Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Punk's Gay Icons, Heroes & Anti-Heroes
Tim James strikes a campy pose outside the Hotel Chelsea in NYC, a landmark of culture for the ages
The Chelsea Hotel has probably always been on my radar...from my earliest memories of literature that didn't involve Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter... it was the Dylan Thomases and Brendan Behans, titans of a British Isles literature that held nothing back... and the Existentialists of the modern era, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir... Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road there... it is an endless litany of literary figures and of musicians and artists as well, but none hit closer to home than homeboy, Lance Loud.
Young, handsome and buff, Lance was the inadvertent star of reality TV before such a thing existed. As the oldest child in the Loud family, whose lives were lived on PBS in the series An American Family, Lance's move away from the nest in cozy Santa Barbara, CA was documented for the nation to see. He landed in New York City at the Chelsea Hotel.
Famous for coming out as gay on national tv, Lance's residency at the Chelsea Hotel paired two icons of gay culture, past, present and future. The Chelsea was also a hang out and home to many of the Andy Warhol Factory's Beautiful People and Superstars. Lance Loud had arrived.
Lou Reed, 1976 - even though "Walk on the Wild Side" was released four years earlier, he was still riding high on its notoriety
Lou Reed's 1972 hit record Walk on the Wild Side narrates the transformation of Warhol Superstar Holly Woodlawn who did live at the Chelsea and also starred in the Warhol film, Chelsea Girls, which was shot at the hotel.
It was in the mid-70s that New York's westside neighborhood, Chelsea, started becoming the neighborhood of choice for gay men and lesbians. Greenwich Village had historically been the center and intersection of cutting edge, underground and gay culture, but was becoming too expensive... so people started moving uptown to the more affordable, gritty, working-class Chelsea district, which in a way, paralleled San Francisco's Castro.
The wild west aspect of Chelsea made it an adventure for better and worse for the burgeoning gay neighborhood, and in the 70s, gay-bashing grew to ugly, violent proportions. New York Times reporter Gerald Walker, who covered these crimes, wrote the novel Cruising based on his experiences of the turbulent times he covered. The novel was turned into a motion picture of the same name, starring Al Pacino as its protagonist, a cop going undercover in the underworld of the hardcore gay leather scene. William Friedkin (he directed The Exorcist and the brilliant French Connection) wrote the screenplay and directed the film, which was met with poor reviews, and was lauded with a few "worst of" awards. A 25+ years look back at the picture, in context with the scene and with what we know now may yield a different criticism... but I digress.
Friedkin brought music producer Jack Nitzsche on board and Nitzsche brought the gritty music of the late 70s into the movie, featuring tracks (many of which he produced) by The Germs, John Hiatt, The Cripples, Willy deVille and others.
Jack Nitzsche with John Hiatt, backstage at the Whisky A Go Go, around 1980
Hardcore music, in the form of the Germs brand of punk rock, for better or worse, made it on to the big screen courtesy of this controversial movie. The associations between violence, hardcore sex and hardcore music and homosexuality spawned a whole new way of depicting culture through music and art forms. (For starters... just look at all the leather on mainstream people! What about chainmail?)
David Bowie from the beginning of his public career has always been an icon and inspiration to outsiders. He helped to bring both Lou Reed and Iggy back into the public eye with the records he produced for them, and with his very public support and approval of their body of work. Bowie was as big an inspiration to Darby Crash as Iggy was. Back in 1977, when Iggy and Bowie appeared on television's Dinah Shore Show - an afternoon talk and variety show hosted by the lady, Darby, my roommate and I watched it in the TV lounge in the dorms at UCLA - Hedrick Hall.
Sometimes I believe that if punk rock is a car, David Bowie might just be one of its axles.
David Bowie played keyboards in Iggy's band on the tour that supported the Bowie-produced albums, The Idiot and Lust for Life, and Blondie was the band that opened on the shows I saw.
Blonde bombshells going back farther than Marilyn Monroe have always been gay icons, and Debbie Harry is no exception. Style, grace, panache and utter fabulousness are only the tip of the character trait iceberg that make these ladies beloved icons. From personal experience, I know that Debbie is a generous and charitable lady and I've seen her support the Humane Society as well as the various charities serving the boys that love her so.
Pleasant, Kid Congo and I were inseparable teens and 20-somethings at the dawn of punk rock together with our friend, the late Randy Kaye.
Randy and Pleasant in San Francsico, 1978
In retrospect, is it OK to joke that Lobotomy, the brainless magazine was run by 2 fags and 2 hags? Regardless of the political correct or incorrectness, nobody's sexuality mattered to us... like Andy Warhol, we believed people were beautiful (or not) or Superstars (or not, or potentially superstars).
Every "It Girl" is an iconic figure to the respectful gay man... while I continue to revel in the comment Lance Loud made to me in 1990 (you are your generation's Liz Taylor), I must also continually give props to Hollywood's original Punk Rock It Girls...
Belinda, Pleasant and Wyline - boys love them, girls wanna be them: It Girls
Every girl needs a hero too, and with her guitar chops and perseverance, Joan Jett is loved by many, but moreso, inspires girls (and boys alike) who love rock n roll to pick up a guitar and just do it. Her public support of women's basketball gave the sport a much-needed celebrity boost. Go team!
I am not sure that ex Sham 69, Wanderer, Lord of the New Church bass player, Dave Tregunna realizes that June is Gay Pride month. In 1981, when The Wanderers embarked on their only US tour, we found ourselves in San Francisco on the day of the big Gay Pride Parade.
The first of several culturally comedic events started when Dave T. (as opposed to the more aware Dave Parsons) asked the desk clerk at our hotel if he could get "change for fags," meaning he wanted quarters in exchange for his dollars so he could use the cigarette machine. Dave was drunk (and he's Irish - a fighter to the end) and the clerk was gay... lots was lost in translation.
After cigarettes were finally acquired, we walked to whatever our destination was, but the Parade's route was in the way. We took a short cut IN the parade...
Good thing Stiv was working out this Goth look at the time...
Mumps Kristian Hoffman and Lance Loud
There is not enough space anywhere to give props to the proud gay men and women who have done so much for pop culture... do you go back to Christopher Isherwood, or do you go back to the beginning of recorded time? One thing is for sure - Lance Loud, whose young, handsome and buff torso you see below - might be the greatest punk rock gay icon ever. RIP my friend!