Sunday, February 19, 2006
It was a cold day, so we were both glad to cut it short - but I look forward to next Saturday when we are going to spend the morning at the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia - sifting through the microfilm of the entire run of Au Courant and the Philadelphia Gay News: both for his thesis and for this blog. I am really excited about seeing copies of the paper that I helped create some 25 years ago.
So - I figured before I post more stories about my young adult years - I should share a couple images of me as a kid. Yes, a kid. Go figure.
First, this charming image of me dressed as the Pimp Daddy, circa 1964. I actually think I have a bowler hat on as well ... all I needed was a walking stick and I was set. Thankfully I had my mother's arms to keep me upright - so, I guess she was my walking stick.
This was taken Christmas night - I know this only from the combination of toys all over the floor (which was rare!) and the fact that my Mother would never torture me to wear a bowtie on a normal night. If only I had this outfit now... I could be so stylin ... eh, who am I kidding!? If I had this outfit now, it would just mean that I'm a manager at an ice cream shoppe.
This next image was taken when I was 6, circa 1969. My mother had a thing for that gold trim spanish style furniture - the shit was SO uncomfortable and, as you can see, the place was spotless. We even dusted the crystal ball we kept on the coffee table for those times when a gypsy would visit (i kid!).
Perhaps this is why I'm such a neat freak [though one glance at my bedroom would put that title to question!]. I got my first dog during this time - his name was Fritz and he was a black mutt. I think I got the dog to distract me from the fact that my parents had seperated at this point, on the road to divorce.
That still doesn't explain the red socks and sailor outfit. I think I'll just leave that alone *gay* for now....
Friday, February 17, 2006
For those that missed it, I recently posted about my memory of the deepest house in town, back in the day: House Music All Night Long
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Anyway - here's the big news!!
I was approached by someone who is writing a thesis for his Masters - his name is Jacob and his theme is gay nightlife in Philadelphia in the 1970s and 1980s. Once he saw this blog - it was like striking oil!
So, last week he came to the station to interview me - it lasted for over an hour and it became as interesting for me as it was for him ... since I am involved with this memoirs blog, I'm really focused on remembering my past ... but one can only do so much alone.
Out of nowhere I was sent someone to help me remember - life is wonderful that way. During the past week we have discussed his notes and research ... which has helped open those memory banks a bit more. This Saturday we are going on a walking tour of Center City - with a video cam and audio recorder - and I'm going to show him where everything was ... not only will this help as he begins to compose his thoughts ... but I feel that, by having someone sincerely interested in my past in such detail - it will help me as I document my memoiries here online.
On a side, I found some interesting personal files that made me remember a moment in my life that I had honestly forgotten about.
I'll post that story and images over the weekend.
For now ... I just wanted to publicly thank Jacob, my muse.
Friday, February 10, 2006
It documented quite an era of gay nightlife in
Anyway - memories overload about
The highlight was that while all this was going on - the dance party never stopped or slowed down! People were climbing all over themselves to get a better view and this process of freeing him from the duct took almost 30 minutes, during which the DJ took total control of the situation by spinning "I Will Survive" "Enough is Enough" and as the drunk finally fell out of the ceiling into the arms of the local police - a spotlight was put on him and the opening bars of "It's Raining Men" started to play ... everyone screamed and the party was ON!
So - anyway, this essay on Atlantic City - at the very end he had a closing line that really hit me, especially now that I am writing this memoirs blog ... I want to share it with you:
These memories, however, point to something more than nostalgia for a lostworld. They underline forgotten stories about urban spaces. Cities are complicated, ever-changing places embodying the myriad experiences of diverse peoples. Only complicated, overlapping narratives can possibly capture this ballet of movement and cacophony of voices.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
But most of my nightlife was spent in Philly ... except for those times when we piled in the car and drove over the river and through the woods to Cherry Hill, New Jersey to an oasis amidst the marshes known as Gatsby's.
Gatsby's was a disco that catered to the straight crowd when it first opened - it shifted to the gay market around 1980 or so and became THE bar that all of queer South Jersey considered their 'coming out' bar.
