I've spent the past week or two reflecting on my experiences coming out and growing up in Cepter City Philadelphia in the early 1980s. But a vital part of my 'growing up' came from my experiences in The City ... not Philly, but New York City.
So, to get myself in the mood to write this post, I am listening to a 40-minute audio clip recorded live in '85 at NYC's Paradise Garage with the legendary DJ Larry Levan spinning. The clip starts off in the middle of a live performance from the goddess Joceyln Brown performing "Somebody Else's Guy" on stage... wait?! Ya don't know Ms. Brown?!
Jocelyn was also the lead vocalist of the super Disco group - Musique - scoring hits with "(Push-Push) In the Bush" and "Keep On Jumpin'" and then joined Inner Life - and had hits with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "I'm Caught Up (in a one night love affair)". She made it big on her own in 1984 with "Somebody Else's Guy" - but she has been a staple in the dance music industry since the late 70s. In fact, you can even see her performing live - as one of the back-up singers with Bette Midler in the concert film "Divine Madness". Trust me - you might not know Jocelyn, but you have heard her. She still performs to this day .
Anyway - NYC.
My real introduction to The City was in 1980 - I had graduated from Washington High in NE Philly that June and took a few road trips to Manhattan that summer to celebrate. I had a few somewhat older friends to guide me around and the very first place I remember going to was a dive bar/disco called ... The Limelight!
No, not the one you're thinking about - this Limelight had been open for a few years and was pretty drab - in fact it closed later that year. It was located on 7th Avenue below Christopher and had a strong latin following (as did I - hahaha). Hence, why it was our first stop of my first visit to New York City.
I remember going to several bars on Christopher Street -- the only one that sticks out for me was the Cock Ring, which was a dance bar located on the ground floor of a flophouse hotel called The Christopher - the building was located at the very end of Christopher Street at West. The Cock Ring is pictured below - the door with the a/c above it was the entrance - the "hotel" is above.
Across the street were The Piers - a series of abandoned piers that stood two stories tall and stretched out over the river and were full nightly with men having sex and partying all night long. By 1982, drag queens would take boom-boxes to the area and the sounds of artists like Afrika Bambaataa and Man Parrish would bounce off the walls of these buildings as people just hung out there through the dark hours - the only light was the city skyline - including the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which were right down the road.
This part of the Village was dangerous - which made it exciting. I remember walking down Christopher to the river and there would be a dude on the street with a cheap aluminum tv-tray... on it was a cooler full of ice and poppers. You could buy a bottle of amyl nitrate for $5 and go dance the night away. Police simply weren't around much -- especially near the end of Christopher. My friend Tippy once said that anyone who made it to that final block was truly at the END of the ride for the night. Hence, the end of Christopher.
By 1980, the Village was alive with anticipation - the gay community had come alive in the late 1970s and NYC was a hub of activity and preperation for the sunny times ahead. In fact, The Christopher Hotel closed its doors around 1981 and the building was remodeled into a luxury hotel - the River Hotel - which opened its doors in 1982.
Sadly, no one was aware of the evil that lurked within the community. As AIDS decimated the culture and the community, places closed and businesses folded. It was like watching a balloon rapidly deflate. What was once a bright and shining rainbow had quickly turned into a twister.
In a tragically ironic turn, the building that was home to the Cock Ring and The River Hotel closed its doors and was ultimately converted to an AIDS hospice - Bailey House. That time - the early mid '80's - was a desperate time.