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The Story of V

Bond backstage at the Bowery Ballroom last month.  

Kiki competed with Bond’s sense of self, too. “I felt that when people met me they were let down I wasn’t this character.”

In 2007, they were nominated for a Tony, and the next year, they played Perez Hilton’s 30th birthday. There was talk of taking it further. But for Bond it was too late.

Mellman has all of Herb’s costumes in the basement of his partner’s parents’ house in Brooklyn. “The relationship between Kiki and Herb is so co-dependent,” he says. “It’s easy for it to get blurry.” Mellman nonetheless hadn’t wanted to shut down the act. “I haven’t really talked to Justin in years.”

One day I meet Bond and some friends of his around the corner from his apartment; they’re finishing up a slightly boozy Saturday brunch in the middle of the afternoon, admiring the waiters, and talking about how perfect next fall’s Lanvin collection is for him. When the talk turns to exercise, Bond jokes that since he doesn’t, his body looks ­exactly the same naked now as when he was 4. Then we walk to his apartment, which is above the proudly filthy and soon-to-close Mars Bar on Second Avenue. It’s cluttered with books and records and memorabilia: Edie Sedgwick’s pillbox hat (Ramones manager Danny Fields gave it to him); a painting by Tilda Swinton’s husband; a sunflower painting by Bond’s mother; autographed records by Barry Manilow, Plastic Ono Band, and Anita O’Day. There’s a sign that reads I AM A MANNISH MUFFDIVER AMAZON FEMINIST QUEER LESBIAN FEMME AND PROUD! In his yellow-walled room, Joan Didion and Jean Genet preside over his bed, and there’s a how-to-stop-smoking book on the floor. “I quit for a year and a half, and then I started again. I swore I would never quit again, and I’m still not convinced that I’m going to,” he says of his Marlboro Lights. “But my doctor told me I should, because if you take estrogen, it increases your chances of blood clotting if you smoke. So I, you know, I’m giving it consideration.”

He has roommates, but they’re out, and Bond makes us coffee. He is going to have to leave this apartment next month. The ramshackle building is surrounded by the dormlike Avalon Bay apartment complex, and will soon be demolished to make way for more of the same. Bond still isn’t sure where he’s going.

A few years back, “Antony and Tilda Swinton and I were having girlfriend chit-chat over tea,” says Bond. “We were talking about how so much of the art in the nineties was apocalyptic. Kiki was very apocalyptic: Everyone was dying, our world was ending. Now everyone knows the world is ending—to do apocalyptic art just seems a little redundant. So Antony said the idea is to do art where we acknowledge that we’re standing on the precipice of hope. That ­really inspired me.”

“He’s at heart a hippie under that punk rocker,” says John Cameron Mitchell. Bond has long been involved with a group called the Radical Faeries, which gathers ritualistically in the woods in Tennessee to celebrate a kind of free-love paganism.

Michael Warner, an English professor at Yale, first went to the encampment with Bond in 1999. For Bond, the Faerieland is a place where he can, for once, blend in. He doesn’t have to be hypervigilant. When they arrived, a Cajun dinner was in the works, says Warner. “Someone had gotten up in a bridal dress and was being carried kicking and screaming up to the front of the serving tables. And they asked Justin to be the voodoo priestess for the ritual sacrifice. He said—well, his first reaction was, ‘Sacrifice? I thought you said sack of rice!’ ”

But Bond, for all his shoe shopping, has also always been a bit of a dendrophile—church camp, Boy Scout camp, the treehouse he used to meet a middle-school lover in—and in any case, as Sammy Jo observes, there’s a Victorian quality to the Faeries. “They love a dignified tea party. Something you can wear hats to.”

He wrote his first song at a Faerie gathering. It began as a chant, or an incantation to himself, as the pagan May Queen: “Answer to the May Queen, baby / Listen to the May Queen now! … Rise up as the deadwood comes a-crashing to the ground.”

As for Dendrophile’s songs (“May Queen” is not on the album), they’re ­“filtered through my own damage, not Kiki’s,” Bond says, laughing. “And it’s a little gentler, I hope, and is much more pleasant for me. I don’t have to be as grotesque.”

Bond, who’s currently back in residence at Joe’s Pub, has an expressive, hoarsely fragile voice. “He’ll still work up to scream—that’s a very important part of his arsenal—but he can sing a ballad now,” says Bartlett. “He’s become a great torch singer.” Emotionally, the songs on the album run the gamut from defiance to longing. “The New Economy” is all surly anti-bourgeois prophesy (“They say it’s the new Depression, so why am I filled with glee? / everybody’s coming down quickly / now they can all join me”), while his cover of Bambi Lake’s “The Golden Age of Hustlers” does a particularly wonderful job of creating an entire lapsed world in five minutes and seven seconds. One he wrote himself is a jaunty banjo-propelled country number called “Equipoise,” which goes, “A bird that has no feet to land can only just aspire / To breathe more strength into its wings and keep on climbing higher.”