Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Tapes

Perhaps it is the never-ending cold, or maybe it is the new vision I have, thanks to this memoirs blog I've begun ... whatever the reason, tonight after work I reached into the back of my bedroom closet and pulled out a three-drawer storage unit; each drawer designed to hold audio cassettes.

Inside this unit are 30+ homemade mix tapes, complete with handwritten song lists on the covers. The tapes contain the dance music from the late 1980s. I've not listened to these cassettes for about 14 years. Not because I forgot I had them - just the contrary. I think about these cassettes often, since they were created by a man that got closer to me than anyone else ever has: Hunter Muir.

I will post tomorrow about Hunter - and with the exception of the 'My Story' post I did a week or so ago, the entry about Hunter will be an emotional one for me to compose. It's an entry I knew I'd be making but have been putting off for soon-to-be obvious reasons. But, as I consider this my personal memoirs blog of my world, I also know that the entry must be made, since Hunter plays a role in my life that no one has filled quite the same ever since.

Besides a million other reasons, one that kept Hunter and I close was our passion for music. So, for tonight -- I am dusting off the cassettes and giving them a spin. As I type this I am listening to "TRENDY II" from July 1989. This mix includes the following:

'Walking On Sunshine' / Eddy Grant (The Zulu Mix)
'Work It To The Bone' / Luke Acid
'Homosapien II' / Pete Shelley vs. Power, Wonder & Love
'Soul Mining' / The The (12" Mix)
'Venus' / Bananarama (Greatest Mix)
'Pop Music '89' / M with Robin Scott
'Slam' / Humaniod

Fun. Bittersweet. Monumental.

Klass With A Capital K

As those who know me know, I've been battling a cold for the past week. It's one of those vagabond viruses, that start in the head and wind up ending in the chest. Last night was a 'Thrilla in Manilla' and I think I finally have broken its grip.

My Nana - who will turn 98 in April - always said that a cold can last up to two weeks, but if you take medicine it will only last up to 14 days. She's witty like that ... guess that's where I get it. She also said that 'It's not the cough that carries you off, it's the coffin they carry you off in'.

Ah, family humor.

Anyway, I've not been focused enough this week to post, thanks to my whirlwind love affair with Nyquil. But i did find this while sifting through my old collections of address books [which I posted about a while back] ...

I'm thinking this was the address book I used in 1983/4. I don't mind printing their numbers, since sadly everyone listed in the picture has passed away.

Besides John Sex who I just posted about, this one page from my past stirs some other memories: 'Al / PCHA' - Philadelphia Community Health Alternatives.

PCHA was founded in 1979 to identify, advocate for, and support the well being and physical and mental health needs of the gay community at a time when many newly-out gay men felt that they couldn't get honest healthcare, since their old doctor simply didn't understand or accept who they were. PCHA, as many community healthcare orgs, also worked to stunt STDs within the community - which had always been of issue, since a closeted man couldn't dare talk to his doctor about something he might have caught while with another man.

When I first got involved with PCHA it was 1981/82 and they were undertaking a major marketing campaign called "Bee Prepared"; complete with bright yellow t-shirts with a bee on the front. Hepatitis B was on the rise in the gay community and they were out educating everyone on ways to protect and what to look out for ... it seems so benign now, knowing that here we were running around teaching people about things like Hep B and your typical STDs and there was this massive and deadly plague right under our feet the whole time.

By the end of 82, PCHA shifted all its efforts to AIDS and remains the oldest AIDS service organization in Pennsylvania, and the fourth oldest in the nation. They still offer general healthcare to those that need it as well.

Also on this one page is another memory, one a bit more upbeat: 'Steve from the Black Banana'.

I loved the Black Banana - located at the corner of 3rd and Race. It was a disco straight out of 1978 - lots of polished chrome, round globe lighting and plush seating areas. I first went to the BB as a guest of Garrick Melmick, who was the owner. I suppose that was in 1981, when I shouldn't have been going ANYWHERE, being just 18. But, a simplier time.

The club was a sea of drugs, sex and dancing. Once you entered the doors, mum was the word to everything. From my memory, it was a messy party place - and I mean that in a good way. It wasn't grand and the dance space on the 2nd floor wasn't large but it had a certan personality that you simply didn't find in any other Philly club in the early 80s.

The Black Banana had class. Even after the fire and when it shifted to host the Vagabond parties and the Love Deluxe events ... it still had style. So much so that I still have my Black Banana membership card, declaring me a proud member of Crusaders Community Club of Philadelphia ... The Black Banana!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

When Sex Was Good

Mention John McLoughlin and few people know who you're talking about ... but mention John Sex and all those in the scene in the 1980s will let out a collective sigh. "Ooooo John!"

I first met John during Halloween weekend 1983 in NYC at an apartment on St. Marks - - I can't recall whose. St. Mark's Square was this dirty, seedy strip that once was a blossoming part of the East Village. By the time I first discovered it (circa 1982), the place was a wall of plywood-covered windows, junkies, punks and gays.


With every visit to NYC, I'd swing by St. Marks to see who was bouncin' around. That and a trip over to 8th Street where there was a row of really funky shoe stores that carried tons of shoes, cheap!

John began as all good performers do, by being a go-go dancer. The difference was that he, along with his friend Wendy Wild, would incorporate props and bizarre performance elements into their gyrations, so quickly they realized there was more to the act then just shaking a booty.

By the time I met John in '83, he was already pretty well known in the East Village, performing some incredible live cabaret shows - complete with his trademark hair! This hair seemed to get higher each time I saw him! I'm amazed it didn't all fall out with all the glue he used for years to keep it in place.

When I met John I was with my friend Gary and his friend, a drag queen named Freeda. She introduced me to John and his friends, and we all headed over to Danceteria - which was to NYC what East Side Club was to Philadelphia (although, since it was NYC, it was bigger and bolder!)

My original plan was to travel up to NYC on Saturday, October 30 and see Philly's own Bunnydrums and then come home... but, as anyone who has partied in NYC can attest, a night in The City lasts at least 48 hours.

After the Bunnydrums concert, I wound up staying at my friend Gary's place on Bank Street and on Sunday his friend Freeda came over and we got ourselves ready for Round Two - we were going BACK to Danceteria to see some band I had never heard about. They were initially slated for the Friday, but had been bumped to perform two nights (Oct 30 and Halloween) at Danceteria. So, I figured they must be worth checking out.

The band was called The Immaculate Consumptive and it turned out to be just one of only three live shows they ever performed, since they weren't truly a band but more a mash-up of four individual performers jamming on stage. The Immaculte Consumptive featured Nick Cave, Clint Ruin (Jim 'Foetus' Thirlwell), Lydia Lunch & Marc Almond.

Until then, to me Marc was just part of the band Soft Cell ... but something happened that night that connected me to Marc in a way that I still haven't understood. Since that live performance, I have been a loyal fan for the past 20+ years and I am soooo relieved to know that Marc pulled out a coma following a near-death motorcycle accident in 2004 and is alive, well and writing/ performing once again.

That Sunday night in 1983 turned out to be a blur of faces. Costumes were everywhere - Gary lent me his black suit, black shirt and skinny red tie with a crazy neon-checkered scarf in the coat pocket for my second night out (since you simply can't wear the same thing to the same club two nights in a row!).

Besides being floored by the performances on stage, I was really taken by John. Here was a man that truly was impressive. He held court but was so fragile at the same time. Sometime late in the morning we had an incredible conversation that lasted for almost an hour. It was a great bond that only got stronger when he came to Philly to perform at Revival a couple years later.

Whenever I could I would head to NYC and catch John's performances at places like The Pyramid Club, Limelight, The Saint and of course Danceteria. Through knowing John, I got to meet and become casual friends with Keith Haring who was becoming one of the definitive artists of the 1980s and, I believe, the 20th century. What struck me the most was just how shy Keith and John were when not in the public eye.

Meeting these two people allowed me to better understand that there really isn't such a thing as celebrity. It's all how it is perceived.

Sadly John died of AIDS in 1989, Keith a year later. Not only were they talented souls, but they were pure human beings, as were so many of the friends that crossed my path during the 1980s. As much as I miss them all, I am grateful to have had the chance to know them, for they helped me become the person I am today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My Story

Today I stayed home, nursing a cold. Once I couldn't sleep any longer, I decided to write. The past few weeks have opened up some incredible memories for me. Also some deep wounds. But over the past few days, I started to put the pieces together ... so I thought I'd write about it. 3,100 words later, here it is. Advance apologies for a long read.

For years I have questioned my being. I’ve always felt a bit out of place, but in reality, I’ve been in the middle of the masses for quite some time.

My issue has been one of emotion. Understanding why I have become the man I am today. It’s been a bit of a conundrum for me and I have listened to people offer solutions but I never quite process their replies, since they never quite know who I am to start with. So they are doing the best the can, with what they have.

This year I began a memoirs blog project. It has been an incredible experience for me – partly because I get to document my past and educate those friends and visitors that read the site. But mostly, it has allowed me to take a gift that I have always had and never used – that of writing – and stimulate it with a topic that I know all to well … myself.

The hidden gift in this discovery is that, for the first time, I have seen The Answer. I finally have been able to understand how I came to be who I am today. Sure I have mentioned elements of this answer from time to time, but I never quite processed it, until now.

To me, my biggest issues are being emotionally detached and being a control freak. In the past, I have embraced the reasoning that I’ve been through so much emotional pain that it was easier to just learn to detach myself from my emotions, so I could just make it through another day. And, I believe that is partly true. However, I now see that the reason I am emotionally detached is because I never was emotionally connected in the first place.

I was raised in an environment that had little traditional family structure – as those who have read some of my earlier posts in my blog have learned, I was out and on my own in many ways by the time I was 15. Emotional connections were intense and short-lived for me. I never got to experience things as most people do. My world was a sea of distraction from age 15 to age 30. Working all the time, partying to escape the pressures of work and the spiraling AIDS pandemic around me… heartfelt emotions had no real place in my world.

By the time I turned 30 in 1993, I had moved back into Center City and had been working at WXPN for 5 years. Things were starting to settle down – and I was beginning to reach out to meet people. Sadly, the only way I knew how was taught to me by the one man that ran my life from age 19-26; Mike Labance.

Mike was the owner of Au Courant and befriended me back in 1981. Quickly I was under his wing and helping him as he sold ads for the PGN. From there we created a side business in 1982 – that gave us the funding to launch Au Courant in September of 1982. I worked as his right-hand and general manager until 1986, when I simply had enough. I was 23 kid with an ulcer.

Mike was the King of manipulation. He got everyone to do whatever he wanted by controlling the situation around him. At first I was impressed and intrigued. In hindsight, Mike was a sad and lonely man. To hide from his emotions he smoked pot to the point that it was a major addiction for him.

You did what he wanted because he had control of the situation. The irony was he wanted to create Au Courant to get away from the lack of freedom that he felt he had at the PGN. He would complain that the publisher of the PGN was a control freak etc… the reality is that Mike became what he feared most.

There were times when I was woken in the middle of the night and told to come to the office to deal with a situation (the books or an account, etc). I would get up, stumble from my 2nd floor-rear apartment at 1302 Pine to the office on 12th street at 3am and he’d be there, stoned and on fire … and my job was to calm him down and put the fire out. I did this because I was 21 and living in an apartment that was paid for by the business. Sounds good, except that was instead of me getting a salary. I got about $50 a week to live off of and my rent was paid. In that situation, I learned how to network and make connections and get shit for free [drinks, dinners, etc] ... not because I wanted to, but because I had to, in order to survive.

When the speed I did got too much for my teeth, Mike asked our friend and advertiser Dr. Steven Grosse to take a look, since he was a dentist. Steven gave me an estimate and since none of us had insurance, Mike traded Steven’s ads for my dental work. That one trade deal haunted me for years. All About Control.

When Mike and Joe were heading off to NYC one weekend to attend/cover some gay pride gig, he called me from the payphone outside at 7am freaking out as to why the camera bag had no extra film inside. I told him that I forgot and that there were plenty of rolls in the safe at the office (which had now moved to 35 N. 3rd) – he demanded that I take care of this situation and that I come downstairs right now – so I did, barefoot and in shorts. He made me hop into the car and we drove down to the office in Old City and I went in and got the film and brought it out to him and put it in the camera bag.

Then he drove off.

So, I walked barefoot through the city back to my place at 13th street. This was what I went through for those 5 years. In hindsight, it was abuse. By 1986, I had enough. I hated my life. I had lost so many friends from AIDS and suicide. Those that remained had figured out how to personally cocoon themselves from the ravages of the era. Everyone was trying to escape. I was under such stress at work, suffering from an ulcer and high half the time, just trying to cope. I went to the office one day and Mike, in a pot-withdrawal fury, decided to fire the entire sales staff: leaving the survival of the paper up to me.

I broke. I told him I had to go to a sales call and we’d figure it all out that night. He demanded to drive me there, since he was en route to visit George (our backer) in the hospital. Of course, I had no sales call, so I had him take me to a business that I knew the owner – so I could at least fake it. It was at the corner of 9th and Arch. He dropped me off and when I got to the door – it was locked. FUCK. He circled the block and when he passed by, and I was still there, questioned if I was lying or not. I told him that I was early and I’ll just wait for him to show. He drove off and I sat down on the step and gathered my thoughts. I never have felt that alone before or since. After like 5 minutes, I walked across the street to the payphone and called my Dad.

I told him that I needed him to come get me – that I needed to get out, that I was falling apart. He asked no questions (he never did) and said he would be at my place in a couple hours. Once I hung up, I called my friend Stephen and told him I was leaving. Stephen had been my closest friend since ’82 and we’re still good friends to this day. He knew first hand that I was falling apart. I told him he had to take my records – I had about 500 12” singles and LPs and Stephen had begun to DJ, so I figured he could use them.

So, I walked from 9th and Arch to my apartment at 13/Pine, crying the whole way home. I got to my apartment and grabbed trash bags and tossed all my clothes into them. I filled three bags. My Dad shows up early and together we carry my clothes in trash bags and my hundreds of records and my stereo out to his van. I left everything else.

We drove down Pine to 9th and Stephen was there and we carried all the vinyl into his apartment. I hugged him and thanked him and said goodbye. That moment killed me the most. I’m tearing up now as I just write about this whole experience. I got back into the van and we drove off… out of center city, away from my whole world. Away from the gay bars, the new wave, the independence, the drug dealers, Mike's control... everything.

I was free and I was scared. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing and I was afraid when the shit finally would hit the fan what would happen. But I knew I had to save myself. I would have died had I stayed.

I got to my father’s place – which was actually a house in Bridesburg section of Philly that he shared with a married couple ... i.e. I slept on the couch and lived out of my trash bags while there.

I severed all ties with my former world. Stephen was the only person I talked to at all for years. I knew how controlling Mike was and I knew that he never liked anyone to have the last word – so as long as I was alive, he had a vendetta.

I called Stephen about a week after I escaped. The shit was ALL over the community. Mike obviously flipped when he realized I had vanished without a trace. That and, since he had fired everyone else, he had to run the paper without a staff. The rumor mill was cranking in overdrive. First Mike told EVERYONE that I had embezzled $10,000 to support my drug habit and had left the country. The $10,000 figure came from the trade we did for my dental work. What was I gonna do, give back my teeth?! Of course, it was all lies – and I knew Mike so well, I knew his every step. I knew that he would continue to try to smoke me out by tossing out outrageous rumors, knowing I would try to defend myself.

