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PERPETUAL CHANGE: Roger Mapes/Yolanda

| Aug 3, 2009
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Any musician whose career has a lasting shelf-life has learned the art of reinventing themselves. The best examples are probably Madonna, Elton, and David Bowie. Granted, that’s a short list, but you get the point.
The question that comes to mind after awhile though is this: what’s more important—the public image or the actual music? The packaging or the product it contains?

Roger Mapes, a.k.a Yolanda, was first featured here in August 2110 and again in June 2003. Roger is originally from Burlington, Vermont. He joined The Radical Faeries in 1994, and released the first Yolanda album, Yolanda And The Plastic Family, in 1999. he has been inducted into the GLBT Hall Of Fame, and has started to release music under his own name. He is also a noted graphic artist and an author.

His recent project as Roger was produced and recorded by Robert Urban, who has also been featured in this column.

“For a gay producer, it’s always special working in the studio with openly LGBT artists,” Urban said of his work with Mapes. “Few LGBT musical artists have encompassed as many dimensions…of our community as has Roger. He is/has been at once part gay male, part gender warrior, part clown, part drag queen, part bear, part spiritual minister, part radical faerie, part rock band frontman—and an activist for many worthy causes.

“The new rock album’s production is grand, expansive, and as multi-faceted as Roger himself,” Urban continued. “Think The Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love’ phase (…if The Beatles had come from Roger’s southern rock, blues, country, backwoods, gospel tinged Muscle Shoals, Alabama instead of Liverpool, England).”

Three songs from this new project are available at

Roger has an extensive background and involvement in areas besides music, and therefore has insights that are well thought out and meaningful. The following interview will be presented in two parts because of length, and also because of Roger’s very comprehensive career within the community.

TGForum: I guess the obvious question would be, is the character of Ylanda retired? If so, when did you make the decision to do so? If not, when will we see her again?

Mapes as Yolanda.

Roger Mapes: Yes, the caracter of Yolanda is retired. Some say she has passed to the great beyond, but her spirit remains to guide us through our mundane lives. I would agree. I used to distribute bumper stickers that read ‘Yolanda Is My Co-pilot’…now I know what that bumper sticker means. My experience as Yolanda informed the way I look at the world now and has given me a broader presepctive of human behavior.

Yolanda was born out of a combination of reasons, including being in a performance art MFA program in Vermont, living in a commune in Vermont with a group called The Radical Faeries, an interest in gender issues, a fresh diagnosis of being HIV positive, an explosive surge of energy around singing/songwriting, a mid-life crisis (I was turning 40), and the most impressive ego I’ve ever seen on anyone ever. I was gonna ROCK THE WORLD come hell or high water.

By 2005, I was not the superstar that I wanted to be…at the same time a series of unpleasant events, and misunderstandings occurred that made me question if I wanted to continue to perform as Yolanda. Slowly, Yolanda didn’t seem appropriate anymore…but I realized everything I was going through was all part of the bigger spiritual journey.

TGF: What lead to starting to perform under your own name?

RM: For awhile, I didn’t want to perform at all. Yolanda had been my entire performing identity and I didn’t know what to do without that identity. I finally came to the understanding that I had something to share with people and I didn’t have to be a mainstream hit recording artist to share it. That message is one of love and personal empowerment.

Taking this new attitude moved me to start performing as Roger. I saw that people responded to Roger as beautifully as they did Yolanda. I started letting go of grievances about the past and started writing new songs…

TGF: As Roger, you have one EP, Roger Mapes And Red Hook Junction, Mighty Songs of Joy, is that correct? Care to talk a bit about this?

RM: Yes, that’s correct. Before I re-connected with Robert Urban, I tentatively ventured out as Roger, singer/songwriter, not Yolanda as a gender warrior, neither as a ‘gay’ musician. I wanted to see if my songs held their own as great songs all by themselves. I met a straight musician…pedal steel guitar player/producer here in Brooklyn named Gerald Menke. Gerald and I decided to record a few songs together and see what happened. We recorded 7 songs and I decided to put the songs out on Internet Radio as Roger Mapes and Red Hook Junction (Red Hook is thte name of the neighborhood where Gerald lived at the time). Gerald got his wife pregnant and we had to stop after 7 songs.

TGF: Let’s discuss the new project with Robert Urban…

RM: We’re back! Robert is producing this record and playing most of the instruments. I wrote the songs, except the cover of Ode To Billy Joe, and I do the lead vocals and most of the back up vocals. Robert also does some back up vocals. I play a lot of acoustic guitar.

The style is a continuation of my ‘back to my roots’ movement. We’re making a hybrid of country/rock/pop/folk/gospel…lots of beautiful melodies, harmonies, and bluesy vocals.

Many of these songs were written in the Yolanda days and I wondered if I still related to them and I do. I’m finding that my songwriting has universal themes-love, empowerment, wrestling with loss and grief… On this record, I’m actually singing from both male and female perspectives.

The working title is House Of Joy. The balance between the profane and divine is so evident in this record and I see that as a joyous thing.

TGF: Do you plan to tour any with this project, or will you do only select dates in support of it?

RM: We certainly will tour somewhat…we don’t have anything set up right now but I am interested in doing PRIDE celebration just about anywhere that will pay for us to get there. Anyone with ideas are welcome to contact me…[email protected].

This is Part 1 of a two part interview, so stay tuned for next month. Roger has some interesting and insightful things to share. To view Rogers art work, check out his art website. To hear some music, go to his MySpace page.


Tempest of the band Harsh Reality, (and formerly of the metal band All The Pretty Horses) has released a new album entitled Fairy Tale Life. Contact tempest for information.

Lipstick Conspiracy welcomes new member, drummer Syndirella. Hopefully, we can get an interview shortly.

Joshua Klipp has two videos that premiered on Framile, plus the video for Life has been aired on MTV’s LOGO. Check Joshua on MySpace, Facebook and [email protected]

There is an upcoming community wide GLBT event in Miami, Florida called Miami Beach Sleepless Night, November 7th. The event encompasses theater, dance, music, and spoken word. They are currently looking to book participants. If interested, please contact Robert Rosenberg at 305-532-7256.

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Category: Music, Transgender Fun & Entertainment

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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