Author Playlists

Elyssa Maxx Goodman’s Playlist for Her Book “Glitter and Concrete”

“I wanted the playlist to reflect an exposure to some of the parts of drag history that don’t get as much attention, as well as personal anecdotes and a fair amount of glamour, drama, and booty shaking.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Elyssa Maxx Goodman’s Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City is a thorough history of NYC drag from the 19th century to the present, a book that is as fabulous as it is necessary and compelling.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

“Throughout this lively and celebratory book, Goodman portrays the dynamic forces of a fearless community bound by their love of performance and using ‘glamour as a potent force of resistance.’ An essential addition to the literature of both drag and queer history.”

In her own words, here is Elyssa Maxx Goodman’s Book Notes music playlist for her book Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City:

There were so many ways music was essential to the process of working on this book, not just because music and drag are so closely intertwined, but because it also became a way to keep myself afloat in the writing process. In this playlist, I have a combination of music from drag’s history and my own float-inducing anthems. I wanted the playlist to reflect an exposure to some of the parts of drag history that don’t get as much attention, as well as personal anecdotes and a fair amount of glamour, drama, and booty shaking. You know, all the things we associate with glitter. Sparkle on, kitties.

  1. “I Am The Body Beautiful” by Salt-N-Pepa

    The book actually opens with this song. It’s such a powerful track at the beginning of the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, which started this whole journey for me when I was seven or eight. I love the way Salt-N-Pepa purrrrrr all the way through about being a queen. It’s still killer now, almost 30 years later, and deeply etched in my memory.
  2. “The Half of it Dearie Blues” by Fred Astaire
    “The Half of it Dearie Blues” by Ella Fitzgerald

    “The Half of it Dearie Blues” is from a 1924 Broadway musical called Lady, Be Good! by George and Ira Gershwin. This song was inspired by the drag artist Bert Savoy and his catchphrase  “You don’t know the half of it, dearie!” which, among Savoy’s other quips, permeated the 1920s and made him a star beloved everywhere from Greenwich Village to Vanity Fair. I included a version sung by Fred Astaire here since he performed in the original Lady, Be Good! production with his sister Adele when they were still a double act, but I really love the pizazz in this other version by Ella Fitzgerald.
  1. “How Much Can I Stand” by Gladys Bentley

    Gladys Bentley wasn’t a drag king, or a male impersonator in the parlance of the day, but as an openly queer singer and entertainer, she unapologetically wore gender nonconforming clothing on stage in 1920s and 1930s Harlem. In particular, she was noted for her stunning white tuxedo, tails, and top hat. In donning such attire, she also helped make space for other gender nonconforming performers at the time, drag artists included. While there are comparatively few recordings of her singing, I love the sound of her voice. I wish she was as much a part of our cultural lexicon of American standards, blues, and jazz as some of her contemporaries.

  2. “A Guy What Takes His Time” by Mae West

    This song has become a scintillating standard, but it was originally recorded by Mae West in 1933. West, who also had a background as a male impersonator, crafted the curvaceous and salacious persona she became known for with influence from drag early on in her career. It became an ongoing part of her persona on and off stage as well. Not only was it long rumored that she was herself a drag queen, but she also wrote a play called “The Drag” which was one of the first stage vehicles wherein gay men actually portrayed themselves and drag artists. “A Guy What Takes His Time” is a bluesy number luscious with double entendres, a hallmark of both the genre and of drag at the time (and still!).

  3. “Work This Pussy” by Ellis D. presents Boom-Boom, aka Junior Vasquez
    “WTP” by Teyana Taylor ft. Mykki Blanco

    “Work This Pussy” was originally recorded by legendary DJ Junior Vasquez in 1989 under the name Ellis-D, a style more heavily drawing on classics than Junior’s work at the time. “Work This Pussy” became a timeless song from ballroom, voguing in particular. Teyana Taylor recorded her own version of the song in 2019, which samples the original and also includes dialogue from the iconic Harlem ballroom documentary Paris is Burning at the end. Octavia St. Laurent’s voice says “I believe that there’s a big future out there with a lot of beautiful things/ I want so much more I want, I want my name to be a household product in the high fashion world.” Hearing both, it’s interesting to see how they translate 30 years apart.
  1. “Are You a Boy?” by Jayne County

    When she first moved to New York from her native Georgia in 1968, Jayne County, the first openly transgender rock star, wanted to be, in her words, the first drag queen rock star. She established herself on New York’s avant-garde theatre stages and punk venues, known for her provocative and unapologetic stage presence. This track is a staple of her repertoire, appearing on her 1980 live album Rock ‘n’ Roll Resurrection. Originally recorded by American garage rock band The Barbarians in 1965, in Jayne’s hands it’s a revolution.
  1. “Fuck You” by Dean and the Weenies

    Dean Johnson was seven feet tall in heels, bald with sunglasses and pearls, a sight and a force for pushing forward New York’s queer rock and roll scene. He arrived at legendary East Village drag venue the Pyramid Club fresh from NYU, entering the scene until his untimely death in 2007. “Fuck You,” released in the late 1980s, is one of the few recorded songs by his original band, Dean and the Weenies. With its punk spirit, it was a hit that drew continued fame when it appeared on the soundtrack for cult film Mondo New York in 1988. With lyrics like “Get lost, eat shit, drop dead, go screw/ We’re in big trouble baby/And the trouble is you,” what’s not to love?
  1. “Burning Up” by Madonna

    One of the first articles I read while researching the book was about a 1986 fundraising show at the Pyramid Club for the artist Martin Burgoyne, who had been diagnosed with AIDS. Drag artists, musicians and more showed up for him, among them his close friend Madonna. Burgoyne designed the cover art for her 1983 singles “Burning Up” and “Physical Attraction,” which would later appear on her eponymous debut album that July. I was lucky enough to find the single in an East Village record store last year, and my friend Meena bought it for me. Burgoyne sadly passed away not long after the fundraiser, at 23. Finding his work in the store was this beautiful full-circle moment of being able to remember an artist who’s deeply embedded in the fabric of the New York music world and also in the fabric of the book.
  1. “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan

    When he was performing in drag, Nashom Wooden went by Mona Foot. In Wooden’s drag tenure, he became a beloved figure in New York, known in particular for his performance of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” (and later the Whitney Houston version remixed by Junior Vasquez)  lipsynched while wearing a Wonder Woman costume. While Wooden left drag for many years to pursue music, he performed the Wonder Woman number again at the revamped version of Wigstock in 2018. Sadly, however, he passed away early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. I love to think of him twirling in that cape up above.
  2. “Cunty” by Kevin Aviance

    Kevin Aviance was one of my favorite people I interviewed for the book. We had a conversation about drag and Judaism–I’m Jewish, but drag was sometimes more of a religion for me, I joked –and he said, “We were your rabbis, right, girl?” How true it was and is. A true legend and survivor, “Cunty” was one of Aviance’s first singles from his 1999 album Box of Chocolates, recently sampled by Beyoncé on her song “Pure/Honey” from Renaissance. I’m glad all these people get to (re)discover him now in all of his glamour and glory. Bald and always in gorgeous sky-high platforms, he’s a true original. Plus, I can’t believe I actually have it on record that he called me fierce and I’ll remember it forever.
  1. “Night Work” by Scissor Sisters

    When I was working on the book, I would go for long walks to clear my head and get some exercise, especially when I wasn’t feeling like I was being productive enough. There were many days when I would listen to this song on repeat, rebuilding my energy and my belief in myself. Heavily inspired by drag, Scissor Sisters are in the book and they always sound like glitter to me. In this song in particular they’re glitter and hustle, the magic of building a life even when it’s messy and sweaty and uncertain, words that describe writing a book as well. “Night Work” was essential to my process on more than one occasion, especially the lyric “I used to have the shakes/But now they’re good at getting me played” and “You gotta keep on movin,’ remember/This is what you asked for.” Even typing the lyrics now I feel motivated.
  1. “This is Life” by Grace Jones

    I first heard this song at a party drag artist Wang Newton threw at their apartment, where the drag artist Emi Grate performed it. A DJ had told her she should learn the song, she said, and she performed part of it briefly, crawling and gliding across the floor in the middle of Wang’s couches under warm purple and magenta lights. I loved the song for its power and electricity, which Emi also embodied. But how could a song by the icon herself Grace Jones be anything less? She’s the embodiment of fierce and Emi beautifully channeled her. Not only that, “This is Life” is about pure confidence in the face of adversity, itself an essential element of drag: “Most of my crimes are of optimism/40 thousand volts of recognition/They tried to strip me of dignity/But I still have tenacity.” I was so touched when I heard the song and I remember the moment so clearly. Book Emi for all of your gigs.
  2. “Gene Kelly” by Felix Hagan & The Family

    This song popped into my life at the right time, when I was in the home stretches of working on my book. The person in the audience I always thought about throughout this process was a queer Midwestern teen who was looking for a place to belong. I was always hoping for the book to find this person as well as anyone else who wanted to find roots, who wanted and needed to know that their stories mattered. This song makes me think of that experience too, of seeking to create a place for yourself. Like “Night Work,” I’d listen to it on repeat in walks through the park to stay motivated and remember the reasons I began working on this book in the first place.
  3. “Pink Pony Club” by Chappell Roan

    Drag has faced significant challenges that we didn’t see in the same way when I began working on this book five and a half years ago. There’s a resiliency and determination to this song I love that I see in drag, too, and also in myself. Whatever our dance at the Pink Pony Club is, so to speak, we just know we need to keep doing it right now whether or not it makes sense to anyone else: “On the stage in my heels/It’s where I belong.” Like Chappell, I also thank my wicked dreams and everything they gave me.

For book & music links, themed playlists, a wrap-up of Largehearted Boy feature posts, and more, check out Largehearted Boy’s weekly newsletter.

Elyssa Goodman is a writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture. Her work has been published in Vogue, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Vanity Fair, and others online and in print. Elyssa has also written about LGBTQ+ history and culture for Conde Nast’s them, where she was the site’s “Drag Herstory” and Queer Women’s History columnist. She has been a freelance writer for 19 years and in love with drag for 27 years, since the age of seven.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider supporting the site to keep it strong.