David Bowie allowed you to be gay


The man who sold the world

I can’t get David Bowie out of my head.

I’ve known he’s been dead less than a day, so it’s fresh. But more than the passing of many past-their-prime celebrities, who exited the stage when ready, something about Bowie’s death at 69 feels abrupt, underhanded, mocking. It’s as if a monarch has died, and the town crier called out, “The king is dead, long live the king!” … even though you know there’s no new king on the horizon, no replacement that can touch the predecessor. David Bowie dying is like acknowledging the death of the 20th century, and the man who created it has left it, left us, in ruins.

You can’t blame him. He did what he could. One reason why Bowie resonates more strongly and clearly than any other artist — to my thinking, he was, along with Eugene O’Neill, Pablo Picasso, Alfred Hitchcock, George Gershwin, Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel and Frank Lloyd Wright, a defining genius — was that he represented more than a career in music. He practically led us through the pop culture generation of the latter half on the 1900s. He made so much possible … including the ability to be openly gay. (More on that later.)

David Bowie’s career began as early as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, although his path was very different. He was an educated man, who understood culture from Hockney to Elvis, Little Richard to Balenciaga. Whereas the Beatles and Stones hit it big in the early to mid 1960s (the Beatles had actually split up by 1970), it wasn’t until the ’70s that Bowie found his footing as an musician. While certainly at the forefront of the glam rock revolution, unlike his fellow practitioners — the New York Dolls, Elton John, Roxy Music — Bowie could do it bigger and better. It wasn’t a costume for gigs, but a persona that he embodied, not just a style he re-created; he would even change his name as needed (Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust) to conjure new associations. And more so than any other rock contemporaries, Bowie reinvented himself continuously. Queen will forever be an arena rock glam band; they never turned into disco gods, or fashion icons, or film/stage actors, or financial innovators. Bowie did all that.

david-bowie (1)

The man who fell to earth

That is not to say that he did everything equally well. All great artists have failures. Not every doodle by Picasso was museum quality. His acting career never caught on fire, in part because his versatility onscreen was limited and he was difficult to cast. But he wasn’t hemmed in, at least in his own mind. He was a creator, an experimenter. And his refusal to cleave to expectations for what someone needs to do to be “popular” meant that he was, ironically, the inventor of his own culture, which through the force of its brand inevitably infiltrated every aspect of American life. Don’f fool yourself: Stonewall may have been the start of the gay rights movement, but without Bowie, can you imagine it would have gained traction in every corner of society?

In a very real sense, David Bowie made you possible. As much as he was a leader in fashion through his glam stage (and beyond), he was also an icon of sexual freedom. Many of his era dressed outrageously and with androgynous looks, but still steered clear of LGBT identification. Bowie didn’t. He was always out front about his bisexuality — remarkable for a pop star in the 1970s. Elton John, by contrast, didn’t officially come out until much later. But his orientation seemed authentic and personal more than a political statement. When, in 1992, Bowie married the model Iman, no one considered it a lavender marriage, that she was somehow his beard. Who wouldn’t want to sleep with David Bowie? For that matter, who wouldn’t want to sleep with Iman, one of the world’s most beautiful women? His sexual power was its fluidity. He didn’t have to be the grand marshal of Pride parades to be a role model … in some ways, he was a better kind of role model, the kind that just does is he pleases and everyone else be damned. It was that commitment to his vision — of his art, of himself — that set him apart from his contemporaries (and, for that matter, virtually every pop music wannabe of the last three decades). One doesn’t think of the chart-topping hits from David Bowie, but from the remarkable catalog of album songs that escorted you through a career as diverse as the culture itself.


