“FOR YOUR GODS”— A Very Erotic Short Film

for your gods poster

“For Your Gods”

A Very Erotic Short Film

Amos Lassen

VENFIELD 8 is somewhat famous for their parody adverts where the theme behind many ads for luxury brands is laid bare (literally) by the inclusion of man bits now has a new short film, “For Your Gods”. 

for your gods poster1

The artist says that the film is “a meditation of the fetishization of designer labels and illustrates the erotic currency in the extreme. Seen as a metaphor, consumers are instructed to respond to luxury in very specific and predetermined ways.’ However, many will see it as a meditation on a hot, furry, naked guy, writhing about on a table.

 

“Sensing Light” by Mark A. Jacobson— Three Doctors and AIDS

sensing light

Jacobson, Mark A. “Sensing Light”, Ulysses Press, 2016.

Three Doctors and AIDS

Amos Lassen

Mark A. Jacobson’s novel “Sensing Light” follows the lives of three doctors who are very different people and who have come together as they try to find out what is killing so many young men. It is 1979 in San Francisco when we meet Kevin Bartholomew, a gay medical resident from Boston and who has just moved to San Francisco as he searches to find acceptance as a gay man and future doctor. He meets Herb, the supervising physician who is also struggling with his emotions and Gwen, a divorced mother with a teen daughter, who too is struggling to find a sense of self and security as she finishes her medical training.

I can only imagine how hard it was to write this book by someone who lost so many. Still to this day, I think about the many friends that I lost to AIDS, young beautiful men who had so much to give to the world but did not have that chance to do so. Writer Mark Jacobson shares the complicated process of discovering the causes of an unknown epidemic, while showing the relationships between doctors who did that work. Jacobson takes us on a journey with the doctor’s ands we learn about their families, their personal lives and those that they treated. We are there when a doctor talks to a patient as he hopes that he can understand and discover what is wrong with that person. We get a sense of what it was like to be a doctor waiting for the results of a test. We feel their frustration of not knowing what kind of illness the doctors are working with.

Kevin who comes from Boston becomes the leading expert on this disease. His mother and father still live in Boston but Kevin’s father gives him no support, in fact, he doesn’t speak his son because of his sexuality. Kevin found love elsewhere, particularly with his partner Marco and he is being noticed and respected in the medical community. Kevin shows us that when there is no love at home, it is possible to find it elsewhere. I find it impossible not to love Kevin and share his happy moments. Losing his dad as a friend made him channel himself in other directions but mainly into his work and his love for Marco. (To a degree, I found myself indentifying with Kevin from the familial aspect and especially regarding his father. When I left the States to move to Israel, I never saw my father again and there are moments that I regret that but I have learned to channel myself in other directions. I was also lucky enough to miss the AIDS epidemic that ravaged this country. Israel had a few serious cases but nothing like what went on here).

We see that Kevin’s determination to be a good doctor pay off. Not only was he a good doctor but he also loved his patients and felt that it was his personal responsibility to focus on compassion to support patients to die. All three of the doctors are very real characters and for those of you who lived through our holocaust will certainly be taken back to that time and the stories that circulated about the doctors that went beyond the required to respect and honor their dying patients. I heard many stories via mail and American newspapers that were both heartbreaking and uplifting. It was a terrible time yet it brought us together but at a tremendous price. At a time when no one really knew what was happening, there were doctors who comforted their patients and in many cases that was the most that they could do. Back then; any advancement was major, especially for friends and families who watched their loved ones die.

I found it hard to read this with dry eyes. While the story is universal, everyone will find something very personal here. I still think about and wonder what it would be like if all those who died were alive today.

This is a book that must be read and it cries out to us to do so. We owe that to those who died and to the doctors who cared for them.

The number of men who had the AIDS disease became an epidemic, even a plague. Kevin’s watched his own lover die painfully and was helpless to do anything so he chose to do for others what he could not do for the man he loved. Kevin helped Herb, his colleague, work through his fear that his own son who was gay could get the AIDS virus. Together Kevin, Herb and Gwen wrote articles and applied for grant after grant that would allow them to investigate the causes and find new medicines against the disease that was taking our men from us.

“Sensing Light” is an inside look at the disease and the AIDS crisis in America. We, the readers, know what they were dealing with but they have no idea and that the moment of discovery is a highlight here. We get a look at how the doctors reacted to what was going on but we also read what it was like to be a gay man in American in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Today I went to the Boston Gay Pride parade and I thought to myself as I watched young gay men and women embrace their sexual identities without care that they do not worry about dying or about what others think of them. They also do not know that one of the reasons that they can be themselves is because so many died so that they could be free. We can never allow ourselves to forget that.

This book is a gorgeous tribute to those we lost and those who tried to keep them alive or at least make their deaths peaceful. I was pulled into the book immediately and I know that this is a book that I will read over and over again. I do not want to forget and I will not allow myself to do so. Bravo to Mark Jacobson for making that possible and for doing so in such a beautiful way.

“The Paper Mirror” by Dorien Grey— A Mystery

the paper mirror

Grey, Dorien. “The Paper Mirror”, (a Dick Hardesty Mystery, #10), Untreed Reads, 2016.

A Mystery

Amos Lassen

Let me start this review with saying that I miss Dorien Grey and that he left us way too soon. As a person he was a real mentsch and as a writer he contributed greatly to the LGBT canon. His creation of Dick Hardesty was a major feat and the books about him have entertained for years. This is the tenth and least book in his Dick Hardesty series.

When Dick, his partner Jonathan and their son, Joshua were enjoying a night out, they learned that Taylor Cates, the cataloger at a new library that was made up of homosexual writings collected by the late Charles Burrows, was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs in the building. Burrows was known for his taste in writing, as well as his eccentricity. The library foundation hires Hardesty to help in finding the truth of what happened. The investigation takes Hardesty to those who opposed the library and into the world of a long-dead and secretly gay writer whose family does not want the world to know that he was gay.

Like the other books in the series, this is quickly moving mystery and a look at Hardesty and his family. He was just getting used to being a family man— he and Jonathan had adopted, Joshua who is his partner’s orphaned nephew but he sees that this will have to wait. He had received an invitation to a highly publicized gala and this takes him to a new case that he says is the most intriguing case of his career. Hardesty, before Jonathan, was quite a man around town and he had never really cared about of black tie functions. Jonathan’s favorite author, Evan Knight, would be attending this event just added fuel and Jonathan was very excited about the chance to meet him. The Burrows Library had been literally willed into existence by the late Chester Burrows. It was said of Burrows that this library held the largest private collection of books on gay life and the party was being talked about as the social event of the season.

Just as Jonathan was being introduced to Knight, the party came to a halt when Dick is told Cate’s body had been discovered in the basement. Police believe that his death was the result of blunt force trauma that was caused by a fall down the stairs. However, library board members, ask Dick is to investigate the incident. To find out any more you will just have to read the book and as you do, think of Dorien who is now writing mysteries with the angels.

“Wild Animals I Have Known” by Kevin Bentley— Living in the Age of AIDS

wild animals I have known

Bentley, Kevin. “Wild Animals I Have Known”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2016.

Living in the Age of AIDS

Amos Lassen

In the 1970’s, San Francisco was the place to be and gay men from all over rushed to get there. It seemed that it was the place where gay people could be themselves and feel the discrimination that was felt all over this country back then. Kevin Brantley recorded his life there in a diary and he had much o write since AIDS was beginning to be felt all over America but especially in San Francisco where there were so many gay men.

