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An Appreciation of Bette Midler

 

Bette midler 1970s

 

Although I wouldn't call myself a devout fan, there's a soft spot in my heart for Bette Midler, a powerhouse of talent whose music, movies and TV appearances I've long enjoyed.  (Truth be told, I was also never a rabid fan of Judy, Marilyn, Liza, Barbra or Cher).  I wasn't yet living in New York during her Continental Baths years, never saw her perform live in concert, nor did I see The Rose or Beaches, but over a career that's spanned five decades I've had my share of exposure to her prolific creative output.  I'm happy she's had such a successful and enduring career (some might even refer to it as "divine").  Now, with her triumphant starring role in the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, this seems a perfect time to salute her through my memories.

 

Bette midler hello dolly
In "Hello, Dolly!"

 

FAVORITE SONGS

My playlist is comprised of songs that were released between 1972-1977 and 1988-1992.  But nothing after 2000.

  • Friends (1972, The Divine Miss M) - Listening to it now, I find the line, "I had some friends but they're gone, someone came and took them away," chilling, since 10 years after the album was released this verse would hit home for many of us as the ravages of AIDS began decimating the gay community.  

 

Bette midler - divine miss m
Her first album

 

  • Do You Want to Dance? (1972, The Divine Miss M) - This was Bette's first song to enter the Billboard Hot 40.  I bought it as a single.  In the late 1980s Bette sued the Ford Motor Co. when it used a singer with a voice very similar to hers in a TV commercial.  A district court ruled against her but an appeals court overturned that decision.
  • Twisted (1973, Bette Midler) - A brassy cover of a song first released in 1952, the following year it was one of the tracks on Joni Mitchell's album Court and Spark.
  • I Shall be Released and Higher and Higher (1973, Bette Midler) - Both start out quietly, then build to a roar.
  • Strangers in the Night (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - Remake of Frank Sinatra's classic, but with more pizazz.
  • Old Cape Cod (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - A cover of a song from the late '50s which Patti Page made famous.  When I'd walk at night in Provincetown on a moonlit night I'd have Bette's version playing in my head.

 

Provincetown - captain jacks wharf
Captain Jack's Wharf in Provincetown, a place I stayed a number of times when I vacationed in P-town.

 

  • Tragedy (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - Not to be confused with the Bee Gees disco hit by the same name, this is beautiful, plaintive song.
  • Yellow Beach Umbrella (Broken Blossom, 1977) - This one always makes me think of the Club Baths, where I first heard this tune.  And it was perfect in that setting with lyrics that suggested anonymous encounters, such as "and nobody there will ever know me well", "gonna be a mystery to everyone", and "nobody there will ever find out who I am".  The song was previously recorded by Perry Como, Andy Williams and Three Dog Night, which I found very peculiar because the song has such a female vibe to it.

 

Bette_Midler_-_Broken_Blossom

  • The Wind Beneath My Wings (1988) - Schmaltzy as hell but I always loved it, and I liked its beautiful music video as well.  It was Bette's only chart topper.  Three years before she made it an overplayed smash I bought a 12-inch dance version by a group called Menage

 

Bette midler - the wind beneath my wings
Performing the song at the 2014 Academy Awards

 

  • Miss Otis Regrets (1990, Some People's Lives) - Written by Cole Porter in 1934, Bette revisits the genre that was her trademark early in her career.
  • From A Distance (1991) - Brings back memories of the first Gulf War.  It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Stuff Like That There and Billy-A-Dick (1991) - From the movie For the Boys, both songs were written during WWII, bringing Bette back to her roots when she was identified with tunes like the Andrew Sisters' Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Glenn Miller's In the Mood.

 

Bette midler - for the boys
"For the Boys"
  • Ukulele Lady (1998, Bathhouse Betty) - A perfect, quirky with a retro feel to it that is vintage Bette.
  • In These Shoes? (2000, Bette) - This is a cover of a song by the late Kirsty MacColl from her 1996 album.

 

MOVIES I'VE SEEN

She's appeared in more than two dozen movies but I've only seen a handful: Big Business (1988, with Lily Tomlin); Ruthless People (1986, with Danny DeVito); Down & Out in Beverly Hills (1986, with Richard Dreyfus); Outrageous Fortune (1987, with Shelly Long) and For the Boys (1991, with James Caan).

 

Bette midler - down and out in beverly hills
"Down & Out in Beverly Hills"

 

TV SHOWS, MAGAZINES, ETC.