Ziggy played guitar

He was also a visionary in another important way: as a futurist about pop culture in general. His characters hinted at an otherworldly obsession with the cult of personality. Decades before Lady Gaga envisioned a fame monster, Bowie conceived of a world driven by an unhealthy preoccupation with celebrity. (It’s probably no coincidence that the name of a song off of Gaga’s first album, “Just Dance,” echoes one of Bowie’s, or that she has worked to combine music and fashion in equal measures.) Unlike other artists who explored popularity as an American theme – including Andy Warhol, whom Bowie portrayed in the movie Basquiat —Bowie seem to separate from, and not beholden to, popular culture. He was a critic of it more than Warhol, a bemused alien or god, laughing from Mount Olympus.

You ignored David Bowie at your peril. I confess, when “Let’s Dance” was released in the ’80s, I didn’t fully “get” it. It was only later, with hindsight, that you could realize he prefigured the entire club kid movement by at least half a dozen years. That’s when his genius emerged: even though he was famed for his work in the idiom of pop music, it wasn’t his raison d’etre. He was a leader, not a follower, who affected pop culture in countless particulars. I don’t know that most people will be able to fully grasp the impact he had on their lives until years from now, when were finally able to step back and evaluate not only where we were, but where we are, and how we got there. With the perspective of sober reflection, we will plainly see that Ziggy Stardust’s fingerprints were on every page of that history.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Remembering mom

My family, about 1970.

One of the first things they teach you in News Writing 101 is “how to write an obituary.” It’s seen, I think, as a low-man-on-the-totem-pole kind of assignment, one not requiring special skills. It is, admittedly, formulaic — more so than most other kinds of stories: Name of the deceased, age, family, some significant personal achievements; if it’s a famous person, there’s all that much more to write about.

This past year, I’ve written more than my share of obits of people I was close to, or fond of: Bruce Wood, Nye Cooper, Terry Dobson, Jac Alder. Some were hard, or emotional to do. What no one really teaches you is how to write an obit for your own mother. Which is what I had to do last week.

My mom, Patty Jones, died after an illness that lasted about two months — not completely sudden, but certainly not unexpected, either. She was only 72, which seems young to me, and despite some bouts with bad health in the past, she seemed fine until this summer. It happened 1,000 miles away, so I had to sit out here in Dallas alone while my dad and sister were dealing with it at ground zero. As the writer in the family, I was tasked with responsibility for the obit on behalf of the whole family. I did it, and it was fine. Several people who read it told me how good it was. But they were wrong — so, so wrong. And I don’t think they knew it.

Because writing 300 words that encapsulate the life and legacy of your mom is something no one should be expected to do. Birth, marriage, kids, grandkids. She was a tireless volunteer. She was a great cook.

But she was also my mom. And I couldn’t really say what I wanted to, because it wasn’t about me — it was about her, as well as the rest of the family, mostly my dad, who was devoted to her for 54 years. How do you tell strangers that one of the best things about your mom is how much your dad loved her? My dad was the most loyal and affectionate husband I have ever had the privilege to know. Mom’s friends were jealous that she had such a great husband. But it was not just him, but how she made him want to be so good to her. The greatest gift a father can give, it’s said, is to show his children how to love, and by that measure, my dad is a role model without measure. I lost my mom; he lost the love of his life. How do you put that in 300 words and feel anything but inadequate? Their love wasn’t a series of cold dates on a calendar, but a lifetime together.

How do you put in a death notice that you mom wasn’t perfect? We fought when I was a teenager. I’m not ashamed of it, though not proud, either; but the relationship between a mother and child (not just me, but my sister, too) is a collection of highs and lows, missteps and synchronicity. Children are a part of their parents, quite literally. But they are also their own beings. I will never know how difficult it is to be a mother, though I respect and admire how singular my mom was at doing her best. Her love for her children was unconditional, and you felt it at every point along the way.

I remember lots of stupid things about my mom, too — things no one would care about. Like how she did not have a terrific sense of humor, but she respected my (and my dad’s) near-constant clowning. I don’t think she understood us, but she tolerated her boys and their silliness. I remember the first time I felt my mom treated me as a real adult, just when I needed it. But I also recall fondly those times she treated me as her baby. I wish she were here now to do that, because I’ve never needed it more.

She took care of the entire family. She was an only child who married the youngest of seven siblings. She knew everyone’s birthday and kept in touch with them. She organized our lives in ways we can only begin to imagine. Mom was the one person everyone in the family would turn to for solace and advice and an ear when something terrible happened. Losing her is losing your confidante, your guidepost, your rock. It’s a cruel irony — the universe daring us to get along without the one thing that has been there for all of us, for half a century. It’s unfathomable.

For at least 25 years – since I moved to Texas — I spoke on the phone with my mom probably twice or three times a week. Hearing her voice meant everything in the world to me. I always told her I loved her, and she did the same. I think more than anything, not being able to chat with her about life’s daily nonsense (recipes, movies, work) is what hurts the most. She was my mom, but she was my friend, too. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on politics, so we steered clear of that topic as much as we could. But she was smart and thoughtful and as opinionated as any woman I’ve ever known. All my life, people have said to me, “you remind me of your mother.” It takes a while to realize what a compliment that is.

My mom was an inveterate deliverer of care packages. She’d make fudge, or cookies, and send me knickknacks she thought I’d enjoy. She babied her “granddogs.” She was down-to-earth but had high standards, too. I learned more lessons — by far — from my mom than I did from every teacher, job and friend I’ve ever known combined. That’s because you listen to your mom in a way you don’t anyone else.

Take, for instance, this earlier memory: I was a kid, and someone had died. People kept saying to the bereaved, “he’s in a better place.” I asked my mom what that meant. “It means he’s in heaven and isn’t in pain anymore,” she explained. “Well, if it’s a better place, why are people crying?” I asked. “Shouldn’t they be happy for him?” “You’re right,” she said. “They won’t be able to be with that person anymore and it makes them sad. I guess people cry because they are selfish at that loss.”

I’ve thought a lot about that these past days as I choke back tears hourly. I am selfish at not having her around from now on. I won’t be able to talk to my mom anymore. That makes me sad. But she still will teach me lessons. Probably no one had a greater influence on my life than my mom. Missing her is hard, but much worse would be never having known her at all.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Remembering Jac Alder

A photo I took of Jac as the Arts District went online.

I’ve known Jac Alder for many years, but not nearly as many — not by a long shot — as he has been an arts leader in Dallas. In fact, he has led Theatre 3 for longer than I have been alive … and I’m not a kid. So yeah, maybe for a decade or so I was privileged to say, “Hi, Jac,” or even set up a photo shoot with him or get an exclusive or two in a private conversation, but if you wanna know someone who knew Jac Alder best, well, hell — it wasn’t me.

In many ways, I bet it was Terry Dobson, who was the music director at T3 for nearly 35 years and worked closely with Jac. Sadly, Terry died of sepsis just a few weeks ago … just as Jac checked into the hospital in respiratory distress. Jac’s condition was serious, but he seemed to be improving last I heard. So when word spread last night that Alder had passed away at age 80 … well, it’s a lot to digest in a short period of time.

Jac was widely acknowledged as the longest-serving artistic director of any arts organization in the U.S., which he cofounded (with his late wife Norma Young) in 1961; notably, Jac died just after the final show of the company’s 54th season concluded — Jac knew how to make a timely exit.

That’s because he did it all — not only as a producer and artistic director, but also as an actor (I saw him several time trod the boards, and he was brilliant each time), an entrepreneur (he turned himself in a puppet to give the curtain speech at Avenue Q), a director and occasionally as a designer. He could be prickly, but also droll; fiercely opinionated but also flexible; charming (the first time I met him he told me, “I’ve heard many excellent things about you … but I won’t say from whom”) and defiant. As a critic, I would sometimes write negative reviews of shows he produced, and I could usually tell when he disagreed with me, but never was he rude. He was the gentleman of Dallas theater.

He was savvy, as well, in helping Theatre 3 grow. When it had a reputation for doing “safe” work, he took some risks and put on plays with nudity (Metamorphoses, The Wild Party, The Full Monty), interspersed with Agatha Christie thrillers and song-filled revues. The mission statement of Theatre 3 says it took its name from the interplay between author, actor and audience; Jac really tried to embody that in every production. No one cared more about theater that Jac.

Few cared more about his fellow man, as well. Jac nurtured the young careers of such folks as Morgan Fairchild and Doug Wright; he was well-known to employ theater professionals who needed work so that they could keep their health insurance; he was supportive of AIDS causes and a long-standing friend of the gay community. Theatre 3 embraced its Uptown neighbors.

So, I didn’t know Jac as well as many other people. But I knew him well enough: Through his largesse, his artistry, his commitment. He wasn’t a tall man; but he was a giant.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Former House Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth has died

Speaker_Jim_Wright_of_TexasFormer Speaker of the House Jim Wright, a Democrat from Fort Worth, died today (Wednesday, May 6). He was 92.

A former member of the Texas House and Weatherford mayor, he was later elected to Congress, having defeated an eight year incumbent. The Democrat rose in the ranks of House leadership, ultimately serving as House Speaker from 1987 to 1989 before resigning over a scandal.

He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last year he shouldn’t have retired.

Wright was perhaps most well-known for drafting the Wright Amendment, which restricted air travel to and from Love Field. It was repealed in 2014.

But he also knew how to bring home the pork. In a nod to Wright, President John F. Kennedy once called “Fort Worth the best represented city” in the country.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told CBS 11 Wright was a leader who never forgot Texas or his district.

“He was there when Kennedy was shot. He was good friends with John Kennedy and John Connally and really witnessed an incredible amount of history,” she said.  “But he always kept Texas in his heart.”

He is survived by his wife, Betty, and four children.

—  James Russell

Openly lesbian ’60s singer/songwriter Lesley Gore has died

Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore now (top) and then

Singer-songwriter Lesley Gore — who topped the charts in 1963 with her epic song of teenage angst, “It’s My Party,” and followed it up with the hits “Judy’s Turn to Cry” and “You Don’t Own Me” — died Monday, Feb. 16, at the age of 68.

Gore died of cancer at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, according to her partner of 33 years, jewelry designer Lois Sasson.

Gore was still in high school when she was discovered by Quincy Jones and hit it big with “It’s My Party.” And although she was perhaps best known for her hit songs in the ’60s, her career spanned decades. She and her brother were nominated for an Academy Award for “Out Here On My Own,” a song they wrote for the 1980 movie Fame. In 2005, she released Ever Since, her first album of new material since 1976. The album received widespread critical acclaim and songs from it were used in several TV shows and movies.

Beginning in 2004, Gore began hosting the show In The Life, a PBS series on LGBT issues. In 2005, she came out publicly as a lesbian. She and Sasson had already been a couple for 23 years at the time. In 2010, Gore sang with The Women’s Chorus of Dallas. She told Dallas Voice at the time, “”My life has always been backwards from everyone else’s. If you told me at 16 that I’d be saying this at 63, I’d have said you’re crazy. There’s always a flurry of what people find titillating.”

Gore played Catwoman’s sidekick in the 1960s TV show Batman, and in the 1990s, she appeared on Broadway in Smokey Joe’s Cafe. She was working on a stage version of her life when she died.

—  Tammye Nash

Dallas actor Nye Cooper has died

stage-1UPDATE: Funeral arrangements announced; click or see below.

Nye Cooper — for many years, a talented actor who stepped away from the spotlight several years ago after his health deteriorated — passed away last night from complications following a long illness. He was 41.

A Louisiana native, Cooper —  the fourth recipient of Dallas Voice’s Actor of the Year honors — had been in Hospice care in North Texas since last week, surrounded by his family.

“I’m devastated,” said Angela Wilson, a playwright, actress and director who worked with Cooper many times over the years, upon learning the news. “Over these past years, Nye would sometimes call me and say ‘I need a pretend mom right now — will you be my mom right now?’ He would be scared and sad because of his illness, but he loved his own mother so much that he didn’t want to bother her with his fears.”

Cooper grew up in DeQuincy, La., and graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles. After graduation, he performed in the long-running outdoor musical Texas in Palo Duro County. In the mid-1990s, he moved to Dallas, and quickly became known for his dry humor and acting talents.

As well known for his scathing wit in person as for his gifts onstage, Cooper was an early adopter of Facebook, and for years offering withering observations. Dallas Voice approached him about doing a story on his hilarious posts, but he demurred, and soon withdrew from Facebook altogether.

“He never drew attention to himself,” said Sue Loncar, a local actress and producer who was one of Cooper’s closest friends. “I was always convinced with his razor sharp humor he could have made it big, but he had no desire for such things.”

He stopped performing as well, though his friends in the theater will long recall his legacy.

“Nye did shows with Jeff [Rane] and me when we were both actors — before we formed Uptown Players,” says Craig Lynch, who co-produced Sordid Lives with Cooper during the company’s inaugural season. One of his co-stars was Wilson.

“The first time I saw him was when we were both auditioning for Sordid Lives — he was so gorgeous and so talented,” she said. She was so impressed, she cast Cooper to portray John Wilkes Booth in her play Perchance. Later, Wilson rewrote her play The Ladies Room, renaming it Dim All the Lights, with Cooper in mind. It was one of his singular achievements. “Nye’s friends and family came to see him and cried because the material was so close to home — a young man dying too soon, who still believed in falling in love.”

Cooper will long be remembered for performing the role of Crumpet in David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries at several theaters across North Texas, including WaterTower and Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. He was nominated for a Leon Rabin Award for his performance.

“His range, both dramatic and comic, was beyond anything I had seen in Dallas,” Wilson said. “His humanity and professionalism and devastating sense of humor gave me joy.”

Services are pending. We will advice when we learn anything. Until then, please post your reflections, memories and thoughts about Nye.

UPDATE: Funeral arrangement have been set for Nye Cooper, who died earlier this week after a prolonged illness.

Services will take place at Celebration Worship Center, 3231 Highway 27 South in Sulphur, La., on Friday, Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. Memorials in Nye’s honor can be made to the church or to the American Cancer Society.

Sue Loncar, one of Nye’s longtime friends and founder of the Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, will hold a memorial locally for his friends later this month. The details for that service will be decided on Monday. 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Remembering Brandon James Singleton

Brandon James Singleton

Brandon James Singleton

NOTE: Newly announced memorial arrangements listed at bottom (revised).

Over the years, I’ve worked with dozens of writers and freelancers. The best ones, you remember. And it was easy to remember Brandon Singleton.

Brandon and I were already Facebook friends when he messaged me in the summer of 2012. He was soon to turn 30, he told me, and wanted to write a series for our InstanTea blog: A kind of bucket list of things he wanted to accomplish before this milestone had passed. We worked out the style of the series together, picked a name — Tex’n the City, as he was a native of the Metroplex but living then in Los Angeles — and about every week for 13 weeks, we ran one of Brandon’s stories online.

They were marvelous. Brandon was introspective but not afraid to be upfront about his failings and superficialities. The series was as much an exploration for him working out his own preconceptions as it was a recitation of desires. He discovered, as we all eventually do, that what we think we want isn’t always what we need.

The series culminated with Brandon actually turning 30, on Dec. 15, 2012, and reflecting on what that meant. The series was full of promise and hope and honesty and good writing. I always wanted Brandon to write more for me, but he was busy and we never found the time. The last installment ran on Dec. 28, 2012.

Then yesterday, I learned that over the weekend Brandon died in Los Angeles. That’s all the information I have at this moment. He would have been 32 in just a few weeks.

I have to say, I find it almost painful to read Tex’n the City now: He speculates about turning 40 one day, and what his new set of hopes are. Knowing those will never happen is a lot to comprehend and cope with. But I do read them — and I want you to as well; I’ll put up a link at the bottom — because they also demonstrate what a sad loss the passing of this young, funny, smart, ambitious and friendly man is to all of us.

Brandon’s family is in the process of having his body transported back to Dallas for burial. They have told me they will share the details when they have been finalized, so that I can pass it along here. But until that day, let us all reflect not only on our own lives and dreams, but those on a fine young career-oriented man who had so many friends, and how he raised up those who knew him, and left a legacy that’s too brief but also too valuable to forget.

Here’s a link to one of Brandon’s last posts; there are hypertext links throughout so you can start at the beginning and read them all. Take your time. Savor them. And think of Brandon.

Wake: Golden Gate Funeral Home, 5701 Loop 820 South, Fort Worth. Dec. 5 from 7:15–8:15 p.m.

Funeral: Golden Gate Funeral Home, 5701 Loop 820 South, Fort Worth. Dec. 6 from 1–3 p.m.

Flower arrangements may be sent to the home.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Memorial set for man found in Turtle Creek

Screen shot 2014-11-10 at 3.16.11 PM

Robert Letbetter

An obituary was posted and memorial service planned for the man found dead in Turtle Creek on Nov. 3.

While cause of death was not listed for Robert Letbetter, the obituary notes, “Although his struggles were long and difficult, his death came unexpectedly.” Dallas police only said they were waiting for toxicology test results before listing cause of death.

More than 50 pictures are posted along with the obituary.

The memorial service will be held on Nov. 14 in Conroe, where he was born.


—  David Taffet

Jeff Kinman memorial set

The memorial service for Jeff Kinman — the actor, singer and voice teacher who died last week after a long illness — has been set by his partner, Adam C. Wright. The event will take place on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., where Kinman last appeared in Uptown Players’ Broadway Our Way fundraiser last spring.

Anyone with questions or needing directions can contact Beth Albright at Broadwayelmo@gmail.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Former Dallas Drag Racer Sahara Davenport reported dead

The Twitterverse is abuzz with reports that Sahara Davenport, the dancer and female impersonator who was a favorite on Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, has died.

Reports are non-specific; one blogger, in a piece calling the reports “erroneous,” offered as his sole “proof” that is sounded like a hoax to him — and that Sahara’s death was not reported on her Wikipedia page (a crowd source site anyone can edit — yeah, strong evidence). Another commenter noted that now her death is on the Wiki page, so it must be true.

So far, though, despite hard facts, it appears to be true. Jujubee, a fellow Drag Racer, posted an “RIP” notice on her own Facebook page late last night, and, in response to questions of “what happened” said merely, “It’s not important what happened. Just send prayers.” Avoidance of the cause of death, of course, only fuels suspicions of a hoax, although it is not uncommon not to announce a cause of death immediately, especially if the reason was something considered “shameful” (suicide, a drug overdose), though at this point there is no evidence of that.

Jujubee isn’t the only colleague of Sahara’s to note the passing; the official RuPaul Facebook page also offers condolences for her passing. (Oddly, there is no mention of it yet on any official Logo channel websites.) It has also not been refuted on the many offers of sadness of Sahara’s own page and that of her partner, fellow contestant Manila Luzon. Within the past few minutes, People magazine online and the gay blog Towleroad have also reported the death.

When we know more, we’ll report it.

On a personal note, Sahara and I were friendly. She got her start in Dallas, and she would often message me when she was coming to town; I also interviewed her on a few occasions (most recently here). It’s very sad in any event.

Davenport was born Antoine Ashley. He was 27.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones