What gay looks like

Photographer Scott Pasfield toured the U.S., finding unique stories of gay men in every state

Lead-Books-1

A NATION OF GAYS | All 50 states are represented in Scott Pasfield’s photo essay book, including Ken from Maryland (far left), a triad relationship from New York (top), Daniel from California (above) and, of course, a Texan (far right). (All photos copyrighted by Scott Pasfield in his book ‘Gay in America’ (Welcome Books), GayInAmerica.us.

Taking its place alongside such coffee-table books as Tom Atwood’s Kings In Their Castles, David Fields and the late Anderson Jones’ Men Together and Michael Goff and Out Magazine’s Out In America, is now Gay In America (2011: Welcome Books; $45) by Scott Pasfield. Consisting of 140 gay male subjects, all of whom responded to a call to be photographed and tell their unique stories, Gay In America is a colorful portrait of 21st century gay life in all 50 states.

We spoke with the photo essayist, who will be in Dallas this week as part of a nationwide book tour, about his project and what he learned about gay men … and himself.

— Gregg Shapiro

Dallas Voice: Gays are traditionally dog lovers, including myself, so one of the first things that I noticed in the pictures was that there are more than a dozen pictures of men and dogs.  Pasfield: And so many dogs got cut from the book! I think there was something like 30 or 35 dogs that I photographed over the course of the project. I was always excited to try and include pets when I could. I think they are such an important part of gay men’s lives. More often than not, if the dogs or pets were around and seemed intrigued by the whole process, I asked if we could try to get them in the shot and most pet owners are happy about that.The dogs by far were the most popular. I think there were five cats, some goats and lots of birds, too.

GayinAmerica_hirescoverHow involved were the subjects in the final decision about which pictures appeared in the book? Not at all. After I did the photoshoots I would always send people my favorites from the shoots shortly after it was done. A lot of times years went by before we actually started making the book from when they had seen my selects. We laid the book out alphabetically and the rhythm and flow of the book was determined a lot of times by that ordering. In some instances, we weren’t able to use a photo that we thought would be the image because of the layout and what shoots preceded and followed that particular one. In other instances, it wasn’t OK picking the best photograph and running with that; it had to work in its setting and in the book’s layout and the rhythm of who was on each side of that spread.

Reading Ken from Maryland’s story, it’s understandable why he got a few more pages to tell his story. What came first in the process, the photos or the subjects’ stories?  I decided who to photograph based on their story. They had to write the story to me as a complete stranger in a way and have that leap of faith and honesty to share that. That had a lot to do with why I picked them, it really wasn’t trying to come up with the story after the photo shoot. Their story had to ring true to me and it became very clear right away who was right for the book and who wasn’t. It hit me like over the head like a ton of bricks. This person was being so honest and their story is so wonderful and I haven’t heard anything like it before, therefore I’m going to go photograph them. I had that knowledge walking in to the photo shoot, I had the story in mind, I knew what the photo should look like in my head a little bit or what I thought it should look like. In reality it didn’t often end up looking like that, but having that knowledge beforehand of who they were and what they were willing to share and how that might help others dictated how I approached them photographically.

ScottPasfield-ByPlaton-300

Scott Pasfield by Platon.

Of the 140 men in the book, five are from Alaska and seven from Georgia (three from Atlanta), but only one from Illinois, for example. How did you settle on the geography? The stories really dictated who I picked so as long as every state was represented at least once, I felt that I could move on to another state. But when I was really torn in terms of stories and who to include, I would often include them both because I couldn’t decide at that point who was right and wrong. And when I felt so strongly about two different people in the same city, I would photograph them both thinking that in the end the editor might narrow that choice down. As was often the case, both subjects same city ended up making it in the book and the editors really enjoyed the comparative stories in the same city. You would think that some places, like Chicago, would be a very easy place but for some reason it wasn’t. People didn’t reach out to me in the same way. I had a feeling that if something was meant to be it was meant to be and I wasn’t going to kill myself trying to find people or persuade people to be in my book because I needed somebody else from Chicago. Many times I thought, “Why is it so difficult to find someone in New Orleans?” I went to New Orleans three times looking for that perfect person and couldn’t find them ever. It was a very interesting process. I just didn’t want to question it so much and said I’m just going to move forward and just try to pick the most interesting story and not really think about where people should be or what geography should be more represented. I looked at it from an interesting standpoint to say, “Wow, so many Alaska and Maine guys.” I had no idea I would be blown away by the amazing gay men in Maine. So many wrote me the most wonderful stories and I picked five and I could have picked 20.

More than a few times in the book, there are men who say that they “happen to be gay.” What do you think that says about being gay in America?  I think so many people in society want gay men to clarify themselves or distinguish themselves from the rest of society nearly by that one sexual trait: “I’m gay therefore that defines me.” I think so many gay men when asked what truly defines you as a person and what wisdom would you like to share with young kids who are struggling with being gay or closeted adults, a lot of them have that response. “I am so-and-so of a person. I have these interests and I went through this and I overcame it and I just happen to be gay. That’s not the whole reason why I went through all of these things,” even though at face value it might seem that for a lot of people. People struggle because they’re gay. So I think when asked and pressed on that issue a lot of people say, “You know I struggled with everything, but it’s not all based on me being gay.”

How different do you think this book would have been if you’d done it 10 or 20 years ago? The Internet played a big part in how I found people. It would have been much more difficult to find them. The thing that surprised me the most is the regularness of all these guys. I think most outspoken gay men and all facets of the LGBT community are those people who defined themselves very much by being gay and they have that issue that they really want to share with the world. They’re very outspoken. I think the type of men I was looking for aren’t as outspoken as a lot of those advocates are. That difficulty in finding them was made so much easier by the Internet. Ten, maybe 20 years ago, I’m not quite sure how I would have found the same men because they’re not going to gay community centers, most of them. They’re not out at a lot of gay bars or clubs in urban areas. I think that that’s one of the major differences doing it now. That I was really able to connect with a lot of gay men that are for the most part under the radar and what most see of the gay community.

Do you feel like you learned things about gay men that you didn’t know before?  I talk a lot in the introduction about why I did the book and the healing and the personal issues that I had to work out with my upbringing and my father with his being born again and condemning my lifestyle. Really a lot of the reason for the book was to search out that wisdom from gay men in determining how to live a happy fulfilled life and not to let other people’s views of homosexuality affect your being. I think that having a disapproving parent or friends or family who are so against what it means to be gay really affects gay men and gay people in general. I was able to learn from them just how not to let all of that get to you, how to be happy, how to come to some realization that you are gay not for a lot of the reasons that society tells you you are. To understand from these men that it’s just a part of who you are and how you can live your life and go about being a happy, fulfilled person and provide in your community and all of those things. To give back in a way and still love yourself and still love the way God made you. I think so much of the pain that so many gay people experience is through those opinions of the people we love and when they’re telling you that it is so wrong. It is a very hard thing to overcome. I think the more we share our stories and we learn how other people overcome those same things, it can help us all understand what it does means to be gay in America a little better.

Would you say you also learned something about yourself in the process of creating this project?  Oh, very much, yeah, in terms of not questioning it so much anymore. There was always a little part of me that felt it is wrong just because my father disapproved so much of it until he died. That was something very difficult for me to get over. The intelligent person inside of me told me that it wasn’t a choice I had made and I was sinning and I wasn’t going to go to hell. And the wisdom that these other men brought to me in their lives and their loves and how they related to other people and how they overcame tragedy and adversity in their lives made me realize I’m doing okay and I’m a good person and I’m like everybody else. You can’t that away from me just because I like the same sex; that is so ridiculous.

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CharlieFtLauderdaleFL2006Blake Little, bear hunter

You could say that photographer Blake Little is more used to men out of their clothes than in them. With a focus on the nude figure, Little has made a strong and reputable name behind the lens. Not just nudes, either: Top tier celebrities Josh Duhamel and Adrien Brody have posed for him to grace the covers of magazines like USA Weekend and Cigar Aficionado.

But what Little himself is really drawn to are everyday, blue-collar guys. With that in mind, he published The Company of Men.

“I wanted to take photographs that captured the strength and integrity of each individual, distilling exactly what I find compelling about men into a photograph without showing everything,” he told Wessel and O’Connor Fine Art, who displayed his work as an exhibit in 2008.

Starting with friends, Little explored this facet of masculinity that he felt wasn’t shown elsewhere — in particular, a gay masculinity he hadn’t seen portrayed in any media, which you can see for yourself at his Dallas appearance later this week.

“I wanted to document a particular type of masculine gay male that I appreciated and related to,” he says, “an alternative to stereotypes or what is usually seen as the physical ideal of a man in the mainstream.”

And he achieves it in heaps. The Company of Men is an outstanding collection of photographs that idealize the everyman and yet still exudes a high sensual characteristic. Simply, each man photographed is hot, but it’s their lack of touch up or waxing that makes them so. Little strived to capture each in their own element, at their own house and in natural light.

Not surprisingly for the photographer, he created well-constructed shots that are both artistic and, let’s face it, sexy with the best looking bears this side of the National Geographic.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.


Blake Little book signing of The Company of Men
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NUVO, 3900 Cedar Springs Road.
Oct. 27 at 5 p.m.
NUVODallas.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

The wonderful thing about Tig is….

She wasn’t actually the last comic standing, but dry-witted lesbian standup Tig Notaro has scored legions of fans

TIG NOTARO
With Mark Agee. The Kessler, 1230 W. Davis St. Aug. 30. 7:30 p.m. $15. TheKessler.org

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With a sense of humor so dry, you want to offer her a glass of water, out comedian Tig Notaro knows exactly what to say and how to say it to get a laugh. On her new and aptly named debut comedy disc Good One (Secretly Canadian), she touches on a variety of topics, ranging from Chastity Bono and Taylor Dayne to artificial insemination and babies taking showers. We spoke with Notaro just prior to the release this month of her album.

— Gregg Shapiro

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Dallas Voice: What was the best part of your Last Comic Standing experience?  Notaro: I wasn’t on for very long, maybe two or three episodes. To me it was kind of a ridiculous thing. There were so many comedians who took it very seriously. I guess it’s a good opportunity for people to burst onto the scene out of nowhere. For me, I was kind of glad I didn’t get into the final round — I enjoyed that I just made it to the semi-final round. When you get to that level, you’re just on for three minutes, just doing a set. It’s kind of like doing a late-night talk-show set. That was the best thing. And I made some good friends out of it. I’m doing this Podcast now with David Huntsberger, who I met on Last Comic Standing. In general, it’s kind of a blur to me. It happened so quickly in such a short amount of time that it wasn’t this monumental thing that happened. I kind of forget that I was on it.

Who are your comedy inspirations? Before I got into standup, I was really into Richard Pryor and Joan Rivers and Paula Poundstone and Steve Martin, people like that. It changed when I got into standup. I really started to be inspired by my peers that I was coming up with — Maria Bamford, Zach Galifianakis and Sarah Silverman. That’s who started influencing and inspiring me after I got started. Your tastes get so refined. Not that I don’t think the others were great still, but I would rather listen to my friends these days.
How does it feel to be the first comedian to release a comedy album on uber-hipster indie label Secretly Canadian? I’m thrilled. I feel so honored and lucky. I’d been offered deals with different comedy labels, but it just didn’t appeal to me. I know I’m not the biggest comedian ever [though] if people are into comedy, they probably know who I am. When Secretly Canadian offered me a deal, my manager said, “We’ll look at [the deal] and I’ll talk to the label.” I said, “You can talk all you want, but I know in my gut that I’m signing.” They’ve been so supportive and helpful. They’ve carried out every part of what they’ve promised. It’s just cool. It feels good.

How did you decide what material to include on something as significant as your debut album Good One? I wanted to mix in some things that I had written in the past year that was a little newer. But then I also wanted to put some less popular, older bits of mine on there. I was [recently] in Philadelphia and for my whole show, this woman kept saying “No moleste,” which I guess is my signature bit. She kept turning to her husband saying, “When is she going to do it? I can’t wait until she does ‘No moleste.’” I was like, “Lady! Shut your trap!” I feel like I had to put certain bits on there and for my own good I wanted to put in some newer stuff. There’s also some improvisational things that were more in the moment. That’s how all my shows are — new stuff, old stuff, right on the spot.

So “No moleste” is your “Free Bird.” I guess so. But I feel like my Taylor Dayne story that I wrote in the past year is creeping up on that popularity.

Do you know if Taylor Dayne is aware of being the subject of a comedy routine? Has she contacted you? Yeah, her agent contacted my manager a month or two ago. Her agent told my manager that Taylor wanted me to know that she heard through the grapevine that I was telling this story about her and that she’s a fan of mine and that she’d like to work with me one day [laughs]. I don’t know what on earth we would do together, but I know I don’t need a comedy partner. And I also know I can’t sing. But, yeah, it’s the weirdest and funniest thing that has ever come my way. The Taylor Dayne story just won’t stop giving.

The deluxe edition includes the “Have Tig at Your Party” DVD, described as the “human equivalent to the ‘burning log’ DVD.” What was the inspiration for the concept? Touring so much, I missed so many parties and get-togethers. This friend of mine, years ago, was having a party. And I was sitting in my hotel room thinking, what if I videotaped myself in my hotel room and I just mailed that to her and she could just play it at her party. I didn’t do it, but it inspired the idea of me making that DVD. And every time I mentioned it to people, they would laugh and say, “You have to do that!” So I did and hopefully people will enjoy it. It’s me standing there and I say very little every now and then.

