Edmund White. “States of Desire Revisited: Travels in Gay America”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.
Going Back and Moving Forward
Any time a book by Edmund White is published it is an event and even if it is a new edition of an older book. “States of Desire Revisited” is an updated version of White’s original “States of Desire” published in 1991. It “looks back from the twenty-first century at a pivotal moment in the late 1970s: Gay Liberation was a new and flourishing movement of creative culture, political activism, and sexual freedom, just before the 1980s devastation of AIDS”.
In the first edition, Edmund White took us on a tour of gay America of the late 70’s and it was a tour that was filled with surprises. We see what happens behind the glitter at various nightspots and resorts and we learn of gay men in all of the professions. Here is new insight about what it was (and in many cases, still is) to be gay in America. He spoke with politicians who worked in the system in Washington, with radicals in New York and San Francisco, with masculine butch gay men in Houston and with the self-loathing Southern gentlemen of Memphis. He visited with the time warp in Kansas City, with progressive thinkers and conservatives in Portland and Minneapolis and Portland, with the rich and beautiful of Los Angeles. He visited a desert retreat for older gays and lesbians that has been in Santa Fe since the 1920s in Santa Fe. White frames those past travels with a brief, bracing review of gay America since the 1970s (“now we were all supposed to settle down with a partner in the suburbs and adopt a Korean daughter”), and a reflection on how Internet culture has diminished unique gay places and scenes but brought isolated individuals into a global GLBTQ community.
States of Desire Revisited looks back from the twenty-first century at a pivotal moment in the late 1970s: Gay Liberation was a new and flourishing movement of creative culture, political activism, and sexual freedom, just before the 1980s devastation of AIDS. Edmund White traveled America, recording impressions of gay individuals and communities that remain perceptive and captivating today. He noted politicos in D.C. working the system, in-fighting radicals in New York and San Francisco, butch guys in Houston and self-loathing but courteous gentlemen in Memphis, the “Fifties in Deep Freeze” in Kansas City, progressive thinkers with conservative style in Minneapolis and Portland, wealth and beauty in Los Angeles, and, in Santa Fe, a desert retreat for older gays and lesbians since the 1920s.
As we go from city to city and learn about the places we visit, we also get a bit of the autobiography of Edmund White. I get the impression that White is writing this to help straight readers understand gay men. He talks to men who are willing to share their lives with him be they homosexual Mormons in Utah or gay Cubans in Miami. We get quite a cross section of people but unfortunately (and I hate to use that word when writing about one of my literary heroes), the characters here just do not gain reality. White also tells us about himself but does not delve as deeply as I would have liked him to do.
The places he visited back then now have a review of how it was and how it has changed. White also looks at Internet culture and tells how it has caused the waning of “unique gay places and scenes but brought isolated individuals into a global GLBTQ community”.
The original book was written before the AIDS epidemic devastated our community and so the gay America of the 70’s was promiscuous and lives were filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll. This was an interesting America in which we do not learn about children or parents or even what the future is expected to bring. It was a country of now. The gay community was transient and it followed the best parties, the best bars and the best bathhouses. Random and anonymous sex prevailed and romance was fleeting. (I am sure there were loving relationships but those did not make it into the book). It was a nation that emphasized youth and beauty yet it was also a time of fear as anti-homosexual leaders began their rants.
Some things never change—there was the fear of aging and losing our good looks. White spends a good bit of time exploring fetishes and kinkiness and he gives us his own opinion on such activities.
White’s reflection of the men he saw includes not the most “kosher” descriptions and he notes that they are victims of their own self-delusions. Their lives seemed to be ablaze and they hate the thought of getting older; they live in the pursuit of their own definition of happiness and lust. This is not a sympathetic view of gay life but as one who lived through it, I must say that it is somewhat accurate.
To Edmund White, gay life is a mosaic that contains the elements of radicalism and renaissance, hedonism and extremism but we also see the possibilities for what can be. Our eyes are opened and we see the rainbow of gay men in all of their variations and choices. Reading this reminds us of the evolution we have experienced and I found that I was in the midst of reverie as I read. It is difficult to compare the world of then with the world of now and I am not even sure it can be done. White tries to do so in his epilogue which was just written and he does so successfully in terms of culture. When we look at how far we have come, it becomes astounding to think how far we have yet to go.
Note: I have incorporated my original review into my review of the new edition.
Inspired by a True Story
“PRIDE” is inspired by an extraordinary true story. It’s the summer of 1984, Margaret Thatcher is in power and the National Union of Mineworkers is on strike, prompting a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists to raise money to support the strikers’ families. Initially rebuffed by the Union, the group identifies a tiny mining village in Wales and sets off to make their donation in person. As the strike drags on, the two groups discover that standing together makes for the strongest union of all.
“PRIDE” picked up the Queer Palm, handed out each year to the best LGBT themed movie showing at the festival. Previous winners include the excellent Stranger By The Lake, Laurence Anyways, Beauty and Gregg Araki’s Kaboom!.
Based on a true story, “Pride” is set during the summer of 1984, with Margaret Thatcher is in power and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on strike. At the Gay Pride March in London, a group of gay and lesbian activists decides to raise money to support the families of the striking miners. But there is a problem. The Union seems embarrassed to receive their support.
But the activists are not deterred. They decide to ignore the Union and go direct to the miners. They identify a mining village in deepest Wales and set off in a mini bus to make their donation in person. This brings together two seemingly alien communities who form a surprising and ultimately triumphant partnership.
Pride was one of 13 movies up for the Queer Palm, including previous winner Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, Melanie Laurent’s Respire, and Thomas Cailley’s Love At First Sight. It’s the first time a British movie has picked up the award.
Organiser Franck Finance-Madur tolc AFP, “It’s important here in Cannes to think together about problems inherent to the production of queer films that promote sexual diversity.”
Pride is due out in the US in September.
Ephron, Delia. “Sister Mother Husband Dog: (Etc.)”, Plume; Reprint edition, 2014.
Stories and Essays about Delia and Nora Ephron
In “Sister Mother Husband Dog”, Delia Ephron uses her trademark wit and wonderful prose in a series of autobiographical essays about life, love, sisterhood, movies, and family. In “Losing Nora,” she deftly captures the rivalry, mutual respect, and intimacy that made up her relationship with her older sister and frequent writing companion. There are also other essays that include a humorous piece about love and the movies, about the joy of girl friends and best friendship, the magic and miracle of dogs and wonderful observations about urban survival. There is also a serious memoir of life with her mother and growing up the child of alcoholics. Ephron’s eloquent style and voice are on every page of this beautiful book.
It looks into the twisted and brilliant mind of Delia Ephron as she us into her world in 15 beautifully written vignettes. We read about her childhood, her relationships with her family, her fascination with the film “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, her frustrations with her hair, her phobia about being photographed when not wearing makeup, her apprehension about remote controls and technology, her ties to her famous sister, Nora, and her love of pastries from the best bakeries.
The book starts with a chapter about her late sister and then moves into stories about the times they shared, both good and bad. She is proud of their relationship and she celebrates it and their collaborations as well as the unspoken thoughts between them. She shares the horror of Nora’s chemotherapy, the hospital visits and her eventual death but in a way that is celebratory and not in the least morbid. She writes Nora’s generosity, power, talent and ruthlessness as a writer, her humor and sharp insights. Losing her, she says, was like losing an arm, and she feels the need to write/talk about their relationship. She sees her present life like that of her dog, Honey. Dogs keep on going and she feels she must do the same. Nora’s death taught her bravery and that was what her sister left her with.
There are other chapters are filled with Delia’s wit and they are fun to read. The essay of being Jewish enough is wonderful in its insight into the American Jewish mind. “Should she join the JBC, “Jewish Book Council”? She is, after all, an author who “happens” to be Jewish”. Even though her family celebrates Christmas with a tree, carols and gift exchanges and all the rest, she sees it all philosophically. I love that this is written in a friendly manner and there were times that I thought if I looked up, I would see Delia there.
“Looking for Johnny”
Looking at Johnny
Johnny Thunders was the legendary hard-living rock and roll guitarist who inspired glam-metal, punk and the music scene in general. “Looking for Johnny” is a 90-minute film directed by Danny Garcia and that documents Thunders’ career from his beginnings to his tragic death in 1991.
When Johnny Thunders died in New Orleans on April 23rd 1991, he left behind a mystery. Though MTV and international broadsheets reported the guitarist’s demise, for many in the mainstream, Thunders was perceived as an enigmatic outlaw. He was adored by a legion of devotees and cited as an influence by at least three successive generations of musicians. Thunders refused to play the corporate game and was both elevated and damned for it.
Danny Garcia was seized by a question that wouldn’t let go – “just who was Johnny Thunders?” He spent 18 months traveling across the USA and Europe, filming interviews with fifty of the people who were closest to Johnny, building a compelling narrative drawn from first hand testimonies.
The film examines Johnny Thunders’ career from the early 70′s when he was a founding member of the influential New York Dolls, the birth of the punk scene with The Heartbreakers in both New York City and London, and later incarnations including Gang War and The Oddballs. It also explores Johnny’s unique musical style, his personal battle with drugs and theories on the circumstances of his death in a New Orleans hotel in 1991 at age 38.
Interviewees include Sylvain Sylvain, Lenny Kaye, Walter Lure, Billy Rath, Bob Gruen, Terry Chimes, Alan Vega, Peter Perrett, Sami Yaffa, three of his late managers (Marty Thau, Lee Black Childers and Malcolm McLaren), and many others.
The film includes forty songs (including Born To Lose and You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory) and historic film of Johnny with live performances from all periods, including unseen New York Dolls and Heartbreakers footage and photos. Cult filmmakers Bob Gruen, Don Letts, Patrick Grandperret, Rachael Amadeo and others contribute classic archive footage, helping illustrate the charisma, chaos and heartbreak inherent to the guitarist.
We see a brief snap shot of Johnny’s upbringing, raised in NY by his Italian mum and sister – the young John Anthony Genzale Jr. could have been a pro baseball player. Instead he formed his first band “Actress” and his musical career began.
The rock and roll roller coaster ride picked up speed when he joined the New York Dolls. They were an attention grabbing, cross-dressing, making up wearing, over the top at everything type of band. Their fans loved them and matched their outlandish style. This was radical and shocking for the time. Nowadays, this seems to be the blueprint for being in a band. It certainly got them noticed by other musicians and probably laid a lot.
The Dolls were based loosely on the Rolling Stones –Johnny wanted to emulate Keith Richards and his lifestyle. When those closest to Johnny attempted to curb his fondness for drugs, Johnny retorted that Keith Richards seemed to get away it but it was gently pointed out that Keith was famous before he was a junkie.
The Dolls scored their first UK show by opening for Rod Stewart and it ended with the tragic demise of drummer Billy Murcia and Jerry Nolan quickly joining the band. The bands close involvement with the UK punk scene is documented with rare footage supplied by Cult filmmakers Bob Gruen and Don Letts, including Malcolm McLaren’s misjudged theme for the band in red leather soviet branding. Band members, albums, record companies, tours and dealers come and go, by the mid 70’s Johnny and the Heartbreakers replaced The Ramones and fame continued to come.
Garcia does not shy away from the tales of hedonism nor does he exploit them. The drugs would have been impossible to ignore as they were in each of the various band incarnations. Although some facts are still shocking to hear, somehow through this haze of indulgence they played on and created an influential body of work.
The testimonials are often touching, amusing but punctuated with sadness. Although this is low budget movie, Garcia has crammed a huge amount details into the time frame. Along with the unseen footage, the film is funny, thought provoking and poignant and a must see for all Thunders fans.
Yes, there are notable absences and refreshingly, there are not many celebrity talking heads— those that are present are the real deal and their stories give great insight to this charismatic man’s life.
When Thunders died in New Orleans on April 23rd 1991, the police and media wrote this off as another junkie who checked out. The alleged circumstances are deplorable, Johnny was a sick man, who lay dying whilst all his possessions, money and guitars where stolen and this was never investigated.
This film captured Johnny Thunders’ chaotic life and applauds his creativity. This is a harsh and sad tale of a talented 38-year-old man.
Johnny would have been 62 years old on the 15th July.
Etienne, “Fold, Do Not Starch: An Avondale Story”, Smashwords, 2014.
Etienne’s 25th Book
George Martin, a captain in his local sheriff’s office along with his partner, Mike Foster, find themselves having to deal with a new situation when one of Mike’s clients relates some troubling facts about his employer. An investigation shows there has been a very large money-laundering scheme.
Just about the same time, George has been reorganizing the sheriff’s office and this will lead to a promotion for him but suddenly he is reminded of his past. George has handled some really hard cases since he began working in law enforcement but neither he nor Mike expected to be involved in a case about money laundering and a national case at that. Actually both men had been thinking that perhaps early retirement was not for them when this case fell into George’s lap. They had, along with their Robbie, actually been getting used to a quiet domestic life style and just taking life day by day as it came to them. What seeming looked to be a small time operation morphed into something much bigger and as George works on the case, he realizes that money laundering is just the beginning of something much, more important.
Etienne gives us some very real characters that deal with very real issues and it is so good to have an author deal with the older men in the gay community—those who have lived the lifestyle and now want to relax. George is a leader but all he really wants is to take it easy now. He is to find out that with the reorganization of the sheriff’s office he will have more time to spend with Mike and Robbie but he will also have to deal with paperwork. However, before he gets too comfortable, his past suddenly enters his present. He knows he has to face it and even though he is not prepared to do so, he works through it.
It has been quite a while since I last read about George and Mike and it is good to have them back again. I really like the way Etienne gives us a taste of the men settling in to a home life that is then interrupted. I do not want to spoil anything by discussing the plot anymore but there are surprises. Etienne writes really good “mysteries” that he is able to also show how the characters life as they experience changes in the way they life. As I said before, we were ready for George and Mike to settle down…but then we are also glad to have a new case to read about. I almost forgot to mention that the book cover is also very well done.
“She: Their Love Story”
A Tale of Passion
Bua (Penpak Sirikul) is a successful businesswoman who seemingly has the “perfect life”. But she is diagnosed with cancer and she leaves her home and her family and goes off to hide, ease the pain. As he lives near the sea, she makes new friends, one of whom is June (Ann Siriwan Baker) an independent photographer who makes no demands and has great energy and a sensual spirit.
At just the same time Da (Apassaporn Saengthong) sees her reputation being ruined when her boyfriend (who she thought was perfect) emails sexy and raunchy video clips of her. So that she can escape the embarrassment she accepts a job to write a feature story about the love life of lesbians in Bangkok. Then, she convinces Bee (Kitchya Kaesuwan), “a charming tomboy”, to be her research subject.
We see lives cross here as each of the players goes on a journey of sexual and emotional discovery. Bua is near the end of her journey and gets one last chance to learn the meaning of love. Da and Bee become sexually involved and Bee then begins to wonder if the word love even has a definition.
The film really tries very hard to invoke some emotion with its implausible lesbian love stories but it is unsuccessful. Columnist Da needs to finish an assignment on lesbian love. Since she is straight she must rely on others and turns to Bee. They eventually fall in love. Then there is the parallel love story of Bua who falls for the young photographer June. We have seen it before but just not from Thailand. There are what seem to be a lot of tears.
This is a tale of passionate female intimacy and the struggles of overcoming society’s repressive demands in order for these women to be true to themselves.
A Web Series Now on DVD
“Where the Bears Are” a popular web series is now available on DVD (Seasons One and Two). It is a lot of fun to watch and just as you do not have to be a bear to like honey, you do not have to be a bear to like this series. The men are hot and talented and they can act. Basically the premise is that this is a comedy/crime mystery series with a whole bunch of hot bears. Everything about the series works—here is just a sample for you for the time being until I can sit down and write a full review.