Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin: “I do feel I carry the cross of all gay Armenians on my back”

I posted about Armen Ra, US-based Iranian Armenian Theremin virtuoso, drag artist and performer, famous for uniquely brilliant interpretation of the music by prominent Armenian composer Komitas.

Great to know that a feature documentary about his life - When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin won Director’s Choice Award of the Illuminate Film Festival 2014 and it will be screened at 13th Annual San Francisco Documentary Festival in June.

*Armen Ra with producer Matt Huffman, director Robert Nazar Arjoyan, and mother Ruzanna Makarian-Hovanesian, Illuminate Film Festival 2014 (picture via festival's FB page)

*via The Bay Area Reporter 

When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin This hidden gem spotlights the savage wit and rags-to-rags story of the fabulously talented and uncomfortably honest Iranian-born performance artist/former drag diva and now stellar artist/composer Armen Ra. Looking a bit like champion skater Johnny Weir's twin separated at birth, the articulate girly-boy grew up in a prosperous Tehran family of Armenian Christian descent. A well-behaved little boy whom adults grew used to taking to adult functions, the seven-year-old shocked his grownup chaperones one night at the opera when he demanded to be allowed to sit in the royal box.

The 1979 revolution destroyed the boy's cloistered life of high culture and forced his mom to resettle in a shabby Boston apartment. Queer-baited and bullied at school, Ra finally beat up one of his tormentors, getting him kicked out of school and ultimately promoted to the 80s Lower Manhattan club-kids scene. There followed a furious stab at drag-diva stardom, interrupted by bouts of depression and binge-drinking on the verge of suicide.

A miracle at a New York rock club led him to discover the joys of the Theremin. While instant riches did not follow, Ra did get himself a spotlight on a CNN feature in which he was quoted as calling the Theremin his "Maria Callas machine." Eventually he recorded his first album, consisting mostly of music from his Armenian culture, whereupon he made a rude discovery. "And it was received well all over the world with the exception of Armenia. To think I brought the music of the patron saint of Armenia to millions of persons who never have heard it, and to get hate mail and death threats from my own people is disgusting. It makes me ashamed. I'm ashamed for them. Look, I didn't choose to be gay, I didn't choose to be Armenian, it is the way it is. If I could choose, it would be from Spain or Norway. Everyone's happy there! I do feel I carry the cross of all gay Armenians on my back, and that cross is getting heavy. So let's get out of the closet, kids, be visible, fight, that's how you stop prejudice."

He's pretty, witty, sassy, and in-your-face, and if your taste runs to girly-boy provocateurs, then this doc is your cup of tea. (Northern California premiere, Roxie, 6/14, 18)

And a treat from Armen Ra’s Twitter page:

*Armenian divas - Armen Ra with Cher

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