Since 2004, local musicians have filled First Avenue’s Mainroom for one night a year to celebrate David Bowie—and cats. Rock For Pussy is now in its 14th year, and although the event has grown since its inception, its goals remain the same: to raise money for Feline Rescue, a Minnesota-based no-kill cat shelter, and to organize local musicians in a tribute to Bowie.
The Current’s Mary Lucia is one of Rock For Pussy’s founders. She said that the idea came to her out of her obsession with David Bowie and her obsession with cats. Lucia, a longtime pet owner, is a strong advocate for no-kill shelters. “I have gotten all my cats as rescues,” she says. “Most of the scenarios are heartbreaking. The need for shelters and the work that they do—it’s so vital.”
Along with co-host David Campbell and musical director John Eller, Lucia settled on the name Rock For Pussy. “I didn’t blink an eye, First Avenue didn’t blink an eye, none of the participants blinked an eye,” said Lucia. “Then I started trying to find a shelter. Every single person I asked left me a completely horrified message.” Instead of being discouraged by the response, Lucia took it in stride. At the inaugural Rock For Pussy, she played the shocked voicemail messages for the audience before the show started.
After scouring the Twin Cities for a no-kill cat shelter, Lucia found Feline Rescue. The organization offers a number of programs, including shelter, fostering, and rehabilitation to homeless and endangered cats.
Every year, a plethora of people come together to make the event happen. Lucia fondly describes the experience as “herding cats.” Dozens of musicians share the First Avenue stage. Feline Rescue sets up a table in the audience and projects a slideshow of cats available for adoption. Moxie Hair Salon offers free hair and makeup services for the audience. (They’re experts at lightning bolts.) And everyone does it for free. “That says a lot about their love of the music—of Bowie—the generosity of them wanting to do this for free,” Lucia says. “It’s possibly one of the funnest nights out in town.”
The lineup of performers changes every year. Guest vocalists each sing a song and are backed by the house band, which is led by John Eller and studded with veteran local musicians. Before the concert, each vocalist chooses the song that they perform. “No one has ever picked the same song” in a single year, Lucia says. “I think that’s the testament to Bowie’s catalog being so vast.”
One of Rock For Pussy’s longtime performers is Venus de Mars. De Mars launched her career in the ’90s with her band All The Pretty Horses, incorporating elaborate theatrics into her punk and goth-infused live shows. She cites Bowie as one of her main influences.
The first time de Mars heard Bowie’s music, she didn’t know it was him. She was sitting in the car in the parking lot of a Target in her hometown of Duluth, waiting for her mother to finish shopping, when “Space Oddity” came on the radio. “It was just haunting and beautiful. It was a lonely part of the parking lot, so quiet,” she says. “I just fell in love with that sound and I didn’t know who it was, and I didn’t know who David Bowie was.”
“[Bowie] was kind of an outsider, as was I, and as were the rest of us who were fans. Seeing him gave me courage to do what I did.”
– Venus De Mars
De Mars came out as transgender around the time of her 30th birthday. In addition to Bowie’s musicianship, de Mars was captivated by the way the British icon challenged traditional gender norms. “I was just amazed at the look, and immediately identified with the whole trans ambiguity, even though I didn’t understand who I was at that age, and the adults of the era—nobody else did either. It was pretty isolating to be dealing with that, but Bowie was the bright light that I followed and modeled. I wanted to be a rock star right after that. I saw that and I was like, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’”
For de Mars, as for many of Bowie’s fans, the chameleonic performer provided a sense of belonging. “We were an underground group of people that loved him and watched him back in the day,” she says. “He was kind of an outsider, as was I, and as were the rest of us who were fans. Seeing him gave me courage to do what I did.”
In addition to the music, one of the ways that the performers and audience get into the spirit of the night is through fashion. Throughout his career, Bowie introduced his audiences to a variety of styles, from the iconic lightning bolt of his “Aladdin Sane” era to the teased hair and angled eyeshadow he sported in “Labyrinth.”
Chris Perricelli (aka Little Man), who plays guitar in the Rock For Pussy house band, looks forward to putting together his look each year. Last year, Perricelli reached out to local designer Megan Zwack to create a custom design for the event. Inspired by the ’70s glam rock of the “Ziggy Stardust” era and incorporating details from throughout Bowie’s career, the two decided on a two-piece snakeskin suit.
“That was a special moment for me, to have something that is unique, just like [how] Bowie had designs that were made specifically for him,” Perricelli says. “For me, that gave me an energy, and it was fun to use that, and make it part of the show. It was something special for that night, a one-time deal.”
For those involved, Rock For Pussy is a labor of love. For one night each year, musicians come together to raise money for cats. To honor the legacy of David Bowie. To dance. To feel connected, supported, loved. “The love in the room is strong. And it is felt,” Perricelli says. “For someone who is on the stage, we can all feel that energy.”
Every year, Rock For Pussy draws new faces to the audience and the stage. The event also retains many participants, who return year after year to experience these electric and transient moments.
“That we’ve kept it going at First Avenue for so long is just a testament to how amazing people here are, and the local music scene is tying everyone together to promote local music—and cats, and Bowie,” Perricelli says. “It’s a great thing to be a part of as an audience member and as a musician playing it.”
After 14 years, Rock For Pussy is rocking stronger than ever. This year’s event is scheduled for July 13.
“I’m never going to not love Bowie; I’m never going to not love cats and be an advocate for adoption and rescue,” Lucia says. “Will it end? When they tell us we can’t do it anymore.”
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.
Colleen Cowie runs the blog Pass The Mic.