You Know The B-52’s Song “Roam” Is About Butt Sex, Right?

The B-52’s are currently in the midst of their first farewell tour. It seems like a good time to revisit this blog post from the summer of 2018:

A couple of months ago, the internet burst into flames when Bunny Wailer, songwriter of “The Electric Slide”, confirmed rumors that the song is indeed about a vibrator. (It’s electric!).

An article on the Aazios site quoted him as saying that he wrote the song after a girlfriend told him she didn’t need him because she had a toy she nicknamed the “electric slide”. The story went viral.

Singer Marcia Griffiths was not happy about it. “I don’t sing about vibrators,” she said. “I sing to teach, educate and uplift.”

“Why not both?” I say.

ALT whynot both

Huffpost, which initially reposted the Aazios story, then printed an update that it was not true… noting, apropos of nothing, that Aazios is “an online source of LGBTQ news and entertainment” – as if that had anything to do with Bunny Wailer, the vibrator, or the validity of the story.

Snopehas labeled the story FALSE with a quote from Bunny Wailer that reads like a statement prepared by a lawyer to protect a client from litigation: “At no time have I ever lent credence to a rumor that the song was inspired by anything other than Eddie Grant’s Electric Avenue. To state otherwise is a falsehood and offends my legacy, the legacy of singer Marcia Griffiths, and tarnishes the reputation of a song beloved by millions of fans the world over.”

The problem is… Wailer wrote the song in the 1970’s, years before Eddie Grant’s 1982 hit. The song was dusted off and reworked to ride the “Electric” coattails of that hit record. Thirty-five years later, it is still a dance floor staple at a certain caliber of venue. It is understandable that someone who still makes money off of this record does not want to suddenly admit that their cash cow is about a dildo.

electric slide

Bottom line: It is or it isn’t. Either way, you now have a topic of conversation to slur loudly over your 9th cocktail while your mom and Karen from finance are knocking into each other on the dance floor. 

So… now can we talk about The B-52’s 1989 hit song “Roam“? You know it’s about butt sex, right?

b52s wildplanet

Of course, nobody is going to step up and confirm this now. The B-52’s still make a nice living touring the world performing “Roam” along with party classics like “Rock Lobster and “Love ShackOne song they haven’t performed in years is “Dirty Back Road,” a track from their 1980 Wild Planet LP. Co-written by a guy named Robert Waldrop with band member Ricky Wilson, it’s not that much of a stretch to figure out what this little ditty is about:

Wreckless driving / Like a sports car / God I want you / Like a fuel engine / Energized line / Like a road / You ride me / Like a road / You ride me / Foot on the peddle / Feet in the air / Sand in my hair / Don’t look back / Don’t look behind you / Reckless drivin’ on / Dirty back road

Pretty obvious, right? Well… of course not, according to YouTube comments. People will argue about anything. I know, I know. Never read the comments.

b52s dirty back roadb52s-dirty-back-road-1980

Now lets move on to “Roam“: The song’s lyrics are credited again to Robert Waldrop, with music written by the surviving members of the band. Ricky Wilson had passed away from AIDS complications in 1985 during the recording of the Bouncing Off The Satellites LP. After taking a few years off, the band came back in 1989 with the LP Cosmic Thing, which would be the biggest commercial success of their career. The singles “Love Shack” and “Roam” topped the charts around the world, garnered the band their first two Grammy nominations and still get regular airplay today.

b52s cosmic thingb52s roam

When did I realize that “Roam” was about butt sex? I couldn’t say. I just always knew. I saw Robert Waldrop’s name in the cassette booklet, read the lyrics to “Roam and thought “Look at that. He cleaned up his ‘Dirty Back Road.” Well, not completely – the second line has them “dancing down those dirty and dusty trails.” It may not be as blatant, but it’s there.

The phrase “Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness” is repeated about a dozen times throughout the song.

