I wanted to post soon after returning from London on Monday 22nd May but I returned with what seemed like a flu, our eldest cat Nadine was unwell and had to be taken to the vet (she's fine now) and the Manchester bombing which was not just a shock but left me taking a step back from social media to preserve my sanity. I decided the best approach to the week was a little R&R 2017 style; that's reflect and recuperate.
You may remember that a few months ago hubby and I saw a drag performer by the name of Ripley at Halfway II Heaven (our London local), well we were able to go to her one woman show Like A Sturgeon at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Friday, 19th May. If you didn't make it, you missed one hell of a performance. We invited some friends along, I would say all but one is now a fan but that person did vote for Brexit and well, more on that later.
Ripley began the show with what is now my favourite impersonation of Melania Trump guiding us through her own journey from Slovenia to "luckiest" (in that she doesn't have to see Trump as much as the rest of us) and most definitely the least popular First Lady in US history. Ripley mimed to her own spoken word, popular music and a genius segment in which famous speeches suddenly came out of Melania's mouth as she addressed the crowds in "her own words" of course. I think Marina and The Diamond's would be proud of Ripley's "Hollywood." Ripley's next character was our very own "Prime Minister," Theresa May. I actually think Ripley does Theresa May better than Theresa May. Hubby thinks Ripley at least shows the softer side of Theresa May. Perhaps we are both right? Go see her live if you can or find a video clip on her Facebook page. Honestly, the amount of boos shouted at Theresa are enough to make even the most sceptic voter think we can oust her from Number 10 (sideline, anyone else picture flying monkeys, a la Wizard of Oz style when you see that woman speak? Even worse, picture the heads of her cabinet on the bodies. I would be so dangerous if I could photo shop). Theresa May went down a storm with the crowd and two of our friends noted that this was the type of performance needed right now more than ever. I couldn't agree more. Ripley's final performance of the night was the namesake of the show, Nicola Sturgeon. Now, first of all, her referring to May as "wifey" cannot be unheard. Also, when Nicola sings to May to "Let Scotland Go" in the style of Kim Wilde's "Keep Me Hanging On." Yea, that song is now bettered for me and I love that version partially because I remember fancying Kim Wilde in that music video (I too doubted my own homosexuality once, although I found out many years ago that fancying Kim Wilde was more common amongst gay men then most people would think, anyway back to Ripley). Nicola pulled a Scottish Flag from between her legs as she sang "You Don't Own Me" and not once did it seem disrespectful. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world and it worked because Ripley works. The level of production and hours of rehearsal were evident in her performance and I am going to keep raving until everyone I know goes and checks her out because these troubled times call for her brand of thought provoking humour.
Those with a sensitive anti-Brexit disposition, please proceed to the next paragraph. Now I mentioned about a member of our group who wasn't as keen on the content. He was warned and still came. Now, here has been my dilemma since the EU Referendum and the election of Trump. Yes you remember that I happen to be a citizen of both countries. I can't separate the two because of the similarities in both campaigns. My dilemma is that we have gone beyond the idea of politics. Politics used to be dismissed by so many people and as a result we are now where we are. I find it difficult to be around or engage with people whose views are fundamentally opposed to mine. Now, this is not about not accepting disagreements or differing views on issues. This is about the cruelty and hatred that both the Trump and Leave campaigns ran on and won with. This is about a disregard and lack of compassion towards one another. The uncertainty of the Brexit terms in relation to EU citizens both here and abroad (I refer to UK citizens abroad as EU citizens because we are EU citizens no matter what the hateful media tells you here). Why? Because it is not a political statistic or some imaginary thing. These are your neighbours, friends and possibly members of your family. I simply cannot get my head around how someone can be a friend of mine or have foreign friends and have voted for that; and are okay with a government refusing to guarantee the rights of those who have contributed to the prosperity of this country. It makes me angry, it makes my blood boil and it is why I find it difficult to engage in Brexit conversations with those who voted for it. That is the frustrating truth and I don't know how to move on from that. I don't know what the answer is. I do believe that even if we rejected the final terms of Brexit and remained in the European Union the damage is done. It will be generations before the scars of that campaign are healed and I don't see it happening in my lifetime. You can't discuss Ripley without Brexit and I am sure she wouldn't mind my side note there.
It was good being back in London, it felt like home in a way it hadn't for a while but it also made me angry to see the poverty on the streets that is the picture Theresa May wants to ignore yet continues to contribute to. This is her reality of Britain and it simply cannot be ignored. Ripley doesn't ignore it, neither do her fans.
Check her out when she performs at a venue near you. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram whatever platform you can find her on. A special thank you to Ripley as well for chatting to hubby and I when you were in such high demand after your performance- Keep doing what you are doing!
Hubby and I would also like to thank the performers and staff at Halfway II Heaven for always ensuring that our weekend is enjoyable and messy. Saturday we headed down after a lovely morning and a boozy lunch in Camden with friends. We had fabulous tapas, mojitos and lost three games of pool. We had no idea when we got there that it was Mrs. Moore's birthday complete with a performance extravaganza that was an homage to Mrs. Moore herself. Rose Garden presided over a stage that included Tanya Hyde (out of drag, our first time seeing here perform and we were impressed), Baga Chipz MBE another artist we had never seen who entertained and offended equally, Miss Penny who is fabulous and remembered us from hubby's birthday back in March and after that things got a little hazy so I apologise now for not remembering more names as we indulged in the complimentary prosecco and more rum and cokes than I can remember. What I do remember is going to Ed's Diner in Soho and being passed out by 9.30pm (punk rock!)
Sunday we headed down to Greenwich by boat and wandered through the streets, markets and park up towards Blackheath to Mycenae House. This is where eleven years ago this coming July, we had our civil partnership reception. It was one of the highlights of the weekend to go back as we are now, so many years later as strong as we are now. We lived in Southeast London prior to moving to Berlin and there was a sense of wonder and nostalgia in the air until we had to get that train back into town. The rail travel was a stark reminder of why we came to hate living in Southeast London and in general, the perils of nostalgia.
We eventually made it back to Halfway II Heaven for Sundays with CK. If you have not seen Crystal d'Canter and Kelly Mild, you really need to get out and have yourself the best start of the week or best end of the weekend; depending on your perspective in life. The energy and laughter in the room is what life should be about. This is spoken entertainment, banter and singing along to your favourite tunes. Crystal and Kelly were the first act we saw at Halfway II Heaven last year when we began to re-engage with London after a notable absence and they keep us coming back (back, back, back). They had a special guest, Alexis StClair who CK described as "you won't be able to look away." They were right, we couldn't and her performance added to the energy of the room. That is the thing about Halfway, the performers all bring a unique style to the stage that will ensure you stumble out of there with a smile on your face and drunk off your arse.
Thank you all again for making London the drag it should be.
Okay, so as if being a citizen of one country with issues is hard, try being a citizen of two countries whose news is becoming more dire with each passing day. The world knows about Trump, no more needs to be said there. We have local elections in the UK this week and now a Parliamentary election in June; thanks Mayhem. Add to that the continued horrors in Chechnya, Syria, and shall we just say the whole fucking world because that is how it seems. I am one of those people who finds it hard to shut down or ignore the world around me. My mother used to call it being an old soul. At times, I put it down to being a writer and having a unique insight. Whatever you call it, we can all agree that there comes a saturation point where you need to protect yourself, and maintain your strength to be able to face and fight another day.
I have been lucky recently that despite the disturbing news coming in at all angles, I have been able to work on two pieces of writing that are on their way to publishers. Watch this space kids. This may be my year. Send the love, we need more of it around us. Also, I am lucky that meditation has provided me with some moments where I am just here. Not in my head. Not in the past. Not in the future. Just here.
There are loads of lists and blogs out there on how to cope and I have written before in A Pause about the need to take a step back from social media. I feel though that with what is going on now there is a need to actually not just pause but throw some good energy into the world and if enough of us do it collectively there will be all that positive energy in the air. I am the first to admit that there is no way you can face any problem with a negative mindset.
I came across this quote that stuck with me and made me stop and think. I shared it on Facebook and it got a few likes but I wanted to share it here and just let it sit for the moment.
“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” – Vaclav Havel
It made me think because optimism indeed sets an expectation, just as much as pessimism does. Is hope then more about trust? Perhaps. My intention is not to get into a discussion about that as much as leave it there to sit. Something to ponder in the present.
So apart from writing and meditation, I kept thinking about what you can do to just give yourself that space in these troubling times?
1. Lunch with your other half or a good friend: Hubby and I went to a fabulous South African restaurant in Falmouth for lunch last Saturday. In fact, we spent the day just wandering in and out of shops, taking our time to look at things. We did get some bargains but mainly it was connecting with the spaces we used to love but have not taken the time to visit recently because, well, life gets in the way and it is easy to push things to one side. One thing that I am guilty of and I think I am not alone in this one thing: Taking time. We all try to make time but sometimes you have to take time, simply say to yourself: Today we are doing this, or I am doing this..to Hell with everything else.
