Thursday, December 21, 2017

I’m Sorry I’m Angry, Too

As Donald Trump (I will never call him “President”) prepares to sign the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the top 1% in the history of the United States, I must apologize.
I’m sorry if I seem a little angry. I’m sorry if all my Facebook posts seem to be political. I’m sorry if I seem to have lost my sense of humor about politics (or anything else).
I was just trying to keep people informed. I was still laboring under the delusion that I lived in a democracy, a place where politicians actually gave a shit about what their constituents thought.
But a system where Congress consistently votes against the will of its citizens is not a democracy. And it’s not a democracy because it’s been gerrymandered to the point where there are no consequences for their actions.
I don’t find anything about Trump “cute” or “funny” or “amusing.” I’m grateful for SNL and Alec Baldwin and Bill Maher. I think Trump has led to some of SNL’s best writing ever (at least for their cold open; I wish I could say that for the rest of their show). I guess when you don’t have to worry about your basic needs being met, you have room to find the humor in these things.
But I don’t.
So know this (and this is addressed to Trump and the Republican Party): I will not buy your bullshit for one second and I will do everything in my power to bring you down.
The irony of Trump signing a bill right before Christmas that will raise taxes for most Americans —all so the richest 1% can get a tax break—is breathtaking. You make a mockery of public service. You degrade the offices of the presidency and Congress, as well as the standing of the United States around the world.
I will never give you (Trump) the only thing that you have ever wanted. Attention. Recognition. Validation.
You have always been and will always be nothing more than a vulgar and ignorant con man.
If I see you on a TV set, I will not look. I refuse to listen to your voice, because I know before the words even leave your lips that everything you say is a lie.
The photo today on the front page of the New York Times, with you and your Republican cronies posed on the steps of the White House like you’re the Radio City Rockettes, to brag about what you’ve just done, disgusts me.
And that goes for you so-called “moderate” Republicans, too, the so-called “voices of reason” who betrayed us.
I’m talking to you, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake—looting the U.S. Treasury on your way out the door. I will not listen to your grandstanding speeches on the floor of Congress, which cover how you personally profit from this bill. I will not buy your inevitable memoirs explaining how great you are, as you embark on your PR tour.
I will hound you at every public appearance, plane trip and supermarket line. You will not know a moment’s peace.
Lisa Murkowski: You will have to explain to the citizens of Alaska why you allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Susan Collins: You will have to explain to the citizens of Maine why you voted for this bill, even though you didn’t get the things you asked for.
Both your careers are over.
As for John McCain, you will have to make your own peace with destroying your legacy. I wish you luck.
As far as I’m concerned, this abuse of power ends now.
The only thing this bill will accomplish is the consignment of the Republican Party—finally!—to the dustbin or history, where it rightfully belongs.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars

 Lately, I’ve been wondering why I have no interest in the music that’s being made today. Is it because most of today’s music is being made by and for 19-year-old girls (I hesitate to call them women) or is there some other reason?
Fortunately, David Hepworth has explained it all for me (and you) in his cleverly written and endlessly fascinating new book, Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars.
To put it simply: there are no more rock stars.
I had already gathered as much when I recently went to see a show of rock star photographs by Michael Zagaris at the Milk Gallery in New York City. It suddenly dawned on me as I looked at pictures of Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, David Bowie and others: I had lived through the last era of rock stars!
Why aren’t there any more rock stars, you may ask? Well, basically, it comes down to two words: the Internet—that great destroyer of all things mysterious. And what is a rock star without mystery?
Dead, that’s what.
There have also been many changes in the music industry and in technology that have aided and abetted this process. With our new abundance of entertainment choices, suddenly mere pop stars aren’t so special anymore. In other words, if everyone is special, no one is special.
Hepworth traces the history of rock stars from 1955 to 1995, from the first rock star (Little Richard) to the last (Kurt Cobain). Along the way, he describes what was happening, musically and culturally, every year. (There’s also a great playlist at the end of every chapter, listing what songs/albums were popular that year.)
But what really makes this book better than most rock star biographies, is the cleverness of the writing. My favorite line may be his description of Madonna: “Madonna is a drama queen who achieves her full height only when bristling with indignation.”
Catty, but true!
Nevertheless, you may leave this book with a sense of sadness, much as I experienced when I watched The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special last night. You see, when I was growing up, I took Carol Burnett (and rock stars) for granted, never imagining that there would come a day when they would no longer exist. But the fact is, there will never be another Carol Burnett Show because a) there will never be another Carol Burnett and b) a variety show like hers would be too expensive to produce. (Bob Mackie used to design 65 costumes for her show every week!)
Similarly, there will never be another rock star because…well, read this book.
It may be the definitive last word on rock stars.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Richard Hambleton: Shadowman

