Archive for category gay memoir and biography

“Eighty-sixed”–a moving yet funny book

 

Feinberg, David R. “Eighty-sixed”. Grove Press, 2002.

A Moving Yet Funny Book

Amos Lassen

“Eighty-sixed” by David Feinberg takes a look at the changes in gay lifestyle which were brought about because of the AIDS epidemic. It takes place between 1980 and 1986 at the height of the catastrophe and reads like a daily log of what went on. Feinberg looks at pre-AIDS 1980 and then post-AIDS 1986 and shows us what happened to our lives. Our main character, B.J. Rosenthal has one concern—finding the right boyfriend and he looks by going from one man to another until 1986 when he realizes that his friends are dying and that there is great anxiety over AIDS. Unlike other novels of the “plague” this one has a great deal of humor which Feinberg mixes with pathos and what comes across is a very honest novel with references to pop-culture.

Rosenthal is a wonderful character who suffers from Jewish guilt and tries very hard to avoid both haircuts and bad sex. When he realizes that his world has changed and that his friends and lovers are getting sick and dying, he begins to panic. This is a painful story of realization at a terrible time and is entertaining and frightening at the same time. It is frank and has a sarcastic wit and little sentimentality or self-pity.

B.J. tells us of his tricks, his visits to bath houses and his partying in discos and as he engaged in sexual liaisons, I found myself worrying about him and when he describes his world in 1986, it is hard to hold back the tears. It is a moving portrait of those early, terror-filled days of AIDS. AIDS invaded the lives of all of us, gay and straight, and B.J. with his sarcastic and caustic wit manages to keep his sanity as people die all around him but he feels that life will go on. With each laugh there is a spark of something inside all of us that we manage to get in touch with—a kind of joy that is merged with pain—remembering the good times about those we loved and lost to the plague. Even if you have not lost someone to the disease, you feel the pain for the characters in this book. In effect, in reading “Eighty-sixed”, the reader confronts his own experience with HIV if whatever way it affected him.

Feinberg gives us a capsular look at a time that was and we hope will never be again. He is master at writing down the fear and the angst of the period. He gets the stereotypes down pat and he paints a portrait of gay life which is not always flattering but honest. He names places that no longer exist and writes about men that are gone. It is a book we should all read and remember.

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“Stars in My Eyes”– Capturing Celebrities

Bachardy, Don. “Stars in My Eyes”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.

Capturing Celebrities

Amos Lassen

 

Don Bachardy is famous in his own right and deservedly so. He was lover to the late Christopher Isherwood but his artwork also hangs in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and it the London National Portrait Gallery. His new book is a compilation of 33 famous personalities and the drawings he did of them along with his own personal musings. His comments are laced with wit and candid and full of detail. We learn of his creative process but he excels when he tells us of the banter between artist and subject. The entries are from the 70’s and 80’s and the book combines art with anecdote.

For me the book is a guilty pleasure much like a banana split after an eleven course meal. I found reading the book was much like having a conversation with someone who knew “everyone” quite intimately. Aside from that, the art is spectacular. The book is both revealing and entertaining. His observations are keen and sharp like a dagger. Bachardy is as good a writer as an artist Some of the personalities we meet are Dame Maggie Smith, Bette Davis, Robert Mapplethorpe, Iris Murdoch, Aaron Copeland and Jerry Brown to name a few. Ginger Rogers has never been so beautiful and I wanted Ruby Keeler to break into dance. Jack Nicholson is, well, Jack Nicholson and Charlotte Rampling stole my heart once again.

The book is a treasure and not only a great read but a wonderful conversation piece.

 

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“Confessions of a Mormon Boy: Behind the Scenes of the Off-Broadway Hit”– painful and important

Fales, Steven, “Confessions of a Mormon Boy”. Alyson, 2006

Painful and Important

Amos Lassen

I must admit that I know very little about the Church of the Latter Day saints and the Mormon religion. What I do know has been gleaned from movies like “Latter Days” and drama like “Angels in America” so when I received this book from Alyson Books, I opened it with the hope of learning something and learn I did. “Confessions of A Mormon Boy” is a true look at the way Mormons treat gays, especially their own. Based upon Steven Fales’ one man show, it gives insight of what gay Mormons experience and the intolerance they are dealt.