2. Make a mixed CD: So I am from the age of mixed tapes and back in the day my headphones and walkman looked like they were surgically attached to me. I love a mixed tape. Sure, CD's don't give you that lovely interruption of noises between tracks but they are easier to make. The hardest part is choosing your order and of course the songs. I made one last week to drive to Plymouth and I kind of themed it as music I would have driven to as a teenager. I am an older driver, I dislike the term mature, it comes with too much expectation; as such, I did not have the teenage driver experience.
3. Watch an old favourite sitcom: Whether you have DVD's, Netflix, Amazon, whatever...we all have those shows from our youth or just shows we love. I love throwing on an episode of The Golden Girls, or The Nanny or even The Simpsons. The shows still hold up and laughter sends out such good vibes to the world. That old saying about laughter being the best medicine; it is true for a variety of situations.
4. Read: There are books that I find so beautifully written it is a shame to read pages of them and lose sight of the language. I have been reading Roland Barthe's A Discourse for Lovers now for nearly a year because I love dipping into the snippets and savouring the words, the meanings. I also read the Dalai Lama's writings in a similar vein. There is beauty in the profound and although it can seem serious when you lose yourself in the language of the text there is a real connection that is made. Poetry works on a similar level I find. I think when you need to slow down and be in the moment, books like this are incredibly useful.
5. Support the Arts. Go further, support your friends in the arts. Listening to an album from start to finish is sometimes the meditative journey we all need to embark on, why not embark on that journey with a friend who has recorded an album. We all love a good album but there is something magical when you know the person and not only are you supporting them but you are also a major part of the recognition. Go see them live if they are putting on a gig. Go see a show that has your friend's work. Do you know any writers? Ask to read their work or buy their book. Is your friend in a play? Support them by seeing their show. When you are part of that exchange between artist and audience there it is special and not only are you lifting yourself but another person as well. That's two for the price of one, a real bargain.
Twenty five years ago today I came out of the closet. Yes, it was April Fool's Day but I was so set on coming out after deliberating for so many days that I took no notice of the actual day. This of course led to repeated "no, it's not a joke" responses. I have now spent more of my life out of the closet than in and I am proud of that. In fact, I could not imagine what my life would be like if I weren't a gay man. I knew from an early age that I was different from the other boys, I just didn't know what it was called. Twenty five years is a milestone and I feel like it merits a bit of reflection; but here is my issue: I am happy with the man I have become even if I am not always proud of the things that I have done. If I were to change any of those things would I still be who I am today? So let's not discuss regrets, let's talk about a little wisdom I would impart to myself in 1992.
Coming out is a rebirth, and that means that when you come out, you are re-entering the world as a kid again. Everything is fresh. Everything looks new. Everything is exciting. Everything is terrifying. I was a quiet but mischievous child but damn, when I came out; the hell raiser of a teen in me came out...big time! I went from zero to hero. What people made fun of me in the straight world became my currency on the scene: babyface, skinny and an inability to say no. To quote Prince in Little Red Corvette, "baby you got to slow down." That is probably the biggest advice I would tell myself in 1992 when I pushed the accelerator to the floor. Oh and, you'll never stop coming out but you will become creative in your responses as the years go on. "Only during happy hour" is a fun response to being asked if you are gay.
I remember being told by a friend shortly after coming out that as a gay man I would always know someone who was HIV+. That is true but it wasn't new to me. My father died of an AIDS related illness before Reagan could even say those words on TV and he wasn't a gay man. HIV has and always will be to me a disease. It needs to be treated as a disease not a stigma. I have lost close friends and still have close friends who have beaten the odds. It hasn't gone away and things are better but we still need to remember that it's not over yet. I think because of my father's death, I have never allowed HIV to define gay or vice versa and it is something I actively challenge people on.
Uncle Charlie's was the first gay bar I ever snuck into. I was fifteen and with some friends who were only just a little older than me but with better fake ID's. I remember nervously walking up to the bar to order a screwdriver because I hated the taste of alcohol; and orange juice was the only thing that could make me stomach vodka in those days. Oh how the times have changed. There was a drag queen at the bar who took one look at me. She scanned me up and down as if she was silently reading me. With her cigarette she motioned to me and said, "honey you better work on that (pointing to my head) because that (pointing to the rest of me), won't last." She then laughed. How true those words have rung. It is no secret that looks are prized in the gay community but if there is something I have learned in my twenty five years is that looks are certainly not everything. Seriously. Repeat after me, looks are not everything. Relying solely on them is like carrying a designer bag for the world to see when you can't afford to put food on your table. If that doesn't convince you, buy something "gorgeous" for your home and watch how in three months time, you forget it's there. Nourish your soul and mind equally. I thought being educated and looking good was enough; it took my world falling apart by my own bad decisions to make me realise how important nourishing my soul was.
