I was recently perusing an old issue of Blueboy magazine (as one does) when I found an in-depth review of Bette Midler’s 1979 LP Thighs and Whispers. Single-monikered reviewer Dallas certainly had strong feelings about the album. The review is quite a roller coaster ride, describing different aspects of the LP as “a knock-out”, “third-rate disco,” “disco at its finest,” “gives the impression that she has no taste,” “borders on genius,” and many breathless adjectives of adulation and despair.
Bette had been going full steam throughout the late 70’s. This was her third studio LP released in three years, plus the live double album Live At Last, a concert special on HBO, and her TV special Ol Red Hair Is Back, which won Bette her first Emmy award.
I should probably take Dallas’s advice to smoke a joint and listen to the song “Hurricane” again, because unfortunately my weed-free opinion is that the track is utterly forgettable.
Bette spoke about Thighs and Whispers during a 2021 interview with Jim Farber in Parade Magazine. Reflecting on her career, she admitted that she had recorded “some stinkers.” Of the song “Married Men,” she joked; “Please, God, shoot me now!”
She also mentioned the song “My Knight In Black Leather,” saying “Save me! That was the label saying, ‘You have to record this.’”
Bette has been using “My Knight In Black Leather” as a punchline for decades – not just in interviews but also during her live shows. Reflecting on her career back in 1987, she told an interviewer that she had no regrets:
“I’d do it all over again, just as I did.”
“What about ‘My Knight In Black Leather?'”
“Well,” she said, “that’s the exception. That’s one thing I don’t think I would do again.”
In defense of the song: it was not supposed to be taken seriously. Should it have been a single? Probably not, but they were trying to get a hit record by tapping into that “Village People *wink-wink, nudge-nudge* we-know-it’s-gay-but-Middle-America-doesn’t” disco energy.
Mister D, head of the BootlegBetty fansite is fond of the LP: “…great album, great cover, great orchestrations, and one cut, ‘Cradle Days’ which I thought is probably her greatest vocals on an album.”
Thighs and Whispers was considered a commercial failure, but ultimately, it was water under the bridge. The film The Rose was released the following month, earning Bette a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination. The accompanying soundtrack LP (for those keeping track, that’s 6 albums released in three years) placed her firmly in rock and roll territory. It should be noted that one of the highlights of The Rose – the song “Stay With Me” – was written by Jerry Ragavoy, composer of… “My Knight in Black Leather.”
With an eye towards the 1980’s and the rise of New Wave music, Bette told an interviewer “I think I should jump on every musical bandwagon and really drive people mad, just irritate them to shit so they say ‘She’s such a cow – she’ll jump on any musical bandwagon.’ Why not? I’ll bleach my hair and rip my clothes. I think it’s fun. I’m getting silly in my old age.” This would have to wait 4 years until her next studio album: 1983’s No Frills.
On October 8, 2016, Bette was the special guest at a Forest Hills Stadium show called Nile Rogers’ FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance) Festival – a show also featuring his group Chic, The Village People and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Given the theme, I thought Bette might dust off a song from her disco period – 1976’s Strangers In The Night, perhaps. But she didn’t. Her set consisted of her classics: “Friends,” “Do You Want To Dance,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Her final song was a nice surprise: “Route 66,” which she said she had never sung before and had just learned the day before.
This issue of Blueboy also features a full page ad for Elton John’s foray into disco,Victim of Love, which was released the same month as Thighs and Whispers. The album is widely considered to be the low point of his career.
One of my goals in creating posts about artist’s models like Chuck Howard, Randy Jack, and Ted Starkowski is to clear up misinformation posted online by galleries and auction houses. Whether the inaccuracies are intentionally deceptive or the result of laziness, the errors spread across the internet, with subjects misidentified and photo dates sometimes off by decades.
Recently, a series of nearly 30 nude model study photos were auctioned off in lots labeled “Jared French Nude Study of Tennessee Williams” or “Studio di nudo Tennessee Williams.” One set of two 8×10 photos sold for over $650. These should have been credited to the PaJaMa collective, which Jared French was a part of, and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the lean muscularly defined model is certainly not writer Tennessee Williams.
Tennessee Williams was the subject of several PaJaMa photos in Provincetown and at Jared French’s New York City studio at 5 St. Luke’s Place. In one of these photos, Williams strikes the same pose in the same place as our mystery model.
So who was the thin young chap with the low-hangers?
In another corner of the internet, I found two of these photos in a PaJaMa exhibit, dated 1943 and identifying the subject as dancer/choreographer John Butler (1918-1993). In the early 1940’s, he earned money working as an art model while studying dance with both Martha Graham and George Balanchine.
He was also photographed by George Platt Lynes:
Butler danced on Broadway as Dream Curly in the original production of Oklahoma! He appeared in a string of Broadway musicals throughout the 1940’s including Hollywood Pinafore, Inside U.S.A. and On The Town, where he dated cast mate Cris Alexander.
He began to transition into choreography in the late 1940’s. The combined influences of Balanchine and Graham gave his work unique elements of classical ballet as well as modern dance. He was one of the first to create works specifically for television, which was still considered a new and inferior medium. He choreographed variety show segments (The Ed Sullivan Show, The Kate Smith Show) as well as for Omnibus and full-length ballets and operas. His 1951 staging of Amahl and the Night Visitors was recreated annually for the following nine NBC holiday specials.
Life Magazine profiled Butler in the April 25, 1955 issue:
In addition to his work choreographing for Broadway and television, Butler founded The John Butler Dance Company in 1955. It was later renamed American Dance Theater and toured Europe until it disbanded in 1961.
His most celebrated work was the staging of Carmina Burana (1959) for New York City Opera, which has been revived with over 30 companies.
In 1961 he met celebrated interior designer Melvin Dwork, who has called Butler “the love of my life.” They remained companions and friends until Butler’s death in 1993. Dwork was instrumental in preserving Butler’s dance legacy.
As he matured, Butler’s voluminous eyebrows became something of a trademark of his appearance. He appears to have embraced this with a level of zeal that surely inspired George Whipple.
Over the next several decades, Butler continued to choreograph throughout the U.S. and around the world. The Hague, Munich, Sydney, Spoleto, Montreal, and Warsaw were part of his regular rotation with occasional work in Italy and South America. Back in New York City he choreographed Medea, the first dance for Mikhail Baryshnikov after his defection to the West.
In 1993, author Camille Hardy interviewed John Butler for Dance Magazine shortly before his death. As they sat in his Upper East Side apartment, surrounded by his artwork collection and the walls lined with the works of Warhol, Avedon and Lynes, he said “I’ve done everything in my life I ever wanted to do.”
In the profile Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack, I wrote about his relationship with photographer George Platt Lynes, which came to an end in the Fall of 1948. Just 10 days after Jack moved out of the apartment, another former military man named Chuck Howard moved in as Lynes’ next boyfriend.
Charles “Chuck” Howard was born in Cochran, Georgia on March 4, 1927. After graduating from high school during World War II, he joined the Naval Air Force and became a tail gunner. While stationed in Miami Beach, he met New York artist Bernard Perlin and the two would “reconnect” whenever Chuck was in New York City. After the war, Howard studied fashion in France on the G.I. Bill before moving back to NYC to live with the artist. When Perlin was offered a residency in Rome, he threw himself a farewell party, and Chuck was introduced to Lynes.
Three sketches of Chuck Howard by Bernard Perlin
“Another twenty-one-year-old has moved in on me bag and baggage, almost without being invited..” Lynes wrote in a letter to his friend, author Katherine Anne Porter.
Howard was viewed favorably by Lynes’ friends and was said to have a grounding effect on the photographer. The relationship lasted for just over two years.
Although Howard had previously posed for Bernard Perlin, it was after his introduction to Lynes and his circle of friends that he became a favorite model for the artists. He posed for George Tooker, sculptor John LaFarge, and Jared French, with whom he also had a physical relationship.
Paul Cadmus also sketched him several times and used him as the model for the central figure in his painting Architect (1950).
When Lynes’ nude photography became more widely exhibited decades after his death, photos of Chuck Howard were among the most celebrated. Howard downplayed the photos, describing his work modeling for Lynes as “primarily lighting tests.” Collectors disagree.
Chuck Howard also had a film career of sorts when he participated in Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s famous studies, performing sexual acts with poet Glenway Wescott in front of the researchers’ movie camera. Howard later remarked; “It wasn’t Hollywood.”
Lynes and Howard parted ways in January, 1951. “Chuck has decided to go off and live by himself;” Lynes wrote to his mother. “I shall miss him but I don’t disapprove… I’m afraid that my influence is too often all-pervading, all-inclusive.”
In an earlier blog post on Ted Starkowski, I mentioned that he and Chuck then embarked on what author David Leddick described as “a tempestuous affair.” The couple were photographed together on Fire Island while vacationing with Paul Cadmus, Jared and Margaret French: aka The PaJaMa Collective.
Act II: Chuck Howard’s career in the fashion industry began to flourish in the late 1950’s when he sketched for several designers, including Bill Blass. He worked for David Crystal before moving on to Anne Klein’s Junior Sophisticates. In 1965, he joined Townley, working his way up to become chief designer and head of business operations. The company was then renamed Chuck Howard, Inc. His design style was noted for its sense of humor with sporty, colorful coats, tunics, pants and jersey shirts.
Around this time, a Parsons student named Donna Karan began working for Howard and he eventually introduced her to Anne Klein.
After Klein’s death in 1974, Donna Karan succeeded her as designer for the Anne Klein studio. Chuck Howard then closed his company and became a designer and creative coordinator there, where he was responsible for several of its collections. He departed with fellow designer Peter Wrigley in 1976 to form their own company.
Act III: In 1980, after his departure from the fashion industry, Chuck Howard opened his self-named restaurant on Restaurant Row at 355 W 46th St. Assisting him in this next chapter was his partner Edward Vaughan. A young Anthony Bourdain headed up the back of the house. While several sources call the restaurant successful, a review from the Daily News suggested that it wasn’t destined to last. By the end of 1982, the restaurant had closed.
The couple retired to the island of Saba in the Netherlands Antilles where they lived for several years before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
On October 5, 2002, Chuck Howard died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 75 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was survived by his long time partner Edward Vaughan.
Chuck Howard, ca 1950 / 1997
Chuck Howard’s life had a similar trajectory as fellow Lynes paramour Randy Jack: A WWII military man who became a artists’ muse before moving on to the world of fashion and finally ending as a restaurateur. In their twilight years, both enjoyed a bit of recognition for the work they inspired in some of the great American artists of the 20th century.
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 internetburst 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.
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.
Snopes has 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 adance 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.
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?
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 Shack“. One 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 dittyis 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.
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.
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)
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 hitis 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 band. They were messy, subversive 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 Hairsprayand Cry Baby, buthave never seen Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble.
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 tellthe truth, but rather to protect their own livelihood. Case in point: The Village People, Inc. When faced with anti-gay protests for a gig in Jamaicaback in 1998, their 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 hearitwafting over the airwaves at the supermarket or when you are in line at the bank. I 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 woogiewoogie.
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 Popmagazine in 2019. “It’s about when your spirit leaves your body and you can just roam.”
I once heard Robert Prion described as “The Ed Wood of gay porn.” It makes a great punchline, but it’s not quite true. Prion was 69 years old when he passed away on March 28th at his home in Woodbridge, New Jersey. It’s a house that porn fans are well acquainted with, as he filmed over 70 full-length adult films there over the past 40 years.
Prion is survived by his lifelong partner, who appeared in his films under the name Jay Richards.
Robert Prion was born on July 1, 1952 and lived in Woodbridge his entire life. A 1970 graduate of Woodbridge High School, Mr. Prion was employed for many years in the meat department (how fitting!) at Foodtown.
In 1982 Prion released The Boys From New Jersey, the first of 12 films produced throughout the decade. The spirited performances of his skinny and hung cast shone through the muddy fidelity of the VHS home video recording. The films were also elevated by their kickass soundtracks featuring the songs of Depeche Mode, Erasure, New Order and other new wave hits of the day – copyrights be damned. There was plenty of spandex, stone washed high-rise jeans, crop-tops and mullets. Lots and lots of mullets. These movies act as a time capsule of 1980’s mall culture – you can almost smell the Drakkar Noir when you watch them.
Prion shot scenes in every room of his house, from the low-ceilinged basement to the vaulted attic. Additionally, he filmed in another structure on the property that appeared to be either an elaborate children’s playhouse or a bungalow for little people. Coupled with low camera angles, his performers always seemed to be in danger of hitting their heads in the claustrophobic spaces.
And yes, there was the pool area – a New Jersey approximation of the traditional California porn set, although the sun never seemed to shine on Prion’s pool and the tiki cabana appeared to be a season away from collapse.
Prion was aware of his place in the porn world: his studio was called New Jersey Trash.
His motto seemed to be “more is more.” Rather than the traditional porn layout of 4 or 5 sex scenes per feature-length film, Prion would cram in 7 to 9 – often starting off with a quick group oral scene before the end of the opening credits.
Bijou Video Catalogue Ads for Suckulent and Men Who Dare (1987)
Whether or not his performers identified as straight, they put that aside when the cameras were rolling and gave performances that (for the most part) were far above average. It is the quality (and quantity) of these scenes that kept fans coming back for more, despite low production values and questionable design tastes. Many of the models appeared in over a dozen Prion films, indicating that they were treated favorably and/or well compensated.
Prion retired from performing in front of the camera by the mid-1990’s, but his partner Jay Richards continued delivering versatile, if perfunctory, performances in all 70+ Prion films.
In January 1995, Prion formed his own production company, Galaxy Pictures. His first film for the new company was Men Matter Most. With the advent of DVDs, Prion repackaged and re-released his earlier films. With those and subsequent releases, he would take advantage of the “multiple angles” DVD feature to include whole other bonus sex scenes. Unfortunately, these “easter eggs” are now inaccessible with today’s DVD viewing practices.
His biggest discovery was Rick Thomas, whose real-life older brother Dane also appeared in a handful of Prion films. They were among his stable of stars who always brought their “A” game, including Eric Carter, Vincent DeMarco, Bryon Rogers, Antonio Vegas, Jon Dante, Alex Turner, Wicked, Cody Marshall, Titan, and Chris Collins, aka “The Mystery Stud” who appeared in over a dozen films and never took off his sunglasses.
Prion benefited from his close proximity to New York City. Big name adult film stars making personal appearances in the city could hop on New Jersey Transit and earn some extra cash for a day’s work. Some porn stars who ducked through the low Prion doors: Jon King,Joey Stefano, Karl Thomas, Marc Andrews, Terry DeCarlo, Eric Stone, Todd Stevens, Rick Pantera, David Grant, Storm, David Thompson, Kevin Alexander, Jason Nikas, Scott Matthews, Ryan Raz, Scott Spears, Brandon Aquilar, Tommy DeLuca, Chris Stone, Kurt Morgan and Aaron Lawrence.
Terry DeCarlo on the old Christopher Street Pier in Put It Where It Counts (1993)
Prion’s dizzying output of films began to slow after 25 years although he continued to repackage and re-release older titles in online platforms, where many are still available for viewing. His last movie was released in 2014. See below for a list of all his films.
Robert Prion Films (including compilations):
The Boys of New Jersey: 1982
Friends Are Best: 1983
Men Grip Tighter: 1983
Cum and Get It: 1984
Boys Do It Better: 1984
Guy’s Just Can’t Stop: 1985
The Young Stimulators: 1985
The Wild Guys: 1986
Men Who Dare: 1987
Raw Impulse: 1989
Ultimate Desires: 1989
Powerdrive 500: 1990
X-Posed Images-The Naked Truth: 1990
Untamed Seductions: 1991
Hidden Instincts: 1992
Total Impact: 1992
19 Good Men: 1993
It’s Raining Dicks: 1993
Solid Intake: 1993
Uncle Prion & His Young Men: The Best Of Robert Prion: 1993
Up Close & Sexual: The Best Of Robert Prion 2: 1993
What A Man’s Gotta Do: 1994
Put It Where It Counts: 1994
Men Matter Most: 1995
Pushing The Limit: 1995
Power Grip: 1995
Everything A Man Wants: 1995
Point Of Entry: 1996
Natural Response: 1996
Whatever It Takes: 1996
Unexpected Persuasion: 1996
Drive Shaft: 1997
Every Man’s Desire: 1997
Can’t Say No: 1997
Nothing Else Matters:1997
Don’t Hold Back:1997
Stop At Nothing: 1998
You’ve Got The Touch: 1998
Make It Count: 1998
One Way Or Another: 1998
Any Way I Can: 1999
Let’s See What Happens: 1999
Aim To Please: 1999
What Guys Want: 1999
Best of Robert Prion 1 – Give and Take: 2000
Best of Robert Prion 2 – Outdoor Seductions: 2000
Best of Robert Prion 3 – Three In The Sack: 2000
Best of Robert Prion 4 – Mix and Match: 2000
Best of Robert Prion 5 – Video Virgins: 2000
Best of Robert Prion 6 – Superstars: 2000
Going Too Far: 2000
Every Inch Of Him: 2000
If You Dare: 2000
So That’s How You Want It: 2000
One Step Further: 2000
Don’t Stop There: 2001
Qualified To Satisfy: 2001
I Want More: 2001
Never Stop The Urge: 2001
I’m Your Guy: 2001
Over The Edge: 2002
Take It All: 2002
Doin’ The Nasty: 2003
Return The Favor: 2003
Teasin’ N’ Pleasin’: 2004
From Every Direction:2004
Access All Areas: 2005
Standing Firm: 2006
All Men Should: 2006
Back Door Advances: 2007
Prion’s 69 More To Cum aka That Sucks: 2007
Can I See It?: 2008
It’s Only Natural… Daddy: 2014
We extend our condolences to Jay Richards and the friends and family of Robert Prion.
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.”
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.
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.”