She guest-starred on Cher's CBS special (Feb. 12, 1975) along with Elton John.  This was one of the pop culture highlights of my senior year in high school.

 

Bette midler - 1975 cher special

 

In People Magazine's June 30, 1975 cover story, there was a photo of Bette planting flowers in front of her brownstone on Barrow St. (the block off Seventh Ave. South).  I live near this street and think of this photo every time I walk on that block.

 

Bette midler - people magazine

 

A great Vanity Fair cover as well as an amusing photo spread inside the issue (Dec. 1991).

 

Bette midler - vanity fair

Midler_vf

Bette midler - vanity fair mowing lawn

 

Serenaded Johnny Carson (May 21, 1992).  Perhaps the highlight of Johnny Carson's last week hosting the Tonight Show was Bette hopping on his desk and singing You Made Me Watch You.  This affection was sincere since Carson launched her career when she appeared on his show for the first time in the summer of 1970 (however, her first national exposure was earlier that year on the much less popular David Frost Show). 

 

Bette midler - johnny carson

 

Starred in the TV version of the musical Gypsy (Dec. 12, 1993).  It took 10 years of cajoling before the show's late creator, Arthur Laurents, agreed to allow the  project to go forward.  The telecast was the fourth most popular show of the week and it won Bette a Golden Globe (but no Emmy).  Sadly, the movie's director, Emile Ardolino, died from AIDS complications the week before the movie was telecast.

 

Bette midler - mama rose in gypsy

 

Appeared in an episode of Seinfeld (May 18, 1995).  Playing herself, she's injured after Jerry slides into her at a charity softball game (his girlfriend is Bette's understudy in a musical called Rochelle, Rochelle).  While recuperating in the hospital Kramer decides to take care of her, and presents here with a tiny likeness of herself made out of macaroni ("macaroni Midler").

 

Bette midler - seinfeld

 

Her love of nature and the people of New York City was the impetus behind the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit that Bette founded in July 1995.  It has championed neglected community parks throughout the City, restoring them through clean-ups and the planting of trees and greenery.

 

Bette midler - new york restoration project

 

Starred in a CBS sitcom in 2000-01 titled Bette.  (In the pilot episode her daughter was played by 13-year-old Lindsay Lohan.)  Unfortunately, this show was not a hit, and it's since been used as a prime example of how a big name doesn't necessarily mean a show will be a success with viewers.

 

Bette midler - cbs sitcom

 

During the 2011 holiday season Bette was featured in a commercial for the Honda Acura as an over-the-top Christmas caroler.

 

Bette midler - honda ad

 

Finally, the Caricatures ...

Bette_midler_risko
Artist: Robert Risko

 

Bette midler - al hirschfeld caricature
Artist: Al Hirschfeld

 

Bette midler - david coles caricature
Artist: David Coles

 

And if the 22 images in this post leave you wanting more, try the 2000+ images on this Pinterest page devoted to the Divine Miss M.

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Remembering 'Two Guys' And Its Unintentional Gay-Affirming Ad Slogan

Two guys store

 

Gay men have regularly been the target of fire-and-brimstone types who admonish that, according to the Bible, two men who "lay" with each other is an abomination.  Happily, this never caused me any sleepless nights.  However, their admonition about forbidden love came to mind when I moved to New Jersey in 1979 to begin my first job across the Hudson in New York.  During my initial weeks I became aware of a chain of discount stores called 'Two Guys'.  What got my attention was the store's tag line, "Two Guys ... "Naturally".  I was taken aback, what was up with that?  This vexed and amused me all at the same time because it was diametrically opposed to what society was constantly telling homosexuals. 

 

Two_guys_naturally_yard_sign

 

I found it curious that no one else seemed to give it a second thought.  I suppose it was because 1) they grew up with the store and 2) if they were heterosexual they never had the "laying with another man" line thrown at them.  (This was different from the Ben Gay brand,  which everyone snickered at.)  And it wasn't as if the store was founded from a wellspring of enlightenment and tolerance since the first store opened in the gay Dark Ages of the 1940s.  Then I read about the store's history and I discovered that the word "naturally" was part of a longer tag line that was shortened from, "We save money for you at Two Guys ... naturally."  So this was just a matter of my gay wiring putting a comical, ironic spin to it (as we homosexuals are wont to do).  Alas, the chain went out of business in the early 1990s.  It was ironic that as gay men rose in acceptance the store with the peculiar, suggestive name foundered.

