Cookie Mueller’s genius takes center stage at the Roxy

‘For People with Short Attention Spans’ drew a crowd of Downtown luminaries, celebrating the singular voice of the late-great raconteur

Cookie Mueller was many things—script doctor, gogo dancer, leg model, underground actress, water colorist, and very briefly, bar mitzvah entertainer. For documentary filmmaker Arielle de Saint Phalle and author Fiona Duncan of Hard to Read—a literary social practice based on many different perspectives on one topic—it’s Mueller’s writing and spirit that endure, filling the velvet seats of the Roxy Cinema for their event Cookie Mueller: For People With Short Attention Spans. A celebration of the late-great raconteur, as well as a fundraiser for de Saint Phalle’s documentary GARDEN OF ASHES centering Mueller, the night rolled out the red carpet for Downtown luminaries, from Penny Arcade to Jim Jarmusch to Nan Goldin, all of whom paid tribute to the writer by reading her work.

“I’d like to write a novel—I’d love to—but first I need to know what I’m doing,” read Edgewise author Chloé Griffin. The line was from one of Mueller’s diary entries, composed when she was just 15. As the night progressed, it became almost comical to think that Mueller ever doubted her writing ability. Linda Yablonsky recited the essay “Dogs I Have Known,” in which Mueller adopts a dog that only eats potato chips and drinks beer. Penny Arcade recounted the time the writer watched John Waters muse Divine lift an overturned VW bus. Actor Diamond Stingily offered an excerpt from Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls, in which a woman writes a letter asking if a man will still love her once he finds out she fixes the dicks on statues.

“I’d like to write a novel—I’d love to—but first I need to know what I’m doing.”

No matter the form her writing took, Mueller’s voice was undeniable—bubbly while pitch black, with the conversational tone of a friend telling a secret. It’s a voice that so many of her contemporaries try and fail to emulate. Her column “Ask Dr. Mueller” in the East Village Eye showcased this casual, at times in a conspiratorial tone; Stephen Ostrowski read her proposed solution to an uninterested lover, noting that if none of her recommended aphrodisiacs worked, the jilted addressee should “forget about him and go to the Roxy on Friday nights and pick up somebody else.”

In an archival clip edited by de Saint Phalle, Mueller reads a story about a man with a penchant for golden showers at the Poetry Project, her blonde curls cascading around her shoulders, the epitome of offhand glamor. The man in her story contracts AIDS, then cures his condition by drinking his own urine. As an aside, Mueller notes that Gandhi drank his urine, as well. “That is actually true,” she says, and the Roxy audience chuckles, then sighs. Several of Mueller’s friends in attendance recall those they lost to AIDS, how Mueller herself died at the age of 40. Goldin observed that, if Cookie were alive today, she’d find the lightness and humor in our world, much as she did in all of her art.

The recent push to properly document Mueller’s legacy has gained traction, and this event was no exception: Both iterations of For People With Short Attention Spans sold out; multiple people in the lobby breathlessly admitted to scalping tickets. Karma Bookshop sold all the copies of the Mueller titles it brought to the Roxy, including the gorgeously thorough collection Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black. Sharon Niesp, Mueller’s longtime partner, recently passed, and many of the night’s performers had attended the memorial the previous Friday. A tribute video shot and edited by Griffin depicted Niesp playing with Cookie’s son Max and her granddaughter at the beach, happy and relaxed.

Endings, however, are often beginnings: de Saint Phalle deftly chose to close the readings with “The Birth of Max Mueller,” orated by Mueller’s son himself. It was a touching moment to watch him read his mother’s pain aloud, noting with gusto the absolute lunacy that women aren’t allowed to squat while giving birth in the hospital. “I couldn’t believe that women went through this to have children,” he recounts. Cookie’s most radical occupation is seemingly the most straightforward—that in her many feats, she became what she always wanted to be: a writer. “I live with my son in Manhattan and pay the rent as a journalist” remains one of her most poignant, exquisite sentences.

Donations toward the GARDEN OF ASHES documentary can be made here.