Friday, December 22, 2006


On the heels of complaining about the current state of South Street and also its future, I had a nice flashback experience last night.

First, the rant. On a recent post on about the drama surrounding the approval of two riverfront casino properties here in Philly, I commented:

of course, while everyone’s attention is on the River Invasion, has anyone else noticed just how many businesses are closed on South Street? Sure, the big boys like Tower, KCF, MickyD’s stand out - but look deeper … there are so many gaps of empty storefronts that the strip is beginning to look like the smile of a Kensington crackwhore… having lived off South street since 1981, I’m well aware that it ain’t what it used to be … and perhaps the strip has to truly die in order to be reborn, but if political timing plays out - my guess it will be reborn just as one/both of these casino projects opens their doors… South Street will be ready for the taking, since the vacancies just continue to mount each month… how it is reborn is a mystery … personally, i think the business district shot themselves in the foot years back with their cap on the number of liquor licenses on the strip … which is one reason why the 'hippest street in town' has become nothing more than the home to sneaker stores and tacky bling shops.

The fact is when I walk home from the west side of Center City I sometimes take South Street down and I see just how vacant it has become. Some moments gently remind me of the empty charm the street had when I first moved down here twenty-five years ago. But the reality is the emptiness is not just vacant storefronts; the street is void of personality. There's no spirit on the strip.

Last night however, I experienced a Christmas Miracle. I attended the Crash Bang Boom Xmas party (Crash Bang Boom being the phoniex that rose from the ashes of Zipperhead!).

It was held on the 2nd floor of Lickety Split, which is a basic pizza slice shop on the street level but they have begun to put some thought in the bar on the 2nd floor ... last night it was full of punks of all ages! Young guns and old guard combined to drink holiday cheer surrounded by friends and a sea of loud fun punk music! The highlight was when my friend Chris took his acoustic guitar and hopped on the postage-stamp stage, sat on a stool and belted out emotional covers of classic songs from The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, and more!

As I squeezed myself into a corner to gaze out over the scene - complete with foot-high mohawks and lots of smiles - I realized that the spirit of South Street wasn't connected to a building or a business. The spirit of South Street was within its family. These people were the spirit of South Street and for one magical night I felt like I was transported back in time to 1983 and I enjoyed every fuckin' moment!

Merry Christmas :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

RIP Nate

Nate Wiley passed away.

Nate Wiley was part of the collective root of South Street — mostly at Bob & Barbara’s in the last 20+ years. As Nate and The Crowd Pleasers, Nate, Frank (later Howard) and Cliff created the perfect audio backdrop to a night in Philly. I had some great conversations with Nate about the old times on South Street and considered him a friend - he remembered me every time I saw him (in and out of B&Bs). He passed away this past Sunday evening. He was 83.

I first met Nate when he started playing B&B's back in '83. The joint was still a jazz spot, drawing mostly a local black neighborhood crowd - I was living at 13/Pine at the time and my neighbors were two older jazz freaks, so one night I went along. I met Nate when he was with another band ... name escapes me ... and then he started his own band which has been there ever since. Nate Wiley & The Crowd Pleasers! Never did a band live up to their name as much as those dudes.

I remember having a deep conversation with Barbara Carter (who owned the spot with friend Bob Port until the mid-90s) and she just loved Nate ... his personality, his ability to move with the crowd and just feel people out. She introduced me to him and we began a good friendship. I was impressed that he never knew what his next song was going to be and one night he and I talked about that method and he gave me some great tips on feeling various vibes from the crowd; I use those tips to this day when on the air or behind the controls at Sex Dwarf and I've kept Nate in my mind ever since.

At a time when I had few father figures in my life, Nate Wiley was an elder that I respected almost as much as he respected me.

I'll miss you Nate - I hope you get to finally play with the stars and lead that heavenly bandstand.


Thankfully, Jim McGorman just wrapped on his documentary short about Nate and the boys called A TASTE OF NATE ... he's hosting a quicktime version on his site:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Have A Banana

It began in 1970 as Le Banane Noir at 534 South 4th Street in Philadelphia, and in the late 70s it moved to 3rd & Race Streets and became a private club for members only. The club thrived through the 80s being on the cutting edge of fashion and music: styles came and went and the Black Banana rolled with the punches. It was known as the most decadent place in Philly. Many of today's artists, designers and musicians have done their time at "The B"!

Founder and friend Garrick Melmeck passed away back in 1991, months after the Black Banana suffered a devastating fire. The staff worked day and night demolishing and rebuilding the club. All the while, loyal patrons held vigils out on the sidewalks. But once it reopened, the writing was on the wall - in 1998 the Black Banana played its last record and flashed its last strobe. The building now houses Wexler Fine Arts Gallery.

My friend Natasha created an incredible 3-D tribute site to the time, music, people and party that was The Black Banana. Take a moment and visit the site - and spread the word. Spread the love for one of Philly's institutions back in the day!
Click To Visit The Black Banana Experience!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

State of Independence

This week was interesting since I received a box from my Uncle in Maine – filled with items from my Nana’s apartment. My Nana is 99, bless her soul, and after being independent since the death of her husband in 1957, she finally resigned to the reality that it was time to move into an assisted care facility on the island. The location is good, since many of her friends are there and my Uncle already volunteers there weekly, visiting to play the piano for the residents. So now Nana can enjoy her son’s performance with her friends.

So – cleaning out her apartment has been quite the chore – she’s lived on her own for almost 50 years and in this apartment for a good couple decades. Uncle Jack lead the project and his kids (the youngest is 30) pitched in to distribute her furniture to the various grandchildren etc.

I received a side half-table that my father had made in shop class as a teenager. It’s been with my Nana ever since. Additionally, Jack sent me my father’s life scrapbook that his mother kept since his birth.

As an only child who had to bury his father back in 1993, I don’t have the strongest family network anymore. My mother and her family love me very much – but I don’t really keep in contact with them much. So flipping through this book – busting at the seams with memories – and reading handwritten notes my father wrote his mother (my Nana) back when he was 5 is quite unusual.

Items like the card that marked his basket where he laid after being born at Pennsylvania Hospital on April 13, 1939. A card to my dad for his first Christmas from his 'Pop-Pop'. In one envelope I found the curls of hair from the very first haircut my dad had back in 1941 when he was 2.

Strange emotions came over me – as if I was peeking into a drawer I wasn’t allowed to see. I was reading notes from my dad to his dad – and realizing that both men were dead.

I learned things that I never knew - for example, I was holding the kerchief that my dad wore in Boy Scouts and, with amazement, reading just how detailed he was in his studies by scanning his report cards and notes from school, including clippings from the paper of his participation in school events.

I felt both the comfort in knowing and reliving my family roots first hand by exploring this book – and at the same time realizing that it’s all history for me. It isn’t current. The players are just part of my past.

I rely on my friends for the bond that others get from family, and since I don’t really have too many open friendships, I wind up dealing with life, solo.

In many ways, I have become just as independent as my Nana.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fall Blossoms

So, summer has ended and we’re days away from Halloween 2006. There’s been a lot of things on my plate to distract me the past two months, including a couple business trips (South Beach and San Jose) but I suppose the real reason this memoirs blog took the back burner was because I had reached a pivotal point in this process and wasn’t quite sure where to go next.

When I began this project I wanted to document my life in Philadelphia in the 1980s. There were plenty of stories to share and I felt that this would be as good an avenue to get them out – both for myself and for anyone bored enough to read through.

Over the first three months I went from simple documentation of events to opening up the hermetically-sealed container that is my past. I had some interesting revelations while sharing my story and the threads that connect all these memories – but by June I felt that I had tapped myself out.

I think what started as a history lesson became a cathartic release of emotions that had been pent up for two decades. With each story posted, I took a deeper and more fulfilling breath – and came to realize that although many of the friends, locations and culture that surrounded me during those years are gone – the memories are just as strong as ever. They are what keep me alive, since they help me shape who I am today.

