A Pixies song plays on the stereo at the Lone Palm bar, followed by tunes from the Smiths and the White Stripes. Madeline Minx doesn't seem to notice any of them, resolutely sipping from her chocolate martini. But when Madonna's “Deeper” comes on, her eyes light up. She slides off her stool and starts to sing along — loudly. Holding a coaster as if it were a cape, she prances in front of an imaginary bull, twirling as she belts out the words. A couple of customers look up, but only for a minute. You get the feeling that this sort of thing happens a lot with Minx.
On most Tuesdays, the singer and her roommate, Fidel Garcia-Reichman, stop by the Lone Palm to watch their cable access show, Pushy TV. “It's fun, because people recognize us and get all giggly,” Minx says.
Pretty much any time a Madonna song comes on, the statuesque blonde joins in. Madonna is the ultimate artist as far as Minx is concerned — the perfect summation of what she'd like to be: sexy, charismatic, provocative, and hugely popular. But Minx has another hero, Woody Allen, who seems to stand in direct opposition to Ms. Ciccone. After all, it was Allen who quoted Groucho Marx saying, “I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
Much of Minx's work documents this internal struggle. Her screwball reality-TV program and hilarious film-in-progress, Get Pushy, simultaneously highlight and skewer her desperate attempts to get noticed. The dance-y musical concoctions of her band, Pushy — for which she coined the term “poptronica” several years back — court the mainstream while attempting to yank the stick out of its ass. As she says in Get Pushy, “I want to become a pop star before they realize I'm a female, Jewish pornographer.”
Madeline Minx was born Noemi Zeigler in Ann Arbor, Mich. When she was in elementary school, her mom carted her off to Israel for six years, before returning to the United States in the early '80s. “I was really culture shocked,” Minx says during an interview at her Mission District home. “My mom says I wanted to be all-American and popular and I never was, so that's why I want to be famous [now].” (Minx's mom figures heavily in Get Pushy and early episodes of Pushy TV, delivering amusingly discouraging diatribes about her daughter's pop-star dreams.)
While attending the University of Michigan Minx did some stage acting, appearing at one point as a prostitute in Jesus Christ Superstar with future Charlie's Angel Lucy Liu. After graduating she pursued a career behind the camera, working toward her M.F.A. in directing at the American Film Institute, alongside such future directors as Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) and Todd Field (In the Bedroom). Unfortunately, she had a hard time with the heavy strictures of the school. “AFI was pretty mainstream and pretty anal about linear storytelling,” she says.
Then, at a Ween show in 1995, Minx and her friend Kelly White thought up a way to screw with such limitations. “We were just throwing around word combinations, and came up with this whole idea of getting pushy and how it would be a tent for other pop-art things,” Minx says.
Minx decided that Pushy's first project should be a music video — even though she'd never written a song before. With her then-boyfriend Steve Moon, who played in S.F. altrock band Horsey at the time, she put together “Suck It Up,” a rollicking organ-and-drum loop number that riffs on female body image. “I'm feeling beautiful/ I'm smooth and sexy/ My mother says so,” Minx brazenly sings, before yelling, “Suck it up, suck it up!”
“It was so stupid,” Minx says of the venture. “I put $5,000 on a credit card for that video.” Fiscally sound or not, the clip led to a snowball of press and close encounters with such luminaries as Courtney Love, Howard Stern, Michael Stipe, and, yes, Woody Allen himself. Minx was about to get seriously Pushy.
Minx graduated from AFI in 1995 and moved to San Francisco the following year. After “Suck It Up” screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 1997, she and Kelly White stuck around for the following week's music festival, getting as pushy as possible. During the event, the twosome scored more press than many of the invited bands: A local news program profiled them, a French radio station interviewed them, and the Austin Chronicle wrote them up. The pair also forced “Eat Pushy” and “Give Pushy a Contract” bumper stickers and pins on Quentin Tarantino, Maverick Records' Guy Oseary, and MTV's John Andrews, and drove around pumping Pushy tunes from their rental van. Minx documented the efforts with her video camera, providing the initial footage for Get Pushy.
Back in the Bay Area, Minx continued to write material with Moon. (White occasionally hooked up with Minx for promo opportunities, like the taping of an episode of MTV's sleazy date program, Singled Out, but she decided she wasn't pushy enough so she bowed out of the project in 1999.) Moon proved himself a master mixologist, fashioning kitschy, catchy rhythm tracks with tweaked samples from Béla Bartók, Carl Orff, John Coltrane, and Charles Ives as well as his own original keyboard parts. Minx supplied the lyrics, which oscillated between silly, strange, and surprisingly sweet. On the funky, Prince-like “Underpants,” Minx danced in her underwear, calling out, “Don't need no uppers or barbiturates/ Don't want no lovers/ Don't need no shit/ 'Cause dancing is the only thing that really makes me goooo.” In “Sushi” she rode the transgender train, crooning about her “24-hour dick” and claiming, “When I walk into the room, all the skirts go boom.” (About the tune, her mother said, “Even Woody Allen has more subtlety — he doesn't talk about 24-hour dicks!”) With “Unleash Your Soul” Minx showed off her sensitive side, stepping into the lonely world of a butterfly-winged techno dancer.
The latter song's vocodered vocals and skipping metronomic beat sound perfectly Madonna-like, which shouldn't come as a surprise. Minx's obsession with the Material Girl goes back to the '80s, although she says it didn't really kick in until she saw Madonna: Truth or Dare in 1991.
“She's a singer, a dancer, a fucking conceptual artist — she has the pulse of the culture,” Minx says. “You are a closed-minded fool if you think she hasn't tapped into something.”
Being such a fan, Minx tried to get her music and video into Madonna's well- manicured hands. In early 2000 she spent a day out in front of the artist's Maverick Records offices with press kit in hand. Eventually, a guy from the mail room came out and took a CD, and then a security guard shooed Minx away.
She had far better luck with Courtney Love at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. After attending a screening of Love's film Beat, Minx headed off to the bathroom, where she set up her video camera. In walked Love, who seemed genuinely interested when asking Minx about her band. (At one point, however, Love smirked, “'Poptronica'? That means you don't have a live drummer, right?”)
“I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, this is the biggest thing that's ever happened to me,'” Minx says. “I thought she might check out my music or something.”
But Love never called, so Minx went back to playing small shows around San Francisco, writing more tunes with Moon and new producer Garth May, and trying to eke out a living. “I literally have zero job skills and no way to pay my bills,” she moans.
“She can describe her feelings and talk about stuff forever with big words, but if you ask her to put a tablecloth over a table and put cups on it, she has no idea how to do it,” Pushy TV co-host Fidel Garcia-Reichman says.
Minx's occupational bumbling has proved lucrative in another way, however; it's provided her with material for her movie. Some of the best moments in Get Pushy come from Minx's random jobs: stuffing mangled wheat grass down her pants at Feelmore Juice; making goofy phone-sex calls while answering phones at Custer Avenue Stages; and substituting her own marital-status categories like “Are you an overly intellectual Jew who doesn't have the alpha-male vibe that attracts me?” while doing census work. Throughout, Minx shows off a terrific sense of timing and a flare for slapstick, similar to her hero Allen or even Lucille Ball.
Minx and team finished a 30-minute version of Get Pushy in March 2001; so far, it's played the San Francisco DocFest and the Euro Underground Film Festival in Slovenia (no word on how it translated). Minx has been looking for someone to finance an expanded feature, but until then she's keeping her comedic skills sharp with Pushy TV, which airs Tuesdays at 11:30 p.m. on S.F. cable access Channel 29.
The show began 10 weeks ago as a goof on a talk show, with ample time for Minx to belt out Pushy songs. As a host, the singer is like an absent-minded zookeeper who keeps leaving the cages open and then seems surprised when a tiger bites her on the ass. The best bits are the most random: A Japanese comedian fronts a jug band; a guy shows off his wrestling moves by pile-driving the female host; a man argues with Minx's mother about whether he's made a sequel to Blade Runner in his apartment. Over the last month, the program's gotten even better, as Minx and Garcia-Reichman have moved beyond the static talk-show format. A trip to the Castro Street Fair proved hilarious, as did the placement of a roommate ad that requested someone who “didn't go to Burning Man, isn't a jock, a Yuppie, an art snob, a failed dot-commer, or a boring person.” Pushy TV now seems like a platform for its hosts to make fun of S.F.'s sacred cows — it's The Real World with more attitude and neuroses.
Minx's roommate specifications hint at Pushy's main problem: She doesn't want to embrace any group, but she wants everyone to love her. As it stands, Pushy's music is probably too slick for the underground and too weird for the mainstream. A talent scout once pointed out that lyrics like “I've got an ingrown hair down there” wouldn't play on radio, while Moon's effects-riddled rhythms could be too freaky for clubs and cars. Yet one can't help but feel that Minx needs just one big break, a tiny inroad into popular culture, to be famous. She has a few irons in the fire: Silent Propaganda, a Japanese dance label under Warner Music Japan, will release a remix EP of Pushy's “Suck My Candy” soon; New Langton Arts wants her to do a combination video and live performance piece in January 2003; and a manager she met at SXSW years ago is considering taking her on. And there's always the hope that Woody Allen will look at the press kit Minx slipped him when he played with his jazz group at Yoshi's this year.
“How could he not want my mother in his films?” she asks.