During vacations from the 1930’s through the mid-1950’s, artists Paul Cadmus, Jared French, and his wife Margaret Hoening French photographed each other on the beaches of Fire Island and later Cape Cod. Usually nude or donning simple costumes, they would also use found objects as props to create stark, surreal and/or erotic images. They passed Margaret’s Leica camera around, taking turns as subject and auteur. This collaborative authorship was reflected in the umbrella name they chose for this work, utilizing the first two letters of their first names: PaJaMa.
Years later Cadmus explained, “After we’d been working most of the day, we’d go out late afternoons and take photographs when the light was best. They were just playthings. We would hand out these little photographs when we went to dinner parties, like playing cards.”
The dynamic was complicated: Cadmus and Jared were lovers – a relationship that continued during the marriage. All three lived and worked in a townhouse at 5 St. Lukes Place in Greenwich Village.
A 2015 New York Times review of a PaJaMa exhibition noted that their photos “breathed eroticism.” While some of the hundreds of photos are masterpieces of magical realism, others appear to be figure studies for their painting. And then there are simple snapshots of nude men frolicking on the beach, enjoying the sun and surf.
Right: Jared French on Fire Island (1940) Left: Paul Cadmus’ etching “Youth With Kite”, 1941
Jared French and his considerable wares are the most frequent subject of the photographs, with entire rolls of film devoted to his nude poses and posturing. Cadmus and Margaret are slightly more demure although we do not know who was giving direction from behind the camera at any given time.
These three artists were joined by various friends and lovers through the years, fellow artists and writers that were part of their New York social circle.
Dancer/Model José Martinez appears in PaJaMa photos of the late 1930’s with Paul Cadmus
1938 PaJaMa photos of writer Glenway Westcott sometimes appear online mislabled as Paul Cadmus or Ted Starkowski.
West of Saltaire, the Fire Island Lighthouse served as a frequent backdrop.
Jensen Yow, Bill Harris & Jack Fontan, ca. 1950
Now well into his 90’s, Alexander Jensen Yow recently recalled the circle of artists, as well as his participation in PaJaMa photos of the early 1950’s. “Paul posed us and took the pictures. I was never out there with Jerry (Jared). There were plenty of personality conflicts all scattered around with these people, but I never knew what they were or anything… Jerry was always nice to me though. But his and Margaret’s was a strange relationship… She was crazy about Jerry but she was always in the background, you know. Always there. Jerry did what he wanted to do, and she tagged after him. I was so green when I met these people that I didn’t know how to act…. I tried to be discreet but it wasn’t easy.”
As with George Platt Lynes’ male nude photographs, the PaJaMa collection did not receive much notice or recognition until the 1990’s. They are now frequently exhibited in galleries and selections are a part of the MOMA collection.
The warmth of your love is like the warmth of the sun… This will be our year took a long time to come…
“How come you don’t write about me? Or maybe you do.”
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. Or, I assumed they did. He texted this to me, so it was virtual skepticism that I sensed.
My partner of 9 years is artist/musician Toby Hobbes. He is also my editor/proofreader and the person who set up this blog 5 years ago and told me to get to work. While he does get an occasional mention from time to time (see Circle In Monkeyshines or Scenes From A Pandemic), any essays specifically about him or our relationship remain unfinished.
This was one piece I started:
It was our second date. We were heading out to dinner after a few pre-game cocktails at Nowhere Bar in the East Village. I pulled him over by the side of a building to get out of the First Avenue foot traffic. I had something that I needed to tell him and didn’t want to keep it a secret any longer. My gut was telling me that we were heading into a relationship, so there had to be honesty. And he was new to this – at 37, this was his first same-sex dating experience.
I took a deep breath and said; “Listen there is something that I need to tell you before this goes any further…” I was still holding onto his hand. He looked concerned.
I continued on, talking fast just to get it over with. “I know I told you I was 39 years old. Well I’m not. I am 44. I know. It’s stupid. It’s just a number. But 44 sounds so much worse and I didn’t want you to feel like it was too big an age difference. So now you know. And I hope it’s not a big deal.”
The concern faded into puzzlement. “Why would I think that was a big deal?”
I went off on a diatribe about gay men being ageist and that I had shaved off exactly 5 years when I ended up single again at 40, which seemed to be a big cutoff number for most men on Match and Grindr and Scruff and Growlr and Fluff and Squirt and…
Toby let go of my hand and took a step back. “I have to tell you something too,” he said. “I have a kid at home. Well, he’s my nephew. I’ve had custody since he was 10 and he’s 17 now. I didn’t say anything because I was afraid that you wouldn’t want to deal with all that.”
In that moment, my opinion of him – of his character, his heart – went right through the roof. He was a responsible adult.
Besides his nephew, there were also two dogs, a cat, and the long shadow of the ex-girlfriend that had left his finances in a shambles. On our first anniversary, we agreed to move in together. This was partly out of necessity and also because we felt like we were ready. For me, this meant leaving Manhattan after 22 years, as there was no way we could afford adequate space for our crew. We settled in Forest Hills, Queens, which I highly recommend.