To me, it was fascinating to see a bar/disco have a parking lot! Between all the spots in Philly and NYC, this was never needed and I remember that being so odd to me. I first went as a representative of PGN and quickly became friends with several folk, including Wilma - the doll behind the bar. He was already an icon in the gay community and wound up working in clubs in Philly later in his career. VERY FRIENDLY! Also friendly to me was the manager - Richard McPeake ... who currently is the owner of 12th Air Command in Philly.
Once Au Courant opened, I was there often - both as their ad rep and also to party and dance as much as possible. The space was a bit of an escape for me, since there were so many faces I didn't know (unlike any club in Philly by this time). One of the sweetest people I have ever met, I first met at Gatsby's. Debbie Spadafora. She was just the warmest person out there and I always looked forward to heading over the bridge to see her again.
This rare image is probably from 1983 ... that's a 20 year old version of me, in front is Chino (who I posted about a while back). Jason, the then-assistant manager, is next to me and there's Debbie!!
Those of you in the scene today know Debbie. She's been involved in the nightlife for decades - currently assistant manager at Pure (the old DCA). She also created and is the webmaster of http://www.phillygayborhood.com. Some used to call her 'Big Debbie' cause of her size at the time ... to me she is always Big Debbie, because of the size of her heart and her spirit.
She's good folk - say hi to her the next time you see her out and about!
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Catacombs was THE underground spot in Philly. Both figurally and literally. It was located under the streets, below The Second Story disco - which began as a gay disco and went straight when the world discovered disco in the late 70s. The Second Story was located on the 2nd floor of what was originally a 5-story Episcopalian school and church, the club was in the former chapel with 20 foot high ceilings and the best sound system in the city at its time. The building still stands at the corner of 12/Walnut - but serves as home to a law firm today. The place was lined with mirrors and huge ball lights that glowed in different colors to the rhythm of the night. There was one mirrored panel in the back that, when pressed upon, opened up as a hidden passageway. The steps went downstairs to the basement - which was a whole nother club - and a whole 'nother world. While upstairs was bright and disco and gay, downstairs was just the opposite.
That's how I entered Catacombs the very first time. The official entrance was a plain unmarked door on 12th street at the very back of the building, which opened to a staircase. You walked down, paid your cover and steped into a long room - which was the juice bar. At some point, in the middle of the room grew a handmade sculpture of a penis, made out of aluminum foil and standing about 4 feet high. Quite strange, but no one really seemed to pay attention, since everyone was there to dance.
You made a left and stepped into a dark rectangle space - that was lined with a thin carpeted platform to stand and cruise the space. The only thing that you noticed when you stepped onto the dance floor was BASS. LOTS OF BASS. The floor and the club were dark; very sparse dance lighting - this was designed so you could become one with the beat. Music was taken quite seriously here. No pop, no cheese. It was about rhythm. And, as the Garage had Larry Levan, Catacombs had Donald Stone. A brillant house DJ who understood how to control a crowd swept up in the passion of the dance.
Catacombs was a dark, sweaty, and exhilarating experience, especially since you walked in at 2am or so and stumbled out into the weekend morning rush - sweaty and drained, having just completed your own personal work-out - crossing the paths of those just entering the city for another day of working 9 to 5.
What a way to make a living.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
But it did get me thinking about this blog itself. Where is it going? What path am I on? At times I feel like I'm jumping around, but at the same time I am keeping it somewhat in era order -- anyway, this is what one does when they are too sick to type, but not yet knocked out from the magic of Nyquil. Think.
So, I'm gonna just bop around a bit -- when I feel like I've exhausted memories from a certain era, I'll move ahead. I suppose I felt a bit confused as to where I was after posting My Story a few posts back - which took me from 1982 thru to today. But those that have followed along now have a better understanding of who I am and where I've been. Grant it, I've got lots more to share.
Today we are going to explore the scene. No, not the gay scene or the punk scene - but the new wave scene in Philadelphia in the early 1980s. Although it has the reputation, the reality is South Street was not the epicenter for all things new wave during those years from '81 to '83. The epicenter was 21/Walnut.
By weird fluke, I got a job as assistant manager of Price-Cut Drugs, which was located on the corner of 21/Chestnut in 1981. With the Hot Club down the street at 21/South there was a number of squatter houses in that area, each filled with young artistic punks who preferred to dress up versus put safety pins in their cheeks. A weekend didn't go by that the 20th Street strip wasn't full of a bunch of 20-year old kids dressed to the nines in their 1950s outfits. But where would they find such fashion you might ask?