The chorus: Roam if you want to / Roam around the world / Without wings without wheels / Roam around the world / Without anything but the love we feel… 

And then there’s this verse:

Hit the air-strip to the sunset Ride the arrow to the target / Take it hip to hip rock it through the wilderness / Around the world the trip begins with a kiss 

(at this point in the video, a banana goes through a hole in a bagel)Roam

I would like to make it clear that I do not make these pronouncements as some sort of slander. Believe me, I am a big fan of butt sex and partake as often as possible.

In posting this piece, I realize that there are people who will get annoyed or upset that their favorite B-52’s hit is all about taking a ride on the Hershey highway, but really… if you think this is shocking or not possibly true then you never really understood the band and/or their sense of humor in the first place. People who only know them from Top 40 radio might not remember that they were/are a predominantly gay party bandThey were messysubversive and more than just a little punk. Fun punk. 

If a clueless fan does not know that, it is akin to saying that you love John Waters because of the films Hairspray and Cry Baby, but have never seen Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble.

Polyester

Like many other bands before or since, the B-52’s started out edgy and moved towards mainstream pop as their career progressed. While their current tour does pull heavily from their first two LPs, their bread and butter is still playing the hit songs. They are a business  not so much a band as a corporation like their contemporaries the Go-Go’s and Blondie.

Even if the B-52’s issued a statement today that Roam” never was or is about getting popped in the pooper, the motivation would not be to tell the truth, but rather to protect their own livelihoodCase in point: The Village People, Inc. When faced with anti-gay protests for a gig in Jamaica back in 1998their representative had the balls to issue a statement declaring that there was nothing gay about them. The fucking Village People, people. I would like to think that the B-52’s are still way too cool to ever do such a thing.

So… I just thought you ought to know. Roam” is about takin’ it up the ass. Something to think about when you hear it wafting over the airwaves at the supermarket or when you are in line at the bankI am not going to debate the evidence. It is what it is. I think it’s a hoot – it makes me chuckle whenever I hear it. But if you feel a strong opposition to the theory… may I invite you to hit the airstrip… and teach yourself the Electric Slide. Boogie woogie woogie.

B52s loveshack.gif

UPDATE: Since this was piece was first posted in August, 2018, an expanded 30th Anniversary edition of the Cosmic Thing LP was released. The band did a considerable amount of press, reflecting on the songs and recording process. Not surprisingly, nobody mentioned that “Roam” is about butt sex.

“‘Roam‘ has many meanings, but it’s a beautiful song about death,” Cindy Wilson told Classic Pop magazine in 2019. “It’s about when your spirit leaves your body and you can just roam.”

Well, yes. Some would describe it like that.

We Got Hitched

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.

Summer, 2013

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.”

And now it’s done. After nine years, we are hitched. Married. We tied the knot and jumped the broom. It took a long time to come.
Wedding photos by Glenmar Studio

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me: John Weir

John Weir is pissed off. Rightfully so.

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’s What I Did Wrong are 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.

John Weir on the cover of The Advocate (1990)

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.

And

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?!”

The many editions of Eddie Socket

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:

John Weir Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

What’s its genre?

Is that like asking a book its pronouns?

Maybe!

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.”

Author Grace Paley, photographed by Jess Paley

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.”

Robert Lowell & Elizabeth Hardwick

“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).

Argh, anyway.

John Weir Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

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.

Follow him on Facebook. Follow him on TikTok. He’s @jwierdo on Twitter.

Buy the fucking book.

Costello Presley and 80’s Gay Porn Guilty Pleasures

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?

Taking my killjoy vibe to the next level, I would also like to point out that the blond, Billy London, was brutally murdered and dismembered in Hollywood back in 1990. He is sometimes referred to as the gay “Black Dahlia.” Circus of Books filmmaker Rachel Mason is currently working on a documentary looking into the unsolved crime.

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.

See also:
10 Gay Porn Stars We Lost in 2020
Gay Porn Stars We Lost in 2021
Remembering Prolific Pornographer Robert Prion
RIP Porn Star Turned Activist Terry DeCarlo

Mme Spivy: I Brought Culture To Buffalo In The 90’s

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.”

In case you missed them, these are our previous Madame Spivy posts:
The Alley Cat
The Tarantella
Auntie’s Face
100% American Girls
A Tropical Fish

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.

Prince Paul Chavchavadze

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!”

This newspaper blurb (courtesy of the Queer Music Heritage page) mentions the song being “rented” to singer Bea Lillie:

The Lion In The Emerald City: Promise Of A New Day

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.

Blueboy 1980: Gays of NYC

It’s not nice to stereotype. This may be especially true of homosexuals, who have borne the brunt of unkind pinpointing for so long that they believe it themselves.

…so begins an outrageously stereotypical article from the May, 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine, titled “Is There A Typical New York Faggot?”

Now… before you lose your shit over the title, keep in mind that those were different times. The “F” word wasn’t taboo. Larry Kramer’s book by that name had been published just a year and a half earlier. So let’s put that sticking point aside. There’s plenty more to discuss.

Another caveat: This is from Blueboy. A gay porn magazine. It ain’t the Advocate or The Village Voice. Presumably author “J. Greller” was the pen name of a jaded queen with his tongue firmly planted in his own cheek and his head up his own ass. Who can say for sure? I wouldn’t want to, you know, stereotype… but Harold from Boys In The Band could deliver this piece as a monologue.

It’s mean and bitchy, but not in a fun way. It’s like the author had one martini too many and his New York City rant went to a dark place that was no longer funny or clever. The specificity of many of the “types” described gives the indication that he had an axe to grind with very particular unnamed individuals.

Have a read:

To be fair, the entire piece isn’t completely tone-deaf. There are glimpses that ring true, especially in the downtown neighborhoods. This is due in part to the quotes from others – Doley the Third’s observation on Harlem, for example.

I find the piece to be out of sync with the NYC neighborhoods as I have known them since the early 1990’s. But this is my perception over a 30 year period. I wasn’t there in 1980, but I have to wonder if the author has based his observations on, say, a 30 year period prior to that. Were there were really still old vamps & flappers on St. Marks in the CBGB era? Did 57th Street really have its own gay male type that needed dissection? Did nobody ever travel out of their own neighborhood to socialize? Were the streetcars not running?

Interesting to note that, for all this compartmentalizing of Midtown East neighborhoods: Kips Bay vs Turtle Bay vs. East Side…  there is no mention of Murray Hill. At the time, according to older gay New Yorkers that I have known, it was referred to as “Mary Hill” due to the large number of gay bars and homosexual residents. J. Geller missed a golden opportunity. 

Kudos to the graphic artist Favio Castelli, though.

The Comfort of Repetition & The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

Department store Santas, 1948 (photo by Nina Leen)

I am not alone in saying that I always take comfort in the annual repetition of the holidays – revisiting holiday-themed music, film, television… and now internet posts as well. In fact, this post is a reworking of one I posted last year, not to get meta or anything.

I find it interesting that we immerse ourselves in certain pop culture favorites for exactly 6 weeks of the year and then pack them up in mothballs with the ornaments until next year. I mean, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis are rock stars from Thanksgiving through New Years. Are any of them on your 4th of July playlist? They aren’t on mine.

The film A Christmas Story has an even shorter (Elf on the) shelf life. We binge-watch the repeated broadcast for exactly 24 hours each year. I own it on Blu-ray and I’m not sure why: I have never opened it. To pop it in at any other time feels like a betrayal.

In keeping with this revisiting, blog posts of Christmas past are back to haunt you like A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge:

This was my Canine Christmas Tail – a true story about my dog Sunshine and her appetite for tinsel.

Here is my take on the 1987 Motown Christmas Special – which featured few Motown acts.