At the time, people would congratulate me for being “selfless” or ask how I could take on so much responsibility. For me, there was no choice – no question about it. I realized that I loved Toby very quickly. And he loved me with a totality that was unlike any of my previous relationships. I felt like the last 4 years of frustrating dating experiences were just The Universe’s way of keeping me in a holding pattern until he showed up at my apartment with a six pack of Sam Adams.
Fast forward to July 30th 2018: I proposed to him on The High Line above West 23rd Street with my family hiding in the bushes taking pictures nearby. We made no immediate plans for the wedding but assumed that we would be married the following year.
Then Toby got accepted into a program at the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute) and we decided to wait until he graduated. Then I was suddenly unemployed. So we waited again. And then there was the pandemic.
In the spring of 2021 we started to look at wedding venues. I was determined to get hitched before we celebrated our 10th anniversary as a couple. Besides, after this pandemic, we all needed a party. To celebrate LIFE. Also, neither of my sisters ever got married, and my mom was itching to finally have a wedding for one of her kids. We secured a venue and set a date: Sea Cliff Manor, May 19th, 2022.
About that pesky pandemic… I thought; “Ohhh – surely that will all be behind us by then! Just a masked blur in our rear-view mirrors.” Silly, silly fool. I failed to remember that objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
In the months prior to the wedding, it became clear that COVID was not going to be gone, so we decided to specify on the invitations that attendees needed to be vaccinated. Imagine our surprise when this turned out to be a deal breaker for some, as a few formerly enthusiastic friends and family members suddenly ghosted us.
We went into planning this wedding with the awareness that, at some point along the way, we might encounter people who were a little more churchy than we realized and they might object to our Big Gay Wedding. Thankfully that did not occur. As it turned out, our big ethical divide was not religion. It was science.
Ultimately this was for the best. Better to know who people really are when their masks come off.
The three weeks before the wedding are bound to be stressful, as anyone can tell you. We were finalizing the guest list, DJ setlist, photographer, tuxedos, favors, seating charts, menus, programs, obtaining the marriage license and wedding rings. And the vows! We had to write the vows.
But then other stuff started happening.
On Saturday April 30th, Toby cut his finger on a meat slicer at work, requiring 12 stitches on his left pinky. Three days later, I got sick with COVID. The next day, while taking the final reception payment to Sea Cliff Manor, my mom & stepdad were in a car accident. Thankfully, nobody was injured. Two days after that, on his birthday, Toby got COVID as well. We were both vaxxed and boosted, so it was more of an inconvenience than anything else, although we were starting to feel like some homophobic anti-vaxxer was practicing voodoo shit.
We soldiered on. This wedding was going to happen whether we were ready or not.
The big day arrived and everything went off without a hitch. It was a family affair with Toby’s nephew as his best man and my sister as my best woman. My mom & stepdad walked me down the aisle.
We asked my friend Merri to sing The Zombies’ This Will Be Our Year. When I chose the song last year, I thought it was a pretty obscure choice. Turns out to be a wedding standard as well as the jingle for Target’s “Back To School” ad campaign. Ah, well. The chorus of “This will be our year / It took a long time to come” certainly struck a chord with us.
While the planning was crucial and paid off in the best way, it was actually a spontaneous moment that I keep revisiting from that day. Luckily we opted to live stream the ceremony, so there is footage to look back on. When Toby and I joined hands to say our vows, he started to bounce up and down with excitement. It was the defining moment of the day. I turned it into a gif captioned “Life Goals: Marry someone who is this excited to marry you.”
June, 2022 marked 80 years since the start of the U.S. Navy pre-flight training program that took place at St. Mary’s College. Images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken during training at the school in Moraga, California when it was requisitioned for the war effort from 1942-1946. You can see more of these photos in our previous posts:
Unfortunately, there is still some confusion when these pictures surface, as they are sometimes miscredited as Ivy League posture photos. For comparison, here are two of the different Yale posture photos:
The single profile pose was used from the late 1930’s until 1952. It was then replaced with a mirror/ triptych setup, which has “Yale” visible in the background.
Prior to World War II, there were other physical fitness photos taken at the army base in Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. These fully nude pics do not pop up on the internet as often as those from St. Mary’s Pre-flight school. As shown above, both sets of photos contain the location identified within the photo.
The St. Mary’s photos were taken to measure the fitness progression of each recruit as they underwent extreme physical training. Each picture was accompanied by an index card containing body measurements and physical achievement statistics over the course of several months.
This allows for some contrasting images that would be the envy of many fitness plans.
Only the earliest St. Mary’s photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps. In all of the photos, the men stand behind some sort of grid fencing to better illustrate misalignment and spinal curvature. The above comparative photos were dated June 13th & August 28th, 1942.
My collection of photos gathered from around the internet now includes close to 700 different cadets. The youngest identified died at age 20 and the oldest lived to 103 years old.
Whether the individual photos of these handsome young men capture them at the beginning of their lives or tragically close to the end, all of the subjects are timelessly captured in prime physical condition as they trained to serve their country. 80 years later, we salute and admire their fine forms and dedication.
