Archive for the 'from the deep archives' Category

From the deep archives: Harvey Fierstein and TORCH SONG TRILOGY

October 12, 2017


It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since the first glimmer of Harvey Fierstein’s epochal gay play Torch Song Trilogy emerged. As I’m gearing up to see the revival at the Second Stage, directed by Moises Kaufman and now titled Torch Song, I’ve been going through my Fierstein file folder, reviewing the history of my relationship with the gravel-voiced legend. I met Harvey in 1975 when I was in college at Boston University and he was starring in a local production of Robert Patrick’s The Haunted Host. We became friends, or friendly in the way that young journalists and the young artists they cover favorably can be.

Throughout the years of writing the plays that eventually became Torch Song Trilogy, Harvey kept in touch with me, sending me scripts and gossipy letters and postcards. I interviewed him several times over the years, but the first time was in February 1978, for an article published in The Advocate, when he was performing The International Stud (the first play of the trilogy) at La Mama. The picture above was taken by Allen Tannenbaum, staff photographer for the Soho Weekly News, during the 1978 Off-Broadway run of Stud at the Players Theater on MacDougal Street.

As a treat from the archives, I’m posting here the typewritten transcript of that interview. Check it out and let me know what you think.

R.I.P./From the deep archives: Don Williams

September 14, 2017

I grew up listening to country music because that’s all my parents played around the house. (My father lovingly called it “hillbilly music.” I won’t mention his all-purpose epithet for pop music.) So when I started writing record reviews as a rock critic, I specialized in writing about country music because most of my peers didn’t know or didn’t care much about the field. It amused me to get a reputation as a young journalist who wrote about gay literature, avant-garde theater, AND country music. One of my first pieces for the Village Voice when I moved to New York was a review of the latest album by Don Williams, a wonderful country singer who died last week at the age of 78.

‘Tis a gift to be simple, and Don Williams is c&w Christmas. Dubbed “the gentle giant” by his Nashville constituency and revered by rock stars like Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend, he sings spare, laconic songs of heart and home with the imperturbable modesty of a man who never raises his voice. Straight in every sense of the world – morally upright, poker-faced, drug-free, unimpeachably heterosexual – Williams projects a staunch (though unpushy) Puritanism, both in his musical austerity and in his conventional domestic romanticism. His courtliness places him in the tradition of polite country crooners such as Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves; among today’s candidates, Jesse Winchester falls into that category, unlike Kenny Rogers, whose penchant for lurid, Peckinpah-ish soap operas belies his mannerly pose. And though Williams began his career as part of the pop-folk duo, The Pozo Seco Singers (best known for “Time”), his fiddle-and-pedal-steel-reinforced music places him in the country tradition rather than in pop. Actually, he’s almost as much a folkie as a country singer; he favors a stripped-down, acoustic sound that carefully distinguishes him from both Billy Sherrill’s hypercommercial c&w machine and the rock-oriented “outlaw” pack.

I haven’t listened to his music in many years but I liked what I heard. I just added my Voice piece to my writing archive. Check it out here and let me know what you think.

From the deep archives: William Burroughs, Laurie Anderson, and John Giorno

August 31, 2017

I love John Giorno, but not nearly as much as his husband Ugo Rondinone does. On the occasion of Giorno’s 80th birthday, Rondinone — a Swiss-born artist known for his multi-media installations — created I ♥︎ John Giorno, an ambitious nine-chapter citywide retrospective of his career as a poet, visual artist, and activist. The Swiss Institute showed Sleep, the famous five-hour Andy Warhol film of Giorno sleeping. (Warhol was only one of Giorno’s many famous-artist lovers, who also included Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.) White Columns mounted a tribute to Giorno Poetry Systems, the entity that created Dial-a-Poem in 1968 and went on to release a series of fantastic eclectic record albums that were mostly anthologies of tracks by cutting-edge musicians and spoken-word artists, with great titles (Smack My Crack, A Diamond Hidden in the Mouth of a Corpse, Like a Girl I Want You to Keep Coming). Most of these shows and related events took place between late June and the middle of August. But the centerpiece of the exhibition is a display of the Giorno archives at Sky Art (555 11th Avenue), which will be open until Thanksgiving. Admission is free. You owe it to yourself to go check it out and watch the multi-channel video of Giorno performing his long brilliant poem “THANX 4 NOTHING.” Also pick up a free copy of the special edition of the monthly Brooklyn Rail devoted to the exhibition with great reminiscences by a multitude of artists and writers.

I first became aware of Giorno from hearing about his book Cancer in My Left Ball from my ex, Stephen Holden, who’d been an intimate associate of the downtown gay poets Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara. I saw Giorno perform a few times — his dazzling, incantatory multi-tracking style brought performance art and rock ‘n’ roll energy to the tame format of poetry recital. His AIDS activism touched me deeply.

And he’s been an extremely articulate spokesman for Tibetan Buddhism. Two long interviews with Winston Leyland, published in Gay Sunshine Interviews Volume One and Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists, made a big impression on me, especially the way he championed the integration of desire and mindfulness with zero sex shame, referring to “the great accomplishments of our Western sexuality: great bliss and clarity, fist fucking on LSD and crystal meth in the summer Olympics, going for the gold with full ignition, open and vast as the sky.”

