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Minnesota Music Scene: Minnesota transgender glam rock icon Venus de Mars

June 12, 2018

“Often faced with prejudice, hostility, physical abuse and even occasional death threats, Venus [de Mars] came back from the brink of suicide to front artistic dark glam band All The Pretty Horses.” –Power Play Magazine U.K.

After hearing about Venus de Mars only just recently, I was shocked to find I’d never heard about her or her band, All The Pretty Horses. Hailing from Duluth, Venus de Mars came out as transgendered 29 years ago, which means the artist has been out and rockin’ longer than I’ve been alive. But this group spent many years underground because it has always been risky business coming out. At the time, it nearly ruined her career. However, pure drive to rock and roll pushed Venus to embrace her music and re-create herself through glam-punk rock. Venus wanted to prove to the world that she was transgendered and proud of it.

The journey was never smooth sailing. When Venus came out, she was kicked off of jury duty because it was assumed she’d rule in favor of a child molester. In addition, no one wanted to back the band because the transgender community wasn’t a supported group, and their performance style – leather, fishnets, and pasties – were too hot to handle, even for New York. This meant that their small group had to promote, fund, and book the shows themselves, and their first handful of audiences ranged from three to 10 people. Thankfully, these incidents did not discourage Venus’ drive to be a musician and trans community advocate.

All The Pretty Horses has consistently been Venus de Mars’ only group project. Overtime, the band has seen a turnover of members for one reason or another, mostly mutual. For some, the touring was too much, and for others, the plethora of parties took a toll. Despite differing agendas, the fortunate side of having occasional new members made room for the project to evolve. Although much of Venus’ inspiration came from T. Rex and the brilliant mind of David Bowie, the band members often had alternative ideas for where they, as a group, wanted to go with their sound and image. Venus remained true to her vision until being approached by Jim Walsh, who invited her to an event he called a Hootenanny. Jim said to come solo, with just five or six songs, and an acoustic guitar. It was a terrifying idea that Venus faced head on.

The experience opened the door for a whole new type of exploration for the artist. Venus de Mars evolved again through the difficulties of acoustic work. She decided to record the [2005] album “Flesh and Wire” at the Sacred Heart Studio in Duluth. Her most revealing album to date, it features two covers of Bowie songs, and quite frankly, she nails it with her version of “5 Years.” She stated that acoustic work was more difficult, because you can’t hide behind dramatic theatrics and a flurry of instruments. It’s raw, just a voice, a guitar, and minimal percussion.

In 2015, All The Pretty Horses went on tour with another trans artist, Laura Jane Grace and her band Against Me! This was the longest tour Venus de Mars had been on and it opened her eyes to what it’s like being out in modern times. As a white, cis female, I can’t speak to the struggles of trans folks, but to come from an era where your lifestyle is illegal, down to potentially being arrested for using a public bathroom, this tour created a new sense of openness for the artist. She spoke of moments working the merch booth and being surrounded by LGBTQ youth, fearful of how the parents would feel about her being around their children, but instead being seen as a role model. For Venus, it was a liberating tour.

Just a few months ago, Venus de Mars took to TedxMinneapolis 2017: Why Not? She performed one song, but first, she listed chronological moments that both created turmoil and pride over the course of her lifetime. She mentions how laws and incidents shaped her journey and if you’d like to know more about the artist, you can watch the award-winning rock doc “Venus of Mars” [2004] by Emily Goldberg in which Venus is the main subject. The film also delves into Venus’ marriage to wife of 34 years, Lynette Reini-Grandell.

But for Venus de Mars, the story isn’t over. The world is still changing, and the internet has created the space for trans kids to find themselves, but persecution is still an issue. Last year, over 25 trans folks were murdered in hate crimes, the highest number of that type on record. But at least, today, Venus de Mars is able to openly advocate for herself and others, and continues to pave the way for young people, while also doing what she loves: making music.

 

By Rian Dicke-Michels

SouthernMinn Scene | editor@southernminnscene.com |
115 5th Street West Northfield, MN 55057