On the subject of “great artists are not always great human beings,” I went to see the documentary Shadowman about the artist Richard Hambleton last night at the beautifully renovated Quad Cinema.
If you were in New York City in the early ’80s, you could not have missed Hambleton’s “shadow” paintings, quickly dashed off silhouettes that seemed to creep up on you out of nowhere. (His first project was actually his “Mass Murder” series that resembled the police department chalk outlines of murder victims.) These paintings are remarkable for their power to suggest something with just a few strokes, as were his subsequent paintings based on the Marlboro Man and rodeo riders.
At the height of his “shadow” paintings, he dropped out of the New York art scene and started painting landscapes and seascapes that were out of step with the graffiti and street art that were popular in New York City and for which he was known. It’s hard to describe how beautiful these paintings are. Someone in the film compared them to the landscapes of Turner, but even that doesn’t do them justice.
Eventually, Hambleton is rediscovered by two art dealers (including the socialite Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld) and is feted with two large shows, studded with models and movie stars. His paintings eventually sell for several hundred thousand dollars.
The flip side of this success story is Hambleton’s copious drug use and schizophrenic personality. (I know someone who lived in his Lower East Side building and she described it as a living nightmare.)
It’s hard not to read this movie as a commentary on mortality, as we see the beautiful, vibrant young Hambleton ravaged by skin cancer and scoliosis. The movie is both tragic and heroic, in that Hambleton keeps painting, right up until his death.
During a Q&A after the movie, the film’s director posited that Hambleton had “mental health issues” and, according to some psychiatrist friends, fit the profile of someone who had been abused as a child, because of the way he drew people to him and then pushed them away.
But I think Penny Arcade puts it best in the movie when she says that some artists (she mentions Van Gogh as another example) we “just can’t understand.”
Hambleton passed away on October 29, just three days before the “Club 57” show at MoMA, which features one of his paintings.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Call Me by Your Name: Better Than Porn?

Call Me By Your Name, the new cinematic gay love story by director Luca Guadagnino, belongs to a genre that might be called “European vacation porn.” This is a genre where some character is lucky enough to have a summer home or hideaway in some exotic European location (in this case northern Italy) and it includes Guadagnino’s previous film, A Bigger Splash, as well as the underrated Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie travelogue By the Sea (which now reads like a documentary about their divorce), both of which were filmed in locations so exotic, I don’t even know where they are. (See also: Nancy Meyers/real estate porn.)
It may also be the beginning of another genre: a gay love story where neither character is murdered at the end (Brokeback Mountain) or commits suicide (virtually every gay film before Brokeback Mountain). There is a plot twist at the end, which I won’t reveal here, but it’s not fatal.
There was some controversy before this movie came out about the difference in age between the two characters (17 and 24 in the book upon which the movie is based and played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer—who is closer to 30—in the movie), but to me the bigger source of controversy is the idea that a Greek god like Hammer would be attracted to what could most charitably described as the “gay nerd” played by Chalamet. Maybe it’s because, to crib a line from Little Britain, they’re the only gays in the village. (I could write a separate essay on Hammer’s beauty—the square chin, the Robert Redford-thick blond hair, but I digress).
It’s a testament to Chalamet’s and Hammer’s acting ability that they make this work. It also helps that Chalamet’s character is so young and horny, he’s apparently attracted to women, as well (and women are also drawn to both characters—no need to explain in Hammer’s case).
The high point of this movie for me was when Hammer and Chalamet wander into an outdoor party and the DJ plays The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way.” I’ve always loved this song, far and away the Furs’ best (any one of whose parts—xylophone, keyboard, drums, vocal—are among the best examples of those parts ever recorded), but when this song came over the movie theater’s speakers, my head damn near exploded! When I came home, I not only played this song about a hundred times in a row, it sent me into an ’80s music K-hole!
Guadagnino pulled off a similar feat in Splash, when Ray Fiennes played the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.” It wasn’t just the music, it was the characters’ sheer joy (Fiennes in Splash, Hammer and Chalamet in Name) in dancing to it. Clearly, Guadagnino is a director who understands the power of a song to lift a movie into the stratosphere.
With Name and Splash, Guadagnino catapults into the front ranks of movie directors (and, parenthetically, the Psychedelic Furs leap into the pantheon of great rock bands).
Nevertheless, the movie winds up being somehow less than the sum of its parts. My expectations were impossibly high after Splash and, given the level of talent involved—in addition to Guadagnino, there's screenwriter James Ivory (Maurice)—I don’t know what I was expecting.
But the great thing about this movie—what makes it better than porn—is that by not being graphic, it forces your imagination to do the extra work and, therefore, remains in your mind much longer.
Unfortunately, no matter how many times I played “Love My Way,” I still couldn’t get Armie Hammer to magically appear in my apartment.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Born to Write

I just finished reading Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run. I thought it was fascinating and really well-written--and I'm not even a fan (although I've always respected him and his work).
I'm always fascinated by the stories of creative people, especially those who are self-taught. (Bob Dylan and Keith Richards also fall into this category, and I've read their autobiographies, as well.)
Springsteen's description of his father was particularly haunting because he reminded me so much of my own: distant, drinking, sitting silently at the kitchen table.
Springsteen also talks about his battle with depression, and this is both frightening and humbling.
There are many great road stories along the way. One that particularly stands out is his first trip to California. Because there wasn't enough room in his truck, he was forced to travel with another member of his band locked in a storage box on the truck’s flatbed, with only a bottle to urinate in between them. The claustrophobia alone would have killed me, but they were going over the Rocky Mountains! (It's amazing how much you can endure in your late teens/early twenties!)
If you can't afford to see Bruce on Broadway, this might be the next best thing.
That and listening to his music, of course.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Nostalgia of Mudd

My memories of the Mudd Club (which I apparently didn’t start frequenting until after it was no longer cool) are as follows: 1. The bartender refusing to wait on me because I was so young and naïve, I didn’t know you were supposed to tip him. 2. Peering over the DJ booth to find out who was singing what I thought was one of the greatest pop songs I’d ever heard. (It was the Go-Go’s singing “Our Lips Are Sealed.”) 3. Entering a DJ contest whose winner was—to my knowledge--never announced. (I figured they were just trying to fill the dj slot for the night.) 4. Seeing Men Without Hats before “Safety Dance” became a huge international hit. (I also saw the Bush Tetras there, when their “Too Many Creeps” was big in the clubs.)
Richard Boch remembers considerably more, which is quite remarkable considering the amount of drugs he consumed.
His great new book, The Mudd Club, is both a celebration and an elegy. It takes us back to a time before cell phones and the Internet, when you could still rent a Tribeca loft for a few hundred dollars, and when lower Broadway was a deserted no man’s land rather the pedestrian-clogged shopping mall it is today.
As Boch himself is the first to admit, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. A friend of his who worked at the Soho Weekly News referred him to Mudd Club owner Steve Mass because she said he “knew everyone.”
And while being a doorman might seem like a stultifyingly boring job (or premise for a book), Boch points out that being the doorman at the Mudd Club gave him the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people in New York.
One of the amazing things about this book is the sheer level of detail in Boch’s recollections. You have to wonder, “Did he keep a diary?” If you’ve never been to the Mudd Club—or even if you have—this book will give you the sensation that, as the old TV show used to say, “you are there.”
What made the Mudd Club special was the sense that anything could happen there. You could see the Psychedelic Furs, Talking Heads, or B-52s there one night and some obscure local performance artist the next, to say nothing of the various theme parties that took place. (“Soul Night” and “Rock ’n’ Roll Funeral” are just two stand-outs described in this book.)
To read this book is to realize just how far New York (and by New York, I mean  Manhattan) has fallen from its creative peak.
The Mudd Club adds to an important body of work (including such books as Tim Lawrence’s Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, Martin Belk’s Dirty, Broken Punks and, dare I say, my own New York Trilogy) documenting New York’s club scene in the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s—a unique period that will never happen again.
Welcome to the club, Richard.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why I Hate Summer Streets

I’m reading a book right now called Vanishing New York by Jeremiah Moss. It talks about how Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” was applied to New York City. The shock doctrine is when a disaster (either natural or man-made) is used to effect large-scale economic transformation. In New York, this was done through eminent domain. Large swaths of the city (Times Square, the area around the High Line, Hudson Yards) were declared “blight” and people were forced to move out of their homes and businesses.
A similar phenomenon is happening with Summer Streets. That’s the phenomenon of large swaths of the city being, essentially, sold to large corporations for the purposes of corporate branding. We already have Citibikes, perhaps the largest corporate branding effort this city has ever seen. Summer Streets takes this to another level by closing down a large section of the city, ostensibly so people can ride bicycles and engage in other activities without the presence of vehicular traffic but, all along the way, there are booths sponsored by various companies (Crunch gym, REI sporting goods, etc.) that are there to sell you something.
The other thing about Summer Streets that gets on my nerves is part of a larger phenomenon that’s happening in society in general. In today’s world of social media and reality TV, no one just does anything anymore. It’s not sufficient to just do anything anymore. One must be seen doing it.
Thus, it’s not enough for Summer Streets to just have thousands of New Yorkers riding their bikes down Park Avenue. (I would have no problem with that.) They must be seen riding their bikes down Park Avenue. Therefore, there are “volunteers” positioned at various points to cheer them on and the bikers themselves need to “woohoo,” high-five each other and take selfies along the way. (If a tree falls in a forest and it didn’t take a selfie, did it really fall?)
Summer Streets was here.

My street, in particular (I won’t divulge its name), has become Ground Zero for every psycho with a crackpot idea. So, for Summer Streets, I’ve had a rock climbing wall outside my bedroom window that was so close I could touch it. I also had a slide that was about two stories tall, and exercises classes conducted in front of my building complete with those annoying “instructors” (whose screeching I can’t tolerate even when it takes place inside a gym) and loudspeakers blaring some godawful “music” so that people in New Jersey can hear that there are people on my street exercising.
As with eminent domain, no one in my neighborhood was consulted about whether or not they actually wanted this on their street. It was just presented as a fait accompli. One day, several years ago, I woke up and there was a rock climbing wall outside my bedroom window. (They actually start setting up around 1am, so I get no sleep the night before, as well.)
I don’t care what anyone does as long as I don’t hear it. But in today’s selfie-obsessed world, where people miss entire rock concerts because they’re too busy filming them, that is no longer possible.
Summer Streets is the shock doctrine of public recreation. You may not want to participate in it yourself but, goddamnit, you’re going to watch other people participate and you’re going to like it!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lining Up to Be Stupid