You are going to be on tour for the next several months. What are you looking forward to about being on the road? When I’m doing my college tour, I’m bringing my old friend Tom Sharp as my opener. He’s such a funny guy. We came up in comedy together. He used to write for Zach Galifianakis. With the regular tour dates, I’m hitting a lot of major cities and I have so many friends in those cities. I’m going to be doing venues that I’ve never done, even though I’ve been to those cities before. I’m anxious to see some old friends, hit some new venues. I think it’s going to be a good time.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

What’s love got to do with it? Locals let us into their hearts, share some Valentine’s Day tunes

Last year, in the print product, I wrote up a Valentine’s mixtape which was filled with all types of love songs. The only thing was finding those that weren’t gender specific, and that can be a total bitch. Or maybe it’s just my anal retentiveness. So instead of going through the hassle again, I asked local peeps with a penchant for music what songs struck that heartfelt fuzzy chord with them. I asked why their selection stuck out and if there are any gay aspects to it whether by an out artist or not gender-directed. The selections ran the gamut. Check ‘em out below.

—  Rich Lopez

Fishing with Juan

‘CRUSH’ ON YOU | Abe Vigoda ventured into electronica territory with its new album ‘Crush.’ Gay member Velasquez, second from right, hopes this might increase fans for the band — especially gay ones.

As indie band Abe Vigoda tours the country, lone gay bandmember Juan Velasquez sometimes just wants to settle down with a boyfriend

GREGG SHAPIRO  | Contributing Writer
gregg.shapiro@gmail.com

Juan Velasquez has been with Abe Vigoda since the beginning. No, he’s not the lover of venerable Fish and Godfather star Abe Vigoda, but the indie band that co-opted the actor’s name.

Velasquez is one of a growing number of out musicians who play in cool indie bands including Grizzly Bear, The Soft Pack and These Arms Are Snakes and Vampire Weekend. Crush, Abe Vigoda’s new disc, might take some of their existing fan-base by surprise, considering the (welcome) use of synthesizers and dance beats. At the same time, the band has definitely increased its potential for a larger LGBT audience.

Velasquez spoke about being the only gay in the vill… er, tour bus, and whether the actor knows about his eponymous rockers.

Dallas Voice: Were you and the other members of Abe Vigoda listening to different music than you ordinarily would have prior to recording Crush? Juan Velasquez: No, not really. It had been two years since we wrote music together. Influence-wise there’s different music that we like, stuff that we’re interested in and enjoy. I think it was a natural thing that happened. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. We don’t all communally love one thing.

You said that it was a natural thing, so would you say that the sonic difference of Crush was a conscious decision or did it occur organically? Definitely organically, but it took a while. We write sporadically, usually when we’re practicing. Our drummer [Dane Chadwick] really likes dance music, so he introduced electronic elements to the band. We toyed around with them as a thing that we would be able to use and then we realized how much we liked it. It’s fun because you’re not restricted to guitars and drums. There are more things that you can use. I think we were finally more comfortable using synths.

How has the response to Crush been from longtime Abe Vigoda fans? It’s very varied. Some people just don’t get it. To me it sounds more “accessible” than other things we’ve done through the years. Some people are not so jazzed on it and some people like it. It’s not what they expected and because of that they like it. Sometimes we’ll play shows and mainly play songs from Crush and people will be like, “Why didn’t you play anything older?” I think people are still getting used to it. Even more important, people that didn’t like us before are maybe not getting into it because it’s a whole new thing and they didn’t know what we sounded like previous to this record. It’s a mixed thing, which is kind of what we expected. It never enters our mind when we’re writing what it’s going to be like on the other side of it. We just want to produce something that we like and then after that, it’s up to unknown forces whether people will be into it.

You run the risk of alienating some people, but you also stand the chance of reaching a whole new audience. Yes. For me it’s more exciting than just doing the same thing that people are going to like. I’m excited when bands change and evolve. We’ve never been a band that sticks to the exact same thing. It’s fun to try new things and push yourself.

The songwriting on Crush is credited to the band Abe Vigoda. How would you describe your role in the process of song creation in the group? It’s different for different songs. Sometimes Michael [Vidal] and I will have an idea or something we’re fiddling around with on the guitar and bring that to practice. Then everyone does their own thing on it. We generally jam together as a band. Everyone is in charge of their own instrument as far as what they contribute. Within the structure of the song, my main part is already there and we’ll work on it together. Sometimes I’m just adding something to what Michael has already laid out. We all edit each other and edit ourselves. It’s pretty democratic way of writing songs, I think.

