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May 2012

Favorite Songs About New York - From a Gay Perspective



Wikipedia has compiled a comprehensive list of songs about New York that has more than 500 titles.  I came up with a more selective list of eleven favorite songs from my gay perspective.  Although none are explicitly gay in content, they have a gay "sensibility", either because of the performer, or simply because I own the CDs/records.  Here they are:


I Happen to Like New York.  This is my most favorite, a love letter to New York written by Cole Porter and powerfully sung by Judy Garland.  I first heard it on the late Jonathan Schwartz's radio show on WNYC in the early 1980s, and it was years before I tracked it down on CD.






Native New Yorker.  This is the most commercially successful of the songs on this list.  It was popular in the winter of 1977-78, the year before I moved to New York.  It's instantly recognizable by its saxophone intro.


New York City Rhythm.  This song was recorded during Barry Manilow's peak popularity in the late 1970's (when he still had a human-looking face).  I always enjoyed his tip of the hat to NYC's Latino population with the "Nueva York" interlude near the end of the song. 



Manhattan Shuffle.  A light and bouncy dance tune from 1980 with a percolating beat.  (By the appropriately named group Area Code 212.)  It's about how one has to hustle and sustain blows to self-esteem to make it big in New York: "In the city of dreams, built up on plenty of schemes ...   


(Take Me For) A Night in New York.  From 1984, the song's Big Band style by Elbow Bones & the Racketeers brings to mind Dr. Buzzard or Manhattan Transfer. 


New York City Boy.  Not be be confused with the 60s song Boy from New York City by the Ad Libs, this danceable trifle by the Pet Shop Boys evokes images of Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen and the West Village.  Sample lyric: "So young, so run into New York City".  The video for the song is a fun one, about a boy being drawn to the City from the suburbs.




New York, New York.  Not the Sinatra classic, but rather an ode to NYC's decadent nightlife by Moby and his signature electronica style, with vocals by Deborah Harry.  It's by far the newest of this list's songs, released in 2006. 


New York, You Got Me Dancing.  Former porn actress Andrea True is best known for her disco hit More, More, More.  Her far less popular follow-up (at least with mainstream audiences), New York, You Got Me Dancing, pays tribute to some of New York's gay dance clubs of the mid-to-late 1970s.   




New York by Night.  This song celebrates the alluring and tawdry side of NYC nightlife in the late 70's/early 80's.  Its chorus sums up the sentiment: "This is New York by night, this is New York by night, filled with laughter, drama, glamour and spice (such a pretty city)".  It was sung by Dennis Parker, a porn actor who was later signed by Casablanca Records to record a disco album.  Sadly, he committed suicide in 1985 after being diagnosed with AIDS.




In The Evening.  This great dance number from the mid-1980s was sung by Sheryl Lee Ralph, a few years after her star turn on Broadway as Deanna Jones in Dreamgirls (the role played by Beyonce in the movie version).  The song contrasts daytime life in New York, with all its hassles, with the glamor of its nightlife.  As Sheryl Lee sings, "New York, life in the city can be so hard.  But after dark, new energy finds me, I light up the night and live like a star!  In the evening ...




Am I Ever Going to Fall in Love in New York City?  This song is from Grace Jones' second album, titled Fame.  Hearing it always makes me chuckle because of the verse about her "being so far away from Tennessee".  Of course, thinking of Grace growing up in Tennessee is funny, but in actuality she grew up in the equally unglamorous snowbelt city of Syracuse, NY   




Deadly Fire at the Everard Baths (May 25, 1977)




"Son of Sam", and the July blackout are the two news stories most New Yorkers remember from 1977, but another tragedy that same year is overlooked - the fire at the Everard Baths.  (In fact, while doing research for this post, a Wikipedia article I reviewed about disasters in New York didn't include the Everard fire - so I added it.)   Although it wasn't on the scale of the fires at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in 1911, or the Happyland Social Club in 1990, it was still one of the City's deadliest.  Because it was a bathhouse, families of the nine who died and those injured were no doubt concerned about having their names revealed.  One of those who died was 32-year-old Jimmy Stuard, a well known DJ at the club 12 West.




The Everard was on West 28th St., just off 5th Ave. and had been a bathhouse for decades.  It's even mentioned in Andrew Holleran's classic gay novel Dancer from the Dance , which was published the year following the fire.  After it reopened, it remained in business through the mid-80s, when it was closed as part of the City's response to the AIDS crisis.