A new book gives insight into a same-sex relationship in rural Canada a century ago.
If it weren’t for the advent of the self-timing camera, we would not know anything about the relationship between Len & Cub. There are no surviving notes, letters or documents to provide any further evidence. Luckily, Len had an interest in photography and documented their intimacy in a trove of images spanning nearly 15 years. These photos serve to illustrate their story in the recently published bookLen & Cub: A Queer History (Goose Lane Press) by Meredith J. Batt and Dusty Green.
Len & Cub features Len’s photos of the duo between 1916 and 1930 and tells the story of a relationship in early 20th Century rural North America. These photos provide the oldest known photographic records of a same-sex couple in New Brunswick, Canada.
The term “queer” seems a bit ill-fitting to describe the actions of individuals a century ago, when even the terms “homosexual” or “gay” were not part of the vernacular. The choice of language is explained by the authors, who dedicate the book to the queer youth of New Brunswick. As Green states in his preface, “… the record of their lives is a testament to the resilience of queer people and an affirmation that we belong in any place we choose to call home.”
Leonard “Len” Keith was born in 1891 in Butternut Ridge (now Havelock), New Brunswick. His family enjoyed a moderate amount of wealth as the owners of a match factory and later a grist mill. Joseph “Cub” Coates was born 8 years later, the son of a farmer who was a neighbor to the Keith family. Together Len and Cub shared a love of the outdoors and documented their outings in photos. The pictures taken during hunting and canoe trips with their arms around each other or lying in bed together make clear the affection they held for each other.
When Len was called to service during World War I, Cub signed up as well, and the two trained together in Quebec.
Photos of the duo are less frequent in the late 1920’s. Len’s camera captures several other unnamed male companions that accompanied him on trips and other outdoor adventures.
Len was also a car enthusiast and eventually opened a garage, which he later converted into a pool hall. Cub continued to make a living farming and then as a butcher.
In 1931, Len was forced to leave Havelock, allegedly due to his homosexual activities. He signed over control of his business and finances to his sister Lucy and headed to the United States. He later settled in Montreal, where he resided until succumbing to cancer in 1950. His sister arranged for his burial in Havelock.
It appears that Cub was not caught up in the scandal that forced Len out of town. He stayed in Havelock until 1940, when he married Rita Cameron, a nurse from the neighboring town of Chatham. After he served in WWII, the couple relocated to Moncton. He would go on to become a prominent figure in New Brunswick’s harness racing circles before his death in 1965.
The photos were donated to the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick by John Corey, a local historian who purchased them at a Keith family estate sale in 1984. Corey’s father had been a classmate of Len’s and knew both families. When he donated the collection, John referred to Len & Cub as “boyfriends” and also identified a photo of an individual who was instrumental in driving Len out of Havelock.
As some of these photos began to circulate on the internet several years ago, curiosity about Len & Cub’s story grew. In addition to the recent publication of the book, the BeaverBrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB is featuring an exhibition of the photos from April 2 – July 29, 2022.
He has a new book out. An award winning book. It’s called Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me (Red Hen Press). It is described on the cover as “linked stories” and won the Grace Paley Prize for short fiction. God forbid you call it a memoir or a short story collection. But we’ll get to that later.
This month, his two previous novels: 1989’s The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket and 2007’sWhat I Did Wrongare back in print with Fordham University Press. You can easily order any of these titles on Amazon or Barnes Ignoble. However, if you want to throw your business to an indie book seller, or more specifically a gay bookstore, it appears that you will have to go to one that he has personally walked into and asked them to stock his books. He’ll come back and sign them, too.
The Strand also does not have copies in their store. He went there and asked. Something to do with distribution, although you can order them from their online warehouse.
I have been a fan of John Weir’s work since Eddie Socket‘s original release. I purchased a copy at, uh, Barnes Ignoble, and was thoroughly captivated by this groundbreaking book – winner of the 1990 Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Debut Novel and one of the first to address the AIDS crisis.
The book kept me company on a miserable theater tour in the fall of 1991. I strongly identified with the protagonist, and when he contracted AIDS halfway through the book, it scared the hell out of me.
I wrote some of my favorite quotes in my journal:
Though he didn’t think that God existed, still, it was nice to just sit somewhere with people who believed that he did.
My feelings are clichés and that bugs me, so I try to hide it with other slicker clichés, and with everything in quotes, at least I can remind myself that I know better than my feelings, which are really the drippiest, most sentimental, self-pitying things.
I pored over it for so long that one of my cast-mates finally said “What the hell is with you and that book?!”
John Weir was working with ACT UP on The Day of Desperation in January, 1991 when he and other activists (including fellow writer Dale Peck) interrupted the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather:
It’s interesting to hear him mention his mother in the clip above, as she is the subject of several stories in Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me, written 25 years later, after their relationship had evolved into an adult child/caregiver situation.
In the intervening years, Weir was Contributing Editor at Details magazine and published nonfiction pieces in The New York Times, Spin, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. In addition to his writing, he has been an associate professor of English at Queens College since 1993.