 

Two guys naturally tote     

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Celebrating the Producers: The High Priests of the Classic Disco Era

Bionicboogie Ginosoccio

 

 

After writing a post about Giorgio Moroder last year, in celebration of his first CD/LP in 25 years, I was inspired to write one about other acclaimed producers of Classic Disco.  Like fashion designers, each with their own unique style, every producer has his distinct "sound".  I've chosen a dozen dance maestros (including Moroder).  They range in age from 60 to 78; nine are still alive (interestingly, the three who've died were all born in the same year).  Half of them were born in the US.  Their hits include classics such as Risky Changes, One More Minute; Supernature; Dancer; and Relight My Fire.  And although their lush orchestrations or frenetic electronic beats made these songs mainstays at gay clubs, only one is (was) openly gay.

 

Boris Midney

Boris.midney.disco
At 83, Midney is the elder statesman of disco producers. With a background in jazz, he was looking to blend it with symphonic music, and disco gave him the opportunity. The creative force behind the groups Beautiful Bend and USA-European Connection, he is probably best known for the "Disco Evita" concept album.

 

Giorgio Moroder

Giorgio.moroder.1970s
Born in 1940, the king of techno began his career in Munich during the 1960s. His name is synonymous with Donna Summer when she shot to superstardom in the late 1970s with smashes such as "I Feel Love", "McCarthur Park Suite" and her double album, "Bad Girls".

 

Rinder & Lewis

Rinderandlewis
Lauren Rinder and W. Michael Lewis are both from LA. They had a background in Jazz and were embarrassed by their production of disco music - but they were very good at it.  R&L are best known for producing the groups St. Tropez, Le Pamplemousse and El Coco.

 

 Alec Costandinos

Alec.costandinos
Cairo born (1944), Costandinos is best known for his production of albums for the group Love & Kisses and his concept album "Romeo & Juliet".

 

Simon Soussan

Simon.soussan.discomusic
Soussan, of French-Moroccan ancestry, got his start in the UK in the early '70s with dance music known as Northern Soul. He produced disco hits by Patti Brooks ("After Dark"), Jessica Williams ("Queen of Fools"), Shalamar ("Uptown Fesitval") and Arpeggio ("Love and Desire").

 

Patrick Cowley

Patrick.cowley.dance.producer
Cowley is the one openly-gay producer on my list. His High-NRG style was epitomized by tracks such as "Time Warp" and "Menergy". He also produced popular collaborations with Sylvester and Paul Parker. His was an all too brief career as he died of AIDS at the beginning of the crisis, in November 1982, one month after turning 32.

 

Gregg Diamond

Gregg.diamond
Diamond is another producer who came from a jazz background. The group Bionic Boogie put him on the disco map, with their dance smashes, "Risky Changes", "Dance Little Dreamer" and "Chains". He also met with some success producing an album for the group Star Cruiser.  Diamond died in 1989 at the age of 49.

 

Dan Hartman

Dan.hartman
You can't get more middle-America as Hartman, who was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Perhaps it was his birthplace that gave his  music a distinct American sound. His "Vertigo/Relight My Fire" was probably the most popular disco hit of 1980. And the year before he first came to attention with the peppy "Instant Replay". He died in 1994 at the age of 44 from AIDS but led a closeted life.

 

Cerrone

Cerrone
Born in Paris, his first name is Marc but he went by his last name. He had a symphonic style and early in his career worked with Alec Costandinos. In 1978 he was named Billboard Music's 'Disco Artist of the Year'. His most popular song was "Supernature".

 

Nile Rodgers

Nile.rodgers.chic
If his output was limited to his group Chic, Nile Rodgers would still have a spot on this list, but he also produced hit albums for Diana Ross, David Bowie, Madonna and countless other top acts.

 

Gino Soccio

Gino.soccio.discoproducer
At 65, Soccio is the baby of the bunch. Best known for the smash "Dancer", he more or less left the industry after the backlash to disco music in the early '80s, a development he contends was purposely caused by record companies at the behest of rock musicians, who felt threatened by the genre and its appeal to hedonistic blacks and gays.

 

 DiscoProducers

 


Welcome Back, Giorgio Moroder!

