Monthly Archives: October 2011

“VICTIM”— A Gay Themed Film That Dared

“Victim”

A Gay Themed Film that Dared

Amos Lassen

I watched “Victim” again last night and I see why it deserves to be classified as a true gay classic. It is already almost 50 years old yet it still is interesting and well done and when we consider when it was made, it dared to touch a controversial topic. “Victim” dared to throw the spotlight on a law that should have been off the books and it was regarded as highly controversial. Filmed in black and white, it is someone dated yet beautifully lit, wonderfully directed and contains several exemplary performances. The law that it tackled was the one that made homosexuality a criminal offence in Great Britain. If caught engaged in homosexual acts, a person was subject to imprisonment and social and economic despair.

Melville Farr is a happily married English barrister and into his life comes Jack Barrett, a young working class man who decides that it is time to make his homosexuality known. In doing so, he would implicate Farr who wanted to end their relationship but what he did not know was that, even though their relationship was short, it was long enough that the two men’s time together has been photographed. Farr was about to learn just how much his dalliance cost him and not just in cash. Farr was given a choice—to yield to blackmail or to uphold the existing law and to feel its strength and severity. This came at a time when Farr had been selected to sit on the queen’s council. The film is a reflection of the famous Peter Wildeblood trial and the Wolfenden Report that was letting the British government know that it was not dealing with the times as it should. The film makes a very serious political statement and by exposing the injustice of the British law, they went where few others had ever dared. Some even feel that the film had something to do with the law being eventually changed.

Dirk Bogarde gave the performance of his career and Sylvia Syms as his wife compliments him beautifully. She is a woman who is torn between her love for her husband and what she sees are the implications of what can happen if his homosexuality becomes public knowledge. Bogarde is so perfect in the role as he shows emotions that we do not usually see on screen. The plot is quite routine for the time when the film was made. Farr jeopardizes his reputation by cooperating with the police in finding and then booking an extortionist who has been blackmailing male homosexuals. It then becomes an exposition of the situation of the homosexual in modern society and it this, the film is unprecedented and is actually quite bold. Homosexuality is presented honestly with no sensationalism and it shows the pathos of the situation and the dilemma that men find themselves in. For that alone, this is a very important film and if you have not seen it, try to find a copy.

Divine Justice: The hidden story of “Don Giovanni”, Mozart’s Jewish opera

Divine Justice

The hidden story of Don Giovanni, Mozart’s Jewish opera

By David P. Goldman|October 31, 2011 7:00 AM|

Don Juan and the statue of the Commander, Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard, circa 1830-1835 (Wikimedia Commons)
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Understudy

The new production of Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera is well cast but marred by poor conducting

A rake seduces women and murders their male relatives with impunity until the statue of one of his victims invites him to supper and drags him to hell. It sounds silly, but for two centuries it was the most-favored plot device in Western literature. Don Juan was the invention of Tirso de Molina, a Spanish monk from a family of converted Jews. Concealed in its puppet-theater plot is a Jewish joke: Don Juan exists to prove by construction that a devout Christian can be a sociopath, and by extension, that the Christian world can be ruled by sociopaths. The Enlightenment’s most insidious attack on Catholic faith, then, came not from atheists like Voltaire, but from a Spanish monk with buried Jewish sensibilities.

A century and a half later, another converted Jew—Emmanuele Conegliano, known as Lorenzo da Ponte—reworked Tirso’s play as a libretto for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the result was an utterly unique work of art. It is pointless to argue about whether Don Giovanni is the best opera ever written, because it is a genre unto itself—the musical tragi-comedy, or “drama giocoso,” as Da Ponte put it. Mozart’s combination of tragic and comic elements turns the world inside out. From the first bars of the orchestra to the final note, we are unsure whether we should laugh, cry, or feel fear. If you don’t leave the theater confused, you haven’t been listening.

Mozart’s anti-hero seduced 2,065 women, his servant Leporello recounts in the celebrated Catalogue Aria. As a literary archetype, Don Juan’s conquests are just as prolific. One scholar lists 1,720 published variants on the theme since Tirso de Molina printed The Trickster of Seville in 1630, in the middle of the Thirty Years War. For the two centuries between Tirso and Byron’s eponymous epic poem, Don Juan bestrode the literary imagination like no other personage in history.

In a post-Christian world that has lost interest in the problem of sin and salvation, Don Juan is passé. By 1821, when Juan appears in Byron’s eponymous masterwork, Juan was on his farewell tour. E.T.A. Hoffman’s and Kierkegaard’s fascination with the subject is a response to Mozart’s astonishing music, not to the literary theme. Baudelaire’s poem “Don Juan in Hell” and Shaw’s intermezzo of the same title make Juan into a defiant hero. Desultory efforts to recast Don Juan as a Freudian case history still crop up from time to time, but lack conviction and much of an audience.

Juan held the audience of the 17th and 18th centuries in thrall, because he personified the Christian world’s foreboding about its own vulnerability. Tirso’s trickster poses an impossible paradox for the Christian concept of salvation: The story is not about eros, but evil. Christian society is founded on the premise that it requires “only one precept,” as St. Augustine put it: “Love, and do as you will.” Once humankind accepts the utterly unselfish love of Jesus Christ, Christianity asserts, the elaborate body of Jewish law becomes redundant, for Christian love will elicit the right behavior spontaneously.

The trouble, Tirso demonstrates, is that society that depends on conscience has no defense against a sociopath who has none. Don Juan is a predator inside the Christian world with no natural enemies. Juan enjoys murdering the male relatives of his female victims almost as much he enjoys seducing the women. To the extent that we can speak of Juan’s descendants in today’s fiction, they are not so much lovers but serial killers.

Tirso’s theological mousetrap had more than hypothetical importance for the audience of 1630, a dozen years into the Thirty Years War that would ruin the Spanish Empire and kill not quite half of central Europe’s population. His world was infested with sociopaths in positions of power, including Spain’s King Philip IV, one of whose bastards would eventually stage a coup against the legitimate heir to the Spanish throne. Philip makes an appearance in The Trickster of Seville, lightly disguised as the 14th-century king Alfonso XI, who also peopled the Spanish royal line with bastards.

It may not be a coincidence that Alfonso’s bastard son, Henry of Trastámara, incited Jew-hatred to overthrow his more tolerant half-brother, the legitimate heir Pedro I of Castile. Henry led the massacre of 12,000 Spanish Jews in Toledo on May 7, 1335. The Jews fought alongside Pedro in a prolonged civil war and suffered horribly after Henry won and beheaded his brother with the words: “Where is that son-of-a-whore Jew?”

We forget such things today, but in Tirso’s lifetime they were burned into living memory. Nearly a quarter of a million Jews lived in Spain in 1492, a tenth of the country’s population; given the choice of exile or baptism in that year, more than half chose to leave, but tens of thousands died en route. Jews dominated Spain’s literary elite, and those who stayed produced a disproportionate number of Spain’s writers in the Golden Age of the early 17th century, Tirso included. But the “new Christians” never fit in. To this day, families in Toledo distinguish between “new” and “old” Christians.

Tirso drives the paradox still deeper. The original Don Juan of the Spanish Golden Age is a believing Catholic, who has no doubt that repentance and forgiveness through the Church can save his soul: For that reason he can devote his youth to evil and repent sometime later. “You’re giving me plenty of time to pay up!” (“que largo me lo fíais”), he mocks whomever urges him to repent and save his soul. (A variant of The Trickster of Seville was published under the title Que largo me fíais, making clear that the play hinges on Juan’s twisted but orthodox theology).

Juan’s servant Catalinón (Leporello in Mozart) warns him that even a long life is short, and sin will be punished. “If you give me so much time to pay up,” Juan replies brightly, “let the tricks continue!” Besides, he adds, his father is the king’s favorite. Christianity, as Tirso observes, can produce a monster who does nothing but evil precisely because he believes in heaven, hell, and the sacraments of the Church. Tirso might have had Kohelet 8:11 in mind: “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” But Christian reliance on the Attribute of Mercy at the expense of the Attribute of Justice, as the theologian Michael Wyschogrod put it, frees Juan to formulate a sociopath’s theory of salvation.

That, incidentally, explains why modern-dress versions of Mozart’s opera fail so miserably. In today’s epoch of the hook-up, a serial seducer is not a monster, but only an annoyance. No one gets dragged down to hell anymore. Juan’s natural habitat is the twilight of faith, the point at which the Catholic world fought with the presentiment of its decline but held on all the more intently to its faith.

Tirso’s critique of Christianity follows the rabbinic reading. As the Rav Joseph Dov Solovietchik put it, “Subjective faith, lacking commands and laws, faith of the sort that Saul of Tarsus spoke about—even if it dresses itself up as the love of God and man—cannot stand fast if it contains no explicit commands to do good deeds, to fulfill specific commandments not always approved by rationality and culture.” In Don Juan, the Christian world saw its own susceptibility to chaos. That is why the European audience could not take its eyes off him for 200 years.

No writer portrayed this chaos and its theological sources more vividly than Tirso. The usual account of Don Juan and his 1,719 literary imitations reduces Tirso’s brilliant and complex play to a simple-minded morality lesson. Christian critics do not seem to grasp how great and enduring was the pain of the Spanish Jews; even worse, they evince a deaf ear for Jewish irony. “The Trickster” is a Jewish joke, and the critics don’t get it. The theologian David Bentley Hart, for example, wrote recently that “Juan was the greatest immoralist of European literature precisely because he served as the negative image of the moral convictions and capacities of his time and place, the exemplary contradiction of an entire and coherent vision of the good, whose story magically combined a certain nostalgia for fading cultural certitudes with a certain cynicism toward them.”

In fact, “The Trickster” is a Jewish practical joke of cosmic malevolence, a burlesque de profundis, a bitter laugh from the depths. I found a translation of Tirso in the public library 45 years ago, after learning of Da Ponte’s source from the liner notes in a recording of Mozart’s opera. Don Giovanni knocked me sideways as a 14-year-old. My secular home didn’t have a chumash. But Mozart’s opera stirred something in me, an awareness, perhaps, of the woeful inadequacy of the enlightened reading of the human condition. I saw every performance I could, pounded out the piano score, and scoured the literary sources for the libretto. Not until recently did it occur to me that between the notes, I was hearing the muffled anguish of the Spanish Jews.

The theme appealed to Mozart, whose musical genius uniquely enabled him to balance tragedy with raucous good humor. Just before the statue arrives at Giovanni’s palace, one of his rejected conquests, Donna Elvira, bursts in to beg him to change his evil ways. Giovanni mocks her, toasting women and good wine; Elvira pathetically tells him to stop; and Leporello mutters to himself comically that his master has a heart of stone. Except they are all doing this at the same time, in a trio in which each of three vocal lines contains a perfect characterization of the three contrasting emotions. There is nothing quite like this in all of opera.

Elvira departs, and we hear her scream off-stage. There is a knock at the door. Leporello answers it and warns his master in Lou Costello style, “Don’t go that way! There’s a man of stone! He’s going, ‘Ta, Ta, Ta’!” Giovanni ignores him. The statue (whom Giovanni had mockingly invited to supper in the previous scene) tells Giovanni that he must accept a return invitation. “Sorry, sorry, he has a previous engagement,” Leporello interrupts. We are deep into Mozart’s most tragic D minor, but even then the jokes keep coming.

Giovanni is dragged down to hell, and the rest of the cast appears to find that divine justice has done for their tormentor. Nobles, bourgeois, and peasants sing, “That’s the end of those who do ill!” and Da Ponte makes us understand that they are the same credulous fools whom Giovanni duped before.

We laugh at the assemblage of Giovanni’s victims: the domineering and bitter Donna Anna and her feckless fiancé Ottavio; the pathetically devoted Donna Elvira; the social-climbing peasant girl Zerlina and her doltish intended Masetto; and the cowardly, conniving servant Leporello. There is no question, though, that Mozart has written a tragedy—not Don Giovanni’s, but ours. Mozart’s best music is reserved for the human cost of Giovanni’s depredations. At the crux of the opera, Donna Anna suddenly recognizes Giovanni as the masked intruder who attempted to rape her (and possibly succeeded) and then killed her beloved father. A long dramatic recitative prepares Anna’s vengeance aria, “Or sai chi l’onore,” with Mozart’s tonal transformation mirroring Anna’s progression from recognition to fear and then to resolve. The dean of American music theorists, Carl Schachter, has published the authoritative analysis of this almost miraculous passage.

The supernatural resolution of the matter is a masterstroke of Brechtian alienation, a flamboyantly buffo set of sight gags, so at odds with the seriousness of the situation that it sets in relief the absurdity of the premise. If a supernatural intervention that silly is the only thing that will get rid of Don Juan, the not-so-subtle message is that Christendom is incapable of ridding itself of evil through its own efforts.

How did Tirso get away with this lampoon of Catholic soteriology? The apparent answer is that the Spanish Church was distracted by the Protestant menace. John Calvin proposed to solve the paradox of salvation by arguing that only a predestined elect would be saved. Don Juan is no Calvinist; he believes that his will is free to choose salvation, whenever he feels like it. The Inquisition checked the “free will” box and gave Tirso a pass. We may have no choice but to believe in free will, as Isaac Bashevis Singer joked, but Calvin’s concept of election lies closer to the Jewish point of view. Its logical consequence was to remove the elect from a world governed by sociopaths to a New Israel, namely America.

Tirso drew on folk tales in which a living person invites a dead man to dinner and perishes when the invitation is returned. But Juan is not an archetype of legend: He is a metaphysical construct unique to his time, and to the tragedy of the Spanish Jews. Don Juan has only one great antecedent in literature, in fact an ancestress, the procuress Celestina, the anti-heroine of Fernando de Rojas’ 1499 tragicomedy. Printed just seven years after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain by a converso attorney who represented his father-in-law before the Inquisition Court, De Rojas’ tragicomedy is a howl at heaven, a malediction on Christian Spain.

Whore and harpy, Celestina is perhaps the most frightful character ever to walk the Western stage. She is oblivious to danger and brilliantly manipulative. Next to her, Marlowe’s Barnabas and Shakespeare’s Iago, or even Goethe’s Mephistopheles, are mischievous schoolboys. Hired to help a young man seduce the socially superior girl he desires, Celestina sets events in motion that cause the death of the entire cast. As a genre, tragicomedy has its roots in antiquity—Plautus was the first to use the term—but in the modern world, the juxtaposition of bathetic and horrific elements begins with De Rojas’ gallows humor under the shadow of the Inquisition.

Celestina (the “Tragicomedy of Calixto and Melibea”) became the first blockbuster best-seller in Western literary history. By 1620 it had been performed in English; a full English translation was printed in 1631. Shakespeare and Marlowe drew on it. There are scenes in the drama whose grotesque humor no English dramatist has surpassed. It went through 30 Spanish editions during the 16th century alone, as well as translations into the major European languages, not to mention a 1505 Hebrew version of which only a few lines survive.

De Rojas’ procuress is a hellion who calls on the devil for help. Tirso’s Don Juan is more insidious. Don Juan is neither heretic nor hypocrite: He is a devout believer who has figured out that the system entitles him to be thoroughly evil for the interim. His existence points up the hypocrisy around him; because the Christian world cannot deal with this monster, it must accommodate him. Both Celestina and Don Juan haunted the literary imagination with the same subliminal message: Your world is badly made, and it will come to a horrible end.

Tirso de Molino wrote for a world where sociopaths wore the garb of nobility and clergy. The dueling masterminds of the Thirty Years War, Cardinal Richelieu and the Spanish Prime Minister Olivares, each believed that his country was divinely selected for God’s service and therefore could commit unspeakable acts on behalf of its national ambitions. But a new kind of sociopath was about to step on the world stage, and Mozart warns us of his approach. At the end of the opera’s first act, Don Giovanni welcomes a group of maskers to his palace (they are Anna, Elvira, and Ottavio in disguise). Da Ponte has Giovanni declare, “It’s open to everyone. Long live liberty!” Mozart does something unexpected: The whole cast breaks character and in martial fanfare singsViva la libertà!” Lurking behind the mask of liberty in the enlightened world was a capacity for evil perhaps greater than anything the traditional world had brought forward. This was in 1786, three years before the French Revolution. How did Mozart know?

David P. Goldman, Tablet Magazine’s classical music critic, is the Spengler columnist for Asia Times Online. His book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion, and economics, It’s Not the End of the World, It’s Just the End of You, also appeared this fall, from Van Praag Press.

“Lust Unearthed: Vintage Gay Graphics from the DuBek Collection” edited by Thomas Waugh— Graphically Bold

Waugh, Thomas. “Lust Unearthed: Vintage Gay Graphics from the DuBek Collection”, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004.

 Graphically Bold

 Amos Lassen

 Thomas Waugh seems to know where to find and then collect early gay erotic drawings. He has two volumes of them out. “Lust Unearthed” is a collection of drawings from the DuBek Collection which was housed in almost fifty large document boxes and is very, very erotic. DuBek had collected magazines and pen and inks between 1927 and the 1990’s but the majority of the collection come form the 60’s and 70’s at which time gay male erotic culture came above ground. DuBek had catalogued them before his death and it is absolutely amazing. It did not become public until after his death but we have much of it now in this extensive book. Waugh went through the collection and chose certain selections for us. What we have is one of a kind—a representation of homoerotic doodles salvaged from before Stonewall. Waugh gathered it together obviously with love and the drawings are funny, sexy and very erotic. It is a fantastic historical document.

        Waugh gives us the political and social climate for the drawings. The drawings themselves depict all aspects of male homosexual behavior There are more than 200 drawings contained in “Lust Unearthed” all from the apartment of Ambrose DuBek who was a film and television designer from the 40’s to the 60’s. He as a passionate advocate and patron of the arts who felt that not just life was to be celebrated but the body as well. What he had were frank, explicit, sometimes funny, sometimes outrageous depictions of men. They were created by both famous and unknown artists and were produced at a time when nude male drawings were illegal thereby making them rare.

        Waugh has written a remarkable narrative that is an interesting history lesson which sheds light on a culture once clothed in darkness. Here is gay porn for the man who thinks. The book not only sensually arouses but beguiles.

“Love, Castro Street”— California Dreaming

Forrest, Katherine V. and Jim Van Buskirk, editors. “Love, Castro Street: Reflections of San Francisco”, Alyson, 2007.

 “California Dreaming”

 Amos Lassen

 After publishing “Love, Bourbon Street” with tales of gay New Orleans, Alyson Publishers evidently realized they had a hit on their hands and followed it up with San Francisco tales in “Love, Castro Street”. It was a smart move as we have a rich literary tradition in California. The editors, Katherine Forrest and Jim Van Buskirk have carefully selected a wonderful cross section of authors who have written about the city by the bay. Being from New Orleans myself, I am more partial to the earlier volume but the quality of this one is excellent.

       Because San Francisco has seemingly always been a leading city for both cultural and societal change, it s only natural that there is good literature about the gay scene there. Castro Street has always played a major role in the shaping of gay identity—it is as mythological as it is real. Castro Street has always been a home—both ideological and realistically for those who have felt to be different and homeless. The legendary heart of the Castro where Castro and Market streets meet is the focal point of the neighborhood that we as gays have christened “the Castro” and it is here that so much of our history has taken place. Many have stories about the Castro and this volume is a book of stories.

       Many of the authors represented here are familiar names. Jim Tushinski, Mark Thompson, Michael Nava, Victor Banis, Elana Dykeswomon, Carla Trujillo are all here to name a few. Each has a story to tell and this collection is marked by beautiful writing. They represent the rich diversity of the Castro and the city of San Francisco itself. Aside from the stories, there are beautiful essays as well. “Love, Castro Street” gives you a chance to not only read about the area but also about yourself. All of us will something personal and true to our own lives here whether we live in Little Rock, New Orleans or Boise, Idaho. Being gay is not unique to any one place but the atmosphere of each place is unique to building an identity.

       If you haven’t been to the Castro on a visit or to live, you can go there through the words of these writers. Even if the Castro, itself, is destroyed by earthquake or fire or whatever, the editors have seen to it that the literature of one of the great world gay hubs will live on.

“Looker” by Stephen Bennett Clay— The Quest

Clay, Stephen Bennett Clay. “Looker”, Astria Books, 2007.

 The Quest

 Amos Lassen

 “Looker” by Stanley Bennett Clay is a beautiful book which has a universal story and theme—knowing that you have found love. Brando Heywood is in his 40s and is an entertainment lawyer. He is very good looking and has everything but love. His ten year relationship recently ended and he has lived the life of a monk for two years. He lives sexually through his best friend Omar who is very sexually active. He is not a happy man.

       His career suddenly takes a turn when he is asked to defend a good friend who murdered her rapist. To keep her out of the penitentiary he has to work very hard mainly because the rapist is a war veteran and highly decorated. All the while his friend Omar is involving himself with youngsters because he realizes that he is in love with Brando and the young boys replace, temporarily, the feelings he has.

       The story resounds with loss and regrets as well as love and uses the theme of redemption admirably. It is not often that we get books about the African American gay scene and this one engrosses.

       Clay’s prose has style and he gives us an erotic and dramatic look at the quest for love. The themes of self-loathing and self-recrimination help the plot unfold beautifully and as our characters, which are carefully and unforgettably drawn by Clay, reflect upon their lives, we get a deeply personal look at what African American gay men feel. Even thought Brando and Omar realize that true love has always been right there in front of them, the journey to that realization is filled with some of the most memorable phrases of the English language.

       Clay’s descriptions are incredible—he paints a scene with words and his characters seem to be sitting right next to you as you read the book. Both Brando and Omar are very real as are all of the other characters including Miss Zara and Ramon Alexander. The novel is filled with emotion and the writing is very sensual and his courtroom dialog is right on the button. There is also a subplot on the “down low” practices of the community and he confronts the issue of monogamy.

              This is one of those rare books that should not be missed. It has a little of everything but it is the prose and the story that make it so good.

 

“Love, Bourbon Street: Reflections of New Orleans”— Red Beans and Men

Herren, Greg and Willis, Paul J., editors, “Love, Bourbon Street: Reflections of New Orleans”, Alyson Books, 2006.

 Red Beans and Men

 Amos Lassen

 “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? “ I certainly do. It’s been a little over a year since Katrina brought me to Arkansas but New Orleans is still in my blood. I miss the red beans and rice, I miss the free spirit of the town and I miss Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence. Someone who has lived in New Orleans carries some of the city with them forever. New Orleans is coming back—not like it was before—but it is trying. To help us remember what it was like, Greg Herren and Paul Willis, lovers and authors, have compiled “Love, Bourbon Street and I am so glad they have. I got misty eyed reading it and remembering my haunts. As much as I like Arkansas, “Sidetracks” will never be “The Phoenix”, “Backstreet” will never be “The Bourbon Pub” and “The Factory” will never be “Oz”. At least I have the memories, I am not going back but I want to be reminded every now and then of how it once was.

          New Orleans has always been a haven for writers and a great deal of wonderful literature has come from there. We need only remember Tennessee William’s, Truman Capote, Lillian Hellman, Mark Twain and a host of others and we are reminded of the tremendous literary legacy the city has. It has been a haven and an inspiration for writers. A new generation of authors is writing about New Orleans in this anthology. The gay and lesbian writers of the town know it and write about the Big Easy with sincerity and truth. The booze and the parties, the beads and the parades, the laissez faire attitude, the French Quarter and the Bywater are all a part of the literary heritage, The stories and poems here appeal to the heart and the emotions, to the escapees of the storm and to those who returned to pick up the pieces. The one thing that all the entries have in common is a passion for the “city that care forgot” which is now learning how to care. In New Orleans people “do not live to work, they work to live” and this is what you will find here.

          Herren and Willis have assembled a veritable collection written by some of the most notable queer authors of the modern age. You will find Patricia Nell Warren (“The Front Runner”, Martin Pousson (“No Place, Louisiana”), J.M. Redmann (“The Intersection of Law and Desire”), Poppy Z. Brite (“Liquor”), the editors themselves, and many many others.

          The book is a love song to New Orleans It is amazing to see how after the horrors of Katrina, the people featured here have been able to be so uplifting and positive. The selections are eclectic as is the city of New Orleans and as different as day and night. There is something for everyone and everything for all of us. We, in Arkansas, need remember that New Orleans is also located in the Bible belt but managed to rise above it.  Many queers came to New Orleans to escape the conservatism of other parts of the south as New Orleans was always one of the gayest towns around. Aside from giving us great literature, New Orleans has given Americans so much more—food, culture Mardi Gras, jazz and it has given gay people hope—hope that in the conservative south they could be themselves. It is only fitting that the New Orleans that was be immortalized by gay and lesbian authors. Our community has always been an integral part of the city and it is the duty of the gay population to make its voice heard.

          This book means so much to me and I am sure you will feel the same. It is a testament to the people of the city who have chosen to rebuild it in the hope that it will once again be a haven for our needs and desires. As I said before, I am not going back to New Orleans; I have decided to stay here in Arkansas and see what can be done here so that we may one day be able to have the kind of atmosphere that New Orleans has. It can be done if we want it to be so. In the meantime, read this wonderful anthology. It is thought provoking, heart warming and emotional—just like the Crescent City herself.

“Longhorns” by Victor J. Banis— The Wild “Gay” West

Banis, Victor J. “Longhorns”, Carroll& Graf, 2007.

 The Wild, “Gay” West

 Amos Lassen

 Victor Banis is a gay literary icon. He was one on the early authors in the 50’s and 60’s and was instrumental in pushing gay literature forward. His output has been tremendous and book after book came from him in the 60’s, although under many different noms de plume. Until recently he has been out of print and he has put himself into a form of exile from publishing anything new. The good news is that he is back with a wonderful new book about the old West. This plus the fact that much of his other work is being reissued is a cause to celebrate and it is so good to have him back.

       “Longhorns” is a wonderful read and it has something for everyone. The characters are fun; there is hot sex, a struggle with sexuality and a search for identity. The prose captures the reader on the first page and it is easy to place oneself into the story. There is “true grit’ and good spirits in a believable story of two men who fall in love. It is a realistic story filled with humor and very erotic in sections.

       Les is the boss of the Double H Ranch and he spends a great deal of time on the range herding cattle. When a young cowboy suddenly rides into his midst, Buck, things take a turn, as he upsets everything Les feels what a cowboy should be and how he should act. From the moment the two men meet. Buck is set upon getting into Les’ pants. The two men are complete opposites. Les is tall, blonde and broad and has led a solitary life for years. Buck is young, small and dark with a sense of self certainty and immediately beguiles and discomforts Les with off color stories and sexual references. Because they are shorthanded and Les needs help, he hires Buck who manages to impress his boss with the adroit way in which he works. Buck secretly pines for Les but the boss wants nothing to do with the hired hand.

       This is a love story which introduces us to a bunch of tough cowboys none of whom classify themselves as gay but still taking care of their sexual urges with each other. Buck shows that, even though he is gay, he is no sissy. He, nevertheless, is set upon winning the heart of his boss and whether he does or not, you will have to read the book to find out.

       “Longhorns” is the tale of two men who are meant to be together and Banis weaves a story that delights. As he balances colloquialisms and rich language, we are there with the cowboys and we watch as the two men come to terms with each other.

       “Longhorns” is easy and relaxing to read and makes the reader wonder where Banis has been and why has it been so long since we have heard from him. It is good to have him back and we ca only hope that he has more on tap for us.

 

“Love, West Hollywood: Reflections Of Lost Angeles” edited by Chris Freeman and James J. Berg— Thriving After AIDS

Freeman, Chris and Berg, James J. “Love, West Hollywood: Reflections Of Lost Angeles”, Alyson, 2008.

  Thriving After AIDS

 Amos Lassen

 

Alyson Books began their successful “Love” series with “Love, Bourbon Street” and “Love, Castro  Street.” The latest addition is about Los Angeles and it looks at GLBT life there after the AIDS epidemic took its toll. Shortly after this was published, we sadly lost Alyson which had been a powerhouse for gay publishing. That’s what happens when one company tries to monopolize the market.

       Southern California is a gay fantasy land replete with gorgeous beaches and a sun that seems to shine all over the area. But Los Angeles was hit especially hard by AIDS.  The GLBT community there is as large as it is diverse and  there are tensions within. Here is a book that brings those tensions together and it reflects the multiplicity of the gay people there. The stories like the people differ and they run the gamut in subject and style. Many of the authors are familiar and even those that are new to us give us an inside look at the “City of Angels”. There is something for everyone here. The selections are all very different but they are tied together by the city. Reading them gives us both a sense of the
past and a look at the present.

       Some of the history is amazing like the selection about 8709, one of the most notorious of the bathhouses. One could only get in if he was “hot” and white. There is a selection about the infamous piers and about a women’s football team.

       L.A. was glamorous and glitzy and the gay life there was as well. Hollywood provided the shadow but the city produced the literature and the culture. Los Angeles certainly influenced the way we all live today and this book tells us why.

“The Queer Bible Commentary”— Looking at the Bible Gaily

Guest, Deryn and Robert E. Goss, Mona West and Thomas Bohache, editors, “The Queer Bible Commentary”, SCM Press, 2006.

 Looking at the Bible Gaily

 Amos Lassen

 Of the several queer commentaries available of the Bible, “The Queer Bible Commentary” is the most complete. It is comprehensive and covers both the New Testament and the Old Testament. It deals with a wide range of hermeneutical issues, principles and strategies which must be employed in queer interpretation. It is complete so that even if we do not agree with what is here, we can find out where to go for better explanations. And above all else, it is the very first book to deal with the Christian and Jewish Bibles in one book. For that reason lone, it is indispensable.

       The book does not take a verse by verse look at the Bible. Instead it focuses on portions of the Bible that have particular relevance for those of us interested in Gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans gender issues. It looks at the construction of sexuality and gender, the reification of heterosexuality and the matter of gay and lesbian ancestry within the Holy Books themselves. It also looks at the transgendered voices of the prophets and how the Bible is used in the contemporary world—politically, from the socio-economic view, and religiously. It likewise shows the impact it has on the modern GLBT communities.

       New questions are asked and traditional questions are redirected in new and very innovative ways thereby offering new approaches. Contributions come from a myriad of sources and ideas are drawn from feminist, queer deconstructionist, utopian theories, from the social sciences and from historical-critical discourses. The readings are focused from the GLBT perspectives and this affects our communities.

       Included is an extensive bibliography that can be of great help in accessing the full range of literature which deals with a queer interpretation of the scriptures. Of course all of this information does not come at a cheap price but if you are like e and want to know exactly what scripture tells us about the way we live, no price is too high to pay.

       A personal note—since I have been researching the Joseph story there have been times when I did not know where to turn or further pursue information. This book showed me exactly where to go and what to read. I am now the proud owner of my own copy and it sits proudly on my desk ready to be opened at any moment.