My Night with John Cameron Mitchell
by Daniel Hirshleifer
Some things only happen once in a lifetime; losing your virginity, seeing Halley's Comet (for most people), or a freak electrical storm that causes the brakes on a truck to thin out, causing it to run over the "Missouri Baby-Shaking Expo." I had one of those experiences on Thursday, August 9th, 2001: the night that some of my friends and I got to chat with John Cameron Mitchell, the writer, director, and star of Hedwig And The Angry Inch.
Looking at my profile, you might see that I've called myself a "Hedhead." Some of you might be wondering just what that is: A Hedhead is an avid fan of Hedwig And The Angry Inch, originally an off-Broadway rock musical written by John Cameron Mitchell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. Mitchell turned the show—about a gay East German boy who gets a sex change in order to marry and come to America, who is then dumped by her husband and searches for his/her other half—into a movie. While the film is poignant and emotional, it is also funny, with rocking songs, and an atmosphere that invites audience participation. Some people from the message board of the official website (www.get-hed.com) organized sing-alongs in Los Angeles and other cities. To promote the movie, John Cameron Mitchell decided to do a Q&A after some of these sing-alongs, first in New York, and then in Los Angeles this past week. Of course, some of us from the message board showed up.
The showing was at 7:45 PM; I was there at 5:00 PM, because the first twenty people in line received free stuff. At about 7:15, the guys from Fine Line showed up and started handing out the stuff: a promotional copy of the soundtrack, gummy bears in a Hedwig packet, fake $3 bills with Hedwig images on them, and posters individually signed by John Cameron Mitchell, Stephen Trask, as well as co-stars Miriam Shor and Michael Pitt. Not a bad way to start off the evening.
The one problem with unofficial sing-alongs is that most people don't come to a movie expecting to sing, or expecting to have other people in the audience sing. The great thing about this showing was that everyone came to sing, or at least, allowed those of us so inclined, to do so. And sing we did. As the credits rolled, Mitchell came down the aisle; seeing him, we all applauded, and asked him to sing with us, which he did. They cut off the end credits a bit early so that he could start the Q&A. I asked the first question, mentioning that I had seen the movie seven times (an announcement that received applause). Mitchell answered a lot of questions. He said that while he thought some of the songs would make good singles, he didn't think Hedwig songs would get much airplay. Some of the audience members joked around with him (including one of my friends, who asked for a personal car wash), and would have gone on for hours, I surmise, if he hadn't been cut short by the management, who had to squeeze in another showing that night.
After the Q&A, we went out into the lobby for a signing. Mitchell was especially nice, chatting with everyone and taking pictures with anyone who wanted to. I managed to mention this site (digitallyOBSESSED.com) and gave him the URL (so John, if you're reading this, email me by clicking on my name) while he signed my copy of the text and lyrics of the play. We told him we were the guys from the message board who were organizing sing-alongs, and got a group picture taken with him afterwards. We also worked up the courage to ask him where he was going after the signing. And, just to prove how nice he is, he wrote down the address for us.
. Walking in to Toi, a Thai place on Sunset just a few blocks away from the theater, I saw Mitchell and and the gang sitting at a table. I joined them and the conversation, which was flowing free and easy. We were just hanging out... just hanging out with our personal hero. We asked what he was doing over the next few weeks (promoting the movie in Europe), his favorite bands (The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and The Neutral Milk Hotel, among others), and more. He and I actually discussed how hard it is to use Mellotrons. He introduced us to his brother, and we talked some more. He showed us his Sex Pistols LPs, signed by Johnny Rotten (Mitchell had shot Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher along with Johnny Rotten that day). I asked him what would be on the Hedwig DVD (commentary, documentary, deleted scenes, and etc.); he said New Line was behind the movie all the way, so it looks good.
At about 1am, after a few rounds of hugs, Mitchell left, and my friends and I stumbled into the night air: tired, starry-eyed, and filled with a rare, positive energy . We left feeling we knew something of Mitchell as a person—separate from the Hedwig phenomenon—simply because he was such a nice and interesting guy. I will now go see Hedwig five to fifty more times.