“Catching Rainbows: An Account of the Lives of Ordinary Gay Men” by Michael DeQueen— Coming to Terms

chasing-rainbows

Dequeen, Michael. “Catching Rainbows: An Account of the Lives of Ordinary Gay Men”, ADS, 2016.

Coming to Terms

Amos Lassen

I just want to let you Know about a new Amazon single. In “Catching Rainbows”, Michael DeQueen tells the stories of various gay men from all sorts of backgrounds and how they grew up and came to terms with their sexuality. No matter where they are from, they are all trying to find happiness and solitude in life and want to be able to live honestly and truthfully.

“The Winterlings” by Cristina Sanchez-Andrade— Childhoods in Exile

the-winterlings

Sanchez-Andrade, Cristina, “The Winterlings”, translated by Samuel Ritter, Restless Books, 2016.

Childhoods in Exile

Amos Lassen

After having spent their childhoods in exile, two sisters, the Winterlings, return to Galicia in the northwest region of Spain for the first time since that grandfather’s murder during the civil war in the 1950s. The sisters have secrets that want to remain hidden as they attempt to live peacefully in their village of Tierra de Chá among the fascinating characters that live there. These include a psychic, a madman who thinks he is a bus, a woman who refuses to die, the very heavy priest who climbs a steep hill each day to give the woman her last rites, a cross-dressing dentist who uses the teeth of the dead to plant in his living patients’ mouths.

All seemed to be going will until the two sisters compete for a chance to be the stand-in for Ava Gardner during the nearby filming of “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman”. Their love of cinema had once been something that held them together but now it seems to be pulling them apart. As if that is not enough, the sisters and the villagers have a sense of suspicion for each other. Those in the village want to know why they have returned and what they are hiding and the sisters want to know if the townspeople had made some kind of business arrangement with their dead grandfather whose death is a subject not spoken of.

To say anymore about the plot would ruin the read for others so I can really only say that this is a read that enchants the reader after it pulls him/her in. If you like gothic literature, you will love this book that brings together romance, violent history, and the mysterious forces that move all of us. 

The prose is gorgeous and the plot keeps us turning pages as rapidly as possible. Cristina Sánchez-Andrade gives us a story that combines fact with fiction and that intrigues the reader as well as provides a wonderful sense of humor throughout. She brings tenderness into a story that is “ferocious” in its own right and introduces us to a cast of characters that will remain with us long after we have closed the covers of the book.

 

 

“The Other Boy” by M.G. Hennessey— A Journey Toward Acceptance

the-other-boy

Hennessey, M.G. “The Other Boy”, illustrated by Sfe R. Monster, Harper Collins, 2016.

A Journey Toward Acceptance

Amos Lassen

“The Other Boy” is the heartfelt story of Shane woods’ journey toward acceptance. At twelve years old, Shane was just a regular boy who loved playing baseball, drawing a graphic novel and spending time with Josh, his best friend. Yet Shane has a secret that he shares with no one because he is afraid that it might a difference in the ways his classmate and Josh see him.

But then one of his classmate threatens to reveal that secret and Shane’s whole crashes and changes. He was forced to deal with and ignore the hate as he showed everyone that he is still the same boy he was before. Ultimately, those who stand beside him may surprise everyone, including Shane.

Author Hennessey has created a wonderful character in Shane and we are reminded what life in the sixth grade can be. Shane goes through the typical trials that others his age have but these are compounded by both the prejudice and confusion that can accompany transitioning. Shane is a young trans character who lives life as his true gender and he never questions his identity. His story gives the range of experiences of how people react to someone who is transgender. We see what it feels like to know that his your body does not align with his gender and his story is one that we all need to read.

“Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983” by Tim Lawence— The New York Party Scene

life-and-death-on-the-ny-dance-floor

Lawrence, Tim. “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983”, Duke University Press, 2016.

The New York Party Scene

Amos Lassen

During the 1980s, the party scene in New York was inventive and characterized by creativity and an intensity that had not been there before. Tim Lawrence’s “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor” is a chronicle of tumultuous time and shows us the sonic and social eruptions that took place in the party venues of that time as well as the way the party scene itself was responsible for new and movements in art, performance, video, and film. Using interviews with DJs, party hosts, producers, musicians, artists, and dancers, Lawrence explains how the relatively discrete post-disco, post-punk, and hip hop scenes” became marked by their level of plurality, interaction, and convergence and the shifting urban landscape of New York supported this. Gentrification, Reaganomics, corporate intrusion, and the spread of AIDS brought about the end of this new period.

It all happened fairly quickly yet is was a significant time in the history of American culture. Lawrence details the leading figures, trends, events, places, and music that made it all happen and gives a critical/analytical commentary on the social backdrop of the times, Here was the genesis of the emerging and eclectic music/dance styles, and the essence of this artistic renaissance. The book is filled with photographs, notes, and bibliography, set lists, discographies, and a filmography and we see that the 80s certainly changed this country. Lawrence’s research includes the journalism of the time as well as the fascinating interviews.

We sense Lawrence’s love of music and life that gives his book a personal touch and I found that reading this was like opening a time capsule of one of the most influential periods of New York City’s musical history. Below is the table of contents:

 

Preface  vii

 

Acknowledgments  xv

 

Introduction  1

 

Part I. 1980: The Recalibration of Disco

 

  1. You Can’t Just Play Punk Music!  11

 

  1. The Basement Den at Club 57  30

 

  1. Danceteria: Midtown Feels the Downtown Storm  48

 

  1. Subterranean Dance  60

 

  1. The Bronx-Brooklyn Approach  73

 

  1. The Sound Became More Real  92

 

  1. Major-Label Calculations  105

 

  1. The Saint Peter of Discos  111

 

  1. Lighting the Fuse  122

 

Part II. 1981: Accelerating Toward Pluralism

 

  1. Explosion of Clubs  135

 

  1. Artistic Maneuvers in the Dark  155

 

  1. Downton Configures Hip Hop  170

 

  1. The Sound of a Transcendent Future  184

 

  1. The New Urban Street Sound  199

 

  1. It Wasn’t Rock and Roll and It Wasn’t Disco  210

 

  1. Frozen in Time or Freed into Infinity  221

 

  1. It Felt Like the Whole City Was Listening  232

 

  1. Shrouded Abatements and Mysterious Deaths  239

 

Part III. 1982: Dance Culture Seizes the City

 

  1. All We Had Was the Club  245

 

  1. Inverted Pyramid  257

 

  1. Roxy Music  271

 

  1. The Garage: Everybody Was Listening to Everything  279

 

  1. The Planet Rock Groove  288

 

  1. Techno Funksters  304

 

  1. Taste Segues  314

 

  1. Stormy Weather  320

 

  1. Cusp of an Important Fusion  331

 

Part IV. 1983: The Genesis of Division

 

  1. Cristal for Everyone  343

 

  1. Dropping the Pretense and the Flashy Suits  369

 

  1. Straighten It Out with Larry Levan  381

 

  1. Stripped-Down and Scrambled Sounds  400

 

  1. We Became Part of This Energy  419

 

  1. Sex and Dying  430

 

  1. We Got the Hits, We Got the Future  438

 

  1. Behind the Groove  449

 

Epilogue. Life, Death, and the Hereafter  458

 

Notes  485

 

Selected Discography  515

 

Selected Filmography  529

 

Selected Bibliography  521

 

Index

“Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read” by North Morgan— New Demons

love-notes-to-men-who-dont-read

Morgan, North. “Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read”, Limehouse, 2016.

New Demons

Amos Lassen

Many have written about various and different aspects of being a gay man be it from coming out to falling in love but no one has really been able to look within the person and write about the real meaning of being a gay man in today’s world. Written as a novel, North Morgan’s “Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read”, takes us beyond fiction and shoes how the acceptance of gay people in society has caused new problems as we, even with all of the rights that we now have, still live as outsiders on one hand and on the forefront of popular culture on the other.

This is a difficult book to write about and summarize because of its uniqueness and the fact that it is an interpretation of gay culture. It is honest and satirical at the same time and it written with biting humor. Some may find it depressing and if so they are missing the point.

 

 

“Country” by Jeff Mann— Together Against the World

country

Mann, Jeff. “Country”, Lethe Press, 2016.

Together Against the World

Amos Lassen

A new book by Jeff Mann is always a cause for celebration and “Country” does not disappoint. Brice Brown is a country singer who sings about the loyalty and broken hearts that we have all had to deal with at some time in our lives. However, Brice’s lyrics do not match the person that he is. Living in the south and writing country music is not the kind of thing gay men do (or is it?) so he has kept his feelings for other men hidden. But then a guy who had once been his lover and who plays in his band decides to tell all to the press. This becomes a catalyst for Brice, who is tired of the lies and he decides to be who he really is. He goes home to West Virginia only to find out that those who were once so proud of him have now turned their backs on him, his recording contact is cancelled and his wife divorces him. In a very short period of time, Brice becomes terribly depressed; he had never been so disgraced till then.

Brice learns that there is a place in West Virginia, a compound of sorts run by a guy who has helped gay youngsters deal with problems can go and deal with their self-hatred and he decides to go there and hopes to find some kind of redemption. Once there he meets Lucas whom works at the camp as a handyman and whose past seems to have taken control of his present. He is so angry that he sees no future for himself. Both Lucas and Brice are suffering but that is no way to start a relationship yet Brice gets vibes from Lucas and he hopes that the two of them will be able to rise above the pain and suffering they feel and find what they both seek in each other.

The book is set in the early 1990’s before the LGBT community had the wonderful rights that they have won. It was a homophobic time in history, especially in the small-town south. After Brice was outed, he felt useless and yearned for acceptance but had no idea where to find it. One could not be openly gay back then in small-town America which was filled with bigots and Christian fundamentalism. Those who were able to survive this kind of life carried the scars of what they went through forever.

Yes, there were good people in Appalachia but they were offset by the others who saw being gay as sinful and disgusting. Here we see how they reacted to one of their native sons. The homophobia that existed that was poisonous and often fatal.

Jeff Mann who grew up in West Virginia knows what he is writing about and gives us a look at how it was. I found remembering this to be very difficult and being from the South, I recognized some of what I experience growing up. We must remember that even today none of us are free until all of us are free and reading a book like this puts that idea front and center in our minds. Jeff Mann reminds us discretely how it once was and I really want to believe it is no longer that way but we must be aware in case that is not the reality. Reading about the heartbreak and the way Brice was betrayed by someone who was supposedly not his friend, it not easy and while I know want to see how this ends, you will not see that here.

 

 

“OVATION”— A Backstage Drama

ovation-poster

“Ovation”

A Backstage Drama

Amos Lassen

Director Henry Jaglom takes us backstage at a production of “The Rainmaker” that is being put on by a small theater group. Maggie (Tanna Frederick) is torn between keeping the failing production going with her presence, or pursuing a TV role, opposite hunk Stewart Henry (James Denton), who is doing everything to woo her away. As the two wrestle with their chemistry and conflicting feelings, there are various smaller dramas that orbit around them — Maggie finds herself in a rut with her co-star and longtime boyfriend; the producer will have to close the show if she can’t find a financier, and there’s a romance between two actors that turns violent. Then there is a psychic whose tarot readings keep everyone on their toes.

o1

“Ovation” is a tribute to the theater and to the power of live performance and the bond among performers and crew to the stars on the stage. The film wonderfully captures that there is “no business like show business”. It is a “stubbornly sharp, sincere and distinctive” film.

ovation1

The theater production has had its share of problems and the main thing it has to offer is the star, Maggie, whom is also the reason why Stewart, a television star, comes backstage to congratulate her. As he flatters Maggie, she is taken in by his smile as well as the promise of a television contract and she begins to fall for him. Alongside of there are several subplots. One of them involves a bad romance between a pushy young actor and his female co-star and another is about the attempts to keep the play afloat. The script uses the theme of the value of art over commercialism yet the film never seems to be advocating anything and is just supposed to be a fun time.

o2

Jaglom’s representation of the theatrical scene feels real and entirely convincing. We do not see much of the actual production and what we do see is structured, organized and controlled to a level of slick proficiency. Jaglom is concerned with what goes on behind the scenes where there is chaos and insecurity and nervous energy that produces art.

ovation3

The plot moves forward based on its own anxiety that leads to various events and plot twists keep us totally entertained. We never see the production of “The Rainmaker”; rather we only get glimpses of the actors going on-stage and coming off after curtain calls. We are aware that the entire theater complex is under threat of destruction in a secret high-end real estate deal, unknown to the members of the theater company or the play’s producer (Cathy Arden).

o3

It all takes place backstage and in various parts of the theater complex, but we never see any of these people anywhere outside of their natural habitat of the theater.

Denton and Frederick both give great performances that are filled with chemistry and are fun to watch. However the others are a bit more awkward. Personally I had a great time watching it.

“Before Pictures” by Douglas Crimp— Life As a Young Gay Male

before-pictures

Crimp, Douglas. “Before Pictures”, University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Life as a Young Gay Man

Amos Lassen

Douglas Crimp is the rare art critic whose work profoundly influenced a generation of artists. He is best known for his work with the “Pictures Generation”—the name that Crimp coined to define the work of artists “like Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman who appropriated images from mass culture to carry out a subversive critique”. Even though his influence is widely recognized, until now we have know little about Crimp’s own formative experiences before “Pictures.”

In “Before Pictures” we get the story of Crimp’s life as a young gay man and art critic in New York City during the late 1960s through the turbulent 1970s. He was a participant in all that made New York such a stimulating place back then. We get details of his professional and personal life as they are interwoven into the rich history of New York City at that time thus giving us a picture of the man and a picture of the city.

The book opens with Crimp’s leaving his hometown in Idaho, and his writing criticism for “ArtNews” while working at the Guggenheim. It was there that Crimp, as a young curatorial assistant, was one of the few to see Daniel Buren’s “Peinture-Sculpture” before it was taken out because of cries of institutional censorship. We visit the Chelsea Hotel (where Crimp helped the down-on-his-luck couturier Charles James organize his papers) and learn of Crimp’s days as a cinephile and balletomane and we read of the founding of the art journal “October”, where he was a central figure for many years. While he was developing his reputation as a critic, he also took part in New York’s nightlife, including using drugs and late nights alongside the Warhol crowd at the Max’s Kansas City and discos, roller-skating, and casual sex with men some of whom were very famous. As AIDS began, Crimp eventually turned his attention to activism dedicated to rethinking AIDS.

His book is part biography and part cultural history but above all it is the account of his life and of New York giving us a deeply personal and engaging point of entry into important issues in contemporary art”.

 

“The Intersect” by Brad Graber— “When Life Veers Off Course, Strangers Find Comfort and Lasting Connection”

the-intersect1

Graber. Brad. “The Intersect”, Dark Victory Press, 2016.

“When Life Veers Off Course, Strangers Find Comfort and Lasting Connection”

Amos Lassen

If I stop to really think about my life thus far, I must concede that the greatest influence has been by people that I met as strangers. After getting to know them, in many cases, we became friends yet we began not knowing each other at all. I moved to Israel with barely knowing anyone, then I was evacuated to Arkansas after Hurricane Katrina and knew no one there and I came here to Boston alone with not even the suggestion of a name of someone I might call. It took a while but in each of these places I developed friends. We see a similar situation in “The Intersect”. Dave and Charlie moved to Arizona from the bay area of California and discovered that the strongest link they had outside of each other was with strangers—disparate people who came together sharing one thought—how to survive when one has no friends.

With the move, tensions arose in Charlie and Dave’s relationship especially when Charlie made the decision to buy a house on the grounds of the Arizona Biltmore just as Dave was considering leaving his job.

This is the story of unraveling relationships, secrets love and injustice and it is beautifully told by Brad Graber through several stories that he has woven into a comprehensive whole. We meet characters that we fall in love with and that is probably because we see something of ourselves in them. The amazing thing here is how author Graber brings everything together— even those stories that do not seem to be related come together. After the twists and turns that we experience, we do find a common thread.

Among the characters we have Daisy who is in her 70s and appears at Dave and Jacks after she had been convalescing and did not know that the house that the two men now live it had been sold to them by her relatives in Michigan. In a case of mistaken identity, David thinks that Daisy is a distant relative and invites her to use the guest room. We also meet Anna, a psychic who has the ability to speak with those who are dead and who is concerned with what is happening to the area. She decides that in order to protect that which is there and hires Ernie, a guy to put in an alarm system along with motion detectors. What she was unaware of is that Ernie is in this country illegally having come from Mexico when he was just a child. Along comes Harry, a homeless teenager who has decided to rob Anna when Ernie gets mixed up in it and trouble follows. You can just imagine what happens next when the police arrive.

What our characters share is that they are all looking for the purpose in being alive and do so in varying degrees. We then discover that the central character here is not one who appears on the pages of the novel but it is the person reading the book. As readers, we are soon pulled into the story but we really do not understand where this is all going. Today’s society suffers from many of the issues that we read about here— homelessness, age, finances, immigration, societal norms and morality and good and evil. It does not often happen that an author can pull readers into his stories especially when there is more than one but I found myself thinking that I was one of the characters and interacting with those around me. It was really only when I closed the book that I really realized that I had only been reading.

 

“Mischling” by Konar Affinity— Twin Sisters

mischling

Konar, Affinity. “Mischling”, Lee Boudreaux Books, 2016.

Twin Sisters

Amos Lassen

It’s 1944 when twin sisters Pearl and Stasha arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. The sisters Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood. The girls become part of Josef Mengele’s experiment on twins and as members of what came to be known as

“Mengele’s Zoo”, they experience privileges and horrors unknown to others. They also find that they have changed and that they are stripped of the personalities they once shared and that their identities have been altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That same winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin and holds on to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks, a young man who is determined to get vengeance because of his own lost twin, travel through the devastation that was Poland’s. They remain undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them and are motivated by equal parts danger and hope. They meet hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees and continue on their quest holding onto the idea that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw. As discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within this world that is so drastically changed.

The plot was inspired by the experiences of twins Eva and Miriam Mozes and while this is not an easy book to read because of its dealing with a terrible period of history, it is beautifully written as it deals with those who were forced to take part in Josef Mengele’s horrific human experiments. Pearl and Stasha show man’s inhumanity to man and the capacity to forgive it. It is difficult to think of anything that is more odious than what Mengele did to those in his charge but somehow this book is an

act of remembrance that is also a coming-of-age story about children who aren’t allowed to come of age. There is great power in author Affinity Konar’s words and there were times when I just had to stop reading because everything here is so real. It is a rough but very rewarding journey into the minds of Pearl and Stasha.

Konar set her novel in Mengele’s lab. When Pearl and Stasha arrive at Auschwitz in 1944, they soon find themselves faced with the man whose sole goal is to tear them apart. He admires their golden hair and their beauty but then labels them “mischlings” (a term they don’t understand, but which is used by the Nazis to designate children believed to be of Aryan and Jewish blood). He is kind to them and lets them call him Uncle Doctor. He also tells them that if they come with him, he will find a way for them to spend time with their mother who is also a prisoner at the camp. Pearl and Stasha become part of Mengele’s Zoo with other twins, triplets, an albino girl, a family of dwarves. They try, with the naiveté of children to outwit their tormentor. Stasha becomes Pearl’s protector because she is the delicate twin, especially, there is a fierce desire to protect Pearl who is taken from her during the experiments and there is nothing to say she is dead or alive. With the liberation of Auschwitz, Stasha and her friend Feliks escape from a group of prisoners being marched away from camp and head to Warsaw where they plan to find and kill Mengele. All Stasha has left is vengeance.

Konar unites the inherent evil of the situation with a wonderful response that tells of the deep and abiding kinship of the sisters and the fierce determination, love and pride that keep their hope alive in the most desperate of times.

The twins witness brutality and depravity that is very difficult to read about and Konar realizes that she is writing a book that others will have great difficulty reading. However, she does not write with a soft touch. She does not cover up what went on in Auschwitz and only those who have no sense of morality will be able to get through the pages with dry eyes. Yet this is a story that is infused with the kind of hope and striving for a better future that changes how we see Auschwitz.

Konar gives us the essence of what it is to be a human being who is able to walk away from the existential questions that can drive one towards the edge but who can then turn and walk towards the brightness of life still filled with awe and love. This is a story about strength even though we red of horrors that are hard to describe. The world continues even though the horrors of the past will never be forgotten. Neither will I ever forget Pearl and Stasha.