When March of The Wooden Soldiers celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2019, I posted 10 things you may not know about this classic holiday film.

Have you watched Christmas In Connecticut yet this year? How about that delivery woman?

Unfortunately, due to copyright issues all the links are broken on my 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas piece. This also keeps me from posting other episodes of my old radio show – hopefully only temporarily. However… I have this to share:

Way back in 2002, when Limewire was a thing and people listened to music on silvery discs, I started creating Christmas CD mixes that I would mail out or give to people. These were received with a combination of feigned delight, veiled indifference and deafening silence. None of these CDs had a pressing of more than 20 copies. I’d like to call them “much sought after” – but no, that’s not really the case, although every once in a while, someone really got into them and would ask for copies of other volumes.

And so, I’m offering this simple playlist…. for kids from 1 to 92. Unfortunately many of the tracks on these dozen CDs are not on Spotify, but I keep adding songs that would be on the current CD volume… if there was one. And now the playlist is over 14 hours of holiday tunes. I recommend listening on shuffle – there’s something to irritate everyone. Enjoy!

The Tin Man and the Lion: Unanswered Prayers

Every once in a while I find myself accidentally humming a Garth Brooks song called “Unanswered Prayers.” The gist of this 1991 country hit is that the singer runs into a girl he was in love with in high school. Back in the day, he prayed to God Almighty that they would stay together for the rest of their lives. Now he sees that time has not been kind to his old flame. He compares her to the hot babe he’s now got on his arm and thanks the Lord that he wasn’t saddled with that old mess for all those years. It’s really quite touching and heartfelt…. unless you are the first Mrs. Garth Brooks. He divorced her to marry Trisha Yearwood.

My life was at a crossroads when this little ditty was all over the radio. I was touring the country in a children’s theatre production of The Wizard of Oz. Previously, I had been working at Tower Records on Long Island and feeling rather lost after being cut from two different drama schools in the previous two years. I felt like I had twice slipped off the launchpad of my illustrious theatrical career. So there I was at 22 years old: depressed, living at my mother’s house, treading water in the old familiar pool of a record store.

One day at work I got a phone call from a former classmate who was now stage managing children’s theatre tours. He was calling to say that they needed a last-minute replacement for The Cowardly Lion on a Wizard of Oz tour, and could I be in Philadelphia to start rehearsals, tomorrow?

I had just come out of a meeting with my supervisor in which he told me I was doing an excellent job and if I kept up the good work, I would be moving up the record store hierarchy very soon. Now I had to go back into his office to clarify that the pro-company bullshit I had just shoveled at him was no longer relevant, and that he should start spreading the news, ‘cuz I’m leaving. Today.

I took off my polyester vest with the yellow and red name tag, headed down the yellow brick road and never looked back.

The 10 days of rehearsal were a blur. This was my first paying theatre gig, hired sight unseen and thrown in with people who actually auditioned and were cast in this show. I was a wreck. I hadn’t sang or danced in almost a year. I felt like I would be discovered as a fraud and fired before we even left Philly. Luckily I was playing the Cowardly Lion, so channeling that nervous energy wasn’t a broad stretch. I didn’t exactly transform into Bert Lahr, but I held my own. I worked my ass off to prove I belonged there. And it worked. Nobody had a clue how I got the job.

We hit the road and I soon learned that traveling in a non-union theatre tour is quite a unique experience. You get to know each other intimately in a very short period of time. Relationships develop. Alliances are formed and broken. It has all the drama of a reality show like Survivor or Big Brother, but in a van. This can be a nightmare situation with the wrong combination of people, as I would find out on subsequent tours. But this cast gelled well, onstage and off.

There were 9 of us floating from town to town – a microcosm in Glinda’s bubble. Together we weathered bad hotels, truck-stop food, common colds passed around the cast. We went to museums in Chicago, partied on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, broke down outside of Memphis, hit the beach in Miami, and got drunk… everywhere. We played venues ranging from a church basement in North Carolina to the opera house in Cleveland. I had never been to any of these places – some I still wish I could revisit, others I have no desire to see again.

The Tin Man caught my eye from the first day of rehearsal. Beneath the silver makeup was a golden boy: a blond-haired, blue-eyed dancer with a perfect rack of sparkling teeth. Truth be told, the boy couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag, and his singing voice…. well … it was kind of amazing: he had this uncanny ability to sound both sharp and flat at the same time.

But the boy had charisma. And when he started to dance, he lit up the stage. Your eyes would just go to him. It didn’t matter who else was there.

Besides his moves and physical appearance, he really was a golden boy in every way – a  positive energy that just lifted me up and made me feel good. I tend to dwell in darker places, so this rather simple ray of sunshine totally captivated me.

Yes, he was simple. That needs to be mentioned. There was no deep thought process going on there. Let’s just say he was unencumbered with a lot of brain activity. I tend to get stuck in my own head so this was the breath of fresh air I needed.

It’s such a cliché – the blond hair, the blue eyes… I’m sorry but I totally fell for it. Given my dark coloring and more cerebral tendencies – not that I was curled up in the back of the van reading poetry, but I knew the difference between Proust and Juliet Prowse – the whole “opposites attract” factor worked in my favor.

My odds of nabbing the Tin Man were certainly helped by our situation. But we did have an undeniable rapport – everyone could see what was going on between us before anything physical actually occurred. And it did. Before long, The Tin Man and I decided to take ourselves out of the cast’s hotel roommate rotation and shacked up together full-time. 

As the tour moved on and we passed through state after state, I began to meet different people from the Tin Man’s life. Ex-boyfriends, a potential new boyfriend he had put on hold until after the tour, the best girl-friend from home who had been in love with him since 8th grade…. with each new appearance, I’d get pushed aside until we headed to the next town. I’m afraid I did not react well to these situations, as I was reminded that the boy could have anyone he wanted, so why stick with me, other than the fact that I was on the tour? 

The thing was, he played the helpless card pretty well. There was a dependence on others that worked like a charm, whether counting change or picking out clothes to wear. He needed to have someone there to pay attention, to help, to do things for him.  I mistook this for a dependence on ME until I realized that this parade of people that passed through had all been in the position I currently held, and they were only too happy to jump back into that role when given the opportunity.

One day, I was having a conversation with the Wicked Witch, fairly oblivious to the feelings she may have had towards me. She was incredulous when I expressed my envy of our Tin Man. She was thoughtful for a minute and said, “Don’t you see? He is like… dessert. He’s strawberry shortcake. It’s delicious. Everyone wants it. But you can’t live on that. No nutritional value. You are……… a baked potato. It’s sturdy. A staple. It’s good for you. It’s not as showy as the strawberry shortcake, and people might not think to go for that initially – they want to go right for the dessert, but the baked potato is better for them.”

Now… I have repeated this to people through the years and it is always interesting to gauge the different reactions it elicits. Some perceive it as a total insult. Others “get it.” At the time she told me this, I got it. I understood what she was saying. It was not what I wanted to hear. I just wanted to continue gorging on the fucking dessert. But I got it.

Ah, the pain of hearing things you know are true but don’t want to hear. I remember, toward the end of the tour, we were in some Super 8 dive bar and the Tin Man slipped some money in the jukebox, which then started playing the aforementioned “Unanswered Prayers.” He was laughing and boozily sharp/flat singing it to the Wicked Witch. And she’s looking at me. And I realized that, as painful as it was to admit, the tour was ending and the golden boy would be gone. There was never any delusion that we would continue on together after the tour was over.  He had another theatre job lined up and I was…. what the hell was I going to do? Go back to Tower Records?

I was scared to death. This band of friends, this lifestyle that I had grown accustomed too, making a living doing what I loved… well, a children’s theatre version of it, anyway… it was all about to go away. This trip to Oz had opened my eyes to the possibilities of my life. And very soon I was going to land back in my own black and white Kansas. I didn’t want to wake up from my Technicolor dream. Wasting time in a suburban record store was no longer an option.

The tour ended, as they do. I got an apartment in New York City with Glinda the Good Witch – you can read more about that transition here. I was hired back for a Babes In Toyland tour with the same company that fall. It was a total nightmare. But while in rehearsal, I did meet The Scarecrow from another Wizard Of Oz tour. He was not a golden boy, but he did have a certain glow… He also had a brain and appreciated the value of a baked potato. We were together for 9 years. 

The Tin Man and I did end up working together again in summer stock the following year. By then, the spell had been broken. I had grown a lot and he had not. I saw him for the shallow, needy person that he really was. Yes, my heart would still flutter when he would gaze with those baby blues and smile that thousand-watt smile, but now they just seemed like tools in his arsenal: tactics to lure in the next “devotee du jour.” It was not necessarily calculated – just second-nature for him. I don’t think he had the capability to put that much thought behind it, even if he wanted to.

So he turned his attention elsewhere. And as I watched him work his golden magic on someone else, I’d hear the faint strains of a familiar song…. “Some of God’s greatest gifts… are Unanswered Praaaayers.”

UPDATE: This story was a topic of discussion on Episode 518 of the Scriptnotes podcast. You can hear their discussion of whether this piece would work as a TV show at the 43:00 mark. (Click here)

Madame Spivy: A Tropical Fish

This is the plea of a poor little tropical fish. It’s very sad and we must be very quiet, please.

Ladies and germs, it’s time once again to visit that celebrated lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe. To the uninitiated, allow me to get you up to speed:

Spivy (1906-1970) was 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.” You can read earlier posts about her here:

The Alley Cat
The Tarantella
Auntie’s Face
100% American Girls
I Brought Culture To Buffalo In The 90’s

Today we will focus on “A Tropical Fish”, a song was co-written by Spivy with Jill “Billy” Rainsford. The duo also composed the previously profiled The Alley Cat. Both songs were featured on the 1939 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs By Spivy.

As with “Auntie’s Face”, Spivy begins this song with her trademark spoken intro “It’s very sad and we must be very quiet…” solemnly intoned before launching into the tune, which tells the story of a tropical fish writing a letter of complaint to Fiorello LaGuardia, the Mayor of New York City (1934-1945).

A Tropical Fish

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the clerk and the trombone player,

The child on the street and the ultra-elite all write letters to the mayor.

La Guardia’s most conscientious – he tries to grant everyone’s wish

But they went him one better when he got a letter from somebody’s tropical fish.

Dear Mayor,” the letter began, “I’m writing as fish to man.

Our tank’s overheated and we’re being treated like common sardines in a can.

The way people watch us is quaint. Our privacy’s something what ain’t.

So be a good fella, my dear Fiorella and hear a poor fish’s complaint.

To be quite specific, the food is terrific.

We’re on the hay diet – you really should try it.

It tastes like the hook – gee, I wish we could cook.

The service is lousy – we have no back-housey.

And it’s some spot to be in with no pot to … cook in.

The innocent faunas are hiding in corners

Their love life is wearing with human eyes staring…

Why can’t we have covers like those birdcage lovers?

They’re hidden each night ‘til the morning sunlight

Then brought out to bath with no questions asked.

Dear Mayor, I’ve been very frank… but you don’t know life in a tank.

Believe me, it’s hellish and you wouldn’t relish to sleep in the water you drank.

Now here’s what we tropicals wish: Some bedrooms to give us ambish.

Less public relations and more comfort stations.

Yours truly,

A. Tropical Fish”

Lastly, here’s a syndicated article about Spivy that ran in newspapers across the country in late November, 1948. Note that her last name is mispelled “Devoe” with no mention of Bertha Levine.

Spivy Church 1948 full