Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“My Avant-Garde Education: A Memoir” by Bernard Cooper—Coming of Age in the Era of Conceptual Art

my avante garde education

Cooper, Bernard. “My Avant-Garde Education: A Memoir”, W.W. Norton, 2015.

Coming of Age in the Era of Conceptual Art

Amos Lassen

 Bernard Cooper grew up in the suburbs and was a confused young man. His sexuality was extremely confusing to him and was his consumer-oriented world and the death of his older brother. He found himself in love with Pop art and went to the California Institute of the Arts that was at that time the center of conceptual art. In this, his new memoir we meet the most famous, and infamous artists of the time that floated through the Institute (Allan Kaprow and John Baldessari) and we read the story of the student who phoned the Identi-Kit division of the Los Angeles Police Department and has them make a composite drawing of the “Mona Lisa”.

Cooper shares his story with us and he also shares a record of the wonders and follies of a certain era in art history, always aware that awakening to art is, for a young person, inseparable from awakening to the ever-shifting nature of the self.” He writes with great wit and humor yet there are sections of his story that are very dark. As one critic has written—this is more than a coming-of-age story, it is a coming-of-consciousness tale. It is also a art-history adventure.

This is a magical read and Cooper writes so beautifully that it is impossible to describe his prose. He ponder two important questions—- “what is art?” but Cooper is really asking, “what is life?” He does not give us the answers directly (because there are no direct answers) but we do get an idea of how to look at how to look at these questions. He writes with honesty and great style— the creativity of art that he writes about matches wonderfully his creativity in writing. He is able to capture the nature of creativity as well as his own intellectual and personal self. He also writes of the world around him. There is something gorgeous in the way he is able to give meaning to art and in the process he gives meaning to Bernard Cooper.

“Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity” edited by Carter Sickels— Looking at the Issues

untanglingtheknot

Sickels, Carter (editor). “Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity”, Ooligan Press, 2015.

Looking at the Issues

Amos Lassen

In this nonfiction anthology we get a look at how marriage equality is being dealt with in this country by examining the issues that the LBGT community faces. All of us have been very happy to see the strides we have made in this but I am not sure that all us have looked at all of the issues. In terms of our own communities are we really sure that we know what marriage equality means.

Aside from being a legal contract, marriage is also part of a long tradition and while tradition is usually a good thing, it can mean different things to different people. I have always been concerned that once all of the rights that are due to us have been attained, what will happen our own LGBT traditions?

By looking at marriage equality from various points of view, we are able to better define the term and how it affects the way we live. I have the strong feeling that the purpose of this book is to bring things out in the open in order “to create conversation amongst the diverse members of the LGBTQ community and their straight allies to prompt a larger, grander, and more realistic vision of what marriage equality really means for those living in the United States.”

Here we have the thoughts and ideas by those of us who have been underrepresented for too long and also those whose unique experiences can change the direction of the way we are presently going.

Gay marriage is an issue that has, in a sense, come to define the gay rights movement and while we have rejoiced in the winning, we have not really looked at it in its entirety. Here we have “honest and insightful” commentary about that topic from the people whose opinions on this subject really matter. The opinions reflect our diversity and some of you may be surprised at what you read here. The perspectives also include thoughts on life, culture, domestic partnership, and what it being queer means today.

“The Melon Capital of the World” by Blake Allmendinger— Back in Time

the melon capital

Allmendinger, Blake. “The Melon Capital of the World”, University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

Back in Time

Amos Lassen

It had been some forty years since Blake Allmendinger had been “home”. Home was a farming community; Rocky Ford, Colorado and it had once been known as the Melon Capital of the World. By going home, Allmendinger was forced to face himself and his own history. We see that his own life is a reflection of his hometown, both are in a state of decline.

Allmendinger’s family was ruled over by a dominating mother who was unstable emotionally and mentally. She suffered depression at an early and living in Rocky Ford no doubt contributed to that. She was abusive to the members of her family and her behavior made the entire family tense and unfortunately for the author, those tensions were not resolved until her death at the end of his visit. It was then with the suicide of a family member that a secret diary was discovered.

To write his story, author Allmendinger interviewed people who had known his mother and his family. The ultimate outcome is a look at a family that was trying to survive in the rural American West at a time when it was disappearing. The story brings together personal narrative, memoir and journalistic skills. I am sure that this helped Allmendinger deal with his past and his present and that we was able to discover a sense of hope. I have always found that reading the personal story of someone else made me look at my own life and better come to terms with it.

 

 

“I Left It On The Mountain: A Memoir” by Kevin Sessums— Rebuilding a Life

i left it on the mountain

Sessums, Kevin. “I Left It On The Mountain: A Memoir”, St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

Rebuilding a Life

Amos Lassen

I have been waiting to read this ever since I heard that author Kevin Sessums was working on it. I was deeply impressed and moved by “Mississippi Sissy”, his previous book but for some reason, it felt unfinished and I understand that this is where the story continues. While it does not directly follow “Sissy”, it does pick up when the author is 53 and wakes up realizing that he had no idea how he was going to deal with the interview with Hugh Jackman that was scheduled for that day. In the past he had conducted many interviews with celebrities but now he also had to deal with his life that felt like it was no longer in his control and was quickly getting away from him.

He takes us back to when he was a struggling actor in New York, when he worked for Andy Warhol at “Interview” magazine and for Tina Brown at “Vanity Fair”, when he had a lot of anonymous sex and his positive HIV diagnosis and his spiraling downward into addiction.

This is the story of redemption and how it came to Sessums atop Mt. Kilimanjaro or while walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostelo and on the cold beaches of Provincetown. You will read about celebrities such as Daniel Radcliffe, Madonna, Courtney Love and Diane Sawyer and there are also those anonymous companions “corporeal and otherwise” that he had met over the course of his life. Everyone loves the story of a comeback, of “fall and rebirth” and this is one that is a fascinating read. Quite basically, it is Sessums’ story of his fall and his rise (or rebirth, should you prefer). While this is a dark read at times, it is a rewarding experience all around. I often wonder why sometimes it takes us to be knocked silly and lose everything in order to pull ourselves up. Life is not easy and we must learn to take the good with the bad and then differentiate between the two. Sometimes we can’t be bothered to do so and sometimes we are a bit too late and e are overwhelmed when things do not go our way. Reading how Kevin Sessums managed to overcome obstacles, not just once but several times, let us see that there is always hope to lead a good life. It is not always easy to say “I’m sorry” especially when you must say it to yourself and if there is something to be learned here it is that we do have to apologize to ourselves.

Sessums’s storyline goes back to his childhood often when something of the present reminds him of the past. Childhood in Mississippi was during the time that integration was taking place and we are reminded that racial equality is a blemish on our past. It was also a time when Sessums was discovering himself and I can tell you from experiences in my own life that being a “sissy” in the South can be terrible. When he was just 13 years old, he was molested by a minister in his sixties who did so often. When he got to New York in 1978, he came into contact with recreational drugs and glamour of fame but he also learned that there is a price for everything. One of the high prices he had to pay was learning that he was HIV positive when he was fifty years old.

The beauty of biography is entering the life of another person and hear what he has to say. It is not up to reader to agree or to disagree with the writer—the life we read about has already been led. I have learned that in order to move forward it is necessary to release the past and put it far behind us. This is a difficult chore but it is even more difficult to heal because it is arduous and takes time and the ability to forgive. Some of us never get that chance. Sessums is lucky that he has been able to do so. He was able to acknowledge his memories and in doing so he was winning the battle. But his Methamphetamine addiction cost him a career that many of us would anything to have. From that he went to poverty and homelessness. He shares his story with brutal honesty and sometimes with controlled wit. Reading this can help those who battle with drugs and then have to deal with sobriety. It takes a very brave person to bare himself to people he does not know and I am so glad that he has. I have never met Kevin Sessums but he is a Facebook friend of mine so I have been following parts of his story for quite a while. However, reading it in sections or parts does have the same effect as reading the entire book. Forget the name-dropping and the sex and look at the man—we should be proud to have him around— I know that I am.

“Studio 54″ by Hasse Persson— The Legend Continues

Studio 54

Persson, Hans. “Studio 54”, Max Ström, 2015.

The Legend Continues

Amos Lassen

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We have grown up with the legend that was Studio 54. It opened in1977, at the height of the disco craze, at 254 West 54th Street in New York City. Studio 54 was and still is the world’s most famous disco. Those who frequented the club included Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Calvin Klein, Elton John, John Travolta, Brooke Shields and Tina Turner. Once inside there was atmosphere of “unadulterated hedonism” and everyone who was who, who is who and who was going to be who were there. Hasse Persson captured it in photographs. He had been a frequent guest at the club and his photos have become their own legends. He captured the club’s famed revelers, dancers in costume and general, drunken exhilaration by many of these photos have gone unseen— until now, some thirty-five years after it was suddenly closed. Now you can see it all yourself in this wonderful book that documents the craziness.

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“Hasse Persson has had a long career as a photojournalist. Though Swedish born, he spent nearly a quarter century, from 1967 to 1990, working in New York. He has published five books on America and his photographs have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Time, Newsweek and Life. He worked as the artistic director of the Hasselblad Center in Gothenburg and today he is the artistic director of Strandverket Konsthall in Marstrand, Sweden.”

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“Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages” by Robert Mills— Sodomy, Vision and Visibility

seeing sodomy

Mills, Robert. “Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages”, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Sodomy, Vision and Visibility

Amos Lassen

How many of us have ever considered the meaning of the word “sodomy”? I have always found it interesting that gay men have been labeled sodomites when the sin of Sodom had nothing to do with sex and was all about the lack of hospitality. Robert Mills tells us in “Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages” that during that time in Europe, some sexual and gendered behaviors were labeled “sodomitical” or brought about the use of ambiguous phrases such as the “unmentionable vice” or the “sin against nature.” How and from where did these categories enter the field of vision and how does one know that a person is a “sodomite” just by looking at him?? In Robert Mills explores the relationship between sodomy and themes of vision and visibility in medieval culture and shows that on one hand, there are those categories we today call gender and sexuality. On the other hand, there was the view that ideas about sexual and gender dissidence were too confused to congeal into a coherent form in the Middle Ages. Mills shows that sodomy had a rich, multimedia presence in the period—and that if we take a flexible approach to questions of terminology, then new light will be shown on what it is. Mills looks at depictions of the “practices of sodomites in illuminated Bibles; motifs of gender transformation and sex change as envisioned by medieval artists and commentators on Ovid; sexual relations in religious houses and other enclosed spaces; and the applicability of modern categories such as “transgender,” “butch” and “femme,” or “sexual orientation” to medieval culture.”

I do not think that this is a book for everyone—it is written academically and is basically for scholars and academics working in the field. That does not mean that laymen cannot appreciate it or learn something from the book and its author. Mills has left no stone unturned and his research is amazing as or his findings. He has worked with a huge amount of date, genres, languages and literature. With this volume we get a look at the Middle Ages through the eyes of twenty-first century thinking. One critic has said that

 “This extremely stimulating meditation on the role of the visual in meditating about sodomy as a set of acts, ideas, and emotions overflows with productive rethinking; further, it models and encourages what has been too often lacking in this field, subtlety of thought and tolerance of ambiguity. Mills addresses directly and thoughtfully the challenges of working in a discourse the very terms of which are unstable in the present and makes his own brilliant and significant contribution. Mills’ study makes an extremely substantive and highly timely contribution to a major field within both medieval studies and contemporary discourse.”

“In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself” by John Marsh— How Whitman Can Save American Life

in walt we trust

Marsh, John. “In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself”, Monthly Review Press, 2015.

How Whitman Can Save American Life

Amos Lassen

We all live lives of uncertainty as none of us know what the future holds for us. How we cope with this has become a question many of us ask and we really hear no answers. John Marsh has a new approach—he tells us to have a look at the poetry of Walt Whitman just as he did when he was depressed both personally and politically. He says Whitman saved his life and he can save ours as well.

According to Marsh there are four sources that cause the way we feel today— death, money, sex, democracy. Marsh looks to a particular poem for relief. and then looks to a particular Whitman poem for relief. Marsh explains what Whitman wrote and what he believed by showing his poetry was a product of Whitman’s life and times. By recreating the site and the incidents that inspired the poet, we can also become inspired. He cites examples such as crossing Brooklyn ferry and visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals Whitman’s inspiration can become our inspiration. Whitman can show us “how to die how to accept and even celebrate our (relatively speaking) imminent death.” He can also teach us “how to live: how to have better sex, what to do about money, and, best of all, how to survive our fetid democracy without coming away stinking ourselves.” The book contains biography, literary criticism, manifesto, and a kind of self-help that I doubt can be found anywhere aside from Whitman.

If you have not noticed, Whitman has never gone out of style and each generation discovers him anew. Many consider Walt Whitman to be our national poet and I cannot help but wonder how right wing Christians deal with America’s permanent poet laureate is a gay male. By using Whitman as a way to see our country is comforting and even if you do not think that Whitman can save everyone, you will find a beautiful reading experience by returning to his gift of literature.

 

Drugs, Food, Sex and God: An Addicted Drug Dealer Goes from Convict to Doctor through the Power of Intention” by Dr. George Baxter-Holder— Rebuilding a Life

drugs food and sex

Baxter-Holder, Dr. George. “Drugs, Food, Sex and God: An Addicted Drug Dealer Goes from Convict to Doctor through the Power of Intention”, Influence Publishing Inc., 2015.

Rebuilding a Life

Amos Lassen

When he lived on the street, George ran a prostitution and drug-dealing ring to pay for his sex and drug addictions. It did not take long for him to lose control of his life and he was caught and sent to prison. When he was released on probation, he took a chance and risked everything on a drug blow out and this was when his life changed and he decided the time had come to regain freedom from those things that had held him back. This is his story and it is personal yet he has chosen to share it with us.

Of course, a memoir like this is not something new; we have had many. I thought to myself as I began to read that I have really read too many books like this and what could this book possibly tell me that I Had not heard before? Well, let me tell you that it was not what this book had to say that captured me but it was the way it was said. We are supplied with just enough detail to keep us interested and to think about. I found myself inspired by what is written here and George (or Doctor George, if you prefer) is quite a person. Whenever I read a story like this, I wonder what were these people thinking that led them to sink so low but then this is not my story and we never know what someone else’s past is like. This is quite a well written and rewarding read that I totally recommend.

BRUNO GMUNDER— New in March

bruno

New in March

Spartacus
Spartacus International Gay Guide 2015

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The Spartacus International Gay Guide is the most successful travel guide for the gay market! Whether you are looking for an unusual hotel, the most popular beach, or the local gay information center—here you will find them all.

1.056 pages, 5 languages
Softcover 5 ½ x 8 ¼” (14,0 x 21,0 cm)
€ 25,95 / US$ 32.99 / C$ 40.00 / £ 19,99
ISBN 978-3-86787-835-7

Spartacus
Spartacus Hotel Guide 2015

sh
The brand new edition has been thoroughly researched and updated! Information on over 800 hotels, guesthouses, and resorts in seventy-nine countries around the world with extensive ratings make this extensive guide unique. The vast number of carefully investigated facts, topical assessments, and, above all, valuable insider tips guarantees a perfect gay vacation!

384 pages, German and English
Softcover 5 ½ x 8 ¼” (14,0 x 21,0 cm)
€ 11,95 / US$ 14.95 / C$ 40.00 / £ 9.95
ISBN 978-3-86787-856-2

Jim French
Jim French Diaries – The Creator of Colt Studio

french
One thing is certain: The world of gay porn would not be what it is today without Jim French, the founder of the legendary COLT Studio. One thing is certain: The world of gay porn would not be what it is today without Jim French, the founder of the legendary COLT Studio. The multi-faced styles of his movies and photo works influenced many directors and photographers. Jim French Diaries illuminates the many faces of COLT Studio not only with a wide range of photos but also with a lot of informative interviews revealing the exciting history behind the label.

336 pages, full color
Hardcover, 8 ¾ x 8 ¼“ ( 22 x 22 cm)
€ 39,99 / US$ 59.99 / C$ 64.99 / £ 39,99
ISBN 978-3-86787-839-5

Joe Phillips
JoeBoys

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One of the great illustrators of a gay utopia whose drawings exude wit and charm. Now with Joeboys, fans can have their first comprehensive collection of this incredible artist’s work.

128 pages, full color
Hardcover with dust jacket, 10 ¼ x 13 ½“ (26,0 x 34,0 cm)
€ 39,99 / US$ 75.99 / C$ 79.99 / £ 39,99
ISBN 978-3-86787-771-8

“Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog” by James Grissom— Williams’ Women

follies of God

Grissom, James. “Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog”, Knopf, 2015.

Williams’ Women

Amos Lassen

 Amanda Wingfield, Blanche DuBois, Stella Kowalski, Alma Winemiller and Lady Torrance among others are women that we meet in the plays of Tennessee Williams and they are also unforgettable, and the other characters that will endure forever. Williams is the kind of playwright who makes us think. Up until this book, we have not had the opportunity to learn how he came to create these women as well as how his plays were part of the pulse of the American South. Perhaps I should say early on that I knew Williams and I saw him work but even so I really did not know much about the genius of his mind. I heard him speak several times about “his women” and I came to understand that each was a composite of the women that he actually knew. These women and the plays that they are in transformed theatre in the twentieth century. It is one thing to create but Williams created each character anew each time the roles of his characters were brought to life by an actor. There was a connection between Williams and the women who took his characters to the stage. In some cases he worked with the actress who was assuming the character. Those who did so, in effect, became part of a magic show when they breathed life into their roles . By magic I mean that it was magical to see them belong the women they played. The list goes on and on— Lillian Gish, Maureen Stapelton, Laurette Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie Smith, Katherine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, Lynn Redgrave, Elizabeth Ashley, Joanne Woodward, Jessica Tandy, Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Geraldine Page, Julie Harris, Anna Magnani, Kim Stanley, Jo Van Fleet, Ann Margaret, Jessica Lange, Rosemary Harris, Eva Le Gallienne, Estelle Parsons all played Williams’ women and each of them made the role that they played their own. The list above is a Who’s Who of American theater and cinema.

Author James Grissom takes us on a journey with Williams to examine the playwright’s inspirations and how he came to write what he did. We get to have a look almost inside the man and see that everything he did was part of a collaboration between him and the actor and the director.

How did Grissom come to write this book and what was his inspiration for doing so? We learn that when Williams dramatic output was at a low point and critics claimed that he had lost his touch, Williams returned to New Orleans where he answered a letter written by the then 20 year old new writer Grissom who asked for advice. He invited Grissom to come to New Orleans and after an intense conversation, Grissom began his journey to find out if Williams or his output mattered to those who mattered to him. Grissom went after those people and actually spoke to “more than seventy giants of American theater and film” and among them were women who “came to Williams out of the fog”.

But it was not just women who aided Williams in his creations—there were many important men as well—Elia Kazan, José Quintero, Marlon Brando, John Gielgud to name just a few. . . .

It seems that there is a renewal of interest in Williams these days. Right before we get “Follies of God”, we also have John Lahr’s new biography, “Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh”. However, Grissom’s book is not so much a biography of the man but a biography of how he wrote and worked. It combines literary history with being alive. There is not a day that a Williams’ play is not being performed or rehearsed all over the world.

Grissom refers to the people that came into Williams’ imagination as “the fog” and it was these characters that went on to become his signature characters. I remember when I was working on translating “A Streetcar Names Desire” into Hebrew for a performance at the Haifa Municipal Theater in Israel. We did our first read through and the actress who later played the role of Blanche DuBois remarked that Blanche is so “Israeli” and I thought to myself that what she said was so true. Williams wrote characters that were typically Southern but who could be at home anywhere in the world.

Grissom most definitely has captured the man who was Tennessee Williams and as I read I thought back to the times in New Orleans and other places when I had the luxury of being with him as he told his stories. There is poetry and artistry there and he was a man who would stop to listen to what you had to say. I often wondered if that was a way of capturing someone so that he/she could later appear in his drama. The women who played his roles loved and admired him but more than that, they touched him deeply.

Williams was an artist and when he began to lose his ability to continue to write, nevertheless kept trying for one more hit— he never stopped writing and creating. There are not many who could show how he felt about his women so poetically—he knew what drove them and therefore they dominate his writing—consider Stanley Kowalski and Blanche. Brando made Stanley unforgettable yet when we think of “Streetcar”, we think of Blanche.

In the interviews that Grissom was part of, we find how others (particularly those who reenacted his women) saw Williams and for these comments alone, the book s worthwhile—but it is so much than just that.

We hear from Williams himself and what he had to say still says a great deal about him. Grissom tells us that Tennessee Williams was a tormented soul but we would see that anyway in the way that he wrote and what he wrote about. He was love with words and we know this because of the way he puts them together. He was an “artist and human being — a flawed, fearful, self-destructive, achingly vulnerable, gallant, forever questing pilgrim: a genius and a visionary who tragically could never seem to take the measure of his own unparalleled gifts.”

I believe that I have read everything that Williams wrote and everything that I could get my hands on about him. This book is different and it is as if Grissom had a direct line to the soul of the man. I love that Grissom allows us to see his own feelings for the playwright and I have the same feeling that were Williams alive today, he would have returned the affection. I see this book as a personal remembrance of Williams in addition to everything else. It is also an important book for fans and for those who knew Williams—for those of us who loved him, this may be something of a painful read in that it will raise memories. This so reminds me of “The Glass Menagerie’, the play that Williams himself called a memory play.

In an attempt to understand the subtitle of this book, “Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog”, I learned that “no play written by Tennessee Williams, however, got its bearings until a fog rolled across the boards, from which a female form emerged”. Williams explained that he did not know why that was but that there was a “premonitory moment before a woman, an important, powerful woman enters my subconscious, and this moment is announced by the arrival of fog… it comes with a smell” that reminds him of hotel rooms in New Orleans, St. Louis and New York; rooms where Williams wrote and “dreamed and starved and fucked and cried and read and prayed, and perhaps all that action and all that steam [from the radiators in those rooms] creates both fog and this woman.”

In the past I read articles about how Williams, as a writer, really did not know much about women and hence we get caricatures of women instead of the real thing. I must disagree with that. Wherever he lived, Williams took his idea of the “genteel” Southern women with him and he emerges and reemerges over and over.

I am deeply impressed with this book and its author. There is a lot here and I mean that to say that we are constantly learning about who we are. We also get to see a different Williams than we thought alongside new interpretations of his work. I read the uncorrected galleys and now I see that I also want the finished book.