Last year, I had the pleasure of creating and hosting Yahoo! News Underground. Some people loved it. Some hated it. Me? I thought it was AWESOME. I got to hang out with all kinds of people doing things they love doing more than sex (though in the case of the swingers I met, that is also sex).
Following is the first in a series of Underground Diary entries that will feature accounts of some of my Underground experiences, along with the video clips and stories they produced. Actually, Yahoo News produced them, for which I am exceedingly grateful…
Underground Diaries, Part 1
I’m not so into treating animals badly. Plus I’m not gay- No, I swear. So officially kicking off the new gig by covering the 2006 L.A. Gay Rodeo might seem WTF-worthy (particularly given Yahoo’s determination to be perceived as MOR — despite its dirty, big, non-secret, Yahoo Groups).
Yahoo News had finally given me the go ahead for a project called American Subculture I’d approached them with months earlier. It was going to be a Yahoo News-associated website, featuring video clips, slide shows and written features on everyone from nudists to Buddhists.
I’d designed and built a prototype site and made a couple of pilot episodes, one on swingers and one on machinima (essentially DIY animation made in real time using video game characters). Given the green light, I soon found myself working with Neeraj Khemlani, a veteran TV producer from CBS’s 60 Minutes who’d just come on board at Yahoo as the Executive Producer of Video for news and several other Yahoo properties.
Neeraj is exceedingly bright and talented. I learned a lot working with him — including that I was going to tell stories with my video clips. Period. I didn’t agree entirely. Still don’t. I’d gone for short, funny and peculiar with the pilot clips. But I wasn’t in a position to argue too much: Stories I would tell. (Neeraj might disagree with that bit about not arguing too much.)
I shot a good deal of video at the gay rodeo (more about the actual event later), but I screwed up some of the sound. Seems you need to turn on the mic. Telling stories without sound was going to suck. So was having a long time New York TV-news producer making suggestions over my shoulder before I got my sketchy Final Cut Pro chops less sketchy.
So I went off on my own, needing to churn out three clips real fast. (My contract wasn’t ready, I was cash-strapped, way in debt and needing to ensure I was actually offered a contract to sign.)
One story Neeraj and I agreed I’d tell would be that of Doug Graff, a software rep and gay rodeo veteran from San Francisco who’d agreed in advance to let me follow him around as he shuttled between camp rodeo events like goat dressing, and more serious events like bull riding (all rodeos have camp events, incidentally).
Doug, who’s distinguished himself as both a hardcore cowboy and an outrageous entertainer over the years, does the camp events as a drag character named Miss Winnie Baygo. Shortly after distinguishing himself (as Winnie Baygo) in the Wild Drag Race the first day of the rodeo (wait for it), he competed as Doug in bull riding. And broke his pelvis.
I quickly came up with a name for Doug’s video clip that seemed appropriate to both his painful ordeal and his rich sense of humor: The Ballad of Winnie Baygo’s Thrashed Undercarriage. All I had to do then was figure out how to tell the story with video. Without good sound. Fast.
At some point I thought, well, hell, if I’m calling it a ballad, why not make it one? Ballads tell stories. So I roughed out a song, asking Dirk Ward, a gifted musician, friend and neighbor, to lend a hand completing it, and, more importantly, arranging and producing the track. He agreed.
We had some laughs recording the track, as I recall. And I then slung together a video clip, using the song’s lyrics as narration. I still remember Neeraj’s words when I showed him my rough cut.
“F**k you,” he said, “you did it.”
He meant it in a good way.
THE BALLAD OF WINNIE BAYGO’S THRASHED UNDERCARRIAGE
This here’s the ballad of Winnie Baygo’s Thrashed Undercarriage
No worries Hoss, ain’t about gay marriage
It’s about this cowboy called Doug Graff and his alter ego
Hot little drag queen name o’ Winnie Baygo
Winnie jumped a big ‘un in the Wild Drag Race
With no buckin’ clue of her coming fate
Slipped out of her negligee to ride another steer
Now I promise I’m straight, but that’s when things went queer
Doug strapped his legs ‘round that velvet meat engine
They opened up the gate and it bucked him with a vengeance
Doug heard a crack though I didn’t ‘cause my mic went dead
Didn’t hear from that buckaroo again till his hospital bed
‘Course there was rumors as there always is
And some was sayin’ Doug tore his pancreas
But that was bullshit deep as in them stalls
Ol’ Doug had snapped his pelvis right up there behind his balls
It’s about a cowpoke’s thrashed undercarriage
Hot little drag queen name o’ Winnie Baygo
It’s about a velvet meat engine and the thrashed undercarriage
Of a hot little drag queen name o’ Winnie Baygo
Now Doug, we hope and pray that you and Winnie and your mutual pelvis heal real soon ‘cause without you son, the rodeo just ain’t as much…
Well, it’s still pretty fabulous
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