It’s not a coincidence that I am known as the new wave DJ in Philadelphia – I didn’t create Sex Dwarf or Land of the Lost because there was a void and a chance to make some money. I did and continue to do both because they keep me grounded and in touch with who I am.

Also, by investing so much time, money and creative juice into Sex Dwarf and Land of the Lost, I am developing new fans of the genre as well as sending out an open call to those old friends that grew up on this … each friend of Sex Dwarf and Land of the Lost helps me feel less alone in the world. Since, in many ways, they are replacing those friends that I’ve lost over the past twenty years.

People email me about how much they love Sex Dwarf. The funny thing is that I am grateful for their love and support since it is more than a party. It is me. It makes me feel rounded and grounded. I love the Sex Dwarf family more than they realize sometimes. And I am the one that is most thankful.

So, that brings me to this memoirs blog. Over summer, when I was at a crossroads with this project and time was tight in my life, I began to lazily post the same thing in both this blog as well as in my Live Journal and my My Space page … not really giving much thought to the process.

I’ve realized that THIS blog is designed for my memories – not just of the 80s, but in general. I want this blog to remain the space where I share my emotions with myself (and those of you reading). I’ve received some wonderful comments on my style of writing and such – and it has made me realize that perhaps writing is the portal that allows this unemotional spirit to be emotional after all.

I will continue to use Live Journal for casual comments about life and to spread the word of the various things I’m producing and creating – and I’ll probably copy my Live Journal posts over to my My Space blog, just to share those same thoughts with that circle.

But this is where I will be me, to me. It’s important to have an outlet and not water it down by distributing it like a press release on my life. This is my online home – its where my roots are, in the form of memory posts, and it is where I finally rediscovered myself emotionally.

The discovery continues.

To those reading – thanks for being part of it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Nomi Break

This is one of the most beautiful and moving performances I have ever seen. Done for German TV in front of hometown fans - this was his last ever performance, as he would die a few months later from AIDS.

Powerful, especially when you know the backstory of the number he is performing in English (The Cold Song) - follow along as you play it, the lyrics are below:

Cold Song = What power art thou [Cold Genius] -- Henry Purcell 1689/1691: King Arthur, The British Worthy -- 3rd act


"What power art thou, who from below
Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow
From beds of everlasting snow
See'st thou not how stiff and wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I can scarcely move or draw my breath
Let me, let me freeze again
to death..."

Friday, October 06, 2006

One Memory, Shared By Many

One of the neatest things about this memoirs blog is how many people I've heard from that have commented on how my posts have triggered their own memory vaults and they are appreciative of the chance to flashback to what was, in many ways, a simplier time.

Last week I had the chance to host Bunnydrums as they returned live to the Philly stage at the North Star Bar. They were intense and reproduced the sound that I remember 20 years ago at the Kennel Club.

A day later I received an email from a fellow fan - but a stranger to me. They wanted to share their opinion about Bunnydrums and wanted my feedback on what they had written - I was so impressed with their description of the music, the times, the energy that I asked if I could post it. They agreed and to this day, remain anonymous.

So - for a change, let's relive Philadelphia
in the early/mid 1980s through the words of another:


- the story of a local Philly band
and what they've meant (and still mean) to me

Its been over 20 years since I've had the pleasure of seeing a live Bunnydrums performance. In a way, this is a love story, a fanatical outpouring from an obsessed but semi-adjusted individual. Bear with me... this is something that just can't stay buried inside of me.


First off, they sound like no one and no one sounds like them. I can't tell you the first time I actually watched them play. I can barely tell you the exact location of the record shops where I purchased the vinyl after discovering them. The memory from 'those days' is not to be trusted, but the feelings, the emotion THAT is the story I wish to tell.

When I hear these songs, I get visuals - strong visuals; emotional / spiritual / physical - something only music can do to me.

Bunnydrums is something else.

This is where I live - it not only hits me, but there are moments when it actually knocks me down. Not in a depressing or morbid melancholy, but an exuberance - a familiarity -- I know this. I often believe I can recognize genius - I know it when I hear it. And this truly is.

I have an extreme respect and an almost divine awe - both uplifting and down. Contradictory, but never without understanding. There is knowledge here. There are live wires being held onto by tight fists. No consciousness lost, but there is abandon, detachment.

There is resonance caught in the silences of a single recording. The production on every single vinyl release is meticulous, capturing the essence of this truly original sound sculpture - this contribution to my world.

The live shows, where I had the pleasure of hearing this ethereal fusion - the 'factory' funk dungeon, to shows in local philly haunts such as the East Side Club, Filly's, The Kennel Club, whatever - memory fails me in this endeavor. It's not solely about the 'live' experience.

This is a sound phenom. It followed me home at night, to work, and to school in the mornings. I walked around aimlessly with them into Center City Philadelphia - to read in parks, to look for my friends. I walked on railroad tracks at night and always, as I ascended the grimy steps of the Broad Street subway, Bunnydrums was there with me.

Trudging along in anguish, in triumph, in the rain, in whatever time of day it was! This music, this phenomena which called itself Bunnydrums was Philly to me - my home. It was the soundtrack to my life, and still is.

The oddest thing is I have no real love for this city, yet I seem not to be able to leave it. Everything I know is here. Friends, family, disastrous x lovers, but most importantly, the multitude of music I've witnessed.

Bunnydrums has always provided me with the soundtrack to my existence as a long (and I mean long!) time Philly resident. They sound like what I know, they sound like this city, my city, for better AND worse.

They have the power to breathe for me on days when I find it unbearable to move. Truly this is either insanity, complete fanaticism, senility, or a miraculous underground intervention ---> you decide.

...but give Bunnydrums a listen.

click the album cover to visit their site and listen to their sounds!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Specials ARE!

Lynval Golding (of The Specials) and I hanging backstage after a sweaty, sold-out concert from The English Beat, featuring Dave Wakeling, Lynval and Paulene Black of Selecter!


Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Divas and Snowflakes

Today turned out to be a very low key day - it's now past 9pm and I have been listening to "Ebben, ne andro lontanoaria" - the aria from "La Wally" ... performed by Wilhelmenia Fernandez from the 1981 cult classic film, Diva. This film resonated with me when it first came out and I saw it at the Theatre of Living Arts on South Street. I remember being brought to tears by Wilhemenia's performance, as so many others were as well. It triggered another memory - that of December 1984 when Mayor Goode had announced that Ms. Fernandez (a local girl gone good) was to perform at the lighting of the Christmas Tree outside City Hall ...

My friend Larry was a big fan of the movie Diva as well and a big queen to boot (literally and figuratively) - not to mention a big pothead ... I remember going over to his basement apartment on Juniper Street - he had a fireplace which was ablaze and we had some warm cocktail of some sort - like a hot buttered rum or some such (being it was winter and cold) ... we 'prepared' for our trip over to City Hall and when we got there we pushed our way to the front ... there was this beautiful tree ... it was huge, especially from our unique perspective (keep in mind it was about 6pm and everyone else there was probably just getting off work and on their way home - and here are two queens all toasted and ready for the Diva to perform just for us!)

Goode said his words and introduced various city folk and finally introduced Wilhelmenia ... she came out dressed in the most amazing winter coat - lush red fabric complete with a matching hat - she said a few kind words about her hometown and then proceeded to sing a cappella to the audience... with the very first note, Larry and I turned and squeezed each other's arm as she began to perform one of the most haunting renditions of Ava Maria. And while she sang this beautiful song - the whole crowd stopped - everyone was transfixed on her voice. I never heard the city so quiet at rush hour before or since. And, if that wasn't enough - before she got a minute into the performance, snowflakes began to flurry upon us. Just enough to make that evening one of the most magical moments I've ever had.

If you've never seen Diva and/or have no idea what the aria from La Wally sounds like ... visit the site for the new Aria Condominiums, since they use her rendition of the aria (which is from the Diva soundtrack) as their musicbed for their website:

Friday, September 22, 2006

Full Circle

The Time Has Come.