I have been following John on Facebook for years. He would sometimes post new material and share extended witty, hysterically funny conversations with his mother. I also followed Sukey Tawdry, Mrs. Weir’s beloved pooch who had his own Facebook profile and passed away just days after she did in 2018. (John’s tribute is posted here.)
For all of the platform’s faults, John’s connection to Facebook is evident: he dedicates Nostalgia to his 5,000 followers.
Weir has a crankier social media alter-ego, whom he refers to as “The 3am Guy.” This allows him to rant about various topics at all hours of the night and then perhaps soften the edges or clean up the mess the following day – a tactic more people should adopt, IMHO.
It was Weir himself and not The 3am Guy who posted the following – a stinging encapsulation of what it is like to be a gay author of a certain age, on the first day of Gay Pride Month, just trying to get his work in front of its target audience.
This is his entire post, which I have reprinted with his permission:
The Self-Pitying Author Asks: Why Are None of My Books on the LGBTQ+ Pride Table at My Local Groovy BKNY Bookstore, Next to *The Town of Babylon* and *The Guncle*?
It’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and I plan to spend the month ashamed! Mostly because I have this new book out and I haven’t done enough to promote it. Here’s a funny thing about the book:
What’s its genre?
Is that like asking a book its pronouns?
Well, *Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me* calls itself “linked stories” on the cover. That’d mean it’s a collection of short stories: fiction.
Somebody said maybe it’d get more notice if I had called it a novel, “because it reads like a novel” (presumably because the same dude is the narrator of all 11 stories, and the stories follow him – not in order! – from like 1974 to 2014); and the thing is:
It got published because I submitted it to a writing contest – the Association of Writers & Writing Program’s (AWP’s) Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction.
I submitted to a contest, which I’d never done before, because: my agent wasn’t interested in the manuscript, which meant I no longer had an agent; and of the *12 agents whom I queried to see if they’d represent me* – well: None. Of them. Even. Replied. Not even their harried assistants wrote back to pretend they were the agent and say, “No thanks.” No one. Not an email, not even a form-rejection email.
Then in fear and self-loathing I sent the manuscript to a friend, who is also an agent (generally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have an agent who’s a friend), and they said, “Love this, can’t sell it.”
So I submitted to a contest.
Which specified: “Short Fiction.”
Like the kind of stories Grace Paley wrote. A prize in her name! And I was all, “Well, I’m not Paley, and not that the judge has to pick a Paley-esque collection, but: I do sort of do the thing Paley does of writing stories as if they were just what happened that day.” (Not to put myself on her level of genius!)
A lot of Paley’s stories are written as if they were unstructured suit jackets, they fit fine but without the expected ribbing: her work feels impromptu, copied from everyday ordinary life (even if that ordinary life is extraordinary); and so but then you realize that every word is deliberate, she has a distinct aesthetic and a project, her writing isn’t random, nor is it cinema verité, though it’s often presented as if a quirky documentarian were given a camera to record whatever is in front of her.
So my collection got picked for the Grace Paley Short Fiction Prize, the reward for which was its being published by a small press that partners with the AWP: Red Hen Press.
So it won a Story prize, so it’s Stories.
I guess it was my idea to use the phrase “linked stories,” because short story collections don’t sell that well, and I thought maybe people would be more likely to buy it if they thought it was gonna feel like a novel.
I don’t think it’s a novel. I don’t really care if it’s a novel. I don’t know what it is; but then some people have been:
It’s a memoir. It’s autobiography. It’s a series of essays with a dude in the middle saying “Ow.” It’s nonfiction misnomered as fiction!
“How dare you misgenre me!” it’s thinking, sitting un-bought on a low shelf in the Fiction section at your neighborhood Barnes Ignoble.
Well, but back to Paley: I can’t call it nonfiction because I lied about stuff; compressed 6 real people into one fictional character; took scenes from real life and put them in a different month, with other weather; invented conversations; collapsed 8 different events into one; made shit up; gave all my best lines to other people; left things out that’d make me look bad if you thought I committed them; mis-remembered the past; manipulated my mis-remembered past to satisfy narrative arcs. Gave stuff tidy endings that, in real life, are never-ending.
I used techniques of fiction, in other words.
But I wanted it to read as if it were happening right in front of you, happening *to* you, right now, in this moment that you’re reading it.
I wanted it to read like nonfiction. Or like a Frederick Wiseman documentary, maybe.
I wanted you to think, “He must have just written down what happened.”
“Why not say what happened?” Elizabeth Hardwick said to Robert Lowell, when he was stuck on a poem; and then he emptied all her letters into his book! Her aggrieved, enraged letters about his leaving her for another woman.
Sleep with a writer, wake up in print.
So I can see a person’s assigning my book in a course in, like, I dunno, “Personal Narrative?”
Argh, I think the term these days is “Autofiction,” which I hate. I always hear, under that name, the accusation that all a particular writer ever did was obsess about themselves; and that an “auto-fictionalist” was deficient because they could not make shit up.
Is there a notion lately that a “writer” is a person who works entirely from “imagination,” and that to base a story on true events is somehow not to be as glorious as a person who works solely from imagination?
As if “saying what happened” did not involve using your imagination.
As if “autofiction” is somehow ethically suspect because you’re invading the privacy of people whose lives your work is based on. But there is such a thing as an emotional autobiography, where the arc of feeling is lifted from your own life, if not the events. And even a science fiction writer is surely modeling characters on people they know in real life (see Philip K. Dick’s books where one of the main characters is clearly based on Bishop James Pike of California).
And then there is this thing of, If you’re a homo-dude like myself over age like 55 and you’re writing about stuff that happened in the first 15 years of the global AIDS crisis, 1981 -1996, you are automatically *historical*, and your writing is going to have no useful application to stuff that is happening today, it’s gonna be retrograde at worst, merely “interesting” at best, yet another traumatized recounting of an era that properly belongs in a theme park, AIDSWorld.
O and alas. Call my book what you want, it doesn’t have a genre. But if it reads like nonfiction, that doesn’t mean it’s without an aesthetic; and if it reads like a novel, that doesn’t mean it’s not a series of stories carefully revised and assembled in a particular order; and if it reads like memoir, don’t expect it to be telling the truth about everything; and if it’s just some Wicked Aging Sodomite not letting go of the past, well:
Maybe we live in a country and moment when we are deeply aware of having *let go too quickly of the past*; and maybe the refusal to account for the past is a right wing strategy; and maybe the past is not even past, as Faulkner says; and maybe a book is not a weighted blanket, maybe it’s not meant to help you fall dreamlessly to sleep, maybe its point is to fling you into a stage of inconsolable grief at 3 in the morning.
Amy Sedaris is the queen of Instagram – her offbeat posts highlight the weirdly funny and/or oddly sweet. I am just one of her million+ followers. If you need a daily pick-me-up – and who doesn’t at this point? – check out her feed.
A couple of months ago, she posted this:
This clip has more than 300k views, 23,436 likes and 897 comments…. but apparently I’m the only one who doesn’t just click the heart, post “LOL” and move on. No. I’m the gay porn nerd spewing info that the general population really does not give a shit about, pointing out that it’s Eric Manchester & Billy London admiring Dean Chasson’s talents in Head Of The Class (1988). Music by Costello Presley!
The comment garnered no “likes” or “responses” – it just dissipated into the air like a public fart as crickets chirped in the distance. Whoooo cares?
I know I’m not the only one interested in finding out more about these videos. Amy Sedaris reposted this clip from Instagram user @homomacabre, whose followers also care about the minutia. His posts highlight the kitsch of old gay porn, with acting thinner than the flimsy sets, not to mention the tacky period clothes and hairstyles. And then there’s the music of Costello Presley.
I wanted to do a blog post about the mysterious synth-pop wizard who scored several dozen gay porn films in the 80’s and early 90’s, but have not successfully uncovered any info about him, including his true identity. I am not alone in my appreciation of Costello Presley: There are multiple soundcloud files and a reddit post with a filmography of approximately 40 titles that feature his music. A porn-adjacent friend of mine does not remember his real name, but assures me that Mr. Presley has left the building.
In 2017, synth band Parralox did a faithful cover of Costello Presley’s “Animal Reaction” from William Higgins’ Class of ’69.
In addition to Head of the Class, another Scott Masters/Catalina video in the Costello Presley oeuvre is John Travis’s Powerline (1989), which also starred Eric Manchester. This film features one of my favorite unintentionally funny scenes from that era.
I purchased a VHS copy of Powerline while on spring break from college. I had gone into New York City to see a Broadway show with some school friends and was about to head back to Long Island. I couldn’t manage to break away from the group and go into a porn shop, so I said my goodbyes at Penn Station and headed down to the train platform. Once the coast was clear, I ran back up to 8th avenue and went into the first smut shop I could find.
I made my way over to the video racks as a stripper in a silver bikini and stilettoes danced on the stairs to the upper level, beckoning shoppers to partake of something more tangible. I grabbed Powerline and headed to the register. With a $39.99 price tag, it was more than I would normally pay for a porn videocassette but my train was leaving in 5 minutes.
All the “acting” scenes are priceless but this one is my favorite, featuring gay-for-pay cover model Tom Steele as the cable guy with Lou Cass and Troy Ramsey as the couple from downstairs who catch him jerking off on the roof.
Porn legend and uber music fan Lou Cass was a frequent guest on The Robin Byrd Show in the early 90’s when he was dancing in New York. The Bay Area resident still has a strong social media presence and occasionally releases his own music. This is one of several versions of Pat Benatar/Nick Gilder’s “Rated X” that he has recorded through the years:
If and when I find out more information about Costello Presley, I will be sure to update the post.
It’s hard for me to believe that I am well past 5 years into this blog nonsense and I have never written a single post about Dusty Springfield. I am a huge Dusty fan – she’s my diva. When I had my public access show here in New York City, I ran performance clips of Dusty so often that I received condolence calls and letters from viewers when she died in 1999.
Back then, there was still much to discover: whole albums of unreleased material were unearthed and LPs that had been out of print for decades were remastered and reissued. But now the cupboard is bare, with even incomplete performances cobbled together to produce somewhat finished products.
With a career spanning close to 40 years and hundreds of recordings in genres from folk to disco and everything in between, it’s easy to forget about some of the lesser known Dusty performances. I was recently reminded of the time she covered a Kate Bush song.
Yes, Kate Bush.
And I’m also a huge fan of Kate Bush. But somehow, I had forgotten about this.
It’s like artists converging from different dimensions. Or maybe not. We live in an age where Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett duets are a thing.
Picture it: London, April 1979. Dusty has just turned 40 as she returned to the UK after living in the US for most of the 1970’s. Meanwhile, 20 year-old Kate Bush had released her first two albums within the previous year. Dusty was performing several shows at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Unfortunately there are no official recordings of the performances but we do have a couple of bootleg audio recordings. Dusty introduces the song:
“When I came here last year, I was surprised and mostly pleased at the musical changes that had happened here. I like things like (Ian Drury’s) ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ just as much as you do…. anyway the thing that impressed me most was that so much originality was around. In particular one young lady came through with a song called ‘Wuthering Heights’…. Kate Bush has an immense amount of originality and I was absolutely staggered by her. I’d like to sing a song that I think is one of the prettiest ones ever written, certainly by her. It’s called ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes.'”
She then goes on to, as Neil Tennant would later say, “Dustify” the song. It’s a beautiful performance of an unexpected song choice:
Dusty was not alone in her praise of “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”. Besides reaching the #1 spot on the UK pop charts, the song also won an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting.
Later that year, Dusty’s performance at Royal Albert Hall was properly recorded for posterity. Unfortunately, by that time the song had been removed from the set list.
Today would have been Dusty’s 83rd birthday. She is still sorely missed and I’d trade my eye teeth to hear her sing a duet with Lady Gaga.
I recently came across a 1978 issue of Gay Times, East Coast Edition – Issue #69 (ahem).
The news section was dominated by California’s Briggs Initiative, aka Proposition 6 – the first attempt to restrict gay and lesbian rights through a statewide ballot measure. Thankfully, it was defeated that November with 58% of the vote, but the stakes were high when this issue went to press.
It was the importance of this vote which also inspired the centerfold:
The photo is from Robert Bresson’s 1957 film A Man Escaped, a WWII drama based on a true story of a French resistance fighter portrayed by Francois Leterrier (center).
Welcome to 2022, when it all seems painfully current, domestically and abroad.
Ah, but it wasn’t all politics and protests. Editor Pat Pomeroy interviewed The New York Man: Damian Charles. He’s described as an Aries ram, former school teacher, author of 49(!) books of erotica, and a centerfold model. He inspired orgasms in 17 countries! (I have to wonder who collects such statistics and where does one find the raw data?) And also – what quote could encapsulate the era better than “… as I have sex with a succession of lovers under the strobe lights at Studio 54”?
I reached out to photographer John Michael Cox, Jr. to see if he had any recollections of this dynamo. “Charles Herschberg was a very close friend & the writer I most used to conduct interviews – I didn’t like to transcribe interviews so I employed writers. For his nude modeling, he decided on the name Damien Charles, which I never liked. He never had the ambition to do much & mainly posed for me. He never did films but I did shoot some hardcore pix of him with his lover Richard Allan. Chuck died around 1990 in Florida.
“These photos are from the first session we did. I never worked for Gay Times, so Chuck must have given them the prints to use.”
I asked about Chuck’s work as a writer. “I met Chuck when he was writing a piece on (gay porn star) Roger. I came over to the Eros to photograph him and Roger’s manager Jim Bacon introduced us. Typical of Chuck – he never finished the article.”
Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe or LeVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.”
Our latest offering is one of her signature songs: “I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s”. Curiously, on the recording Spivy introduces the song as “Intimate Memories of Buffalo In The 90’s.” This is the fourth side we have profiled from her 1939 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs. The lyrics were written by Everett Marcy, who also co-wrote (with Spivy) “Why Don’t You,” another song from the album. Marcy also had a few Broadway writing credits including New Faces of 1936.
The music is credited to Prince Paul Chavchavadze (1899-1971), a writer, translator, and deposed Georgian royal living in New York City. And with that nugget of information, I have to say… whenever I look into the eclectic array of international bohemians associated with Spivy, I am reminded of the party scene at the beginning of Auntie Mame. This is also a fitting scenario considering Spivy later played Mother Burnside in the Broadway production.
Oscar Wilde plays a part in the lyrics of the song, as a guest in the home of our fictional hostess. It should be noted that he did conduct several lecture tours across the U.S., including speaking engagements in Buffalo. One of the topics was “The Decorative Arts.”
I Brought Culture to Buffalo In the 90’s
I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. When Wilde was there, he visited my home I showed him all the glories I’d bought so cheap in Greece and all the wonders I’d brought home from Rome. He was spellbound at the splendor of my whatnot and the cigar butt Papa got from General Grant. He couldn’t tear his eyes from my bay window and the maidenhair beneath the rubber plants.
I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s – the year I took the iron dog off our lawn. In its place I put a Venus in a nightie and a rather naughty but authentic faun. I completely reproduced the Versailles garden though the Erie claimed they had the right of way. I swore I’d die before a tie was laid to desecrate Versailles. I made Buffalo the place it is today.
I was the first to have a Turkish corner though plenty followed suit, you may be sure. I produced a pageant based on Jackie Horner and the deficit was given to the poor. I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. I made the natives conscious of the nude. In my dining room I put “Boy Extracting Thorn From Foot” and my guests that winter scarcely touched their food.
The season that I gave my talks on yoga was one I felt I never could surpass. I had a negligee cut like a toga and all my candelabra piped for gas. I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. When Wilde was there, he visited my home. Filled with all the treasures of the ages and a nugget Uncle Nate had sent from Nome.
I showed him all the house right through the garret and said “What one thing does it still require?” When Oscar looked at me, I could not bear it. “A match,” he said, “Madame, a match to set the goddamn place on fire!”
Eagle’s calling and he’s calling your name, Tides are turning, bringing winds of change Why do I feel this way? The promise of a new day…
Paula Abdul still reigns supreme on Lite-FM, if my trips to the pharmacy and grocery store are any indication. Her #1 hits from the Forever Your Girl LP are still in heavy rotation there, yet her chart-topping follow up album, Spellbound, seems to have been forgotten along with its two #1 hit singles: “Rush, Rush” and “Promise Of A New Day.”
“Promise Of A New Day” – the lead track on the album – was my unofficial theme of the Summer of 1991. Not the edgiest choice, but it perfectly captured the energy I felt as I moved into my first New York City apartment. I picked up a used promo CD of Spellbound at St. Marks Sounds and played it as I hung posters and organized my books and records on unstable milk crate shelving units.
So I wasn’t a rebel through and through, but I loved the East Village. I felt like I belonged there more than anyplace else, even if I was content to spend most nights in my apartment getting acquainted with Robin Byrd and leased access television rather than going over to Avenue B to watch GG Allin roll around in his own poop.
I previously wrote about my first professional theatre job as the Cowardly Lion on a children’s theatre tour. It was a big adventure with a little romance and a lot of angst as the tour drew to a close. Most of the other cast members had theatre jobs lined up for the summer, while I was about to wake up on the black and white side of the rainbow with no prospects other than crawling back to Carle Place Tower Records and asking for my job back.
I had to get to Manhattan. It was looming in the distance like the Emerald City. As I wrote in another post about this period… Dorothy may have been happy to go back home, but the Lion, with his newfound courage, stayed in Oz.
It turned out that Glinda the Good Witch didn’t have a job lined up, either. She lived in a women’s hotel on Gramercy Park South but was ready to make a move. When she suggested that we find an apartment together, I jumped at the chance.
I knew this might not be a perfect fit. Glinda’s nickname on the tour was Eeyore – partly because she carried the stuffed animal around with her, but also because it matched her personality. She was a lumbering sad-sack with a constant cloud of doom over her head. It was much more amusing when we were on tour than while apartment hunting in the summer heat.
We looked at one apartment after another – she would hem and haw and say that she needed to think about it. Any halfway decent place was taken by the time she made up her mind. In the meantime, she continued to live in the women’s hotel while I kept schlepping into the city from Long Island. This went on for almost two months.
By the time I found the apartment on East 6th street and Avenue A – a converted 2 bedroom in a 5th floor tenement walkup for $750 a month – I felt that this was our last chance. If she didn’t go for this one, then I needed to come up with an alternate living situation. Perhaps she sensed that this was the end of the line, because she agreed fairly quickly and we got it.
There was a clause in the lease – a standard apartment lease – that says something about the tenant being responsible for carpeting 80 percent of the floors to reduce noise for the downstairs neighbor. When we asked the landlord about this on the day of the lease signing, he started to laugh. A little too long. Then he simply said; “Don’t worry about it.”
Our first night in the apartment, we were startled awake by the blood curdling screams that sounded like a woman being attacked. This quickly escalated into a shrieking, incoherent babble that echoed inside and outside the building. I immediately thought of Kitty Genovese and the nightmare of urban apathy. It abruptly stopped before we could find the source. We soon learned that the neighbor right below us had frequent schizophrenic episodes – usually in the middle of the night, although they would happen at any time. So no, we did not need to carpet our floors to limit our noise for the downstairs neighbor.
Despite its flaws, I loved that apartment. It was above this derelict bar called the Cherry Tavern. 20 years later, the NYU kids were lining up to get in. We had no door buzzer so visitors would have to call from the pay phone on the corner – this was pre-cell phone, of course. One of us would have to walk down all those flights to let them in. The floors in the apartment were so slanted that we had to put a 2×4 under one end of the kitchen table to keep it level. The ceiling leaked. The exposed brick wall in the living room was actively crumbling. Anything placed near it was subjected to a coat of debris.
Our living room furniture was purchased by chance at a garage sale on moving day for a total of $8: a $3 wood coffee table with a wobbly leg and a $5 foam couch which folded out into a bed. Suddenly, we had a guest room.
Unfortunately, the couch would collapse sideways if you leaned on the armrests. Our heavy foot lockers were placed on either side to act as end tables as well as bookends.
Before the move, I had started working in the city. Technically, it wasn’t a telemarking job, but it was pretty close: trying to persuade doctors to take part in phone conferences sponsored by drug companies. My friend worked there and made tons of money in commissions. He loved it.
Two weeks after the move, I was fired. My success rate wasn’t high enough. I didn’t have a strong, assuring voice that was able to convince doctors that spending an hour on a conference call talking about Cardizem was a particularly good use of their time.
I tried not to panic. I had bills now. REAL bills. Shit. What the hell was I going to do? Hit the Village Voice want ads. I applied at St. Mark’s Sounds, which would have been my dream job if the $4.25 an hour they paid would cover my expenses.
My next job was a temporary night time position filling laundry carts at the Midtown Sheraton Hotel. I was in charge of the 36th through 50th floors, filling housekeeper’s carts with freshly laundered sheets, towels, little shampoos and soaps. I climbed a lot of stairs. I never saw any guests or housekeepers. It was solitary work but it paid well.
Although this was supposed to be a three month position, I was let go after three weeks. Was it my earring? It had been suggested that I not wear it to work, as the head of housekeeping would not approve. But I never SAW anybody while I was working, so I left it in. I crossed paths with her one day, and was let go at the end of my shift.
On the plus side, I had acquired a linen closet full of Sheraton sheets and towels and a year’s supply of sundries.
I had to remind myself that I didn’t move to Manhattan to be a housekeeper or telemarketer. I continued to audition but that went about as well as the employment prospects.
Meanwhile, Glinda was having her own issues. She was in full Eeyore mode: Unhappy in her day job. No theatre job prospects. No social life. She would stay in bed all day watching television with the lights off in her windowless room. I tried to include her when I went out with my college friends, but she complained that we all talked about the past and she felt left out. She became increasingly petty and jealous. She was not the kind of person who would be happy for me when I got a job or a callback audition or went on a date. Her first response was always some variation on “Why don’t I have that?” She also seemed quite pleased when the job, callback or date didn’t work out for me. Years later she was diagnosed as clinically depressed and went on medication, but we didn’t know about that at the time.
One day I came home, opened the apartment door and walked into the Amityville Horror. She had painted the 5’x5’ entryway high gloss blood red. But she didn’t do it carefully. There were red spatters on the black and white tile floor and red smears along the ceiling. It looked like a slaughterhouse. If she had ever mentioned that she wanted to paint, I certainly would have helped… first and foremost by explaining that a simulated bloodbath in the vestibule might not give guests a favorable first impression.
In late August, I got the call from the children’s theatre company that had done our Wizard of Oz tour. They were lining up their Christmas shows – would I like to do a New England tour of Babes in Toyland? Hell yeah. Of course, Glinda was not happy, because they didn’t call HER. And now she would be living with a subletter.
I needed two months of employment to get me to the start of the tour. My sister worked in the main office of the Petland chain of pet stores and directed me to an open position at their 14th street location. I would clean out the bird room every day – scrubbing bird shit off the cages with a wire brush. I learned how count out bags of 20 live crickets, and how to hold mice by the tail, flick them on the head to knock them out before feeding them to the snakes. Every day I acted like this was my career choice – nobody knew I was just biding my time.
I was barely making enough money to get by. I still feel a little queasy when I see those cheapo Table Talk individual dessert pies, which were 50 cents each. The Wendy’s dollar menu was also a big treat. And I was in New York City! I was sitting in Union Square eating my sad little lunch rather than a suburban mall parking lot. One day I watched Harvey Keitel film a scene from Bad Lieutenant and then went back to work and sold a bag of live crickets to Ellen Greene. Besides, I knew I would be back onstage and out on the road again soon. I was a New York City Actor now, with my own apartment to come back to.
One of my favorite memories of this period was a hot summer evening when I took my dinner plate of spaghetti out on the fire escape to catch a little breeze. I was wearing cut-off shorts and a t-shirt, eating off of a paper plate, while five stories below was the rear garden of a pricey Swiss restaurant on 7th street – an early sign of how the neighborhood would eventually change. A string quartet serenaded the outdoor diners. Every once in a while, one of them would notice me, up on my perch. They would point and whisper to their dinner companions while I pretended not to notice.
In my head, I heard the tremulous voice of Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch saying “It’s all right… it’s just one of the little people who live in this land…”
I didn’t care. I was as happy as a clam on my city balcony with the Empire State Building off in the distance. I felt like I was exactly where I wanted and was supposed to be. I had come to the end of one road and felt a sense of accomplishment, knowing how hard I worked to get there. There was a whole other adventure up ahead, but for now I was in the East Village, and I was home.