Viva Las Vegas is many things at once. She’s Liv (pronounced “leave”) Osthus, a 35-year-old Minnesotan and graduate of Williams College, a prestigious liberal arts college in Williamstown, Mass. She’s Coco Cobra, the sexually charged lead singer for Portland rockers Coco Cobra and the Killers. She’s a writer, an actress, a dancer, a spokesperson for the Portland stripping industry, a breast cancer survivor, and most recently, a published author – her first book, a memoir entitled MAGIC GARDENS, from Dame Rocket Press, has just been released. I first saw her perform — fully clothed — as part of a Back Fence PDX storytellers event. We met a few weeks before the book’s publishing date to talk about performing, writing, and dancing to Dylan.
DJ: How are you spending your days?
VL: Frantically juggling a lot of freelance writing. Plus I just started dancing again. And I tend bar two-days a week in a rock ‘n roll bar. That’s my passion. Rock ‘n roll.
DJ: You’re in a band.
VL: If I could quit everything else and just write music, I think I’d be more successful and happier.
DJ: Where are you dancing? Magic Gardens?
VL: Mary’s Club. I don’t really get along with the management at Magic Gardens.
DJ: Because of the book?
VL: No. When the book comes out maybe they’ll try to kill me. When you read the book, the manager is kind of the villain.
DJ: And now you’re doing the run-up on the press end?
VL: We’re planning a couple of parties, one here, one in Seattle. Then we’re doing a four-date tour out East. It’s a small press.
DJ: Do you write as Viva?
VL: Viva is my public character, so I do a lot of writing as Viva Las Vegas.
DJ: When I was looking for stuff, I found Liv , I found Liv Osthus, I found this New York Times piece…
DJ: The name connects with Viva somehow.
VL: It’s Norwegian for Viva, but people always screw it up. By default I’ve become Viva everywhere.
DJ: Do you ever feel there’s a time when it all has to be packaged as, ‘Here’s me…here’s what I do’?
VL: I do. And I struggle with that. We all think about our careers. I think that Viva Las Vegas has been good for my career, but the only way to take it further is with more notoriety. I don’t know if I want that, per say. I certainly don’t like how you pursue it. I’m very happy with the friends and notoriety and fame right now. The writing that Viva gets is a lot more interesting than the writing that Liv Osthus gets.
Right now, my extra energy is going into my book, which won’t earn that money. And my band is a hobby.
DJ: The book won’t earn money?
VL: Yeah, I mean, it’s a book. Books don’t earn money.
DJ: Do you think that’s the legacy of the book, just being a book. Do you think it could become a screenplay?
VL: A lot of people have been interested in screenplay rights. We actually wrote one for Sundance in February. It got through the first round of competition. It didn’t get accepted for the final. My friend and I were commissioned to turn it into a screenplay in five days. No one expected to get it through the first round.
DJ: Did you get commissioned to do the book around the time you found out about your cancer?
VL: I found a publisher around the time it was diagnosed, but the book has nothing to do with the cancer. It’s interesting…there’s more money in that industry for writing, if you can call writing about cancer an industry.
DJ: So you’d written it before you found a publisher.
VL: I’d been writing it for four or five years.
DJ: And the cancer’s become more of a back story thing?
VL: That’s my publicist’s idea, that you need five words, or whatever, that will come up on Google search. “Ah, the girl with breast cancer who has a book…how do I find her?” Breast cancer. Stripper. Book. Search..
I wrote an article for Portland Monthly about the cancer. It had a lot of readership.
DJ: What about dancing now?
VL: Well, I’ve been doing it for three weeks again. The first week was terrifying. I haven’t come out, put out a press release and said, “Look, I’m back.”
I’m still feeling it out. I find myself watching the customers thinking, “OK, what do you see? Are you noticing anything different?” Some of my old customers come in…they’re thrilled that I’m back. They know what’s happened. They think it’s great. But most of these guys have never seen me before. They don’t bring that to Mary’s Club with them. I certainly don’t bring it with me. This is my body now. It’s been through stuff. Bodies always go through stuff. There are scars here. The first time, last week, I heard somebody whispering to his friend, “Look, those are fake.”
I wasn’t about to be like, “Yeah, fuck you, I had surgery ’cause I had cancer.” You know? But it’s interesting.