What’s the best part of being the lone gay member of a band? [Laughs] What’s funny is that some people think everyone [in the band] is. Or they think there is one, and it’s Michael, the singer. When we’re on tour, the other guys in the band aren’t looking for girls. They’re really nice guys, which is awesome. If anyone, I’m probably the one who’s more like on the prowl [laughs]. I get really excited when I find someone else in a band who is gay because there aren’t that many of us in indie rock. Sometimes I’ll venture out (while on tour in a city) and check out the gay bars or if I have a friend in town we’ll go out and do our thing. In a way, I have a little freedom where I can go and do my own thing. I get some space away from the whole touring thing and being in close quarters with everybody.

Because they’re not going to tag along. Sometimes they do. Sometimes we’ll all go out to a gay bar. It’s a non-issue, obviously. I don’t think I could be in a band where it was an issue.

Are you aware of a contingent of LGBT fans among Abe Vigoda’s fans? I’m not aware of one if there is. Not to generalize, but we’re usually playing for kind of a straight crowd. Sometimes, someone will mention that, come up to me and say, “I’m gay, too.” But that’s rare. But I’m sure there are [gay people in the audience].

I’m not even sure people know that there’s a gay member of the band. It’s also not the focus of our music. There are some bands for whom that is the focus of their music, to be in a queer band to give voice to queer issues, even in a fun or punk way.

Like Scissor Sisters. Exactly. Or Hunx and His Punx. They definitely have a gay following, whereas we have a more mainstream indie rock following.

Does being in a touring band make it difficult to maintain a relationship? You betcha! If you would have asked me this at this time last year, I would have said, “No! I have an amazing boyfriend.” I never really until last year had a relationship or somebody that I was really excited about. It was the first time that I legitimately fell in love with someone. Before that it had been more casual. In January of last year, I was in love. We went out on tour with Vampire Weekend and then recorded Crush around this time last year. I was gone and missed him and talked to him on the phone. It felt like a relationship. It was great and exciting. Then I got home and soon after I got dumped. He didn’t enjoy that I was gone for so long. I never saw it that way. Being gone for a long time is rough on relationships, but I’d never really thought about it because I wasn’t in one. You only have a certain amount of time when you’re home to meet someone and once you get started then you have to leave again. Hopefully, I’ll meet someone who doesn’t mind that their significant other has to leave for a while. It’s definitely stressful. I don’t mean to sound like a cry-baby. I’m over it now. At the time, it was pretty shitty. Because it was something I couldn’t control. It’s my job. I’m not going to choose somebody over this.

Do you know if your namesake is aware you named your band after him? I have a pretty strong feeling that he does. One time somebody who wanted to interview us, instead of contacting [the band’s publicist], found his publicity person and messaged them. They got a response saying that it wasn’t the band’s publicist that they had reached, it was the actor’s. If his publicist knows, he knows. And he doesn’t seem to care, which is good.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Jonsi jonesing

Sigur Ros frontman says the band endures despite his new solo CD

FANCY JONSI    Sigur Ros’ gay frontman Jonsi takes his solo act on the road. (Photo Eve Vermandel)
FANCY JONSI Sigur Ros’ gay frontman Jonsi takes his solo act on the road. (Photo Eve Vermandel)

JONSI
Verizon Theatre, 1001 NextStage Drive, Grand Prairie.
Oct. 25. 8 p.m. $32–$38.
972-854-505

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As the openly gay frontman of groundbreaking Icelandic band Sigur Rós, Jón Thor Birgisson — who goes by Jónsi (pronounced Yónsi) — provided warmth and an ethereal quality to the band’s already atmospheric and lushly chilly songs. In fact, it’s hard to imagine what Sigur Rós would sound like absent Jónsi.

But on Go, Jónsi’s solo debut disc, we get the chance to hear him without his longtime band. His primary collaborator, openly gay orchestral pop artist

Nico Muhly, assists Jónsi in giving the album a fresh and original style. Alternately wildly rhythmic and sumptuous, Go offers Jónsi room to stretch in new and exciting directions. His fans would be wise to follow — which they can to Verizon Theatre on Monday. Now go!

— Gregg Shapiro

Dallas Voice: Congratulations on the release of your new solo album. How does it feel? Jonsi: It feels really good. I’m really happy with it. I’m really happy how it turned out.

What do you say to people who might be concerned that the release of a solo disc by you might be interpreted as the end of Sigur Rós? I’m going to be touring my solo album this year and I’m going to keep on working in Sigur Rós, writing and recording songs. Hopefully there’s going to be a new Sigur Rós album in 2011.

There is a radiant effervescence to some of the songs on Go, such as “Go Do,” “Animal Arithmetic” and “Around Us.” Is that a reflection of your state of mind at the time? Yeah, I think so — definitely. I wanted to push these songs in any way possible. “Go Do,” for example was written on ukulele, which sounds kind of weird when I listen to it now. There are so many layers on the song, so many instruments. I think I was pushing for more and more stuff to put on the songs. I wanted them to be energetic.

There’s definitely a powerful energy in those songs. “Around Us” and “Grow Till Tall” both contain references to growth and growing “till tall.” What’s the connection between the two songs? I don’t know why “grow” appears in so many songs. I think it appears in three lyrics on the album, actually. It’s probably about somebody growing.

Do you think it could be a reflection of your own personal and creative growth? Yeah, it could be, actually. I’m kind of taking a big step by myself by releasing this solo album and finally releasing these songs by myself. I’ve been creating for many, many years.

Are you referring to the passion fruit lilikoi in the song “Boy Lilikoi”? Or is it something else? Yeah! Ha!

Is lilikoi something that you like to eat? Maybe it has a different meaning. Maybe it’s about nature and living in the wild and dreams. Maybe meeting some young boy out in the forest.

You collaborated with your partner, Alex Somers, on the album Go as well as before. How does being in a relationship effect creative collaboration? It’s actually quite healthy. I like it. Alex is this amazing person who really inspires me. We have kind of the same taste in everything, like music, movies and books and clothes and food; nearly everything. We fit well together. It’s really good for me. We support each other and help each other with songwriting.

He helped me choose the songs for this album and produced the album with me. So, yeah, it’s really good.

What happens when you disagree on things? We just bicker a little bit and try to convince each other that you are right. But then somebody just gives in in the end.

If you hadn’t teamed up with Nico Muhly, how different do you think the experience of making Go would have been for you? It would be definitely different. It wouldn’t have so much stuff on it. I think Nico definitely added a lot of atmosphere and colors and playfulness and life to the album, which I’m really happy about. It’s what I wanted it to be and that’s exactly what I wanted him to do. I really love his arrangements and I’m really happy with him.

The woman-focused Lilith Fair was revived this past summer. A number of years ago, there was talk of a gay version of Lilith with Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, Rufus Wainwright and Magnetic Fields. If they were to try to revive it, is that something in which you might be interested in participating? Yeah, maybe. That sounds really cool, actually.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Memoirs of an addict

Gay author Bill Clegg recalls his darkest days in his book ‘Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man’


Gregg Shapiro | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

Gay author Bill Clegg
Bill Clegg

Bill Clegg, a young, gay and attractive New York literary agent with a boyfriend in the movie industry, details his struggle with the crack cocaine addiction that nearly killed him in the memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. Telling his story in unflinching detail, Clegg moves back and forth in the book from his childhood and the complicated relationship with his family to his exciting life in New York with partner “Noah,” with the momentum of a runaway train. Clegg discussed his work shortly before the publication of the book.

Dallas Voice: Living as we do in a post-James Frey memoir world, was that something you were concerned about when writing Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man?

Bill Clegg: Not at all. I didn’t think about James Frey’s book once (laughs) when I was writing this book. Part of that is that when I first started writing it, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of it as a book. It was initially a transcription of memories and it began while I was in rehab. When I arrived in rehab after that two-month period which resulted in a suicide attempt, I surfaced from that period sort of like somebody surfaces from a dream. So my memories—what I said, what I saw, what I felt—I had this feeling that those would evaporate in time, that I wouldn’t have access to them later, so I started writing them down in as much detail as I could. Part of the urgency around that was that so much of the period was confused for me. I thought that if I wrote everything down, as much as I could, I’d be able to make sense of it later and be able to distinguish the truth from the delusion once I had more distance from that period. The writing of it, initially, was as far away from imagining it as a book as it could possibly be. That experience of transcribing memories went on for a couple of years. At the point of which it occurred to me, several years later, that there might be something book-shape, book-length there, the issue of James Frey or other addiction memoirs didn’t come up mainly because I hadn’t read those memoirs. It started as an incredibly personal and private thing. I never thought outside of the demands of the project itself.

Why did you decide to keep it in the memoir format as opposed to the liberties you might have been afforded in a fictional format?

Because when other addicts and alcoholics have been candid about their experiences with me it gives me courage to be more candid and more honest. Being honest about where my addiction took me, I feel less shame around it and I feel relief. If my being candid about my experience inspires anyone else to be honest and open about what’s going on with them and in that way lifts the shame and torment of that in any way, then it’s worth it. Also, when I went back through what I had written, the hardest thing to reoccupy was how desperately lonely the experience was. Even in the period that preceded those two months, when I was, on the surface, successful and living a crowded life, I was desperately lonely because I had this secret. Through the years preceding my crack up, I tried to manage my use. I tried to have only two drinks at night, to come home at 2 in the morning as opposed to 10 in the morning, and I failed every time. That struggle was a very lonely, isolated one. It was loaded with shame. And nobody else knew, aside from my boyfriend, that I was a crack addict. I was convinced that if anybody found out that I would be banished from the life that I occupied. The whole experience was incredibly lonely. I thought I was the only person who struggled in the way that I did. I thought I was the only person who had a job like I did and was a crack addict. It all felt terribly singular.  So, if anybody recognizes themselves in my struggle and feels less lonely then they might be encouraged to step up and get help and be honest and not let it go where it went with me.

There is a sense that the book is more than just a memoir, that it is intended to be a tool to aid others.

That’s the reason it exists as a published document, to be useful. And I hope that it is.

The book has cinematic quality. If there was a movie, who would be right to play you in film?

Oh, God, I would never answer that question. Because to engage in a conversation about who would play me is also to engage in a conversation that glamorizes it. I would hope that the film would be respectful and with the same intent as the book. Shy of that I really don’t have an opinion about what it would be as a movie or not.

Being in the literary world, do you think it was inevitable that you would write a book, whether it was about this experience or something else?

No. I mean, there’s certainly a novel that I’ve been struggling with for over a decade, but I don’t think I’m going to torture the world by having it rear its head (laughs). What I would say about writing, and it’s what I do say to the writers that I work with, unless you have to do it, don’t do it. I think that should be the measure for all artistic endeavors. If you have to do it, do it. Otherwise, it’s not worth it. And I had to do this. It began in the earliest hours of my struggle to get sober and it never went away and it kept on returning as this urgent thing. At a certain point I stepped out of the way of it and let it happen. It was less of a choice to write it and absolutely a choice to make it public.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Word association with Melissa Etheridge before her show tonight at McFarlin Auditorium

On the newsstands now, you’ll find Melissa Etheridge gracing DV’s front page. This was to get you in the mood for her show tonight at McFarlin Auditorium at SMU. She spoke about her newest album Fearless Love and her current tour with contributing writer Gregg Shapiro for the majority of our published interview, but she also gave me 10 minutes to chat about other stuff last week. We talked about the tour and how the media has handled her with her personal life being aired for all to see. But she was also game for some word association and I was able to get her thoughts on a random list of topics. With two minutes left to go, I was surprised and definitely grateful, how much she gave me in such short time. Read our session below.

Again, Etheridge performs tonight at McFarlin Auditorium, 6405 Boaz Lane, on the SMU campus at 8 p.m. $55–$100. Ticketmaster.com. The clip above is from her show on July 22 performing “Indiana” from Fearless Love. Consider it a preview of her show tonight.

Here are Etheridge’s word-association responses:

Twitter — “I find the whole Internet fascinating. It’s both good and bad. I think it’s great that we as a people are finding ways to communicate with each other and connect with each other without having to do it on our own. The Internet is a conduit. Now, I don’t want to sit around and find out if people have eaten their toast. I think it’s a cool way to reach out for young folks. But I don’t do it.”

Lady Gaga — “She’s a very talented gal. My impression is that she’s very smart really understands the music business. She’s been able to create this image and make a splash. I wish her the best of luck in this weird pop culture world out there.”

The comeback of vinyl — “I’ve been listening to some lately. If you’re real deep music listener, there is a sound you don’t get from digital. We’re researching this album to see if we should release it on vinyl.”

Mel Gibson — “I don’t judge people and I don’t like to gossip. I believe everyone has a journey and path and I believe what you put out comes back to you. I think we’re witnessing that right now with him.”

Dallas — “I love Dallas! I have such a connection with there. I find Texas to be very gay. Yummy gay! There is a a strong out community there. I really enjoy it there.”

—  Rich Lopez

Letting the music speak

Despite a very public and nasty break up, Oscar-winning rocker Melissa Etheridge finds solace and confidence in her career

GREGG SHAPIRO  | Contributing Writer greggshapiro@aol.com
RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Melissa Etheridge
GUITAR HERO | Right now, Etheridge focuses on her music and new album, staying mum about her personal life.

MELISSA ETHERIDGE
McFarlin Auditorium, 6405 Boaz Lane on the SMU
campus. Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. $55–$100. Ticketmaster.com.

Longtime Melissa Etheridge fans who miss the harder sound of her early years will find much to like on her new album, Fearless Love. Etheridge hasn’t rocked with this much   passion in years and it’s clear that she hasn’t forgotten how to do it.

Such rock-n-roll fury could be a way for her to be working out some personal issues, including the recent public ending of her relationship with longtime partner Tammy Lynn Michaels. Whatever it is, Etheridge is back in ass-kicking mode.

……………………………

Dallas Voice: Your new disc, Fearless Love, is co-produced by John Shanks who also produced your Breakdown album. What do you like about working with John? Etheridge: We played in my first band and we played together on the road for years and years and years before he became mister mega-producer. I know him like a brother. He can tell me anything and I can tell him anything. He knows, musically, what I’m about. I think he’s incredibly talented. It’s a perfect fit.

Is it hard to believe that it’s been more than 20 years since your self-titled major-label disc was released? Yeah! The passage of time has been kind of freaky. And feeling like I do in the entertainment industry now, looking back [I’m] going “Wow, it’s been over 20 years!” There’s a certain amount of, “Oh, I think I can relax. I’m still selling tickets. People are coming to see me.” It’s a good feeling and it’s also a “time flies” feeling.

You do some serious rocking out on songs such as “Miss California,” “Nervous,” “The Wanting of You,” “Drag Me Away,” “Indiana” and the title track. How did it feel to rock like that again? Oh, it feels so good, and it’s really reflected in the live show. I plug those songs in and then I do all the other songs around them. It’s like, “Whoa!” That’s a couple of hours of rock and roll right there. It feels really good; I like it.

You’ve been on tour in support of Fearless Love for a few months — are the new songs being received by your fans the way you want them to be? Even more so. I have to tell you, when I start “Indiana,” [it gets] a huge response. It’s really nice. And everybody’s singing along. That means so much, especially for the new material to reach people like that. That’s what you want.

“Miss California,” like “Tuesday Morning” from Lucky, “Scarecrow” from Breakdown and your Oscar-winning tune “I Need To Wake Up,” is an example of your political voice in your work. What does it mean to you to be able to combine your music with causes and issues about which you feel strongly? That’s been quite a journey for me. That started on my second record [Brave And Crazy] with the song “Testify,” which was an awakening of that part of me. Realizing that I have a voice and that I’ve been gifted with the ability to maybe make people think or do something socially through my music. I’m always very conscious when I do it. I never want to preach from my personal perspective.

Rock musicals have been dominating Broadway stages in recent years. Is there any chance that there is a Melissa Etheridge Broadway musical in the pipeline? I have been thinking about doing a Broadway show even before the rock musicals were in. When I saw that U2 was doing something and Green Day, I was like, “Aw, come on! I’m putting mine together!” But, no, it’s good. I’m glad that they’re doing it and they’ve been successful. Yes, I am actually in the process now. It’s very near to being written.

Did you do theater in high school, too? I did! Love theater. Of course, I’m gay! Theater!

Lilith Fair is going on and Lollapalooza is right around the bend. Have you considered organizing a music festival either of LGBT musicians or one in support of a cause that is near to you? Those thoughts pass by me. I tried to get something together Dinah Shore Weekend [but] it’s hard: It’s hard to find people who want to do it with you. It’s just hard, especially with the economy right now. I’m doing well and I’m very grateful. When people are feeling a little better, it’s might be something I’d be in to, but not right now.

You helped pave the way for artists such as Chely Wright (a fellow Kansan), Ricky Martin and Christian singer Jennifer Knapp to come out publicly this year. How do you feel about that? I love it, because coming out publicly when you are a public figure is such a personal choice. It’s a big thing and it’s [a] huge responsibility. To help and inspire and be a part of anybody’s experience in that, I’m honored. Because I know it’s the best thing to do for yourself because you can never feel your success all the way in to your bones if you don’t. You feel like you’re living a lie and it’s unhealthy.

Your break up with Michaels has been publicized across magazines and blogs. Do you think that the media has been fair in its coverage of you? There is no way that the press can be fair because they can never know everything. You basically are listening to one person and that’s the one person’s perspective. Because of that, I’ve chosen not to go into too much detail.

With all that’s been going on personally, how has the tour been for you? Is it a difficult endeavor or is it possibly therapeutic?  It’s a bunch of different things. For me, it is this great safe place. People come to a show and look for a good time and that gives me a wonderful feeling. And it is cathartic and therapeutic. Music has always been that for me. This  is what I have to do.  I do miss my kids when I don’t see them but I get back enough.

Would the album have been any different had it come out last week as opposed to before everything came out in the open? I wrote this album last year and so I can’t say it would have. Of course, it would have sounded different if I was writing after everything happened, but I wouldn’t have changed anything here and I wouldn’t have rescheduled its release because of it all. Music is the one thing I feel really confident in. It feeds me and it’s my work. Music I can do — everything else, maybe not so much.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas