The first time I saw Rosewood perform I felt like I was watching a long lost cousin perform. As Lou Reed sang, “Take a walk on the wild side”, Rosewood dazzled the crowd with the countless ways one can stuff drugs in orifices and managed to turn a pair of high heels into a crack pipe. Rosewood bends gender and uses the body unlike any other I’ve ever seen. And it brings me great pleasure to announce, a few months ago, my friend Jordan Schimmetti and I sat down with Rosewood for an interview.
We met up with Rosewood at the studio wherein s/he produces woodworking and stores the numerous persona’s neatly stashed away in boxes with the name of the outfit written on the front of them. As Rosewood showed us around s/he explained that often s/he will be busy refurbishing a vintage antique when the time comes to whisk off to a performance so it’s best to have everything always ready to go. And all over the walls of the studio are pictures of Shamans Rosewood finds inspirational. One of her favorites lived in India and was famous for turning shit into food or other precious items for the poor and downtrodden.
Lately Rosewood has been causing a scene in both London and NYC, performing her decadent show at The Box and other venues. For those familiar and unfamiliar with Rosewood I suggest you take a walk on the wild side and read on:
SB: You’ve told me that you went to school with Keith Haring in the late seventies. Were you performing then? What was your relationship like?
RW: We intersected at a funny time because I was hitting the curb at that point. Sex, drugs and rock n roll. I had hit the wall. By 1980 I was wrecked. Bleeding from every hole. Drug burnt and sex burnt. And I couldn’t keep going so I had to abandon all that stuff and focus on repair. I did a lot of artwork but it changed from being sociable and relational to private. I went to the woods, the country.
SB: So you completely left the city at that point?
RW: I was in and out of the city. I spent 3 months living in Morocco. Then I moved to New Jersey for a while, then here (NYC), then Connecticut for a while. I really needed to be outside and to keep it simple. I wasn’t sociable at all. I stayed away from people for quite a number of years.
JS: So by 1980, how long had you been in New York for?
RW: Five years.
JS: You are originally from New Jersey, right? So what was that first transition like? Had you always planned on moving to New York?
RW: Well, you know, I got into a lot of different schools, but I was such a freak, I just couldn’t wait to get out of my hometown and New York sounded perfect! Once I got here, I felt liberated. However, with that kind of liberation came all the pitfalls. And I fell into every one of them.
JS: Did you have a decent relationship with your parents as a young person? Were you running from something or trying to expand? Was there an antagonism back in Jersey you were running from?
RW: I had identity issues. Even then and now I fit more into the gay world of my town, which was small. I wasn’t as easy to categorize because everyone else was hiding and I wasn’t hiding in any way and I received a lot of antagonism for that.
JS: So you were never closeted in anyway?
RW: Never. I’ve never spent one moment in a closet.
SB: Were you doing drag then?
RW: Not full drag, then. I wasn’t doing female impersonation. It was the time of hair bands and glam rock, so I had big hair and wore makeup and it was always hard to say because there was Queen and a few of their members were reasonably known as gay but it wasn’t talked about quite the same way is it now. So, I just looked like I had stepped off a stage.
JS: So you’ve been performing your entire life?
RW: I went in and out of it. Everything started at the age of ten, at my local Jewish Community Center. I took woodworking and theater (lifts hands in the air, as we’re in Rosewood’s workshop which consists of drag and woodworking tools, showing that to this day that is Rosewood’s reality). Theater for us was Vaudeville. My teacher was a New Yorker – she was a hardcore, jaded lady who was interested in doing Vaudeville shows in the middle of New Jersey. So I was doing Vaudeville, mostly magic and comedy. And then, when I came to New York, everything shifted, I studied to be a spotter in gambling casinos. I had learned all sorts of card cheating. My Grandfather had been a kind of hustler. He taught me card stuff and referred me to people and I wound up spotting card games to make sure things were legal.
SB: So gambling was legal in New York City then?
RW: There was so much gambling.
SB: And it was legal?
RW: Oh no. They were shady, backroom, gambling games. They had me there in case someone was cheating; I was supposed to point them out. But what I came to realize, very quickly, was, “now what?” If I say something, someone is going to get shot and there’s a good chance that someone would’ve been me. Finally I asked myself, if I wanted to be around the gambling world and after all that study and training I realized I had made the wrong turn. Continue reading