Archive for the 'from the deep archives' Category

From the Deep Archives: August Moon Festival (1981)

August 30, 2018

Last weekend my husband and I decided on short notice to rent a car and drive up to Hudson to see a show with the very long title Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and Other Works by John Bernd. The show, produced by Lumberyard and performed at the beautiful Hudson Hall, debuted almost two years ago at Danspace in New York City, created by Ishmael Houston-Jones and Miguel Gutierrez as a tribute to Bernd and by extension to a generation of downtown artists lost to AIDS. A cast of very young performers recreated a series of vignettes from Bernd’s work, which incorporated words, dancing, drawings, singing. It was a beautiful show that recaptured the essence of downtown New York in the 1980s, with echoes of Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson, and the full panoply of postmodern dancer-choreographers running/jumping/standing still and performance artists yakking about whatever was on their minds. Along with original music by Nick Hallett, the piece burst with groovy music of the era by Prince, Lou Reed, New Order, and the S.O.S. Band, whose “Just Be Good to Me” opened the show, played in its entirety as the cast took their places onstage one by one and just stood there in their tighty-whities — sexy, brave, and sadly reminiscent of all the young bodies we lost to the plague.

Bernd died almost exactly thirty years ago, and the show in Hudson conjured my strongest memory of seeing Bernd performing in nearby Catskill at the August Moon Festival six years earlier, in August 1981. He and Tim Miller reprised Live Boys, a duet they had created and performed to great acclaim at P.S. 122. As I wrote in my review for the Soho News:

When Miller and Bernd first performed Live Boys at P. S. 122 last winter, it was essentially a celebration documenting their relationship (in words, slides, movement) with deadpan romanticism and explicit eroticism. But when they performed at August Moon, the relationship had broken up, which brought a riveting, almost unbearable edge to the performance. Tim cut straight to the bone by talking about how he and John were asked, before going to August Moon, whether they wanted “a room with one big bed or a room with two little beds”; a little bit later he announced, “This is our last performance.” (Apparently, the night before a playful boxing sequence had gotten out of hand, and some serious blows were landed.) Already the tension in the room was suffocating, and probably half the audience felt like saying, “Uh, I think I’ll go have a drink while you two guys work this out between yourselves.” But having allowed their lives to intrude so far into their art, Miller and Bernd impressively refrained from mawkish self-indulgence; their emotions, however private, fueled a devastating portrait of failed romance that anyone could relate to. And whereas originally the climax of the piece was a proud gesture (Tim spray-painting letters on their bare chests so that when they stood together their bodies read “faggots”), this performance ended with the two of them ripping and tearing their ceremonial pajama costumes to shreds. It was such a bummer that it was almost shocking to see Miller and Bernd the next day smiling and talking together at the same picnic table; but then they grabbed s hovel and went off into the woods to bury their shredded pajamas. Clearly, these men didn’t just tear up their lives into pieces to serve their art; they also knew how to use the ritual aspects of theater to heal their lives. And the two were unavoidably intertwined.

You can read the complete text of my review (“Art on the Rocks”) here.

 

From the Deep Archives: interview with John Glines (1976)

August 9, 2018

                             portrait by Elisa Rolle

When I was a wee lad still in drama school at Boston University, I was dazzled by seeing Harvey Fierstein in Robert Patrick’s play THE HAUNTED HOST and became obsessed with the realm of gay theater. Now you can see gay plays everywhere — on Broadway, on TV — but in the mid-’70s it was a pretty tiny if growing field. I started writing reviews and features for Boston’s Gay Community News, and I made a pilgrimage to NYC to interview two of the pioneers of gay theater, Doric Wilson and John Glines. John went on to produce the first commercial production of TORCH SONG TRILOGY, which moved to Broadway and won Tony Awards for all of them. Picking up his Tony, John made it a point to thank his male lover, the first time such a sentiment had been uttered on network TV. John died yesterday morning at age 84 in Thailand, where he’d been living for many years, in the presence of his husband, Chaowarat Chiewvej. Here’s to a lovely man and a courageous pioneer. I went back and posted my 1976 interview with him, which is pretty naive and starry-eyed but hey, those were the days, my friend, those were the days.

From the Deep Archives: Jon Hendricks live at Sweet Basil in 1980

November 23, 2017

I got to see Jon Hendricks, the jazz legend who died yesterday at age 96, perform live twice right after I moved to New York. The first time, I wrote about seeing him perform at an intimate club in the West Village and speaking to him afterwards.

“The Vocalese, Please”

Jon Hendricks, the quick-lipped hipster whose witty way with words launched Lambert, Hendricks & Ross in the late ‘50s, returned to New York after a long absence for a week’s stand at Sweet Basil. For the first half of his show, Hendricks traced his career from a Toledo childhood in church to his five-year stay in London, where they voted him number-one jazz singer in the world.

He sang his theme song, “Tell Me the Truth,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” some blues and a medley of “In Fondest Mem’ries Of” and “September Song”; he introduced his daughter Michele, who sang “I’ll Remember April,” and his “spiritual son,” Bobby McFerrin, who sang “Satin Doll,” both youngsters exhibiting vigorous and individual scat-singing styles. Then Hendricks sang Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado,” explaining that he was asked to write lyrics to the tune only after Johnny Mercer, Ned Washington and Hugh Martin declined the offer; it took all of 10 minutes, Hendricks said, and the proceeds put his kids through college. “Ah, the vicissitudes of creative life,” he sighed.

Singing solo, Hendricks was no more than pleasant, a polite crooner like, say, Tony Bennett. But when he brought on his wife, Judith, his daughter and McFerrin, standing in for his real son, Eddie, who was sick) to reconstruct LH&R, he unleashed his true genius. Hendricks didn’t invent the idea of setting words to big-band jazz arrangements and recorded instrumental solos – Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure get the credit for that – but he perfected it. Besides the sheer visceral excitement of four voices straining against and merging into one another, Hendricks’ devilish arrangements of jazz standards like “It’s Sand, man!” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” generate awe at (I know this sounds corny) the miracle of music. There are four people up there not just singing notes but making music from scratch, lowly human voices producing a symphony of sounds, wrestling from chaos precision – and having fun, too.

With Hendricks walking all over the melodies, Judith wailing the high trumpet parts, and Michele and Bobby hugging the bop foundations, this foursome proved superior in both craft and jazzmanship to LH&R (groundbreakers at the time who now sound dated) or even Manhattan Transfer (who’ve made excellent records of Hendricks’ vocalese versions of Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Brothers” and Weather Report’s “Birdland”).

Between sets Hendricks grandly received well-wishers in the hallway between the bathrooms and Sweet Basil’s kitchen. (“You’re getting’ preposterous around the circumference,” he told a tall, snaggle-toothed jazzman, who replied, “And ridiculous, too!”) It looks like his musical, Evolution of the Blues, which ran five years in San Francisco and another year in L.A., won’t make it to New York, but he’s working on another revue called Reminiscin’ in Tempo. When I wondered why he hadn’t made any records since the 1975 Tell Me the Truth on Arista, Hendricks unloaded a diatribe against Clive Davis (“He’s set the cause of jazz back 100 years. He wouldn’t swing if you hung him. I hate that motherfucker – and you can quote me on that!”) Oops. Well, someone ought to get Hendricks, Hendricks & Hendricks on record, anyway – they’re hot.

Soho News, March 26, 1980

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.

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