If we want our heroes to be remembered, sometimes we have to tell their stories ourselves. That’s especially true in the LGBTQ community, whose entire history before the mid-20th century has already been all but erased by mainstream (read: hetero) culture, save for what can be conjectured from scraps of information in the public record or the personal remembrances of elders who were brave enough to write them down.
Today, queer Americans are lucky enough to live in an era with a much more inclusive attitude about history, and there is no shortage of information available about the people who have helped to make that situation a reality. Even so, it’s become an oft-lamented observation that many of us, particularly among the generations who came of age after the eighties, are sorely lacking in our knowledge of the history that got us here.
Thanks to an outstanding new documentary about an AIDS-era icon for whom art and activism were one and the same, it just got easier to educate yourself.
“Wojnarowicz: F*ck You F*ggot F**ker” (currently screening through Kino Lorber’s VOD Marquee platform) carries a title that might feel uncomfortable coming out of your mouth, but its subject would undoubtedly have approved. After all, it’s borrowed from one of his own artworks. Directed by Chris McKim, who as an executive producer who worked alongside RuPaul to create “Drag Race” is something of a queer icon himself, it profiles one of the most controversial and polarizing artists to come out of the New York art world of the eighties.
David Wojnarowicz came up in the same queer art movement that gave us Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, though his name never achieved an equal level of familiarity to theirs – not just because it was harder to pronounce (it’s “voy-nah-ROH-vitch,” for the record), but because the scalding anger and confrontational queerness of his work pushed far beyond the comfort level of all but the most radical glitterati. Raised in a household with an abusive father, he left home early to live on the streets of New York, surviving as a teen hustler in a city ravaged by some of the worst crime and economic blight in its history. He found expression across multiple mediums – photography, writing, filmmaking, painting, and more – and gained notoriety as an underground street artist, creating “guerilla” installations that expressed a rage more aligned with the percolating punk movement than the celebratory hedonism of the soon-to-be-waning sexual revolution.
Though he rose to prominence among the cloistered East Village arts scene of the early eighties, it was his response to the AIDS crisis that brought him greater fame; after being diagnosed with HIV in 1988, he “weaponized” his art against the indifference of an establishment – indeed, of an entire society – to the suffering and death taking place in plain sight, leading to a courtroom confrontation with the religious right (which he won) over NEA funding for an exhibition of his work. When he died from the disease in 1992, at the age of 37, his funeral became a protest, and his ashes were eventually scattered, as part of an “Ashes Action” by ACT UP in 1996, on the White House lawn.
In McKim’s comprehensive and immersive chronicle of Wojnarowicz’s short and thorny life, we are transported in all but body to the heady and tumultuous time and place in which he lived. Constructed as a cinematic collage, it sets aside the conceit of objective narration and instead carries us through the timeline of his life and career by putting us, as closely as possible, into his own mind. This would be an audacious and impossible task were it not for the treasure trove of archival material left behind by the artist himself, who obsessively recorded his thoughts and experiences not only through his work, but in written, audio, and film diaries he maintained throughout his career. It’s Wojnarowicz himself who tells his own story, supplemented by remembrances from those who knew him and illuminated by the visual eloquence of his work. We are even allowed a glimpse into some of his most intimate relationships, thanks to never-erased answering machine messages – particularly with fellow artist Peter Hujar, whose life story was inextricably interwoven with his own.
While the film relies extensively on material created and archived by Wojnarowski himself, McKim allows for the inclusion of other perspectives, too. Interpolated throughout is new interview material from the artist’s contemporaries, friends and associates whose memories not only reinforce his image as a passionate iconoclast but reveal a deeply human side that is not always apparent – or obvious, at least – in his work. Reminiscences from figures like Fran Lebowitz, Nan Goldin, and Gracie Mansion, as well as Wojnarowski’s surviving partner, Tom Rauffenbart, help to round out our picture of the man with glimpses from outside his own fiery mind. They also serve to illuminate the lightning-in-a-bottle environment of New York’s underground avant garde scene of the early eighties, a place and time where a dizzying array of soon-to-be legendary figures met, mingled, and melded in a social and artistic circle not unlike that of Paris in the pre-war twentieth century – and the skill with which Wojnarowicz moved between the worlds of the street and the gallery, his difficulty in balancing his disdain for the wealthy elite with his need to sell them his art, and his ability to keep all his personal connections so neatly and meticulously compartmentalized.
There’s another, almost accidental aspect to “Wojnarowicz” that lifts it out of the past, adding a layer of urgency in the here and now and drawing a direct line from the events of history to the world of today. The unmistakable echoes of the eighties political landscape – the glorification of capitalism, the conservative conflation of nationalism with patriotism, the bigotry of the religious right, and the ravages of a deadly and mysterious disease – are impossible not to notice from our seats in 2021; and while we may have achieved a respite from the dark days of Trump-ist MAGA-ism, only the most naïve among us would think the threats it posed have been quelled forever. This gives the words and work of Wojnarowicz a timely immediacy, and underscores the need to keep his ferocious, rebellious spirit alive.
Fortunately, McKim’s film is heavy with the almost corporeal substance of its subject. One can almost feel him in the room while watching it – his presence is immediate, something we experience first-hand, thanks both to the intensity and passion with which he recorded his own life and the skill with which McKim delivers him to us nearly three decades after his death. This was a man who was more than an artist; he was an incendiary rebel who saw his own body as a weapon against an establishment, and McKim honors that spirit by bringing him to tangible life before our eyes.
