“Southern Decadence in New Orleans” by Howard Philips Smith and Frank Perez— A Long Time Coming

Smith, Howard Philips and Frank Perez. “Southern Decadence in New Orleans”, LSU Press, 2018.

A Long Time Coming

Amos Lassen

A couple of weeks ago I posted a short note about this book relying on what I heard about it from the publishing house and from a friend who had seen an advance copy. My copy just came and I spent the whole day reading in and reliving memories of Southern Decadence. After all, I am a New Orleanian in my blood and although I now live in Boston, I am still a New Orleanian. There are not words to describe how much I enjoyed this book (which I think is fascinating since I was always too much of a prude to truly enjoy Southern Decadence. I so loved Howard Philips Smith’s “Unveiling the Muse” that He really not to go some to better himself with this and he did. I gave a rather poor review to Frank Perez on his previous book but he has redeemed himself here. If I have just one word to describe this book, it would be glorious.

Begun in 1972 as a modest celebration among residents of the French Quarter, the Southern Decadence Festival in New Orleans has since then grown into one of the city’s largest annual tourist events. Now a Labor Day weekend tradition, the festival regularly attracts over 100,000 participants, predominantly gay and lesbian, and generates millions of dollars in tourist revenue. Nonetheless, “Southern Decadence in New Orleans,” is the first serious study of the event. Compiled and written by Howard Smith and Frank Perez, the work brings together an astounding array of historic materials, including rare memorabilia from the event’s founders, early photographs and film stills, newspaper and magazine accounts, and interviews with longtime participants, to offer a comprehensive history of the celebration. Along the way, Smith and Perez explore the myth and conjecture that have followed the often derided festival as it has grown from a small party in the Faubourg Tremé to a world-wide destination for gay men that is now lauded by the Mayor’s office as the second most profitable festival in the city’s history, only outshone by Mardi Gras at the other end of the calendar.”

While the holiday is a bit too wild for my taste (and age), it was always a special time in New Orleans and even though I was not around the area for most of the celebrations, the few that I did witness were almost beyond imagination. It is so good to have this volume and I really enjoyed looking at the photos and reliving some of my life. There is not a boring word on a page here and I felt that I was also improving my gay New Orleans history by reading this. It has been quite a year for books about gay New Orleans with this and Robert Fieseler’s “Tinderbox”. Hopefully the definitive gay New Orleans history is also being written.

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