Archive for the 'R.I.P.' Category

RIP: Fernando Abreu 1927-2012

August 12, 2012

My favorite uncle, Fernando “Fred” Abreu, passed away July 25 at his home in Mesa, Arizona. He was my mother’s younger brother — she and he were always quite close, and there was always a lot of affection between our families. He’s the last of his generation to go, having survived all five of his siblings. He left behind his wife Claire and five of their six kids — Kevin, Karlene, Kathy, Karolyn, and Kim, aka “the K gang” (their sister Karen died in 2008).

Fred was a character, very involved with Boy Scouts and community service, and as he got older more and more politically opinionated. After years of no particular communication, he and I reconnected at a family gathering in 1999 and became frequent e-mail correspondents. He liked being able to share his liberal politics with me, because they were not so popular in Arizona or even within his family. When I took a trip to Portugal and decided to make a pilgrimage to Madeira, where his parents met and married, he was thrilled and helped me track down my grandfather’s last residence and his burial place. I think more than anything else, he admired my openness as a gay man and told me stories about his own sexual/romantic past that I don’t think he ever told anyone else in the family. I felt honored to know him and am sad that he’s gone.

RIP: Jack Fertig aka Sister Boom-Boom

August 8, 2012

I was sad to learn that Jack Fertig died Sunday August 5 of liver cancer at age 57. In recent years most engaged in his astrology practice and activism in support of queer Muslims, Jack is most famous as Sister Boom-Boom, one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence whose public manifestations at political rallies has always been fun, inspired, and inspiring. As Sister Boom-Boom, Jack ran for mayor of San Francisco, and he became a character in Execution of Justice, Emily Mann’s play about the trial of Dan White, who murdered Harvey Milk and George Moscone. (I published the play in my Grove Press anthology Out Front: Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Plays.)

I met Jack in mufti, so to speak, at a head-shaving party in San Francisco in 1992 when I was living in California temporarily. We spent a little time together, and I found him to be a fascinating, complex intellect with a warm dry humor. He had a very straight white-collar job by day, so he had to be able to pull off that form of drag. That meant that all his elaborate tattoos and piercings had to be covered up by work shirt and trousers. He had a gigantic tattoo depicting the astrological chart of the day he got sober — how’s that for commitment to recovery?

RIP: Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

June 6, 2012

Thinking about Ray Bradbury takes me back to my adolescence, when my reading was omnivorous and included lots of Bradbury’s books, which ranged from science-fiction classics (Fahrenheit 451) to sentimental fiction perfectly suited to dreamy teenagers like me (Dandelion Wine). Then at Rice University I got to act in a sweet little one-act play of his, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. I think I played a character named Villanazul.


R.I.P.: Whitney Houston

February 12, 2012

Like everyone else, I suppose, I’m not terribly surprised yet very sad today after the death of Whitney Houston, once a super-talented singer, gone way too young at 48.  I had the pleasure of seeing her in person three times, very early on. The first time was before she even had a record deal. I think it was Eliot Hubbard, one of the music business’s eagerest early adopters, who encouraged me to check her out when she sang with her mother at a tiny club right around the corner from my apartment in the West Village. I wrote a tiny review of the show for the Village Voice. When her first album came out, I reviewed it for Rolling Stone, and Stephen Holden and I saw her perform at Sweetwater’s, a now-defunct nightclub near Lincoln Center. Probably not even a year later, Stephen reviewed her Carnegie Hall debut, by which time her meteoric ascent had begun — what I remember most from that concert was that she tore up “I Am Changing” (from Dreamgirls), getting a standing ovation in the middle of the song. After that, I was content to keep my distance and enjoy that glorious voice on record — my favorite memory being dancing on a party boat in Hamburg and hearing several thousand German leathermen sing along to “I’m Every Woman.”  Those were the days, my friend….

R.I.P.: Liviu Ciulei

November 19, 2011

I only just yesterday learned by chance that the great Romanian-born theater director Liviu Ciulei died October 25 at the age of 88 at his home in Munich. I met him in 1984 when he was artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and brought his countryman Lucian Pintilie over to make his American debut staging the best production of Chekhov’s The Seagull I’ve ever seen. He also invited Peter Sellars to the Guthrie to mount Hang On To Me, a beautiful mash-up of Gorky’s Summerfolk with Gershwin songs. I had the pleasure of interview Liviu several times, including for an article that ran in the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times (Bruce Weber picked out all the best quotes for his obituary). He and his wife Helga were very smart, very sophisticated, very modest, and yet also not afraid to register sharp, witty criticism. Liviu was very much a product of the culture in which he created his career. On the one hand, he once told me with quiet outrage that under the Communist Ceauşescu regime in Romania, he was not allowed to stage Hamlet because it was forbidden to portray ghosts onstage. (He got to put on an excellent production at the Public Theater with Kevin Kline in the title role and the legendary Jeff Weiss as the Player King.) On the other hand, he insisted that story be off-the-record, lest it somehow get him in trouble. (Granted, this was before Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu were driven from power and summarily executed on Christmas Day, 1989.)


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