I could be writing about Dion and the Belmonts this morning, but my wife has just done this wonderful portrait of me (imagined in front of the original Luna Park), and I just came across a great paragraph which provides a partial explanation for my pseudonym Trav S.D., which I am often queried about. I hate answering the question since there is not just one, but at least a half dozen equally valid responses to the query, and I despise the act of literal-minded definition in a world of poetry and gradients of meaning, but I put some thoughts down here as a response for when people ask.
To start, the quote I mentioned, from an essay on burlesque:
“Victorian burlesque, sometimes known as “travesty” was popular in London theatres between the 1830s and the 1890s. It took the form of musical theatre parody in which a well-known opera, play or ballet was adapted into a broad comic play, usually a musical play, often risqué in style, mocking the theatrical and musical conventions and styles of the original work, and quoting or pastiching text or music from the original work.”
Such travesties, such as Ixion, by Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes were also presented in New York, and became one of the foundations for American burlesque. But I also embrace the term in its wider literary meaning to include a strategy of parody and ridicule in general as employed by everybody from Mad Magazine to the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. At any rate, in case you didn’t know, or prefer to ignore notices I post here about my shows, the blog you are reading is a sideline. My principal life’s work is writing and producing theatre. While I present vaudevilles at least every few months, my most recent travesty style play was presented at LaMama, featuring Everett Quinton and Molly Pope. The next one in the pipeline is this one.
So that’s one meaning. The name was devised when I was about 20, when guys like Run D.M.C. and M.C. Hammer were the thing. My music is very different from theirs, which is on some level part of the joke. Blues singers and pirates and drag stars always amplified their fame with nicknames. If you purport to be in show business and you’re not trying to amplify your fame, what the hell are you doing?
In my early years of performing, listings editors and so forth sometimes assumed I was a drag performer, and in a way I am: I am the world’s first male drag king.
I have a “D” instead of a “T” at the end because it is a scrambling of my given name “Donald Travis Stewart”, which I prefer not to use because THIS.
I also like the similarity of “Trav S. D.” to L.S.D. as I’m a fan of Edward Lear style literary nonsense of the same sort that inspired John Lennon, especially during his psychedelic period. I also grew up watching and appreciating psychotronic movies, tasteless 60s and 70s cheese, and the like, and you will find that is a major content thread on my blog. In fact, it constitutes my only genuine nostalgia, as vaudeville died over 30 years before I was born.
When flipped, the two initials become D.S., which are the initials of Dean Swift, or similarly “Dean of Satire”, another personal hero, to whom I’m distantly related through Dryden.
And let us not forget Fred Astaire’s character in Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Special Delivery (“S.D.”) Kluger
Lastly I also like using the pseudonym as a critic and arts writer because that was how the world first knew George Bernard Shaw. At the outset, his byline was strictly “G.B.S.”
And, with “B.S.”, we now take our leave.
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