Looking back at the last twenty five years, I can say with full certainty that one of the things I did not always show enough of, and did not always see on the scene is an abundance of kindness and compassion. Truth is, there is a lot of criticism and negativity on the scene. There is also a lot of insecurity covered up by arrogance masquerading as confidence on the scene. From LA to Prague to Vancouver to Buenos Aires, I have seen the same behaivour. It's not cute, it's boring and it is toxic to all of us. That said, I have also seen those shining little stars of kindness and compassion whose light shines like a beacon in the darkness around them. Those people who step in and help you when you are about to make a bad decision. Those people who sit and talk to you when they can sense you need a sympathetic ear. Those people who can turn your evening around just by extending a hand of friendship or a smile. We need so many bright stars in every gay bar or club in the world that it feels like they are lit up by nothing but disco balls. The more compassion and kindness we show one another, the stronger we are. If I can impart some harsh truths here: We will all face rejection. We will all end up in a room where we are not the cutest, not the smartest, or not the funniest. We will all question what is wrong with us when those things happen. We will all face loneliness. I know for myself that if I had come to these conclusions years before, perhaps I would not have spent so many years feeling lonely in a crowded room. That's the irony of loneliness, you're usually not alone in feeling it. If I could rewind, I'd definitely be kinder.
Speaking of kindness John; one thing I would ask you is how the hell can you expect people to be kind with your heart when you are not kind with theirs? The answer is you can't. People will tell you that gay relationships aren't real. That gay relationships are easy because you are both the same gender. Let me tell you the simple response to those statements: Bullshit! My mother always said the problem with relationships is that they involve two people. That is truth. Relationships are work and they take both sides working together to make it work. A lesson I learned by not putting in the work, so I know. A lesson that nearly cost me the love of my life. Let me tell you something else, it don't matter what genders are involved. At some point you are going to have an argument about the washing up; that too is part of a relationship and it don't get more real than that. My advice is a get a dishwasher though you'll still argue about the right way to load it. But all joking aside if I could talk to John in 1992; I would tell him to be honest and careful with the hearts he will meet. Nothing will haunt you more in life than the hurt you have caused someone you love.
I don't think I can stress enough to my younger self the importance of choosing happiness and not just being happy. I wasn't a happy teenager. I was confused about the world, angry at my station in life, and insecure. That unhappy teenager became a young man who often did what he wanted with no thought to the consequences. I tried to find happiness in men, in places, in drugs and situations. The one thing I never tried was finding happiness in me (cue, Charlene track). That unfortunately took my world collapsing; to hit home. It was when I started looking inward that I became aware of how much I was loved by my husband, by the true friends and family that remained by my side and eventually by the man looking back at me in the mirror. 1992 John, take a few moments each day to tell yourself good things. Stop repeating the bad things you hear out there and believing that they won't get to you. Tell yourself every single day that you are a good person, that you are loved, that you matter! Because when the world is telling you that you don't matter, You can stand up and say with pride: "Oh yes I fucking do!"
Hubby and I made a jaunt back to London last weekend which turned into one of the best weekends we have had in a long time. We left London in 2011 and then spent the following four years working and travelling. By the time we had left "The Smoke," I could only describe is as "it felt like I had stayed too long at the party." You know what I am talking about, we have all been there. The lights are coming on, the host is cleaning around you and you have no idea there is a little bit of dip on your chin because you still think you look fabulous. I tend to think about places I have lived in terms of parties. New York is that party I never need an invite too. I just show up, there is always someone I know I can talk too. Berlin was like desperately trying to get behind the velvet rope of a club and then wandering around from room to room leaving you exhausted, confused and not sure when daylight happened. Prague was like that house party you are invited to because you know the host and you're not sure if you should go so you make plans to leave after about an hour but you end up having a great time and regret making those other plans because you want to stay a little longer.
Truth be told though, we were done when we left London but we had to leave it to appreciate it again. As you may know from reading my posts, we live in the arse end of nowhere to the left of the end of the world. I joke but the move was good for us as a couple, we have made some amazing friends, and creatively it has been amazing. There is however no denying that the gay scene in Cornwall is virtually nonexistent. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of us down here but there isn't a community or scene comparable to other parts of the country. We find ourselves regularly in Plymouth which is the closest big city to where we live, there is a small scene but it is fun to visit and we have made friends, had some laughs so I'm grateful for the escape it provides.
Back to London though, so right after a lovely morning and afternoon wandering around Camden, we found ourselves at one of our favourite places to go when we go back; Halfway to Heaven. We had read in Boyz or possibly QX that Rose Garden would be there on Saturday afternoon and given that the last time we saw her perform it was at The Gloucester in Greenwich should tell you how long ago that was. We took that as a sign that we had to go. Rose did not disappoint. Her shows can be offensive (purposely), can be crude (hopefully) but always engaging. Now more than ever the necessity to engage is absolute, given what is happening around us. In one segment of her show she asked the crowd what is the most offensive gay slur you have been called. Hubby and I struggled and so did the crowd. I don't know if it's a hardened sense of identity that comes with being out of the closet but I have spent more time out than in at this point in my life and as much as I dislike derogatory language, I don't let the words of ignorant and hateful people get to me anymore. "Like water off a ducks back" as an old housemate of mine would say when anyone was bitchy to him. Most of the times if I hear the word queer or faggot, it is met with an eye roll, slow clap and "wow."
People will always try and get you down no matter what. In my experience perhaps it stems from coming out in the early 90's and embracing drag; remembering the energy of Wigstock (back in the Tompkins Square Park days), but I always found that although you can be put down by a drag queen (for entertainment), it is easier to face the world after a drag show. Drag is an illusion but then so is our safety right now.
Rose had a special guest on her show, a drag artist by the name of Ripley. I had never heard of her before (I refer you back to earlier in this piece when I said where I live) but I am hooked. If you have not seen her, go! Follow her on Facebook (she is on other social media platforms but for the sake of humanity, I am not. I'm kicking it old school on FB), look up when she might be in your local area. Just go! Make sure you see her! Her performance, a mixture of spoken word spliced with music was an attack on Trump, Brexit and the current state of the world. It was a call to arms, set to a lip synching melody that included Cher, Garbage, Donna Summer, Barbara Streisand, Joan Baez and more. It left me feeling invigorated, charged and hopeful that with artists like this performing on the stage, we can and we shall overcome the fuckery of the present state of affairs in this world. It was unapologetically political. Some in the audience were not as keen as others to engage with it but hubby and I loved every moment of it. Our lives are more political these days and you not thinking it is, does not change the fact that it is.
Trump. Brexit. Russia. Mayhem. Le Pen. Wilders. This is no time for complacency in our situation no matter which country you call home. The rights that we have fought for are under threat and until we are able to walk down the street holding our spouses/ partners/ lovers/ friends hands without facing the threat of verbal abuse or worse, violence; we haven't crossed the finished line yet. Don't put the fatigues in the wash just yet.
There is a strength that comes from our history; our counter culture. It is not the nostalgia that the Right have used to justify their prejudice. It is not the nostalgia that was built on the exploitation of the under classes, conveniently forgotten about when reminiscing. It is not the nostalgia for a time that never existed. It is the force of that brick that Marsha P Johnson threw at the police outside The Stonewall Inn on that hot June night in 1969 that said "Enough!" That brick has guided us through the decades, breaking windows, smashing barriers and will continue to lead us towards the equality that is our birthright.
It is not a coincidence that this year the National Theatre in London is performing Angels in America. That Dustin Lance Black's When We Rise is being aired this year. That drag artists are in some cases still performing these songs and in other cases are bringing back the classics from Rocky Horror Picture Show and Cabaret, again is no coincidence. These songs, the times they reflect; they are periods of subversion which are part of our strength. They don't represent a nostalgia of how things were, they are a reminder of where we were, and how far we have come. I wrote a while back about Cabaret, yet again, songs from cabaret find themselves performed on a drag stag. This past weekend was "Maybe This Time."
I do believe the Right will be defeated. I do believe that we will one day have true equality across the spectrum. I believe this because I look at all we have gained in the twenty five years of personal experience and I know that if we can come this far, we will go further. Audrey Lorde once wrote, "your silence will not protect you." She is right. Our complacency will not protect us either. Our rejection of one another will not protect us. Our internalised homophobia will not protect us. Their nostalgia will not protect us. Our nostalgia though holds a concrete reminder of how far we have come. What we have endured. What we have overcome.
We have to embrace that strength. We have to embrace one another. I cannot stress that enough. We have to embrace one another. A rainbow is not majestic or as powerful of a sight without all its colours reflecting boldly.