Brantley arrived in the city in 1977 when he was just 21 and quickly fell into the sexual hedonism that was the lifestyle. Sex was everywhere and he took part as often as he could. He takes us through fire, earthquake, plague, psychotic boyfriends, “and other natural disasters with humor and libido intact”. He writes openly about sex but also looks at relationships and love. We unfortunately do not have many books about the tempestuous life style of San Francisco at this time because we lost so many men to AIDS. Brantley lived an open life and he shares it with us and does so in great detail. We go back in time with him and read powerful descriptions of a very active sexual life and of a place and a time that we will never see again. This is not only his coming-of-age story’ it is also his search for both Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now”. I remember so well how that period of time was about having sex, as often and with as many men possible. But we also had to pay rent and eat and we read about that as well. Bentley writes about how hard it was to make money.

He did not become involved in politics probably because that would have taken away from his time to have sex— after all that period of time has come to be known as the “golden age of promiscuity”. Unlike Bentley, I left the country and lived in Israel for many years hoping that I could be part of building a new country and by not being here, I missed the AIDS epidemic until I came back for a visit in 1989 and discovered that everyone I had known before I left was dead. With feelings of guilt, I returned to Israel and away from what was going on here in America to the gay community. It was a totally different world here than when I had lived here before and I was glad to get away from the heartbreak and the death of so many beautiful men.

Nonetheless, as I read this, I could not stop turning the pages hoping to find some ray of hope. I remembered the promiscuity that I had been part of in New Orleans and while on one hand I was glad to be away, on the hand I longed for what had been once. I became involved in the gay liberation movement in Israel and today I am proud that I had a small part in making the country more accepting and a good deal freer than it was. What Bentley says here hit me hard and the descriptions of the sexual activity here brought back so many memories. Yes it is smutty but so were many of us. But it also well written and a chronicle of an age. At least Bentley lived and was able to tell his story.

“Photographs of My Father” by Paul Spike— Father and Son and a Tale of Courage

photographs

Spike, Paul. “Photographs of My Father”, Cinco Puntos Press, 2016.

Father and Son and a Tale of Courage

Amos Lassen

Robert Spike organized American churches to support the passage of both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, to march in Selma and to organize in Mississippi. He was a very important white leader in the black civil rights struggle and helped then President, Lyndon Johnson pass legislation and write crucial civil rights speeches. When he was 42, he was working on saving a Mississippi education program, he was murdered in Columbus, Ohio and there was almost no effort going to find out who took his life. The Columbus police and the FBI hinted the unsolved murder was connected to Spike’s undisclosed gay life. This shows how gay people were regarded back then in the 60s. Paul Spike lived as other young men and he was a friend of many members of Students for Democratic Society while studying at did at Columbia University, he was active in the 1968 student rebellion and friends with many SDS radicals. His father’s murder ended his carefree lifestyle.

Paul Spike wrote this when he was just twenty-three years old and it his coming-of-age story as well as a look at his father Robert. It is as if Paul’s life paralleled his own consciousness. He has something to ay about the education system of this country. He is brutally honest in what he has to say and as far as I can tell, he hides nothing from the reader. He is certain that the reason that his father’s murder remained unsolved it due to rumors about his sexuality. His father was a rebel and a leader and for those of us who lived through the sixties, we are reminded of how life was back then—especially in the arena of civil rights. The story of the two Spikes is riveting reading and a book that will stay with you for a very long time.

“Jazz Moon” by Joe Okonkwo— Love Race and Jazz

jazz moon

Okonkwo, Joe. “Jazz Moon”, Kensington, 2016.

Love, Race and Jazz

Amos Lassen

It is 1925 and we are in a speakeasy in Harlem where the music and the air are hot and Ben Jones and his wife, Angeline are listening to jazz as they drink bootleg liquor. They are surrounded by “hepcats” and ladies dressed to the nines. Ben wants to be a poet and just sitting in the club is revelatory for him. Baby Back Johnston, an ambitious trumpet player smiles broadly and blasts jazz from his horn. Ben is drawn to the trumpeter and to the idea of going to Paris where Baby Back says everything is happening.

