Not one person in this world would ever accuse RuPaul of being a “hidden gem”. The absolute star of his very own media empire that now includes globally syndicated reality shows, podcasts, albums, and makeup lines, just to name a few, has largely transcended simply being the world’s most famous drag queen into now being a bizarrely wholesome cultural treasure, dragging a once-taboo and transgressive underground art form into the mainstream.
However, even superstars have to start somewhere and, in the early ’80s, RuPaul was just another young artist trying to make a career in the entertainment industry. Based in Atlanta, RuPaul’s initial foray into show business wasn’t through drag, but rather through punk rock in the form of his band Wee Wee Pole.
In the interview clip below, an uncharacteristically nervous RuPaul chats with a journalist about debuting his new band, whose rhythm section worked separately as The U-Haul’s, on the legendary Ponce de Leon Avenue, home to gay-friendly alternative clubs like the Atlanta Eagle, the 688 Club, and The Nitery, the latter of which was home to band’s first concert.
Even as a novice performer, RuPaul has the same effervescent energy that he would carry throughout his career. Whether it’s leading an incongruously straight-laced reporter to interview his fellow band members backstage before the show or hopping into the audience to dance during the performance, it’s clear that the Glamazon herself was always destined for the biggest of stages.
Wee Wee Pole has the same jumpy energy that fellow southern new wavers like R.E.M. and Lets Active! were famous for. It’s slightly jarring to hear RuPaul’s voice, so perfectly suited for Hi-NRG dance music, belting out jangle pop and post-punk. Equal parts Donna Summer lust-funk and bare-bones alt-rock, Wee Wee Pole probably could have been a fantastic opening act for The B-52’s, bringing the same queer-positive image and left-of-centre musicality.
Sadly, it was not to be. Wee Wee Pole exists now only as fragments of a bygone era, a footnote in the larger career of RuPaul Charles. But luckily for us, all rough-edged and potentially embarrassing early career moves have a home: YouTube. Sure, RuPaul is less polished than her supremely sucked and tucked modern image, but it’s fascinating to watch an impossibly young future drag supermodel of the world play a dingy backwater club with the same ferocity as a packed theatre in New York City.
The pieces are clearly already in place for the figure that RuPaul would eventually become: the lascivious grunts in the song ‘Body Heat’, the ridiculously eye-catching song titles like ‘Funky for a Honky’, the eternally heartening philosophy of tunes like ‘Fun – Happy Fun’. These are all the same tenets that would build the House of RuPaul and make him one of the only pop culture figures who could make endless references to genitals and still radiate wholesome positivity.
Check out the videos of RuPaul with Wee Wee Pole and The U-Haul’s down below.