No matter whether you are new to the Chicago House scene or a veteran, you have felt the unmistakable energy that happens when a party has just the right combination of music and people. For over a decade, househeads have been able to count on Boom Boom Room to start the week or finish the weekend, and a large part of the night’s success rests with the host, Jojo Baby. How this Chicago native, son of a Lakota Sioux mother and Spartan Greek Father, who almost became a priest, manages to always strike the right balance of party people remains a wonder in a city where residencies come and go faster than a Windy City summer. Jojo reminisces, “When raves were first starting up, people used to say everyone was in their own little cliques until we came into the room and brought everyone together and just made the party fun.”
Maybe it’s his jaw dropping height when he wears his signature shoes or the way his club kid family makes you forget all of your troubles and remember that anything is possible if you stay in the moment. Maybe it’s knowing that what you see this week you will never see again. “In a way, me and Sal E. are like old school geishas. We consider it an insult to be seen in the same thing twice. Although I do have favorite pieces…”
Cirque de Soleil ain’t got nothing on being able to reach out and touch a true living work of art, or better yet dance next to one. But best of all, as our dear Czarina is quick to point out, if the work of art knows exactly who to let into the club and who can stand and wait, well it feels an awful lot like love on a Monday night…
interview by Boogie McClarin
JoJo I first met you in 1997, almost ten years ago, at Shelter and then as the incredible host of the original Boom Boom Room at Red Dog. Around the same time you were on the Jenny Jones Show and it seemed like you were everywhere, explaining yourself to everyone. What was that time like for you?
I guess I’d rather people ask questions than just come up and punch me. There was this one time when I was leaving Shelter and someone threw a piece of pizza at me. What really made him mad was when I peeled it off of myself and started eating it and yelled “Thanks for Dinner!”
You were the creative source of the media phenomenon that was Dennis Rodman’s hair…
Yes. I did his hair at his house. I’m sure people would have loved the picture of this big 7 foot tall man bending over the bathtub with me behind him rinsing out his hair dye! He would take me everywhere. I even went to Utah with him for the playoffs… I once was in an elevator with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Larry Bird and Jordan said to me, “You’re the one that does Dennis’ hair. My son wants hair like that.” So I offered him my card and he said “Uhh, no.”
So I imagine you have more favorite places than Utah or elevators full of basketball players. Have you ever lived anywhere besides Chicago?
I lived in New York for the making of Party Monster. I think of it as my second home. In New York, they call me a scene stealer because no matter how dressed up you think you are “Jojo will outdo you.” I think it’s because my name in Hebrew means “He who adds and adds,” and if you are not ready to go by the time we’re supposed to leave, [laughing] I’ll just keep gluing stuff to myself laughing making it worse and worse!
Now in addition to being the stylist to the stars and creating these elaborate costumes on a weekly basis, you make these amazing dolls. How did that start?
Well my mother taught me to sew and I was really into Jim Henson as a child. I loved puppets. I met Greer Lankton, who was part of the Andy Warhol Factory, worked with Jim Henson and feathered the first Big Bird. She taught me how to do armature and when the puppets and the armature came together that’s what led to that…
Where has your work has been shown?
Most recently I dressed two mannequins at the Museum of Contemporary Art and they had my shoes on display as well. I’ve been shown at the Crannebrook Museum in Michigan, the Chicago Cultural Center and I was in the window at CBGB’s in New York for a while before they closed. I’ve been in People magazine, on Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer, and Wild Chicago just listed me as one of the fifteen wildest people to meet in Chicago. I’m also in their book, so I asked if I could get a copy and they told me I could but a copy at any Barnes and Noble, if I wanted one…
What’s so bizarre is that I do feel like if I sat down and talked to your dolls, they might talk back. Yet, they aren’t all creepy like wax sculptures or anything. They just feel kind of real.
I guess in a way they are kind of like a Voodoo doll because of the amount of time and effort that goes into them. And if I want a doll to have a person’s energy, I’ll put a piece of their hair in it or something I think they might like as a kind of chakra system. Every one of my dolls has a heart in it and above it I write “love me” because I think everyone, universally has the desire to be loved.
That’s exactly what I feel when I go to the events that you host JoJo, that you do really understand that we all need to be loved, and it feels like you give it to us. Am I making that up? Do you love us or are we just so many dollars in the door?
Well… [laughs] Of course I want to give back what I had when I was a kid and first went into clubs. I saw these beautiful creatures walking around and wanted to be one. Now I hope I influence the next generation of beautiful creatures to come up. It’s hard for any kid, like the newest kid I’ve heard of, Cherub, who throws parties at Berlin. I think some people are afraid to take that leap on fear that they will be marketed as a drag queen, or people won’t want to be with them. It’s an artform. I’m living art. Instead of painting on canvas or making something out of clay, I use myself. Queens ARE magical, even native tradition refers to them as Two Feathers. That’s why we would always let them in for free at Red Dog.
Those sort of details most new promoters don’t seem to care about, the total spectacle of the event. How do you decide what you are going to wear? Do you plan days in advance?
Sometimes we dare each other, me and Sal E. We call each other at about 7pm and we’ll give just a couple of words like, “nuns”. Then Sal played the dark nun with blacked out eyes and I was more playful.
Would you still describe yourself as a “club kid”? Your website also lists you as a performance artist.
Well I’m not really a kid anymore but I still like the name. Somebody just came up to me at Green Dolphin and said, “You remind me of those people they used to call club kids,” and I was like, uh yeah I’m one of the original Chicago club kids, believe it or not, and it’s just because I’ve been working in clubs since about 13 that people think I should be about 50 years old by now… I can’t wait to see what I look like at 50 to see if I have glitter in my wrinkles!… I still do it because there’s no one else to really do it because of the whole stigma on club kids. They think we all have pockets of ecstasy and we kill people. Michael Alig from New York City really damaged the term club kid.
So making Party Monster must have been really personal for you, not just about being in a film about the scene.
They used me a lot because I could change my look so drastically and I loved it because I got to hang out with some of the people that I had always loved, like Kabuki who was doing all of the make-up and having him just tweek my look was nice. And meeting Walt Paper and Astro Earl was like meeting your idols, then to have met Seth Green and Macauley Culkin and Marilyn Manson, it was crazy.
So who is in your family of Chicago club kids?
Well Jay-J is my biological brother. I’m number one and he’s number 3 and we have three other brothers who are nothing like us. I know it’s hard to believe – two freaks from the same litter. And Sal E is definitely family. I hang out with some older Club Kids too, Ron Deluxe and Gigi DeLuxe, who both used to work at Shelter.
Is there anything that you think people should know about you? Something they don’t know about the host of Chicago’s longest house night?
Like my momma always said: he may dress a little funny but he’s a nice guy. Oh, and if you want me for Halloween costumes you have to get me a couple months in advance!
You could make me fabulous like you? You must charge people, right?
Yeah. That’s funny how conversations work. I just finished a mermaid costume for Sheryl Crow, and she paid quite bit for it, Australian crystals and beading and such. It’s gorgeous!