Giorgio.moroder Giorgio.moroder.oldWhen I reminisce about the Classic Disco era it's sometimes a bittersweet experience because it brings to mind those stars who are no longer with us, such as Sylvester, Loleatta Holloway, Dan Hartman, Glenn Hughes (the Village People's leather man), Patrick Cowley, and Donna Summer.  (My parents likely experienced a similar sentiment when they thought back to the Big Band era.)  Happily, a legendary producer of the era, Giorgio Moroder, is still with us, and he recently released his first CD in more than 25 years, Deja Vu.  Now 75 years old, Moroder is a contemporary of Italy's other world-famous Giorgio, 81-year-old Giorgio Armani

 

I particularly like four tracks on this new CD (so much so that I bought them on iTunes):  Two of them, Right Here, Right Now (featuring Kylie Minogue) and Tempted are pop-oriented while Diamonds and Wildstar are dance-oriented.  Other artists who he collaborated with GM were Britney Spears, Sia  and Kelis.

 

Giorigo.moroder.dejavu

 

In my mind GM's name is forever linked with that of Donna Summer because he produced her string of double albums in the late 1970s.  However, he's also worked with a roster of other artists as well.  What follows are my favorites tracks that he's either had a hand in producing, writing or both.  Some were the biggest hits of their time while others are obscure gems (which somewhat adds to their appeal).

 

TROUBLEMAKER - Roberta Kelly (1976)

Moroder wrote this.  Great energy.

 

Roberta.kelly.troublemaker

 

TRY ME, I KNOW WE CAN MAKE IT - Donna Summer (1976)

18 minutes of languid disco without the moaning featured in Love to Love You Baby.

 

Donna.and.giorgio

I FEEL LOVE - Donna Summer (1977)

A song throbbing with the heat and ecstasy of sex.

 

Donnasummer.ifeellove

 

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY - Giorgio Moroder (1977)

The quintessential disco track.  With synthesized pulsing and swooping orchestral flourishes, this may be my favorite Moroder number.  And the song was further enhanced when hearing it play at The Saint.

 

Giorgio.moroder.fromheretoeternity

 

I'M LEFT, YOU'RE RIGHT, SHE'S GONE - Giorgio Moroder (1977)

From the same album as From Here to Eternity, it has the catchiest title of any on this list, and also the most downbeat storyline.  Never has despair been so danceable.

 

Moroder.synthesizers

 

I LOVE YOU - Donna Summer (1978)

A beautiful, exhilarating song about two people experiencing love at first sight.

 

Donna.summer.i.love.you

 

THE CHASE - Giorgio Moroder (1978)

An electronic instrumental from the Moroder-produced soundtrack for the movie Midnight Express, it won the Oscar for Best Original Soundtrack.  Although it was ubiquitous on TV shows and sports programming of the time it rose no higher than #33 on Billboard's Hot 100. 

 

HARMONY - Suzy Lane (1979)

Brings back memories of prowling the corridors of the Club Baths where music from disco station WKTU was piped in.

 

Suzi.lane.harmony

 

 

LUCKY - Donna Summer (1979)

Recounts an experience many of us had on more than one occasion, i.e., the realization that the trick you thought might be the "one" was just a one-night stand.  This track is from Summer's Bad Girls double LP.

 

Newsweek.discotakesover

 

CALL ME - Deborah Harry (1980)

Moroder's biggest hit, this track (from the movie American Gigolo) made New Wave palatable to the masses.  It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and was ranked as the top song of 1980.

 

FLASHDANCE (WHAT A FEELING) - Irene Cara (1983)

From the smash movie Flashdance, this was another huge hit, the third most popular song of 1983.  Moroder co-wrote it and won an Oscar for Best Song.

 

RUSH RUSH - Debbie Harry (1983)

This light and bouncy number belied the violence of the movie it was part of, Scarface.  It was released as a single but failed to make the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at an embarrassing 104.  I liked running to this song.

 

Debbie-Harry-Rush-Rush-182028

 

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK FROM METROPOLIS (1984)

The instrumental, Machines, and the songs Here She Comes (Bonnie Tyler) and Love Kills (Freddie Mercury) come from the soundtrack to Fritz Lang's remastered 1927 movie classic, Metropolis.  The melding of Moroder's musical style to a black & white silent film was largely met with derision. 

 

Metropolis

 

CARRY ON - Donna Summer (1992)

Returning to his dance roots, this won Giorgio and Donna won a Grammy for Best Dance Track - five years after it was first released in 1992.