The resulting film packs a cumulative punch that leaves us feeling both humbled and inspired, while also enjoining us to take up the torch of its subject’s righteous rage.
Based on what it shows us, he would be proud.
K. M. Soehnlein’s Army of Lovers, a review
Army of Lovers is not just an account of political intervention, it is itself an intervention, a novel that preserves for future activism
By John Weir | NEW YORK – K.M. Soehnlein’s Army of Lovers is a novel of the lost generation. Not the early 20th century generation of survivors of the Great War, called “lost” by Gertrude Stein, their stories told in novels by Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.
Soehnlein’s lost women and men, those who survived and those who did not, are from the last two decades of the 20th century, the so-called American century, when nearly 750,000 Americans died of AIDS. Young Americans: by 1994, and through 1995, AIDS was the leading cause of death for all Americans age 25 to 44.
At the center of Army of Lovers is a German Irish guy from suburban New Jersey, a kid named Paul, just out of college, whose journey to adulthood happens to coincide with a global epidemic – “a fucking plague,” Larry Kramer famously shouted – that maybe looks to us, from the distance of forty years and a new century, like a grim dress rehearsal for Covid.
That’s if your memory goes back that far. Soehnlein’s does, and his novel is a stunning act of remembering. It’s a visceral re-creation of the sights, sounds, smells, the feel of Manhattan from Wall Street to Times Square in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The bars, parks, restaurants, apartments. Parties and sex parties. The meeting halls where ACT UP New York met. The touch of friends and lovers and comrades, in street actions and crowded jail cells. The taste of ash in your mouth, literal ash, ashes of the dead.
If you were in New York at the time, and involved even peripherally in ACT UP New York, the novel will feel like a series of home movies. (Full disclosure: I think I once shared a jail cell with Soehnlein.) The story starts at a die-in. Soehnlein’s narrator Paul and his fellow ACT UP activists are lying on the floor of Albany’s state senate building, its brutalist architecture an apt symbol of “the brutal world we’re shouting at, brutal and square and indifferent. The brutal indifference of the government led us here, to block the glass doors of the legislation chamber, demanding to be heard.”
“This is an action,” Paul says, excited, his arm linked through the arm of his best girlfriend Amanda. When his boyfriend Derek, a member of ACT UP’s media committee, comes over with a reporter and a cameraperson, Paul and Amanda deliver their sound bites – “Women with AIDS die twice as fast as men” – and then they wait for the police to close in and arrest them. They wait a while.
With documentary clarity, Soehnlein renders the stop-and-start energy of political protest. Not only does he preserve for historical record an account of a series of actions and political interventions that took place forty years ago, he shows how it felt to be there. His characters feel the adrenaline rush of getting into a building that is guarded like a fortress. They hold hands, sometimes with strangers they will never see again, sometimes with lovers or ex-lovers. Rushing, chanting, they head for the marble hallway, or the floor of the train terminal, or the cold, cold ground, worrying they won’t get past the police barriers or the phalanx of cops.
And once they have “taken the hill,” as it were, like actors in a war film from the 1940s, they wait. Wait for the police to come, for the senators to respond, for the reporters to arrive with camera crews to record their demands. And then, if they are not arrested, they get home in time to see themselves on the evening news. Or not!
Buy the book here: (Bywater Books)
It’s exhilarating. Soehnlein shows the exhilaration. It’s also sometimes kind of boring. He shows that too. Most of all, it changed lives. The novel chronicles the ways activism and AIDS and death and loss change Paul’s life. How he goes from being a newly out gay kid learning his way around a city “full of offerings,” including art and work and men (his initial approach to sex and love being: “Anything that starts with a guy and ends with an orgasm is what I’m into”), to a queer activist in a shaved head and black leather jacket facilitating ACT UP meetings and talking back to Larry Kramer.
A notable aspect of the novel is Soehnlein’s lack of sentimentality about the anointed “heroes” of the AIDS activism movement. “I hold him in awe,” Paul says about Kramer, but also, “Larry is the apocalyptic prophet who sees only doom. . . often incapable of hearing anyone else.” Soehnlein is equally clear-eyed about problems of burn-out that afflicted AIDS activists:
Issues of racism and sexism that compromised AIDS activism; the painful awareness of many ACT UP members, almost their inability to grasp, that despite their unceasing, ingenious, and fearless activism, their friends and lovers would continue to die.
Most poignantly, the novel shows an aspect of AIDS activism that I haven’t seen fully dramatized elsewhere. It happens in a conversation between Paul and his bestie Amanda, an aspiring filmmaker and lesbian activist. Grappling with the question of how to have a life at the same time that you’re trying to save lives, Amanda says, “It’s confusing to be so deeply identified with a community when you want to say something or make something that’s uniquely yours.”
How to be a person in the midst of an all-consuming, life-threatening epidemic? How to be queer in America in the Reagan years? How to have a personal life when your life is devoted to the collective? Amanda chooses art as a form of activism. Paul has a life apart from AIDS, but it’s no refuge from painful questions of mortality and identity. His is mother dying of cancer. The poles of his life mirror each other, each with death at the center. Is he entirely himself in either community – the churchgoing suburban world where he grew up, and the activist world centering on ACT UP and his charismatic boyfriend Derek?
When he breaks up with Derek and falls in love with Zack, who is dying of AIDS, Paul drifts away from ACT UP. “You’re a caretaker now,” Amanda tells him. Paul seems almost to arrive at the conclusion that caretaking is itself a form of activism. Or if it’s not, what is activism? Amanda decides to channel her activism into “making a movie that affects a lot of people.” Paul comes to a similar decision. After Zack dies, he moves to San Francisco and enrolls in a graduate writing program.
Soehnlein would appear to have made a similar choice. Army of Lovers is not just an account of political intervention, it is itself an intervention, a novel that preserves for future activism the history of a group of people struggling to survive an epidemic in the face of a government that was intent on denying its existence.
The ‘Spoiler’ is you’re going to cry
Love is worth it even when you know it’s going to end badly
It’s been a refreshing year for LGBTQ love stories on the screen. From “Fire Island” to “Bros,” from “Crush” to “Anything’s Possible,” we’ve seen narratives that offer up hopeful and positive alternatives to the gloomy outcomes presented by movies of the past. Instead of stories that reinforce the tired trope of doomed queer romance, we’re finally seeing ourselves get the same chance at a happily-ever-after ending as everybody else.
It’s been a welcome change – but just when Hollywood finally seems to have finally figured out that all our relationships don’t have to end in tragedy, “Spoiler Alert” has come along to remind us that sometimes they still do.
Based on the best-selling memoir by Michael Ausiello (“Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies”) and directed by Michael Showalter from a screenplay by David Marshall Grant and gay blogger/author/pundit Dan Savage, it’s the true story of a couple (Ausiello and his eventual husband, photographer Kit Cowan) who find love and build a relationship over the course of more than a decade only to face the heartbreak of Kit’s diagnosis of – and his (SPOILER ALERT, hence the title) premature passing from – a rare form of terminal cancer. Though It’s not exactly a rom-com, it does try to keep things light-hearted, and it aims for the uplift despite its foregone tragic conclusion.
That’s a tough tightrope to walk. The book, penned by veteran television and entertainment journalist Ausiello, pulled it off successfully, becoming a bestseller – and not just among queer readers – with its warts-and-all celebration of what it truly means to commit to love. After all, we may adore our fairy tale fantasies, but we all know that even a couple’s best-case scenario is guaranteed a sad ending; Ausiello’s first-person written narrative managed to get the point across that it’s all worth it, anyway.
Sometimes, though, a literary device that works on the page doesn’t translate easily to the screen, and on film, Ausiello’s “we-already-know-the-outcome” approach faces a more resistant challenge.
In the first act of the film, which details the meeting and early romance of its two lead characters (Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge as Michael and Kit, respectively), our knowledge of the ending becomes an obstacle. This may be particularly true for more jaded viewers, who are apt to be keenly aware of the emotional payoffs being set up in advance. Heartwarming moments can easily come off as deliberate, even manufactured, and one might sense an obvious bid to force our identification with the characters in the movie’s deployment of all the standard “new gay relationship” tropes. In reading, it’s easy to personalize such universal moments through our own imaginations, which can fill in the spaces (and the faces) in a way that rings true for us. On film (this film, at least), such communally identifiable experiences run the risk of feeling manipulative: a little too perfect, a little too pat, a little too “meet-cute,“ and a little too… well, precious.
The dissonance between formulaic fantasy and genuine lived experience is sometimes made even more obtrusive by occasional flashbacks to Michael’s childhood, framed as excerpts from an imagined ‘90s sitcom, which distance us further from the story – a stylistic ploy that seems intended to keep the tone of the narrative as far from tragic as possible.
When it’s time to get real, however, Showalter’s film lands on more solid ground. Once the blissful “happy-ever-after” couple-hood of the two men is established, the movie takes us into deeper, more mature – and therefore, less predictable – territory. Things don’t end up being perfect in Michael and Kit’s ostensible lover’s paradise: jealousies, self-esteem issues, and the inevitable individual growth that sometimes drives wedges between us in our relationships take their toll. As any successful long-term couple – queer or otherwise – is bound to discover, relationships take a lot of work, and seeing the two protagonists confront that seldom-told part of the story goes a long way toward making their experience more relatable for those who are looking for more than mere aspirational fantasy.
So, too, does the acting from the two leads. Parsons, who struggles against the obvious artificiality of playing against being two-decades-too-old in the film’s earlier scenes, blossoms once the story moves ahead in time to deliver an emotionally brave and affectingly authentic portrait of a man overcoming the baggage of his awkward and socially isolated youth (there’s a Smurf addiction involved, need we say more?) and finding the resilience to weather a battle for his lover’s life. Aldridge, a Brit flawlessly playing American, is perhaps even better – not that it needs to be a competition – as Kit, whose easy-going self-esteem masks a world of unresolved insecurities and makes an almost-too-good-to-be-true character endearingly real; perhaps more importantly, the emotional journey he’s tasked with portraying requires an absolute dedication to unornamented truth, and he delivers it impeccably.
It helps that the two actors, who carry most of the movie’s running time, have a convincingly natural chemistry together that gradually persuades us to invest in these characters even if we had resisted becoming invested in them before. Bolstering the emotional solidity even further is the presence of seasoned pros Sally Field and Bill Irwin as Kit’s parents, who deepen this not-as-clueless-as-they-seem pair beyond the familiar stereotype they represent and raise them above the easy sentimentality they might otherwise have carried into the story’s already-poignant mix.
These considerable advantages are enough to help us forgive the movie’s contrived expository beginnings, though its ongoing sitcom conceit for childhood flashbacks – as well as its occasional fourth-wall-breaking interruptions from Michael’s TV obsessed imagination – continue to feel a little gimmicky, especially after the plot has passed the point where such amusements are welcome or even necessary.
Still, the movie’s fortunate choice to play against its tearjerker underpinnings – such as when it undercuts a particularly histrionic scene of hospital drama by calling itself out on its own shameless nod (which any gay movie buff will surely already recognize) to an iconic moment from a cinema classic – keeps the tears which finally come from feeling as though they’ve been shamelessly manipulated out of us. It’s this quality that marks the best entries in the tearjerker genre; the thing that movies like “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolia” have in common (besides Shirley MacLaine) is their ability to lean fully into the artifice of their own weepy, sentimental style without sacrificing the sincerity of their emotional payoffs. Films like these don’t play their big moments for drama, or even for laughs, to keep us involved – they play those moments for truth. “Spoiler Alert” clearly aspires to the same standard.
It mostly succeeds, after an awkward start; though some viewers might find its quirkier narrative conceits to be an overcompensation for its weepy ending, its characters are real enough to get past all that and win us over. And though it’s hard to deny that it’s ultimately another tragic gay love story, it manages to remind us that love is worth it even when you know it’s going to end badly.
After all, just because a romance is doomed doesn’t mean it has to be a downer.
New book reveals that some secrets last a lifetime
‘All the Broken Places’ should be on your must-read list
‘All the Broken Places’
By John Boyne
c. 2022, Pamela Dorman Books
It shall not pass your lips.
No, That Thing You Do Not Talk About is off-limits in all conversation, a non-topic when the subject surfaces. Truly, there are just certain things that are nobody’s business and in the new novel, “All the Broken Places” by John Boyne, some secrets must last a lifetime.
She hated the idea that she would have to adjust to new neighbors.
Ninety-one-year-old Gretel Fernsby wasn’t so much bothered by new people, as she was by new noise. She hated the thought of inuring herself to new sounds, and what if the new tenants had children? That was the worst of all. Gretel never was much for children, not her own and certainly not any living below her.
Once, there was a time when Gretel could imagine herself with many children. That was nearly 80 years ago, when she was in love with her father’s driver, Kurt. She thought about Kurt through the years – he had fallen out of favor with her father, and was sent elsewhere – and she wondered if he survived the war.
Her father didn’t, nor did her younger brother but Gretel didn’t think about those things. What happened at the “other place” was not her fault.
She hadn’t known. She was innocent.
That was what she told herself as she and her mother fled to Paris. Gretel was 15 then, and she worked hard to get rid of her German accent but not everyone was fooled by her bad French or her story. She was accosted, hated. As soon as her mother died, she sailed to Australia, where she lived with a woman who loved other women, until it became dangerous there, too. She practiced her English and moved to London where she was married, widowed, and now she had to get used to new neighbors and new sounds and new ways for old secrets to sneak into a conversation.
OK, clear your calendar. Get “All the Broken Places” and just don’t make any plans, other than to read and read and read.
The very first impression you get of author John Boyne’s main character, Gretel, is that she’s grumpy, awful, and nasty. With the many bon mots she drops, however, the feeling passes and it’s sometimes easy to almost like her – although it’s clear that she’s done some vile things in her lifetime, things that emerge slowly as the horror of her story dawns. Then again, she professes to dislike children, but (no spoilers here!) she doesn’t, not really, and that makes her seem like someone’s sweet old grandmother. ‘Tis a conundrum.
Don’t let that fool you, though. Boyne has a number of Gretel-sized roadside bombs planted along the journey that is this book. Each ka-boom will hit your heart a little harder.
This is a somewhat-sequel to “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” but you can read it alone. Do, and when you finish, you’ll want to immediately read it again, to savor anew.
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The ultimate guide to queer holiday gift giving
Something for everyone, from charcuterie to an e-moped
Drawing a blank on what to gift the queer loved ones on your holiday shopping list? Consider these thoughtful presents picked exclusively for your LGBTQ friends and family.
Mr. & Mr. Claus Mugs
Two glazed-ceramic Santas are better than one when you cop Sunny & Ted’s hand-painted Mr. and/or Mrs. cocoa mugs available in three blush-faced skin tones and two genders to accurately rep your festive-queer holiday cheer. SunnyAndTed.com, $27.50 each
Whiskey a Go Go
Lift holiday spirits (in handsome drinkware, like Baccarat’s Harmonie Double Old-Fashioned Tumblers) by offering party guests a sampling of your home bar’s top-shelf reserves, like Blade & Bow’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Glendalough Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and Westward American Single Malt Stout Cask – a holy trinity all its own. ReserveBar.com, $48, $57, $91
Happy Hanukkah Tea Gift Set + Subarzsweets
VAHDAM India’s Hannukah-special assortment of luscious herbal, chai and black teas – paired with Subarzsweets’ handmade, small-batch biscotti-cookie hybrids (the lemon-thyme flavor is what the chef’s kiss emoji was meant for) – is the treat-yourself pick-me-up you’ll crave after eight crazy nights. Vahdam.com, $24; Subarzsweets.com, $45
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
One of your nice-listers resolving to travel more in the new year? Set them up for success with the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands’ America the Beautiful annual pass, providing access for the holder (plus guests) to more than 2,000 federal sites in the United States, including parks, monuments, battlefields, protected wildlife refuges, stunning seashores, and more. Recreation.gov, $80
Yves Durif Grooming Set
Yves Durif didn’t reinvent the Italian-made, natural rubber resin petite brush and comb that bears his synonymous-with-style name, but he did make these luxury tools sexy AF so you can feel like a million bucks. YvesDurif.com, $105
A far cry from the shelf-stable meat-and-cheese gifts mom loaded up on at your local mall’s pop-up shop, Oprah-approved Boarderie charcuterie boards are chef-made daily and feature hand-selected artisan cheeses, meats, dried fruits, nuts and chocolates on keepsake Acacia platters. Hickory Farms could never. Boarderie.com, $129-$239
Wagged Tails Custom ‘A-paw-rel’
Memorialize your loved ones’ recently passed pets with Wagged Tails’ custom-printed apparel and accessories, including T-shirts, tumblers, totes and mugs, emblazoned with their favorite heaven-sent smush-faces. Keep the Kleenex close. WaggedTails.com, $18-$67
Dough Bowl Candles
Drop a needle on Aunt Dolly’s holiday vinyl before lighting the wicks on Stroud’s Simply Southern dough bowl candles and you’ve got yourself an instant country Christmas. StroudSimplySouthernCo.com, $24-$79
Utilitarianism is a hallmark of Japanese design, and Toyo’s handcrafted cantilever steel storage and tool boxes are no exception with two handy adjustable upper trays and eight removable dividers housed in a handsome, spacious shell deserving of double-takes. Placewares.com, $129
Habibi Santal Journey
Can’t go wrong with a fresh scent tucked under the tree or inside a stocking, and it doesn’t get any fresher (or spicier) than Habibi’s Santal Journey with notes of dry cedar wood, oud and sandalwood overtop wisps of crisp pear and precious orris. ForHabibi.com, $119
NQi GTS E-Moped
In sport mode, the NQi GTS e-moped’s top speed is a hair-straightening 50 mph thanks to a 60V26Ah Bosch motor, 4th-gen lithium battery tech, and a few body-shop elves who’ve watched “2 Fast 2 Furious” 2 many times. Niu.com, $TBD
Rotate Watchmaking Kit
Challenge your better-half gadget geek over holiday break with customizable Rotate watchmaking kits – available in easy, medium, and hard configurations – that come complete with parts, tools, and a user-friendly guide to keep the cursing at a Christian minimum. RotateWatches.com, $195-$225
Coravin x Keith Haring Wine Opener
Art and wine go to together like Saint Nick and snickerdoodles, which is why the Coravin x Keith Haring Timeless Six+ Artist Edition bottle opener – featuring the late artist’s iconic dancing figures in black and white – will look just as good on your dinner party tablescape as it will on display. Coravin.com, $350
Limited Edition Don Q Rum X Coquito NYC Drink Kit
Add a little Latin flavor to your living room Christmas film fest with a screening of Alfredo De Villa’s “Nothing Like the Holidays” and a traditional coquito with a Don Q kick in hand. The limited-edition collaboration kit between the rum maker and Latina-owned Coquito NYC comes with everything you need to mix it up, including coconut milk, spices, and a bottle of Reserva 7. DonQ.com, $75
Nuzzie Weighted Blanket
Dasher and Dancer will have to pull double duty delivering hefty, chunky Nuzzies, one-of-a-kind breathable, thermo regulating and sustainable weighted blankets (in holiday hues like rich rose and emerald green) for all your snowy-season snuggles. ShopNuzzie.com, $169-$329
(Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.)
Streisand’s ‘Live at the Bon Soir’: Birth of a diva
Album finally released 50 years after being recorded
Happy days are here again!
Sixty years ago, for three nights in November 1962, Columbia Records recorded a young (20-year-old) singer as she performed at the Bon Soir, a small nightclub in Greenwich Village. The singer’s name was Barbra Streisand, and the recording was slated to be her debut album. Streisand wasn’t that widely known then. But as (the character) Miss Marmelstein, Streisand was stopping the show nightly in the Broadway production “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.” After the show’s curtain call, she took a cab to perform at the Bon Soir club, according to the website barbra-archives.info.
But though the recording of Streisand live at the Village club was talked about the way you’d chat about an awesome legend, the album was shelved for more than half a century. Instead of releasing the “Live at the Bon Soir,” Columbia in 1963 released “The Barbra Streisand Album” (which was recorded in a studio) as Streisand’s debut album.
If you’re queer, you know Streisand rules! To the delight of critics, fans and mid-century history aficionados, on Nov. 4, six decades after it was recorded, “Live at the Bon Soir,” wonderfully remastered, was released on vinyl and SACD. It is also available on streaming services.
If you’ve fantasized about spending an intimate evening with Streisand (Barbra singing and engaging in witty repartee for just you and your intimates), “Live at the Bon Soir” is a dream come true. When Streisand says, “I wish there were another word for thank you…I mean, like, anything, you know” and introduces the club audience to her “boyfriend’s suit,” you feel that she’s talking directly to you.
Streisand’s voice is at its youthful, gorgeous best and her one-of-a-spectacular-kind personality comes through in her banter between songs. Listening to the album is an immersive experience. You’re witnessing the birth of a diva.
The album’s 24 tracks range from an indelible version of the torch song “Cry Me a River” to a playful rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”
One of the best things about “Live at the Bon Soir” is its comprehensive, illuminating liner notes. Produced by Streisand, Martin Erlichman and Jay Landers, the CD of the album is packaged in a hardcover book with 32 pages of historical notes, photos and a message from Streisand. The vinyl version comes with a 12-page booklet. The notes provide insight into not only the making of the album, but of most interest to Streisand devotees, what it was like to perform live at the beginning of her career.
“I had never even been in a nightclub until I sang in one,” Streisand writes in the album’s liner notes about performing at and recording “Live at the Bon Soir.”
“I sang two songs in a talent contest at a little club called the Lion and won,” Streisand adds, “which led to being hired at a more sophisticated supper club around the corner called the Bon Soir, with an actual stage and a spotlight.”
The sound on the restored version of “Live at the Bon Soir” is much better than it was on the original recording.
“The science of recording has made quantum leaps since 1962,” writes Landers on the album’s liner notes, “Grammy Award winning engineer, Jochem van der Saag, has subtly solved audio issues in ways his predecessors could hardly have fathomed.”
Streisand has recorded albums with political and contemporary songs. These recordings are often superb. (Is anything by Streisand ever remotely bad?)
But “Live at the Bon Soir” is a gift to anyone who loves standards from the American song-book – from “I Hate Music” (Leonard Bernstein) to “Right as the Rain” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg) to “Come To The Supermarket (in Old Peking)” (Cole Porter) to “Happy Days Are Here Again” (Jack Yellen/Milton Ager).
Even if you’re allergic to show tunes, you’ll be entranced by “Live at the Bon Soir.”
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‘Young Royals’ stars chat with Josh Smith on his Reign podcast
Smith uses his innate empathy to create a safe space for the most influential people on the planet to open up like never before
LONDON – British journalist, podcaster and presenter Josh Smith has gained international recognition for his signature empowering interviews, innate warmth, and humour. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, knowing what it is like to be marginalized Smith uses his innate empathy to create a safe space for the most influential people on the planet to open up like never before.
Recently, Smith interviewed the two main stars of the Netflix runaway hit streaming series ‘Young Royals,’ Omar Rudberg and Edvin Ryding:
After launching in January 2021, Reign is already in its fifth season and has come to life through live and virtual live stream events. Each week Smith is joined by a celebrity guest for a down-to- earth chat about their journey to success.
Smith’s charisma encourages a truly unfiltered dialogue between him and his guests, allowing them to comfortably share their personal stories to inspire listeners.
You can also follow Smith on Instagram: (Link)
First openly gay GOP former member of U.S. House dies at 80
“Today, because of Jim Kolbe, being a member of the LGBT community and serving in elected office has become irrelevant”
TUCSON – Former Republican Congressman James (Jim) Thomas Kolbe, who represented Southern Arizona in Congress for 22 years, died Saturday, Dec. 3 of a stroke at the age of 80 his husband Hector Alfonso confirmed to Arizona media outlets.
“He belongs to so many people,” his husband said through tears on Saturday. “He gave his life for this city. He loved Tucson, he loved Arizona.”
Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff until sunset Sunday in honor of the former congressman. In a series of tweets the Arizona Governor lauded Kolbe’s record of public service:
Congressman Kolbe led a life of remarkable public service. A Navy veteran, 11-term congressman, state legislator — even a congressional page for Sen. Goldwater — his commitment and dedication were boundless. 2/— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) December 3, 2022
He was a highly-regarded expert on trade, a champion of the free market and a passionate advocate for the line-item veto. From his community in Tucson, to those in need around the world, Congressman Kolbe had a profound and lasting impact. 3/— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) December 3, 2022
We’ve ordered flags at state buildings will be flown at half staff until sunset Sunday in Congressman Kolbe’s memory. 5/5— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) December 3, 2022
Kolbe was the first openly serving gay Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives having served from 1985 to 2007. During his 22-year tenure he served as chair of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs of the House Appropriations Committee.
In 1996, Kolbe held a press conference and outed himself after his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act, this according to political journalist Jake Tapper was owed to the fact that Kolbe was under the impression he was about to be outed by a gay publication.
Addressing a gathering of Log Cabin Republicans and other gay Republicans in 1997, he said he didn’t want to be a poster child for the gay movement.
“Being gay was not — and is not today — my defining persona,” Kolbe said during his first speech as an openly gay GOP lawmaker. He also sat on the national advisory board of the Log Cabin Republicans.
In 2013 however, Kolbe was a signatory to an amicus brief in support of overturning California’s Proposition 8.
In a private ceremony in 2013 after being together for eight years, Kolbe and Alfonso were married.
Alfonso, a Panamanian native who came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship to pursue studies in special education had been a teacher for two decades. The couple’s nuptials were held at a private event at the Cosmos Club on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington D.C.
“Two decades ago, I could not have imagined such an event as this would be possible,” Kolbe told the Blade in an interview in May of 2013. “A decade ago I could not imagine that I would find someone I could be so compatible with that I would want to spend the rest of my life with that person. So, this is a very joyous day for both of us.”
The couple had to endure a year-long separation when Alfonso returned to Panama while immigration issues were being sorted out, although he was granted U.S, Residency also knoen as a green card.
Kolbe also battled his friend and fellow Republican, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain who opposed the repeal of the Clinton-era Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy, which barred military service by gay and lesbian Americans. He repeatedly co-sponsored a bill to scrap the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at odds with others in his party over the issue.
After he left Congress he continued to be active in Republican politics in 2012 endorsing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in his race for the presidency against then incumbent Barack Obama.
In an interview with the Washington Blade at the time, Kolbe responded to the anti-gay language in the draft version of the Republican Party platform. In addition to endorsing a Federal Marriage Amendment, the platform criticized the Obama administration for dropping defense of DOMA in court and judges for “re-defining marriage” in favor of gay couples.
Kolbe predicted the 2012 Republican platform will be the last one to include such language.
“That’ll be the last time that will be in the Republican Party platform,” Kolbe said. “It won’t be there four years from now. It’s got its last gasp. I don’t believe it’ll be there four years from now; I wish it weren’t there now, but I don’t believe it will be four years from now.”
The issue over the rights of same-sex couples to marry ended with Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644, the landmark civil rights case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Just this week prior to his death, the Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate by a vote of 61-36.
That legislation requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed and guarantee that valid marriages between two individuals are given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. It is expected to pass the House again this week after which it heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Early in his career Kolbe, in 1976 ran for a seat in the Arizona Senate in the Tucson-Pima County district and defeated a one-term Democrat. In mid-1982, he resigned from the state Senate to run in the newly created Arizona 5th U.S. congressional district, but lost to Democrat Jim McNulty.
He ran again in 1984 winning the seat that he went to hold for over two decades.
According to his biography Kolbe was born in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, but when he was five, his family moved to a ranch in rural Santa Cruz County, Arizona. It was there he attended Patagonia Elementary School and Patagonia Union High School, but graduated from the United States Capitol Page School in 1960 after serving for three years as a United States Senate Page for Arizona Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater.
He matriculated first at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and then at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California earning a master’s degree in economics. During the Vietnam era from 1965 to 1969, he served in the United States Navy, including a tour in Vietnam as a member of the Navy’s “Swift Boat” force.
After military service Kolbe served as a special assistant to Illinois Republican Governor Richard B. Ogilvie. He then moved back to Arizona settling in Tucson where he worked in business.
Accolades for the former Congressman included many from Arizona political and business fields of endeavor.
“Pima County and southern Arizona could always count on Jim Kolbe,” Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson said in a statement.
Matt Gress, who was recently elected to the Arizona Legislature, called Kolbe a political pioneer.
“Today, because of Jim Kolbe, being a member of the LGBT community and serving in elected office has become irrelevant,” he said in a statement.
World’s largest LGBTQ sporting event returning to Las Vegas
Registration open for the largest annual LGBTQ sporting event globally- Nominations are open for the 2nd annual Ken Scearce Leadership Award
By John McDonald | LAS VEGAS – More than 10,000 athletes are expected in Las Vegas January 12-15, 2023 for the Sin City Classic. The event features 24 sports and draws participants from around the globe, said co-executive director Jason Peplinski.
“For a lot of people, LGBT sports are their safe space and they like to travel to be a part of an athletic family,” Peplinski said.
Peplinski is commissioner of the Greater Los Angeles Softball Association (GLASA). His organization created the Sin City Classic back in 2008 as a way to provide a safe space for LGBT athletes to compete and connect.
“Sin City Classic continues to grow and evolve,” Peplinksi said. “This year we see the addition of pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and sand volleyball, adding to the diverse lineup of competitions and events that the festival offers. We’re excited that the festival continues to expand and offers ways for all members of our diverse community to participate.”
This is the Sin City Classic’s first year of full operations since the COVID-19 pandemic and the Flamingo Hotel, the oldest hotel on the Las Vegas strip, is the host hotel. Lexus is the presenting sponsor and nightclubs Piranha and The Garden are hosting events during the MLK holiday weekend.
Additionally, nominations are open for the second annual Ken Scearce Leadership Award which honors the memory and legacy of the former executive director who passed away in 2021.
To sign-up or for more information, visit www.sincityclassic.org
Carrying a Pride flag- protester interrupts World Cup game
Qatar’s laws against gay sex and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East
LUSAIL, Qatar – During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a LGBTQ+ Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.
Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazed with the Superman symbol and the phrase “SAVE UKRAINE” on the front and “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” on the back.
Qatari security personnel chased him down and then frog marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:
FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.
Qatar’s laws against gay sex and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.
The death of Irene Cara and the broken promise
Her final professional projects were gifts to other women musicians of color- but her voice inspired my gay generation
HOLLYWOOD – As I walked down the dark alley towards the glowing light, the opening bridge of the song called to me. “Baby, look at me and tell me what you see, You ain’t seen the best of me yet, Give me time, I’ll make you forget all the rest, I got more in me…”
The movie Fame had just come out and its anthem theme song was HOT. The glowing light that night was a gay disco, tucked away from heterosexual view, while gay bashers circled in trucks a few blocks away. That safe haven in the dark alley allowed me, a 20-year old youth, a path out of the closet in which I emotionally and sexually had residence. To me, the words of the song Fame, and its overwhelming delivery, was my inner drive and conviction that I could be me, and my own personal superstar.
The young woman delivering the song was barely an adult herself. Irene Cara had been a child performer and was now breaking into the fame she was singing about. She was “instantly” famous thanks to Fame. Amongst other accolades, she was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy. The song itself won the Oscar that year.
The Grammy nomination put a public trapping on what we all knew: She was a star, and had all the makings to become a superstar, an icon.
For LGBTQ people, her work that year spoke to our souls and our optimism. As “Randy 503” shared on the Joe.My.God site, “I was a deeply closeted and lonely kid in my early 20s. Not lonely because I didn’t have friends (had tons of them), but lonely because I refused to admit I was gay and kept away from all that. I saw the movie and was transfixed. Bought the album and played it all the time, especially her songs. Her voice was so strong, and so expressive, it really touched me.”
Cara’s second song in the movie also resonated with the gay audience. While Fame spoke to the sassy optimism of embracing our outstanding selves and taking the world by storm, Out Here On My Own spoke to the dark loneliness of the closet. “Sometimes I wonder where I’ve been, who I am, do I fit in… when I’m down and feeling blue, I close my eyes so I can be strong and be with you…I dry the tears I’ve never shown, Out here on my own.”
Randy points out, “Out here on my own always left me in tears. It hit so close to home, and I could feel sadness on it. It’s a great song sung by one of the best.”
After the success of Fame, Cara ventured into a sitcom pilot and a freshman album, “Anyone Can See.” Neither caught the world on fire, as apparently only some of us could actually “see” her real worth.
It was not long after however, where Cara’s apparent life mission to deliver culture changing anthems, came calling again. She was recruited to help out with the new Flashdance movie, and to work with iconic gay producer Giorgio Moroder for its theme song. Cara was reportedly reluctant. She had already been criticized as a second tier Donna Summer with Fame, and was hesitant to get into that musical lane. Later she would work with John Farrar whom she credited as being responsible for ALL of Olivia Newton John’s hits. It seems that her superstar aspirations were more to be Pop Princess than another Queen of Disco.
She did sign on board with Moroder and Flashdance, and made history. Her song Flashdance… What a Feeling went to #1 for six straight weeks. It affected American culture in style, attitude and substance. On Academy Awards night, Cara made history again. (She had already made history in a minor way a few years before as the first person to ever perform two nominated songs in one evening.) This time, she became the second African American woman to win an Oscar – the first being Gone With the Wind’s Hattie McDaniels.
Cara was the first African American woman to ever win a non-acting Oscar ever.
The anthem Flashdance…What a Feeling spoke to LGBTQ audiences of the 80s, in a way that Fame had. “First when there’s nothing but a slow glowing dream that your fear seems to hide deep inside your mind. All alone, I have cried silent tears full of pride in a world made of steel, made of stone, Well, I hear the music, close my eyes, feel the rhythm wrap around, take hold of my heart. What a feeling, being is believing I can have it all..”
Online, Joe.My.God reader BearlvrFl shared, “LUV the song “Out Here On My Own” I call “Flashdance: What A Feeling” my coming out song, popular on the dance floor very close to the time I finally came out at the age of 22. I could relate to “Take your passion/And make it happen.” Super simple lyric, but it’s timing was everything for me, having been closeted for so long.”
This time, AIDS had brought a very dark cloud over the community, however. Its ravage was starting to take widespread hold. It made the line in the song “now I’m dancing for my life” even more poignant and relevant.
The darkness that was falling over the LGBT world was on a parallel track in Cara’s own life. As she picked up Oscars and Grammys, there was a sadness in her eyes above the smile on her face. She shared later that the public glory was matched with a behind-the-scenes horror story. Her record company was keeping her from garnering any success from her accomplishments. Columnist Liz Smith stated in a 1993 piece that Cara earned only $183 in royalties.
Cara inspired women of her generation. Patti Piatt shared on Twitter, “I am from a generation of women who thought anything was possible because of Irene Cara. She gave us so much joy. We all danced to her songs, didn’t matter if we could dance, we danced because she made us want to dance.”
In spite of singing THE anthem of women empowerment, Cara became an example of a woman destroyed by the male dominated music industry. As she fought back for earnings due her, she became black-listed, and her trek to superstardom halted. They made her all but disappear. A decade later, she won, but by that time, the damage had been done.
Her final solo album subconsciously called out her professional demise with songs titled “Now That It’s Over”, “Get a Grip” and the ultimate defeatist title “Say Goodnight Irene.”
“I know well enough this is going nowhere… Might as well say goodnight, Say Goodnight, Irene.”
In the end, she seemed to find peace. Her final professional projects were gifts to other women musicians of color. She comfortably settled into what she called “semi-retirement” and her Florida home with a steady stream of funds from her hard-earned residuals.
The promise of becoming a superstar eluded her, but she busted the ceiling so it might not elude others. Painfully for fans, the promise from the song Fame, “I’m gonna live forever” also did not come true.
Let’s instead, think of her making “it to heaven” and lighting “up the sky like a flame.”
For those trying to find final meaning from her life, and the un-fulfilled promise of what could have been for her and for us, may do so in the words from her lesser-known anthem. Here we swap out a promise instead for The Dream:
“We can all be free, we hold the key, if we can see what we want to be. Life is never easy, you get no guarantees, why not give your all and see what you can find?”
Irene Cara, we will always remember your name.
Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.
He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.
He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.
He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .
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