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Q&A: Hometown girl Mink Stole sings a new tune

Mink Stole at her Baltimore home
Mink Stole at her Baltimore home - Steve Ruark
Baltimore native Mink Stole began her acting career with what was known as the “Dreamlanders,” the small group of regular cast and crew for John Waters’ Dreamland Productions. Stole has appeared in all of Waters’ feature-length films, including “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble” and “Hairspray.”

She has also worked with theater greats John Vaccaro and the late Charles Ludlam in New York, and with the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Co. Mink returned to Baltimore in 2007, where she has produced and performed several shows at the Creative Alliance with her Wonderful Band. She has just released her first CD, “Do Re MiNK,” after raising money on Kickstarter. She recently spoke with her friend and BmoreMedia writer Martha Thomas about her new album, working with Waters and why she returned to Baltimore.

How was the May 31 show at the Creative Alliance?

We rocked out during the second half. Everyone got on the stage for the last song, “Bring Me Sunshine.” It’s not on the album. It may be on my next record, if in fact, there is a next record.

Cutting a CD turned out to be more than you expected?
In L.A., I did a little demo tape with eight songs and it took two days. One afternoon, the band came in and laid down the instrumental. I came in the next day and did the vocals. I thought it sounded great, but it wasn’t done on high-end studio equipment.
We were in a garage. It’s apples and oranges. I didn’t know that when I started this record. I’ve been working on it for three years. It took twice as long as I expected, even after I realized it would take a long time, because I went back and redid every song. Now that I’ve been exposed to the apples, I realize it was oranges that time.
Are the apples sweeter?

The apples are much more sensitive. My recording microphone picks up everything. The engineer had to take out little lip smacks, tiny things I couldn’t hear. The microphone could pick it up if I just rub my skin. A vocal session in the studio would be three to four hours of singing the same song over and over and over again. I absolutely refused to use autotuning.
Do a lot of the songs on the CD have a personal history?

Not one song on the album was written for me, but I handle each one of them as if it were an adopted child. I didn’t give birth to it, but I raised it and molded it. The L.A. band did “Female Trouble”, but the version I did in L.A. is very different from the version we did.

That was originally performed by Divine?
Yes, "Female Trouble" is sung by Divine in the movie.
And the song “No Nose Nanook” about an Eskimo woman who loses her nose from too much rubbing?
It was written for a show called Vice Palace, for the Cockettes, with Divine. We performed it back in 1972, at a midnight show at the Palace Theater in San Francisco. I performed with a little backup group, we were all wearing parkas, dressed as little Eskimos. We had a tap routine in the middle. It brought the house down.
How did you meet John Waters?

I met him in Provincetown. My sister introduced us. I was 18 and he was 20. Provincetown is this beautiful little town at the bottom of the Cape [in Massachusetts.]
By the end of the summer, John and I, my sister and three or four others were sharing a house at the edge of town. In the fall, John and I rented an apartment in New York City. New York terrified me, and John got homesick for Baltimore, so we lasted in New York for a month. He moved back in with his family and I moved back in with mine. He called me one day and said he was making a movie and did I want to be in it. That was “Roman Candles.”
Ever since, you’ve been pretty much known by your association with him. Does that bother you?
He’s like Peter Pan’s shadow: It gets sewn back on. It’s a thing that just is. I can’t put a good or bad value on it. Divine says it in the movie (“I Am Divine.”) Sometimes I hate him for it. Mostly, I thank him and love him for it. That’s pretty much the way I feel.

I don’t know where I would be without him. I think I would have been a good lawyer, but I hated school. I might have ended up in a really bad office job.
Would you have acted?
I may have, but I honestly have no idea. He was not famous when I met him. The fact that I was there at the very beginning of his career, and was able to stay with him, that gave me enormous access to things. Other people wanted to work with me because I had worked with him. At the same time, almost everything I’ve done since then is referenced to him. If I do a play, it doesn’t matter what the play is — comedy, drama —John’s name appears in the review.
I am very proud of my association with him, so I don’t mind it when his name is mentioned. What I do object to is having his name in front of mine with a possessive apostrophe.
Like you’re his creation.
That I do mind. When it happens, I don’t blame him. It’s the lack of imagination of whoever is writing the article.

But you remain good friends.
I’ve known him my entire adult life. One of the things John and I bonded over was our anger at Catholicism. We both went to Catholic schools. I am very, very, very anti-Catholic. I don’t hate Catholics. Some of the nicest people I know are Catholics. But I was raised to be so scared of doing something that meant I was going to hell. It could be as insignificant as eating a piece of bacon on Friday. I one hundred percent believed it.

Do you remember how you realized it was all bull?

When I was 14, I started skipping mass. And I didn’t get hit by a bus. I was terrified because I knew from everything I’d been taught my whole life that I was going to die and go to hell. When that didn’t happen, the whole house of cards fell down. 
Why did you return to Baltimore?
I had been away for more than 30 years, and during that time I never thought I’d come back. When I made the decision it seemed so obvious. The first year I was back was difficult. My mother died two months after I moved here. That was a real shock and it devastated me. I had always known the loss of my mother would be hard, but it was much harder than I expected.
Although I have friends here of long standing, I was not yet hooked back into a social network, I wasn’t on anyone’s radar. My brother and sister live here, but they have their own lives. I spent the first year back here life-building.

So you’re about to start rehearsals for a play?
It’s “The Mutilated”(a one-act) and is scheduled to be produced at the Tennessee Williams Festival in Provincetown at the end of September. 
Any plans for gigs with the band? Shows in New York?
I would love to take the band to in New York. I’ve barely looked into breathing since I got this together. There’s a lot more to do in terms of promotion. It staggers me how much work it is. I hope this CD will open doors for me to make more music. It’s kind of like an audition tape. The comment I get more than every other is, “I didn’t know you could sing.” And I can.

Martha Thomas is a Baltimore-based freelance writer who is lucky enough to write about the things she loves: food, beautiful homes and the arts. She has written for Baltimore magazine, Baltimore City Paper, Urbanite, Travel & Leisure and the Washington Post.

First three photographs by STEVE RUARK. First historical photo courtesy of Jack Hoffberger/Creative Alliance. Second historical photo courtesy of Creative Alliance.

Click photos to read captions.

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