I went to the baths during my first year in New York (1979-1980), and I visited the Everard once in March 1980 (which had relocated a few blocks away).  I also visited a number of other bathhouses once, including Man's Country, the St. Mark's Baths and the Big Apple, because I favored the Club Baths.  (However, once I began dating someone steadily in the fall of 1980 my adventures at the baths ended.)




The Swift Downfall of Oscar Wilde (May 25, 1895)

Oscar_wilde In the winter of 1895 Irish playwright Oscar Wilde had perhaps his greatest artistic triumph when his comedy The Importance of Being Earnest opened in London to great acclaim.  But just three months later, on May 25, 1895, the married father of two was found guilty of "gross indecency" with another man and sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison.  Sadly, he largely brought this misfortune upon himself.  He had sued his male lover's father for libel (after referring to Wilde as a "sodomite" on a calling card), but midway through the trial thought it best to withdrawal the charges.  However, by then too many incriminating things had been said by Wilde and he was brought up on morals charges - and convicted. 



It's unfortunate that Wilde's hubris blinded him to the fact that Victorian England was far from ready to overlook his licentious behavior, regardless of his fame.  After his two-year sentence was completed he moved to France where he died a few years later at the age of 46, largely penniless and with few friends. 


In 2018 British actor Rupert Everett directed, wrote and starred in the movie The Happy Prince, which told the story of the last few years of Wilde's life after he was released from prison.  The film was a labor of love as the handsome Everett took on the diminished, paunchy appearance of Wilde in his last years.  (Ironically, Everett is thirteen years older than Wilde was at the time of his death.)


Rupert everett_the happy prince

Remembering My First Visit to Provincetown (May 23-26, 1980)

Provincetown_postcard My first trip to Provincetown occurred over Memorial Day weekend in 1980, which was a week after my 23rd birthday.  I went with a fellow I was dating at the time who I had met in March at the Everard Baths.  Gordon was older, i.e. around 30, and lived in Poughkeepsie where he managed a Best Western motel.  


Provincetown_skyline After work on Friday I took the train up to Poughkeepsie from NYC and we drove to the Cape that night.  Rather than stay at one of the charming and much livelier guest houses in town, we stayed at a sterile Best Western (Gordon got a discount).  It was a bit secluded but at least it was close to the beach. 


A-house-ptown Two popular dance tunes I remember dancing to at the A-House were Funkytown and Call Me (by Blondie).  The weekend was also memorable because it was the first time I tried marijuana - but it wasn't a great experience.  Rather than smoke it Gordon put in a Pepperidge Farm chocolate sandwich cookie (no longer made).  After ingesting it I became paranoid and was convinced that two female friends of Gordon's who we went to a lesbian bar with were witches.  Later that evening Gordon wanted to bring someone back to the hotel with us but I was still feeling out of sorts and nixed the idea, which annoyed him.


Mount_st.helens Another memory I associate with this first visit was the eruption of Mount St. Helens in the Pacific Northwest.  It monopolized news headlines that entire week - and there was another eruption over the weekend.  



Capecod_traffic The trip back on Monday was trying because of heavy traffic on the only road leading off the Cape. (NOT a good idea to leave in the early afternoon at the end of a holiday weekend.)  Then there was another major bottleneck around Hartford.  This made Gordon very testy and we barely spoke for the rest of the trip.  In total the trip took seven hours (1-8:00), three hours longer than Friday's stress-free drive to P-town. 



FireIslandPinesSIgn Between 1980 and 1995 I'd vacation in P-town seven times (the other visits were a lot more fun).  Then, beginning in 1996, I took a share in Fire Island and began spending many summer weekends out in the Pines - and I didn't return to P-town until 2013. 

The Novel "Running in Bed" Revisits Gay New York of the 1970s & 1980s


I'm not a big book reader but I just finished reading one that had me captivated.  The book is Running in Bed.   No, it's not a sequel to Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors, but rather the semi-autobiographical debut novel by Jeffrey Sharlach which arrived in bookstores a few weeks ago (Spring 2012).  It recounts the life of gay protagonist Josh Silver during his early years as an adult living in New York between 1977-1987.  It touches upon coming out, work life, sex, romance, and the AIDS crisis.




Since I often write about my own memories and experiences on my blogs, it was refreshing to read someone else's, especially since the character Josh's experiences were somewhat similar to mine, e.g., we both moved to New York in the late '70s to work in advertising, and we lived in Greenwich Village.  One big difference was that he immediately took a summer share in the Pines, while I waited until the mid-1990s.  







The novel mentions a lot of familiar places, e.g., Sandolino's restaurant; Uncle Charlie's Bar; Balducci's; Company restaurant;, the Ice Palace disco on 57th St.; Driftwood Walk in the Pines, et al.  However, although the story begins during the hedonistic, sex-fueled late '70s, Josh doesn't explore the baths or Fire Island's Meat Rack, which were rights of passage for many gay men back then - and key plot devices in Larry Kramer's and Andrew Holleran's acclaimed novels Faggots and Dancer from the Dance, respectively.





The story would have benefited from more scrupulous fact checking.  For instance: 

  • The disco hits I Will Survive, Ring my Bell and Move on Up were popular in 1979, not 1978. 
  • The Monster bar/disco on Grove St. in Greenwich Village wasn't around in December 1979.  It opened its doors in 1982.
  • The royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana didn't occur on a weekend, but on a Wednesday.  (However, Diana's funeral was held on a Saturday.)
  • The entire winter of 1982 wasn't mild, since January 1982 was, in fact, one of the ten coldest Januarys of the 20th century.     


Nonetheless, despite these quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and found it time well spent.

Mets Catcher Mike Piazza Denies Gay Rumors at Press Conference (May 22, 2002)


Sports stars regularly call press conferences to dispel rumors about dissension in the clubhouse or to deny the fathering of an illegitimate child, or raping a woman they invited back to their hotel room.  However, never before had an A-list star spoken to reporters about his sexual orientation - until May 22, 2002.  On that day New York Mets All-Star catcher Mike Piazza held a press conference to end talk running rampant that he was gay. 





The issue of his orientation had been brought to a head by an article in Sports Illustrated in which Mets manager Bobby Valentine opined that Major League Baseball might be ready to have openly gay players on team rosters.  Some thought he may have been alluding to Piazza to pave the way for his coming out.  As it turned out, not true.






After all, some rumors had him paired with WABC-TV weatherman Sam Champion (who later went to Good Morning America, married his Brazilian boyfriend and then moved onto The Weather Channel).  And then there was the time when he went all Jean Harlow and sported a blonde coif!  Of course, despite the 34-year-old bachelor's denials, and subsequent marriage three years later, some still beg to differ.  




So Piazza's name was added to a list that includes the likes of Ron Reagan, Jr.; Hugh Jackman; Ben Affleck; Bradley Cooper; Richard Gere; Troy Aikman; Isaiah Thomas; Jake Gyllenhaal; Derek Jeter - and a host of others.   





"Glee" Debuts (May 19, 2009)

GleeA preview of Fox's musical dramedy Glee aired the evening of May 19, 2009 following the penultimate telecast of American Idol (the next night Kris Allen won in an upset over Adam Lambert).  I was on vacation in Yosemite National Park that week and watched both shows from my hotel room.



Sue_sylvesterKurt_gleeI've written in a previous post of my affection for Disney's High School Musical, but I never became a fan of Glee.  While I liked HSM for being a happy fantasy land in bright colors, I found Glee's angst-filled storylines annoying.  Furthermore, too much attention was paid to Jane Lynch's villainous Sue Sylvester, who became more of a comical character.  She became a tiresome presence, not unlike Fonzie on Happy Days, Kramer on Seinfeld and Mimi on Drew Carey.  Also, as blasphemous as it is for me to admit, the gay character Kurt made my skin crawl. 


Ryan_murphyDespite my lack of overall enthusiasm, props go to Glee creator Ryan Murphy for writing plenty of thought-provoking gay storylines.  And I did like quite a few of the show's song "mash ups", twenty of which are on my iPod, especially Marry You, Halo/Walking on Sunshine, Cherish and Let's Have a Kiki.  Oh, and Darren Criss was a scrumptious addition during Season Two.  


Entertainment_weekly_gay_teensOf course the show wasn't produced for my demographic and it became a ratings success.  However, since its first season it has lost a sizable portion of its audience.  Some speculate the fall-off was due to its emphasis on gay storylines.  The show will air for at least one more season, which will be its fifth.  Whenever the show finally goes off the air, perhaps a fitting last episode might have a Wizard of Oz theme with a tornado striking McKinley High.        

Marilyn Monroe Sings "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to JFK (May 19, 1962)

Jfk_birthday_madisonsqgardenMarilyn_happy_birthdayMarilyn Monroe was one of many well-wishers from the entertainment world who paid tribute to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, on the occasion of his 45th birthday.  (Actually, his birthday was ten days later.)  However, because of her slinky "va-va-voom" gown and breathy singing of "Happy Birthday", only Marilyn's appearance is remembered.  Curiously, First Lady Jackie Kennedy wasn't among those in attendance that evening.  (Ironically, she died on this very date in 1994).


Marilyn_maria_callasLooking back, this performance was quite audacious for its time.  (And it's been a part of every gay man's repertoire ever since.)  Back then, however, who knows how long it took for Marilyn's performance to be communicated to the general public.  Perhaps her appearance was muted to a degree because she was one of a roster of performers that night, among them Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Maria Callas (pictured).   


That evening Marilyn was very late for her appearance and in a creepy bit of foreshadowing, master of ceremonies Peter Lawford (one of the president's brother-in-laws) introduced her as the "late" Marilyn Monroe.  Shockingly, less than three months later she would be dead.  To view this classic performance, double click here.




Julie Andrews & Ann-Margret Star in AIDS Drama "Our Sons" (May 19, 1991)

Julieandrews_oursons In 1985, in the early years of the AIDS crisis, the TV movie An Early Frost aired.  Six years later, with AIDS-related deaths numbering over 100,000, and climbing steadily, another AIDS drama, Our Sons, aired on ABC.  (Both movies were directed by John Erman.)  Starring Julie Andrews, Ann-Margret and Hugh Grant, Our Sons tells the story not only of how AIDS impacted families, but how mothers dealt with their children being gay.  The movie happened to air the same day as GMHC's annual AIDS Walk in New York.  


Hugh_grant_oursons Julie_andrews Andrews portrays Audrey Grant, a buttoned up businesswoman from Southern California.  At the behest of her son (Hugh Grant) she travels to Arkansas to deliver the news to Ann-Margret's white-trash character, Luanne Barnes, that her estranged son is dying of AIDS.  (Despite both being British, Hugh Grant had an American accent but not Julie.) 


Ann_margret_oursons Audrey has a strained reltaionship with her son while Luanne wants nothing to do with hers.  Their vastly different backgrounds leads the mothers to clash, eventually driving Audrey to scream at uncaring Luanne, in Dynasty-like fashion - "He's dying, you bitch!"  Ultimately, there was resolution as Audrey and Luanne bonded over shared feelings about coming to terms with their sons' homosexuality.


Although I wouldn't call the ending "happy", Luanne went to California and was with her son when he died and had him buried in Arkansas.  As often happens, movies from different eras seem quaint and outdated when viewed in the present, as is the case with this movie.  Nonetheless it was a brave undertaking at that time considering the dearth of open discussion about AIDS.    

Disco Diva Grace Jones Born (May 19, 1948)

Gracejones_warhol 30 years before Lady Gaga, Grace Jones was making herself known with her striking presence, outrageous fashion sense, distinct singing voice and inventive performance videos.   Born and raised in Jamaica (birth name: Grace Mendoza), she moved with her family to the snow belt city of Syracuse, New York state when she was in her teens.  Before becoming a singer she was a model who became part of Andy Warhol's glam circle.  To me, she resembles an Amazonian version of Eartha Kitt.  At the height of her fame, Grace gave birth to a son, Paulo, who is now 38 (as of April 2018). 






Every year between 1977 and 1982 Grace released an album (and ten overall), but none became big commercial hits.  Her highest charting LP, 1981's Nightclubbing, made it only to #32 on Billboard's album chart.  However, songs such as I Need a Man (her first); Do or Die; and Pull up to the Bumper were big club hits.  Besides those, other favorites of mine include La Vie en Rose; Nipple to the Bottle; Unlimited Capacity for Love; and Slave to the Rhythm.  Her music style was hard to categorize - a bit disco, a bit new wave, a bit R&B.






In the 1980s, her Warhol years behind her, she tested her mainstream appeal by appearing in action movies such as Conan the Destroyer and was cast as the villain in the James Bond movie A View to a Kill.  She also appeared in TV and print ads for Honda scooters. 







Update: In time for her 70th birthday, a well-received documentary about Grace was released in April 2018 titled Bloodlight and Bami. And although it had very limited distribution it did well in the few markets where it screened.


Grace jones - bloodlight and bami