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Greenwich Village's Second AIDS Memorial Underwhelms

AIDSMemorial

 

I hate to say it, but the recently dedicated AIDS Memorial in Greenwich Village, which sits across the street from where St. Vincent's Hospital used to be, looks like the outdoor garden center attached to a suburban K-Mart.  And where it's situated, off busy Seventh Ave., doesn't offer a very contemplative atmosphere.  Furthermore, a soothing quotation engraved in the walking area is so lengthy that I doubt many will take the time to read it, especially since reading will likely be interrupted by other visitors walking over it.  Names engraved on a low wall aren't those who died of AIDS but, rather, those who donated funds, a tacky feature for a memorial.  Lastly, I found it disconcerting that three days after a recent snowstorm, snow/ice still hadn't been cleared from the area, making it impossible to read the inspirational quote (you would think that arrangements would have been made for this type of upkeep.)

 

I get it that the site was considered ideal for paying tribute to St. Vincent's since it was the focal point of the AIDS crisis in New York and one of the first hospitals to offer a dedicated AIDS wards.  However, I would have hoped for something more magisterial than a structure that resembles a not very sturdy looking mini-Oculus (lower Manhattan's new transportation and shopping hub).   

 

Meanwhile, a more stately and understated memorial is situated in a lovely, more secluded setting along the river in Hudson River Park at Bank Street.  Dedicated in 2008, it went largely unrecognized during the hubbub surrounding the planning of the newer memorial.  (And it cost considerably less.).  I find this site much more conducive to thinking about friends and loved ones lost to AIDS.

 

Aids_memorial_hudson_river_park  

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Few Watch "When We Rise", ABC's Mini-Series About the Gay Rights Movement

When we rise

 

In the winter of 1977 ABC aired the eight-part mini-series, Roots, which told of the black experience in America.  It drew a huge audience, reaching an estimated 60% of the population.  40 years later ABC aired a four-part mini-series about the rise of the gay rights movement, called When We Rise, but unlike Roots, few watched it.  The first episode had only 3 million viewers and the three episodes that followed barely drew 2 million.  This was despite the fact that it had quite a creative pedigree, with Dustin Lance Black the executive producer and Gus Van Sant the director (who also paired up for the 2008 movie Milk).  By comparison, 50-60 million viewers tuned in for each installment of Roots (when there were 100 million fewer people living in the US). 

 

Of course, today's viewing landscape is much different from what it was 40 years ago, but it doesn't fully explain the pitiful level of viewership.  Was it also because non-gay viewers weren't interested, so the audience potential was limited?  Was it because of a lack of promotion (although numerous tune-in ads aired during the Academy Awards)?  Was it because, with all of the media attention in the past ten years given to several major pieces of pro-gay legislation, we've already learned a great deal gay history?  Was it apathy among young people?  Or, perhaps, avoidance by older LGBT persons who lived through the AIDS crisis and didn't wish to relive it?  (As I watched I was tense knowing that some of the characters I grew to like would succumb.)

 

AIDS panic scene

 When we rise bed scene

 

A clear sign of how times have changed was the warning at the beginning of each episode, cautioning viewers about strong "adult" language, but there was no such warning about "adult" content, such as amorous scenes between men or lesbians.  25 years ago very few mainstream advertisers would have risked placing commercials in a program with this type of content, but this time a long list of mainstream advertisers aired commercials, including Oreo, Special-K, Lysol, Bounty, Chevrolet, Perdue chickens, McDonald's, JC Penney, Downy, Red Lobster, and Little Caesar's.  However, I spotted just one ad with a gay sensibility, for the Lexus RX.  Also, L'Oreal featured trans model, Hari Nef, in its ad.

 

Lexus gay ad
Lexus RX

 

Loreal transexual
L'Oreal

 

I was startled by a quick scene in Episode 3 when the fellow walking out of the offices of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) in DC bore a striking resemblance to Vice President Mike Pence.

