Former New York Times reporter says he “‘experimented,’ but he’s not queer
Jayson Blair might go down in history as the plagiarizing and fabricating reporter who, in the spring of 2003, scandalized the New York Times. But his story is far from over.
In 2004, he wrote “Burning Down My Master’s House,” a compelling memoir that detailed his experiences about writing in a high-pressure workplace. The book also revealed how he turned to drugs and sex (with women) for relief. Meeting deadlines and trying to get stories placed on the Times’ front page brought insurmountable stress for the young reporter, then 27. And Blair, who has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was busted for turning in 36 stories that were either phony or lifted from another reporter’s work.
From his book and his work at the Times, one thing is clear Blair is a gifted writer who crafts vivid descriptions laced with clean, tight prose.
But an article that ran in the May 4 edition of U.K. newspaper The Independent put Blair on my gaydar. One paragraph read: Blair’s “drugs-for-sex escapades, it emerged, were with men. His attitude toward sex was “‘really sordid.’ He was extremely inhibited when it came to the physical act of sex, though, and used drugs to “‘make himself comfortable.'”
Through his website, I e-mailed Blair, asking if he’s now openly gay.
Earlier this week, Blair responded: “I liked the piece in The Independent. The story, however, oversimplified the matter. I am not gay, but I did perform sex acts on men while I was using drugs. Since high school, I struggled with my sexual orientation and during my college years after some sober experimentation came to the conclusion that I was not gay. The sexual acts with men occurred in college (experimentation) and then afterward (pimping myself out).
“The interesting thing is that many of my co-workers at the college newspaper thought I was gay (despite the girlfriend) because I was such a pronounced advocate of gay rights (and I continue to be one today).”
Going for baroque
“A Nut at the Opera,” by Maurice Vellekoop. (Drawn and Quarterly, 2006) 96 pp., $19.95.
Canadian illustrator Maurice Vellekoop’s work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Time, Vogue and Wallpaper, not to mention the books “Vellevision” and “Maurice Vellekoop’s ABC Book: An Erotic Primer.” Now he’s turned his talent to opera. The often “sublime and ridiculous” art form is the perfect subject for Vellekoop’s larger-than-life techniques.
The result, “A Nut at the Opera,” savagely sends up the opera’s cliches and divas of all genders. Aficionados will appreciate Vellekoop’s in-jokes woven into the biographies of such fictitious tenors and sopranos as Vadtka Heck, Dame Formalda Hyde and Philip Diller. Even casual fans will groan at such legends as Mellie Nelba and Beverly Hills. These entries contain fine examples of barbed wit, especially when chronicling singers’ reasons for notoriety.
As a critic of 18th century aristocrat Faustina Morfoni observed, “Sometimes her high notes are wrong, sometimes her low notes, sometimes her medium notes. She is at least impartial.”
Similarly, the leading lady of an ill-fated “Aida” production, “never known for her acting ability and with no voice was what one critic called merely a large woman in chocolate-coloured underwear.”
With their vivid, sumptuous palette, Vellekoop’s illustrations resemble those of ironic commercialist Shag, but tempers most sinister undertones with a boldly campy verve. Similarly, his black-and-white efforts recall the chiaroscuro of Charles Addams or Edward Gorey, along with their slyly macabre wittiness. Nevertheless, Vellekoop’s style remains triumphantly original, and his baroque flair is eminently suited to this subject matter.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, May 26, 2006.