Charlie Gets Out: Gender-Bending Performer Braves His 'Hood (VIDEO and PODCAST)
Charlie Romero is a small, exotic island just off the east coast of Echo Park, nestled in a sea of tidy bungalows in East L.A.
"I'm a hot mess," Charlie confesses. He's wearing a candy-striped, polyester-blend tank top and capri pants.
The compact three-room home he occupies with his mother is a tightly appointed affair where Charlie has over the last 15 years Houdini'd himself into a Golden Girls-meets-Gary Glitter, glam-rock, gender-bending, multimedia musical performer.
"I do it because I'm dirty and I like to take a risk," Charlie explains. "I'm a 'get the people out of the comfort zone' kind of guy. I play anywhere: bathroom, back alley, underground clubs." Now 25, he has been gigging in Los Angeles for years, but he's never ventured out in the neighborhood in his signature sequins and mascara'd face paint -- until today.
Charlie's big inspiration, stylistically, is The Golden Girls. "Anything you would see in their closet you will see in my show, plus stuff that I make that lights up. Take a rave, glam rock from the '70s and theater, mesh them all into one on top of old-school '90s rap ... that's what you see at my shows."
The little space remaining in the front room of the house is dominated by a wire mannequin adorned with a Day-Glo airbrushed trench coat coiled in strips of tiny purple lights. Hung and strewn about are glittery, sparkly women's garments -- not belonging to his mother. A porcelain princess menagerie on a shelf keeps watch over a small mountain of individually wrapped wholesale candy and snacks, presumably for roadside resale.
"In the beginning I was the only one who had hair on my head," Charlie continues. "There were all these baldies with baggy pants with that whole gangster look. I never could do it. Well, actually, my mom never let me," Charlie says. He's now in a backroom, painting a black-and-silver mask on his face while looking into a mirror.
"Have you ever seen the movie Party Monster? I so identify with that. It's grungy, it's dirty, it's everything that I want to be and more. I love pop music, but they all look the same. Take a chance! Dress up and drench yourself in paint!"