Yesterday I was awakened by the sound of screaming coming from outside my building. It sounded like either a rock concert or a mass shooting, so I looked out my window, but I couldn’t see anything. When I left my building to buy a newspaper, my path was blocked by a line of people, mostly teenagers and children, some with their parents. I asked them what was going on and some teenage girl helpfully told me, “Logan Paul.” “I have no idea who that is,” I said, rolling my eyes, even though it sounded like the name of a gay porn star. When I got back to my apartment, I Googled him and found out that he was some kind of “Internet celebrity” who was opening up a “pop-up shop” and on his Twitter feed was given to making such pronouncements as “New York is going to be next level!” “Next level what?” I thought. “Absurd?”
Apparently, opening up a pop-up shop is now on the same level as curing cancer.
All of this says some very disturbing things about our society.
One is the whole notion of “Internet celebrity.” Andy Warhol’s famous dictum, “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” has long since lost its power to shock. Now it’s more like, “everyone will be famous for one nanosecond” because that’s the length of the average attention span these days. Internet has killed not only the radio star, but also the TV star, the movie star and, as I once sang, the gay cruising bar1.
All of this may seem like a tempest in a teapot. I mean, after all, what harm has this guy done? How is this any different from, say, teenage girls from another era screaming about The Beatles? Well, let’s see… The Beatles recorded the greatest body of work in pop music history and this guy did what exactly?
But it doesn’t even make a difference because fame is its own raison d’etre and, once you’re famous, it doesn’t even matter why. How many people remember (or care) that Kim Kardashian was initially famous for appearing in a sex tape? (Kim has her own retail store in my neighborhood, by the way, one that’s been open for several years now. Take that, Logan Paul!)
And a reality TV star is now our president!
Nowadays, anyone who makes a funny video or has their picture randomly wind up on the Internet is offered movie deals and commercial endorsements and is then forgotten about 15 minutes later. (I’m looking at you, Chewbacca Mom.)
The other disturbing thing is what this says about retail, the economy and New York City in general.
The whole notion of a “pop-up shop” is disturbing to me because it indicates that retailers can’t even commit to a long-term lease anymore, just the way that employers (including my former employer) can’t commit to hiring someone long-term.
Then there’s what it says about New York City itself. New York has become one big three-dimensional advertisement where it’s no longer even about selling merchandise but establishing a presence for your “brand.” This has led to the phenomenon of “high-rent blight,” where storefronts in some of New York’s most expensive neighborhoods have remained empty while landlords wait for a chain store to sign the lease.
The third thing that’s disturbing is the mere fact of people waiting on line for something as silly as an Internet celebrity. But on any given day, you can see several of these lines in my neighborhood: people waiting to buy cronuts, people waiting to buy sneakers, people waiting to buy poké bowls. Is this really how you want to be spending your time?
I guess people are desperate for something, anything, to fill their spiritual emptiness and the easiest way to do that seems to be by buying something. (I keep thinking of the Clash song, “I’m All Lost in Your Supermarket.”)
One of my Facebook friends commented about the people on this line, “Hey, at least they didn’t vote for Trump” and he was right. They were too young to vote for Trump.
But Trump has lowered the bar for the presidency so much that the fact that The Rock is now rumored to be running for president seems like an improvement. (Kid Rock’s run for the Senate, on the other hand, not so much.)
But, hey, what do I know? I’m just an old man.
Now where can I get one of those Logan Paul T-shirts?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer in the City

This summer in New York City is starting to resemble a horror movie—and it’s only one day old!
Subway service has reached an all-time low point. Recently, there was a story about an F train that got stuck for 40 minutes between West Fourth Street and Broadway/Lafayette (the route I happen to take home from work every night), with passengers literally trying to claw the doors open in order to escape. Yesterday, I read about a subway passenger who started walking on the tracks in order to get away from a delayed train. This makes The Taking of Pelham One Two Three look like a joy ride.
Also yesterday, my partner went shopping for jeans at JC Penney and he saw a rat in the store. Not a mouse, a rat. And I’m not talking about the sales help.
Now, in addition to the garbage trucks waking me up at night and the delivery trucks idling on my street in the morning (despite of the fact that there’s no parking on my street because it’s a snow emergency route—that’s right, I’m like Diana Fucking Ross!), there’s New York’s newest (and loudest) nuisance: garbage recycling trucks.

Now, I’m all in favor of recycling, but these trucks are so noisy, my building actually shakes while they’re doing their dirty (no pun) deed. (OK, I also live in a shitty building.)
I’ve tried complaining to the company, Clean Air Group, and they just stonewall and say they’re not breaking any laws and they have a right to be there. (I have a feeling they either get a lot of complaints or they’re just really good at being belligerent.) For the record, their number is 718-746-1497, but chances are their office won’t be open if you call them when they’re actually creating a disturbance.
I’ve complained to my City Council member, the useless Margaret Chin (who somehow has remained in office despite never venturing north of Chinatown and having a track record that makes Trump look like an overachiever) and I’ve gotten the same response: they’re not breaking any law, so there’s nothing they can do. Her number is 212-788-7259, but chances are you’ll get her voicemail.
I’ve even tried filing a complaint with the ridiculously named Department of Environmental Protection. If 911 is a joke, 311 is hysterical. It’s as if Scott Pruitt had drilled down to the city level and rendered them as useless as the E.P.A. You can also fill out a complaint on their website, but you won’t get any response.
Not surprisingly, the main client of this recycling truck is La Esquina, a fake “celebrity restaurant” in a neighborhood full of them. (The recently closed Mexican Radio had better food and was a better neighbor.) I tried complaining to the manager on duty and was told that the owner was “out of town.”
Of course. These carpetbagging restaurant owners never actually live in the actual neighborhoods they’re destroying. (Or, if they do, they live in a luxury co-op with soundproof windows.)
Speaking of which, since I’ve been working nights, I’ve been amazed by the sheer amount of money sluicing through my neighborhood during the day. Where does it all come from?
Now people are lining up at this new place, The Pokéspot, which serves “poké”: basically a salad bowl with grain in it. What genius invented this idea?

And across the street, there’s Chef's Club Counter which, as far as I can tell (since I won’t actually set foot inside the hallowed space that housed Spring Street Natural for 40 years), is “designer chef” food served cafeteria style, so you pay more but get less—kind of like Trumpcare. 
And next door, they’ve opened a restaurant that serves ice cream and popcorn in a carnival-like setting. Seriously? Is this a restaurant or some conceptual art piece?

Oh, well.
I guess when you’re living on mommy and daddy’s money, New York is just one big amusement park.
Happy summer!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Gay Gossip/Gay History: The Deliciously Gossipy Books of Robert Hofler

I just spent the last few weeks living in a world of wild parties and carefree sex courtesy of three books by Robert Hofler: Money, Murder and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts; Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock ’N’ Roll starring the Fabulous Allan Carr and Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange—How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos.
It all began with an excerpt from Dominick Dunne in The Daily Beast, which showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. The excerpt dealt with the filming of the Elizabeth Taylor film Ash Wednesday in Rome, when Liz was in the midst of her relationship with Richard Burton. In addition to her frequently being late for her call time (and drunk), the excerpt also detailed her conversation with her co-star, Helmut Berger, about being constipated. We're also told that Burton was jealous of the handsome (and gay) Berger, who at the time was having an affair with director Luchino Visconti.
Dunne was the producer of Ash Wednesday, but he's probably most famous for being a writer for Vanity Fair, as well as the author of several novels.
Dunne's specialty was true crime stories, and this was probably due the murder of his daughter, actress Dominique Dunne (Poltergeist), by her boyfriend and Dunne's subsequent disillusionment with the outcome of the murder trial. (Her boyfriend wound up spending only a few years in prison.) Dunne may have led a charmed life career-wise, but his personal life was beset by tragedy. In addition to his daughter's murder, his wealthy and beautiful wife eventually developed MS.
That all may sound like a downer (and it is), but there's plenty of excitement in this book as well. Dunne would go on to write about two of the most notorious murder trials of the 20th century: O.J. Simpson and the Menendez Brothers (the former, the subject of a recent TV series and the latter about to be.)
Before that, we see Dunne's rise from stage manager at NBC to movie producer, to his career at Vanity Fair and as a novelist. There's also some literary gossip about his strained relationship with his brother and sister-in-law, the writers John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion.
Oh yeah, and Dunne was also gay (despite having a wife and three children). There's one great story about Dunne inviting a hustler to his New York apartment and barely escaping with his life. That's probably the most extreme example of the struggles Dunne went through in coming to terms with his sexuality.

Then there's Allan Carr, who never made any bones about his sexuality, but struggled with his weight throughout his life. Carr is best known as the producer of the movies Grease and Can't Stop the Music (which featured The Village People and a pre-transition Bruce Jenner) and the Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles. Carr was perhaps equally well-known for his wild parties and some of the best sections of Allan Carr describe these parties, as well as his four homes in Beverly Hills, Malibu, New York, and Hawaii. (His Beverly Hills home had a disco in the basement!). I also enjoyed the many behind-the-scenes showbiz stories, like that of a 30-year-old Harvey Fierstein being invited in his down jacket held together with duct tape to Carr's St. Moritz Hotel penthouse to work on La Cage with Jerry Herman and Arthur Laurents.

Sexplosion deals with the sexual revolution in movies, theater, books and TV between 1968 and 1973, a period I think of as a golden age in American culture. Hofler shows us the evolution of such cultural (and sexual) landmarks as the films Midnight Cowboy, Carnal Knowledge, Women in Love, Last Tango in Paris, and Deep Throat; the plays The Boys in the Band, Oh! Calcutta! and Hair; the books Portnoy's Complaint, Couples, Myra Breckenridge and Fear of Flying and the TV shows All in the Family and An American Family. What's remarkable is how many of the artists involved in these projects were gay (Midnight Cowboy director John Schlesinger, The Boys in the Band playwright Mart Crowley, Women in Love screenwriter Larry Kramer, Hair creators Gerome Ragni and James Rado, Myra Breckenridge author Gore Vidal and American Family's Lance Loud.) What's also remarkable is how shocking such things as nudity (especially male nudity) and homosexuality were back then and how strange it now seems that people (including celebrities like Jackie Onassis) once watched pornography in movie theaters!
In spite of the now wide availability of pornography on the Internet (and, before that, on video), I'm struck by the feeling that being an adult from 1968 to 1973 was much more interesting and exciting than it is today.
Perhaps Hofler’s next books can tackle talent manager Sandy Gallin, record industry-turned-movie mogul David Geffen and former Paramount Pictures and Fox TV honcho Barry Diller. Velvet Mafia, anyone?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Gay Bars That Are Gone

515 West 18 Street, former site of The Roxy

Yesterday, I went on a walking tour called Gay Bars That Are Gone, organized by Michael Ryan and Kyle Supley as part of Jane Jacobs Walks1.
We started out at The Roxy2, a huge former disco on West 18 Street. I recounted my story of how once I had gone to see Chaka Khan perform there and she invited some man up on stage to sing with her. That was brave enough of him! But this man had the audacity to criticize Ms. Khan’s singing, to which she replied, “I have perfect pitch, bitch!” (OK, she didn’t actually say “bitch.”) That was the end of him!
There were other shows I saw at Roxy, in addition to going to their regular John Blair Saturday nights, which were probably the preeminent gay dance party of the ’90s. I saw Malcolm McLaren there when the venue was booked by an English woman named Ruza Blue, who promoted hip hop nights there. I saw New Order in concert there when it was called 1018. And I was supposed to see Dee-Lite there when they were at the peak of their popularity (after “Groove Is in the Heart” was released), but they never showed up. Roxy was never really my scene, though, because it catered to what were then known as “Chelsea boys” (i.e., gay men who worked out and generally lived in Chelsea). In fact, Supley even mentioned that Blair had a rating system to determine who got in the door.
I was not surprised.
Then we moved on to The Anvil. Now that was my joint!
Although I was too young and naïve to even know what was going on in the catacomb-like backroom, I was there for New Wave nights every Tuesday (deejayed by Bill Bahlman), which featured performances by a lip-synch artist named Bernard Zette, who later appeared in the film Last Exit to Brooklyn. My former neighbor, actress/comedian/playwright Nora Burns, told about how she was prevented from getting in at a nearby disco called Alex in Wonderland by the doorman and later wound up appearing in a play with him.
On the way to our next stop, we paused around the corner from Little West 12th Street to talk about the notorious Mineshaft. This was a club that was known for its wild sexual exploits and its strict dress code, which was as follows:
Cycle leather & Western gear, levis
Jocks, action ready wear, uniforms,
T shirts, plaid shirts, just plain shirts,
Club overlays, patches, & sweat.

Apparently, such celebrities as Mick Jagger and Elton John were refused entry for not dressing the part.
I only went there once when I was very young and ran out screaming like a frightened schoolgirl (OK, I exaggerate slightly) when some gentleman tried to pick me up and, shaking his hand, I realized it was covered with the same lube that was covering his bare buttocks.
The next stop was Florent, the much-missed French bistro owned by the eccentric Florent Malloret. (There’s an excellent documentary about him called Florent: Queen of the Meat Market3). In addition to their reasonable menu, Florent was probably most famous for its Bastille Day street fair, where the owner would sometimes dress up in drag as Marie Antoinette. They were also known for being very accepting of HIV-positive people at a time when that was a very rare thing. (Florent himself was openly HIV-positive at a time when that was also very rare and would keep a running count of his T-cells on the menu.) There was also a famous nude photograph of HIV-positive people which appeared on the cover of Poz magazine, which was taken in his restaurant.4
Then we continued to Jackson Square (passing the former site of the notorious Hellfire5 and J’s Hangout6 on the way) to talk about a lesbian bar called Sea Colony7, which I’d never heard of. (Perhaps I can be forgiven for that, since they were open in the '50s and '60s and I'm not a lesbian.)
Me talking about watching the season finale of "Dynasty" (where the entire cast gets shot) at Uncle Charlie's.
On to Uncle Charlie’s8, where I talked about the night I watched the season finale of “Dynasty” (in which everyone was shot). Uncle Charlie’s was a chain of gay bars (the other branches were in Midtown, the Upper East Side and the Village). They had a reputation as a “stand and model” (or “S&M” as it was jokingly abbreviated) bar and the customers were generally young and preppy Izod-wearing All-American Boy types (as in the clothing store that used to be on Christopher Street). It was also the site of the first anti-gay terrorist attack in the United States, and the owner was allegedly involved in a murder.
After Splash opened in Chelsea in the early ’90s, all the preppies migrated to Chelsea, which marked the beginning of Chelsea’s reign as the preeminent gay neighborhood of that decade.
Next stop was The Ninth Circle. I was never a big customer there, but apparently it was a very cool place (according to Burns, it had a great jukebox). I know that it’s featured heavily in Brad Gooch’s memoir Smash Cut (it’s where he met his lover, film director Howard Brookner), and it’s where Edward Albee allegedly got the idea for the title of his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.
Further down West 10th Street was the Snake Pit. This bar was a contemporary of the original Stonewall bar, and its history was equally marked by violence. In March 1970, for example, after a police raid, a terrified young Argentine jumped out of a second-floor window and impaled himself on a 14-inch spike while attempting to escape from police custody.9
Walking down Grove Street, we passed what used to be a veritable “piano bar row” of Marie’s Crisis, the original Duplex (later Rose’s Turn) and the Five Oaks. The only one remaining is Marie’s Crisis.
Finally, we stopped in Christopher Street Park10 (now a National Historic Landmark along with the Stonewall) to talk about the Duchess, another lesbian bar which apparently had a lot of fighting outside (again, according to Burns), before adjourning to Julius (another landmark11, and New York’s oldest gay bar) for drinks and dancing.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Mexican Radio