Each day when I log onto social media, I am reminded of Dorothy Parker's line: "What fresh hell can this be?" I know I am not alone in this. I use Facebook because it allows me to stay in touch with friends all over the world. Trust me, when you live in the middle of nowhere you have no idea how valuable that connection is. I am not on Twitter because truth is, that is a level of insanity that once visited, I am not sure I would return from. Me, a glass of wine, 1am and Twitter is a recipe for disaster.
Today though, my newsfeed reminded me of a few things when this article appeared like a lighthouse in the dark sea of news. How To Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed By Your Newsfeed by Ann Douglas. I don't think there is anything necessarily life shattering about her advice but it was the reminder of what I (and I think many others) need during these tumultuous times. What hooked me was her first suggestion, "Recognize that there's a difference between being immersed and being informed." If I had to describe my recent state of mind, it has been that. It has even led me to not wanting to listen to the radio (a great love of mine) because the news updates are always followed by a loud, "really??" That suggestion also reminded me to make use of my Freedom App. For those unaware of what this is, it allows you to disconnect your internet access for a period of time up to your choosing. It is an app that has carried me to the finish line on many projects and despite being on my desktop, I forget that it is there. I need to make use of it more given that I am so close to completing my collection of short stories. Also that in the last writing course I took with One Story, a few ideas came from the assignments which have given me that kick in the bum I have needed, as well as taken me out of my comfort zone. Watch this space!
The thing is, I think being kind to ourselves is key and sometimes that means taking time away from what is going on. Last week, I decided to put down the books I was reading and escape into a new world. After twenty years of resistance, I finally found myself at Hogwarts. I started reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I know it took me longer than others to get there but I think that was a journey that I needed to take my time with. I won't lie, I'm hooked and it is the perfect distraction from those moments when the news is too much and I just want to curl up somewhere warm, a cuppa (as they say here) and remember what childlike wonder and enthusiasm used to feel like.
The flipside of that is also honouring the events. Last weekend, Sir John Hurt passed away. He was one of hubby and I's favourite actors and so we decided to have a mini Hurt-a-thon, beginning with The Naked Civil Servant, the bio pic based on Quentin Crisp's book of the same name. There is always a controversy within the LGBT community discussing Quentin but I think we can all agree that he was a larger than life figure. That the film was screened on UK television in 1975 makes it one of importance in LGBT history whatever your thoughts on the controversial musings of Quentin Crisp. Moving on from The Naked Civil Servant, we took a dystopian break in 1984. Very topical these days and currently selling faster than it can be kept in print. As much as escape is necessary, there is a danger in becoming an ostrich too. I remember having to read Orwell's masterpiece in high school, and it is one of those books that always stays with you. Contrary to some people's political beliefs, it is not a manual but a warning. If in doubt, I think the film does a great job of hitting that point home. Is real life stranger than fiction? I am not sure I am seeing that much of a difference anymore. We finished our Hurt-a-thon with An Englishman in New York which saw Hurt reprise his role as Quentin Crisp. The film picks up after The Naked Civil Servant with Quentin moving from London to New York. I watched this the first time it aired on television in 2009. The UK was a different country from the one Quentin left behind. Here I was, an American in a Civil Partnership with my Englishman. Marriage equality was still a few years away but things were heading that way. I can only imagine what witty and controversial comments Quentin would have made on the state of events. In re-watching I couldn't stop thinking about the vulnerability that John Hurt brings to this role. We see Quentin as the celebrity du jour who is brought down by his own ill thought out remarks regarding the AIDS crisis. That of course though is not the end of him and after a quiet period, his life and work became of interest again. Sadly for Quentin, as work increased, his health did not and in the greatest irony of his life, he would die in the one country he feared dying in; England.
I'm not one that can totally disengage from the news or from social media but I do think that going forward I will need to find that balance between tuning out and tuning in. For the moment though, back to Hogwarts!
I tend to try and look for some good in the world; even if it's by losing myself in film or music whilst the world around me collapses. Years ago when we lived in Berlin, I decided to dance my way out of SAD and the "Berlin blues" by listening to nothing but club music. Till this day if it is a bit grey, I crank up the dance music and make a fool of myself to my captive audience; our cats Nadine and Boots (rechristened Bootsyfur Morningmeow by hubby as we have been binge watching Lucifer). That said, there are days when I need to lose myself in film rather than dance or music.