They found their outfits at ARMACORD, owned by Anita and her then-husband (name escapes me). Armacord was a vintage clothing store located on Walnut near the corner of 21st and was the place one could find just about anything fashionable to wear out and about. Anita had the largest collection of 1950s style peg-leg suits, porkpie hats, skinny ties and ballroom gowns. Long white opera gloves, cat eye glasses and of course cigarette cases - - since everyone seemed to smoke Dunhill's ... especially the colors ... crap, even i used a cigarette holder for a while back then!
My friend Jerry was a performance artist punk rocker and had a loft on Walnut that featured a few classic mannequins - he had a name for each girl and they were always dressed to party, everytime I was over his place. Sadly, they never left their stand. But you could see them from the street, looking a bit bored by it all as they gazed down onto Walnut with their hand-painted eyes.
Speaking of eyes - Jerry was a great storyteller, with the biggest eyes I've ever seen. The cooler the story, the bigger the eyes would open up! I still see him around today - eyes just as wide, stories just as fresh, but a bit older, as we all are.
In 1981, I was still living at home - in the farthest part of Northeast Philadelphia - a block away from the city limits. I was traveling an hour each way into the city to work at Price-Cut, just to get out of NE Philly. Plus, I was selling ads part time for my friend Steve who owned Terminal Magazine -which was a punk/new wave fanzine that he made at home and then had a team of punk volunteers distribute them to stores and clubs. I never did sell many ads (cept for Armacord) but I did get bit by the publishing bug - which quickly led to Au Courant Newsmagazine, then Freedom Pages, Thing Magazine and finally Swirl Magazine. Thank God that bug has been cured.
Anyway ... style was the key in 1982 - and embracing the class of the 1950s and early 1960s was the vein most traveled in at that time. If you couldn't find it at Armacord, you went around the corner to Rose's Thrift shop on 20th near Walnut. Plus there were a couple other sources all within that little neighborhood west of the Square. The coolest element was that these shops weren't just places that sold used clothing but they were community centers. You could go in and hang out for hours - while Anita played cassettes of the latest music on her boombox and everyone played 'dress up' to pass the time. We all would wind up buying something so it worked for everyone! This was all during the time when both rockabilly and ska were coming to light, so the 50s offered the best looks around.
A neat hook to this post is that, after moving back into Center City in 1993, within a year or so, I noticed a new store at the corner of my street - on 5th between South and Lombard. It was a vintage clothing shop and as soon as the sign was being hung - I let out a yell and bolted into the shop. Armacord had opened at the corner of my block and Anita was right there at it again!! It was sooooo good to see her and to have her nearby as I re-entered the urban jungle. Sadly the shop didn't stick and she closed a year or so later and I've lost touch with her. But I know she's doing what she loves - celebrating fashions from and earlier - and classier - era.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
But let's travel back to 1981 and see who was in the running, shall we?
For the Best Bar we have 5 nominations:
- Equus - now 12th Air Command
- Odyssey II - which was located on a dead-end alley near 15/Spruce
- Westbury - the original, located at the corner of 15/Spruce in the first floor of the Westbury Apartments
- Woody's - which was the new place in town, it was just the street level oval bar at this point in time: no 2nd floor, no extentions.
- Your Place - now Key West
- Drury Lane (which I mentioned in an earlier post)
- Odyssey II>
- Dee's Place - located on the 500 block of South Street I believe
- PBL Club - this became Mamzelle's which then became The Bike Stop
- Rainbows -this became The Kennel Club and now is a parking lot
- Sneakers -located on north 3rd street right off Market - a mean little space!
- Catacombs - underneath The Second Story disco, 12/Walnut
- Smart Place - 9/Arch
- Swan Club (I can't remember where this place was...)
- Cell Block - above the DCA (I will post specifically about the DCA this week)
- The Loft (I forget where this was)
- The Post - still behind The Warwick Hotel 17/Locust
- 247 - now The Black Sheep restaurant and bar on 17th
- Eromin Center: This center came out of the Gay Switchboard and was a mental health center for the gay community. It was founded in 1973.
