“In the Shadow of the Bridge: A Memoir” by Joseph Caldwell— Before Stonewall

Caldwell, Joseph. “In the Shadow of the Bridge: A Memoir”, Delphinium Books, 2019

Before Stonewall

Amos Lassen

We sometimes forget that there was gay history before Stonewall and gay life in New York City was alive and vibrant. Joseph Caldwell in his memoir “In the Shadow of the Bridge” shares what it was like and in doing so gives us another chapter of our history. He is a wonderful storyteller and a fascinating memoirist. I loved this book so much that I read it one sitting and then reread it immediately afterwards. It is both intimate and far reaching.

I was reminded of the lifestyle we lead back then and while I was in New Orleans and not in New York, both cities’ LGBT communities embraced the bohemian way of living. I found myself amid intellectuals, writers and artists as did Caldwell. Living in that kind of society, we allowed ourselves to be outsiders of the mainstream yet insiders culturally. Basic living was very different back then and if it were not for this memoir it would probably not even be thought about (by many).

Joseph Caldwell has written a candid memoir about  his tenure working at WQXR, the very popular and almost sanctified classical music station, his participation in civil protests and his arrests, his friends and “accomplished acquaintances while living a libertine life of a young gay man who is also a noted playwright, novelist, Rome Prize winner and now a memoir writer. Of course he writes about the advent of the AIDS epidemic and how it took a heavy toll on New York City and free love and sex became feared. When he least expected it, Caldwell got a chance at a relationship and she shares that along with his chronicle artistic and gay life in New York City and how it changed during the  plague years. I can’t imagine any other or better way of reading about New York City gay life other than by one who personally experienced it and able to relate it to others. Caldwell became a caregiver for those with HIV and shares the most poignant, personal events from his life with us, showing how they  connect to the wider culture. This is the story of a young man who came to New York with hopes of being an artist and a man of faith yet who dared to love other men.  His story is the story of a generation of so many others like him.

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