January is a depressing month and despite being the hot blooded Latino type, truth be told my moving patterns have generally followed a snow, rain, more snow, snowmaggedon, windy one. Basically, I have always lived in places with shitty winters. Couple that with January being a financially destitute one where your friends go "missing," it can be a long one too. I have a list of "go to" films that I love not because they are great pieces of cinema but because of the memories that are attached to them. The films not only entertain but wrap me in a protective blanket that remind me that no matter what is going on in the present, there were some wonderful moments in the past and as such there will be even better moments in the future. My fiction rarely has neatly tied happy endings but in my day to day life, I am a bit of a softie. I love a good romance story and I will always choose light over dark. In addition to singing and dancing my way out of bad moods (you should see me singing behind the wheel), laughter pays a huge part in lifting my mood.
Below are three of my go to films, part of a growing list of films that can lift the spirits of yours truly. I'll be sharing more as the year goes on so consider this the first of many trips down memory lane. Who knows, I may not be alone in some of these choices but chances are I probably am in most of them.
The Goonies: Hands down, all time favourite feel good film. Now, it's not just that this film has everything a kid like me could have asked for in a film: Pirates, treasure, adventure, friendship...did I mention Pirates. Nor is it that when it was released on VHS, a neighbour of ours had to record 3 separate tapes over the course of two years because I wore the tape through watching it repeatedly. Sometimes I would finish the finish the film, rewind it and watch it again. No, it's because it was the last film I watched in the theatre with my dad before he was hospitalised. He passed away in 1986. Okay so that doesn't sound it like it should be a reason for this film to be a feel good one but hear me out. My dad was a big kid, my mother often remarked that she didn't so much have a husband as gained another child. This quality made him a fun and loving dad but far from the ideal husband. I credit my dad with my taste for adventure and inappropriate humour. I remember sitting in the theatre with him eating popcorn, milk duds and snow caps. He knew he would get in trouble for feeding me that much sugar but he was enjoying this film with the same child like enthusiasm that I was. It was our time, kind of life when Mickey convinces the rest of the gang in the scene under the wishing well to continue the search for One Eyed Willy by telling them that down here was "our time." My dad was at his best when he was smiling. I can still see his smile in my mind to this day when I insert the disc to re watch The Goonies today. Even now if I am in a bad mood or need lifting, hubby will say "why don't you watch The Goonies." A suggestion that I take to heart and act on without a second thought. Thirty two years later it still lifts my mood no matter what. It has treasure maps, a catchy tune by Cindy Lauper and a pirate ship, not forgetting an actual pirate!!
Auntie Mame: This is one of those films that I first watched back in the mid 90's. I was in The Boiler Room with some friends one night, completely under age and way past most people's bed times, including my own. At that time in my life, I was the youngest in a group of friends and still learning all sorts of references in the gay world. The conversation shifted towards films as it so often did with this group of friends and Auntie Mame came up. I sat there silent with a cigarette and a drink that was more vodka than cranberry as friend's recited lines from the film. Given I was rarely silent particularly when drunk, a friend of mine asked me if I had seen the film. I responded no, sending gay gasps around the room, as if I had been raised in a cave with no sunlight or outside stimulation. With that, it was settled we would rectify this deficiency in my life. We stumbled out of The Boiler Room into the humid Manhattan night towards a friend's house a few blocks away to watch Auntie Mame. Now, 3am showings of films was not uncommon within my group of friends. It was the 90's, before widespread internet use. If you hadn't picked up or taken one last stroll pass the sidewalk sale and were not ready for home, the party continued elsewhere. That drunk and that energised we always chose films that allowed us to pick up one or two snappy one liners we could beat to death over the next week. Sitting in my friends tiny living room, four of us crammed into his sofa in a room surrounded by overflowing bookcases; I was introduced to the wonderful Rosalind Russell in the title role. I had yet to even see her in The Women; another 3am introduction and requiring its own paragraph in the future. For those out of the loop, Auntie Mame follows the life of Patrick Dennis after his conservative father dies and he is sent to live with his Auntie Mame, an eccentric life loving socialite. This is a film that requires you to shout out "live! live! live!" and leaves the line "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving!" etched in your brain. I left my friend's apartment about 6am, as Manhattan's pace was picking up. Walking the long road from the East Village back to the Upper East Side as I often did on summer nights I felt light on my feet. I felt like the luckiest man in the world in the greatest city on earth with life pulsing through my veins. It still remains my go to when I am really sick because nothing gets my mind off of feeling like rubbish as Auntie Mame does.
