Gay disco

(Vanishingly little in this about language, so if postings on other topics are not to your taste, pass this one up.)

This is a Pride Weekend posting — Monday (June 28) is Stonewall Day, and this is the weekend of Pride Parades in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York (I’ll be watching the San Francisco event on my computer) — about gay discos and gay disco music in my recent experience, in three parts: The Saint and the re-working of  memory; gay disco music meets Disney; and dancing decadently in Toronto at Sodom 3000.

Part the first: Who remembers The Saint? In my “Rivers of Babylon” posting, I quoted a 2006 posting of mine to the ADS mailing list about gay Circuit Parties in which I wrote that the NYC gay disco The Saint was the model for the the disco (The Twelfth Floor) in Andrew Holleran’s novel The Dancer From the Dance. In comments, David Fenton pointed out that this couldn’t be right, since Dancer was published in 1978 and The Saint didn’t open until 1980. (Another obvious extravagant model is Studio 54, although I don’t know that it could be fairly described as a gay disco. But it did open in 1977, just in time for Holleran to model The Twelfth Floor after it, if so he wished.)

Of course, there is absolutely no reason for Holleran to have taken any particular disco as a model; authors are inventive, and there were lots of discos, and nightclubs with dancing, around in the 70s. (By the way, both Fenton and I recommend Dancer as a novel — as, among other things, a lyrical evocation of New York in the 70s.)

So the question is: why did I (mis-)locate The Saint in the 70s?

Maybe I got it from the 2005 documentary Gay Sex in the 70, which I saw when it came out and viewed again last week. Certainly, several of the people interviewed for the film seem to have moved The Saint in their memories back into the 70s, along with Studio 54 and the New St. Marks Baths (opened in 1979 by Bruce Mailman, who also owned the Saint; the St. Marks had been exclusively gay since the 60s, but didn’t become hot-hot-hot until Mailman refurbished it). The interviewees were not the only ones to have re-worked their memories: so did many reviewers, as in this review in the Chicago Reader:

Nostalgic and instructive, this oral history looks at gay New York from the Stonewall riots in the late 60s to the onset of AIDS in the 80s. Video maker Joseph Lovett uses grainy home movies, porn clips, disco tunes, and thoughtful interviews with playwright Larry Kramer and others to evoke an era when the unbridled pursuit of pleasure was an act of defiance against social oppression and internalized homophobia. Survivors of the 70s may find their memories stirred by tales of cruising Studio 54 and the Saint, of abandoned piers and empty Allied vans; younger viewers may be fascinated by the contrast between these balding middle-aged men and their black-and-white snapshots, showing them in tight jeans, flannel shirts, long hair, and Zapata mustaches.

You can see how this might have happened. The film’s view is explicitly bounded by the Stonewall uprising in 1969 and the onset of AIDS in 1981. The 70s were the time of untroubled sexual freedom, so people tend to locate their memories of events, people, and places then, rather than in the more problematic 80s.

Memory is astonishingly, sometimes distressingly, plastic. People unconsciously rearrange the furniture of their memory according to their expectations and beliefs, and then they firmly believe that they are recollecting The Way Things Were.

(As a result, usage scholars and lexicographers have to be professionally unbelieving about reports of when certain people said certain things in certain places. Show us the evidence, they say — documentary evidence, not just your recollections, however vivid and sure they might seem to you.)

Part the second: On Gay Days, gay disco meets Disney. A few days ago the mail (the old-fashioned sort of mail that transports physical objects from one place to another) brought me a couple of discs of compilations of dance music, #5 and #6 in a series I had already had #3 of, that one a freebie from some gay source. All entitled GayDays (or Gay Days, depending on what you read).

This time there was cover art, clearly depicting a Disney fantasy place, either Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Ah, these are annual compilations, pegged to Gay Days at Walt Disney World (Gay Days #11 in Orlando took place a few weeks ago). Danceable but sexually unthreatening. The description for GayDays vol. 7 (which arrived just yesterday) will give you the flavor; the compilation

features DJ Randy Bettis at the helm delivering a happy, vocal, Hi-NRG mix. Packed with exclusives, you’ll love the new Inaya Day song, the new treasure from Billie Myers (of Kiss The Rain fame), Tony nominee Levi Kreis remixed, pop-dance powerhouse Brian Kent’s new hit, plus new dance versions of Don’t Stop Believin’, Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon, Rihanna’s Rude Boy, and Fight For This Love. Fun, fun, fun! (link).

Fun fun fun is pretty far away from what a friend of mine once described as “fucking set to music”, though it does capture the joyous character of disco music.

Part the third: Sodom on the dance floor in Toronto. In the same mail as GayDays 5 and 6 came a giveaway ad postcard for Sodom 3000 in Toronto (at Goodhandy’s, “Toronto’s dancesexual playground”), which took place just a week ago:

(Thanks to Chris Ambidge for the postcard.)

This one’s heavily sexualized, flaunting decadence, sin, and glam, plus intergalactic thrills. (The sponsors were Gay Guide Toronto, Manhunt (offering “gay dating, chat and hookups”), and three institutions for which I needed a 20x magnifying glass to read the fine print on: Fab, “the gay scene magazine”; Rabble, “news of the rest of us”; and Excess, “a bathhouse for gay Torontonians”.) A description from the organizers, on the Gay Toronto site:

From the depths of a black hole, drag star Donnarama warps into action for an intergalactic high-camp-meets-deep-space show that guarantees to send tricorder readings off the chart. If you thought the Borg Queen was fierce, wait until you see Donnaramas circuitry.

Experience the future of decadence as DJ Sumation spins a delicious mix of dance, sinful pop, cylon hits and X-men music medleys, plus your requests.

Hosted by Josh Levy, the Queen of Sodom Mahogany Browne and the Prince of Sodom Woodrow Monteiro.

Free glitter and glam station will be available with deep space makeup artist Andrew Randall.

Futuristic glam, cyborg and alien outfits encouraged!

I don’t think we’re in Orlando anymore.

5 Responses to “Gay disco”

  1. Chris Says:

    Fun fun fun is pretty far away from what a friend of mine once described as “fucking set to music”

    Old joke, probably collected by Gersham Legman: “Old hillbilly rails against dancing, ‘That’s jist fucking set to music.’ Friend said, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ ‘The music.’ he replies.”

    I dimly remember the Saint from my days as an over-the-hill fag-in-training (I came out at age 33 in the 1980’s but had been flirting with the scene in the late 1970’s and onwards.) I don’t remember ever going there, but friends did and from their descriptions I wasn’t interested. Nor would I have been very successful.

    There was, however, a disco in the early 1970’s in Greenwich Village called “The Ninth Circle”. I wonder if the name-similarity could be a clue as to it being a closer analogue to “the Twelfth Floor”. A friend of mine used to haunt it and I believe it got quite sleazy at times. Again, I was too timid and never went there.

    I got the idea and googled “Ninth Circle Greenwich Village” and got a link which mentions it as a gay disco in the early 1970’s; look in the second paragraph. There are numerous other references to the Ninth Circle, the investigation of which I leave to the curious reader.

  2. Chris Says:

    Of course, I misspelled Legman’s first name in my comment above. My copies of “Rationale of the Dirty Joke, Vols. I and II” are upstairs and I can’t be arsed to climb the stairs with my foot in a cast just to check. He is only “G. Legman” on “The Limerick”, which I have down here.

  3. Memory and fictobiography « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « Gay disco […]

  4. David W. Fenton Says:

    The Ninth Circle was the name of a well-known hustler bar in the village by the time I moved here in 1988.

  5. David W. Fenton Says:

    Several candidates for the antecedents of The Twelfth Floor in Holleran’s book can be found here:

    Seems to me that Sanctuary and The Loft are the most likely, though I seem to remember Paradise Garage being mentioned somewhere along the line, but it didn’t open until 1977, when the book was largely finished.

    If the timeline of the book is honored, the discos that were used as models would have to have been open in the early 70s.

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