Joe West is Xoë Fitzgerald in a New Mexican sci-fi rock opera
By Samara Alpern
This is a story about love, so we know from the outset to expect tragedy. But, as the cross-dressing, folk-singing antihero of Xoë Fitzgerald: Time-Traveling Transvestite teaches us, that’s no reason to give up on a good cause.
“I’m fighting for the brokenhearted,” Xoë sings. “I’m fighting for the odd man out / I stand for all the freaks and all their broken dreams / Mad Dog, Alexis, Frankie and the Time Machine.”
This rock opera—and glam band and eponymous album due for release on Sept. 1—is the project of alt. country singer Joe West (who also plays a lead role in The Santa Fe All-Stars and the Joe West Situation). West himself is one of New Mexico’s musical antiheroes: a tender, grizzled, beer-soaked champion of love and other lost causes. Since his 1999 debut album Jamie Was a Boozer, West has been strumming the chronicles of losers, loners and drunks with clean-bladed irony and soul-baring sympathy. West channels David Bowie, Red Sovine, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams in his own brand of songwriting, earning him "Top 10 Texas Platters" by the Austin Chronicle Critics Poll and "Top Male Vocalist" by the Chronicle’s Reader's Poll.
West is from Lone Butte, a town neighboring the old mining town of Madrid, N.M., and comes from a long line of respected New Mexico artists. West’s grandfather was WPA artist Hal West and Joe’s father is painter Jerry West. His music projects are the family tradition, says West. “I never became a painter, but my art is similar to that of my father and grandfather: very based in locale. And Xoë is very much like that.”
Xoë Fitzgerald: Time-Traveling Transvestite follows the theatrical, gender-bending tradition of high-drama glam rock institutions like Ziggy Stardust, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Live, "Xoë" narrates his fantastic New Mexico-based story with the assistance of Josh "Captain Marvelous" Martin on bass, and John "Starman" Courage on lead guitar while Arne "Silver Fox" Bey keeps the beat.
Like Xoë, who becomes a lead agitator against the mining company that murders his lover, Joe West has a special gift for kindling inspiration from despair. “I’ll do whatever it takes to make a song come to life,” he explains. “When I find myself kicked to the curb by my girlfriend, alone and in the dark, poetry does come to me.“
Love and social justice, West says, are both a struggle. “You have to expect the darkness,” he says. But there’s something to be said for believing anyway. “Love is a very idealistic thing, I think. That’s what Xoë’s a little bit about. There’s an illusion and idealism about love,” says West. “And mirroring it is the idealism of the old socialists and union activists of that folk era I love so much.“
After violent love affairs, time-traveling to ’80s punk rock shows and leading a military operation in the mountains, Xoë faces the mining company and his lover’s killers in a brutal standoff. Whether he’s successful or not is up to the audience to decide, but when the debris settles, one thing is clear: The fight counts for something.
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