From The Daily:
by BY RICH JUZWIAK
RuPaul has been on public display since the early 1990s, but rarely as literally as he was one late December night at the Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale, Calif. There, he strapped on some roller skates and spent about an hour gliding around a rink that looked more like a VFW, replete with tinsel, red-shag walls and stenciled stars. Despite his considerable height (6-feet-4 on wheels) and fashion sense (green jeans, orange sweater), skating to Whitney Houston and Pink, he almost blended in. When the DJ broke from mass-pop and spun Ru's own song, “Jealous of My Boogie” (2009), he skated on, straight-faced, simultaneously of the people and floating above them.
Duality is there for any celebrity amongst civilians, but RuPaul — born RuPaul Andre Charles in San Diego, 1960 — has made a career out of it. As the most famous drag queen of all time, his public persona is inherently two in one: a man dressed as a woman, and a man dressed as a man. Both are present on “Drag Race,” which started its fourth season Monday on Logo. He advises the contestants in male drag and judges them in female. RuPaul can be all sorts of things at any given moment — man, woman, singer, actor, host, author, speaker, icon — but he’s the flashiest culture critic working today.
“Even my celebrity is a critique on celebrity. It’s a wink-wink,” he said. “I realize in studying our society and culture that it’s hypocritical and not really real. I think that has always been the role of a drag queen: To remind the culture that it is not to be taken seriously and that you are not who you think you are, per the description on your driver’s license.”
Nor are you necessarily who the public thinks you are: An occasional smoky eye is about as close as RuPaul gets to drag in the absence of cameras. I spent a week at Ru’s house in the Hollywood Hills that he recently purchased and is not quite moved into yet. He’d invited me as a friend: He’d read my blog years ago, then I interviewed him several times for VH1. We share a fanaticism for entertainment. This trip was a blur of references to the Honey Badger, Rihanna’s appeal, the state of Whitney Houston’s career and Mariah Carey’s Jenny Craig commercial.
RuPaul engages his surroundings, too, putting himself in the middle of communal activities (country line dancing in Studio City; dollar-stuffing in Hollywood), or soliciting conversations with friendly strangers. A barista’s giraffe pendant led to a discussion on the temperament of the beast.
“I like to play! I like playmates!” he said. “I’m actually auditioning people to see how far I can go. What’s that Cam’ron song? ‘You smoke? [I smoke]’? That’s what I’m doing, I’m doing a volley.”
Gathered for this particular summit were some as-seen-on-TV types, such as the non-Downtown Julie Brown, but it was mostly civilians like a 21-year-old named Ian, who works at a movie theater, and Brett, a 44-year-old speech pathologist whose mix CD Brett made for a mutual friend and Ru enjoyed.
Virtually every night featured some sort of game, from Guess the Celebrity to Taboo to Password. Ru’s favorite is charades. One night, we played a game using prefabricated cards, then ate a sprawling dinner (cooked by Ru’s boyfriend, artist Georges LeBar), then played impromptu charades using pop-culture titles debased by profane puns. Ru took such joy in them, particularly one of the few printable ones, “My Big Scat Greek Wedding.” Once we ran through all of those clues, we went back to the prefab deck and played hours more.
“That is my intimacy with people,” he explained later. “I get to go, ‘OK, let’s go. What do you got? Who are you? What are you working with?’ ”
That’s not double entendre. RuPaul said he is sexually shy (“I’ve never been to a bathhouse. I’ve never cruised online.”). He met LeBar in January 1994, and they lived together for six years. They don’t anymore, as LeBar tends a ranch in Wyoming. They see each other periodically (two out of the three times I hung out with Ru in Los Angeles last year, LeBar was there) and Ru said they are “beyond a couple.”
A crucial element to Ru’s entertaining is that it is devoid of drugs and alcohol. He gave up the latter and various chemicals in 1991, ahead of recording the demo that would lead to his record deal with Tommy Boy. He didn’t fully quit the former until August 1999, a year after moving to L.A. from New York. That is when RuPaul, who had been getting high since 10, kicked marijuana and got sober.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re addicted to Telemundo or counting the number of cars that go by, addiction has to do with a separation from the source — the source being who you really are,” he said on pot dependency.
Like many recovering addicts, Ru is intensely spiritual. While hiking around the Hollywood sign, he told me about his beliefs: a mix of “Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jesus,” and then some. Ru believes that we are “spiritual beings having a human experience,” and uses variations of, “I am not my feelings; I am the awareness of my feelings,” regularly in conversation, later comparing the sense to “The Matrix.” Those words are also his mantra when he meditates.
“We are a consciousness. Say that the consciousness we are is, for lack of a better word, God. This big blob that can’t be defined by our limited language. You are that pretending to be this body and you wanted to feel what it was like to be human. You have to have polar opposites. Black, white, good, bad, male, female. In here is where we decide what we are. You can align yourself with the consciousness that you are that thing, that blob of God or whatever, and look at yourself from a different perspective.”
He explained this philosophy in a living room with a panoramic view of Los Angeles that is so vast, you can see the Pacific Ocean. We were so high up, not even the fireworks that flew over various parts of the city on New Year’s Eve looked impressive, just feisty little color splashes above a sea of lights. His neighbors include Halle Berry, Tyler Perry and Robin Thicke, whom Ru said he heard (and smelled) in a marijuana-fueled ramble, proclaiming that he is this generation’s Michael McDonald and that his wife, Paula Patton, is this generation’s Halle Berry.
It’s a striking observation booth. RuPaul watches and comments, even on himself. We sat down for a screening of the season premiere of “Drag Race,” a drag-queen reality show competition fueled by his signature signifying (it’s “Project Runway” plus “America’s Next Top Model” plus lip-synching plus tucking). This was Ru’s third time seeing the episode. “I just love watching …” he started, and I interrupted with, “… yourself” — a play on his relative lack of narissism (he’s more likely to interview you than talk about himself). “No, how they put it together!” he said, cackling.
He explained that some of the lines he laughed at (“Hoarding is the new black”) were piped in through an earpiece from Tom Campbell, the head of development at World of Wonder, which produces “Drag Race.” But plenty of what he says on the show is of his mind.
“Everything is fake,” he said. “Once you’ve seen ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you have all you need to know about this world: What you think and what is are completely separate. But what you think is also real because you’ve made it real! I delivered the line. Celine Dion doesn’t write the songs, but they’re hers.”
If anyone wears the “everything is fake” maxim on his uniform sleeve, certainly it is the drag queen. It’s striking how much RuPaul’s worldview falls in line with his career, so I asked if he came to drag holding these beliefs, or if his job prompted them.
“I had to dissociate to be able to realize who I really am,” he said, erring more to the latter. “Because I’m not this body. I’ve had a great time with this body. It’s fabulous, it’s beautiful, and everybody’s is beautiful. I want to drive the bad-ass car around the block. I want to see what it can do. Take it out on the highway, the Autobahn. That’s the goal. It would be a shame to own a big, beautiful gorgeous car and not use all the things it can do.”
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