Gooch, Brad. “Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s”, Harper, 2015.
Love and Fidelity in a Time that Was
I love Brad Gooch….that is to say I love his writing. His biography of Frank O’Hara, “City Poet” sits proudly on my shelf next to his highly underestimated “The Golden Age of Promiscuity”. He has other books also that I have read and reviewed—“Godtalk”, “Finding the Boyfriend Within”, “Daily News”, “Jailbait” and so on—twelve titles in all and several different genres. Gooch has never disappointed and when I was asked to review his new book, I jumped at the chance. For me Gooch is best when writing nonfiction and when “Smash Cut” arrived this week, I cleared my calendar and sat down to be taken away to New York and back to the 70s and 80s. Back then New York City was the international center of celebrities and glamour. The Bohemian movement was well underway and if anyone wanted to be where it was happening, they really had to get to New York. I was over 6000 miles away in Israel but I devoured every bit of news I received.
Gooch went to New York in the late 70s in search of freedom—both artistic and personal. This book is his memoir of his time there with his partner Howard, a film director. This is not what I would necessarily call a happy read but it is certainly an important read. Gooch does not remember it all well and so, as he tells us, it is pieced together from memory and it is emotional to the point that my eyes filled with tears several times while reading. The prologue is perfection—it sets the scene both emotionally and literarily and it reminds us just how far we have come as individuals and as a community. For me, especially, coming to Boston from Arkansas was a big shock. It was fascinating to see how no one cared about someone’s sexuality—it is the person that matters. We see that change coming throughout “Smash Cut” and we also see the price we paid for it.
Gooch tells us that his relationship with Howard Brookner ranged from “blazing ecstasy to bleakest despair” and his memory of it is “fueled by a panoply of emotions”. These are the same emotions that we have while reading Gooch’s words. We all know that a relationship is based on working together so things are good and Gooch and Brookner had to work at reconciling love and fidelity with the freedom (including sexual freedom) that New York provided. It is very hard to be faithful when there are so many beautiful men around and available and our two found themselves both living together and living apart.
Brad Gooch was more than a writer; he had a brief stint as a model and went to Milan. When he came back to New York, he tried being an artist, It was at this time that our community was threatened with the deadly AIDS epidemic and Brookner was ill with an undiagnosed virus that was later recognized as AIDS. It eventually took him from Brad Gooch and from all of us. We cannot forget that the carefree 70s turned into the fearful 80s and the deadly 90s.
We cannot look at our story or the stories of others without dealing with the fact that we were living with death everyday and we cannot be allowed to ever forget that AIDS was our Holocaust. AIDS changed us—it took some of our very best and it totally transformed any sense of community we might have had. And while this was happening Brookner was slipping away from Gooch as so many others slipped away from their loved ones. The section of the book where Brookner dies had me bent over in physical pain—his death was not only the end of his physical being but the end of the love he shared. This book ends there but Gooch has bounced back and thank God he did. He wrote this book to show us how it was and what love means. So many others did not have that opportunity or the way with words that we find here. I feel sad after reading it but I feel better for having done so; for not allowing myself to ever forget. (On a personal note—I was in Israel while the AIDS epidemic took over America. We had a few cases but nothing like what was happening in America. In 1989, I came back to the States for a visit and went to my usual haunt—Café Lafitte in Exile in New Orleans. I had been gone for some 18 years and every single person I had known was gone—taken in the prime of their lives).
There are happy moments in the book and there are familiar names and personages from Madonna to Mapplethorpe, Virgil Thomson to Andy Warhol and William Burroughs and there is glamour here. Brookner and Gooch were young, talented, handsome and glamorous like poster boys for an age long gone. Gooch’s memoir is to be treasured and savored like wine fine with candlelight overlooking a wonderful view. We learn that even with all of the beauty that was that we cannot let her guard down ever again.
The era written about here was one of total abandon until it was too late, yet, to be able to write it with such beauty is a special gift and Brad Gooch shares that gift with us and we are so much better for it.