“Toss of the Coin: Choosing My Gay Destiny” by Rob Tackes— A Journey Through Life

Tackes, Rob. “Toss of the Coin: Choosing My Gay Destiny”, Querelle Press, 2017.

A Journey Through Life

Amos Lassen

Rob Tackes takes us on his journey through life from the time and he was young and shy to becoming an “audacious” risk taker. He was raised in blue collar Chicago, had many adventures and ended up in San Francisco when in the late twentieth century it was one of the most dynamic cities for gay men. He meets Denis and they spend 60 years together and then on an urge and a prayer, he says yes to a proposal that sends him into the world of real estate. However, that did not last and then Rob is diagnosed with HIV causing him to examine himself and he way he was living. Almost immediately, he begins to work on his health and rebuilds his self-confidence.

Like any memoir, this is not just the story of a life but also a look at a period in time. It was in the 40s and 50s that his shy years took place and then he met Denis and they were off to San Francisco in 1970 at the beginning of the gay liberation revolution. Their lives were peppered with real estate, marijuana and sex and then HIV. Yet Rob kept on and he is a long-term survivor. He and Denis have moved to Palm Springs and they recently celebrated fifty-eight years together. Today his life is slow but it has been very full.

 

“Not So Good a Gay Man: A Memoir” by Frank M. Robinson— An Activist’s Memoir

Robinson, Frank M. “Not So Good a Gay Man: A Memoir”, Tor Books, 2017.

An Activist’s Memoir

Amos Lassen

Frank M. Robinson (1926-2014) was an author, a screenwriter and an activist. His many life accomplishments include working in magazine publishing, including a stint for “Playboy”, and writing science fiction such as “The Power”, “The Dark Beyond the Stars”, and thrillers such as “The Glass Inferno”. He was passionate about politics and he fought for gay rights, and he wrote speeches for his good friend Harvey Milk in San Francisco.

This is a deeply personal autobiography and is addressed to a friend in the gay community. In it, he explains the life of one gay man over eight decades in America. Robinson’s prose is witty, charming, and poignant and it takes us into Robinson’s work not just as a journalist and writer, but as a gay man who lived navigating “the often perilous social landscape of 20th century life in the United States”. It is Robinson’s sincerity and honesty that is compelling here as are the vivid details of his life as he struggles to accept himself as a gay man.

 

“Desire: A Memoir” by Jonathan Dollimore— The Meaning of Freedom

Dollimore, Jonathan. “Desire: A Memoir”, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

The Meaning of Freedom

Amos Lassen

Jonathan Dollimore has been one of contemporary culture’s most influential critics of politics, literature, and sexuality during the last thirty years. In “Desire: A Memoir”, he explores the concept of freedom for gay men through his autobiography, meditation and philosophical reflection.

Fifty years after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalized homosexual acts, he examines the gay sub-cultures of cities like New York, Brighton and Sydney and what the new freedoms have meant for him and others in decades that followed. He writes honestly and movingly about his teenage attraction to risk and danger; about accidents and escapes; about curiosity as a way to deal with boredom; about suicidal depression and ecstasy; and running beneath all of this is the life of desire haunted and torn by loss.

Dollimore is, quite simply, a working class man who became one of our most thoughtful intellectuals who now looks at himself and shares what he sees with us. Subtly, he writes of his compulsive experience of gay culture with does so raw candor and brutal honesty. He is a man of with yet he is tender and funny as he relates the life of desire that he has led.

Dollimore’s story is touching, haunting and heartbreaking at times. His life story is also the story of a time and “of mortal life and desire itself”. It is his self-awareness that we see in every word he uses.

 

 

“Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure” by Eli Clare— Memoir, History and Critical Analysis

Clare, Eli. “Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure”, Duke University Press, 2017.

Memoir, History and Critical Analysis

 Amos Lassen

Writer Eli Clare uses memoir, history, and critical analysis to explore cure—the deeply held belief that body-minds considered broken need to be fixed in “Brilliant Imperfection”. The word “cure” has many meanings and purposes. Cures save and manipulate lives and prioritizes some lives over others. “It provides comfort, makes profits, justifies violence, and promises resolution to body-mind loss”. Clare wrestles with some of the contradictions listed above and he feels that neither an anti-cure politics nor a pro-cure worldview can “account for the messy, complex relationships we have with our body-minds”. Clare shares stories that run the gamut from disability stereotypes to weight loss surgery, gender transition to skin lightening creams. In each case he looks at race, disability, sexuality, class, and gender together and he insists on “the nonnegotiable value of body-mind difference”. He also adds environmental politics, thinking about ecosystem loss and restoration as a way to go more deeply into cure. We come to see as “an ideology that is grounded in the twin notions of normal and natural, slippery and powerful, necessary and damaging all at the same time”.

What we have here challenges our beliefs about the nature of cure and we see that it sits in the ideologies of domination. We are also challenged by the question of cure and it’s ambiguities and to the broader questions of civic and environmental justice. He shocks us with what he has to say and shies away from nothing. He tells us that we must take on what we have in order to gain power for all.

he says that will shock you and are against everything society teaches us. Clare covers politics, history, ethics, ableism, gender identity, and more. He doesn’t shy away from criticizing systems that manipulate the disabled, and he doesn’t shy away from messy, contradictory intersections that cannot be ignored. He teaches us that, somehow, we have to embrace that mess before we can truly respect and empower individuals.

Clare, himself, is white, disabled, and “genderqueer” and is therefore in a position to say what he feels and he does so brilliantly.

 

“Homo GoGo Man: A Fairytale About a Boy Who Grew Up in Discoland” by Christopher Duquette— A Sexually Suppressed Boy

Duquette, Christopher. “Homo GoGo Man: A Fairytale About a Boy Who Grew Up in Discoland”, DonnaInk Publications, 2014.

A Sexually Suppressed Boy

Amos Lassen

Written and told in the first person, this is a fictional story about a sexually suppressed boy who learns to dance to express himself. He dances for a living and he dances to love life. His story begins in the disco era of the 70’s when the protagonist is introduced to the fast world of go-go dancing, hustling, drugs and underground clubs after his first man-on-man encounter when he explored Times Square after he arrived in New York for college. His story takes on his odyssey to live the big life in New York City as he trips through clubs, more drugs, and a series of boyfriends for two decades until in his forties, he bottoms out in his forties from too much of it.

We go back to the Halcyon days of New York’s dance club culture and the rise and fall of one of its devotees. We read about the difficulties and wounds of growing up as a gay man in the 1970’s and 80’s and the addiction that can sometimes become dangerous.

We are with our boy as he discovers NYC, his love of dance & disco, drowning in partying excesses and finding his way back out. Even though this is a quick read, author Christopher Duquette wonderfully explains the disco era and this journey and discovery can help someone who is just coming out.

We are taken back to a drug-fueled, dance-driven era and into his painful world.

 

“A View from the Podium: A True Story” by Mikel Gerle— Looking for Discipline

Gerle, Mikel. “A View From the Podium: A True Story’, CreateSpace, 2017.

Looking for Discipline

Amos Lassen

Sometimes a short read gives you the push you need to start moving around and that is exactly what “A View from the Podium” did for me. I read it quickly yet I managed to savor every word and thought to myself that this could be a wonderful full-length novel.

Mike has longed for discipline and this led him across the contest stage where he accidentally becomes Mr. Los Angeles Leather. In his quest a hyper-masculine erotic brotherhood has him soaking up books on fetish and advice from an endless parade of self-appointed experts. Now, as he heads off to the biggest contest of them all, the Chicago, International Mister Leather competition. He wonders if he’s got what it takes and if the “community” has what he really wants. More than that I will not say but if you are interested in this type of story, this is a book for you.

“Nude Taco: How I became a Gay Gringo” by Cal Avocado— Facing Old Age and Looking Back

Avocado, Cal. “Nude Taco: How I became a Gay Gringo”, Independently Published, 2017.

Facing Old Age and Looking Back

Amos Lassen

A Gay gringo faces old age and looks back on history through his romances. He arrived in Mexico bursting with dreams for love after 25 years in San Francisco and New York as the AIDS epidemic began and burned through and devastated the gay community. However, fulfilling his dream did not happen as he had hoped. His conflict was that he did not want boundaries for love and sex in a world of homophobia, disease, poverty and the nature of men— a world that was full of obstacles. He met Paco and put his desires on him. Each event when they were together brought possibilities and problems and he began to lose hope when things did not work out. This is how he sees himself and he shares how HIV crisis shaped his life more than any other event. It is a true story that will have you laughing and weeping at the same time.

“Our Time” by Chuck Foester— San Francisco, the Castro, 1971

Forester, Chuck. “Our Time”, Querelle Press, 2017.

San Francisco, the Castro, 1971

Amos Lassen

Paul is a young gay man from the Midwest and in 1971, he left home to find a “city of men”. Arriving in the Castro, he is sexually and totally free for the first time and there is no shame to be felt,–free not only to have sex, but to enjoy and talk about sex and not be ashamed. He begins a quest to build a public collection of gay and lesbian literature so that our history will not be lost and our community will be able to see that gay people have been around forever and have made important contributions to the world. For the first time in history, sexuality has become an integral and intrinsic part of a cultural revolution as Paul and those of his generation demand not only respect as gay men and woman but also respect for their sexuality. Since I was out of the country during this period, Chuck Forester has filled in many gaps of my knowledge about what went on here in the 70s. He gives us “a colorful, outspoken, and funny… window into the early years of the post-Stonewall past’.

Forester gives us San Francisco with “the grit, the excess and the adventure, but also the magic and wonder that made the city a once upon a time”. It really is a very inspired piece of writing, so honest, so real.” While this is Paul’s story, it is also the story of a movement and we see it through San Francisco and Paul’s eyes. It is well written and we sense the author passion and love. This is a book that be read and reared and it always feels new.

 

“Scores: How I Opened the Hottest Strip Club in New York City, Was Extorted out of Millions by the Gambino Family, and Became One of the Most Successful Mafia Informants in FBI History” by Michael Blutrich— New York, the 1990s

Blutrich, Michael D. “Scores: How I Opened the Hottest Strip Club in New York City, Was Extorted out of Millions by the Gambino Family, and Became One of the Most Successful Mafia Informants in FBI History”, BenBella, 2017.

New York, the 1990s

Amos Lassen

Michael Blutrich is a gay man who created New York’s most notorious den of heterosexuality. He is also an a lawyer who became one of the most successful undercover mob informants in history. His story is fascinating and takes us inside New York of the 1990s, mafia sit-downs, and the witness protection program.

Michael Blutrich was a resourceful lawyer at one of the city’s most respected firms who fell into the skin trade almost by accident, but it was his legal savvy that made Scores the first club in Manhattan to feature lap dances and enabled him to neatly sidestep a law requiring dancers to wear pasties by covering their nipples with latex paint instead. Soon Scores became a home away from home for everyone from sports superstars and Oscar-winning actors to pop singers and politicians.

The club was located in John Gotti’s territory, and the mafia wanted a piece of the action. We have seen that The Gambino family doesn’t take no for an answer but neither does the FBI. In his memoir, Blutrich shares in detail how his beloved club became a hub for the mafia, and how he found himself caught up in an FBI investigation and struggling to juggle roles of business owner and undercover spy.

As he lost control of his life, Blutrich faced the loss of almost everything dear to him aside from his sense of humor. In “Scores”, Blutrich tells all—from triumph to betrayal in his own very funny and self-deprecating voice.

Blutrich gives us a compelling true crime book that takes readers on a wild ride. This book has something for everyone— mobsters, strippers, extortion, G-men, and an unlikely FBI informant. We get a look into the secret world of FBI undercover cooperation. As unbelievable as it all may seem, this is a true story. Blutrich saw all kinds of people at his strip club but then he learned that he had business partners that he was not aware of— John Gotti and his family of crime. It became very real when two of his employees were whacked leading him to become an undercover agent for the FBI and he wore a wire against Gotham’s biggest gangsters. He has been

credited with almost 40 convictions of mafia defendants and then he \ was unexpectedly sentenced, over government opposition, to more than 13 years of imprisonment in the Federal Witness Security Program. Today he lives and works under a new identity in a secret location.

After graduating from the Georgetown University Law Center law, Blutrich had a distinguished legal career as a Park Avenue attorney and even formed a partnership with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. As an entrepreneur, he was the original owner of Scores as well as several other popular nightclubs. He owned an HBO boxing promotion enterprise, and for seven years hosted Psychic Eye, an acclaimed radio talk show on both WOR-AM and WEVD-AM in New York City. Read his story and laugh and cringe at the same time.

American Epic: The First Time America Heard Itself” By Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty— The Pioneers and Artists of American Root Music

MacMahon, Bernard and Allison McGourty. “’”, Simon and Schuster, 2017.

The Pioneers and Artists of American Root Music

Amos Lassen

“American Epic” is the companion book to the groundbreaking PBS and BBC documentary series that celebrates the pioneers and artists of American roots music—blues, gospel, folk, Cajun, Appalachian, Hawaiian, Native American and without which there would be no jazz, rock, country R&B, or hip hop today.

Jack White, T. Bone Burnett, and Robert Redford have executive produced this special historical music project that explores the pivotal recording journeys of the early twentieth century, which for the first time made American music available to the world. It was also the first time America truly heard herself.

In the 1920s and 1930s, as radio was taking over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities and search for new styles and markets. They discovered a wealth of unexpected talent—farmers, laborers, and ethnic minorities playing styles that blended strands of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These recordings form the base for modern music as we know it but during the Depression many record companies went out of business and more than ninety percent of the fragile 78 rpm were destroyed. Because of the continuing efforts of cultural detectives and record devotees, the stories of America’s earliest musicians can now finally be told.

Directors Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, , spent years traveling around the US in search of recollections of those musical pioneers. Here is their fascinating account of how and what they found and we have new stories, never-before-seen photographs, and unearthed artwork. We also see contributions from many of the musicians who participated including Taj Mahal, Nas, Willie Nelson, and Steve Martin, plus a behind-the-scenes look at the incredible journey across America.

“American Epic” is an extraordinary testament to our country’s musical roots, the transformation of our culture, and the artists who gave us modern popular music.