by Steve Desroches
Joey Arias came to Provincetown for the first time in 1976. He came at the invitation of famed fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, and the two, along with an entourage of friends, piled in a car and drove from New York to the Cape at a time now considered a decadent bohemian heyday for both locales. And as they spun there way out to the spiral spit of sand that is Provincetown, Arias found a magical land with a gift for prophecy. A phenomenal universe of divergent creative sparks filled the air of this quaint little seaside village full of wonder, craziness, and imagination.
“I was just blown away,” says Arias. “It was just intense.”
Throughout those early heady days in Provincetown, Arias met John Waters and the Dreamlanders, including Divine, Cookie Mueller, and Sharon Niesp, and they partied the summer nights away with his Studio 54 friends in tow, Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, and the like. The spirit of the town had him hooked, and he’s returned repeatedly since then for summer-long gigs or quick visits to satiate his hunger for the kinetic energy of Provincetown. He’ll return again this weekend for the annual Afterglow Festival where he’ll present Looking Back At The Future, a wild look back at his 40-year relationship with Provincetown.
Arias believes that Provincetown is a “gateway to the future,” a phenomenon he’s witnessed regularly since his arrival that summer of 1976. And that’s quite a statement from a performer who has continually been on the edge, whether it’s creating a fabulous spectacle in the shop window of Fiorucci, appearing with David Bowie and Klaus Nomi on Saturday Night Live, his Billie Holiday show Strange Fruit, his role as the Mistress of Seduction in Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas spectacular Zumanity, or in the divine stage show Arias with Twist, a collaboration with famed puppeteer Basil Twist.
In addition to the culture of Provincetown, the geography captivates Arias. While artist Robert Smithson may have created his masterpiece Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake in Utah in a matter of days, Provincetown captures the same mystical form over millennia of erosion and movement of the natural elements, creating this natural palm that nurtures and protects the tiny town from those wicked elements. That combination of natural mysticism and the boundless creativity of Provincetown’s inhabitants over the years has created an environment that Arias says shows the future.
“I feel like this alien here to give a message,” says Arias from his home in New York after having returned the day before from a show in Vienna. “Not like this ‘Hello. I. Am. From. Mars.’ alien, but an otherworldly creature full of that afterglow with love to share.”
Looking Back At The Future promises to be a night of song and stories about the not so distant past of Provincetown and where we might all be headed. From the more esoteric tales to fascinating brushes with the famous, and infamous, characters that have come through the Outer Cape over the years, this simple, bare bones show features classic Arias with a decidedly local flair as he attempts to explain what artists for decades have been trying to do: capture the magic of Provincetown and put it into creation. For years people asked Arias why he didn’t just go to Fire Island instead, with its LGBT community and a natural beauty of its own, as well as being much closer to his home in Manhattan. But Fire Island just doesn’t hold up in comparison to Provincetown, says Arias. Not even close.
“Well, look at where it’s at,” says Arias. “I look at the map. It’s this quaint little village, but it’s at the end of the world with that curl. You’re going to be stepping into the future. Provincetown is all about the future and it reveals it. It’s not about technology, but about humanity and how people deal with each other. Provincetown is about humanity and family. That’s the future.”
The Afterglow Festival presents Joey Arias in Looking Back At The Future, at Paramount at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St., Provincetown, Friday, September 16 at 9:30 p.m. For tickets ($30) and information go to the box office, call 508.487.4569, or visit afterglowfestival.org.