Mason, ajar

Gay novelist Richard Mason likes doing things the hard way

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CLARK KENT OR SUPERMAN? | Despite techno aspects of his new novel that include an upcoming smartphone app, Richard Mason wrote ‘History of a Pleasure Seeker’ in longhand. (Photo courtesy Michael Lionstar)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

The charm that novelist Richard Mason exudes is undeniable. Words fall from his South African accent crisply, enunciated to perfection even as he talks rapidly. Rarely at a loss for words, ideas seem to flow in his head at a river’s pace and while he brushed on myriad topics, including his just-released fourth novel, History of a Pleasure Seeker, and his plans for his already-plotted next book. Yeah, he’s that guy — the overachiever we all want to be.

But Mason’s personable aura instead makes you root for him. And it’s refreshing to know the handsome gay writer isn’t Superman … despite an unavoidable resemblance to Clark Kent.

“Well, it is hard to juggle while doing this and researching a new book,” he admits. “You really got to keep on putting creative energy to the new book, but then I struggle to read whatever everyone else thinks and do these sorts of interviews. Both are distracting.”

Mason was 18 when his first novel, The Drowning People, was published during his first year at Oxford. Rave reviews and bestseller lists cemented his place in pop-lit, so he took his time with his follow-up, 2005’s Us, which continued his winning streak.

Mason’s complexities may lie in his being bipolar; his heart is set on the memory of his sister Kay, who died when he was a child. With that and an exposed life to arts and literature across Europe, Mason has created a universe of characters in his rich, sophisticated novels.

With Seeker, he’s set the scene in bourgeois Amsterdam, centered on the handsome Piet Barol and his foray into the upper classes. Mason will discuss the book Friday in Dallas as part of the Arts and Letters Live series at the Dallas Museum of Art.

“I really want to create this constellation of novels in that you could read my first six books in any order,” he says. “This character demanded a book of his own. I made him Dutch, because I wanted to write about Holland.”

Mason is glad to have an audience, though on his Twitter feed, he confessed disappointment that people weren’t getting the true point of the book. “So far no one has noticed that History of a Pleasure Seeker is a story about God,” he tweeted, and not just the tale of a social-climbing Dutch boy. Mason makes the strong point that to create a fictional world without the notion of God or spirituality, a chief element of humanity would be missing.

lead-02“Every character relates to God quite strongly, they’ve made pacts with God,” he says. “Nobody seems to notice that. They think it’s about sex. You can’t create a fully dimensional character without talking about their spiritual life, but it’s the same about talking their erotic experiences. All that is what it means to be human.”

Mason moved to New York City in 2010 with his partner of 12 years. The demands of the city didn’t offer him much quiet time to write, but at the same time, he thrives in the artistic atmosphere and excites over the endless collaborative possibilities. He says the jury is still out on his living there because he finds himself yearning for his tent in South Africa, where he did research.

But his collaborations paid off for Seeker — this will be the first novel to have its own smartphone app (it comes out in May). Mason researched certain sounds he imagined while writing or even songs playing in the background. He worked with artists and developers to create a full-on interactive reading experience.

Ironically, despite a technological approach to literature, he sat and wrote Seeker by hand.

“Writing it was a profoundly different mental process to write out, but with a computer, you never see the architecture of the text,” he says. “The app came about having spent a year in that tent. The way I write has real buildings, things to see and hear. When you’re reading where Piet says goodbye, a man playing music in the back. You can set the level of your own imaginable engagement to the book. I think it’s an inspired new way of telling a story and I got to work with terrific artists to make it exciting.”

Mason doesn’t write gay books per se, but he applies his same philosophy to queer characters as he does the notion of God.

“It’s important to give the exposure of gay characters,” he explains. “Once you’ve written a number of novels, you can’t create a world without them. There is a more profound truth from that now. I don’t know how you can avoid writing about gay experience.”

For an international, jet-setting author, Mason leads a very normal-sounding life. He and his partner recently celebrated their 12-year anniversary but they don’t “do” Valentine’s Day. He complains about the emails he has to trim down which is an ongoing saga on his Twitter feed and he’s prefers a healthy and Zen way of life over “the raunchy gay scene” of New York as the London Evening Standard described in an interview with Mason last year. He cleverly responded, “You can throw yourself into a life of debauched hedonism or you can live a sober life of self-improvement, meditation, personal trainers and 12-step programs. I’m trying to stick to the second, with just a little bit of the first for fun.”

But first he has to concentrate on his next novel.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

SEX… in a fashion

The DMA’s exhibit on the fashions of Jean Paul Gaultier exudes sex appeal with a big dose of flamboyance

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DRESSED TO KILL IT | Gay fashion pioneer Jean Paul Gaultier oversees his own exhibit (Below) as an Animatronic mannequin, a fascinating technology that only accentuates the brilliance of the designs. (Photography by Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

 

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

For a man best known for creating the Valkyrie-like conical breastplate that shot Madonna into the pop culture stratosphere, Jean Paul Gaultier is a surprisingly humble person. While he’s clearly delighted to have his fashions on display — as they are at the Dallas Museum of Art in the traveling exhibit The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, which runs through February — he makes one thing plain: He does not consider fashion “art.”

“My work is not art,” he says flatly. “My job is to make clothes that have to be worn. My role is not to create in the abstract but to be inspired by the needs and desires of the people. So I am in service to that. Art is art — it is a personal vision of the artist.” He pauses, then adds with a smile, “My collections are my babies, though.”

While the designer himself may not consider his work product “art” in an academic sense, there are probably few who would agree with him. More so than most fashion designers, Jean Paul Gaultier’s style is instantly recognizable, even without seeing the label.

He almost single-handedly moved the bustier from the boudoir to the arena stage, cladding Madonna in a corset for her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, immediately making legends of them both.

It’s not just brassieres, but lace bodysuits, silk leotards, men in skirts — Gaultier takes fashion rules and sets them on their heads, turning out wearable art (there, we said it) that is both old-fashioned, even classical, and futuristic — but always oozing sex.

“My love for fashion belongs to the fact I saw a movie from the 1940s when I was 12,” he says. “In the movie, they did a beautiful description of couture.” (Now, when he works with a film director — as he did recently with Pedro Almodovar on The Skin I Live In, or Luc Besson on several films — “it is like I return to that [moment]”.)

But really, the germ of his style was started by what a pre-teen Jean Paul found in his grandmother’s wardrobe.

“I was fascinated by the whole world of my grandmother’s closet — it was beautiful and different,” he says. “It was underwear that could be worn as outerwear. I stole my ideas from her.”

Though not just her. Gaultier was inspired by television, by old movies, by showgirls — anything that offered a view of beauty he could re-imagine on the runway.

“My definition of beauty — there’s not one type. Beauty is beauty — you can find it in different places,” he says.

It’s a keystone not only of his design style, but of the DMA’s astonishingly exciting exhibit. (Anyone who doesn’t think a Gaultier gown deserves formal museum treatment obviously hasn’t seen the show.) In just a handful of rooms, we move from camp to punk — with many, many visits to edgy haute couture.

In the first gallery, visitors are introduced to Gaultier himself, talking about his fashions via a quasi-Animatronic mannequin that captures his actual face and voice, projected with unnerving authenticity. That happens with a lot of the mannequins, some of whom seem to look back, even judge you. (One Mohawk’d man in tights and a codpiece seemed to be flirting with me; I bet he does that with all the boys.) Lanky sailor boys in striped Apaché T-shirts look as if they leaped from a Tom of Finland drawing; that cone bra is also unmistakable.

Walk further, and the second room oozes the dark romance of a bordello, approximating (with its window-like display cases) the red-light district of Amsterdam. “I think when you exit this room, they should give you a cigarette,” I told another patron. She didn’t disagree.

Another room shows the movement of the pieces, sort of, with a moving catwalk that is like a time machine of Gaultier runway fashions, including representative designs from his famous Men in Skirts that took MOMA by storm some years ago. That’s only the most obvious example of the genderbending that is a Gaultier hallmark — and a central theme of the sexual forthrightness of the DMA’s exhibit.

“Androgyny is part of the thing that interests me,” he says, “that moment when the young can pass to adolescence [and] their beauty is between feminine and masculine at the same time. I use it to show in reality how [both sexes] can assume [the identity of the other sex]. In Scotland, you will see me in kilts and they are very masculine — it’s not feminine to wear a skirt [in that context].”

That, Gaultier says, is the essence of freedom, showing that “men can cry just as well as women can fight.”

And this exhibit shows that a designer can be an artist with a bold sense of sex — even if he doesn’t think so.

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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

Visit DallasVoice. com/ category/ Photos to see more of the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DMA.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Latin flair

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MUY FUNNY | Dan Guerrero works for laughs while being gay and Latino in his one-man show.

Before he could write ‘¡Gaytino!,’ Dan Guerrero first had to find his roots

rich lopez  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.

But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.

“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”

His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing). While Guerrero appreciated his father’s legacy, he established his own identity by moving to New York to become an actor. That didn’t work out so much, but becoming an agent did.

“It was kind of by accident, but I ended up being an agent for 15 years,” he says. “I got into producing and I loved it.”

Although he stepped away from performing, Guerrero finds himself back onstage Friday and Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center with ¡Gaytino! The autobiographical one-man show is part comedy, part cabaret, with Guerrero recounting in lyrics and punch lines his experiences growing up gay and Latino, life with father … and having to rediscover his roots after moving back to L.A.

“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”

In L.A., Guerrero rediscovered his heritage. While still working in entertainment, he noticed a lack of Latinos behind the scenes. He started a column in Dramalogue to change that, interviewing actors like Jimmy Smits and Salma Hayek and producing shows that spoke to Latin audiences.

And then came ¡Gaytino!

“Well, the word itself hit me first so I trademarked it. Then it was madness as I set about writing it,” he says.

When the show debuted in 2005, Guerrero hadn’t performed in 35 years. He was a different man, no longer a young buck with nothing to lose and untarnished optimism. He was a behind-the-scenes producer and casting agent. He was — gasp! — older.

“I remember thinking, ‘What am I gonna do? What if I forget my lines?’ I’m an old codger,” he says. “But I got onstage and it was like I had did it the day before. Performing is just part of who I am.”

With his successful day job (he once repped a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a healthy relationship (32 years this November) and irons in many other fires, why bother with the daunting task of writing a show and carrying it alone?

“It still feels like I’m breaking into show business. At least when you’ve been around as long as I have, you can get the main cheese by phone,” he answers. “But really, I had something I wanted to say and I love doing it. I’ve been lucky to stay in the game this long but it’s not by accident; it’s all been by design.”

What he loves isn’t just doing his show, but how it pushes positive gay Latino images. He’s dedicated this chapter in his life to that. Guerrero now feels parental toward the younger generation — maybe because he has no children of his own.

“I do feel a responsibility and not just to younger people, but to all,” he says. “For ¡Gaytino!, I first want them entertained, but I hope audiences will leave more educated about some Chicano culture and history and Gaytino history.”

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QUEER CLIP: ‘BEGINNERS’

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Beginners is such a dreadfully forgettable and generic title for what is the year’s most engaging and heartfelt comedy, you feel like boycotting a review until the distributor gives it a title it deserves.

Certainly the movie itself — a quirky, humane and fantastical reverie about the nature of love and family, with Ewan McGregor as a doleful graphic artist who, six months after his mother dies, learns his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) is gay and wants to date — charts its own course (defiantly, respectfully, beautifully), navigating the minefield of relationships from lovers to parent/child with simple emotions. It’s not a movie that would presume to answer the Big Questions (when do you know you’ve met the right one? And if they aren’t, how much does that matter anyway?); it’s comfortable observing that we’re all in the same boat, and doing our best is good enough.

McGregor’s placid befuddlement over how he should react to things around him — both his father’s coming out and a flighty but delightful French actress (Melanie Laurent) who tries to pull him out of his shell — is one of the most understated and soulful performances of his career. (His relationship with Arthur, his father’s quasi-psychic Jack Russell, is winsome and winning without veering into Turner & Hooch idiocy.) But Plummer owns the film.

Plummer, best known for his blustery, villainous characters (even the heroic ones, like Capt. Von Trapp and Mike Wallace), exudes an aura of wonder and discovery as the septuagenarian with the hot younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic, both exasperating as cuddly). As he learns about house music at a time when his contemporaries crave Lawrence Welk, you’re wowed by how the performance seethes with the lifeforce of someone coming out and into his own. His energy is almost shaming.

Writer/director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film suffers only being underlit and over too quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to spend more time with these folks.

—Arnold Wayne Jones

Rating: Four and half stars
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Understated headline of the day: McCain Exudes Grumpiness At DADT Hearing

That was how The Wonk Room labeled the bombastic whining of Senator John McCain.

From the very first DADT hearing in February 2010 to today’s session, the Senator refused to consider the views of the witnesses before him. This morning – after reviewing the overwhelming positive DADT report and listening to the pleas of the leaders to end the policy in the lame duck session – McCain went further, openly implying that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen was not living up to the expectations of leadership because he did not ask the troops if they favored repealing the policy

MCCAIN: Then why wouldn’t we just ask the question?

MULLEN: Because, I fundamentally sir, think it’s an incredibly bad precedent to ask them about, to essentially vote on a policy.

MCCAIN: It’s not voting sir, it’s asking their views….Now I understand what your answer is. We would not ask their views on whether this policy should be changed or not, as the first question.

MULLEN: We’ve gotten in great part their views as a result of this survey.

MCCAIN: Well obviously, we’ll go around and around, but why we didn’t just simply ask them how they felt about it….Again, every great leader I’ve known has said, what are your views on this issue?

On my Facebook page, some reactions to this video…

George ONeill What a nasty, old prick!

George ONeill …someone call the Soylent Green truck, STAT!

Ajagbe Adewole-Ogunade constipated someone get him some prune juice

Rob Pilaud Gawd I am tired of him.

Pam Spaulding @George – I think Edward G. Robinson would push him into the dump truck without a nice send off with classical music and flora and fauna video. :)

George ONeill True, Pam…and those would sure be some dry, bitter crackers!

Tim Webster i dont understand his definition of leadership.. it’s NOT just listening to the majority (even though the majority in this case agrees with a repeal of DADT)

Michael Bussee Thanks for the great coverage and live blog commentary today!

Lizzie Darling this old fart needs mental help. Poor Cindy and Meghan.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin