“Blue Days, Black Nights: A Memoir of Desire” by Ron Nyswaner— After Philadephia

blue days black nights

Nyswaner, Ron. “Blue Days, Black Nights: A Memoir of Desire”, with an introduction by Jonathan Demme, Lethe Press, 2016.

After “Philadelphia”

Amos Lassen

Many do not know that in the years immediately following his Academy Award nomination for Philadelphia, screenwriter Ron Nyswaner had a very dog period. This is his story of what happened and it is intimate and compelling yet at times humorous. It chronicles that time when a dangerous drug addiction hit an obsessive and almost fatal love affair head-on. Making a wrong turn down a one-way street in Sunset Strip’s Chateau Marmont led screenwriter Ron Nyswaner on a journey that nearly cost him all. We see here tragedy and the transformative nature of love. Even with the great success of “Philadelphia”, Nyswaner had been dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide. He told his psychiatrist (who was also his acupuncturist and herbalist) that he did not want to live a mediocre life that was empty after he had tried to hang himself with a leather belt. Then there was the trip that he took to Los Angeles where he met Johann, a hustler and fell in love with him. This affair led to Johann showing him “how to make a crack pipe out of a soda can, how to come down from a crystal meth binge, how to walk down a city street as if he owns it, how to beg in Hungarian, and how to lose oneself utterly in reckless passion”.

This is a human story that is told with brutal honesty— a story of pain and guilt and about living in a time when not all the answers are as cut and dry as we might like. Nyswaner came out on the other side of such a traumatic time in his life and has been able to write about it, speaks volumes about human spirit, about coping and loving.

We read of some of the darkest aspects of life that some gay men experience it but with no self-pity and we read of drug-addiction, alcoholism, loneliness, sickness, suicide impulses, and most of all about love – but a very special love: the one that he felt for a European hustler he met in a Los Angeles bar, whom he kept seeing without really ever knowing him, and for whom he developed intense feelings. We do not know if the person he loved was real or fantasy but since Nyswaner is no dupe, he knows that what he felt really was love, and that gives his book meaning. He shares real descriptions of the drug and alcohol binges he indulged in and what he writes about Johann is funny and tender. We can sense what Nyswaner went through and we can be thankful that he wrote it down.

Nyswaner opens his memoir at the end with the death of his escort and he soon learns that he didn’t even know the escort’s real name. Then, he goes back in time to where he first encounters Johann, a hustler. For whatever reason, he turned to Johann andNyswaner soon forsakes everyone as well as his job. His life revolves solely around Johann. At the same time, Nyswaner tries to get out of this bleak life. He seeks help and he thinks that he gets help from a quirky Asian counselor. Despite his attempts to turn his life around, he still falls for Johann. His turning point doesn’t come until Johann dies out of the blue. Nyswaner’s account of his struggle with real life demons great and small is heartbreaking and it is also very, very funny. Jonathan Demme who wrote the introduction to this new edition says “It delivers an emotional intensity that fiction, by comparison, can only hope to achieve.”


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