Monthly Archives: March 2012

“Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS”— They Will Always Be With Us

Clark, Philip and David Groff (editors). “Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS”, Alyson Books, 2009.

They Will Always Be With Us

Amos Lassen

Having nothing new to read today, I decided that I was in the mood to read some poetry. As I approached my book shelf, “Persistent Voices” seem to urge me to read it. I have already reviewed it once but now looking at it sometime later, I found the book to be more meaningful than ever. We lost a whole generation to AIDS and there were poets in that generation that is gone. Philip Clark and David Groff took on the task of locating poems by those men who are no longer here and creating an anthology of their verse. The book as a whole hits as us hard as we read works by those facing needless deaths. While the book is both heartbreaking and heart wrenching, it is very important. The poets included all seem to have known each other, either personally or through their writings. Many wrote about each other and they were symbols of a generation laid to waste. There are poets here I have never heard of before but that does diminish the quality of their work. They may be gone but their poetry lives and we want more of what we cannot have. There is joy and sorrow in their persistent voices. We gain join by reading their works and we are sorry that they are gone forever and it is through their words that they will never be forgotten.

Like Kim Addonizio says in the preface, “Poetry is a record of consciousness, bearing witness to life fully lived, and as such it can transcend even death. Poems bring us the spirits of those who wrote them… They are here in these pages, available to us. We encounter them each time we read their words”, If you have not had the pleasure to read these poems, then the time has come to do so. As Christopher Bram says in his new book, “Eminent Outlaw”, our history is shaped by our literature and these poets are part of our heroes.

 

“My Lucky Star” by Joe Keenan— Joe Keenan Does It Again

Keenan, Joe. “My Lucky Star”, Little Brown, 2006.

Joe Keenan Does It Again

Amos Lassen

I have been a longtime fan of Joe Keenan every since I read his first book and now he adds a new dimension to his previous novels, “Putting on the Ritz” and “My Blue Heaven”. There are always gay novels about Hollywood and this is because it is fun to have a look in the closets of the moving making capital of the world but few can write about it the way Keenan can. He is not only an author but a lyricist and playwright as well and if his name sounds familiar to you, you probably recognize him as the writer and producer at one of the most successful sit-coms of all time, “Frasier”.

This is a very funny novel and has been hailed by some reviewers as a masterpiece of comedy. Nothing is above ridicule in the book and Keenan satirizes Hollywood beautifully. Philip Cavanaugh and Chris Simmons are a writing team which has had very little luck. Suddenly they are tempted to go to Hollywood by a lucrative offer made by a shifty friend of theirs. Of course, the job does not live up to their expectations but they nevertheless receive the news that their project will be produced with the “who’s who” of Hollywood. They are joyous yet filled with worry because they know that with stars steering their show, they will soon be replaced by veteran writers. The interaction of the stars of the project results in great reading and lots of laughs. There is Diana Malenfant, a screen siren and legend and Stephen Donato, her sexy, closeted son and his new wife, Gina. As they prepare to get started, the astounding news that Diana’s sister, a movie has-been, has decided to write her memoirs and leave no secrets untold. Will she out her nephew? Once Stephen and Philip become smitten with each other, plans are hatched and the rowdy becomes rowdier. Philip soon discovers that the road to happiness is littered with past memories, all of which come into play— secrets and lies, blackmail, indiscretions. In other words, there is something for everybody in this book.

Keenan keeps the plot moving with great wit and I laughed until I thought I could laugh no more. “My Lucky Star” is a roller coaster of a read so make sure you get a ticket to ride.

 

“DAWN OF THE DEAD”— The Rise of the San Francisco Underground

“Dawn of the Dead”

 The Rise of the San Francisco Underground  

Amos Lassen

In the mid 1960’s, psychedelia became a new rock music movement that came out of San Francisco and came into being by a close community of local bands who brought traditional American music (folk, country blues, rock and roll) together with new sounds that were developed under the influence of psychedelic drugs. This music was bound up with the social and cultural changes that were happening on the West Coast and San Francisco soon became a music capital.

“Dawn of the Dead” looks at the movement and traces it from those days through the Grateful Dead, the definitive band of the time. There are also looks at other bands of the period—Big Brother & The Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, The Charlatans and Quicksilver Messenger Service. The film looks at how San Francisco became a haven for the new music.

There are interviews with the manager of the Dead, Rock Scully, Big Brother’s Peter Albin, “Mike Willlhelm from The Charlatans; publicist and official Dead biographer, Dennis McNally; Counter-Culture and Dead author and journalist (and host of ‘The Grateful Dead Hour’), David Gans; Merry Prankster and best friend of the late Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs, plus comment, criticism and review from Rolling Stone’s Anthony De Curtis, Village Voice’s Robert Christgau and Mojo’s Ritchie Unterberger”.

For me the most interesting aspect of the film are rare archival footage of the bands and the combination of news reports and the wonderful music. This is an overview but very detailed and fascinating and reflects not only the music but the social upheaval on the West Coast. The music changed the world forever.

 

 

“Making the Future: Occupations, Interventions, Empire and Resistance” by Noam Chomsky— Chomsky Speaks

Chomsky, Noam. “Making the Future: Occupations, Interventions, Empire and Resistance”, City Lights Books, 2012.

Chomsky Speaks

Amos Lassen

I have always been in awe of great minds and one man that I particularly admire even though I do not always agree with him is Noam Chomsky. Never afraid to say what he feels, Chomsky has made many of us more aware of the world around us. In his newest book, Chomsky gives us more than fifty commentaries on the politics and policies of the United States government and these essays are recent—all of them have been written between 2001 and 2011. If we take the collection as a whole, we get a counter-narrative to “official accounts of the major political events of the past four years”. Chomsky writes of “the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the U.S. presidential race; the ascendancy of China; Latin America’s leftward turn; the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea; Israel’s invasion of Gaza and expansion of settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank; developments in climate change; the world financial crisis; the Arab Spring; the assassination of Osama bin Laden; and the Occupy protests”.

He gives us his critiques and he states, “Progressive legislation and social welfare have been won by popular struggles, not gifts from above. Those struggles follow a cycle of success and setback. They must be waged every day, not just once every four years, always with the goal of creating a genuinely responsive democratic society, from the voting booth to the workplace.”

The book consists of articles that Chomsky wrote for The New York Times but were not picked up by other major American newspapers and thus were read only in the northeast. These are fierce, volatile writings by a man who is regarded as a political dissident and an intellectual.

The theme here is the “perils of American hegemony abroad and the inexorable growth of the American corporate military industrial complex”.  Chomsky here blames conspiracies of power and American interests. He says that the consequences will be disastrous. He show us this through careful analyses about the cynicism of American power in the world today. He presents his views in ways that are literate and written so that all can understand and his is a voice that should be listened to. While it is no necessary to agree with him, he gives us a great deal to think about.

 

 

 

“Kisser” by Mykola Dementiuk— An Erotic Romance

Dementiuk, Mykola. “Kisser”, JMS Books, 2012.

An Erotic Romance

Amos Lassen

If you follow my reviews, you know that I am a huge fan of Mykola Dementiuk. He writes as it is and shares he grittiness of life that many writers are afraid to touch. While his topics may be controversial, Dementiuk manages to make us aware of some aspects of our lives that otherwise we might not have known. I refer to him as the prose poet of New York in that even though his subjects are not the usual, he writes of them in beautiful language which in itself is an anachronism. He can describe a really terrible scene so that it comes across as a thing of beauty.

Let’s look at “Kisser”, his newest book. Richard, our main character, does not think he is gay “like those other queer boys”. But then one day, his friend Ralphie kisses him in the park, takes him home and Richard discovers something new. He has fallen in love with kissing but he wants more than that (as long as it also includes kissing). What he doesn’t know is that as he accepts his sexuality, he has yet to meet all the different kinds of men that may pursue him. Richard lets his sexuality take him to places he had never been before and he soon finds himself in the very gay Greenwich Village where he met Mt. James, the possible man who can take him where he wants to go.

This is a very sexy and homoerotic read but there is nothing gratuitous here. In developing Richard’s character, we go into his mind and become part of him as he travels on his sexual odysseys. He goes places where many of us have been but he does so in a shorter period of time. He explains that when he received that first kiss, it was like losing his virginity but he says “in fact it wasn’t a loss but a sublime discovery”. That kiss gave him the reason he lived and the reason to continue living. Believe me, this is one story you do not want to miss and as usual, Dementiuk comes through with another wonderful reading experience.

 

“King of Angels” by Perry Brass— “Listen, do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?”

Brass, Perry. “King of Angels: A Novel about the Genesis of Identity and Belief”, Bellhue Press, 2012.

“Listen, do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?”

Amos Lassen

We all have our literary heroes and I have several—Edmund White, Christopher Bram, Felicia Piano, Andrew Holleran and Perry Brass are authors for whom I will stop whatever I am doing when I hear they have new books out. I usually run out to get them right away and then spend the next few days reading what they have written. Not only do I get good stories but I get lots to think about and for me, this puts them a rung above the others. I love a book that forces me to consider who I am and my purpose in life. Thinking is perhaps what makes us different than other species but stop and think about how many LGBT writers have caused you to think—about yourself and about what they have written.

Simply by virtue of the fact that Brass’s subtitle contained two words that I love—“identity” and “genesis”—let me know that even before I opened the covers of “King of Angels”, that it was going to be a very special read. It is set at a time that I lived through, in the South where I lived and is about a boy who has Jewish blood which I do. How could Brass go wrong with me? The time is 1963 and the Civil Rights movement is just catching on. At the same time, the gay men of the world were coming forward and looking for both acknowledgement and acceptance. Savannah, Georgia is an unlikely place for Civil Rights for Black and/or gay men but nevertheless it is where out story is set. Benjamin Rothberg lives in one of the suburbs of Savannah and he is twelve years old. His home is located in what is known as the Isle of Hope and he lives with his mother, Caroline, a beautiful Southern White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) and his father, a dark Sephardic Jewish salesman. Robby is not exactly sure who he is. Religion wise he does not know if he is a Christian or a Jew and psychologically he wonders if he is real or only a boy who is pretending to be real. He goes to a Catholic school, the Holy Nativity Military Academy which is strictly yet compassionately run by monks and it is here that he finds his closest friends. You must understand that it is not strange for a Jewish boy to attend Catholic school in the South, especially during this era in history when public schools were being segregated and education was on a stop-go continuum. The private and parochial schools withstood the movement as they were private and at that time were not yet forced to integrate.

Benny also meets one very special boy a school, Arthur Gomez who steals his heart. Benny is a boy who can change to fit the mood and at the same time keep his own unique features and if you have ever lived in the South, you know why this is sometimes necessary. Benjamin is forced to shift from Jewish to gentile, from being intelligent and precocious (two of his qualities that I did not mention earlier) to acting like a “normal” (I hate that word), regular boy. While he is quite probably gay, he must act as if he loves girls.

Many of you may not know but the Jews played a very important role in the desegregation of the South. We have known discrimination and will not allow others to experience it if we can help. Racial explosions were quite common back then and racial consciousness was something everyone of every race and religion was aware of. At the same time, as I stated previously, gay men were climbing onto the battle of Civil Rights and were demanding acceptance. I can only remember what it was like as a Jewish gay man in Louisiana in the 60’s and the look on my parents’ face when I told them that I wanted to transfer from a private university to an integrated public college. Thus was a time when both Jews and gays were not totally open with whom they were and I realize that this is somewhat contradictory to some of what I have already written.  But we live as a series of contradictions and we change with he mood. As young gay men, there was a lot of fibbing going on and it was not until people like Benny reached adulthood could they be open about their sexualities.

If I seem to be rambling, it is because this book is such a recollection of how I lived and I have begun to remember so much of what I had put in the back of my mind. Brass takes a good, strong look at race relations and at bullying in schools as well as the role of organized religion in the way we discover who we are. Benny was fortunate to have a handsome young monk help him to find himself and it worked that way for the monk as well. While at school, Benny learned about what he had to know but he also learned about seduction, attraction and the sexual secrets that were part of the school. He found himself attracted by the Catholic concept of the Spirit but most of all he discovered himself.

Oy—so much of this book rang true for me and so much of what is here have I also experienced. I have always wanted to write about it but Perry Brass has beaten me to it and has done so in eloquent and beautiful prose. This is not a short book but I sat down to read and did not stop until I all devoured all 360 glorious pages. I laughed and I cried but most of all I thought and I remembered how it was growing up in one of the most turbulent periods of American history when communities tried to come together. I think we forget sometimes hat America is a melting pot of many different groups, Jews, Southern Jews (yes, there is a difference), African-Americans, Catholics and Southern Catholics, gays, Hispanics and so many more and the gumbo that includes them all has not finished cooking. Will we ever see a day when we can all sit together and eat from the same pot? I don’t know and I doubt any of us do but we can all hope that there will be a day like that. Accepting ourselves is part of it all and Perry Brass helps us with that in his brilliant new book. Now back to read it all over again.

 

“BEVERLY KILLS”— Wonderfully Energetic

“Beverly Kills”

Wonderfully Energetic

Amos Lassen

I do not know why “Beverly Kills” has been so underrated. It is a wonderfully energetic film and a lot of fun. Beverly Jackson (Gary Kelley) is (to be kind) a bit too old and a bit too unattractive drag queen. He is distraught because he did not win a part in a review he had his heart set on and vows revenge. His revenge goes out of control and Beverly runs with it as it turns into terrorism. Those men who are targeted are handsome and at their prime.

The film was obviously meant to satirize the cult films of the past and sometimes the irony here is a bit too heavy and a bit too strong. But it is a good movie for laughs and a very pleasurable way to pass some free time. It is madcap and clever and a lot of fun.

“POSTER BOY”— Not About Underwear

“Poster Boy”

Not About Underwear

Amos Lassen

“Poster Boy” is a timely, accomplished, wonderfully acted little film that is the story of a closeted son of a right wing politician from North Carolina who becomes sexually and romantically involved with a liberal gay activist.

Henry is a determined college student and the son of U.S. Senator, Jack Kray (Michael Lerner) who is waging a battle for re-election. Henry cannot abide his father’s homophobia and falls in love with Anthony (Jack Noseworthy), a young, angry, radical queer activist who he meets at a party that he and his girlfriend crash. At the party there is plenty of sexual tension between Henry and Anthony and Henry realizes seething new about himself. Anthony discovers who Anthony’s father is and he joins a campus group that plans to disrupt the congressman’s visit to the campus. Through mysterious circumstances and an amazing twist, Izzie (Henry’s girlfriend) is hit by the senator’s car as it approaches campus and what follows is fascinating. The climax of the film is full of surprises as family values and issues of love and honesty explode and are tested.

The film pays homage to the radical queer groups of the past and aligns itself with political problems of today. There is a certain parallelism to the story of Mary Cheney and the senator’s wife. Kray, the senator is nasty, rude and hypocritical and his character along with the others are wonderfully depicted. The acting is incredible and the photography is sometimes murky which adds to the tone of the theme of the film and I found an explanation as to why politicians cannot be trusted. There is a lot here to think about.

When I first heard about the film, I was expecting a comedy perhaps something about Calvin Klein underwear ads and I was totally surprised when I saw the film. I found it to be an amazing film that deals with how we live today.

“POSTER BOY”— Not About Underwear

“Poster Boy”

Not About Underwear

Amos Lassen

“Poster Boy” is a timely, accomplished, wonderfully acted little film that is the story of a closeted son of a right wing politician from North Carolina who becomes sexually and romantically involved with a liberal gay activist.

Henry is a determined college student and the son of U.S. Senator, Jack Kray (Michael Lerner) who is waging a battle for re-election. Henry cannot abide his father’s homophobia and falls in love with Anthony (Jack Noseworthy), a young, angry, radical queer activist who he meets at a party that he and his girlfriend crash. At the party there is plenty of sexual tension between Henry and Anthony and Henry realizes seething new about himself. Anthony discovers who Anthony’s father is and he joins a campus group that plans to disrupt the congressman’s visit to the campus. Through mysterious circumstances and an amazing twist, Izzie (Henry’s girlfriend) is hit by the senator’s car as it approaches campus and what follows is fascinating. The climax of the film is full of surprises as family values and issues of love and honesty explode and are tested.

The film pays homage to the radical queer groups of the past and aligns itself with political problems of today. There is a certain parallelism to the story of Mary Cheney and the senator’s wife. Kray, the senator is nasty, rude and hypocritical and his character along with the others are wonderfully depicted. The acting is incredible and the photography is sometimes murky which adds to the tone of the theme of the film and I found an explanation as to why politicians cannot be trusted. There is a lot here to think about.

When I first heard about the film, I was expecting a comedy perhaps something about Calvin Klein underwear ads and I was totally surprised when I saw the film. I found it to be an amazing film that deals with how we live today.

 

“BOY CULTURE”— From Book to Film

“Boy Culture”

From Book to Film

Amos Lassen

Matthew Rettenmud’s “Boy Culture” is perhaps one of the most widely read books with a gay theme and now we have the film. Like the book it is something of a comedy that is laced with heavy eroticism. It makes for a feel good film. Filmed on location in Seattle, it is the story of a male escort (hustler) and the web he spins as his affairs with various clients become tangled. It deals with the issues of monogamy, fidelity, miscegenation and love across generations. These are all important topics and to see them dealt with in a comic vein certainly brings their importance home. Gregory, our hero, becomes involved separately with a pair of lovers and an older mysterious man and fireworks are ignited. As they begin to go off, the movie takes off on a romp that you will not soon forget.