- Gay Community Center: this center became known as Penquin Place, which folded when the William Way Community Center opened in the mid-90s.
- Beth Ahavah: Serving the LGBT Jewish community since 1975
- 6th District Police Watch: this was a group that not only had a town watch element, but also kept an eye on the police of the 6th district, since homophobia still ran rampant at this point. (Remember, we were just leaving the Rizzo years).
- Black & White Men Together: this became Men of All Colors Together later in the 80s
- Lesbian & Gay Coffeehouse: another name for where all the AA members hung out at the time!
- Gay Switchboard: These folk have been around for well over 30 years. They are now part of the William Way Center.
- 13th Street Business Association: this is now the East of Broad Improvement Association. I can't recall the winners - but the ceremonies were held at the DCA on April 4 1982 beginning at 9pm. Ballots were mailed to the Gay News offices, 233 S 13th Street (in that crumbling rowhouse building I posted about earlier!)
The note reads as follows:
As many of you know I spent time in the hospital during the Christmas (1990) season. I was besieged by your typical X-mas schmaltz: endless cookies made by nurses, children caroling in the halls, and insipid television. The entire experience was horrible. I became so sick they were calling in relatives, but I found a savior.I hear ya Hunter. We all need passion these days. I've been enjoying your mix cassette tapes this week - each song seems to have a story! Like the time we went to the Palladium and danced for hours and smuggled in our own booze!
There is a Christmas carol 'Oh Holy Night' that for some reason I found so inspirational. There is a line in it that goes 'fall on your knees'. That was such a powerful image. And when I was at my worst, I 'fell on my knees'. I was brought mail, postcards and parcels from you beautiful people. The FLGC grapevine had sprung into action. Some of the mail was hysterical, some touching. People included photographs. It was an overwhelming passion sweeping over me. I want to thank you all. And it is wonderful that I'm here to write this. You guys have my address; drop me a line. I need passion these days.
Love and Peaches,
Amazing times my friend. Amazing.
I miss you most of all but I hope you know that we down here still carry you close to our hearts. Until then...
Love and Peaches :)
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Poetry readings, and Orson Welles film night, Museum of Modern Art videos, fashion shows, art shows, performance art and the best in punk, new wave and now sounds on a great sound system and in a great dance space.
The Kennel Club was a mutli-leveled fun house; five rooms plus the outdoor deck, and was decorated by Scot Thorne - who seemed to have painted just about every available space, splattering end tables with drops of neon color and smashing tiles to reglue them as the bar top. A huge mirror was painted black and white to make it look busted. Even the pool table was completly covered with glitter. The Kennel also had a staff artist: Mark Scott if I remember correctly. He'd have art students all over the place doing exhibits and helping others with installations or break-downs. This was the first club that took the concept of going out to an art form! Every night people were dressed in their own individual creations - from hair to clothes. It was quite a showplace!
When you walked up the staircase at 1215 Walnut - plasic arms and legs protruded from the walls and there was a big version of the 'CHANCE' Monopoly card painted on the wall of the staircase.
The front room was a video lounge (so '80s) and my friend Seth Jacobs and I produced some great parties there - screenings of slash/gore flicks gone wild. Sleeze-A-Rama was the name of the series.
The deck was the best part of the whole club - tucked away in the back part of the building, you would step out and be surrounded by bricks - until you looked up and saw the moon and the stars. Some of the best conversations happened on the deck and it was a great escape from the thump of the club.
The Kennel Club - as all Pennsylvania after-hours clubs are, was a members only space. Pictured above is the very first temporary member card I got from The Kennel Club, as well as my official Member Card for 1985 Pictured here is the back of that card, which obviously was issued new each year.
Every club in Philly had a personality. The East Side Club was raw energy and dark. The DCA simply oozed gay and Black Banana was chic. The Kennel Club was artsy - but to me, it was home, sweet home.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Hunter was just a teenager when we first met - grant it I was just 21, and I think he was around 18 or so. But he had such a level head on his shoulders at such an early age and we quickly realized that we had the same passion for movies and music and began to spend whatever rare free time I had, together.