 

Mike pence

 

At the end of Episode 3 I found it curious when a comment by Cleve Jones about President George W. Bush's endorsement of a Constitutional amendment making marriage only between a man and a woman, was immediately followed by a voiceover during the credits telling viewers that Bush would be on Jimmy Kimmel's show later that night.   

 

When interviewed about the mini-series, Dustin Lance Black said that, "Young LGBT people deserve to know we have a rich history."  However, with such tepid viewer response his quote made me think of the well-worn phrase, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."  Hopefully, additional viewers will see this ambitious, and well-done, series via On Demand or delayed viewing from DVR recording.

 

You-can-lead-a-horse-to-water-clip-art

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Movie, "Paris 05:59", Explores Young Men & HIV in the 21st Century

Theo-and-hugo-quad-v1-copy

 

Aah, memories of young love.  The French film, Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo, takes place over the course of two pre-dawn hours, and begins with an extended, explicit scene in a sex club, where Theo and Hugo meet and are smitten.  They leave together, but their giddy rapture is short lived when Hugo learns that Theo hadn't used a condom when he fucked him (and came in him) - and Hugo is positive.  Recriminations are cast, but the two immediately proceed to a nearby ER where Theo gets a 30-day package of anti-virals (the scene with the nurse has a very Afterschool Special feel to it).  As they slowly learn about each others' lives, they have occasional outbursts of anger and try to push the other away, but it's clear the two still want each other. 

 

Having lived through the AIDS crisis, getting educated about HIV and participating in a drug trial, I wasn't shaken by their plight (actually, I thought it was a bit overblown).  After all, Hugo was the receptive partner and his viral load was undetectable.  Still, I applaud the director for showing the angst these two young pups experienced since, nowadays, it seems this type of concern isn't prevalent, especially since the introduction of PrEP.  And this is the first movie I've seen in which the poz individual took the negative person to task for not sharing some responsibility for what happened, i.e. when Theo chose not to use a condom he could have asked Hugo about his HIV status.

 

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Hugo making the call to the ER after revealing to Theo that he's positive. 

 

Bottom line, I liked the movie.  In addition to the film's first eighteen minutes (and the insistent, sleazy EDM track in the background) I enjoyed it for its realistic portrayal of youthful exuberance.  It brought to mind the times, back in my "salad days", when I went without sleep after encountering new-found love in the wee hours of the morning, which kept me energized after the sun came up.  Finally, I love Paris and hearing the French language - especially when spoken by two adorable characters like Theo and Hugo.

 

Paris0559theoandhugo1000x41

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Paying Tribute to Paul Parker, Disco Divo

Paulparker Paulparker.olderTwo gay men with the last name of Parker made their mark in two areas of entertainment in the 1980s - Al Parker, a gay porn icon, and Paul Parker, sexy singer of high-NRG dance tracks that resonated with gay disco bunnies (me included).  Both were born in 1952.  Sadly, Al died young in 1992 (age 40), a casualty of AIDS.  Paul, happily, is still with us and at the age of 63 he's still ruggedly handsome.  Best known for his collaborations with openly gay producer Patrick Cowley (an even earlier casualty of AIDS than Al Parker, passing away in 1982), Parker's voice lended swagger to Cowley's futuristic techno sound. 

 

What I liked about Parker's and Cowley's music was that it was written and produced for a gay audience, played largely at gay clubs and never entered the mainstream.  And since so many dance classics were sung by women it was refreshing to have the image of the hot, masculine Parker in our minds/fantasies as we danced to his music.  His big hit, Right on Target, went to the top of the Billboard Dance Chart in July 1982 (vying with Laura Branigan's Gloria and Sylvester's Do You Wanna Funk? as the song of the summer).  He also provided the vocals for Cowley's Technological World and Lift Off, had another solo hit, Desire, in 1984 and in 1986 he and Pamala Stanley (two weeks older than Parker) had a popular duet, Stranger in a Strange Land.

 

Rightontarget.paulparker

 

Parker.stanley.strangerinstrangeland  

 

Since his heyday Parker has continued to sing professionally, with occasional under-the-radar solo albums and back-up vocals.  However, it doesn't appear that his performing/recording have been that extensive to keep him busy for the past 20 years, but his biographical material doesn't shed any light on other endeavors.  (I could easily picture the San Francisco native running a bed and breakfast in northern California's Russian River area).  In fact, until I began researching this post it had been years since I last heard anything about him, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was still alive - and had maintained his good looks as a sexy "silver daddy".

 

Paulparkergreatesthits

 


HIV Versus CTE: Reflecting On a Double Standard In Compassion

CTE When AIDS was running rampant through the gay male population during the 1980s, the sentiment of the general public and government officials was largely one of "blame the victim" when it came to providing help or attention to those stricken.  "Why spend tax-payers dollars to help individuals who brought the disease on themselves?"; "They deserve what they got"; and "It's God's divine retribution for their immorality" were some of the common, uncaring responses.  Thirty years later I find myself thinking of those homophobic responses when reading about CTE, the degenerative neurological condition some players in the NFL have developed after years of sustaining concussions during games.  Because the affliction affects the world of football, which is arguably the national religion of the US, this condition has generated considerable attention - and compassion.  In contrast to the contempt gay men with AIDS encountered, few with CTE are pilloried for "getting what they deserve".  And, of course, no one would think of pointing fingers at the parents of players who enthusiastically supported their sons' activities since childhood.  I'm not suggesting these players should be shunned or not treated, it's just sobering to witness the contrast in the responses - pariahs vs. fallen heroes.  


AIDS Quilt Used to Comedic Effect on "Modern Family"

AIDS.memorial.quilt.dcNearly 30 years have passed since thousands of quilts, each celebrating the life of a person struck down by AIDS, were sewn together and displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to sobering effect.  The AIDS Memorial Quilt has always been a heartfelt symbol of loss and commemoration.  Therefore, I did a double take when I heard it referenced for comedic effect in the season premiere of ABC's well-worn sitcom, Modern Family.  It occurred in a scene in which mother Claire and daughter Haley were making a quilt out of old clothes.  Teenage son, Luke, upon hearing his mother telling his father that she and Haley were doing something creative together, remarks sarcastically, "Please, that's the saddest blanket since the AIDS quilt!"  

 

 

Luke.ModernFamily

 

At first I thought I should be offended by this snarky comment, but after thinking about it (during the commercial break) I decided I appreciated its edginess since the comment wasn't making fun of the quilt or AIDS.  In fact, Luke's comment suggests that he was aware of the AIDS quilt, a good thing, which his gay uncles, Mitch and Cameron, likely introduced him to.  This had me wondering if there have been other instances prior to this that the quilt was used for laughs?  I've heard jokes with reference made to concentration camps so I suppose enough years have gone by to include some aspects of AIDS in a humorous context.  And who knows how long it will be before a joking references are made about 9-11. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Gay Storyline of the Movie "Philomena" (November 22, 2013)

PhilomenaI've written previous posts about two movies with gay storylines I was unaware of - Valentine's Day (2010) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012).  Now I can add a third to this list - Philomena, the Oscar nominated movie about a woman's search for the son she gave up for adoption 50 years earlier.  And although I didn't get around to seeing the movie until ten months after its release (on Nov. 22, 2013), and despite the fact that friends and family saw the film months ago, and I had read reviews in Entertainment Weekly and the New Yorker, I was taken completely by surprise by the gay storyline, i.e. Philomena Lee's son was gay and died of AIDS.

 

Philomena.lee

 

Philomena.gravestone Michael.hessI enjoyed the movie, shed a good amount of tears.  However, although it was based on a true story I was skeptical about Philomena (played by Judi Dench) not being shocked when told that her son Michael was gay.  She confided that she wasn't surprised and took the news in stride because he was a sensitive little boy.  Still, since Philomena was a product of the mores of the 1940s and 1950s, her enlightened attitude didn't ring true for me.

 

Philomena.oldnun DickcheneyNear the end of the movie there was a confrontation between the journalist helping Philomena find her son (played by Steve Coogan) and the elderly nun who knew the truth about his adoption.  The nun, in her appearance and self-righteous anger, bore a disturbing resemblance to Dick Cheney.

 

 


Terrence McNally's Play "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" Opens (May 28, 1991)

 

Lips.together

 

Straight couples in the Pines?  Nowadays they're no longer a novelty (nor are gay couples with kids), but 25 years ago they were.  The play Lips Together, Teeth Apart, written by esteemed playwright Terrence McNally, looks at two such couples spending the 4th of July holiday in the Pines in 1990.  They're staying at the house formerly owned by David, the gay brother of one of the women.  He recently died of AIDS, and she inherited the house.  Not only is neither couple familiar with the Pines, but with gay life in general, and with AIDS.  Lips Together opened off Broadway on May 28, 1991 during some of the worst years of the AIDS crisis in terms of deaths (and a few years before protease inhibitors transformed AIDS from being a death sentence to more of a chronic, manageable scourge).

 

Fip

 

The cast of four was comprised of Christine Baranski, Swoozie Kurtz (the sister who inherited the house), Nathan Lane and Anthony Heald.

 

Lips.together.cast

 

Lips Together was staged two years after McNally's production of The Lisbon Traviata and three years before Love! Valour! Compassion!  All three had Nathan Lane in their cast.  (He portrayed gay characters in Lisbon Traviata and Love! Valour! Compassion!, but played a straight blue collar type in Lips Together.)  I saw both of those plays, but not the original production of Lips Together.  I did see a revival of it, however, in the fall of 2014.

 

Nathan.lane2

 

The action takes place out on the deck of the house and it's a perfect reproduction of a Pines beach house, i.e., the architecture, sliding doors, pool, outdoor shower, house flag, kite and even a bug zapper.  And although there is unenlightened conversation about AIDS and gay men, much of the play delves into the the four personalities and the struggles they are going through with their own lives.  And although it had constant moments of levity, overall it was a downer as it addressed subjects such as AIDS, prejudice, infidelity, cancer and death by drowning.

 

This show is especially interesting if you've spent time out in the Pines.  However, one aspect of the production that was unrealistic for me was that neither of the neighboring houses on either side ever played disco music, just classical or jazz.  Speaking of music, there's a funny scene in which the characters bicker over the title of the show tune, There's No Business Like Show Business.  Of course, because the play takes place in 1990 they weren't able to use Google to end their argument! 

 

Finally, a flag waving scene brought to mind Little Edie in Grey Gardens, while at the end of the play the cast watches a shooting star, which brought to mind the star gazing scene on the rooftop at the end of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.

 

Lips.together..cast.2014
Cast from 2014 revival at 2nd Stage Theater in NYC

 

 

 


Remembering Our Gay Ancestors

Barbara.jordan2Truman.capoteFour years ago I wrote a post about popular LGBT personalities, and another about gay icons over the age of 75.  This latest post provides an overview of accomplished gay men and lesbians who are no longer with us.  I've drawn up a list of just over 250 individuals who've made their mark in their respective professions.  Of them, about two-thirds were open about their sexual orientation. (Please note that this post was published in 2014.)

 

The median age of these gay pioneers at the time of their death was 63.  Taking out the 20% who died of AIDS (at a median age of 45), the median age of those who died from other other causes rises to a still relatively young 68.  The oldest, architect Philip Johnson (in photo below) was 98 when he died in 2005.  Del Martin and Mabel Hampton were the oldest lesbians, both 87 at the time of their deaths in 2008 and 1989, respectively.  The youngest person on the list is Pedro Zamora, a cast member of MTV's The Real World, who died from AIDS at the age of 22.  He's followed by actor James Dean who was 24 when he was killed in a car accident.  The woman who was youngest at the time of her death was Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote Raisin in the Sun.  She was 34.

 

Architecture-+-Infulence-a-short-film-on-the-work-of-Philip-Johnson-image

 

GAY PERSONALITIES WHO LIVED PAST 90
    Age
Philip Johnson Architect 98
John Gielgud Actor 96
Gian Carlo Menotti Composer/Conductor 95
Paul Cadmus Artist 95
Arthur Laurents Playwright 93
Bunny Breckinridge Actor & Drag Queen 93
Horst P. Horst Fashion Photographer 93
Michael Tippett Composer 93
Van Johnson Actor 92
Virgil Thomson Composer 92
EM Forster Author 91
M. Somerset Maugham Playwright/Novelist 91
Aaron Copland Composer 90
Harry Hay Gay Rights Activist 90
Merce Cunningham Dancer/Choreographer 90
Quentin Crisp Writer/Raconteur 90
     
GAY PERSONALITIES WHO DIED BEFORE AGE 40
Jermaine Stewart Singer 39
Willi Smith Fashion Designer 39
Federico Garcia Lorca Poet/Dramatist 38
Larry Levan DJ 38
Michael Callen Songwriter/AIDS Activist 38
Arthur Rimbaud Poet 37
Marlon Riggs Filmmaker 37
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Director/Screenwriter 37
Cyrano de Bergerac French Dramatist 36
Sal Mineo Actor 36
Joe Orton Playwright 34
Lorraine Hansbury Playwright  34
Casey Donovan Porn Star 33
Brian Epstein Manager of Beatles 32
David Cole Record Producer 32
Hart Crane Poet, Life Savers heir 32
Patrick Cowley Disco Producer 32
Franz Schubert Composer 31
Keith Haring Urban Artist/Activist 31
Rudolph Valentino Actor 31
James Dean Actor 24
Pedro Zamora Reality Star 22
     

 

Sixty-one persons (about 25% of the total) were born before the 20th century.  The furthest back in time was the Roman emperor Hadrian, followed by Richard the Lionhearted and Henry II.

 

Roman.emperor.hadrian
Roman Emperor Hadrian

 

LGBT ICONS BORN BEFORE 1850
    Born-Died
Hadrain Roman Emperor 76-138
Richard the Lionhearted English King 1157-1199
Edward II King 1284-1327
Leonardo da Vinci Painter/Sculptor 1452-1519
Cyrano de Bergerac French Dramatist 1619-1655
Jean-Baptiste Lully Composer 1632-1687
Arcangelo Corelli Composer/Violinist 1653-1713
Franz Schubert Composer 1797-1828
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essayist 1803-1882
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Feminist 1815-1902
Henry David Throeau Author, Poet 1817-1862
Walt Whitman Poet 1819-1892
Susan B. Anthony Feminist 1820-1906
Emily Dickinson Poet 1830-1886
Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky Composer 1840-1893
Henry James Writer 1843-1916

 

Looking at how many search results their names turn up on Google, the median number is 440,000 (note: from the summer of 2014).  Sixty-one generated more than 1 million search results, with Alexander McQueen (pictured below) and Leonardo Da Vinci the top two, well ahead of the rest.  After them, the three others with 5 million or more search results are Oscar Wilde, Divine and Andy WarholFrida Kahlo is the woman with the most, ranked twelfth with 2.8 million.  Sixty-four have fewer than 100,000, with the lowest number being for Mabel Hampton, Franciscan Friar Mychal Judge and drag performer Bunny Breckinridge, all who turned up 7,000.

 

Alexander.mcqueen

 

GAY ICONS WITH MOST GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS
   
Alexander McQueen Fashion Designer
Leonardo da Vinci Painter/Sculptor
Oscar Wilde Writer/Poet
Divine  Actress
Andy Warhol Artist
Yves Saint Laurent Fashion Designer
James Dean Actor
Freddie Mercury Musician
Sylvester Disco Singer
Christian Dior Fashion Designer
Frida Kahlo Artist
Perry Ellis Fashion Designer
Virginia Woolf Writer
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essayist
John Gielgud Actor

 

By profession, actors/actresses and authors/novelists have the greatest representation, comprising close to 40% of the total.  Then there are occupations with just one LGBT person associated with them, such as architect (Philip Johnson); mathematician (Alan Turing); chef (James Beard); economist (John Maynard Keynes); marine biologist (Rachel Carson); and astronaut (Sally Ride).

 

Johnmaynardkeynes
Economist John Maynard Keynes

 

TOP PROFESSIONS OF GAY ANCESTORS
     
Actors/Actresses 67 26%
Authors/Novelists 34 13%
Activists (Various Causes) 21 8%
Composers/Songwriters 21 8%
Poets 17 7%
Directors (Movie/B'way/TV) 15 6%
Playwrights 12 5%
Choreographers/Dancers 11 4%
Fashion Designers 10 4%
Singers 9 4%
Artists 7 3%
Athletes 6 2%
Photographers 6 2%

 

Finally, regarding their deaths, more than half died from either AIDS, various forms of cancer or heart attacks.  Additionally, nine were murdered, eight took their own life, seven died in various accidents and two died from drug overdoses.  It should be noted that not everyone who died before they turned 50 died from AIDS as nearly half died from other causes.  

 

 

 

 

 

 


Celebrating DRA's Fire Island Dance Festival

Dra_fireisland_dancefestivalFire Island Pines is surrounded by beauty - natural, architectural and physical.  And in the summer of 1995 Dancers Responding to AIDS further enhanced this rarefied environment when it organized the first DRA Fire Island Dance Festival there on August 5.  Showcasing dancers and choreographers from various highly regarded dance companies, the event was held outdoors, using Great South Bay as its background - lending its natural beauty to the breathtaking performances on stage. 

 

 

Dra_logo

 

This first event didn't have the best weather as it was foggy and on the cool-ish side, but the event struck a chord and soon was a regular part of the Pines social season.  An early evening show was added, then a performance on Sunday afternoon.  The Saturday evening performance has proven very popular as it offers the opportunity to view a breathtaking sunset as a bonus.  In its second year, the event moved to the third weekend of July.  I shared a house in the Pines with one of the coordinators of the program, so it became part of our house's culture - and we were always aware of any behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the event.

 

 

DRA_DanceFestival  

 

Of course, because it's an outdoor venue, weather is always a concern and some years have been blistering hot, others gray and threatening (thankfully, not the norm).  An unforeseen challenge for the evening performance was the formation of condensation on the stage, which could be perilous for the dancers, so it had to be wiped down constantly in between numbers.  One non-weather event put a somber tone to the event in 1999, as the dance festival occurred the day after John Kennedy Jr.'s plane went down off Nantucket.  It made gazing out at the water of the bay somewhat sobering. 

 

Alan_cumming Richard_moveEach performance opens with the DRA Fanfare, created and donated in 1999 by Philip Glass.  Hosts have included BD Wong; Bebe Neuwirth; Whoopie Goldberg; Bruce Vilanch; Alan Cumming; Ana Gasteyer; and Richard Move as Martha Graham.  Another host was Kate Shindle, Miss America of 1998, who joked that she was sorry she didn't have her crown because she wanted to toss it in the pool to see how many queens in the audience would jump in after it!  Photographer Bill Cunningham from the NY Times has often attended one of the performances and his photos have appeared a week or two later in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section - lending the event even more cachet.

 

Celebrating its 20th year in 2014, the Dance Festival has raised more than $3 million.  For more information about this year's DRA Dance Festival, double click here.

 

DRA_FireIsland

 

And for other ZeitGAYst posts about Fire Island:

"Invasion" of the Pines

Coming & Going in the "Meat Rack"

A Postcard Trip to the Pines & Cherry Grove

Summertime Memories: A Photo Tribute to the Pines & Cherry Grove