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Move over, Tom of Finland, George Quaintance is the gayest artist of them all
07.17.2015
10:58 am

Topics:
Art
Queer

Tags:
Tom of Finland
George Quaintance


 
Tom of Finland‘s remarkable work has been a familiar wellspring of homoerotic imagery for decades; less familiar, perhaps, but every bit as striking is the work of George Quaintance, who specialized in men’s muscle magazines starting in the 1930s. The list of magazines for which Quaintance worked makes for amusing reading: Gay French Life, Ginger, Movie Humor, Movie Merry Go-Round, Snappy Detective Mysteries, Snappy Stories, Stolen Sweets, and Tempting Tales.

It’s difficult to look at these images and not think of Touko Laaksonen, a.k.a. Tom of Finland. Quaintance was Laaksonen’s senior by about 20 years, and had been active since the 1930s—Tom of Finland didn’t get going until the mid-1950s, which was right around when Quaintance died. All the sources agree that Quaintance was a major influence on Tom of Finland; it seems like one of the easier judgments in the field of art history.

Eight years ago the indispensable John Coulthart wrote of the artist:
 

George Quaintance (1902-1957) was a pioneer of a variety of beefcake erotica that isn’t particularly to my taste but which today looks distinctly…quaint? Also distinctly old-fashioned since most of his men have Burt Lancaster quiffs, even the alleged Spartans towelling themselves. ...

Quaintance’s world is a largely female-free dreamscape of perfectly-muscled glamour boys showing their bodies to one another but never doing anything so salacious as kissing. This is a utopia of good clean fun and fifty years ago was more than enough to pack an erotic charge for men starved of homoerotic imagery. From our perspective today it looks rather innocent; even the bulges in their jeans are restrained by comparison with the later excesses of Tom of Finland.


 
This is quite right. Quaintance’s images are creamy and idealized, certainly without even a hint of violence, while Tom of Finland did far more to set the template for rougher side of gay courtship. Whereas Tom of Finland’s men are often stand ramrod straight, Quaintance’s figures are often contorted in a kind of implied agony.

Most fascinating in Quaintance’s work is the status of the penis. Working thirty years before Stonewall and forty-five years before the rise of AIDS as a national topic of discourse, Quaintance had to occupy a semi-legal space where the homoeroticism was winked at, signaled solely by bulges—but in some of the nude shots, the apparent absence of the penis becomes almost concerning, as in the image of the two men underwater, or the one on the ranch with the narrow wading pool. The best, of course, is the one of a campfire where a perfectly placed cowboy boot serves as a potent visual reminder of, well, what might be lurking behind the boot.

There is an excellent book on Quaintance by Reed Massengill published by Taschen.
 

 
More remarkable images behind the jump…..
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Hidden camera shows what it’s like to be gay in Russia
07.13.2015
10:12 am

Topics:
Activism
Queer
The wrong side of history

Tags:
Russia


 
Americans became aware during the run-up to the Sochi Olympics last year that Russia was undergoing something like the opposite of the social revolution that has brought some approximation of equal rights to homosexuals within the United States. If anything, Russia was regressing, and the persistence of anti-gay hate was depressing to behold, just as Russia was the athletic center of the world, and just a few months before that country’s ominous annexation of parts of Ukraine.

ChebuRussiaTV are something akin to the Yes Men of Russia—they make political points and further social progress through the use of pranks. Just a few weeks ago they ruffled some feathers by mimicking oral sex on public park benches.

Their latest idea is incredibly simple and yet devastating in the virulence of the reaction it has elicited. All they did was have two young men walk through public places in Moscow holding hand—not kissing, not engaging in crazy PDA behavior, just holding hands—and documented the reactions of ordinary citizens, most of which are pretty nauseating.

In addition to the occasional resigned sentiment of “Where is this country going?” and various epithets of abuse, ChebuRussiaTV documented two cases of assault (arguably), taking the form of a rough shoulder hit—the second of which certainly threatened to get out of hand.

The Cyrillic headline of the video—”Избиение гомосексуалистов в России”—translates as “Beating homosexuals in Russia” according to Google Translate. The English title is “Reaction to gays in Russia social experiment,” which is a good deal more euphemistic.
 

 
via The Daily Dot

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Frankie goes to a bacchanalian gay fetish bar: The original, hilarious banned video for ‘Relax’


 
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1983 single “Relax” is so gay. Specifically gay sex. It’s amazing that when the song first came out, the band actually tried to deny its obvious prurience. Two years later though, co-songwriter and bassist Mark O’Toole wrote in the liner notes of their follow-up album, “when people ask you what ‘Relax’ was about, when it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation, and really it was about shagging.” It wasn’t the most forgiving time for explicit homoerotic sexuality, but the band was never apologetic, and really pushed the boundaries.

During an infamous Top of the Pops performance, frontman Holly Johnson actually tore up a copy of The Sun, the tawdry rag that had been harassing his parents at home for quotes about their gay son. “Relax” also had a 16-minute-long “Sex Mix” that was just a bunch of samples of water noises—apparently even gay bars refused to play it. Then there is the original music video for “Relax,” an unintentionally hilarious ode to gay hedonism, which was almost immediately banned.
 

 
Johnson says the video got pulled when “a big wig in the ‘Big Brother Broadcasting Company’” found his kids watching it. Later the record company asked them to make a second video, the one everyone now knows as the “Relax” video. The second video is dated, naturally, and Johnson describes it as “almost like a satire of a regulation pop video—you know, guys in makeup and laser beams, lots of looking at the camera.” To be fair, the song does contain the line “hit me with your laser beams,” but I think that might be referencing something a little less… literal.

The video is utterly ridiculous of course, but what strikes me is the relative tameness of the queer debauchery. Drag queens and leather daddies, some people in cages and on leashes, a lot of mesh tank tops and gratuitous contouring blush, an actual tiger, and a hedonistic old queen overseeing the entire spectacle while being shaved. Completely insane? Yes. Is there innuendo? Definitely (especially the rather obvious reference to water sports). But there’s nothing hardcore, and it’s hard to believe that a video featuring this kind of hetero sybaritism would have gotten banned.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Never any sympathy for the wild ones’: Trans pioneer and Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn is dying
07.07.2015
07:20 am

Topics:
Movies
Queer

Tags:
Andy Warhol
LGBT
Holly Woodlawn
Trash


 
Queer historians know Holly Woodlawn as a transgender pioneer and consummate wild child—she was once arrested in New York for impersonating the wife of the French Ambassador to the U.N. The art crowd knows her as a supremely talented Warhol superstar who gave amazing performances in both Trash and Women in Revolt. But Holly Woodlawn was most famously celebrated in the first lines of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”:

Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she

 

Portrait of Holly Woodlawn by EP Holcomb

Despite her icon status, Woodlawn is unable to pay for her mounting medical expenses as her health deteriorates. The outlook is not good, but she doesn’t want to die in a nursing home, and hopes to return home with the help of donations. Performance artist and playwright Penny Arcade is running a crowdfunding campaign for 24-hour at-home care and eventual funeral expenses; you can contribute here. Arcade is quick to point out that, despite the recent visibility of trans people and trans issues, no one seems quite as interested in the foremothers of the movement and their unglamorous, real-world problems.

Many people have commented that they are waiting to see Caitlin Jenner, LaVern Cox or one of the other high profile transgendered people with high profile step up to call attention to Holly’s situation forgetting that most Hollywood people live far away from the reality of renegades like Holly and probably have not yet heard of Holly’s situation and may not..It may go straight to their dead mail! What I find far more curious is that cadre of so called Transactivists that make so much noise about words like Trannie or NightClubs with the word Tranny that were of our community and opened before they were in elementary school. Where is GLADD and other single issue organizations who love to be associated with trans issues when it suits them?

