Paul Kantner dies at 74.

When I was 4 I started buying 7″ singles. The first ones I ever got were “Crosstown Traffic,” “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” Now.. being 4, I didn’t really understand the lyrical content. I thought Crosstown Traffic was about driving around town in a car. It wasn’t until I was a teenager when I realized it was about a very sexually active woman. White Rabbit, I thought, was about Alice In Wonderland. I loved how it was dark and scary and mysterious. It had a sort of Tango rhythm to it and I would do a sort of dark tango dance with my stuff rabbit named Bunny. Years later when I figured out it was about dropping acid, it made all of that seem so… innocent.

Anyway… Jefferson Airplane’s album Surrealistic Pillow is a brilliant piece of magic. Beautifully melding intricate rhythms, styles and different modes, pop melodies and gorgeous arrangements. I only knew the two hits from it when I was a kid. I didn’t hear the full album until I found a scratched up copy at a yard sale for 25¢ when I was about 15. If you haven’t heard it, it’s well worth the listen. You’ll understand why people miss the old Haight Ashbury so much.

Arrived in SF

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The first thing I do when getting into my hotel… set up my turntable and put on a record. Then I can unpack. Just a couple more days here working in SF. This is the boring part of my job… data transfers, paperwork, booking flights, hotels and scheduling the next shoot (which takes place late October in Alta Dena).

Then it’s on to Key West and Island House.

My September 11th Ritual: God Hates Us All

Morbid as it may be, my first impulse when people mention “September 11th” is to grab my copy of God Hates Us All by Slayer. It’s how I spend the day every year. Playing it over and over. It really is a good album.

That morning was pretty normal. I was working in purchasing for HMV, a huge international record chain that never really broke into the US market before music retail chains became a thing of the past. I worked at the flagship store in downtown Toronto and we had just gotten out of our Tuesday new release meeting and were trying to guess which of the two major new releases that day would sell more.

One was the new Mariah Carey offering “Glitter” which, if you didn’t know what it said, kind of looked like it was titled “Gutter.” We all agreed that it was a downright noxious album of horrible songs that would accompany her equally horrible movie of the same name (“Glitter,” not “Gutter”).

The other was the new album by venerable metal band Slayer. The album was called “God Hates Us All” and featured two different album covers since the first one that featured a bible, nailed shut and bleeding, was deemed a bit too “offensive” for some markets. I predicted Slayer’s album would sell more. I bought three copies of it myself. The Japanese import, the Canadian release with the censored cover and the blood-red vinyl.

When we got out of the meeting, staff on the main floor were all a bit worked up over a movie playing on the screens throughout the store. It looked like a bad Michael Bay movie. Before long, the chatter filtered up to us that this was NOT, in fact, a movie but live footage of the World Trade Center in New York where “someone” had “flown a plane into one of the towers.”

We all just assumed “some drunk billionaire in his Cessna” or something along those lines.

We crowded around the VJ booth at the back of the store where the music and video were played so we could watch it on the screen live. We had started to become a bit flippant about it and said “Hope the money wasn’t seriously hurt.”

We then all watched while the second plane hit and in one moment realized exactly how far off we were from that first assumption that this was a minor, random accident.

Without much news or information available… speculation started. Then panic. Confusion. Complete bewilderment at what was going on. A few minutes later I sat on the floor of my office listening to the radio and trying to absorb it all. Before long, reports of a third plane in Washington DC and possibly a fourth “near Pittsburgh” came in. Reports of “taking out radio communication in New York” and “gunfire in the streets” and “terrorist groups attacking in Chicago” had started. Of course most of that was bullshit but by that point it was hard to not believe anything.

Not unlike the movies you see of people crowding around the TVs in store windows to watch news about the Kennedy Assassination, people stood around in the front area of the store watching the video on the screens. Some would blankly say “my son is in New York right now” and I remember taking a mother in my arms telling her not to panic. One man told us that most of the tall buildings in downtown Toronto had been evacuated just in case…

Of course we were only in shock and disbelief for so long. Canadians were just separated and isolated enough from it all that we still remember it like a movie. We may have known people there but it all still seemed unreal. Of course Canadian conservatives and anyone desperate enough to paint Canada as “important” on the world’s stage would warn us about the “terrorists coming for us in Toronto” and tell us to “imagine the CN Tower smoking like that.”

Most of us rolled our eyes at the absurdity of a spindly concrete tower “smoking” and the catty answers we’d throw back were “the terrorists won’t attack Toronto, their mothers all live here” or “let’s hang a target on the east side of the tower and see if we can get them to knock it into the Skydome and take out TWO eyesores at once!”

Canadians have always had belligerent senses of humor and even something as horrific as the September 11th attacks wasn’t going to take that away.

One of my most chilling souvenirs was the poster advertising the new Slayer album. It featured the bloody bible, nailed shut with “Slayer: God Hates Us All – September 11th, 2001.” How’s that for a bit fucked up?

So… that’s my ritual. I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I don’t believe in “god” so it’s not like I take much from that message. But when the news hits every year… I go right to my vinyl wall and haul out my copy. It’s spinning on my turntable right now.

Kinda freaky, really.

Say Goodbye To Hollywood.

Hollywood Montrose was a very revolutionary character in 1987. He was gay and flamboyant but he was also depicted as smart, witty, supportive, loyal and brave. He had a love life, he had abilities beyond just being gay and most of all, being his friend wasn’t depicted as weird or negative.

In fact when the security guard utters a couple of homophobic comments about him, Andrew Maccarthy’s character stands up for him and calls the security guard a “bigoted jerk.” For 1987, that was downright groundbreaking.

While some people bristled as his absurdly over-the-top depiction of a flamboyant gay man, taking a step back to see Mannequin on the whole, MOST characters are absurd caricatures. James Spader’s smarmy yuppie villain, the creepy Italian horn dog, the bitchy career woman, even Estelle Getty’s absent-minded and mouthy old lady store owner.

Meshach Taylor went on, of course, to be much more beloved and well-known for his character Anthony, the handyman from Designing Women. But to me he’ll always be Hollywood.

Judy Garland Is No Longer Considered A “Gay Icon.” That’s A Good Thing.

I still remember when I first came out. It was 1988, I was 19 and the world was both a wondrous and scary place for gay men.

If the modern-day gay movement had started in the late sixties with the Big Bang of drag queens rioting at the Stonewall Inn (I still think that’s a rather exaggerated claim, but more on that some other time), the gay men of the 70s had taken that and turned it into a universe of gay culture, art, music and social trends and traditions. No longer hiding in mafia-run bars with no running water or proper fire exits, gay men now proudly ruled the streets of Greenwich Village in New York, The Castro in San Francisco and West Hollywood in Los Angeles. My own new-found home of Toronto had an area called periodically “Mollywood” (after Alexander Wood, the man who had originally owned the land it stood on), Vaseline Tower (after the phallically-shaped and unfortunately-named “Village Green Tower” on Alexander Street) or Boy’s Town. It stretched down Church Street between Bloor and College Streets with the intersection of Church and Wellesley at the epicenter and became a bustle of activity for the gay community for years.

But it wasn’t all rosy.

It was, after all, 1987 and HIV was ravaging the gay men half a generation ahead of my peers and me, the American (and to a lesser extent, Canadian) political right had discovered that cashing in on the fear of “AIDS” and the gay men who were hell-bent on giving it to your kids was a lucrative industry.

Going to gay bars was both exciting and maybe just a touch jarring if you took everything in.

Komrad’s, my favorite dance hangout, was packed to the rafters from 9PM every night until long after the other bars closed. Young gay men (the drinking age in Toronto was 19), exploded with a new-found sexual energy and freedom. We’d date, hook up with our friends and guys we met while hanging on the “famous steps” outside The Second Cup, a coffee place on Church Street. Up the street half a block, we’d maybe get dangerous and meet anonymous sex partners in the shadows of Cawthra Park. The internet was still just a way for college students and government employees to access text files. There was no such thing as a hookup website. No cell phone apps to GPS the closest horny guy. Fuck that, we didn’t even have cell phones (there were car phones but only ultra-rich douchebags and pimps had those).

If you wanted to get laid or make friends or even find out what your friends were up to… you had to go out.

And out we went. Just about every night. To dance, to get laid, to make friends or just feel a connection to the vibrant gay community that made the neighborhood reverberate at all hours. Even to just sit around with my circle of close buddies over a beer and a shared plate of nacho chips.