Yesterday, I walked downstairs from my apartment to discover that Mexican Radio, a restaurant next door to my apartment building whose customer I’d been since they’d opened in that location, had closed. This was the latest in a string of small business closures in my neighborhood over the last few years that included a newsstand, a laundromat, two delis and Spring Street Natural restaurant, which had been in its old location for over 30 years.
I wrote an email to Lori Selden, the owner of Mexican Radio, expressing my sadness at their closing, and the owner wrote back with a short history of her experience in the neighborhood, which I found absolutely fascinating. With Ms. Selden’s permission, I thought I’d share some excerpts from our email exchange here.

Good evening, Paul, and thank you for your sweet note.
It has been very sad and painful for us to shut the NYC doors after 21 years, 17+ at the Cleveland Place location.
We struggled for quite some time with excruciatingly high rent and overheads, not to mention just the onerous day-to-day routines that NYC requires.  As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, you know all too well what we’ve been witnessing the last couple of decades and, most recently, the last five years or so.  It happened to SoHo, it’s happening to the entire city—there’s just no way that small independent businesses can survive anymore.
What a different planet it was back then!
I think some our proudest (and saddest) memories are tied up in the fateful day when we all stood outside on Cleveland Place and watched The Towers fall.  As you well know, our guys were all First Responders, many of whom we lost that day.  The neighborhood was shut down with a Checkpoint Charlie on Houston (we would have to walk up there continually to vouch for our staff to come down into the restricted zone) and we felt honored to be able to provide a solid month of food, drink and the comfort of community to those of us living and working where the ashes fell.
When the cleanup was mostly over and the fire station received the gift of that sweet little Dalmatian, it brought a giant smile back into our lives as we all began to regroup and try to move forward.
We are both very grateful to have been in the right place at the right time.

I also asked Selden about 236 Lafayette Street, a building on the northwest corner of Lafayette and Spring Streets that had seemed mysteriously empty for years and which I was surprised some developer hadn’t bought and turned into luxury condos. She talked about that, as well.

Sam Salstein was the owner of 236 Lafayette until he passed away, and then I believe the family sold it to a developer of some sort.  Sam and the guy who used to own the bank building (now Duane Reade) owned a lot of downtown real estate.  In fact, the former owner of the bank building  (Saul?) inherited it from his father, who bought it for like $20k in the ’40s!  We had an office in that building for a short period of time back in the day.
236 was four “mini lofts,” super funky, with bathrooms in the hallway except for ours, which had been slightly improved upon at some point, so our bathroom was in the apartment. Thank goodness, as those hallways were FREEZING!  At one point it had clearly been an industrial building and, as per usual, Sam put zero $$ into maintaining it, so funky it most certainly remained.
The windows facing Spring (now with the continual screen ad banners hanging) were the bedrooms and on the Lafayette side were the living room/kitchen areas above what we used to call La Cucaracha, the greasy spoon Dominican place where they played dominoes and blasted car radios all summer.  Chris and Nora, who lived in the first apartment, always went crazy because the guys banged those dominoes so loudly that Nora eventually made them a felt pad to muffle the noise. It actually did help a bit!  The best thing about the apartments were they got a lot of light.  The worst thing was living above the 6 trains, especially when they power washed the stairs every morning around 4am right outside all our bedroom windows!  We lived there for about 10 years…lotsa stories, as I’m sure you have as well.

Mexican Radio continues to operate two restaurants in Hudson and Schenectady, New York. For more information, go to

For more posts on this blog about other New York businesses that have closed in the last few years, see also:

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Who’s Hotter, Joe Tippett or Billy Magnussen?