The truth is Holly is Beyond Theory and always has been…she lived her politics on the street with her body not on a velour couch with 8 people who took the same Gender studies class as her! Truth is: There’s never any sympathy for the wild ones.

 

 
You can read more about Holly in her amazing memoir, A Low Life in High Heels: The Holly Woodlawn Story. To catch a glimpse of her raw talent, see the clip below from Andy Warhol’s Trash. Woodlawn’s performance was so intense that the great director George Cukor petitioned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to nominate her for best actress.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Furious idiot rails at NBC affiliate for changing its peacock logo to the ‘colors of gays’
06.29.2015
10:37 am

Topics:
History
Queer
Television

Tags:
low IQ bufoonery
bigotry
NBC


 
If you were paying any attention to the news on Friday, the big day when the Supreme Court handed down its decision banning state-level curbs on gay marriage, thus making gay marriage legal in all 50 states, it seemed that everything was coming up rainbows, from the White House and Niagara Falls to Disney World and One World Trade Center, and that’s not even mentioning approximately 57% of the user icons on my Facebook feed, and I’m betting yours as well.

Of course, the ruling elicited, in addition to unmeasured outpourings of joy and exultation, plenty of expressions of feckless, petulant resistance from those who are not on board, or not on board yet, with the concept of gay marriage. Starting with the Justices themselves, Justice Scalia just about blew a gasket, claiming that now the United States “does not deserve to be called a democracy” (?!) and Chief Justice Roberts, curiously, wrung his hands over the fact that the “the proponents of same-sex marriage” had “lost, and lost forever ... the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause.”

As if it were the responsibility of oppressed people to go without their fundamental rights so that ........ bigots can have some kind of edifying teachable moment? That’s the best I can do with it. Today it was reported that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is now insisting that county clerks in Texas have the right to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples if the clerk has a religious objection to same-sex marriage, which frankly ushers in a bizarre new chapter in legal theory (“I’m sorry, I can’t serve you alcohol at this bar, I’m a Muslim…...”).

Anyway, of all the spittle produced in behalf of monolithically hetero weddings, my favorite is probably the bit of outrage produced by Don Stair, most likely a resident of Arkansas, who, confronted with images of celebratory rainbows everywhere, decided to reach out and let a local TV affiliate know that he disagreed with their choice to join the bandwagon and switch to a rainbow logo. The problem is, the channel in question was KARK, an affiliate of NBC, and their logo is a rainbow peacock, exactly the same as it has been for literally decades.

Here was Stair’s message, on Facebook, as displayed by KARK:
 

(Screenshot via KARK 4 News on Facebook)
 
With admirable economy, KARK responded to its viewer’s outrage in the following manner:
 

 
The NBC peacock logo has actually been around since 1956, predating even Ellen DeGeneres, the Village People, Stonewall, and Dan Savage. Soon enough, some of KARK’s more liberal viewers joined in to make fun of Stair:

 

 

 

 
via Addicting Info
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘In the future everyone will be bisexual’—Alice Cooper, 1974


 
Man, the fuckin’ ‘70s… It’s no secret or surprise that teen magazines’ content started to skew a bit more adult in that decade, mirroring significantly more permissive times, but I was floored by the August, 1974 issue of SPEC, a sometimes quarterly, sometimes bimonthly, typically more pin-up heavy special publication of 16 Magazine. While 16 tended to keep details of teenybopper stars’ sexual lives obscured in favor of probing questions into Bobby Sherman’s favorite (sorry—FAVE, always fave) color or David Cassidy’s fave dessert, SPEC offered up a Grand Funk “Be Our Groupie” contest, a ridiculous shirtless crotch-shot centerfold of Rick Springfield, and an advice column addressing how to touch a guy if you want to turn him on, fittingly written by a gentleman named “Rod.”

And as if to prove that clickbait is nothing new, here’s what ultimately grabbed me:
 

 

OK, I was curious what I’d need to do to marry an Osmond, too…

It speaks volumes about values dissonance over the decades that that could be printed at all, let alone on the COVER of a magazine, let alone the cover of a magazine for junior high and high school girls. And not even JUST on the cover:
 

 

 
Sooooooo I’m still confused—is Alice Cooper or is he not a fag? We’ll have to refer to the ridiculous interview to find out:

SPEC: People say all kinds of things about you.
Alice: I know, I know.

SPEC: So what’s the story, Alice? Are you gay? Are you straight? Are you bisexual? Which?
Alice: Oh, I’m straight. I’m attracted only to members of the opposite sex—girls, that is.

SPEC: But you have a girl’s name, you wear all that make-up. Don’t you expect people to get the impression that you’re not straight?
Alice: Well, I have a girl’s name, but that’s kind of a goof. And lots of men who perform wear make-up—that’s a theatrical tradition, it has nothing to do with sexuality. And I do not attempt to look like a girl, in case you haven’t noticed. I’m not a transvestite—I don’t imitate women. Did you ever see a woman who looked the way I do? If one did, she’d really get called a weirdo!

SPEC: Nevertheless, we get all these letters saying “Alice s a fag!” I’m sure you get them too. How do you account for that?
Alice: To some extent, I must admit, we do encourage that impression. But I’m not a “fag”—you know I don’t like using that word because it’s insulting to gay people.

SPEC: What impression do you encourage?
Alice: Oh, you know, bizarre, kinky, neither-here-nor-there. But I never went out of my way to lead people to believe that I was actually homosexual. After all, make-up and costumes have nothing to do with homosexuality—the only pertinent behavior is whether or not you’re attracted to people of your own sex.

SPEC: I understand you’ve been criticized by people in the gay liberation movement for exploiting homosexuality and making fun of it.
Alice: I’m sorry they feel that way, but there are a lot of gay people who don’t mind what I do also. It’s all in fun, and it’s certainly not meant to be malicious in any way whatsoever.

 

 

SPEC: Don’t you think a lot of your fans want to believe that you’re gay?
Alice: Yes, I know they do. Isn’t it curious? They’ll read this interview, and they’ll say “Bull! We know he’s queer!” Nothing I could say or do could convince them that I’m not.

SPEC: Why do you think that is?
Alice: I figure it probably makes these kids feel far-out to think that they can dig a performer who’s supposedly gay. I think it’s groovy of them.

SPEC: Would you admit it if you were homosexual?
Alice: Of course, and I wouldn’t just admit it, as if it were something you’re supposed to conceal. I’d just be it. I’d be natural about it, and I don’t see where it would be very much different for me, except I’d be making it with men instead of women.

SPEC: Aren’t you even just a little bit bisexual?
Alice: You mean do I mostly like girls, but do I like boys sometimes? No, I only like girls, but if I could have chosen my own sexuality, I think I might have chosen to be bisexual.

SPEC: Why is that?
Alice: It would give me twice as many people to pick from!

SPEC: Do you really mean that?
Alice: Sure—I think in the future everyone will be bisexual. And everything would be so much simpler then—you’d just make love with anyone you liked, and it wouldn’t matter what sex they were, and maybe it also wouldn’t matter what color they were, or what age, or anything, except that you liked them.

That’s a way better chat than you were expecting, no? Me too. I’ve conducted a fair few interviews and I can’t imagine in a million years bluntly asking someone if he or she is gay, and Cooper handled that all really well—especially for 1974. It goes on for a bit longer, with a lot of silly, if period-appropriate, shockrocker gobbledygook about pansexuality as a panacea for social ills blah blah blah. What’s transcribed above is the worthy stuff.

Here’s some more rare ‘74 vintage Alice—a mimed version of the Billion Dollar Babies cut “Sick Things,” from a short-lived TV mystery series called The Snoop Sisters. They were actually NAMED “Snoop” AND they were snoops, you guys. Why did that not last?
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Portrait of Jason’: 1967 doc about a gay African-American hustler is hilarious and heartbreaking

Portrait of Jason
”The most extraordinary film I’ve seen in my life is certainly ‘Portrait of Jason.’ It is absolutely fascinating.”—Ingmar Bergman

During a winter night in 1966, director Shirley Clarke brought her friend, Jason Holliday, to her apartment atop the Chelsea Hotel in New York City and filmed him for twelve consecutive hours. Over the course of the evening, Jason drinks and gets high as he tell stories of his life as a gay, African-American man. Clarke took the footage and edited it down to 95 minutes, resulting in Portrait of Jason (1967). In the film, Jason is charming, entertaining, funny, contradictory, and boorish. His stories concerning class, race, sexuality, and identity alternate between humorous and tragic, all told by a man who appears larger than life.

Portrait of Jason is a landmark film. In this setting, an individual was allowed to simply tell his story over the course of a film’s standard running time. Its cinéma vérité style brings to mind Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, as well as the films of John Cassavetes, but Clarke’s work is a truly unique movie experience. This mainly has to do with Jason Holliday (a/k/a Aaron Payne), the only person who appears on screen.
 
Jason Holliday
 
Jason talks about his life as a prostitute, houseboy, and drug user, as well as his dreams of becoming a nightclub performer, in a completely engaging, charming manner. His enthralling, yet heartbreaking tales of racism and homophobia—at a time when the ink on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had barely dried, and, due to anti-sodomy laws, sex between gay men was still illegal in most of the United States—are told with a laugh and a shrug. So be it, he says; through it all, he’s had a ball. It’s obvious he has a knack for storytelling, and though what he’s experienced may be true, it all feels like a performance.
 
Jason Holliday
 
Early on, Jason talks of being a hustler able to sweet talk anyone into anything, and you can clearly see why, because as a viewer you are taken in by this man from the get-go. Having said that, about half through the film I found myself exhausted by Jason’s stories and continuous, riotous laughter. When reading up on the film, I discovered that’s part of what Clarke was trying to get across; as the director later commented, her subject “is both a genius and a bore.”
 
Jason Holliday
 
At a certain point, after hours of storytelling and consumption of that truth serum known as alcohol, it appears his façade has cracked and the bona fide Jason/Aaron begins to emerge—or does it? Part of what makes Portrait of Jason so fascinating is the inability to know what is genuine and what is performance.
 
Jason Holliday
 
Nevertheless, I do believe it’s safe to say that Jason is struggling. Among other aspects of this life, he grapples with what kind of person he is; he admits to being both a deceiver and someone who “can be hurt in a second.” Though he has lived a unique life up to that point, a kind most will never know, it is through his contradictions, his inherent humanity, that we can see aspects of our own existence. Jason’s continually trying to make sense of who he is, all the while shifting between the walls of protection he has erected and allowing himself to be vulnerable, constantly moving forward as he smiles through a life filled with sadness and regret. Even if we rarely talk about those facets of being, it is through Shirley Clarke’s dazzling character study that we can relate, which is why Portrait of Jason endures.
 
Jason Holliday
 
In 2013, a restored version of Portrait of Jason arrived in theatres. It’s now available on DVD and Blu-ray via Milestone Films. If you have any interest in reading more about this incredible film, you’ll want to check out Milestone’s press kit.

Here’s a clip of Jason talking about his experience as a houseboy, in which he touches on issues of class and racism:
 

 
More ‘Jason’ after the jump…

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
Meet Allanah Starr, the world’s first and only trans, double F-cup, porn star and stand-up comedian
06.17.2015
10:11 am

Topics:
Amusing
Pop Culture
Queer
Sex

Tags:
Allanah Starr


 
If you’re in Paris for the month of June, you have the possibility of catching a unique comedy performance, as Allanah Starr is performing at La Nouvelle Seine at 3 Quai de Montebello every Friday at 11 p.m. until the end of the month. The title of the show is “The Life of a Real Woman with a Fake Passport.”

The show’s promotional text runs in part, “Allanah STARR raconte son histoire, celle d’un petit garçon né à Cuba, devenu femme aux USA et qui est maintenant Show Girl à Paris,” which means something like, “Allanah STARR tells her story, that of a little boy born in Cuba who became a woman in the USA and is now a Paris showgirl.”

According to this interview with Abby Ehmann, Starr was born in Cuba, but her father was a “political prisoner” and left for the United States when his son was five years old. She has been living as a woman since 1998: “It was definitely the best decision I ever made regarding my personal happiness. I am 100% certain this was my destiny and that I was born with a gender identity disorder. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a girl.” She has appeared on Maury several times, and her best-known movie is likely Allanah Starr’s Big Boob Adventures.


 
According to Tristan Taormino, Starr participated in the world’s first porn scene “between a male-to-female (MTF) transsexual and a female-to-male transsexual (FTM).” Starr’s counterpart in that scene was Buck Angel.

Starr’s cup size is listed as “FF” on the page with that interview, while over at Boobpedia she is listed as being an F cup. “I’ve had 30 actual surgeries and countless procedures,” says Starr. “Of course, I plan to do much more. My first operations were my nose job and an otoplasty (I had my ears pinned back). Since then, it has become a hobby of mine. I always say I collect shoes, handbags, Hollywood memorabilia and surgeries.”

In her show Starr tells jokes and lip-syncs to Eartha Kitt’s “Champagne Taste,” among other light classics. Here, check it out for yourself:
 

 
via Technikart

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘The Homosexuals’: Mike Wallace interviews Gore Vidal & early gay rights activists, 1967
06.15.2015
06:37 am

Topics:
History
Queer

Tags:
Gore Vidal
Mattachine Society
Mike Wallace


Gore Vidal and Mike Wallace 11 years later, in 1978. Vidal later resented television appearances, saying he was forced to do TV because no one read anymore.

1967 was an intense year for gay activism. In the UK, the the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalized gay sex for men over the age of 21 in England and Wales (No mention of lesbians?). In the US, however, only Illinois had revoked its sodomy laws That’s it. Illinois. Until the next decade it was just, “Hey, enjoy your one state! Hope you like the midwest, homos!” The 10th Amendment aside, gay activism was gaining more traction and publicity in the US, and this amazing little edition of CBS Reports—subtly titled “The Homosexuals”—was a pretty groundbreaking piece for gay men, despite its conservative conclusions.

Mike Wallace does a great job with the interviews. There’s a tragic one with an anonymous man on probation who had already been to jail three times for “committing homosexual acts.” Wallace says he’s “in therapy,” and the man identifies himself as “sick,” alluding to a domineering mother as the source of his sexuality. There’s a fantastic interview with Gore Vidal too, but my favorite is the representative from The Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group whose stated goals were:

1) Unify homosexuals isolated from their own kind
2) Educate homosexuals and heterosexuals toward an ethical homosexual culture paralleling the cultures of the Negro, Mexican and Jewish peoples
3) Lead the more socially conscious homosexual to provide leadership to the whole mass of social variants
4) Assist gays who are victimized daily as a result of oppression.

During an era where “identity politics” was just getting started, this was an incredibly sophisticated set of political objectives. The Mattachine Society had already been around since 1950, and the group’s original organizing principles were based on the Communist Party’s. Most the the original members were active communists, and founder Harry Hay actually recommended his own expulsion from the the party, which did not technically allow gay members. (They actually ended up dismissing him for security reasons, but declaring him a “Lifelong Friend of the People.”)

This little documentary really covers a range of self-acceptance, from the man who believed himself to be sick to the open and unashamed Vidal and the Mattachine members. Wallace however, makes his opinions clear, saying matter-of-factly:

The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one-chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits. And even on the streets of the city — the pick-up, the one night stand, these are characteristics of the homosexual relationship.

 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘How Far Will You Go?’ Meet Smokey, the outrageously gay 70s cult rockers
06.11.2015
09:42 am

Topics:
Music
Queer

Tags:
Smokey


 
John “Smokey” Condon was a pretty boy from Baltimore who marched for gay rights in the aftermath of the Stonewall RIots in 1969. EJ Emmons was a budding record producer from New Jersey, already starting to work in small studios around Hollywood, when the two were introduced by a Doors associate. Teaming up in 1973 as Smokey, over the course of the decade, the duo produced five singles as well as a treasure trove of unreleased recordings. Later this month, Chapter Music is releasing Smokey’s music for the first time in the digital age as How Far Will You Go? The S&M Recordings 1973-81.

Smokey was an extremely “out” act for the mid 1970s, even in the pretty gay context of Lou Reed, Village People or Jobriath, they stood out as going “too far,” which is saying a lot. Their lyrics were outrageously uninhibited celebrations of male on male sex, “water sports,” leather queens and transvestites. They went for it where others feared to tread, let’s just say. Although Smokey had a rapidly growing fan base for their live shows in Los Angeles, predictably 1970s music industry execs thought they were “too gay” even if many admitted that they liked what they heard musically.

Undaunted Smokey formed S&M Records and self-released five singles that showcased their ability to adapt to and even prefigure the decades’ bubbling up from the underground musical genres. Smokey did rock, disco, protopunk, synth-punk, sleazy R&B, stoner jams… but all of it was topped off by their outlandish choice of lyrical subject matter.

How Far Will You Go? has been lovingly restored by Emmons from original master tapes, and even mastered for vinyl by Emmons on his own cutting lathe. Extensive liner notes tell the tale of one of America’s oddest, most obscure 70s should-have-beens-who-never-were acts.

I posed a few questions to John “Smokey” Condon and EJ Emmons over email.

In the liner notes it indicates that you were living alone, or at least apart from your parents, at a very young age, above a rock club in Baltimore, partying it up with drag queens and the John Waters crowd. How did it happen to be that you were turned loose in the late 1960s in that way?

John: I was asked to leave by my Dad at fifteen so I went to Baltimore. I lived above a nightclub named the Bluesette in a small room with a scarlet bathroom. Met a lot of musicians there, I guess the most famous was Nils Lofgren who was in a group named Grin and he went on to play in Bruce Springsteen’s band and still does. Hung out at a nightclub in the Fells Point section of Baltimore called Ledbetters where most of the John Waters people hung out. Lived for a while with a drag queen named Christine. Moved to New York and then Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and back to Baltimore, where I met Vince Traynor who was the road manager for the Doors. I went to Europe with them and then to L.A. where I met EJ. That’s the condensed version.

Reading the press release, at first it’s tempting to think, “Okay, this is another obscure Jobriath kinda thing,” but Jobriath was more gay in the sense of show tunes and Greta Garbo, whereas some of your music goes beyond merely having an out and proud gay image and pisses right in your face. How did people react to music that lyrically celebrated S&M, watersports and the hardcore leather scene of New York in the mid 1970s? Lyrically “I’ll be a toilet for your love” goes far beyond anything that anyone else was doing at that time.

John: It still does as far as I am concerned, only a few rappers are pushing buttons these days. As far as people reacting to the music, they loved it. [The sexual subject matter] really did not affect them, in fact the crowds used to shout out for us to do “Miss Ray.”

EJ: People that heard the stuff really liked it, thought it was forward, and we did well whenever we played.  We had girls faint in front of Smokey! So it was always a very mixed crowd. We were not intrinsically “gay,” we just did what seemed cool at the time, and what I hoped as producer was somewhat ahead of the curve, since it takes so long to get signed. 

“Pisslave” was another thing: I took a dub to the Odyssey, where Chuckie Starr, still a close friend, was spinning.  He put it on, and the queens dutifully clogged away for 2:30 or so, until the minor section came in. It was like The Producers when the curtain rose, O-shaped mouths and not a movement on the floor. They just plain stopped, and listened in disbelief. Chuckie moved on.

Usually when there’s a release like this, the music often sounds low-fi, or was a 4-track home recording, or what have you, but you had a professional recording engineer in the band, so the audio fidelity is pretty solid here. What recording studios were you recording in?

John: EJ always insisted that free studio time was part of his gig wherever he worked. He was very much in demand. We worked off hours late at night, week ends and when there was down time in the studios. We started off at Artist Studios on Cherokee, but we recorded at Westlake Audio (when Quincy Jones and Eric Burden were next door, Paramount (where most of the songs were cut), we worked in the studio next to George Duke, Parliament Funkadelic, etc. the Record Plant, MGM Studios, etc.

Who else was working in these studios at the time?

EJ:  Over the timespan, a lot of different folks, much Motown tracking was done at Paramount, plus many Fantasy Records artists like Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, The Osmonds recorded at MGM of course. Older jazz greats like Joe Pass, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald.  Artist’s Studio was my first room, so the acts were either obscure or mariachis. We did things like Hudson and Landry, Little Richard, 4th Coming, Eden Ahbez… weird stuff.

Who are some of the musicians who came and went in Smokey’s orbit?

John: There was such a large array of musicians… the drummer from the Motels, Randy Rhoads, Kelly Garni (Quiet Riot) James Williamson (Stooges), Adrian Belew (King Crimson), Hunt and Tony Sales (Iggy Pop, Tin Machine) Billy Bass, Chuck Roast (Suburban Lawns) guys from both Rare Gems and Rose Royce.

But the line up we typically played gigs were Gordon Alexander, Bobby Jackson, and Johnny Perez (Sir Douglas Quintet). We used different lead guitar players a lot.

How did the mighty James Williamson get involved with Smokey?

John: Rodney Bingenheimer closed his club one night and brought him and several others to the studio and we cut some of tracks that are on the record, he then networked EJ to get a job at Paramount as he wanted to be a recording engineer. James worked in the shop along with EJ and myself, doing wiring of equipment.

EJ: He was a friend, and could wield a soldering iron pretty well, so I had him in the shop at Paramount between gigs. He is still a good and cherished friend. He came back to Paramount after he’d left as tech, to produce Iggy. I got to do some of their tracks, but James was more a pal and compadre than a member of our musical thing, save for that jam at Artist’s. Many of my masters burned in a studio fire in the late 80’s, and I suspect that one went with most of the album. A lot of the Smokey re-release is from the actual master two tracks from the time.
 

John “Smokey” Condon standing outside of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco in West Hollywood.

Where did you play live and for what kind of audiences?

John: We played at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco on the Sunset Strip a lot. We played a club called the Starwood, all around. Audiences varied as to who was on the bill. We always got a reaction, and usually we headlined. It got very, very, very crazy in the end, EJ and two others had to escort me to the stage as people went pretty nuts over me. We had girls faint, riots break out… We played with lots of groups that went on to make it, the Motels, Van Halen before they were signed. I think sometimes you can hear the Smokey influence in some of their songs.

Given the weird sort of counter culture/Stonewall/James Williamson/Rodney Bingenheimer, etc., pedigree that is the backstory to your music, why is it that Smokey hasn’t been released in the digital era before this?

John: I moved away from music.

EJ:  A silent, friendly parting, I had my hands full with the Suburban Lawns (members of which are on the album pre-Lawns) and the Rare Gems, so it just sort of happened. I felt that we had just gotten bloody GOOD, too, with things like “Hot Hard and Ready,” but that’s showbiz!

Below, “Leather” from Chapter Music’s How Far Will You Go? The S&M Recordings 1973-81:
 

 
After the jump hear Smokey’s “How Far Will You Go…?” with James Williamson on guitar, circa 1976…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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