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We're Not in the Mall Any More, Dorothy : Tourment is a cross-dressing performance artist on the road with Lollapalooza. He has fun putting a subversive spin on fashion. : We're Not in the Mall Any More, Dorothy

August 18, 1995|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — Odd characters have always been in style at the Lollapalooza tour. Back in '92, the almost indescribable Jim Rose Circus startled everybody with such attractions as a grinning glass-eater and a guy who swung concrete blocks from his nipples.

Lollapalooza '95, which settled into the Irvine Meadows on Monday and Tuesday, is no different. Courtney Love, rocker with a taste for lingerie and exhibitionism, was there. And so was Tourment, a cross-dressing performance artist who tries to put a very personal and wobbly spin on the idea of radical chic.

For a couple of years now, Tourment has traveled with Lollapalooza, running impromptu fashion shows at side venues. On Monday, he held court at the Lab stage on the Irvine Meadows grounds, grabbing kids from the audience and redressing them in hip wear, or at least his notion of it.

Watching from below, most of the concert-goers thought Tourment, his clothes sense and nonstop commentary on everything from safe sex to bigotry, was a hoot. Maybe not their generation's Mr. Blackwell, but a pretty good act.

"My dad would hate him. So, of course, I love him!" squealed Lydia Roche, 22, from Oceanside. "He seems to know what we're all about, what we like to wear [and] how we act. . . . He's got good attitude."

Roche, done up in a very short plaid skirt, a tube top emblazoned with "I Belong in Jail" and tall platforms, said she was happy to take fashion lessons from a sarcastic drag queen. "Who knows more about dressing up than someone like him?" she asked. "Nobody, I'd say."

Her friend, Drew Calvecchia, staring open-mouthed at Tourment, had to agree. "She's weird but hot," said the 19-year-old Fountain Valley resident. "But I wouldn't let her put me in a skirt."

On stage, Tourment dresses as a parody of women in rock 'n' roll: overdone and dramatic. In Irvine, he wore a skin-clinging black satin number, set off by skyscraper heels. At other tour stops, he's donned his favorite, a mini-halter dress made from 2,000 guitar picks.

"We try to mix it up to make it fun and to get the point across that there is something outside the mall," Tourment said.

That something else starts with Tourment's stage character, which he describes as a motorcycle-riding lady guitarist with a sense of humor. In his words, "a fashion plate who is out there trying to fight bigotry and ignorance. . . . I try to be entertaining so people leave with a smile on their face. . . . Sometimes they leave irritated, though."

Tourment maintains he's mostly a hero to youngsters in small towns who feel they can't cut loose. The way he sees it, he represents their inner fantasy to be carefree and kick it all night long.

"I'm out in the pit every day and exposing my soul to these young, middle-class, straight kids from small towns and they have yet to crucify me," he said, "I love the kids here. I've sort of become a martyr for them."

Crys Williams, a 19-year-old from Huntington Beach, wouldn't go that far, but she did say his act had the right subversive edge.

Dressed in a purple T-shirt with plate-sized rips and a pair of dark blue leggings also decorated with ragged holes, Williams said fashion is what you make it.

"I like what he's doing up there, going a little nuts and being into his own thing," she said. "You've got to take chances, right? When everybody [wears] the same thing, we all look like stupid clones."

Tourment uses basics like snowboard and skate wear in his shows but also throws in stuff for camp and shock value. At Monday's performance, a pile of condoms that eventually were tossed to the eager audience became something of a fashion statement.

"Kids are tired of being oppressed and fed only information that is censored. We come into town, and they welcome it," he said of his Lollapalooza stops, which he's been making for two years now and expects to continue for 18 more months.

As for heroes, he calls Stephen Sprouse, a designer from the early '80s punk era, "the godfather of today's fashion." Tourment displays Sprouse's work alongside new labels inspired by the designer's work, such as Mondorama, Counter Culture and Funkeessentials, but, Tourment says, he doesn't know if the kids understand the history lesson.

"I don't think they get that out of it. They just look at it and say, 'I like it' or 'I don't like it,' based on what their friends wear."

His Tourment character first surfaced in 1983 at Pyramid, a New York East Village club now closed. The Squeeze Box in New York's SoHo is his latest showcase. "The Squeeze Box is a mix of flashy glam and New Age and punk rock flavoring. It's a melting pot of everything glittery and sick," said the 28-year-old performer who won't reveal his non-stage name.

As for most male rock stars these days, Tourment thinks they're boring dressers--"they aren't taking chances; it's the aftermath of this whole grunge era"--but he digs Courtney Love's contemporary carnival look. "It's awesome, it's Baby Jane Hudson. It's beautiful."

Tourment is also optimistic that the future will be bright with self-expression. "Amazing creativity is spawned from this scene," he says.

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