Sixteen Candles: I refuse to be alone on this one! John Hughes defined a generation and then some. I have friends now who pass his films down to their kids and it makes me happy that his legacy is secured. If I had kids, I would do the same. In case anyone hasn't seen it, Sixteen Candles follows the day of Sam Baker whose family is preoccupied with her sister's weddings so forget her 16th birthday completely. We learn that she is hopelessly in love with the dreamy Jake Ryan who doesn't know she exists, or does he? Okay that is simplifying it but even if you have not seen the film, you have most definitely come across the references. I have had the same best friend since I was 13 and we have spent an incredible amount of time watching films together. Sixteen Candles rates as one of our go to films even now when we get the chance to spend some time together. She lives in NYC and I am here in the UK so it doesn't happen as often as we would like. I don't often praise the modern world but thanks to email and texts, we can send each other random lines and YouTube to say "thinking about ya!" When we dance, we still do the Joan Cusack dance together, click here for video. I can call her up and say the words "VD," and she bursts out laughing. Out of the many films we have re-watched, Sixteen Candles still holds up. It still makes us laugh and there is no shortage of lines to quote from the film. Also, at some point, (straight women and gay men, help me out on this one) we have all imagined being a part of the closing scene. We have all imagined or at least wondered what it would be like to leaning into Jake Ryan in the closing scene over a lit birthday cake and whisper, "it already came true."
What about your favourites?
2016 was a shit year, there is a clear consensus amongst likeminded individuals on that assessment. This isn't a post about the details of Brexit or the impending Trump presidency (I threw up a little in my mouth as I typed that) or any other disastrous event of 2016. No, this is about a song, no, a musical, based on a book, set in a time that could be today but was over eight five years ago. A time that would alter the course of humanity, warfare and challenge right and wrong. Yes, its Cabaret.
Cabaret needs no real introduction. But in case you have never seen or heard it, it stars Joel Grey (Master of Ceremonies,) Michael York (Brian Roberts) and Liza Minnelli (Sally Bowles). It was loosely based on Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin part of his well known Berlin Novels and I Am A Camera, a 1951 also based on Isherwood. It was made into a musical in 1966 and into a film in 1972 (not debating its quality either). The story is set in the final days of Weimar Berlin and juxtaposes the excesses of the time with the upheaval of political violence. Caught in between, are star crossed lovers and "everyday" people whose allegiances change from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin formed a part of my MA dissertation and yes I could go into the academic arguments, but frankly I left academia behind years ago and we're discussing Cabaret, not Goodbye to Berlin.
This past December, hubby and I found ourselves in London at a drag show off Trafalgar Square in which Cabaret was sung by the hostess; the crowd sung along loud and drunk, legs kicking Broadway style (as you do). Let's face it, it's a song that never fails to get the crowd going. A few weeks later we were in Plymouth and found ourselves at drag karaoke, where again "Cabaret" was sung by the hostess, as well as a cringe worthy take of Mein Herr by yours truly. I need to brush up on my German, seriously. A week later, Cabaret makes an appearance at drag karaoke again. Hubby had never seen the film all the way through so Christmas night after a lovely and relaxing meal with a dear friend, we decided to rectify that. I hadn't seen it in at least three years, the last time being on an afternoon when we lived in Berlin and I felt like I was on death's door. Hubby enjoyed it a lot more than he thought and was struck by the parallels to today's events.
There are two scenes in the film that stood out and made the hair on our arms stand up. The scene in which Brian confronts his fellow boarders in the flat about their growing sympathy for the Nazis. Their response being that as it is in the papers, it must be true. Well of course that doesn't resonate at all in the modern world, now does it? The second, and to me the most haunting scene in that film is the biergarten scene in which the Hitler Youth sing Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Throughout the film you see the excesses and fun pinned against political flyers, deaths in the background but when this scene passes, you know that the end has finally come. It is a feeling that is too close to home these days. That said, I'm not ready to throw in the towel and call this the end just yet.
Before the end though, we return to the song in question and the namesake of the musical and film, Cabaret. I couldn't help but wonder why this song kept following us? Why now? I am by no means suggesting that the song is a call to arms. I do though have a major belief in synchronicity and it is something that as I get older, I find it harder to ignore. I wonder if the gay community is becoming aware of the urgency of the political situation around us. I wonder if that feeling is growing even amongst the less political members of the gay community. I wonder if subconsciously this is a musical call to solidarity. I wonder if we are remembering that once these numbers were sung too and performed in illegal spaces when living our very lives was illegal. Most of all though, I wonder if it is time to look back on our struggles and take strength from that journey, that fight to protect ourselves going forward.
What I don't doubt is that we should heed the call of the song and remember that there is no good being alone in your room, not in 2017. This is a year we need to lock arms and kick our heels up; together.
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.