26 summers ago, to celebrate my freedom from the chains of high school, I went to the opening of one of Philadelphia's most nortorious punk/new wave venues ... The StarLite Ballroom, underneath the El at the Huntingdon stop. I had known the building, since it was in a neighborhood I was familiar with, as my grandparents lived two blocks away on Amber Street. We spent many a day at Kelly's Korner - a warehouse of junk, available at low prices!

So, when the StarLite was to open, I was on the radar ... and although I didn't get to go to the Friday opening night with live performances from The Go-Go's and X, I did go to Saturday night and caught a blistering set from Pere Ubu and the debut of a new sound in Philadelphia, compliments of a band known as Bunnydrums.

26 summers later and original Bunnydrums members singer/frontman David Goerk and guitarist Frank Marr joined up with fellow musicians Howard Harison, Marc Laurick and Michael Mongiello and reunited the Bunnydrums sound perfectly at a tease performance back in July. Now, we all get the chance to appreciate their unique styles and sounds this coming SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 30 at the North Star Bar, as I host:

the legendary KING OF SIAM

21+ show / doors at 9 / tickets are just $8

Friday, August 11, 2006

Remembering Mike

Mike Douglas
Rest In Peace

Mike Douglas passed away today - on his 81st birthday. Mike was an icon for me, growing up in Philadelphia through the 1970s. When I was 5 my parents seperated and my mother remarried by the time I was 7 ... as an only child I grew up with TV as my guide. Both my mother and her new husband worked all the time to keep things afloat ... and Mike became a surrogate uncle to me ... every afternoon he would introduce me to a world that was almost within my reach. All I had to do was grow up.

From 1961 until 1978, Mike's shows were recorded at the KYW studios at 5th and Market Sts in Philly and one of my first memories of being in Center City was being in Mike's studio audience. It was an incredible experience that helped me realize who I was to become as an adult.

Although I only met Mike once - and it was a quarter-century ago - he meant a lot to me and I'm sad to see him pass on.

To get a true scope of just how important The Mike Douglas Show was to both Philadelphia and America - visit this site and just remember that any guest appearance listed as 1978 or older happened right here in Philly. Mike put this city on the map in the 1970s and I'm sure there are many citizens that are just as sad to see him gone.

And - if you want a real campy look at Mike in action, watch this clip from June of 1974, when he welcomes a new rock group to his set - and has no idea how to handle the lead singer, Gene Simmons of KISS! I remember watching this show - it was just two weeks before my 11th birthday and after seeing them perform all I wanted was the KISS album for my birthday!!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Happy Anniversary

It was 20 years ago today that I died and 20 years ago today that I was born.

As laid out in my post from January 25, today was the day I escaped my personal prison and started a new chapter in Northeast Philly; a new chapter that would lead to a new me.

20 years ago today I was dragging trash bags filled with my belongings through this archway at 1302 Pine Street into my father's van ... and that night I found myself sleeping on a couch in the far reaches of the city's Bridesburg section, overlooking the forgotten wastelands surrounding chemical plants and refineries.

I had cut ties with everyone I knew as well as the life I had lived since becoming an adult.

At the time that experience was nothing but exhausting and filled with sadness -- however, looking back it was probably the best move I've ever made in this game called life.

Since that moment, I've slowly learned how to handle life in a simpler way - I've detatched myself from much of the bullshit that people seem happy to swim in ... and I've allowed myself the room to just grow as a human being and to appreciate the gifts I've been given by a higher power.

I no longer worry about finding love or wealth. I find happiness in the most simpliest of things and do my best to show others how to let go and just enjoy the ride. I pride myself on not owning a cell phone or a wristwatch. I love the feeling of being unreachable - the freedom one feels when alone with their thoughts in such a busy world is quite soothing. I've learned how to reduce the ingredients in my life that cause stress - thus living an fairly stress-free life.

By learning how to detach from things, it has given me the room to develop a strong calming aura. I never yell or raise my voice in anger - I haven't in years. In fact, I rarely get angry anymore. When something begins to cause me stress - I step back, focus on the situation and either find a solution or find peace in the fact that I have no answer, and move on.

I think this skill I've developed over the past decade, along with my other gifts, have acted as a beacon for those lost and frustrated. I was telling a friend yesterday about my shoebox; a collection of letters, notes and memories that I received from people over the past two decades ... all with a similar theme: thanking me for being there at just the 'right' moment. Helping them find their path. Bringing calm and light onto a dark and confusing situation.

As I have developed an inner peace, I have also created a strong energy that many feel - especially those in need.

I have countless experiences where I will be in a public place and zero in on the one lost soul - many times before they have even spoken a word. I simply sense it within and I know that it is part of the responsibility that I have accepted by learning the art of understanding. These strangers change into close friends - sharing stories with me that haven't seen the light of day in some time - many times within the first 24 hours of our meeting each other.

In their world I go from a stranger to someone they couldn't live without in an amazingly fast time ... I help them clear a path, ignite a flame and find an exit from their darkness. During this process, which can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year or so, they always express life-long commitment to me (friends til the end); although I know better, since I am not emotionally connected.

I know my role in this process and I know that, once they are free from their constraints, they will continue forward in life - and I will move to the next lost soul.

This doesn't upset me - it doesn't cause any real emotion, quite frankly. I am at peace with this process and understand that this is part of my mission here on this plane of life. At the root of it, the process is fulfilling. And, although I enjoy being alone - there are moments when I feel lonely. But life deals a new hand -- a new distraction -- and I direct my focus on the next page of life.

It's quite a story.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Surfin' a New Wave


The past week has been new wave OVERLOAD for me!

It began when I received an email from Les Chappell in order to arrange a phone interview that I wanted to record with Lene Lovich, from their home in England ... in support of her NYC appearance over the Labor Day weekend at the Drop Dead Festival. I should be doing the interview in the coming week or so, and I'll air snippets of it on the August edition of Land of the Lost on WXPN - and feature the entire interview as a podcast on XPN's new media site, which rolls out August 1.

Then, everything fell into place for Dance Craze 2 (see below) featuring The English Beat, and members of Selector and The Specials, which I will be hosting in September at World Cafe Live ... a great venue to see such wonderful live music!

Later that month I will be hosting Bunnydrums with some "special reunion guests" at the North Star Bar.

Then, all that's left is a signature and I'll officially be able to announce that I will be hosting the return of Wall of Voodoo to the stage this December!

And, when I got home last night - I had an email waiting to ask if I'd be interested in being the host/DJ on August 8 at the TLA for the return of Gary Numan!

What a week indeed :)

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Greatest

So - beginning August 1, WXPN will once again open the voting to another 885 countdown. Two years ago we celebrated the move into our new home by asking our listeners to vote for their Top Ten All Time Greatest Songs - we compiled the votes and played back - over a three week period - the 885 All Time Greatest Songs.

Last year we focused on albums -- and did the same thing. This time, it's all about the artists. Beginning August 1, XPN will ask listeners to go online and enter their personal Top Ten All Time Greatest Artists ... this might be a bit more interesting since a musical artist doesn't have to be a songwriter etc. Just someone that you felt was a major influence in music.

They asked the staffers to create their own list - so it can be part of the website's promotion around the 885 Artists ... having submitted it, I decided to share it with you (and I'll explain a bit about why I chose each artist), starting with number 10:

10] DANIEL MILLER: Although his band The Normal (which was just him) had cult success with its only hit "Warm Leatherette" back in 1978 - Daniel was overwhelmed with cassettes from other musicians who thought the address on his single was a real record company (and not something he created for his own use). So tons of bands sent demos and the next thing you know musician Daniel Miller launches MUTE Records ... and is home for Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltare, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Erasure, Moby, Nitzer Ebb, and more...

9] BOB WILLS: Founder of The Texas Playboys in 1934, Bob Wills is the granddaddy of Texas Swing music and was one of the first to cross over to American pop culture - he influenced Hank Williams and others and laid the groundwork for a common appeal of country music.

8] ARETHA FRANKLIN: She is the "Queen of Soul" for a reason! She brought emotion to packaged R&B in the 1960s, and developed a true Diva persona in the latter years of the 20th century, even by tackling opera. Although she's not as strong as she used to be - I always stop to watch Arethea perform.

7] JOHN LEE HOOKER: John Lee Hooker's guitar playing is closely alligned with piano boogie-woogie. He would play the walking bass pattern with his thumb, stopping to emphasize the end of a line with a series of trills, done by rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs. The song that most epitomizes his early sound is "Boogie Chillen," about being 17 and wanting to go out to dance at the boogie clubs. John represents (to me) the field of authentic blues musicians that inspired rock artists like The Rolling Stones, et al.

6] FRANK SINATRA: This man truly created the term "teeny-bopper" and for good reason: his rise to stardom in the 1940s created a new niche market for music from that era forward: teenagers. He showed what pop power can do and his way with lyrics, especially during his Capitol years, is second to none. Frank reminds me of my youth for some odd reason. I think I just heard a lot of his music as a very young child. The man demonstrated what it was to be a showman (both good and bad) and was one of the first uber-musicians to comfortably cross over into Hollywood.

5] JOHNNY CASH: When you look at the field of songwriters, you see Dylan, Neil Young, etc ... but there is something about a Johnny Cash song that makes the others pale in comparison. His compassion for those oppressed was sincere and much of Cash's music, especially that of his later career, echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption. That was impressive to me.

4] DUKE ELLINGTON: Part of jazz royalty, the Duke took a basic melody and made it into a symphony. His arrangements were outstanding and he rightly received a revival of sorts after his appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956. The feature 'Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue', with saxophonist Paul Gonsalves's six-minute saxophone solo, had been in the band's book for a while, but on this occasion it nearly created a riot in the audience. This performance is on what is one of my all-time favorite albums "Duke Ellington and his Orchestra at Newport" ... do yourself a favor and listen to it, and you'll see why!

3] THE BEATLES: I expect these guys to be number one or two when the dust settles on the official count - but for me, I never got them. I appreciate their music - but probably more because I could never escape it. They were by most standards, the biggest musical act of the 20th century. The songwriting was impressive and they understood the times they were in; tweaking each release to fit the mood of the people. The songwriting of Lennon/McCartney was amazing, as almost everything they wrote, stuck. Plus, they (and their management and handlers) learned how to push the envelope for mass-marketing to new levels. That alone helped make them one of the all-time greatest.

2] LOUIS ARMSTRONG: It all started here, my friends. In 1922, Armstrong joined Joe "King" Oliver and his band in Chicago and soon was off to NYC to play with Fletcher Henderson ... the list of musicians that were influenced by Armstrong is astounding. Most consider Armstrong the Father of Jazz ... and if you stop and appreciate just how important jazz is to music in general today - it's all because of Louis Armstrong. I totally reccommend watching the 10-part Ken Burns' PBS special he did on JAZZ ... it's a great holiday gift if you're stumped on what to get someone! here's more

1] DAVID BOWIE: The Glam master himself. For me, this man is my Greatest Artist of All Time. It's not because I am a crazy fan that owns everything Bowie (which I don't) but it's because Bowie created a genre of music that became the foundation for so many other genres: glam rock, new wave, new romantic, etc. He has such a way of telling a story in song, you easily get swept up. He embraced the idea of reinventing yourself with each release (well before Madonna), and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. He appreciated the underground by showcasing musicians like Klaus Nomi and Brian Eno. He comfortably entered the pop music charts while keeping his roots in creative rock music. He was one of the first stars to not shy away from his sexuality at a time when it was deadly to be anything but heterosexual. That gave me hope as a young gay kid. He has aged gracefully and still performs in the now -- versus riding his own successful coattails. Finally, Scary Monsters was a powerful album for me - as it came out at the same time I did (haha) and I totally identified with being a scary monster and a super creep. Bow to Bowie, for he is my number one!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Ghost In You

Where to start?

This past weekend I traveled to New York City for a few social obligations - but the highlight of my weekend was walking the streets from Penn Station down to my hotel over at 24th and 6th, with my headphones on and a special playlist I created for the weekend, celebrating NYC when I remembered it: during the early 1980s.

Tunes that held the key to open floodgates of memories as I turned each corner, both on the streets and in my mind. I crossed intersections that I had crossed hundreds of times over the past two decades ... but for some reason it was all fresh and new! With each step forward, I felt as if I was stepping back in time. At one point, I remember coming up to a traffic light and I looked across the street and saw a woman wearing the craziest outfit - straight out of 1984. It was fate ... I had found a wormhole in time and I had entered my past!!

As I walked closer, I removed my headphones and decided to cross the street - in order to pass her and see her up close, perhaps to even smile and say 'well done'. However, in doing so, I walked past a parking lot and heard my name being called from behind the cars. I looked over and it was Carlos!!

Carlos and I hung out in Manhattan too many times in the 80s! I've not seen him for twenty years! I stood stunned on the sidewalk as Carlos leaped towards me -- we hugged and laughed and, I actually felt a tear or two well up. I thought for sure he was dead and here he was - once the initial dust settled, I commented on the new wave woman that made me cross the street.

Keep in mind all this happened in a span of a minute or so - as I told him I looked up and she was nowhere to be found. Gone. I never saw her pass me and I can't imagine she just vanished - we walk up the block in search of this mysterious woman - nothing.

We both laughed and agreed that she probably didn't exist at all - and was just a spirit from the past sent down to catch my eye, so that I would cross over and connect with Carlos.

I spent the afternoon with Carlos - catching up on life and times. It was good to see him again!

The rest of the weekend was whirlwind... happy hour mixer in Chelsea, a networking b'fast the following morning and then a rush back to Philly to catch the touring Cirque performance.

But the highlight was Carlos and the mysterious new wave woman.

Thanks, wherever you are. :)

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Past is Present

Well, I suppose I'm not the only person remembering, so not to forget. Today, amidst the summer heat and humidity, I walked home to find a hand-written letter waiting for me behind my front door, along with the more traditional pile of bills and flyers.

It was addressed simply Resident and had traveled across the country from Santa Rosa, California. So, I open it and this is what it said:
To present resident,

Odd request coming out of the blue but may I stop by and 'visit' your home between September 20 and 22? Why, you might ask!?

Because I used to live in your house from 1943 to 1946 as a child of sixteen-nineteen and would like to see how my family home has changed over the past 60 years. I am making a last trip back east this fall and am eager to see the changes in the NOW Philly, which is Queens Village - when my memory goes back to the Jewish stores on South 4th street which hired us kids about 12 years of age to work on Saturdays from 10am to 9pm on the open stands outside their stores. The movie theatre (which was still there in 1984, my last visit) and South Street which I now understand is quite the place to be.

It would not be a long visit - perhaps less than an hour - but I would deeply appreciate it.
Natually, I am pretty intrigued by this person's request - simple math puts her at around 79 years of age. What touches me the most is that she knows that this is her last trip to her birthhome. Obviously, I am going to say yes - I hope she can do it on the 22nd of September, since (ironically) I'll be in California September 19-21.

Funny. While she travels here - I'll be traveling there. Her letter and first-person history of my neighborhood reminded me of a post I made back in January ... check it out!

Do You Nomi??

we're soon to be on the 23rd anniversary
of the passing of a new wave legend.

I selected some interesting clips ...
watch them in order to fully appreciate this enigma.

Let's smile together, shall we???

Rest In Peace.

oh wait ... let's end with this ... i only wish i was this cool at this young age:

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Half-Nelson Turns Full

Those that have followed along in my posts are aware of Nelson Sullivan. Nelson was a friend that took it upon himself to document the ever-growing underground scence of life below 14th Street in NYC.

It began in 1982 and Nelson took his portible videocam with him everywhere and created a unique style by figuring out hot to look on the lens of the camera, rather than through the lens - to create these sweeping flowing shots of New York City.

He never edited his tapes later, but would edit in-camera as he went along. He would accompany his filming with commentary, and was never too self-conscious to turn the camera on himself.

Nelson was with all the Club Kids of NYC from the very start - and it's all documented on videotape. He went to just about every party and he and I would cross paths constantly while out and about in Manhattan. Sadly, he died of a heart attack on the 4th of July in 1989 at the age of 41.

Though this memoirs blog project was to help me remember, it seems to have developed a life of its own. I have connected with other players from that time - people I never knew but always saw. I've also connected with people who regret having been born too late - and appreciate a first-hand tour of the past. One person I've met via this project is Robert - Nelson's archivist.

Just this weekend, Robert wrote to comment on my post from Friday - he then went on to say:
I think about all the dead too and it really upsets me that the generation after me(I'm 36) has no clue of the devastation that occurred because of AIDS.

I started a site on YouTube and I thought I would use it to show the odd assortment of clips in my collection. I uploaded Tom Rubnitz's PICKLE SURPRISE and people responded to the short. Unfortunately, no one knows who Tom is, er- was. And that's when I happened onto your site again.

I've decided to use the youtube account as a repository of what we have lost as a culture due to the all the people who aren't with us. I'm not going to spell it out to the public as I just did, but that's where I am heading.

And I would not of thought of it so quickly if you had not brought up Nelson in your blog.

No - thank you Robert, for keeping the memories alive and preserved. And, as for you my dear reader - take the time and explore Robert's YouTube site - see the freshness of the faces, the creative juices literally ooze from your screen while watching performers like RuPaul, Bunny etc. before fame had found them. This was my history and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Also - check out

Back Tracks

Yesterday I played tour guide by showing a friend - new to Philadelphia - how to enter the bike path along the Schuylkill River. Although I see the path daily as I walk to work, crossing the river via the Walnut Street bridge, I hadn't really explored the riverside since its renovation.

Fact is, although it is a river, to me it represents a sea of memories. The Schuylkill Rivier runs alongside the west end of Center City Philadelphia. Between the river and the city lies railroad tracks that carry an army of redundant metal boxes up and down the coast. When I first moved downtown, that region was truly a "no-mans" land. For those wondering, the word Schuylkill means "hidden river", which was quite fitting back in those years.

There was an overgrown plot of land that led to the tracks. Although it was a park of sorts, it was in sad shape. It was commonly known as Judy Garland Park, since the only people who really hung there were gay men of all ages. From the park you could connect to the tracks - which you could walk down until you were alongside the mighty Philadelphia Museum of Art. If you ever looked up, that is.

Everyone hung down by the tracks during the warmer months in the early 80s. The party time was the weekend - as the bars closed - everyone made their way west. Some hung on the 2000 block of Spruce Street - the Merry Go Round, as it was called - since cars would circle the block all night long - crusing for men and chatting with friends. It got so busy that the city put up traffic signs prohibiting left turns after midnight at each corner of the square.

The tracks were where you hung if you were too fucked up to head home. The tracks were where you hung if you were too young to get into the clubs. The tracks were where you hung if you were too closeted to actually be seen around a gay bar. The tracks were a community all of itself. A bunch of gay men and teens, several boom boxes of music, drugs for those that wanted it, sex for those that craved it, and a river that couldn't care less.

I left the tracks and Judy Garland Park when I left CC Philly in the mid 80s. In 1992 the neighborhood clashed with those that hung out there - and they all clashed with the police who had a heavy hand in handling the situation.

My friend Glenn Holsten (currently traveling the country in support of his new documentary 'Saint of 9/11') produced a public tv documentary about neighborhood reaction to the park, called 'AKA Judy Garland Park', back in 1994 - during the decade when things boiled over along the river.

Cultures clashed. Police rolled in. A darker element - even darker than the ones I had seen back in the 80s - took over the tracks. Casual drug use turned into drug deals gone wrong. Bodies were found floating alongside the riverbank - identified as gay men but murder or suicide? No one ever solved those cases. The push to clean up the riverbank was on.

So - yesterday I walked along the river, and although I was engaging in pleasant conversation with my friend on a sunny afternoon, I was haunted by memories. I saw pillers that stood to support thousands of people crossing the river daily - and that represented mental mile markers of places that I hung at at night, a quarter century ago.

We were able to walk along the river straight to Boathouse Row and back. Sculptured grounds, benches and ample lighting made this bank worthy of one to visit again. If nothing more than to say hi to the ghosts of my past.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Renaissance Begins

Today I received an email from a friend - and it was a copy of an article that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Halloween of 1982 - spotlighting the development of 13th/Locust Street ... specifically how the hopes of the neighborhood hung on the soon-to-open Hershey Hotel (now the Doubletree Hotel) at Broad/Locust. The article is a good read, especially for anyone familiar with that area:

Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
October 31, 1982
By George Anastasia
Inquirer Staff Writer

It has been called the "Barbary Coast" and "The Strip."

It has been a haven for pimps and prostitutes, a mecca for the underside of the city's nightlife, a place where bustout bars and strip joints flourished, where sex and drugs were bartered openly, where violent crime was a common occurrence.

Locust Street from Broad to 12th - just "two decent golf shots from City Hall," says one local businessman - has for years carried the well-earned label as the home of Center City's flesh market.

Now, in certain circles at least, it has begun to take on a new image. Quietly, subtly, but most believe irreversibly, the Locust Street strip has turned a corner.

That corner, to most observers' minds, is Broad and Locust Streets, where the 450-room, $40 million Hershey Philadelphia Hotel is under construction.

The Hershey, nearly everyone agrees, will be a catalyst for change. Over the long haul, they say, there is no way a first-class hotel can exist on the same city block with pimps and prostitutes, go-go girls and late-night discos. This is especially true when the hotel is owned by the Hershey people, makers of chocolate bars and candy kisses, operators of an amusement theme park that oozes charm and is an embodiment of the word wholesome.

Would-be developers and local businesspeople have already begun poring over maps of the neighborhood and charting a course to turn that potential into profit.

"There's an intuitive feeling that something's going to happen," said Ned Mitinger, the Philadephia Redevelopment Authority's project manager for the Washington Square West urban renewal tract, which includes a portion of the strip between 12th and 13th Streets.

But because of the uncertainties surrounding the economy and the stigma still attached to the area, any developer or business investor, Mitinger said cautiously, would "have to have imagination and be a risk taker."

Nine months ago George Dunca took the risk when he opened Il Vagabondo, a swank Italian restaurant, at 1305 Locust St. His business is adjacent to a building at 1301 Locust that houses a go-go bar and three late-night discos, the last vestiges of the old Locust Street strip.

"It was a big risk," said Dunca of his decision to leave a restaurant he was operating in Burlington Township, N.J., and move to 13th and Locust. "But I said to myself, 'Let's see what can be done.' For the first four months it was very bad. . . . I would take a reservation over the phone and I would say we were located just 200 feet from Broad Street on Locust. People would get here and they would say, 'My God, it's 13th and Locust.' "

But Dunca said things have begun to improve. He is beginning to attract the theater and hotel crowd from the other side of Broad Street. And he, like nearly every other businessman in the area, is eagerly awaiting the opening early next year of the Hershey Hotel.

"Ultimately our hotel, by its presence, will put pressure on to change things down the block," said Richard S. Verruni, director of marketing for the Hershey Hotel. "The pressure of new development will create an atmosphere that's not conducive to them conducting business as usual. . . . There's dynamite potential here. This could become the hot spot in Center City."

When that happens, Verruni said, it will make sense - as in dollars and cents - for the block to change.

"Why leave in tenants who pay maybe $300 a month when you can spruce up a business and get $3,000?" he asked.

Marvin Factor understands that logic and is hoping to cash in. He is a partner in the Center City law firm of Factor and McCabe, which has purchased Johnny Dee's restaurant on the southeast corner of 13th and Locust. The firm is renovating the once-notorious hangout into commercial offices.

"We intend to occupy the top two floors," said Factor. The first two floors of the four-story building will be rented as commercial space. Factor said his firm had paid $400,000 for the property and intended to spend an additional $800,000 on renovations, which, he hoped, would be completed by the spring.

"It's a growth area," he said of 13th and Locust.

It is also an area rich in history and turn-of-the-century architecture that has been overshadowed by its seamy image.

Two buildings, 1227 and 1229 Locust, which are part of a string of boarded-up properties in the 1200 block, have been nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Mitinger of the Redevelopment Authority. They are next to vacant structures that once housed the Bag of Nails and the Golden 33 Club, two of the more infamous strip joints that operated on Locust Street.

Those four properties are among nearly a dozen the Redevelopment Authority owns along the 1200 block. For the last 10 years, the Authority has tried, with very limited success, to attract developers who would buy, renovate and restore the buildings.

But that may be changing. An architect and her sociologist husband have agreed with the Authority to renovate and restore six buildings from 1201 to 1211 Locust, Mitinger said. And a doctor plans to restore the brick building at 1200 Locust and convert it to an office.

But despite those seemingly positive signs, Mitinger remains only guardedly optimistic about the future. There are, he said, too many volatile elements involved to begin touting the renaissance at 13th and Locust.

One lingering element is the existence of the All in the Family go-go bar, an after-hours club called Whispers, and two late-night discos called All Night Disco and Disco 13, all in a low-slung, brown cinder block and brick building that dominates the northwest corner of 13th and Locust.

Although police and local businessmen agree that the clubs have not caused any major problems, their mere existence is considered a magnet for an element of the city's nightlife that lends the corner its seedy image.

Police officer Daniel Faulkner was killed at 13th and Locust a little over a year ago, a crime that reinforced the local perception of the corner as a high crime area. Hookers, pimps and drug dealers have worked the area and, more recently, streetwalkers have clashed with members of the city's homosexual community, which has been expanding in the Washington Square West area.

"It's like a salad out there," says Police Inspector John DiBenedetto. ''You have a little bit of everything. . . . But the bars themselves aren't the problem. It's the people who go there."

DiBenedetto, like several other city officials, said he had already seen the signs of change. He believes that in time a renaissance will take place and the strip will recapture the glitter that preceded its demise.

"Back in the 50s there were some real smart nightclubs in that area," he said. "You had the after-theater crowd. But then we got the strip joints and the bustout bars (where women working for the bar would 'work' the patrons for drinks) and things started to go downhill."

Tony Gentile, who manages the go-go bar and two discos on the corner, remembers when 13th and Locust attracted a better clientele. And he, too, thinks the area can come back.

"If this place gets cleaned up, I'm willing to do my part," he said. ''I'll bring back the bands and make these places nice. . . . But the city's gotta do its part. The Redevelopment Authority owns all that property out here. You seen it? It's a disgrace. Some of those buildings been empty for 15 years. What's the city done?"

Another developmental uncertainty for the area, in fact, is a proposal to add 131 low-cost, subsidized housing units to the neighborhood on property now owned by the Authority. The $6.5 million project, which stems from a 1978 court decision, would involve the renovation of 111 apartment units and the construction of 20 new units, many along 13th and 11th Streets near Locust.

The plan is opposed by the Washington West Project Area Committee, and local apartment owners Salvatore Guzzardi and his son Michael. The Guzzardis contend that low-income housing will further stigmatize the area. Redevelopment Authority and City Planning Commission officials, however, support architect Michael Horn's project.

The Guzzardis also are part of a group of local businessmen and investors who say they have a plan to develop most of the remaining Redevelopment Authority property in the 13th and Locust Streets area.

(note: Mike's brother Bob Guzzardi was in the news recently as the former co-owner of 12th Street Gym - he was pressured to sell his part of the gay-friendly gym after word broke that he personally has given tens of thousands of dollars to right-wing republicans, like Rick Santorum)

Michael Guzzardi talks of a high-rise condominium like the swank Academy House being built at 13th and Locust and sees the area borrowing not just an image but also a name from the nearby Hershey Hotel.

"Maybe this should be Hersheytown or Hersheyville, something like that," he said recently.

But Mitinger cautions that the Guzzardis, who own both the Lenox and Chancellor Apartments on 13th Street near Locust, have not gotten past the ''cup of coffee" stage of discussions with the Redevelopment Authority.

Change cannot come too soon for James E. Mooney, director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a grand old institution that has stoically withstood the onslaught of urban decay while sharing the 13th and Locust Streets corner for decades with some of the city's seamiest entrepreneurs.

Mooney, society director since 1974, talks at length of crime and squalor in the streets just outside a Philadelphia institution that houses the largest privately supported manuscript collection in the United States.

The steps of the Historical Society, he said, have been used by the streetwalkers to conduct their business on warm spring and summer nights.

Mooney, like many others, hopes the opening of the Hershey and the other development plans and proposals for the area will eventually drive out the less attractive commerce that remains a part of the block.

But for now Mooney continues to conduct a cultural business in the midst of that wasteland. And so, he said last week, the society intends to to build a fence around the ornate pillars and steps that lead to the doors of the museum. There is no other way, he said, to keep the nightlife of 13th and Locust away from one of the city's finest cultural centers

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Great Experiment

The great experiment has ended.

Last month, as I finished my previous post - I realized that I needed to take a break from this project for one month ... although I wasn't quite sure why.

I knew that since April I had entered a funky period of my world - and was mentally in a fog, although not quite sure how the fog developed or just when the cold front would move from my line of vision and clear things out. So I decided to take a month off from this project as part of my retreat into my little corner of the world.

During the month I detached from many of my routine patterns - checking in with my collection of favorite blogs from friends and such was one of those things that fell to the wayside. Was the funk brought on by the arrival of my birthday? I thought perhaps, but it was doubtful, since I love birthdays and, as those who know me know, I celebrate mine a few times each year!

One night I decided to scan my blog bookmarks and just see what friends have been up to -- and I stumbled upon a post from my friend Freddy that hit me straight in the chest. He spoke my words, he felt my frustration and, with the entry of just a handful of words - helped shake a stalled front over my head and clear the air around me.

Before I tell you what he said, the back story: Freddy started a personal journey blog upon his discovery that he was HIV positive. The blog has been heartwarming, painful, funny and simply a must-read for me over time.

He started his entry as follows:
I haven't felt much like blogging lately. I haven't done my weekly visits to all my favorite blogs in quite a while either. I haven't been online much at all these days. Creatively, I've hit a wall, and rather than climb it, I find myself just staring at it curiously. How did you get here?
Then, went on to explain that he was wondering if he was at the end of the chapter.
I fear that if I spend too much time talking about the subject, I'll never move past it. And in a way, I think I've made my peace with most of it.
That was it! I had spent the past six months documenting memories of my past - and in doing so, reliving my life over, via my series of entries. Not only has it been an invigorating experience, it has been exhausting for me mentally. Everything I write about is gone. The Scene. The locations. The city as it was. And, most importantly, the people.

By remembering before I forgot, I also reminded myself of just how much of my past is locked up soley in my mind. I cannot sit at a table and have a few drinks with my friends from that time and tell stories of the 'good ol' days'. I can't go for a walk and visit some of the haunts of my past.

The purpose of this journal was to document an era - one that many people aren't aware of. And, those that are haven't talked much about it in years. I feel, judging from the comments I've received, that I succeeded. Those from my generation were grateful for the memory triggers I provided. Those too young to remember were amazed to learn about just how fuckin' cool Philly was back in the day.

I remembered and I will never forget. But perhaps it's time for me to move forward. Grant it, I don't wan't to stop posting memories completely. Perhaps I should shift this blog and start posting current thoughts about current things. Or, perhaps I should continue to document my life - but I'm not sure how public I want certain chapters to be.

I use Live Journal more for keeping in the loop of my friends' diaries. When I do post, its a mixture of promotional stuff and slice-of-life comments. Nothing too deep. Perhaps this blog needs to become the deep end of my mental pool.

Anyway - comments are welcomed on this post (as with all posts). For now, I just wanted to explain why I hadn't posted for the past month and to let my readers know that I'm still here.

Happy Friday :)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It All Comes Together

So - to pick up from the previous post - after the closure of THiNG magazine in 1996, I poured myself into my career at the radio station and began a series of little events around the city.

In 1997, Fluid nightclub opened around the corner from my house and I began a Sunday night event with my friend Jorge, who spun deep house and old-skool garage tracks. The party was called CHURCH, cause every Sunday ya gotta go to church, y'all. ;)

I also began to host birthday parties for myself at Tattooed Mom on South Street. They started off innocently enough, but soon became quarterly events and the stuff of legends ... the saying went "you're never more than 90 days away from Robert Drake's birthday!" I think I aged about 60 years in the past decade ... haha.

There are other stories I want to tell - but I am going to jump past them right now, so I can finish this thread of being a publisher. I'll get back to the 1990s in the next post.

In the year 2000, I had a full-circle experience occur. I had lunch with Mark Segal, owner of the Philadelphia Gay News [where I had volunteered time back in 1981/82]. The last time I crossed Mark's path, with exception to public events, was back in 1986 - when I was the General Manager of Au Courant Newsmagazine and obviously a thorn in his side at the time.

Since THiNG had folded, and some of the elements of THiNG had wound up in the PGN, Mark wanted to chat about working together to start a new publication in Philadelphia. The fact was, the city was on the verge of a new era and, sooner or later someone from outside would see the potential and open a nightlife magazine targeting the gay community. Instead of waiting for competition, why not open it yourself!

Mark knew me. He knew my work with Au Courant, and he knew my passion with THiNG. So, together we mapped out a plan to launch a full-color, glossy weekly free magazine. But it needed a name.

I spent the good part of a week writing down a list of ideas ... the one that stuck the most was SWIRL ... since it had a queer ring to it, and it represented what the magazine was to be: a mixture of pop culture and pictures. I met with my friend Kate, who was a freelance designer and together we began to create every detail of a magazine: logo, layout, fonts, content ideas, marketing tools, and more.

We spent from fall of 2000 until January of 2001 creating and pushing to give birth to our baby. The debut of SWIRL hit the streets in February of 2001 and was an instant success! Truly it was - there are people today that still remember the little magazine that could. I ran into someone this spring who still has a collection of our entire run, and we're talking 5 years ago!

We tweaked the design and content over time but easily the highlight was PROOF, our centerspread of candid shots of nightlife in action. EVERYONE wanted to see who was in this week's PROOF section and that just kept the issues flying off the racks. The hardest part was to convince advertisers to support this publication.

In hindsight, I would have had chosen to have exclusive sales reps, versus having the reps from the PGN work on selling both products. I feel that, by large, they didn't push hard enough - partly since they had their foundation of commissions already set with their weekly ads in the PGN.

Additionally, I would have not gone with such a heavy stock - but we wanted the magazine to look fierce, so we went totally gloss. I probably would have chosen a more thin stock for the inside and kept it wrapped in heavy stock, for durability.

In fall of 2001, we were finally hitting a stride -- new ad contracts were beginning to be signed and things were promising; then September 11.

That changed everything. Everyone pulled back - bars and businesses didn't want to waste any money on additional advertising. Anyone looking for a reason to say 'no thank you' to our sales reps, used 9/11. We closed SWIRL the first week of October, 2001.

The irony is we were ahead of our time. Had the magazine hit the streets in 2004, we'd be a staple in the hands of those out at night. The influx of new blood into Philadelphia over the past three years (many from NYC), has created a boom in after-dark business. Restaurants, nightclubs, galleries and tourism have shot off the charts. I would have targeted the magazine to serve those "left of center" versus strictly a gay rag, thus picking up new revenue streams of potential advertisers.

Alas, it's always about timing.

At least, I have the experiences. I can comfortably say that I didn't sit back and just complain that this city doesn't do this, or this city doesn't have that ... when I see something this city lacks, I just do it. It's been who I've been for 25 years. I can't imagine looking at things another way.

Monday, May 29, 2006

It's Your THiNG

OK ... so, to pick up from the previous post, it was spring 1995 and the GLOW party was winding down after six months of Sunday night mayhem. As I mentioned, I had advertised the party in an upstart queer nightlife guide that just wasn't able to catch on ... but it allowed me to see the void that existed in Philly for a quality nightlife rag. Au Courant was that source when we first started it back in 1982, but after a few years - the focus of the weekly paper changed course and, buy 1995 Au Courant was a shell of its former self.

The city needed something to celebrate the fun side of things - and with the deck cleared, thanks to Mike's passing, I felt the time was now. I had made friends with Brian Ramey - who had singlehandedly created and published the debut edition of Freedom Pages: a true yellow pages for the queer community. It was quite a feat and I was impressed with his set-up, located in a spare room in a Fishtown house he shared with his boyfriend. We began to talk and - just like those days in 1982 when Mike and I sat around brainstorming about creating Au Courant - here I was again, brainstorming with Brian about creating something new and different.

We didn't have any backing or support - or business sense, quite frankly. We used personal credit to front us some capital and we began to develop a template for what this new publication would be ... we knew it had to go head-to-head with the PGN (Au Courant was nothing to us at that point), so we decided to take the low road and go dirty.

We decided to call the magazine THiNG ... since it offered so many variations of wordplay: "grab your thing in public", "is that a thing in your pocket?", "etc etc. I worked my old rolodex and re-established contact with people that thought I had died back in 1986. Talk about a shocker! I scored two floors of office space in the building that once housed the original TLA Video store -- which was next to the TLA on South Street [amazing how my whole life seems to involve this street!?!] and we opened shop in September 1995.

The magazine was published by BRG Publishing - i.e. Brian's company that created the Freedom Pages. We used the profits/contacts from the Freedom Pages to help sell our initial ads.

I took care of marketing and outreach (naturally). We held our THiNG Launch Party at Philly's newest gay nightclub, Paragon Central - located at 1415 Locust Street. We had a live appearance from Lypsinka, direct from her Philadelphia debut at the newly-opened Arts Bank on Broad Street.

My old friend Stephen Durkin was the DJ for the night and we gave out free Wigstock soundtrack cds through the night, in celebration of the movie that had just been released.

THiNG hit the streets September 14 and was a weekly publication for a bit -- then we shifted to biweekly, but without any backing - we ran out of options and money and our last issue hit sometime in February 1996. The coolest thing about THiNG was the reaction we got from the readers -- who all were hungry for something fresh and new.

This particular cover shot features drag diva Muffane chompin' at The Savoy restaurant - the classic greasy spoon located in the belly of the gayborhood, at the corner of 11/Locust. It has since been demolished, to make way for another new condo tower.

The best part of the THiNG experience was that many of the THiNG features that were simply unavailable in Philly's queer nightlife before we hit the streets (horoscopes, bar listings, map, drink special guide, candid pictures of nightlife) were duplicated by both Au Courant and the PGN once we closed our doors.

So, I guess the project was successful in the fact that it woke up both gay weeklies at a time when they were both resting on their heels, in regards to the nightlife in the city. But the bug was still there. I knew that thirst that Philly's after dark had for their own publication wasn't being quenched.

... if only I had backing.

More on that later this week.

The Next Chapter Begins

Once Au Courant publisher Mike LaBance passed away in 1992, I decided I would return to center city Philadelphia - since I simply couldn't handle NE Philly any longer. I moved into my current residence back in 1993 and, as explained in this post, the year was a whirlwind of emotion: from the excitement and trepidation of moving back into center city, to sadness and abandonment with the sudden passing of my father.

Upon my father's death, I shut down emotionally and poured myself into my work. I was a poster child for denial. The downside was that I learned how to emotionally detatch from life ... and still function. The upside was that I was even more creative and determined in whatever I took on.