But if you really looked around, you’d notice something. Something a bit off. Something missing.

There were a lot of men my age, 18-25. And there were plenty of mature men in their 40s and above. But there was an odd black hole that occupied the gap. Very few men mid-twenties to late thirties. Many, sadly, had died of AIDS and the rest were either in hiding, had raced back into the closet and the suburbs or were just unable to take the loss of their friends and peers and didn’t venture out.

Many of the men who’d created the culture weren’t around to enjoy it. Those of us looking for role models had to look not one but two generations back. Those of us who were coming out in the late 80s had our own pop idols. Madonna, George Michael, Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Taylor Dane and Lisa Stansfield ruled our dance floors and poured out of our beach boom boxes. The older men were uninterested in our music. They preferred the songs of the more classic Broadway divas like Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and of course Judy Garland.

The old guys LOVED Judy Garland. Of course they did.

When they had come out 20 or so years earlier, Judy was still alive, still one of the most popular female pop singers ever, and her “crying on the inside while joyously singing and smiling on the outside” style was in lockstep with a generation of gay men who, in the 60s, had to live a life of public hetero-normalism while keeping their dark, sexual secrets hidden from public view.

She was also possibly the only A-list star who would acknowledge her gay fan base. That endeared her to a generation of men who just wanted to be loved by a mother figure, openly and without judgement. Those fans were fans for life.

So when my generation came looking for our father figures at the piano bars, the book clubs or political action organizations, we were also given crash courses in all things Judy. I remember being attracted to an older man that worked as a manager at a bar where I was a waiter. Yeah, he and I shagged every chance we got but in the morning I would be served Judy Garland music with my coffee and pastries.

It got a bit irritating when straight people would condescendingly talk about Judy Garland when the word “gay” was mentioned. For a young guy like me, it was 60s old-school and not even the cool 60s old-school like Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix. It was the music my mom liked. But because the segment of the gay community that thrived on Donna Summer, ABBA, Olivia Newton-John and Barbra Streisand’s disco phase had gone missing, the most “out” and established gay men were still living on a steady diet of “Live At Carnegie Hall.” So that’s who the straight mainstream culture thought we “all liked.” They were also in that mindset that all gay men were the same.

When men my age wouldn’t know some Judy Garland song or movie or piece of trivia and some bitter old gay man would spit “and you call yourself a homosexual” at us like being gay required lessons and an oral exam of some sort. Like it wasn’t enough to be turned on by having sex with guys. We had been cast out of our high school cliques for not being masculine enough and now we were being graded on how – for lack of a better word – “feminine” we could be.

Without the 70s Disco men, the New Wave boundary-pushers or the early 80s “Guppies” to pass on their culture to the new generation of gay men, gay culture didn’t really evolve much. It devolved. We went back to having Judy Garland being “The Icon” of gay men. We were not gay men, we were devo. Or something.

The oddest Judy Garland reference I ever read was when a straight porn company tried to launch a gay porn site of Jenna Jamieson’s “favorite” gay porn movies.

No, really.

The marketing campaign claimed that “gays love Jenna” and said that they held her in high esteem along with other gay icons “like Judy Garland and Liza Minelli.” I guess someone should have clued them into the fact that gay men weren’t jerking off to pictures of Dorothy Gale or Sally Bowles.

My generation was certainly hit hard by AIDS, I lost count of how many funerals I went to and how many casual acquaintances I would realize I hadn’t seen in months or a couple of years. But because the message of condoms and safer sex had been driven into our skulls by gay men’s health care organizations and community centers, we were much more likely to protect ourselves.

Coupled with how many of us had to look literally into the face of AIDS as it served us our nachos at Toby’s on Church Street, we were the proud Safe Sex generation.

But… in the mid-t0-late 90s, we started to see our beloved Church and Wellesley intersection be crowned not by the vaguely homoerotic beer and jeans and underwear billboards that stood on the roofs of the corner business, but huge ads that depicted a handsome, strong, rugged man in his 30s, climbing a mountain or playing sports. These were ads for what we hopefully called “AIDS Drugs.”

Protease inhibitors had been approved to treat HIV. And they worked.

A few of my friends who had quietly given away all their possessions and spent their life savings to spend their few remaining months on the beach in Miami began to reappear… healthy and… planning a life. Planning to live.

The San Francisco Bay Area Reporter had a famous front page in 1998 that read “NO OBITS!” the AIDS crisis was hardly over but things began to change for the better.

My generation stopped focusing on helping our older friends die and became big brothers to the next generation of young gay men. We were all turning 30 and the clubs that had once held us now held a new 20-ish crowd and us along with them. We passed on some of our favorite pop music to them… they took Kylie and Madonna, they passed on Rick Astley and Lisa Stansfield.

They discovered their own icons. I always thought their choices of “divas” were telling. We gave them solo individuals who told them to “express” themselves. They chose the Spice Girls who were five pop stars in one. Before, to fit into gay culture, one had to shoehorn themselves into the culture. Now you were given choices of “Scary” or “Posh” or “Baby” or “Ginger” or “Sporty.”

Some of us ditched the idea of “Glamour” and instead chose Björk or Courtney Love who would take a baseball bat to the idea that gay men liked poise and grace.

In the late 90s, everything changed.

Gay culture had become so much of a non-issue in urban areas that gay men started to venture out of their own bars and safe zones. Gay guys went to “straight” techno clubs and danced along with the straight crowd that welcomed them. Gay fans of hard rock would be welcomed to Lollapalooza and when stadiums full of metal heads found out that their Metal God Rob Halford was gay himself, the reaction was a collective shrug and the band played on.

I reached the tipping point in 2006. I had been out for half as long as I’d been alive and I saw two generations take their place after mine, each one having their own heroes and icons and divas. They would take the best from before (Madonna and Kylie both still make the cut 25 years later) and leave the rest (The Spice Girls burned bright and fast and disappeared just as quickly). The men in their 40s that had taught us a love of Judy 20 years before were now in their 60s and had no influence on the new 20 year-old fans.

It was noted by Robert Leleux, gay men no longer need or even care about Judy Garland. Her music no longer speaks to them. Judy’s legend is usurped by the more current legends of Michael and Whitney and Britney (who’s still alive at the moment but… ya know… tick tock). It’s not that Judy doesn’t have fans anymore… Of course she does. She just doesn’t represent current gay culture. She’s an icon of the past that is still beloved today.

A faded symbol of a bygone era occupied by their grandmothers, having gay men now scold 20 year-old gay men for not worshipping Judy Garland would be like a straight grandfather scolding his grandson for not having a pinup of Betty Grable.

Their mothers listened to Madonna, too. And Cyndi Lauper and maybe Belinda Carlisle. But not Judy Garland.

Judy Garland no longer matters in that “gay icon” way to the new generation of gay men and that’s a good thing. It means we lived. It means that our culture didn’t get stuck in that devolved, no-man’s land.

It means we’re evolving again.

Morning in Silverlake.

Having my coffee and reading at book at Cafecito Orgánico in the southern tip of Silverlake. An interesting mix of people either buried in working on their laptops or groups in conversation. Located in a residential side street.

There’s a lot of casual foot traffic, lots of young people with cool clothes that most people would scoff at and call “hipsters” walking their dogs, a bit of traffic passing but mostly it’s just a quiet and hidden little place to start my day.

Living in Los Angeles it can be hard to escape the endless activity and find those quiet little pocket villages like the part of Silverlake I live in. It’s why I’m so thankful for places like this that are helping attract just the right amount of foot traffic and people without it becoming like the insanity up at Sunset Junction.

PROJECT: PHOENIX Episode 6: “Happy Trails to You”

PROJECT: PHOENIX
an original web series for zombiebakeshop.com

Written and Directed by Chad Darnell
Executive Producers: Patrick Murray, Diane Ademu-John, Tina Travis and Chad Darnell
Producer: Kathy Weiss
Starring: Lee Meriwether, Sherilyn Fenn, James Logan, Shanda Lee Munson, Linc Hand, Justin Welborn, and Kathy Deitch.

We had a GREAT time doing this series. We shot the whole thing in 5 days, a budget of $12,000 and a fantastic cast. We’ve learned a LOT from doing this series and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed it. We’re still hoping to do a season 2, but it’s become such a launch pad for all of our careers, that might have to wait a while. Tell me in the comments what you think.

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