What Mike didn’t realize was that the community had gotten to know me – since I was the one out there every day, while Mike sat in the office smoking joints. They knew that I hadn’t stolen any money, since they knew how friggin’ poor I was. They also knew how much stress I was under and no one really liked Mike anymore … so no one listened to his rants. Well, until he finally came up with one that stuck.

I had AIDS. I was dying and went home to carry out my final days. That struck many as odd, since I hadn’t said anything to anyone and looked healthy … but I did vanish without a trace, leaving my phone service on, my checking account open and loose ends all around. AND no one had heard anything since … hmm, perhaps this was the truth.

So, that stuck and it drove me nuts for a while. I wanted to let people know that I was alive and healthy. But I let it stick. Somewhere I actually liked the fact that the Bob Drake that everyone knew was dead. To embrace that, I began to refer to myself only as Robert from that point on. I was reborn.

The paper managed to continue without me and I got a little apartment on Roosevelt Blvd and a job at a WAWA in the Far Northeast by the fall of ‘86. Not driving, it took me well over an hour each way by bus to get to work, so that kept me busy most the time. Things we’re starting to settle in a bit until I got a call from my manager at Wawa. Seemed he had something to tell me and asked me to come in early. So I did and found out that he had gotten a call from someone named Mike Labance, warning him that I was a thief and such. I told him the entire story and thank God he believed me and he actually informed the regular cops that came into the store that I had a crazy man stalking me.

They asked but I didn’t file a report, since that would have only brought him closer – so I let it go, but the police made it a habit to hang out nightly at the store. I was a mess at this point. Always watching my back and also back to getting high to escape. I enrolled in a broadcasting school, which was a sham, but it did get me back into Center City after a year of self-imposed exile.

In January of 1988 I started at WXPN. A month later, on the front page of the Daily Magazine section of the Philadelphia Inquirer was an article titled “The War of WXPN”, which talked about the struggle between the old staffers and the new folk. Pictured was our then-GM along with some new-staffers, including myself.

The call came that day.

Mike contacted my boss directly. Thankfully she’s a New Yorker and knows crazy when she hears it – so she told him to fuck off and he did. But I was still freaked out knowing that at any moment this man would snap and I was his target. Life continued, but much of it was a fog. I went out a bit to places like Revival and such – but most of my party trips were in NYC, since I could just get lost in the millions of lost souls. In the early 90s I learned from reading Au Courant that Frank our founding editor had died of AIDS. I really cared for Frank and it killed me inside that I couldn’t say goodbye or even pay respects. Shortly thereafter, Mike publicly disclosed that he too was positive and was going to do a first person column on his situation.

Once I read that he was positive I really began to flip. This man was dying so there was no reason that he wouldn’t run me down if he saw me on the sidewalk. He was already dying. What’s to lose?! I pulled away from everything and locked myself in my apartment and just got high whenever I didn’t have to work. During this time, I lost my oldest and closest friend Phil Maynard as well as Hunter Muir, the only man I had loved, both to AIDS. I was a mess. I was alone. Detached was an understatement.

The skies lifted a bit by 1993. I had gotten some advancement at XPN and was officially the Promotions Director of the station. I was focused on my work and I was going to move back into Center City. I remember the day I opened the Daily News and there was a picture of Mike and an obit of his death. I clipped it out and saved it (along with many others) and then went out to celebrate. That was the only time I ever celebrated a death and it felt good. Things were starting to fall into place for me – my Dad who had been by my side through all of this was excited for me and even helped me pack things up in my apartment, readying it for the movers.

I moved into Center City (into where I am today) in June 1993. It was a busy month, I turned 30 and I felt as if a brand new chapter was being created. The month was a blur and work was crazy but I was finally enjoying it all and had drastically slowed down with getting high … life was good. I told my Dad [pictured] about the place and he was excited to see it, once I settled in. Five weeks after I moved in, he was dead. He never did get to see my house or me. He died in his sleep and, as the only child and the only family member in Philadelphia; I was responsible for all the details of his funeral and burial. His family (my grandmother, uncle etc) all lived in Maine, so they couldn’t really do much. I put my emotions aside and pulled my shit together and took control of the situation. Sadly, I never let go, nor did I ever go back and claim my emotions that I had ‘temporarily’ put aside. I didn’t cry at all during that whole time – and to this day I haven’t cried over the loss of my father.

From there I just buckled down and took charge. Work was obvious and productive, but I felt the need to control everything. I was tired of surprises. I was tired of the roller-coaster that was my world for a decade. I wanted stability.

So, I took control. I gave up drugs, since they got in the way of me being in control. I didn’t allow anyone to get to my emotions. I only courted people that I was able to manipulate. I took everything I learned from Mike and applied it, since that’s all I really knew how to do. Strong people only frightened me; since I felt that they would find a way to control me and I would spiral. So, this laid the foundation for where I am today.

This is why I hate the feeling of no control. I’m not a control freak by regular standards. Instead I adapted control as a tool of survival and it overtook my world at levels that I just now understand.

I crave for the time when I can just put down my armor and let someone in. It’s totally not as easy as some friends make it sound. I’ve held this stance for so many years that I feel like my muscles are frozen in place.

I think that the blog project and these posts are allowing me to chip away at a coat that is way past its use.

I slowly feel like I am able to breathe again. And let me tell you, it is a great feeling.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

One Moment In Time

So, I've just begun to dig in this shoebox of memories and I came across a great picture of the past... yes dear reader, you are finally going to see what I looked like 23 years ago, at the ripe old age of 21!

This picture was taken at the Renegade Hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware during the summer of 1984 (just a month after I purchased the diary I posted about last). Obviously, you can figure out which is me ... barely.

[I'm in the middle.]

Basically, your typical 21 year old, addicted to whatever 'upper' was available at the time. The little dude on the one side is Chino. The one in the white t-shirt is Joe. Reflected in the mirror is George. First, Chino.

I met Chino outside Equus sometime during the winter of of 1983. We started dating and, once we realized that wasn't going to work out, we became good friends. He became a go-go dancer at Key West bar when that place opened and then went on to join his brother as an employee at The Foodery, at the corner of 10/Pine. Years went by, he found "Jesus" and then moved into a small apartment off Passyunk Avenue, decorated with his huge collection of all things Donna Summer.

Internal Struggle was an understatement when talking about Chino. He finally left Philadelphia to live with a friend (some say boyfriend) and helped run a local deli ... until he blew his brains out one day. Roll credits.

Joe was one half of the couple I first met in 1981. His lover was Mike Labance, the ad manager for the PGN and the publisher for Au Courant - - i.e. my boss. I loved Mike almost as much as I hated him. It was probably the strangest relationship I ever had with another human being in my life and I fear that I learned the fine art of control from his erratic behavior, which was brought on by an 8-joint a day pot addiction that he had. Joe was a good kid - a bit slow, but he meant well. Totally manipulated by Mike.

George was an investor in Au Courant - a sweet older man who had finally come to terms with the reality that he was a gay man - sadly it was when he was 55. So, he found support and friendship with the crew at Au Courant, while helping us keep the new project afloat. Again, he was someone Mike totally manipulated, although I think George was aware - but just lonely.

Sadly, George died of complications from an operation a few years later. As for Joe, I'm not sure officially where he is today - I know that Mike died from AIDS in the early 90s (a year after our editor Frank died, also from AIDS). About 5 years ago I heard that Joe passed away - but never was able to confirm it.

All just memories at this point. The most awkward element about my life is that there are so few friends still alive to commiserate and reminisce with me about our memories and our past. So, perhaps that is a strong drive for this blog project. Not only to 'remember before I forget', but to just share my past with someone, anyone. Just so I don't have to experience alone.

Regardless of the reasoning, writing has become quite soothing for me - and I appreciate the fact that there are eyes out there reading this. It makes me feel a bit more whole.

So thanks. :)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Levy Breaks

This weekend I decided to start to tackle my closet - not so much the clothes, but that infamous top shelf we all have, filled with items you don't want to toss away, but you no longer want in your line of vision.

There's some unusual shit up there, including a magnetic funeral flag that one puts on their car while in a procession. I stole it from the car that carried me to my father's burial site in 1993. I forgot I even had it. So, it goes back up, so it can be rediscovered down the road and remind me again of a moment in time.

Then I found it. A simple shoe-box from a pair of long-forgotten Converse sneakers. Inside there is a trove of items that mean nothing to anyone, except me. I have every address book I ever had from 1980 through the 1990s - when I finally gave up on buying and updating an address book by hand and instead using some Windows program on my computer.

But when I was younger, I looked forward to getting a new address book. The idea of starting over has always appealed to me. Perhaps it was the feeling of a clean slate - or a fresh start. But being able to transfer, by hand, those names that 'made it' into my new book gave me a chance to think about each and every entry ... even if it was just for a moment, it kept everyone in my head.

At least that's how it was until 1985. In 1985 I remember purchasing a new phone book, not because I wanted to, but because I needed to ... the book I had used from 1982-85 still had room to grow, but sadly every page in my address book looks like the one pictured here. Entry after entry is crossed out - not because the information was out of date, but because they had died.

The years between 1982 and 1992 were terrible for anyone living within an epicenter of an urban gay community. As the general manager of Au Courant, being responsible for the advertising for all of the gay clubs in Philly, I knew everyone: bartenders, managers, customers. Add to that the regular mix of people I knew from just being out and about.

In 1983 I finally decided to purchase a diary to write down the names of those I knew who had died from AIDS. I felt it was vital for me to remember them. Remember Their Names. It seems that I was not alone in that thought.

Around 1985 Cleve Jones, a longtime gay activist in San Francisco, who had produced an annual candlelight vigil to remember Harvey Milk, realized that the number of men who had died from AIDS in his city alone had crossed 1,000. He asked marchers to write the name of someone they had lost to AIDS and march with that name - at the end all the names were taped to a wall. Since each name was written by a different person, each in a unique way, the wall looked like a quilt of colors and design. Thus began the Names Project and the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The mission: to Remember Their Names.

I went to the first display of the entire Quilt project in 1987 in Washington D.C. It was held on the National Mall and included close to 2,000 panels - each panel is 3x6 feet ... about the size of a grave. The panels are truly stunning pieces of work and both heartbreaking and rewarding to view. I visited Washington again in 1988, 1989, 1992 and finally in 1996 to see the Quilt. That was the last time it was displayed in its entirety. This was the fundraising pin from its final display in '96. The Quilt had simply grown too big for any one location to display.

As for my personal diary - I started it in 1983 with the name of my friend Richard - who worked alongside me until he became ill with pneumonia in June of 1982. By October, he was dead. No one was afraid of what had happened, since no one knew. All we knew is that he had died from pneumonia. There were no studies or science to point to anything at the time.

Since Au Courant had launched in September of 1982, I was pretty plugged into the gay news network thoughout much of that year and watched the reports of the 'gay cancer' and GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) but hadn't connected the dots to Richard.

It wasn't until 1983, after the CDC labeled this mysterious illness as AIDS, when we all realized that Richard had died from it. By then the news was growing more somber by the week. We changed the format of our weekly paper to be more radical when covering AIDS issues - we knew that if we (gay press) didn't write about it, no one else would.

So, in 1983 I decided that the diary would be my solace. When I purchased it I entered Richard's name, as well as Bill's and Daniel's. I hoped that I wouldn't visit the diary much more, but I could just sense with doom that my time with the diary was only going to grow.

I kept the diary until 1996. I had returned from Washington DC, having just viewed the Quilt, and realized that enough was enough. In the course of those 13 years of having that memorial diary, I entered almost 300 names. From casual barflies and colleagues to close friends and even one lover.

I had to let go.

So, I stopped entering names. At least on paper. In my mind I will always Remember Their Names.

A Picture Post

Today is Sunday - and I'll probably post later in the evening, but for now - I want to leave you with an image. The year is 1981 - the location is the 900 block of Walnut Street - the place is OMNI'S ... as always, click to enlarge.

This was the first time I saw Bauhaus in concert ... amazing. Of course those who know, know that the band Head Cheese went on to become Book Of Love.

And we all know that Pretty Poison went on to just become Jade's monkey on her back! (haha)

More later -- I've been cleaning out boxes in my closet, which of course has triggered TONS of thoughts...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Lucky Comes Easy

A couple days ago I was watching a video clip from the late Nelson Sullivan [I'll post a seperate memory about my time with Nelson later]. It seemed that Nelson and I crossed paths every time I was in NYC in the 1980s and we developed a casual friendship over the years.

Nelson's "thing" was to take his video camera, hold it at arm's length and basically film himself every night - you, the viewer, went wherever Nelson went and met his friends and saw the inside loop of the 'scene' in a very relaxed, almost private, view.

So, I'm watching this clip of when Nelson and friends went to Bentley's cause Susanne Bartsch was tossing a party for Leigh Bowery's birthday ... it's quite the event, as you would assume with Leigh in the house.

But there's one point in the video where you see the dance floor and you hear the music and I hear a song that I had almost forgotten about! I dash to my shelves and thumb through row after row of LPs until I found it ... an album that I almost wore out back in 1979: Donna Summer's Bad Girls.

The song I heard was a track called "Lucky" -- hypnotic music from the one and only Giorgio Moroder, at his peak! I pulled it out - and spun it several times ... loudly. Then, last night I took the record to Fluid and played it over the dance club system before the doors opened. What an incredible album!!

Don't let the burnt hits like "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls" turn you off - totally give this release another chance. It is truly one of the best early electro releases ... period.

Anyway -- I had to post this, since I just went onto iTunes and bought the Bad Girls Deluxe CD - which has the album as well as several 12" mixes and a few other gems. I am SOOOO living in the past as these songs play ... and loving every minute of it!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Catching The 12:55

In 1982 I found myself immersed in the social scene in Philly. I was knee-deep in various projects and working to create a brand-new weekly newspaper to serve the gay arts/culture community. I was swimming in a sea of new wave, punk, disco and drugs. It was messy and it taught me a lot in the decades to come.

Besides the normal party favors that were scattered across the nightlife at the turn of the decade, one that was treasured by many was MDA, the parent to MDMA (ecstasy). It was a powder that was put into capsules and you would take one of these things and then go lay down for like an hour or so, while your body sweated out the drug's effect. Once that part of the trip broke, you were good to go for 12+ hours of fun dancing enjoyment. My friends and I would save these special moments for weekends - we'd toss on some 12" singles, plan out our wardrobe, drop-n-sweat and then get a shower and get dressed and grab a cab to rush us to 30th Street Station, where we would hop on the 12:55am Amtrak to NYC.

Nothing like 4 queens tripping their tits off on a train going 70 miles per hour through the armpit of New Jersey to get a party started! (haha) As soon as the train hit the tunnel into The City, we were ON! The doors opened and we floated to the street and got into a cab and, whichever of us was the most clear-headed, simply told the driver "The Anvil". He knew. We all knew.

The Anvil was my home away from home. I must have gone there at least monthly, if not more between 1982 and 1985. The Anvil was already a notorious spot in Manhattan - which says something in those decadent days of the 1970s. The Anvil was a groundbreaking gay club which opened in 1974 and was located near the waterfront at 10th Avenue and 14th Street.

It was as famous for its graphic onstage 'performance' shows featuring some of NYC's hunkiest square-jawed and macho young men as it was for its freewheeling basement backroom action. It's biggest claim to fame was Felipe Rose, the "Indian" in The Village People, who had danced on its bar before his ascent to Village People-fame.

By the time 1982 came around - and I was making my first visit to The Anvil - a certain level of fear was installed into me by my elders, who spoke of this macho space where nothing but jeans and flannel were allowed - and especially, no women! We get to the bar, which was the street level of a triangle building deep in the meat-packing district of Manhattan. As sexual as that may sound, it truly was a meat-packing district where boatloads of cattle carcasses were unloaded and delivered to refridgerated warehouses - between these warehouses you would find the darkest gay bars and clubs of the 1970s. If I felt Christopher Street was seedy, this was way beyond.

So, we pour out of the cab and get in line - the most fascinating thing was that - here in the middle of a dark neighborhood - there was this building that was literally pumping with life; you could feel the bass from outside. Cabs came and went as well as limos and such. We get to the door and the first thing you did was pay the cover ($5) and then at the next window you had to purchase drink tickets for $2 a pop. You'd by a string of em for like $10 or $20 and that would hold you for the night. The reason you purchased the tickets was simple: the place has no liquor license, so it couldn't "sell" booze - but it could sell "tickets". No money could exchange hands between you and the bartender - there was no register behind the bar - instead, the bar [which was a square wooden bar where you could stand next to any of its 4 sides] had a small cut out hole in the center of the bar. You'd drop your tip into that and they would gather it at the end of the night.

The space was a triangle, just like the building itself. At the widest point was the square bar - above the simple bar (and I mean simple - like it was made in shop class and never treated) there was a series of pipes and hooks. From the hooks were ropes and the ropes helped the male dancers swing from one end of the bar to another - or sometimes cross over diagonally. There was a small performance stage that jutted out onto the simple dance floor with just the basic of disco lights. The money was put into the sound system. Kick ass.

So, we have our tickets and we enter this 'seedy' place and the first thing I see is a drag queen on the stage!! WTF!?! My elders are a bit surprized and I'm a bit relieved. Well, we found out that all the dark sleezy crowd had moved over to The Mineshaft a couple years back and this place had lost its reputation. But, thankfully for me - The Anvil was moving into the more performance art / new wave / disco world and I was home!

So, I ripped off my flannel shirt that I was forced to wear to fit in - and left my t-shirt on and danced the night away. That first night I met Conrad - the manager of The Anvil and we became good friends. He would tend bar downstairs - which still had the seedy element the upstairs had lost. It was a similar laid out room - but with cheesy porn playing and men just having sex wherever or with whomever. There was a little bar that had a water pipe going through the center of it from above, and Conrad, who could barely fit behind this little bar, would keep one hand on the pipe and swing himself from one side of the bar to another to reach everyone who wanted a drink. Every so often he would loudly yell "Gentlemen, watch your wallets in the back room, please!" My friend Chico and I were so into that, we actually had t-shirts made with that saying on it, during a trip to Asbury Park in the summer of '83 and EVERYONE on the beach knew what the shirt meant! HAHA!

Besides Conrad, I met The Amazing Uba - a 6'8" dark-skinned albino drag queen. She performed upstairs at The Anvil -- two shows, 4am and 8am. She was ALL ABOUT Grace Jones and would do her whenever she had a chance. I'll post about Uba another time, since there's a great story to share about her in 1983.

Also, I met The Amazing Electrifying Grace [amazing seemed to be the catch phrase back then!] - she was the Diva M.C. at The Anvil and was a riot! She stayed until the space closed in '86 and then moved over to Sally's in Times Square (the home to many of the girls featured in flick Paris Is Burning).

I really enjoyed knowing her, since she knew everyone and made sure I got to meet them as well. For a while, Grace was a guide for me as I stumbled about in the city that never slept. I miss her. (this is her in the pic)

The Anvil, which had opened it doors in 1974, on the tide of sexual liberation, after a spectacular 11-year run, was forced to close its doors in the late fall of 1985, as much a casualty of the disease itself as of the homophobic hysteria that began to grip the country.

Over The Rainbow And Into A Twister

I've spent the past week or two reflecting on my experiences coming out and growing up in Cepter City Philadelphia in the early 1980s. But a vital part of my 'growing up' came from my experiences in The City ... not Philly, but New York City.

So, to get myself in the mood to write this post, I am listening to a 40-minute audio clip recorded live in '85 at NYC's Paradise Garage with the legendary DJ Larry Levan spinning. The clip starts off in the middle of a live performance from the goddess Joceyln Brown performing "Somebody Else's Guy" on stage... wait?! Ya don't know Ms. Brown?!

Jocelyn was also the lead vocalist of the super Disco group - Musique - scoring hits with "(Push-Push) In the Bush" and "Keep On Jumpin'" and then joined Inner Life - and had hits with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "I'm Caught Up (in a one night love affair)". She made it big on her own in 1984 with "Somebody Else's Guy" - but she has been a staple in the dance music industry since the late 70s. In fact, you can even see her performing live - as one of the back-up singers with Bette Midler in the concert film "Divine Madness". Trust me - you might not know Jocelyn, but you have heard her. She still performs to this day .

Anyway - NYC.

My real introduction to The City was in 1980 - I had graduated from Washington High in NE Philly that June and took a few road trips to Manhattan that summer to celebrate. I had a few somewhat older friends to guide me around and the very first place I remember going to was a dive bar/disco called ... The Limelight!

No, not the one you're thinking about - this Limelight had been open for a few years and was pretty drab - in fact it closed later that year. It was located on 7th Avenue below Christopher and had a strong latin following (as did I - hahaha). Hence, why it was our first stop of my first visit to New York City.

I remember going to several bars on Christopher Street -- the only one that sticks out for me was the Cock Ring, which was a dance bar located on the ground floor of a flophouse hotel called The Christopher - the building was located at the very end of Christopher Street at West. The Cock Ring is pictured below - the door with the a/c above it was the entrance - the "hotel" is above.

Across the street were The Piers - a series of abandoned piers that stood two stories tall and stretched out over the river and were full nightly with men having sex and partying all night long. By 1982, drag queens would take boom-boxes to the area and the sounds of artists like Afrika Bambaataa and Man Parrish would bounce off the walls of these buildings as people just hung out there through the dark hours - the only light was the city skyline - including the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which were right down the road.

This part of the Village was dangerous - which made it exciting. I remember walking down Christopher to the river and there would be a dude on the street with a cheap aluminum tv-tray... on it was a cooler full of ice and poppers. You could buy a bottle of amyl nitrate for $5 and go dance the night away. Police simply weren't around much -- especially near the end of Christopher. My friend Tippy once said that anyone who made it to that final block was truly at the END of the ride for the night. Hence, the end of Christopher.

By 1980, the Village was alive with anticipation - the gay community had come alive in the late 1970s and NYC was a hub of activity and preperation for the sunny times ahead. In fact, The Christopher Hotel closed its doors around 1981 and the building was remodeled into a luxury hotel - the River Hotel - which opened its doors in 1982.

Sadly, no one was aware of the evil that lurked within the community. As AIDS decimated the culture and the community, places closed and businesses folded. It was like watching a balloon rapidly deflate. What was once a bright and shining rainbow had quickly turned into a twister.

In a tragically ironic turn, the building that was home to the Cock Ring and The River Hotel closed its doors and was ultimately converted to an AIDS hospice - Bailey House. That time - the early mid '80's - was a desperate time.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

My Partner In Crime

Today is a special day - I decided to focus on my friend Stephen Durkin.

Although I have known thousands of people over the past 25 years, there has been one person who was my roadside companion year after year, and that is Stephen.

I met Stephen when we were both babes in the woods - The exact year is a bit foggy, but I want to peg it at 1982. He was working at Steps, which was this b-rate gay bar/disco located on a dead-end street near 15/Spruce. There are pictures of each of us floating around from that era - but we have a pact never to let them see the light of day!

We became fast friends and Stephen was truly my closest friend from my arrival to Center City til this day. We have been through so much in 25 years - laugher and tears. We both caught the DJ bug in the early 80s - first me, but quickly Stephen's bug became stronger and then - next thing you know - Stephen had a residency at the legendary DCA after-hours club ... the top of the music mountain back in the day.

He landed his first DJ gig at Philadelphia's premiere (but at the time not only) leather bar - The Bike Stop. From there he moved to his first dance club residency at the DCA. That stint took him to Kurt's, which had just opened and blew the rest of Philly out of the water with its 10,000 square foot danceclub.

By the summer of 90, Stephen was the house DJ at Kurts, and worked alongside such dance icons as Grace Jones, Book Of Love, Bronski Beat, Erasure, Chaka Kahn, Loletta Hollaway, Black Box, to name a few.

He also began to be THE DJ asked to spin at numerous fundraiser parties in the region, including Pier Pressure 1,2 and 3 (each attended by over 5,000 people and held down at Penn's Landing!); Dance With Dolphins held at the New Jersey State Aquarium; Cha Cha (Philadelphia's first major AIDS fundraiser) and more. Those gigs landed Stephen bookings in New York City, Baltimore, Connecticut, Washington D.C. and summers on Fire Island.

From Fire Island to Philadelphia , Stephen has had DJ residencies at almost all major Philly dance venues and continues to be driving force in the Philly dance scene today, spinning at Woody's and Pure, among others.

But that's just the professional Stephen. Privately, Stephen has been one of the most sincere and loyal friends I've had in my life. There are weeks when we don't talk - months sometimes - but when we do, we pick up right where we left off. I've watched him go from a poor kid barely keeping it together to a strong adult with a house, car and simply surviving in so many ways.

As those who know me know, it takes a lot for me to be impressed. Actually, all it takes is Stephen.

So, as I travel back to my youth, I wanted to stop and tip my hat to Stephen! I'm so glad you are still around and keepin' to the beat. I love you lots!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

An Urban Oasis

In late 1984 the world changed as The Kennel Club opened its doors. The first time I climbed past those plastic legs and arms that were attached to the walls of the flight of stairs that took you to Heaven, my world had changed forever.

Sure, The Kennel Club was a kick-ass space. But it was like having a big dysfunctional family - all crammed into a dirty basement and finally - like hitting oil - we get to pack up the truck an move to Walnut ... Street that is.

We finally had a home that was hip, trendy and still us. A huge video bar with carpeted stairs that you could fit dozens of folk for a weekly screening of shock/gore videos -- Jakey Boy (Seth Jacobs) and I produced a weekly event at the Kennel Club called SLEAZE-A-RAMA. The weekly screening was so successful we wound up doing it twice a week for a while ... although I was having trouble juggling this project as well as being General Manager of Au Courant and all the other crap life was tossing me at that time.

But it was a great event - made even better by the space. As you walked into the main dance floor - you hit a video wall across the floor and a DJ booth that looked down on the space. You could cut out the back and be on the outdoor patio - which was sandwiched between the buildings, but sliced a direct view to the night sky.

You'd fire a joint, look to the stars in the sky with a mix of Run-DMC, the Furs, World Destruction and Smiths behind you - and just appreciate the moment.

Although I saw many shows at The Kennel Club, including Homo Picnic, The Electric Love Muffin, The Dead Milkmen and Love And Rockets, to me, The Kennel Club wasn't for live music - it was for socializing. I could see live music at a number of venues at that point in time, so I loved the club the most when it was just a dance night - or a fashion show or special performance party.

One band I totally adored was what some referred to as the 'house' band of The Kennel Club -- Experimental Products!

Just check out this audio sample ( u need Real Player):


This band was so great and their runaway smash dance track "Glowing In The Dark" shaped 1985 for me.

Ya'know... I'm gonna spin it this Friday at Sex Dwarf ... just cause it so needs to be heard in a powerful club system! So, for you readers that will be at Fluid ... you're in for a special treat! :)

The Seedy Strip

Thirteenth Street, Philadelphia.

If you are of a certain age, just saying 13th Street conjures up images of hookers, drug dealers, wig shops and pizza. And yes, those elements are still there, albeit decorated with a new coat of paint and bright crime-stopping lighting.

But there was a time when only those daring enough would walk on 13th Street between Market and Spruce. Of course, those daring enough included those where 13th was a destination: the punks to clubs like the East Side (13/Chestnut) and the gay community to the various clubs and bars along the strip.

As long as I can remember, OK Pizza has been on 13th Street at the corner of St. James. It was the after-hours location once the after-hour clubs closed and the street there was filled with people just hanging out through the night (no cops were there to keep people moving). I'd leave the DCA (now Pure) and grab a slice and talk til the sun rose with friends, old and new.

Of course, one could always go to All In The Family lounge - easily one of the dumpiest stripper bars I've ever seen, which was directly across the street from OK Pizza. I once saw a stripper with a black eye put change into the jukebox, just so she could dance around a pole for no one.

Klassy with a capital K.

Further up 13th you can find Drury Lane - home of an irish pub (I want to say it was McGillian's) and The Drury Bar - which was a gay bar and restaurant. The space was two floors and had a kick ass brunch on Sundays which somehow ended at 2am, no matter how early you arrived. The bar went through a few name changes and owners in the 1980s and I don't think its anything now -- here's a picture of the alley - The Drury Bar was located in that sold property.

The block of 13th Street between Spruce and Locust was old, abandoned brownstone homes. There was no business there - except for the hookers that went to the Parker Hotel at the corner of 13/Spruce. The Westbury was still at its original location at the corner of 15/Spruce and I don't recall what was under the Parker - perhaps nothing. I do remember AppleJack's though ... it was a deli where Valanni is today - that had the best sandwiches and also sold take out beer. It was my 'kitchen' when I lived at 1302 Pine Street ... and if you were lucky, you could get one of the three booths in the back and actually eat in, versus having it to go.

In 1981, in one of the brownstones on 13th, I began to do some volunteer work for the Philadelphia Gay News - this was their original home. The rent was cheap (if not free) and I remember that the floor to the first floor (which was all the PGN used, since the rest of the house was falling apart), was not even ... and there was a clear plastic tarp that hung from the ceiling to catch debris as it fluttered to the ground. It was quite a sight. In doing some online surfing, I came across a wonderful picture -- for those of you who have ever been to Bump (13/Locust), let's travel back to 1913 and see that location in action.

One of those brownstones on 13th Street, behind the corner building, was where the PGN was located in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Of course the corner building [where Bump is today] is gone, but if you look down Locust Street you can see the side of The Lincoln, which at this time might have been nice - - but by 1980 was a fleabag hotel.

There were four fleabag flop houses in this area: The Lincoln, The Parker, The Kesmon and one other on 11th near Walnut (name escapes me). The Parker is the only one to remain - although now it's just a low-income housing. The Kesmon was finally closed in the mid-80s after a couple on-site murders - and was completely renovated into The Alexander Inn at 12/Spruce.

As for The Lincoln, its biggest claim to fame was that it had a speakeasy in the bottom level, back in the day [the day being the 1920s].

You entered via a door on Camac Street (the Lincoln still sits at the corner of Camac and Locust) and in 1981, that old speakeasy space became the new home of Philly's Gay Community Center - just for a few years, until the building was bought, gutted and made into apartments.

Across from the Lincoln was probably one of the more mystical spaces around (next to Harry's Occult Shop, that is).... it was Rose's Tea Room.

The building was covered completely in ivy and I only was in there once - it was a tea shop, but the story on the street was it was owned by witches!! Of course, now I know that it was actually owned by wiccan folk, but back then just knowing that witches lived on the block made for a better story!

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

Before I get too pigeon-holed as the memoirs blog dedicated to just Philly's new wave nightlife, I wanted to shift gears today and bring it back to this site's true purpose: a place for me to remember before I forget.

In the late fall of 1981, I was a year out of high school and immersed in the various sub-cultures of Center City Philadelphia. Either going to varous punk or new wave shows or hanging with my new circle of friends in the gay community.

Besides the dinner I posted about earlier that took place at The Venture Inn (unbeknownst to me a gay establishment, but then again I was just 15!) ... the first time I actively entered a gay bar was in the summer of 1979, when at the ripe old age of 16 I mustered up the courage and entered Maxine's - located on South Camac Street (now the home of Tavern On Camac).

It was one of the 'Old Guard' of gay establishments and had been around for some time ... and had all the markings of an old gay bar: located on a back alley with no windows and very secretive. Hence why it was perfect for a closeted teen to make his debut.

None of the gay bars in Philadelphia had windows until Woody's renovated his 2nd floor, overlooking 13th Street - and Mort rebuilt his Seasons Bar into Uncles and installed french doors looking out to Locust Street. But that was sometime in the mid-80s.

Upon entering I quickly walked to the bar, since I felt a bit safer there and found myself next to this elderly woman ... who looked like someone's grandmother. She smiled and put out her hand and introduced her to me; her name was Mary. I later found out that she was a fixture at the various gay bars in the 1970s until her death in the 1980s and was affectionately known as Mary The Hat, in celebration for the wide array of hats she wore out every night.

Turns out she was a widow and as a lifelong resident to Center City, considered the gay boys her family. I never quite knew where her 'real' family was - but she was loved by everyone. I suppose here I should mention that she was quite the drinker as well. One of my funniest memories of Mary The Hat was her end of the night exit.

She had moved into a small apartment directly across from Maxine's - which became Raffles the ultimate piano bar, in the 1980s. She would drink the night away and when the time came to leave, she would summon a cab. Legend had it that her husband had always told her to take a cab whenever out in the city, since it wasn't a friendly place for a lady to walk alone. She followed his wish, even after his passing, by having a cab take her home every night.

The funny part was she lived right across Camac Street - which is a tiny alley of a street - a car can barely fit down this street. So, nightly the cabbie (who was a regular) would pull up and she would be helped out of the bar, down the three steps and into the back seat - at this point she would slide over and the cabbie would open the other door and she would climb out and he would assist her into her apartment. She paid him two dollars for the 'ride', which he would just give to the doorman, who would get it back to Mary without her knowing the following day.

It was hysterical.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Hall Of Decadence

Although the club scene in Center City ran from river to river - the heart in the early 80s was the East Side Club. Then, the after-hour heart was later found at both The Kennel Club and Revival.

Many of my younger friends remember Revival for their 1990s dance events and occasional live shows. My memory of the space is its early years, like in 1986 when I got a chance to see one of my personal idols ... ex-Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy in concert. He performed there a few times, but I first saw him in November of '86. The room was perfect for a live concert - high ceilings, loud soundsystem and faithful fans. Other bands I remember seeing at Revival in 1986 were 10,000 Maniacs and Flesh For Lulu.

Upstairs was a great dance hall, with an angled dj booth that looked over the space and bars at each end. Although you found yourself everywhere - I tended to dance under the backwards-spinning clock on the wall. The back rooms were what dreams were made of ... if your dreams were of illegal drugs and making out, that is.

The club offered it all - a hall of decadence that was notorious not only for its bathroom sex and bringing techno and industrial’s earliest sounds to America, but for introducing NYC performance artists like golden boy John Sexx, the yam-lovin Karen Finley, and the Ultimate Diva Joey Arias to Philadelphia. It was located in a neighborhood that was off the radar for most folk - so if the club went a bit longer than it was officially supposed to ... no neighbors complained.

Revival was run by David Cohen and his mom Helen and its personality came from both DJ Bobby Startup and promoter Bob 'Nature Boy' Denney. The club lasted 1o years until 1995, when David - who was big on microbrews, decided to chang the place to Jake & Oliver's House of Brews (named after David's two sons). From that point on, who really cares... ;)

For me, nights at Revival were chances to relax. By the time Revival was underway, it was damn near impossible for me to go to a gay club without having to be doing some form of business - thanks to my role at Au Courant Newsmagazine. In the mid 1980s, Revival was my personal retreat from everything.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Thousand Beautiful Things

I got some feedback off yesterday's post - readers just amazed at the wealth of talent that performed at the East Side Club in such a short period of time. And, since a picture is worth a thousand words, I decided to post some more flyers from the legendary Philly club.

OH - but first... here's an image that will shake your socks. Click this calender flyer and check out who played on Saturday, June 25 1983 at the East Side Club.... (lol)

Here are some more random East Side Club flyers -- chances are I was at most of these concerts. Click to enlarge and, as always, enjoy!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Under The City Streets

When talking about nightlife and nightclubs in the 1980s, you have to stop and pay homage to The Adelphia House apartment building at 1229 Chestnut Street, whose basement was the epicenter of all things new wave in Philadelphia for a number of years.

The entrance to the basement was a simple door found steps away from the front door to the apartment building above - which at the time was pretty much a flop-house space. Rooms were cheap since no one WANTED to live at 13/Chestnut in 1980. Well, no one 'cept us...

I took a picture of the facade yesterday - actually I took a ton of pictures of where things used to be -- they'll be posted in due time. The red box marks where the entrance was to the legendary East Side Club. There's nothing there now. It went from the East Side Club to the gay disco Kurt's to some black straight dance club to mothballs.

I have tons of stories from when it was Kurt's - which I will post about later, since I was intimately involved with the opening of that contraversial club, having been in charge of its advertising campaign.

For now, it's all about the East Side Club. When you walked down the flight of stairs and made a left into the space, the first thing you noticed was just how low the ceilings were! The club was dark and the 'theme' was graffiti.

There's no way to say it - cept I SAW SO MANY LIVE SHOWS HERE! I truly can't pick a highlight - perhaps it was spending $5 to see some band from England called Depeche Mode. Or maybe it was getting in free to check out Wall Of Voodoo. Or perhaps it was the time I saw Our Daughter's Wedding - or got to first-hand understand the roots of music with the legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker.

Or perhaps it was New Year's Eve when I rang in the Orwellian year of 1984 with a live concert from the Cocteau Twins!

There are so many memories of the East Side Club, that the only way I can explain it is with pictures.

As always, click an image to enlarge ... and enjoy.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Martha And The Muffins

Today, en route to work, I had a flashback to a fun memory from 1983. I grabbed the 12 bus to cross town and it swings around Washington Square. When it hit the square, my videobank turned on and I had an internal chuckle to start the morning.

In 1983, a television production decended upon Philadelphia to produce a mini-series about the life and times of George Washington. Barry Bostwick was to play the Father of our Country and the ever-cool Patty Duke was slated to play Martha Washington. This was a big deal, not just for Philly but especially for those in the core of the gay community. Patty was somewhat of an icon on two levels: the older gay men grew up and adored her and those around my age loved the kitsch factor of Patty -- in fact, her image was used on several flyers for new wave nights around that time.

So, as the filming began, a bunch of us decided to plan an event at Washington Square - they were using much of Society Hill for location shots and we had an advance schedule of where they would be shooting, thanks to the fact that just about everyone in the production team was queer too!

So, we planned a brunch on the grass of Washington Square - near the southwest corner of the square. Across the street they had transformed those historic buildings into even OLDER historic buildings and made the area resemble Philadelphia circa 1700s.

My friend Andy came dressed completely as Patty Duke from her 60s TV show - grant it Andy was 6'5", but he still got an E for effort. Many of us had made signs of adoration towards Patty and we brought tons of brunch foods: bagels, juices and of course muffins. In the spirit of the day, I brought my Martha [Washington] & The Muffins cassettes and we spent most the day just hanging in the park watching the production crew prep the site.

Finally, the moment arrived - Patty was on site!!! From what I gathered later, they were actually filming over on 4th Street all day and she was there just to check on the location, which they were going to shoot at the following day! (argh!, so much for our gay friendly source!)

Anyway - someone in the production team told her about us and she came over - still in costume (sort of like what she is wearing in this picture) and signed autographs and such. My friend Sara was the only one of us with a camera [a Polaroid One-Step] and, as you know if you ever used one of those, you only got 10 instant pictures per cartridge.

Sadly, my shutterbug friend had shot a bunch already, so there was only one left - so someone took it of Patty and Sara. The rest of us were resigned to be content with just the memory of the experience and of the day. We were and I still am.

V Is For Victory

During my daily journeys, I met a musician named Chris Larkin. Our connection was keyboards ... the difference was that he could actually play them! Chris was part of a new wave band here in Philly called The Vels - perhaps one of the first to feature white girl rap and hit the pop charts.

The Vels had an incredible sound - no matter the weather, whenever you heard The Vels, it was summertime. The lead was this girl named Alice - I can't remember her last name, but I do remember that her mother was pretty popular in the big band circles in Philly back in the 1940s.

There were several bands that were staples of the local music scene - playing at least twice a week somewhere in one of the dozens of live music venues in Center City. The Vels were one of those bands - at one time they played a weekly gig at... The Hard Rock Cafe.

Years before musicans decided to take their garbage from storage and have it thrown on the walls so that bored wait staff could serve people overpriced burgers for the "experience"... Philadelphia had a music venue called The Hard Rock Cafe.

Ironically it was just steps away from the current location of 12/Market. The original Hard Rock Cafe was at 12/Sansom, above the London Restaurant - which was owned by Warren Browne, who also owned the London Victory Club at the corner of 10/Chestnut.

The Cafe wasn't much - but seeing The Vels there for free every week was always a pick-me-up. The fans they had were like family and the music was always pure synthpop.

As for the London Victory Club, this was a large disco club located at the corner of 10/Chestnut. This place was HUGE inside. The first floor had all the right elements for a club - deep dark make-out rooms with 20-foot ceilings and enormous 16-foot-high open doorways "telescoping" room to room. The dancefloor had 30-foot ceilings, and there was this cable overhead and on it was a spaceship that traveled back and forth - and then it would explode and dancers would dangle and spin from it while the club shook with heavy bass. The place was stellar.

In 1982 it hosted some great dance/new music acts like Pretty Poison, The Stickmen, No Milk and others.

Below - in the underground level - was the BEST vinyl store in Center City. You could go and get 12" singles for .99 each ... it was THE place to get the latest in disco, dance and new wave tracks ... which were all spun upstairs at the club.

Sometime in '82 a suspcious electrical fire occured and that was the end of that. The fact is, suspicious fires were a staple of the scene back in the early 1980s as property values began to slowly rise it was easier to just tourch the place, get the insurance and start anew - or sell the property for top dollar.

In the case of the Victory Building, nothing happened, since the building was owned by the king of slumloards, the evil Sam Rappaport. This man single-handedly stalled Philadelphia and its growth for decades.

So, the Victory building burned and closed and sat - empty and homeless for years. Every day you could walk by and look up and see trees growing taller from its roof as the building was left to rot. The one saving grace was that the Victory building was built to withstand war. It's built out of granite, masonry and marble. So - from the outside, it just looked closed. [click the image to the left to enlarge]

Rappaport was known to neglect his properties - and this beauty was not an exception. Thankfully, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Management Corporation worked to save the structure from the city's wrecking ball. They preserved and restored the building, and now it is a combination of retail and living space. Although everytime I walk by the space, I still expect to see the record shop 4 steps below the sidewalk on Chestnut. Memories.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

How Cool? Zero Cool.

The year was 1982.

This was truly a year of transformation for me. I easily saw 200 concerts this year alone. I was out almost every night ... somewhere. I discovered the music scene in NYC at places like CBGB's and Club 57. I discovered the Village. I went to my first NYC Gay Pride Parade in June '82. I spent many a late night at legendary dance clubs like The Anvil and Danceteria. I met so many people that - later would become celebs - but for me were just friends that I met and knew and enjoyed hanging with during the summer of 1982 in New York.

Sadly, so many of those friends are gone. John Sex, Keith Haring, Wendy Wild, Tseng Kwong Chi. The list is endless and, in honor of their memory, I will post about them seperately at a later date.

In 1982 I co-founded and became the General Manger of Au Courant Newsmagazine: Philadelphia's first arts and culture weekly targeting the newly-liberated gay market. It was a free paper: 10,000 copies every Tuesday were distributed thoughout Center City Philadelphia and the region.

The cover to the left is actually way past my tenure. In May 2000 the paper folded and that is its final issue (hence the connection to the Republicans coming to Philadelphia).

The paper started as a brainstorm one evening. For those following along in earlier posts, you recall that I had met some interesting folk at 8/Bainbridge in the fall of 1981.

I wound up moving into an apartment at 834 Bainbridge over the winter of 1981/1982. My roommates were a gay couple: Mike and Joe. Mike was the ad manager for the Philadelphia Gay News and I quickly started volunteering time to help the PGN with circulation. A highlight was going with Joe to drive stacks of papers to Asbury Park, New Jersey over the summer of 1982. I remember it because I was asked to be a judge for some drag show at Club Odyssey ... which was the gay club in town. Asbury Park had a strong gay community at the time and perhaps still does.

Over the spring and summer, Mike and I (along with graphic designer Jaime Lago) would hang out at the apartment and stew over the frustrations at the PGN and create visions of what we would do if we could do our own thing. By September, we were.

We convinced the PGN editor Frank Broderick to leave the only job he had since leaving college and join us as editor of this new paper. Frank wrote a witty and scathing column in the PGN called TRASH and we brought that over with us - changing the title to T&A and then Tidbits.

We ran the paper out of the 2nd floor of a publishing house at the corner of 3rd and Girard - home to Star Publishers, who published the Fishtown Star, Port Richmond Star and other bizarre weekly ad rags. Their main salesman was this 'swinger' leftover from 1979, who seemed to put most of his commission up his nose. Can't say I blame him!

Being the General Manager of Au Courant was a bizarre experience for me - since I was responsible for handling all the bar and club accounts ... which meant being out every night and being in the center of it all. The bizarre part comes with the knowledge that I was just 19. I wasn't even supposed to be ANYWHERE yet. But once again I found myself in more mature situations then expected and adapted nicely.

I started this post thinking of music but somehow got sidetracked with life. Which is fitting since music was (and is) my life. But I'll leave you with a music hook.

In late 1982, having to juggle the daily duties of the paper plus still hang out, see live music and appreciate the destructive lifestyle I had grown to love - I had a memorable experience in November when I went to see Nona Hendryx at Philadelphia's legendary Bijou Cafe - located at Broad & Lombard Sts.

I had always been a fan of Nona - from her days as part of The Bluebells (Patti Labelle and the Bluebells) to her space-age morphing to one of the three members of Labelle and now as the lead to her new project Nona Hendryx and Zero Cool.

The show rocked and the highlight was having the chance to hang with Nona afterwards. I took her and the band and others and we went first to the DCA (which is now a club called Pure) and then to what was by far the BEST disco club, not because of the design (which was minimal) but because of the sound system and the DJs .. the club was Catacombs.

Located under The Second Story disco at the corner of 12th/Walnut Streets, Catacombs was deep, dark and full of bass. It was a private club only opened on weekends, but for some reason - perhaps a birthday or something - it was opened that Tuesday night and we all went and I danced and sweated up a storm until sunrise with Nona and the gang.