In 1994, I helped my friend Ty, who was the owner/chef of The Knave of Hearts on South Street, complete his renovations of the 2nd floor of his 3 properties - which were all opened and connected room to room. Once done, The Love Lounge opened up and once again I was connected with Bob "Nature Boy" Denny ... one of the more sincere spirits in Philly.

Bob and I knew each other through most of the late 80s/early 90s ... mostly when he was the booking agent for Revival, the Chestnut Cabaret and other locations and I was working at WXPN. Bob's distinctive poster designs, along with his abilty to bring local music like Scram and international world music artists to rock clubs , really shaped the live music scene in Philadelphia in the late 80s/early 90s.

He had an energy and passion that was truly unmatched when it came to bringing live music to the city. These are just a couple of his Nature Boy Productions flyers of the time - click on them to see a larger version!

So, Bob was now overseeing The Love Lounge, and I - as a regular customer of the Knave and a neighbor - offered to help produce events. The first score was a party that was happening uptown at a club that was once The Hot Club. My world had come full circle. The party was a deep house party called Tea Party [if i remember correctly] and it featured the coolest cats in the city. At this point in time, house music and acid house was the underground ... since the pots-n-pan sounds of producers like Stock Aitken and Waterman were all over the radio.

So, I convinced them to move their party to The Love Lounge and they did with much success. When you walked up the flight of stairs to The Love Lounge, you first came upon a small bar - then you stepped into the living room pit, which had a sectional couch lining the walls and a working fireplace alongside one wall - along with a tv hanging from the ceiling in the corner. You stepped up 3 stairs into the middle room, which had incredible murals painted on the walls and wonderful round tables - each handpainted with celestial images. On the other end of the room was 3 stairs down into the dance space, which was a simple empty room that had large speakers and a tv in one corner, for videos etc... The DJ booth looked over the dance room via a cut-out in the wall. Windows in all three rooms looked over South Street and down into its across-the-street neighbor, Chef's Market.

With the Tea Party going strong on Wednesdays - and the weekends with their own vibes, thanks to Nature Boy - the weak link was Sundays. So I created a party that featured the latest sounds - spun by DJ Brian Norwood ... who at the time was working for 611 Records. This was one of his first DJ gigs and Brian went on to become a circuit DJ in the late 1990s and spun the first-ever dance on Washington D.C.'s historic Pennsylvania Avenue during the Millennium celebrations of 2000.

I called the party GLOW, to play off the fact that we had a real fireplace and warm vibes - since the party made its debut during the early winter of 1994 and ran weekly until spring of 1995. The mix was house, trance and dance classics and the crowd was a mix of 'scene' folk, combined with the more artistic element that Philly had to offer at the time. I'm not sure whatever happened to Brian - acccording to Google - he seems to have vanished into thin air after 2000. I hope he's okay.

One of the flea market finds that I scored was an authentic LOVE swag lamp from the 1970s, which hung over a back corner table in the dance room ... that was where I spent most of my time and when the club finally closed up, Ty asked if i wanted the lamp - and I took it and it sits proudly in my bedroom to this day!

With every project I took on, a seed was planted that begat my next project. That's how it always is for me. During GLOW, I placed a full page ad in a new upstart party magazine that local scenester Robert Rowland was publishing. The magazine published a few issues and then fizzled out .. but watching it in action stimulated the publishing bug that had been long-buried for the past decade!

More on that in my next post. :)

The Act of Breathing

Once I escaped from the claws that were Center City Philadelphia in 1986 - I spent the next seven years living in a self-imposed exile from the scene, tucked away in the Northeast section of the city ... a neighborhood designed for the automobile, which (to this day) I've never learned how to drive.

So I spent much of the time locked away in my little world - traveling to and from work via public transit. I made new friends via, what else - an ad in the Philadelphia Gay News. That, along with the free local acccess lines to the developing 976 networks, gave me a pipeline that kept me from having to step back into downtown Philly.

In spring of 1992, I met someone that allowed me to stop and take a breath from this whole experience ... Tim. Tim was about 10 years younger than I, and we connected on such a pure spiritual level that allowed me the chance to reflect. Seems I had been running non-stop for the past five years and Tim forced me to stop and appreciate what I still had, simply by appreciating me.

We started as friends and then began to date -- fact was, as much as we cared for each other, we were both battling various demons and that, along with life, got in the way of our relationship. We pulled apart once I moved back into center city Philly, but then after a period of cooling off, we revisited our friendship - which really was the root of our happiness. Tim moved south several years ago, and just recently we've reconnected and picked up our friendship where it left off... truly the sign of a pure friend :)

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Sound Of One Voice

When I began this memoirs blog, I honestly felt that it would be this little outlet that I'd have to gather my thoughts about my past and put them into some form and order. As the weeks progressed, the entries took on a more reflective tone ... remembering the emotions that I experienced during those various periods of my life.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that people were following along. Not just reading, but actively absorbing many of my posts ... allowing my words to trigger their own array of emotions. I slowly felt as if this blog was developing into something a bit more than what I had set out for it to be.

Whenever I receive a comment to a post, I feel a thin layer of my hardened outer shell flake away. I realize that one more person out there in the world knows me a bit better than they did before. I realize that I am taking steps to open up and express myself after all these years. Frankly...

I feel more human.

Recently, a faithful reader sent me the following - although it's quite anonymous - i did edit some elements out, simply out of respect. But I was so overwhelmed when I read this email, that I cried. So, I felt it important to include within this memoirs blog, since it's all part of this rewarding experience.
I have just spent the last few hrs reading your entire blog.........laughing and intermittenly many memories.....been a fan of yours for yrs on XPN, spend every christmas eve with ya :-).......and LOVE land of the someone in recovery from an addiction, I too have done much soul searching to understand what brought me to certain points in my many of those teen yrs were a blur, but reading your blog brought back so many memories, good and bad..those memories also brought to me a clearer understanding of many things......thank you again.....and rock on....
No, thank YOU.

Monday, May 22, 2006


From the age of eight, I was fascinated with radio - and I always wanted to work at a radio station. I would spend countless hours late at night with my AM transistor radio, scanning the dial from left to right and back to left ... searching to see what stations I could hear from far-away lands. I'd hear powerhouses like CKLW out of Windsor/Detroit, WABC out of NYC, and a series of other lesser-known stations from all over the eastern half of America.

In fact, this entry expresses just how important radio was to me as a kid.

I've always been impressed with the power of media. As host of Q'zine, a queer radio program on WXPN, I see first hand just how vital a program like that is to LGBTQ youth ... even in this information age.

When I was a young teen, my first connection to someone like myself was through the radio. While the country celebrated its independence in 1976, my personal independence was just being discovered. It was spring 1976 and I remember stumbling upon two men in conversation on the FM dial. They mentioned the word 'gay' and I was hooked. Turns out the show was "Sunshine Gaydreams" and it was a radio show for and about the developing gay community. It was broadcast on WXPN.

Four years later, I wound up doing a guest stint on WXPN, as part of their new wave/punk programming. Twelve years after finding a gay voice on the radio, I began to actually work at that same radio station ... and twenty years from that fateful Sunday in spring when I discovered that I was not alone, I was asked to host that same program.

Grant it the format, style, and program name, have changed over time - but it was a humbling experience for me to come full circle ... and even today I hear from queer youth who have found me through the darkness and are just as grateful as I was thirty years ago this season.

In fact, recently I got this email from an 18 year-old:

hey OMG i love your show, i listen to it all the time, ummmmmm lets see... it got me turned on to Rufus Wainright like YEAH! thanks to u i now also listen to ShimmerPlanet, awesome people! well it's funny there was this guy [u] talkin on the radio and he was sayin like how theres probably young people out there who are gay who listen to it secretly, and i was like holy shit thats me, I love what u do for our community, it's help me to fight the hatred against people who fear somethin new. Well OMG i just really have to say you have made a huge impact in my life once i get a job [he he] hopefuly i'll donate some money. whatever i can help with if there are any internships available please let me know. thanks Robert, i appreciate it. Thanks!
The power of radio.