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.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The BB in 3D


This week I received an email from longtime friend Natasha - who continues to be quite the staple in Philly's nightlife scene [currently hosting Karaoke Blvd @ Pure aka The 2-4 Club, aka The DCA] as well as making quite a name as a web designer for nightclubs and more.

Natasha was best known from her stint at the Black Banana with Coco around 1989 and into the 1990s. Well, she recently began experimenting with 3-D software for web design and one thing led to another and she has created an incredible tribute site to the Banana ... complete with a 3-D recreation of the entire club and, goddamnit ... she GOT IT!

I literally got goosebumps as I clicked on the MOVIE and was taken from the front entrance all the way through the club's two floors and memories of some great times rushed through my head.

Even if you never experienced the Black Banana, this site is a neat trip. Please check it out and spread the word. This is truly a labor of love for Natasha and I, for one, am greatful that she felt the need to create such a wonderful tribute site to a great nightclub in Philadelphia's history.

BTW, when you get to the first screen - you need to simply register (which will give you simple email notices when the site is updated) and then, once you get inside, bookmark that first inner page ... this way you bypass the 'sign up' entrance page.

Are you ready????

Sunday, May 07, 2006

With The Turn Of A Page, A New Chapter Begins...

In 1986, once I had made the Great Escape out of the clutches of the gay community in Center City and into the vast wasteland that is Northeast Philadelphia - I quickly realized that I simply couldn't just disconnect from the culture.

Sure, I pulled away from all things Philly - but to fill that void, I began more regular trips to NYC. I had always loved the City, but sadly I really only saw it at night. I vowed that I would figure out a way to get involved with NYC, even while being a resident of little ol' Philly.

In 1988, I volunteered myself to Heritage of Pride - the group that produces NYC's annual gay pride events each June. It was such a worthwhile experience for me - since I not only got a chance to meet tons of new faces, but I felt as if I was doing someting positive for our community ... versus just supporting the nightlife scene and my own various addictions.

The rush was pure and I poured myself into helping to plan the 1989 events - which happened to be the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. There was plenty to do and volunteers were needed everywhere. The fact that I was volunteering from another city made the experience even stronger - - a number of times I was used as the 'guilt card' by HoP members ... "this man found time and he doesn't even live here!"

Little did they know that I was more grateful then they were to have this opportunity. It allowed me to stay focused at a time when my world was being erased daily. At this point in my life I felt like that cartoon, in which the animator is erasing as fast as the cartoon players can keep up. Each time I looked back, I felt as if more of my past was gone.

So - I looked ahead. And, until this blog project began in January, I've rarely looked back. Which is why I guess I've enjoyed this experience of reflecting and remembering. I'm glad that you have followed me through these memories ... it somehow brings it all together for me.

So, thank you.