Last night I saw The New Group's production of All the Fine Boys at The Pershing Square Signature Center, where Joe Tippett plays a 28-year-old nuclear technician whose relationship with Abigail Breslin’s 14-year-old middle school girl takes a dark turn. I immediately recognized the hunky Tippett from his previous role as the bashful boyfriend in Playwrights Horizon’s Indian Summer, in which he was frequently shirtless.
That got me thinking. Who’s hotter, Joe Tippett or Billy Magnussen?
Magnussen, of course, is most famous for his role as the sexy Spike  in Broadway’s Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike (where he was also frequently shirtless), as well as Second Stage’s Sex with Strangers.
They both have a certain “aw shucks” charm, in addition to their gym bodies.
What do you think?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Post Trump Stress Disorder

Since November 8th, I’ve been suffering from Post Trump Stress Disorder.
I’ve been having trouble falling asleep at night and getting out of bed in the morning.
This has come on top of the depression I’d already been experiencing for the last year and a half due to being unemployed/underemployed.
And the situation is even worse if you’re a stand-up comedian, like I am.
For the last year and a half I haven’t felt funny.
While I live for Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression (as well as Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway and Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer), it was hard to me to joke about Trump even during his campaign, because I was always aware of the dangerous possibility that he could actually become our president.
Now that he actually is our president, the situation is even worse.
Beyond that, I’m not sure if being a comedian is the even best use of my time and abilities anymore.
And, at my age, time is of the essence.
How can I make jokes when keeping track of all the shit Trump is doing on a daily basis is a full time job in itself?
I thought I would feel better after I took part in the Women’s March in New York City. But I felt like, at best, we were preaching to the converted and, at worst, we were marching in a canyon of deserted office buildings.
I took some consolation from the protesters who showed up at airports all over the country, seemingly out of nowhere, after Trump’s Muslim ban.
And I’m heartened by Michael Flynn’s resignation and the rejection of Andrew Puzder as Secretary of Labor.
But, as I said, there’s so much shit happening on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep up.
And I feel like the clock is ticking.
If I really want to get depressed, I think about how different a Clinton presidency would have been and the progress we’d already be making.
I don’t even dare to think about what a Sanders presidency would have been like. That would push me over the edge. And I know he’d have to deal with a Republican majority in Congress—but still. At least we wouldn’t have this disastrous cabinet and Supreme Court pick, on top of all of Trump’s other executive orders/policy blunders.
That’s what’s also so frustrating. The thought that we were uniquely positioned for someone like Sanders to win the presidency and we may never have that chance again. The idea that there was clearly a populist uprising happening (you could see it in the size of Sanders’s rallies—if the media bothered to cover them) and that someone as singularly unqualified as Trump was able to take advantage of this, while someone as singularly experienced as Clinton was tragically blind to the evidence all around her.
I had been prepared to spend the next four years holding Clinton’s feet to the fire, making sure she delivered on the progressive promises she made, only after Sanders succeeded in pushing her to the left.
Instead, we have Trump, whose first month in office (can it possibly be only one month? It feels like an eternity!) has been worse than I ever could have imagined.
And that’s why I have trouble falling asleep at night and getting out of bed in the morning.
It’s the sinking feeling that this is what the next four years are going to be like.
If not worse.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fag Hags and Disco Bunnies: A Meditation

I just came from seeing David’s Friend, Nora Burns’s autobiographical tribute to her best friend at La Mama, and I’m absolutely devastated.
Why did this show have such an effect on me?
First of all, it’s about death (David’s, from AIDS). It’s also about the larger death of New York City, a place where people came to find themselves in a world of sex, drugs and disco.
Watching the show was a very emotional experience for me because, in a way, this was my story.
Like Burns, I was a bit of a club kid in the early ’80s.
I, too, moved to New York City to attend college. In fact, the main reason I chose to attend NYU was because it was in New York City and it provided me with a means for moving there. And, like Burns, I eventually found that going to college was interfering with my nightlife (or, perhaps I should say, going to college was what allowed me to have a nightlife, since I didn’t have to get up early for work and my expenses were covered by student loans).
In fact, I suspect that pretty much anyone who lived in New York during this heady period will find much to appreciate in this show.
Burns has had a long career as a member of various comedy groups such as Unitard and the Nellie Olesons, and her writing and performing chops show. But this show takes her talent to a new level.
Because of this show, we get to know David, a stunningly beautiful man who died in the prime of his life.
So, while the show is very funny and entertaining, there’s also an undeniable poignancy to it.
Burns does a great job of recreating the era with the help of music, photographs, and her own journal entries.
The result is an important historical record of this unique time and place. (I’m reminded of the documentary Gay Sex in the ’70s or Brad Gooch’s book Smash Cut, about his lover, the film director Howard Brookner, who also died of AIDS.)
I was lucky that there was a cancellation for the last performance of this sold-out show, whose run was extended. But this is a show that deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.
It deserves to be seen by anyone who’s just moving to New York now and doesn’t know the exciting city it used to be before it became a boring city of rich people and chain stores.
And it deserves to be seen by a new generation of gay men who don’t know what it was like to lose an entire generation to AIDS.