His personal life was unique, as his mother was an openly-gay woman who was in a relationship with another woman ... i.e. Hunter had two moms. So, they warmed up quite easily to his own homosexuality when he realized who he was and encouraged Hunter to meet other lesbian and gay friends and bring them over to their house in New Jersey. It was like a little queer youth group, hopping on the PATCO line to Ferry Avenue and it was lots of fun
... but the best times were when Hunter and I hung out alone.
Soon we were crossing that line from friendship to dating and spent the next year or so in a whirlwind of romance and excitement. We went to shows together - watched videos til sunrise and just bonded. We were both music whores - constantly buying records and making cassette mixes for our Walkmans. We kept our close friendship even while developing a relationship ... as much as one can develop a relationship at such a young age.
In 1986, Hunter grew restless. As much as we loved each other, he wanted to experience what the world had to offer. He had come out and fallen almost directly into a relationship - never understanding the freedoms of being a single gay male. We discussed this at length and i realized that, if I really loved him, I had to let him go. It was an evening of tears.
We remained great friends - although I sort of lost touch with him for about a year or so while I was dealing with my own life issues (see earlier posts). He was in school for film and was working with TLA Video. We reconnected in 1988, once I had gotten settled in my new position at the radio station. I actually folded him into my new world by having him as a regular guest on Kids Corner to talk movies for the family! He was perfect and it was wonderful to see him again. We went out to dinner a number of times and our friendship was in full swing once again. We never stopped loving each other, even after all those years.
Somewhere in 90/91, Hunter and I had a long conversation where he confided to me that he had tested HIV positive. I was devistated. Grant it, I had dealt with AIDS for almost a decade but this one was hitting me at an emotional level that I wasn't prepared for. I quickly felt to blame, since had I not let him go, he would have remained negative. After time, I understood the reality of the situation and moved away from that guilt.
I spent many hours by his side at his little apartment at 9/Pine, overstocked with vinyl and memories. I traveled to his mother's house once he moved home, unable to care for himself anymore. I visited him often and we had many conversations about the world and about what would happen once the world entered the 21st century. He listened to his mix cassettes constantly - his music was his medicine. It soothed the pain that had overtook both his body and mind and allowed him to escape to a land that was free of troubles.
I had long, emotional chats with his Mom over tea while Hunter slept in his bedroom - and when he woke and called out for someone ... anyone - one of us would go in and entertain. I sat with Hunter as dementia took over his mind and he was no longer able to recognize people or things. I remember him screaming in frustration once because his TV remote wouldn't work and when I went in to see what was wrong, i secretly took the 'remote' from his hand [which was actually a pack of cigarettes - he no longer recognized what a remote looked like] and said that the batteries were dead and went over to the other side of the room, tears streaming down my face as I picked up the actual remote and returned it to his hand with the news that I had put in fresh batteries. The channel changed, he was happy and went back to sleep.
I cried more than I can remember that year. During this same period my oldest friend Phil Maynard was also dying of AIDS. I met him when we were both 15 in NE Philly. We were best of friends though everything and he too suffered from dementia before dying. I shuttled myself from New Jersey to NE Philly - neither Phil or Hunter wanted to discuss the obvious all that often, so the visits were a complicated orchastration of movements designed to avoid the unavoidable. Like being in a room with an elephant but never mentioning the beast.
I was surrounded by people losing their mind and at times, felt like I was joining them in the process. When I wasn't at work or visiting either Hunter or Phil, I would return to my small apartment in NE Philly and just get high to forget. It never really worked.
Hunter went into a coma in the fall - and remained there for a few weeks before dying. His memorial service was held at the Quaker Meeting House at 15/Cherry and a week or so later, I went back to his Mom's house. There she gave me a shopping bag, which held a shoebox. Inside were all of Hunter's homemade mix cassette tapes.
The tapes he made in the late 1980s for pleasure. The tapes he listened to as he was dying, for escape.
I listened to those tapes for a few months after Hunter's death. Then I moved into Center City and stored them in my closet ... until last night. I've had them on ever since.
I miss Hunter more than I miss anyone. His was the hardest death I ever had to experience, but I wouldn't have done it any other way. I was there as he came out as a young bright-eyed gay teenager ... and I needed to be there when he went out as a proud young gay adult at just 25.