 

Donna.summer.carry.on


Saluting The Kennedy Center Honors' Roster of Gay Inductees

Kennedy center honorsLike the Academy Awards and Tony Awards, a considerable number of gay men have an affinity for the Kennedy Center Honors because of its celebration of personalities in the performing arts.  Since the first awards were handed out in 1978 a steady stream of accomplished gay men have been chosen as honorees.  However, not until 2015 year was a self-proclaimed lesbian awarded the honor - Lily Tomlin.  (But rumored lesbians such as Mary Martin, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn and Dolly Parton have been honored).  The ceremony takes place in early December, with the President and First Lady in attendance (the exception has been Trump and Melania); the telecast of the event usually airs a few days after Christmas on CBS.  Interestingly, the colors of the award's sash are those of the rainbow flag.  In 2002 DC's Gay Men's Chorus performed as part of the tribute to Elizabeth Taylor.

 

Lily.tomlin
2014 honoree, Lily Tomlin

   

23 of the 213 recipients (through 2019) have been gay.  In four of the years there were two gay inductees: 1979, 1986, 1993 and 2010.  (In 1989 Claudette Colbert and Mary Martin were honorees).  The longest stretch in which no gay honorees were named was the five years between 2005-2009 (this drought might be matched next year depending on 2019's announcement).  Conversely, between 1979 and 1988 every year but one (1989) had a gay recipient.   

 

GAY HONOREES   

To be considered, a candidate must be living at the time of their induction.  Of the 23 gay honorees (listed below), eight are still alive.  The first gay honorees were Aaron Copland and Tennessee Williams in 1979.  One glaring oversight was playwright and director Arthur Laurents (who died in 2011 at the age of 93).  Perhaps it was because of his prickly personality?

 

Bill.t.jones.kennedy.center.honors
Bill T. Jones

 

Aaron Copland (1979) - composer (died in 1990, age 90)

Tennessee Williams (1979) - novelist (died in 1983, age 73)

Leonard Bernstein (1980) - composer/conductor (died in 1990, age 72)

Jerome Robbins (1981) - choreographer (died in 1998, age 79)

Virgil Thomson (1982) - composer (died in 1989, age 92)

Gian Carlo Menotti (1984) - conductor/composer (died in 2007, age 95)

Frederick Loewe (1985) – lyricist (died in 1988, age 86)

Merce Cunningham (1986) - dancer/choreographer (died in 2009, age 90)

Antony Tudor (1986) - ballet choreographer (died in 1987, age 79)

Alwin Nikolais (1987) - dancer/choreographer (died in 1993, age 82)

Alvin Ailey (1988) - dancer/choreographer (died in 1989, age 58)

Stephen Sondheim (1993) - composer/lyricist (born in 1930)

Arthur Mitchell (1993) - dancer/choreographer (died in 2018, age 84)

Edward Albee (1996) - playwright (died in 2016, age 88)

Fred Ebb & John Kander (1998) - lyricists (Ebb died in 2004, age 76; Kander is still alive, born in 1927)

Van Cliburn (2001) - pianist (died in 2013, age 78)

James Levine (2002) - conductor (born in 1943)

Elton John (2004) - singer/composer/pianist (born in 1947)

Bill T Jones (2010) - dancer/choreographer (born in 1952)

Jerry Herman (2010) - lyricist and composer (died in 2019, age 88)

Lily Tomlin (2014) - actress/comedian (born in 1939)

Michael Tilson Thomas (2019) - conductor, pianist and composer (born in 1944)

 

Michael tilson thomas

 

Other lesbians worthy of consideration for future induction may include Jodie Foster, Cherry Jones, Melissa Etheridge and Cynthia Nixon. And Johnny Mathis, Terrence McNally, Tommy Tune and Richard Chamberlain are worthy candidates on the gay male side.  

 

GAY ICONS/DIVAS

Although not gay themselves, sixteen recipients, all women, have the distinction of being gay icons.  The most recent was Cher, in 2018.  Another icon, Maria Callas, likely would have been honored but she died the year before the first Kennedy Center Honors (at the very young age of 53).

 

Barbra.streisand.kennedycenterhonors

Ella Fitzgerald (1979)

Martha Graham (1979)

Leontyne Price (1980)

Lucille Ball (1986)

Bette Davis (1987)

Katharine Hepburn (1990)

Aretha Franklin (1994)

Judith Jamison (1999)

Angela Lansbury (2000)

Chita Rivera (2002)

Elizabeth Taylor (2002)

Dolly Parton (2006)

Diana Ross (2007)

Barbra Streisand (2008)

Barbara Cook (2011)

Cher (2018)

 

Kennedycenterhonors.cbs


Fire Island Memories: The Pre-Share Years (1978 - 1995)

 

The first time I ever heard the words "Fire Island", they came from the mouth of Joan Rivers.  It was during an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960s, when I was still a child.  I don't remember exactly what she said, but whatever it was left me with the lasting impression that Fire Island was a rarefied place frequented by men who weren't part of the mainstream (to which Joan might add, "winky-winky").

