Mar 21, 2024, 06:24AM

A Grande Dame of the Baltimore Underground

An interview with Sue Lowe. 

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There was a time when life was a party. All day long and well into the night. I was a mess way back then. I remember someone telling me that if I were born a woman, I’d be Sue Lowe. We were real wild ones in our glory days. I’ve always had a thing for Sue and, at that time, her boyfriend Bunky. I loved hanging out with them. They were beautiful people all the time. NYC had Warhol and his crew, but I’d take John Waters and the Dreamland crew any day. Believe it or not, it was good, clean, and wholesome fun. Except for the sex, drugs, music, and filthy alcohol-perverted parts. We knew how to party. Sue said they invented drugs. It was pure and innocent. The Waters gang were a glamorous bunch of misfits and oddballs on the surface, but once you knew them, you realized it was like one big happy dysfunctional family of weirdos. Life was way simpler then; there was no social media to screw with or anything like it. Our lives revolved around happy hour bar-hopping, music, the arts, and entertainment. Sexual and otherwise. Sue Lowe is a tough chick, a strong woman without any chip on her shoulder, or bad attitude, and a heart of gold, laughing at it all with tarnished angel wing memories.

Tom DiVenti: You were telling me about North Carolina. Were you born there?

Sue Lowe: I was born in Reidsville, North Carolina. It was all tobacco farms; everyone smoked. One of the jobs I had was rolling the tobacco leaves to hang in the shed. We all did that on the farm; that was cool. My first cigarette was a rolled-up tobacco leaf. I fainted. Then I puked. Then I thought I was going to die. I was eight. I started smoking regularly when I was 12. It’s funny that my parents let me.

TD: The same thing with me. I started smoking at 12, bumming cigarettes from my mother, or stealing them.

SL: Legend has it, my mother told me I was born during a snowstorm. My birthday’s in January. Back then, it always snowed around my birthday time, and they couldn’t get to the hospital because of the snowy roads, and my grandfather had to pull the car with a tractor to get to the hospital. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a nice story. I can visualize it.

TD: How old were you when you moved to Baltimore?

SL: I was around 10 when my father started a business. My mother had to be with him, or else he’d be at the bar for five days. So, she became his assistant when I moved in with them. It was a horror show. I ran away at 15 and came back when I was 16. I had a hideous teenage life. A wild child with teased hair, chewing gum, and smoking cigarettes. I went to Catholic school, and I liked it because I could be even more bad.

TD: Bad against God?

SL: Right, fuck God! We lived in this little house. My parents were never there. My brother and I were latchkey kids, and because of all that mess, I was fucking all the guys in the neighborhood. The neighbors were telling on me, and we had to move. We moved to a bigger house. My father’s watchmaker business was doing well. Then I won a scholarship to MICA and stayed there for a couple of years, then quit to become a full-time fag hag.

TD: What high school did you go to?

SL: I attended Elizabeth Seton High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. I liked being in an all-girls school because you could just laugh and be yourself and not have to act all cute for the guys. I was pretty smart, so I passed everything with good grades. Then, at the Maryland Institute, I became an even worse bad girl. I had fun.

TD: Was that when you met the John Waters gang and became an underground superstar?

SL:  Yes, I met most of the original people and all those crazy guys around that time. I met John Waters, and that was even worse, better for me, or worse according to straight people. I moved in with Paul Swift (the egg man) in 1967 down in Fells Point. And started acting in John’s movies. We hung at a bar called Pete’s Hotel. John wrote about it in his first book, Shock Value. During the time I was making movies, I’d hitchhike to Provincetown with Cookie Mueller and Mink Stole. Then, at 20, I started having kids, and my life was over. Not really. I still had fun. I always had babysitters for the kids, but I really felt that I was a good mother, and I enjoyed it. I know a lot of people don’t say that, but I did. I had fun with my kids. That’s the reason. Then, I married this English guy in Ireland and moved to the Isle of Man. It was an interesting place to live, but I got homesick and wanted to be home.

TD: Is that when the band, B B Steele Review, started?

SL: When I was pregnant with my daughter Ruby, we were living in NYC. And George Figgs’ sidekick Ben played guitar and arranged our music. Cookie Mueller and her girlfriend Sharon became backup singers, and Edith Massey became the comedic act dressed liked Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz singing “Over the Rainbow.” We played Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. There was one time Edie walked off the stage because she thought we were upstaging her act. She was like the big star or something. She was a trip. I remember on the set of Desperate Living, Edie kept flubbing the name Montville. She was saying Mortsville with an “s.” John got so upset with her that he said if she pronounced it wrong again, he was going to kill her kitties and take away her Wonder Bread. She was fabulous.

TD: I remember the night of the movie premiere for Desperate Living at the University of Baltimore auditorium. Edith was sitting a few rows behind me, and we heard her mimic every line she said in the movie out loud in the theater. It was surreal hearing her voice live and recorded simultaneously.

SL: We moved back to Baltimore and lived on Dallas Street in Fells Point. Then I was working on Female Trouble. Now, as they say, the rest is history, and today I’m a little old lady.

TD: Ha! And I’m a little old man.

SL: That’s so funny because, who thought we’d still be around now?

TD: Speaking of that fact, what are your thoughts about not just the meaning of life, but life itself? Death, of course; heaven, hell, and the afterlife, if there is one?

SL: Oh, well, of course not. I was taught to believe that in Catholic school and told at an early age that I was going to hell. The priest said I was going to hell, which really upset me. But then I said, What the fuck? I’m going to be bad anyway if I’m going to hell. I was relieved that I became bad because they told me I was going to be so. I know what hell is now. My first grandson passed away from cancer not too long ago, and I think that was my hell and still is because I still cry, I raised him, and he was the first. He was 24, studying to become a tattoo artist, which he was very good at. It’s still my hell if there is one.

TD: And Heaven?

SL: I don’t believe in heaven or God as much as I believe in the universe. If there’s a thing called God, it’s the same as the universe. I hate to sound weird, but I know my grandson comes around once in a while to say hi in certain ways. He’s out there, zipping around the planets. You know I had cancer, and this is a good thing to say to young people. I was never angry or scared; I just kept on going and entertaining myself somehow. The best thing is to just let go of fear. You don’t have any control over it anyway, so enjoy it. Don’t be afraid of anything. 


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