Fantasy island

Myles Cooper and Alexis Penney are making San Francisco ground zero for gay pop creativity

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Alexis Penney (left) and Myles Cooper (right): new gay pop icons
PHOTOS BY MATTHEW REAMER

johnny@sfbg.com

MUSIC The Aunt Charlie's in the video for Myles Cooper's song "Gonna Find Boyfriends Today" is a massive tree with a vagina dentata doorway where cupcakes, eggs, top-hatted Mr. Peanuts and white-gloved strawberries dance, while Muppets sing a chorus. Nestled in the tenderest spot of the city's loins, just off Market Street, the Aunt Charlie's of San Francisco is a different place, but not really. One night a week, it's the site of High Fantasy, a club hosted by Cooper and Alexis Penney that — as Cooper says — "belongs to the fantasies of those who come and need to imagine and party."

Aunt Charlie's is also one nexus of a mini-movement of sorts of truly new gay pop music in 2010. Witty, both ironic and utterly sincere, and catchier than any mega-production you might hear on the radio, Cooper's bedroom reggaeton — or, to use his phrase, digital dancehall — debut single is one of its anthems. "I made a YouTube video to remember the song when I wrote it," he explains, when asked about "Gonna Find Boyfriends Today"'s genesis. "I still have it. I was on Ambien late at night. The writing took like 30 seconds, but coming up with the chord changes and sound was more cognitive. I was listening to 'Supermodel,' the Rupaul song, and the first line is ripped off from it."

Decked out in gonzo cartoon cover art by Skye Thorstenson, who made the song's video, "Gonna Find Boyfriends Today" has just been released as a 7-inch single by Transparent in England, where the fabled weekly New Musical Express recently placed Cooper ninth on a list of "The 50 Most Fearless People in Music," one spot below Lady Gaga. Tonight, the fearless man with the brush cut and Mr. Rogers attire is camped out a table at Aunt Charlie's, where DJ Bus Station John is prepping for his weekly night, Tubesteak Connection. "Bus Station, where is my boyfriend tonight?," a regular calls out from the bar. "Oh, she's around," John answers.

Cooper is about to go on a summer trip to Chicago, then Africa, then Chicago again. Two nights before, at High Fantasy, a chorus of four performers serenaded him with Toto's "Africa." "I felt like somebody cared," he says, with characteristic low-key geniality. Many people travel to Africa, but not many make music videos with close relatives during the trip — that's Cooper's goal. "I'm writing a song, an anthem called 'You've Got to Love Your Family'," he says. "I don't always get along with my family, and I feel like this is a test. It'll be funny to do the video with them lip-syncing the song. We'll be on safari, and it'll capture my family's funny interaction with me. My mom never wants to be on camera."

It's this kind of true directness and simple originality that likely inspired NME to deem Cooper one of the 10 most fearless musicians on the globe. His surface appearance of intense normalcy is paired with wild creativity. "I got these shoes because they kind of remind me of a Noe Valley 50-year-old in a way that's sexy to me," he says, pointing down to his feet. "My fashion choices are perverse and I like to be in costume." At High Fantasy, that costume might include a glitter-encrusted Bart Simpson T-shirt with Tupac tattooed on Bart's stomach. At a Lilith Fair-inspired drag night he once put on at The Stud, his look included "a flannel skirt and a dolphin airbrushed on my ankle and and really ugly Doc Marten sandals and a tie-dyed shirt and gross curly wig."

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