


,” the guy behind the counter says. Bosley is a bit dejected. “I can usually just come in and play,” he says. But then again, he can’t be mad at the Strand, because he and his band are playing live there during both nights of Artscape—to a burlesque show.

Bosley is a sucker for nostalgia. “The thing about nostalgia—” the singer says, pausing to take a deep drag off of his American Spirit and stare ponderously off into space. “I don’t want to sound trite, but it’s the same as dreaming. Nostalgia, and I’m feeling real nostalgic here, helps me live in a shared cultural experience I never had,” he says. “I feel like I was born in the wrong decade. Maybe I’m drawn to this past sense of shared cultural experience because my age doesn’t have one. It constantly recycles recent culture,” he says, throwing down his cigarette.

The shared cultural experience Bosley is talking about is the seedier side of American popular culture and music extending from Louis Armstrong up through the soul music of the early 1960s. What keeps his nostalgia from being the cousin of Civil War re-enactments—which might be interesting for the participants, but not much for spectators—is his sense of showmanship.

He blends all of these eras into the character of Bosley, which is the stage name of Tommy Tucker, in the same way Robert Zimmerman blended the influences he absorbed from the Harry Smith Anthology of Folk music into the character of Bob Dylan. The character comes from the music and, Bosley insists, from an authentic place. “I am Bosley, and Bosley is me.”

Bosley is best-known for the epically debauched video for the track “Neon Magazine,” off last year’s

Honey Pig

LP, partly because the witty, decadent song perfectly encapsulates the loose, or perhaps louche, seediness of Bosley’s vision of America.

By this point, it should be easy to see why Bosley was the obvious choice for Rain Pryor, the director of the Strand Theater, when she wanted the theater to feature burlesque for Artscape. He is, in some ways, a burlesque singer—a drag queen who plays an early 20th-century male.

“Bosley is a friend of mine,” Pryor says. “When I saw him perform, I fell in love with his music. I think he should be famous.” When she began to think about what the Strand should do for Artscape, she didn’t want to put on a play. “There is so much going on. I wanted it to be really fun,” she says. “And I love burlesque,” she adds, noting that it fits well with Artscape’s roadside attraction theme. “It starts [at 9:30


,] right when everything else is winding down. So it gives people a reason to stay.”

As Pryor began to look around for burlesque performers, a colleague directed her to GiGi Holliday and the Gilded Lily burlesque troupe, made up of women of all shapes, sizes, and races. “I love what GiGi is doing and that it is so multicultural. It is a lot like what I want to do with the Strand,” she says of the theater, founded in 2007 to showcase female artists and performers.

So, Pryor suggested that Bosley and Holliday work together on a burlesque show with live music. As it turned out, the two had already worked together when Holliday appeared in Bosley’s video for his song “Sharpshooter,” which, he acknowledges, has received a lot of criticism from feminists and others because of its violent depiction of romantic love. (He shoots women throughout the video.)


But Bosley insists it was all in good fun, and burlesque is all about playing with gender stereotypes and violating taboos. For her part, Holliday, was thrilled to work with Bosley again. A resident of Bowie, Md., Holliday says she got into burlesque because she was a nerd.

“I used to come home from work and sit on the couch and do nothing. I was going to go to the Baltimore tattoo convention and it snowed, but I noticed there were burlesque shows there, and I stayed in and googled Trixie Little’s Burlesque Bootcamp.”

The experience transformed Holliday’s life. “I was in Sticky Buns [burlesque troupe] for two years, and now I am with Gilded Lily,” she says. “Some performers get an ego, but for me, I just want to make people happy.”

Like Bosley, Gilded Lily, and the burlesque revival in general, tries to capture something of what music critic Griel Marcus called the “old, weird, America.”

“Burlesque always used to be performed to live music,” Holliday says. “It’s very different from recorded music, because the performer helps keep the time” with the bumps and grinds.

“I used to see a lot of burlesque,” Bosley says. “But it was always to recorded music. But we’re going to get up there together and make it happen,” he adds. “It will be live and dangerous.”

As it happens, Holliday is performing at the burlesque tribute to John Waters the same night


meets Bosley at the Bohemian, and we walk up to catch the show.

It’s packed and hard to see. But Holliday comes out in a Little Red Riding Hood-type of costume. “Baltimore,” she says dramatically. “I could get in so much trouble here,” she adds as she joyously and playfully disrobes, with all of the ceremony one would expect from burlesque.

“What I love about her is that she can be so playful onstage, but she can also be serious,” Bosley says. “It’s good, clean fun,” he adds, before slipping out to go dance the Lindy at the Mobtown Ballroom, still searching for an America that has been lost.

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