In November 1979, Rolling Stone contributing editor Jonathan Cott and a friend went to Carnegie Hall to see Leonard Bernstein conduct the Vienna Philharmonic in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. After the concert, the two then went to Studio 54–and soon found themselves on the dance floor with Maestro Bernstein himself, ‘wildly dancing–bare-chested under a black leather jacket, a cigarette dangling from his lips–with a retinue of revelers, circling and whirling around him and then me and my friend as well.” A seemingly inexhaustible mix of talent, genius, exuberance, and mischievousness, this is the Bernstein that leaps off the page in Dinner with Lenny (Oxford University Press).
Oh, “murderous gays” and “self-hating lesbians”! You distraught and twisted queers were once our sole image in film. Then things changed, changed again, and now, well. . .. Definitely there’s a history here. Barbara Mennel’s Queer Cinema: Schoolgirls, Vampires and Gay Cowboys (Wallflower Press) provides that history of us onscreen, beginning in the early 1900s. Part of Wallflower Press’ Short Cuts: Introduction to Film Studies series, Queer Cinema situates the LGBT presence in movies and some TV within its social and historical milieu. Unsurprising and necessary are the many parallels author Barbara Mennel, an associate professor of film studies and German studies at the University of Florida, draws between the culture’s comfort level with queers and how we’re portrayed. The writing is workmanlike, clear, and detailed. I am not a film scholar, surprise surprise, and though I probably shouldn’t admit it, I am an IMDB.com fanatic. And, proudly, an L.A. girl at heart. I’m interested. So. (more…)
‘Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder and the Manhunt to bring the Killers to Justice’ by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway
Cobra Killer (Magnus Books) details (and I do mean details) the murder of amateur porn impresario Bryan Kocis by self-identified rivals, Svengali Joe Kerkes and his young companion in escorting, Harlow Cuadra. The reason for this horrid crime, the near-beheading and torching of the body, was to untangle young porn star Sean Lockhart from his contract with Kocis, so he’d be free to shoot porn with Cuadra. Unbeknownst to the killers, however, Kocis and Lockhart had just arrived at an amiable agreement. Got it? Crime scenes are typically messy affairs, and true crime writing rarely ascends to the literary coverage of Uncle Truman, much less provides objective reporting on something as divisive as the gay porn industry. The authors of Cobra Killer can be commended on structuring the book in a compelling manner while informing but never judging a often maligned business. Additional kudos can be extended on how well they managed the chapters concerning the trial. Trials are the quicksand of true crime books. The preponderance, the very granular nature, of evidence as well as the cast of characters suddenly introduced, can seriously bog down a book. The same can be said for extraneous moralizing, as if every reader needed a nudge in that direction (though some, without a doubt, do), not that that’s the case here. But what about the story? (more…)
In ancient Greece, parents who considered their newborn babies unfit would abandon them on a mountaintop. For centuries, the Western world did not do much better when parents institutionalized their differently abled children. Today, thanks to certain types of genetic testing, parents can choose whether or not they want to have a child with physical or developmental disabilities. At the same time, twenty-first century amniocentesis does not detect sexual orientation, learning disabilities, deafness, blindness, autism, transgenderism, or the probability of schizophrenia. Parents who have children with these differences often struggle to understand, accept, and love them.
Stones Under the Table and Missing Pigs: A Review of Matias Viegener’s ‘2500 Random Things About Me, Too’
“By listing random things, I sometimes feel I’m dismantling my mind rather than adding anything to it.”
-Matias Viegener, 2500 Random Things About Me, Too
In my home there isn’t such a thing as a quiet night reading in bed. There’s a bed, and there’s plenty of reading, but the reading is a distinctly loud activity: lots of laughing, quoting, grumbling, declarations of bullshit, the impatient scissor-leg thrashing of sheets.
“The list is a bastard form, meant to compartmentalize the wildness of things.”
Matias Viegener’s book, 2500 Random Things About Me, Too (Les Figues Press, 2012) is a book I’ve taken to bed with me many times. The book written entirely on Facebook—25 daily Facebook status updates over 100 days, some missed here and there—2500 Random Things could be assumed gimmicky and innocuous, associated as it is with the vagaries and kitten pictures of a social network. Composed of Facebook statuses ranging from the truly mundane, (“Uh, I have a lot of favorite books.”) to the intensely personal (“My mother’s ashes stayed in their cheap container for two years after her death. We knew we wanted to scatter them in the woods by the house, but my father, brother, and I were never there together.”), to the immediate and concrete (“Things I could touch from where I am sitting: pens, iPhone, computer and cables, dried rose petals, messy stacks of paper, and a plastic jug half full of urine.”) to the meta (“I worry sometimes that I’m not random enough.”), and the transcendent (“The sun in the pine needles quivering in the wind. What else is more important?)—the book is not an easy read. The swift movement between tones, the brevity of the list format, the poignancy of each isolated status, compelling even when it’s something stupid—sometimes compelling precisely because it is something stupid—enhances the spontaneous, intimate nature of the text. (more…)
Renaissance queer “credible” Sarah Schulman’s new memoir Israel/Palestine and the Queer International (Duke University Press) is part manual, part testament on how to learn from one’s ignorance. As the late, great lesbian literary critic Barbara Johnson explains,
From the Flower Power protest songs of the 60s to the socially conscious hip hop of groups like Public Enemy, popular music has long had the capacity to voice the desire for social revolution in rhythm and melody. In Gaga Feminism (Beacon Press), J. Jack Halberstam makes a case for Lady Gaga to be considered in these terms for the potential of her masterful subversion of gender and sexual norms to bring about a possible “end of normal” altogether. Describing the project of gaga feminism, Halberstam explains, “Gaga feminism proposes to be a new kind of gender politics for a new generation, a generation less bound to the romance of permanence (in the form of marriage, for example), more committed to the potential of flexibility (in the form of desire, for example), more tuned in to the fixity of power relations (in the form of capitalism), and less likely to buy the broken ideologies of uniqueness, American dreams, inclusivity, and respectability.” (more…)
‘Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics’ by Urvashi Vaid
The first line of Urvashi Vaid’s new book Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics (Magnus Books) is enough to make even the most moderate queen cringe: “A dizzying array of events seem to suggest that the ultimate victory of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement is not only inevitable, but irresistible.” (more…)
In a few weeks, Minnesotans will vote on whether or not to approve an amendment to the state constitution which would define marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. The people who constructed this amendment implied that gay and lesbian couples are a foreign, un-Minnesotan element that should be driven from the state. If these fearful straight folks had learned about the existence and accomplishments of LGBT Minnesotans in their history classes, they never would have dreamed of this amendment in the first place. In addition to University of Minnesota Press’ recent publication Queer Twin Cities, Stewart Van Cleve’s Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota would fill a much-needed information gap in our state. (more…)
Has the cultural critic become his own worst enemy? Has the eloquence he belabors to produce through his craft been diminished to cynicism in the fast-paced Age of the Internet? (more…)