I met Giorno in 1981, as a young journalist working for the Soho News, when I had the opportunity to interview him, William Burroughs, and Laurie Anderson, on the occasion of the 2-LP album they created called You’re The Guy I Want to Share My Money With. I spent a couple of hours with them at Giorno’s famous loft at 222 Bowery. I’ve done hundreds of interviews over the years, and this interview still stands out as the worst ever — it was awkward, strained, scattered. Partly the liability of trying to interview three disparate characters at the same time, but also Burroughs was very old, quite deaf, quite self-centered, cranky and impatient. Giorno was very kind and sweet. Laurie consoled me afterwards about how tough Burroughs was to be around sometimes. Now I look back at the transcript and it has a kind of hilarious quality — inane chitchat like something out of an absurdist play by Ionesco. For the record, I decided to post on my writing archive the complete unedited typewritten (pre-digital) transcript of the interview,  with all the cross-outs and typos. Check it out here and let me know what you think.

Renowned downtown photographer Marcia Resnick photographed the trio just before I interviewed them.

From the deep archives: Kate Valk and BRACE UP!

June 18, 2017

I have no idea what to expect from A PINK CHAIR (IN PLACE OF A FAKE ANTIQUE),  the new piece that the Wooster Group is developing in honor of Polish theatermaker Tadeusz Kantor, but I’m eagerly anticipating getting a peek at it when it has its world premiere at Bard College’s SummerScape festival next month. Meanwhile, I find myself rooting around in my various writings about the Wooster Group over the years, much of which I’ve already posted in my online archive. But then there’s this brief interview with Kate Valk that I did in 1991 when I was writing a column for the Village Voice called Playing Around. The Wooster Group was in the midst of developing Brace Up!, its layered adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Brace Up! was a star turn for Kate Valk, who served as master of ceremonies, androgynously attired in a chopped-off black “Japanese” wig and a man’s suit (Dafoe’s costume from Route 1&9, actually).

Her role corresponds to that of the maid in Chekhov’s play, she said when I interviewed her at the Garage one afternoon during wartime, which in turn refers to her own history with the Wooster Group. “I started off doing costumes, then props, then stage managing. Now that’s my role onstage.” But her performance is also based on two Japanese forms of presentational acting: the clowns in kyogen (the comic interludes in Noh theater) and the benshi (performers who narrated silent films and sometimes became more popular than the films’ stars). Japan became a fixation after Valk and director Elizabeth LeCompte stopped in Tokyo on their way back from a Wooster Group tour of Australia; the group spent a year studying Japanese movies (anything starring Toshiro Mifune) and tapes of Noh and kyogen. They used that research to create a mask through which to perform Three Sisters.

Going back and re-reading the column now, I’m struck by two things: I refer to the interview taking place “during wartime.” This was during the presidency of Bush Senior and the short-lived skirmish we now refer to as the Gulf War, a big deal at the time that now feels like a faint footnote compared to everything that has happened since then. Later in the column, talking about theater auteur Richard Foreman, I report that he is planning to collaborate with William Finn (of Falsettos fame) on a musical called Eating Yourself Alive. The musical never happened, perhaps needless to say, and I had forgotten all about its fleeting existence until this very minute.

You can read the whole column online here.

From the deep archives: Midnight Oil

June 3, 2017

Robert Gallagher just pointed out a record review I didn’t realize existed on Rolling Stone‘s website — my 1985 review of the Australian band Midnight Oil. I posted it in my online archive, but it’s short so I’ll just run the whole thing here:


Midnight Oil is a politically conscious Australian band whose music combines the postpunk abrasiveness of the Clash and Gang of Four with the Kinks’ music-hall variety and the pure pop of groups like Cheap Trick. Together with the double-barrel guitars of James Moginie and Martin Rotsey and the stunning presence of bald, seven-foot-tall lead singer Peter Garrett, it’s a heady brew. The references to local politics and history that stud the group’s songs and account in large part for its huge appeal down under may seem exotic or puzzling to Americans who don’t know that Kosciusko is the name of the tallest mountain in Australia or who haven’t kept up with the controversial use of shipyards in New Zealand as U.S. missile bases. But the general sense of antimilitarism, support for political prisoners and other forms of humanitarianism comes through even when the specific references are lost. “Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers” broods about the bloodthirst behind boxing matches, and “Who Can Stand in the Way” sarcastically defines the march of progress in a refrain that applies to many other Western countries: “Who can stand in the way when there’s a dollar to be made?”

Well produced by Nick Launay and the band, the album ranges from the exciting hip-hop tape tricks of “When the Generals Talk” to the chiming serenity of “Who Can Stand in the Way,” from songs like “Best of Both Worlds” that practically sound like heavy-metal anthems to odd little ditties (“Bakerman” and “Bells and Horns in the Back of Beyond”). Some of the slower songs drag on too long, and Peter Garrett’s voice, with its broad accent and exaggerated enunciation, isn’t quite as striking as his appearance. But it’s terrific to hear a good band that addresses itself exclusively to public concerns. Red Sails in the Sunset, as John Lydon would say, is not a love song.

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