In Paris there is always plenty of jazz and champagne flow and blacks are welcomed as exotic celebrities (especially those from Harlem). For Ben, life is easy and he can drift when he wants solace after he engages in anonymous sex in the city’s decadent underground scene. He wanders from chic Parisian cafés to seedy opium dens and he finds new love, trials, and heartache. Echoes from the past urge him to decide to find true fulfillment and inspiration.

We follow Ben from 1925 to 1928 and read about his marriage and why he got married in the first place. We see him try to figure out how to deal with his sexuality or “this thing” as he calls it and see that if affects every part of his life. When he tries to do the right thing, things do not end well at. Ben explores different relationships and tries new things and we can only wonder if that is because his childhood that was so depressing and loveless affected what he does now.

His relationship with Johnston really got going when Baby Back showed him the world that he was a part of and that he didn’t have to hide what he really was. However, I felt throughout that there was something about Johnston that bothered me and I took a while before I could figure what that was. Both me made mistakes and they were not really good together even though it allowed Ben to discover and accept who he realty was.

The book had me questioning myself as I read about what was going on in 1925 and comparing it to how I thought the two men would have acted in 2016. Ben and his wife were just not happy together and it took Taylor to bring the urges and impulses out of Ben.

In Paris amid art, passion, and desire, Ben and Johnston find themselves. Ben knew he was attracted to men and, in fact, his first love was a man but it took Johnston to bring out his buried desires and dreams. Ben’s story is one in which he searches for love and happiness. However, Ben’s quest for love becomes compounded with ambition, jealousy, success and failure. He finds friends, lovers, and a home in Paris,  but still he has a hard time finding what he needs.

Paris is a powerful presence in Jazz Moon and Okonkwo describes it in dizzying detail as “a painter’s palette streaked with colors: brilliant, moody, audacious, tantalizing, inviting, alienating. Parts of the novel break the reader’s heart especially because he can sense what is coming and we really want Ben to be okay. Melodramatic at times but we still hope that Ben will be okay.

“Endgame” by Jeffrey Round— A Reunion

endgame

Round, Jeffrey. “Endgame”, Dundurn. 2016.

A Reunion

Amos Lassen

Harvey Keill is the former manager of the Ladykillers, a punk band and he has arranged a reunion for them on an island off of the coast of Seattle and when everyone gets together it feels like they had never been apart. The guests arrive one by one and they include lead singer Spike Anthrax, bassist Pete Doghouse, and guitarist Max Hardcore. This is the first time they are together since they broke up some fifteen years earlier and there was a lot of hype about the way and how they split and did not finish “Endgame”, an album that was to be the way that they saw punk rock. Also at the reunion is an entourage of groupies, girlfriends, one of America’s best rock critics, and a real estate agent who was invited to put the island up for sale. However, Harvey was missing.

Once the party begins, we learn a secret and just as the guests arrived one-by-one so do they leave. The band understood that the reason they were all getting together again was to finish the album that was not completed. At the first dinner on the island, the staff was told to play for everyone to see and it was about the young woman who had died there many years ago. Watching that tape implicated everyone present in the dead girl’s fate. In fact, those who are present played a part in the conspiracy to hide the facts abut what happened that night. Quite naturally this put everyone on edge and a sense of distrust and fear pervaded the atmosphere. Soon guests began to die, one at a time. As you might have imagined by now, this is author Jeffrey Round’s reimagining of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” yet even though this is the inspiration for “End Game” it is all Round’s.

Quite basically this is a story of justice and revenge. It seems that the island was chosen as the place to meet by a new and wealthy investor. What is more surprising is that others, aside from the band members, were invited to join the party. What we learn is that each of the invited guests had something to do with the death of the young woman and that she died from an overdose of ecstasy. The death was quite a scandal and back then, the members of the band had managed to find a way to avoid prosecution but that was back then. Now someone is intent upon finding justice and revenge and one-by-one, each of the eleven guests meet their deaths as each is listed in the hit song by the band, “The 12 Days of Shagging”.

As each death occurs, tension rises and those that are left become paranoid. They are the only people on the island so no one knows who is murdering and how. I must say here that I have never read a book with so many awful characters. No one can admit to his own guilt and each passes the blame to another rather than accepting responsibility. At the tine of the girl’s death, she was a nobody and the band was living well making music. It took her death to make her significant.

The novel takes us back in time not just for the characters in the story but for the readers as well. Round combines humor, fear, tension and strange characters and I found myself turning pages as quickly as possible. 

One reviewer I read thinks that author Round has mimicked Christie and I have to disagree with that. It seems to me that Round is paying homage to her and I totally respect and admire that in this book. I don’t see this as a way to compare the two writers and I certainly would not do that. Rather, this is a way of respecting one of the greatest mystery writers of all time and I see a big difference between imitating and honoring. Round has created his own sense of darkness and the violence is all his own.

 

 

 

“Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet” by Jeffrey Rosen— “The Jewish Jefferson”

Louis Brandeis

Rosen, Jeffrey. “Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet”,(Jewish Lives), Yale University Press, 2016.

“The Jewish Jefferson”

Amos Lassen

Writer Jeffrey Rosen tells us that Louis D. Brandeis was “the Jewish Jefferson,” because he was the greatest critic of what he called “the curse of bigness,” in business and government, since the author of the Declaration of Independence. This new short biography of Brandeis was published to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of his Supreme Court confirmation on June 1, 1916. Rosen argues that Brandeis was the most farseeing constitutional philosopher of the twentieth century. He wrote the most astute and famous on the right to privacy and he also wrote the most important Supreme Court opinions about free speech, freedom from government surveillance, and freedom of thought and opinion. Brandeis was the leader of the American Zionist movement and he was able to convince Woodrow Wilson and the British government to recognize a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. Rosen argues that Brandeis can teach us about economic regulation in an age of financial chaos, constitutional change in the age of the Internet, and Zionism at a time of changing Jewish identity.

This is a Brandeis who is relevant to today’s society especially on “issues of corporate power, the problems of big government, an economy at risk from huge financial institutions that are too big to fail, and the future of Israel as a democratic Jewish state and well as on other issues.” Brandeis was a wonderful jurist who had opinions that were ahead of his time and are still important today.

“Mentsh: On Being Jewish and Queer” edited by Angela Brown— Bringing Together Religion and Sexuality… Or Not

m1

Brown, Angela (editor). “Mentsh: On Being Jewish and Queer”, Alyson Books, 2004.

Bringing Together Religion and Sexuality… Or Not

Amos Lassen

I thought that I had already reviewed this especially since it speaks to me so well. But then it is difficult to remember what I have and what I have not reviewed with the amount of reading that I do. I saw it on my shelf last and decided that I needed to have another look and surprisingly what was true, in many cases, in 2005 is still true in 2016. We have all read and heard how difficult it is for some people to deal with their sexuality and their religion at the same time and we have all heard how some religions look (or don’t look) at homosexuality. (Something like those who deny the Holocaust ever happened).

So many gay people find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they try to find their way through contradictory cultural imperatives and queer Jews often find themselves in a soul-searching struggle to integrate their religious beliefs with their gayness. In this anthology, thirty contributors from around the world (including Israel, Serbia, and Australia) share their surprising, poignant, sometimes hilarious experiences in ways that “offer a staggering perspective on issues of identity, institutions and culture from the viewpoint of the queer outsider struggling to belong.”

Aaron Hamburger takes us to Prague and its dark synagogue to share how a closet lesbian leads Shabbat services. With Ina Turpin Fried we go to a wedding where the bride was once a man and the groom was once a woman. We read of Simon Sheppard as he tries to understand why he is attracted to Palestinian men and Leslea Newman writes about coming out to her grandmother (who is 99 years old).Other contributors include Warren J. Blumfield, Daniel M. Jaffe, Eric Pliner, Jay Michaelson, Sara Marcus, Jill Dolan, Steven Cooper, Faith Soloway, Sue Katz and David Rosen (just to name several).

Angela Brown has divided the book into five sections: “Growing Up and Coming Out”, “Family”, “Relationships, Marriage and Sex”, “Finding Our Place in the World” and “Stories from Our Lives”. There is also a glossary and a section on resources (but you had better check them instead of assuming that they are still around—12 years is a long time and our place in society has changed. My LGBT temple in Boston is listed and it still exists but it is limping along now that we have gained access to be able to go where we want.

“The Aura of Torah: A Kabbalistic-Hasidic Commentary to the Weekly Readings” by Rabbi Larry Tabick— Revealing the Aura

the aura of torah

Tabick, Rabbi Larry. “The Aura of Torah: A Kabbalistic-Hasidic Commentary to the Weekly Readings” , Jewish Publication Society, 2016.

Revealing the Aura

Amos Lassen

Because it has so many details, sometimes the Torah’s aura of holiness is hidden. Jewish mystics and spiritual teachers have attempted to reveal that aura through creative interpretation of the Torah text for hundreds of years. “The Aura of the Torah” looks at these attempts in an effort to bridge the gap between the Torah text and the modern Jewish quest for spirituality. Here we have a wide variety of interpretations of Torah passages, commentaries, and midrash that are all taken from the mystical side of Jewish tradition. Rabbi Larry Tabick has translated the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts and they are included. The authors that are looked at span many centuries and speak from many schools of thought: Kabbalists who wrote within the tradition of the Zohar and other gnostic works; Hasidic teachers, from the modern movement founded by the Ba’al Shem Tov in eighteenth-century Ukraine; and German religious men of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Tabick examines how the texts that these men wrote build on the underlying principles of the Torah—the supremacy of God, the interconnectedness of nature and morality, and the unique (but not exclusive) role of the Jewish people in the divine plan for all humanity. From this we go deep into spiritual truth that resides in the world of the divine and the soul.

Tabick gives us mystical teachings so that the general reader can gain insight, creativity, and spiritual depth. Kabbalah is traditionally thought to be the secret knowledge in the Torah given to Moses and then handed down orally through the ages until it was put into the Zohar by Shimon bar Yochai, a second century rabbi, while he was living in a cave to escape Roman persecution. Scholars, however, believe that Moses de León, a thirteenth century Spanish kabbalist, is the actual author of the Zohar, and that Isaac Luria, drew upon his writing to formulate what became modern Kabbalah. Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, famously known as the Ba’al Shem Tov, who founded Ḥasidism on reinterpretations of the Kabbalah of Luria, brought the two movements together.

“The Aura of Torah” is a compendium of exegeses that were written by Ḥasidic rabbis and teachers on the weekly Torah portions. The interpreters that we have here include such notables as the Ba’al Shem Tov, Dov Ber of Mezritch, and Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, as well as kabbalistic writers from pre–Ḥasidic times, such as Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria.

Tabick quotes three separate verses from each weekly Torah portion and then “each of these is followed by the verse’s scriptural context, a brief biography of the commentator, the commentator’s interpretation of the verse, notes on the expressions used in the interpretation, and Tabick’s observations and insights. Each interpretation is linked to two appendices, to the exegesis in its original language and to an alphabetic listing of authors with their respective biographies. How to use the book is skillfully explained in the book’s introduction. The book is meant to be and arranged as a companion to the weekly Torah reading. However, this is not a commentary to the weekly Torah portion, but rather an explanation of randomly selected comments from the weekly portion by various rabbis. It is neither systematic nor thematic and the selection of authors is somewhat haphazard and arbitrary.