 

Joanrivers.edsullivan

 

SETTING THE STAGE

Ten years later, I was in my junior year at Penn State.  I was just coming out and starting to embrace disco music, and in the spring of 1978 I bought the debut album by The Village People.  It had songs with titles that were gay destinations, such as San Francisco, Key West ... and Fire Island.  Not being familiar with Fire Island, I could only wonder what the lyrics of Fire Island were referring to (e.g., "don't go in the bushes, someone might grab ya").  I was also unfamiliar with its geography, and thought it was a tiny island, perhaps like Gilligan's Island.  (Paul Jabara also released an album in 1978, with a song on it called Pleasure Island, which undoubtedly was a tribute to Fire Island.)   

 

Village_people_first_album

 

CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR

In 1979 I moved to New York and that summer I met a fellow at the Club Baths, Joe from Bay Ridge Brooklyn.  He was probably around 40.  He had a share out in the Pines, but told me he wouldn't be comfortable taking me there because I was too innocent (true) and he was a different person when he was out there.  This only added to the place's mystique.

 

Map.pines.cherrygrove    

 

GETTING MY FEET WET

Two years passed and I was dating another fellow who was also 20 years older than me.  On the Sunday of Memorial Day (1981) weekend we took a day trip to Cherry Grove.  The weather was glorious.  That evening we had dinner at the Monster (a year before it opened in the Village), where we were greeted by a lively host, who was wearing a muumuu.  We didn't venture to the Pines.  On the trip home the scheduled train didn't arrive so we waited more than an hour on the train platform in Sayville for the next one.  To make matters worse, I was coming down with a cold. 

 

INTRODUCTION TO THE PINES

I made my first visit to the Pines in the summer of 1982.  It was with another boyfriend, Rick, and we went at the end of July as part of his birthday celebration.  We stayed at the house of a friend of his, and we all went out on Saturday morning (to Shore Walk).  The "house mother" was a short, bald-headed fellow from Argentina whose name was Chin Chin.  He had a huge Great Dane, named Gandhi, who was larger than him, and Rick and I joked that Chin Chin probably had sex with him.  This was my first taste of decadent Fire Island life, which involved taking a "disco nap", then doing some drugs before going to the Pavilion in the wee hours of the morning.  On Sunday, we were recovering on the beach, where I was smashed into the sand by a huge wave when we were playing in the surf.

 

Pinessign.ferry

 

A BUSY AUGUST 1986

My next visit to Fire Island wasn't until 1986, but I made three visits on three consecutive weekends, all with different friends, all in the Pines.  The first visit was just for the day.  My boss, David, and I went to visit friends who had a share at the house formerly owned by Tommy Tune.  It was on the ocean side of the Pines.  Before leaving I took a shower on the deck, which afforded me a beautiful view of the ocean.

 

The next weekend I spent it with people I had never met, but they were friends of my elderly friend Jim who had died in June.  I met Jim through SAGE which had paired me up with him as part of its "friendly visitor" program.  After he died his friend Bill, who owned a liquor store in the Pines harbor, contacted me and invited me out.  His house was at 568 Driftwood Walk, which, 10 years later, was the walk my summer share was on. 

 

The third visit was over Labor Day weekend and my friend Tom and I stayed on Fisherman's Walk with a couple he knew, Donny and Dennis.  The weather was unseasonably cool but sunny.  One memory is of the four of us lying on the beach one night and gazing up at the stars and looking for shooting stars.  Donny was feeling under the weather that weekend and within a year he succumbed to AIDS.    

 

Driftwood.walk

 

INTO THE 90s ...

Six years passed before my next visit, but that visit on Labor Day 1991 was just for a few hours.  My boyfriend Tom and I took a trip out and made an unannounced visit to say hello to friends of mine who had a share on Beach Hill Walk (that's me, pictured below).  They weren't home so we hung out on the deck for half an hour before getting on the ferry back to Sayville.  Two years later was my longest stay (before I took a share).  A former roommate, his boyfriend and I rented a house for a week in early August 1993.  The place seemed to be overrun by deer, even on the beach.

 

RobFrydlewicz_FireIsland1991

Deer.FireIsland

 

It was during this vacation that I made my first venture into the Meat Rack, but my late night exploration was thwarted by the pitch black that greeted me upon entering "The Enchanted Forest".  It would have been wise to get the lay of the land beforehand in the daylight.  That happened the next afternoon.  But there would be plenty of other opportunities to "explore" once I took a summer share ... 

 


Battle of the Disco Era's Double Albums (1977 - 1978)

Discowallpaper21977 and 1978 were the halcyon years of the disco era.  The 10-month period between October 1977 and August 1978 was particularly frenzied as four double albums were released: the soundtracks to Saturday Night Fever and Thank God It's Friday and two by Donna Summer

 

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (Release Date: Nov. 15, 1977)

I bought it in June 1978, seven months after its release.  After more than 30 years I've tired of Night Fever, How Deep is Your Love? and Stayin' Alive, but my ears still prick up when I hear other hits such as If I Can't Have You; More Than a Woman (both versions); Disco Inferno; and You Should Be Dancing.  And I always had a soft spot in my heart for KC & the Sunshine Band's Boogie Shoes.  The extended instrumentals were worth listening to as well.

 

Saturday.night.fever

 

THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY (Release Date: May 19, 1978)

With the exception of Last Dance (and to a lesser degree, the title track), this wasn't packed with big hits like Sat. Night Fever.  This was probably the reason I didn't get around to buying it until five or six years after it was released - and then only because it was at a discount record store on 5th Ave. for $1.99.  But it was quite a find because it was packed with great dance tracks by Diana Ross (Lovin', Livin' and Givin' - not to be confused with Journey's Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' ); Thelma Houston (Love Masterpiece);  Pattie Brooks (After Dark); Donna Summer (With Your Love); Cameo (Find My Way); and Love & Kisses (You're the Most Precious Thing).  These tracks all got plenty of attention at gay discos.

 

Thankgoditsfirday

 

ONCE UPON A TIME (Release Date: Oct. 25, 1977)

I have a special place in my heart for this album because it was my first by Donna Summer, bought in the summer of 1978, when I was coming out.  I was somewhat familiar with only the single Rumor Has It, but I had a feeling I'd love the other tracks - and I was right.  It contains lush, swirling songs such as Fairytale High; Trip to Nowhere; I Love You; and Now I Need You.

 

Donnasummer.onceuponatime

 

DONNA SUMMER LIVE AND MORE (Release Date: Aug. 31, 1978)

A powerhouse of an album anchored by the 19-minute MacArthur Park Suite, which had the songs One of a Kind and Heaven Knows embedded in it.  The other three sides were live and included most of the tracks from Once Upon a Time, a way to expose mainstream audiences, who embraced the album as much as "the gays."  At the Monster in Greenwich Village they still play MacArthur Park Suite in its entirety every Tuesday at their classic disco night.

 

Donnasummer_liveandmore 

 

And my favorite of them all?  Once Upon a Time, followed by Thank God It's Friday, Sat. Night Fever and Live and More.  Don't get me wrong I like Live and More but because a lot of it was tracks from Once Upon a Time I played it less.  

 

 

 

 


Paul Jabara Pays Tribute to Fire Island with "Pleasure Island" (May 1978)

 

Pines.harbor.fireisland

 

Songwriter Paul Jabara (1948-1992) is best known for Last Dance, the Oscar-winning song Donna Summer performed in the disco-themed movie Thank God, It's Friday.  Besides being on the movie's soundtrack, a version sung by Jabara was on his album Keeping Time, which was released in May 1978.  The album also included another song from the movie, a throwaway titled Trapped in a Stairway.  However, the album's hidden gem was his 10-minute paean to Fire Island, Pleasure Island:  

 

                Get on a boat, take a train

                    If traffic's heavy we'll charter a plane

                    Come to the island, Pleasure Island, with me

 

                    Walk on the beach, sit by the bay

                    Let the sunshine burn your worries away

                    Come to the island, Pleasure Island, with meeeee!

 

                 There's nothing like the Island to give you what you need 

                     Time, space, fantasy for free

                     Nothing like the Island, you feel so good inside

                     You're feeling satisfied

 

The lyrics are concentrated in the song's first few minutes, followed by moaning that is gradually overtaken by a slowly building, Giorgio Moroder-like beat.  The moans of ecstasy are somewhat reminiscent of Donna Summer's in Love to Love You Baby, except that Pleasure Island's moans come from a man.  It's an absolutely beautiful song that perfectly captures the mood of languid hours spent at the beach followed by dancing and nighttime conquests.

 

The Village People had released their debut album the previous year, and it also had a song that saluted Fire Island.  Simply titled Fire Island, it was an over-the-top, campy romp.  Pleasure Island, by contrast, was far sexier and had a more complex song structure.    

 

I didn't make my first visit to Fire Island until 1981, so these two songs, as well as Larry Kramer's novel Faggots, served as the inspiration for the images created in my mind of the place.  And, as it turns out, they were quite accurate.  (A great companion piece to this post is photographer Tom Bianchi's coffee table book of photos, Fire Island Pine Polaroids, 1975-1983, published in 2013.)

 

Tom.bianchi.polaroids

 

 

 

 

 


Shrinking Violets & Hothouse Flowers in the Men's Locker Room

Lockerroom2 MenslockerroomsignA locker room is a cross-section of gym members all possessing unique quirks when it comes to body image.  I find myself most fascinated by two types - those guys who timidly change and, at the other end of the spectrum, the extroverts who can't spend enough time strutting around and putting on a little show.  And their lockers are often side-by-side, making the contrast even more striking. 

 

The "hothouse flowers" take their time drying off, shaving, putting on moisturizer.  Some do this with everything swinging in the breeze.  Others wear stylish/sexy briefs that they like to prance around in.  If a rotating stand was available I'm sure these preening peacocks would eagerly step up on it (a la American Bandstand's "spotlight dance"). 

 

Dolce.gabbana.locker.room

 

Meanwhile, the shrinking violets change under their towels (aka "the towel dance") as if they were at a school for Muslim girls (I'm sure the Taliban would approve of their modesty).  And it's not the older, out-of-shape guys - it's the younger, cute ones.  Curiously, I've seen some of them strutting around on the workout floor in tight fitting shorts and tanks, yet they become blushing virgins in the close confines of the change room.  Perhaps it's generational, as many young adults when in high school weren't required to take showers after Phys Ed.  (Or, perhaps, it's one more anti-social behavior to blame on social media?)

 

Guy.hiding.behind.towel

 

As for me, I lean towards the hothouse category, i.e, I walk to the shower without wrapping my towel around myself because it's just a 10-scond walk, so why bother?  But I do hang my towel in front of my privates as I walk (after all, I didn't read Emily Post's book on etiquette for nothing.)

 

Lockerroomfever

 

(While doing research on this subject I came across a post on the blog The Straight Dope titled, Why Do Men Do the "Underwear Towel Dance at the Gym?  The responses it elicited were very illuminating.)


The Andrews Sisters & My First Stirrings of "Camp"

Andrew.sistersWhen I was around the age of 14 or 15 I saw a TV commercial for a compilation of the Andrews Sisters' greatest hits and I was captivated by Patty, Maxene and LaVerne.  Their harmony, their look, their pep!  My favorite song of theirs was Hold Tight.  And Bette Midler had a top-10 hit in 1973 with her cover of their WWII classic Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (from her first album The Divine Miss M).  I also came to embrace other songs from the 40s, such as Hut Sut Song, Three Little Fishies and Elmer's Tune.  At the time I had no inkling about being gay (that would come a few years later), but my nascent gay sensibility was beginning to blossom.

 

Candyman.christina.aguilera Fast forward to the 21st century where in 2004 I was tickled by the inclusion of the Andrews Sisters' version of Winter Wonderland in the movie The Polar Express.  Then a few years later Christina Aguilera paid homage to them with her music video for Candy Man and its uptempo Big Band-like beat and military motif. 

 

Andrew.sisters.whatsmylineHere are links to two marvelous You Tube clips.  The first, from 1959, is an appearance by the Andrews Sisters on What's My Line?.  The second clip, from 1966, has them in a sing-off with the Supremes, performing each others' hits on Sammy Davis Jr.'s short-lived variety show.  

 

Madonna_trueblueWhen I became aware of the Andrews Sisters' music, part of its appeal was how old fashioned it was.  Today, however, when I look back at the popular music from 25-30 years ago by Madonna, Culture Club,  George Michael, or the Eurythmics, their songs don't seem like "oldies" at all - "classic" is more appropriate.  Ah, how different the world appears looking through the eyes of youth and the eyes of the AARP set!