This book gives you a chance to experience what Fales fell as he fell from grace, experienced excommunication from his church and succumbed to a life of drugs and random sex. He created quite a to-do with his one show when he debuted it in Salt Lake City, the headquarter city of the church that had excommunicated him only a year previously because he is gay. In the show he nonjudgementally he told of events that led up to his censure and eviction form the church. He tells of leaving his wife and two childe and tried to become an actor in New York but instead became a male escort in order to make ends meet. He began to take drugs to ward ff the depression he felt from the road that his life has taken.

As years passed the show gradually changed with them and in “Confessions of a Mormon Boy” we have two scripts-the Utah version, the more Mormon oriented and the newer one that he is currently performing off-Broadway. We also get photographs and a copy of the excommunication from his church as well as Fales’ personal observations on how the play his helped him heal.

Fales shows us the inaccuracies in the film “Latter Days” and surprisingly, even though his church would not accept him, he found friendship and empathy among some of its members and, in fact, some of the leaders of the church backed his play finically He gives hope to other gay Mormons by including resources they can use to deal with their homosexuality.

This is an extremely personal book and Fales s critical of himself and his religion I found this book to be both easy and hard to read. It is easy because it is short and entertaining and when I sat down to read it I did not stop until I was finished. It is hard because there is a lot of pain in this book

As Fales relates his fall from grace, my heart went out to both him and the Church of Latter Day Saints. I felt his pain and I identified with it. I did not feel anything but remorse for his church that was quick to rid itself of a human life. I do not know if I can call this book an enjoyable read but I can certainly say it is an important and educating read. The transformation of Fales from a husband and father to a drug using prostitute ht really hard and I wonder why there is no compromise. However with the Mormons we are not allowed to argue doctrine. It is hard to believe that we are discounted so easily.

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“Confessions of a Male Nurse”– so you want to be a nurse?

 

Ferri, Richard S. “Confessions of a Male Nurse”, The Haworth Press, 2006.

So You Want to Be a Nurse?

Amos Lassen

We hear so much of what happens in the medical profession but you have not heard anything until you read Richard Ferri’s “Confessions of a Male Nurse”. Ferri puts the truth out there—every outrage, every observation and every appointment in this very funny look at the nursing profession. We learn what it is like to be a male in a profession that is dominated by women. Ferri tells us that being a male nurse means dealing with the most incompetent of administrators, with doctors who are addicted to drugs, with a bunch of crazy women and having long hours and patients that defy description.

It is one thing to be a male nurse but it is even something else to be a gay male nurse. The book starts in the early 1980’s B.A. (before AIDS) and goes up to the present. This is a very funny book laden with black humor.

It is an uncensored story of a gay man who wishes to make a difference with his life by helping those who need help. His training was insane; his residency was almost beyond description. We see him on a pediatric ward and in the psych section and in the Intensive Care unit. We meet his friends and the crazy people he works with. He falls in love, is seduced by a movie star (female), he has a tough ten year old girl patient, deals with a suicidal maniac and handles a sundry collection of medical supplies.

Even though everything is fairly predictable, you can’t help but laugh at the goings on. His love life is very, very funny and the hilarious situations he finds himself in keep the story moving. Steele, our nurse, is one of the old fashioned kind we used to have—he cares, he’s warm and he’s compassionate. He also can just about control any situation he ends up in.  If nursing students would read this book, there might even be a greater shortage of nurses. But then again it is written as a comedy and should be taken that way.

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“Code of Conduct”—Immune to Danger

 

Merritt, Rich. “Code of Conduct”, Kensington, 2008.

Immune to Danger

Amos Lassen

Rich Merritt who gave us his memoirs in “Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star” has a new novel “Code of Conduct”. He based the novel on his own experiences in The United States Marine Corps and has created a story of love and loss, duty, hope and betrayal.

Don Hawkins, a thirty-three year old Marine, enlisted in the corps as a way to escape living with his alcoholic father and his wife, his stepmother. He finds himself as the unofficial leader of a group of gay and lesbians in the service who have been forces to hide their sexualities as they serve their country. With President Bill Clinton’s campaign promise to lift the ban on gay men and women, he finds a new optimism and feels a new age is dawning.

Don’s lover had been killed in Beirut ten years before the book opens and Don feels he is now ready to love again. He falls for Patrick who just happens to be very handsome and a helicopter pilot. As they begin to build their relationship, Don lets his guard down and he discovers that he has become the target of several that have a very vicious agenda against gays and unforeseen consequences begin to take shape.

Rich Merritt knows how to tell a story and he gives us moments of tension in this book. It is honest, inspiring and sincere and contains elements of humor, sex and courage. We all know how difficult it is to live and maintain two separate lives and it is not often that an author can successfully pen the words that truly and with brutal and compelling honest the words that describe such a situation. Rich Merritt manages to do so and with great style.

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“City of Night”–looking for love

Rechy, John. “City of Night”, Grove Press Reprint, 1994

Looking for Love

Amos Lassen

John Rechy’s “City of Night” is one of the classics of gay literature and I am amazed that reading it again now I find that it still mesmerizes as it did when I read it the first time in 1963 (I really am an old person it seems). When it was first published in ’63 it was a national best seller and it caused uproar as well as ushered in a new age of gay literature. Rechy’s account of the big city and its underworld of male prostitution sent waves through society. His unflinching view of “Youngman” (as his main character is called) and the world of hustling and drag queens and all kinds of men were shocking and honest. Our narrator traverses the United States and gives us an unforgettable picture of gay life. Written in the slang of the period, it is an authentic look at the world of twilight men with extreme clarity and realism minus self-pity and sentimentality. Rechy passionately tells the truth and in doing so liberated many who had up until this point lived in the shadows of a larger society.

When I first read this book I had to hide it for I was afraid that someone might discover y secret. By the time I finished it, I did not much care who knew about me—I felt liberated. Rechy’s story of the world was one that I had always hoped existed but I was not man enough to go and look for it. By chance, I sat back yesterday and reread the book. For the second time, I could not stop reading and when I closed the covers I could not help think about how far we have come. I am sure that whoever read “City of Night” in the year of and the years after its publication finally felt that he had something to identify with. The novel has lost none of its power some thirty-four years after it was written. Rechy shows his love for his language in his writing and he wastes no words in telling his story. Even with the many metaphors ad poetic style, Rechy manages to clearly and honesty portray what gay life was like back “in the day”.

I felt like I had been hit by a train as I read. I felt as if I was living the situations I was reading about and it fascinated me. Rechy shows great generosity for the human race as he tries to understand and then explain to the reader about those men that were (and still are in many cases) on the fringe of society—sexual minorities, hustlers, bums, drunks, drag queens, junkies. He gives an unforgettable portrait of the “love that dare not speak its name”.

The vividness of gay life that Rechy paints was new to many people in the 60’s and I was walking next to the author as he took me on a tour of it. “City of Night” is something more than just a gay novel; it is a look at a world within a world.

The main character is an embodiment of an everyman. He sees all, does everything and learns nothing from it, His behavior is arbitrary; he has no motivation ad he makes nothing happen—everything, instead, happens to him. His subculture is one of oppression ad internalized homophobia (didn’t we once hate ourselves and lurk in the shadows of the night?).Rechy opened societal eyes and as much as we have changed, we really see that we haven’t really changed that much. I know this sounds contradictory but this is the only way I can put this. On one hand, things appear better, on the other, things have not really changed that much. We, gay men, are still confused and still suffer from mental turmoil. Many of us are out but many still hide. We need to open our eyes and realize that if we really want change, we must become more aware of whom we are and accept that. We must never forget that we are human and we are important and we all want to be loved.

Rechy’s story is sad but beautiful. Some of us still hate ourselves for being gay like “youngman”. Many of us, like him, still live on the fringe of society and we all have one thing in common—the desire to be loved.

 

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“Attack of the Theater People”–Magical Manhattan

Acito, Marc. “Attack of the Theater People”, Broadway Books, 2008.

Magical Manhattan

Amos Lassen

The year is 1986 and Edward Zanni, an aspiring young actor, has just been booted form drama school. Unable to stand the thought of failure, Edward heads for New York City looking for his rainbow. What he finds is a job as a “party motivator”. In other words, it is his job to get shy thirteen year olds to dance at Bar Mitzvahs and to charm businessman as a surprise guest at important corporate events. But there is no silver lining to Edward’s dream of success. By accident he gets caught up in an insider training scheme with a good looking stockbroker named Chad.

Acito gives us quite a ride with his book and I have to admit that I laughed all the way through it. Zanni’s misadventures are amazing and it seems that if he can’t be on the Broadway stage, he might as well have a life like a musical theater piece. I have never read such comedy before. I did not read Acito’s previous book but I have ordered it. I have to know what led Zanni to a situation like this. I must also say that I had once seen “How I Paid for College” (Acito’s first book) but for whatever reason did not pick it up. I suppose hearing the author on NPR opened me to what I have missed. I know now I will not miss anything else that he writes.

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