Author’s Note: Taking inspiration from John Water’s book Role Models, Marion and I have decided to start an ongoing series “Role Models,” featuring the individuals we look to for filth-spiration, our filth elders if you will.
Cutting a striking and completely unforgettable figure at 6’6″ dressed in a short Edie Sedwick-esque cocktail dress, enormous sunglasses, a bald head and a bad attitude, party promoter, intimidating drag superstar, proud sex worker and self-proclaimed rock n’ roll fag Dean Johnson is a role model for anyone who dreams of telling Mary Tyler Moore to fuck off.
A significant figure in the East Village’s queercore scene, Johnson fronted two bands: Dean and the Weenies, famous for their hit “Fuck You,” and the Velvet Mafia.
I was luckily introduced to Dean and the Weenies’s dangerously cathartic video “Fuck You,” which was featured in the Downtown classic film Mondo New York, by Marvin Taylor, director of Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University, which now holds the Dean Johnson Papers. From Johnson’s mesmerizing dancing to his hilariously venomous lyrics to the dyke band members, Dean and the Weenies were a queer punk revelation before an early morning library session.
Moving to New York from Boston in 1979 to attend NYU for film, Johnson began performing at The Pyramid Club, quickly becoming an easily recognizable and iconic figure in the Downtown club scene. Johnson organized amazingly-titled parties such as the Rock & Roll Fag Bar, Pubic Hair Club For Men and HomoCorps, a gay-themed night at CBGB featuring gay and trans rock bands.
Known for his own music with songs like “Do The Drag,” Bourgeois Boys,” and a B-52s-sounding title “The Girl From Planet Muff,” Johnson was a terrifying engrossing lead singer with his monumental pale frame in a slinky minidress.
In addition to party promotion and his music career, Johnson also began blogging and writing, unafraid to mention his experiences living as HIV positive for 20 years, his struggles with drug addiction and his work as an escort.
In one blog, which has been revisited on his sister Beth Johnson’s Dean Johnson Facebook Group, he jokes:
“The hardware store on the corner is selling plants and they’ve put up a big sign that says “Eight-inch pansy – $5.99.” My rates start at $200, there’s no way I can compete with that price.”
One of my other favorites of his blogs recounts his meeting Andy Warhol:
“Met Andy Warhol at The Ninth Circle, my favorite hustler bar in the West Village. We’re studying his contributions to cinema history at school. I told him I loved “Empire.” “You must be the only person who ever saw it,” he said, and then after that he didn’t talk to me anymore. Ever again.”
Found dead of an apparent drug overdose while with a client in Washington D.C. in 2007, Johnson’s legacy remains important (though undervalued) in the New York cultural scene.
So put on your drop earrings and alien-esque sunglasses and bask in Johnson’s role model glamour: