Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: Media Library

media from “Introduction”

  1. The photograph below depicts the Saint dance club’s memorial block on the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Archived by the NAMES Project Foundation, the photograph displays a high-quality image of the entirety of the Saint’s memorial block. The club’s quilt block inspired the research present in this essay, and honors the members and staff of the Saint. The primary colors featured in the quilt are black, burgundy, and silver. Three prominent features of block 1087 are its moon-like mirror ball, its expanse of golden five-pointed stars, and its colorful light structure. Read more about the Saint’s memorial block here.
Saint Dance Club Memorial Block: Image Credit: NAMES Project

media from “bruce mailman emerges”

  1. The Saint-at-Large is an organization that has revived famed celebrations of the Saint discotheque every year since the disco’s closure. The Saint-at-Large hopes to sustain the fiery spirit of the Saint through annual commemorations of the four holiest celebrations of the Saint: Halloween, New Years Eve, the White Party, and Black Party. On its YouTube channel, the Saint-at-Large provides trailers for its parties and other documentary footage. The video embedded below is a part of a series of five videos entitled “Stories of the Saint.” Chapter 4 of “Stories of the Saint” is the fourth installment in this series.

Chapter 4 describes the exuberant era of gay nightlife that preceded the Saint. Gay people had formed their own “ghetto” in New York along Christopher Street during the 1970s, where nightclubs, shops, gym clubs, and health clubs were owned, frequented, and appreciated by the gay community. By the time of the Saint’s arrival, an “emboldened” community of young gay adults had already eagerly embraced the untroubled, jovial spirit of the Sexual Revolution and further civil rights liberation. Hal Rubenstein, a cultural commentator, describes this legendary era as a “world without guilt.” Photographer David Morgan states that “there was no fear of sex [and] no fear of holding hands in the street.” The 1970s was a “really blissful time [and] a simpler time.” It was a decade “based on sheer innocence” says Hal Rubenstein.

media from “birth of a saint”

  1. The second installment of “Stories of the Saint” discusses the characteristics of and inspiration for the architecture of the Saint. Robbie Leslie, an esteemed DJ of the Saint, describes the Saint as the “manifestation of Bruce Mailman’s vision.” Leslie believes the Saint was the “greatest nightclub because it was conceived as the greatest nightclub.” Susan Tomkin, Bruce Mailman’s longtime assistant, remembers that Mailman thought gay people were entitled to have a fabulous place to go to where they could dance, be themselves, and be a part of a community.

According to Susan Tomkin, Mailman particularly did not want gay men to be “relegated to the backroom in a bar.” When the Saint opened, it was immediately clear that the club was like “nothing that had ever been seen.” According to Steve Casko, Bruce Mailman’s business partner, Mailman did not desire to create the best gay disco. Mailman searched for the qualities that would shape the best disco ever, and Casko asserts that “[the best disco ever] is what [Mailman] got.”

The Saint was a “great piece of architecture” whose physicality contributed to an overall fantastic experience. Hal Rubenstein affirms that the Saint was a “physical knockout.” The club’s planetarium design truly served its intended purpose, which was to enhance the experience of the dancer and attendee of the Saint. Bruce Mailman’s club delved into a new dimension of discotheque design and incited awe among its witnesses.

2. The following image can be found on the Saint discotheque’s memorial block; the photograph displays a representation of the Saint’s planetarium projector and light structure. The stitched-on representation of the light structure is a weathered gray color that has been topped by an orderly row of circular bulbs that exude colors of red, green, orange, purple, turquoise, yellow, and pink. The structure juts from the bottom of the quilt panel and is comprised of a material that feels sturdy and thick, a composition that demonstrates its purpose of strength, support, and vibrant bedazzlement. The actual Saint contained a “lighting tower with about 1,500 fixtures, topped by [the] planetarium-style star projector” in the center of its dance floor (Dunlap). The memorial block’s encapsulation of the Saint’s lighting architecture demonstrates its significance to the memory, legacy, and life of the Saint.

light structure representation found on the quilt

3. The first installment of the Saint-at-Large’s “Stories of the Saint” details the Saint’s opening night. Robbie Leslie, one of the club’s famed DJs, compares opening night of the Saint to a “movie premiere.” Before the Saint’s disco debut on Saturday, September 20, 1980, Robbie Leslie had only ever seen long queues of people waiting on the streets in Hollywood documentaries. Leslie believes that some of the men who were in line may have waited half the night to get into the Saint. The anticipation of the crowds drawn together by curious excitement did not prepare attendees for the appearance of the planetarium projector’s celestial surprise.

Once the opening chords of Donna Summer’s hit song “Could It Be Magic” began to play, “all of a sudden [the crowd was] out in the stars.” For miles around, it seemed that there was “nothing but stars” according to Michael Fierman, another great DJ of the Saint. Everyone in the club “gasped” in complete “astonishment.” For the twenty seconds of the piano chords of “Could It Be Magic” before the song’s percussion kicks in, Michael Fierman remembers that everyone was”basically frozen.” Then the crowd cheered “insanely madly.” Robbie Leslie describes the “rush of excitement” that overtook the crowd as “amazing.” The cheer of the crowd “defies words.” The Saint’s opening night was truly spectacular.

4. When crowds first entered the Saint and began exploring the newly opened club, George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue “swelled” from the sound system and encased the public in a luxurious mood of classical music (McEwan, 38). I do not know if the orchestral rhapsody or piano version of Gershwin’s composition was played during the Saint’s opening night, so both versions have been included in the essay. Both versions are also embedded below.

5. “Could It Be Magic” by Donna Summer was played during the Saint’s premiere on Saturday, September 20, 1980. The song is also included in the Saint’s promotional video. According to Michael Fierman as expressed in Chapter 1 of “Stories of the Saint,” “Could It Be Magic” is based on Chopin’s twentieth prelude. The song begins with “minor key dance chords” that are zapped by an orchestral melody before they are accompanied by Donna Summer’s gorgeous voice.

media from “kingdom of a saint”

  1. The photograph embedded below is a still taken from the Saint’s promotional video. In the photograph, a large half-naked crowd presses close together in a mass embrace inside the Saint. Bare skin greets the viewer in the form of blurry faces and shirtless chests. The photograph has an orange tinge to it due to the disco lights that shone at the time the photograph was taken. One can also clearly see that the Saint’s planetarium dome has been illuminated from behind. According to David W. Dunlap, the “The skin of the dome was porous, acting like a theatrical scrim; solid when lighted from within, translucent when illuminated from behind.” In the photograph, the dome appears to be a translucent orange color.

2. The photograph embedded below is a still taken from the Saint’s promotional video. The photograph depicts a psychedelic light pattern of the Saint of violet, indigo, and pink color. The photograph is an example of the colorful choreography of the light technicians at the Saint, presenting a white cross extending from a dark circle on the ceiling of the Saint, capped by four glowing pink circles. Glittery stars dot the entire formation.

3. Souvenirs by Voyage is the last song to play in the Saint’s promotional video. The immense crowd depicted in the photograph below appears as the Voyage’s song plays. Bare skin shines under the lights within the photograph. Taken from above the crowd, perhaps from the Saint’s balcony, the photograph captures only the upper bodies of the dancers shown. The multitude of lights cast onto the dome reflects on the audience as they dance underneath the dome. Red and blue spotlights tinge the crowd different colors in different spots on the photo.

4. The third installment of “Stories of the Saint” describes the light choreography and musical performances that contributed to a marvelous experience at the Saint. Robbie Leslie, a DJ of the Saint, describes audiences of the Saint as “talented, expert, and knowledgeable.” Hal Rubenstein, a cultural commentator, describes the club experience as a united journey of the masses. At a disco, Rubenstein states, “everyone comes in [and takes] in the same medicine at exactly the same time.” Rubenstein argues that this uniform structure is a “DJ’s dream” because a DJ can “bring everybody up [and then] bring everybody down” simultaneously. DJs had incredible power and influence over their crowds’ sensory stimulation.

Micheal Fesco, owner of the Flamingo nightclub, describes the DJ’s musical journey as a type of choreography. One piece of music follows another in a sequence similar to the methodical steps of an intricate dance. DJs at the Saint invigorated crowds to the point of screaming elation before gently bringing audiences back down from their high. Michael Fierman, another esteemed DJ of the Saint, observed that the structure in which music was played was oftentimes more crucial than individual records. Robbie Leslie describes a great musical journey as meeting the requirements of great sex: a good musical trip in the Saint was “all in foreplay.” The ‘orgasm’ does not matter nearly as much as the journey towards it; according to Leslie, “it’s about how you get there.”

Michael Musto, a nightlife columnist, states that the Saint offered a religious experience to some people through its power to unite crowds to the “beat of dance music.” Jorge Latorre attests that attending the Saint was an “experience on every level.” Latorre states that at the Saint, “all of your senses were […] exploited.” Susan Tomkin, Bruce Mailman’s longtime assistant, discloses that the energy of the Saint was “amazing.” She remarks that there “is no energy like [it] in the world; […] you couldn’t send a man to the moon on that energy.” After a night of dancing, Robbie Leslie asserts that there was a “wonderful feeling of release brought about by a musical catharsis of sorts.” This musical catharsis allowed attendees to express themselves, according to Leslie.

5. The Saint’s planetarium projector projected the club into an otherworldly realm. According to author Jonathan McEwan, songs fitting the Saint’s “interstellar” theme such as “Rocket to Your Heart” by LISA and “Trippin’ On The Moon” by Cerrone were similarly “instant Saint standards” (38). Both songs are included below. “Rocket to Your Heart” begins with a robotic mumbling before transitioning to a rapid drumbeat and playful synths and keytones. “Trippin’ on the Moon” opens with more mellow vibes as a relaxed drum beat accompanies the repeated choral sounds of what may be an organ. The beat picks up around 1 minute with a rhythmic melody.

media from “afterlife of a saint”

  1. In 1988, the Saint’s surviving DJs and lighting technicians enlivened the club for the last time. The “Last Party” of the Saint spanned “three days and three nights,” with Saint regulars attending 30 of the 36 hours (McEwan, 42). Jimmy Ruffin’s song “Hold On To My Love” played near the end of the Last Party; appropriately, the words HOLD ON TO MY LOVE have been stitched onto the bottom of the Saint’s memorial quilt. The words’ ash-colored lettering overlay a thick strip of the same shiny, silver material found elsewhere in the panel. The day after the Last Party, the public noticed that the words “Hold On To My Love” had been spray-painted over the main entrance to the Saint. Bouquets were left in front of the door to the Saint on the sidewalk according to Frank Courson. Shown on the Saint Promotional Video, the following image likely depicts the textual memorial of the Saint, represented by Jimmy Ruffin’s song.

“Hold On To My Love” evokes a sense of celebration with an upbeat tempo, but also a sentiment of farewell as Ruffin asks an unknown subject to hold on to his love. Ruffin’s song has appeared many times in reference to the Saint, and is clearly a favorite track of the club. The song begins with bright high notes and a joyful beat. Ruffin’s voice is soulful and sunny. Ruffin passionately declares “our love will live on for the whole world to see.” He animatedly shares his love for the subject of his affectionate lyrics.

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Citation Revisions for the Primary Source Analysis

  • Your “documentation” is intended to be a help guide. The source you cite should give readers the exact details of the more general claim you make in your argument.

The source you cite is also a springboard for other research. You are saying “learn more here,” when you cite a source.

 

  • Citation boosts your credibility. Academic research is about more than your personal opinions, conclusions, or experiences; academic research is based in facts and consensus.

 

  • You need to be able to distinguish between your words, opinions, and the facts/opinions of the source you are using.

 

  • Citing multiple sources will ensure that one source does not have the burden of documenting the entirety of an issue. You need to cite all the sources that help you to come to a conclusion. Thus, you need to leave all the appropriate breadcrumbs for readers that will guide them to the origination of your thoughts and ideas. Bring in sources to supplement your other source.

 

  • When in doubt, always cite.

 

  • The more quotes/block quotes or “images” of the text you are using/referencing, the more the audience can make their own interpretations.

 

  • Look at how have used your references. Have you referenced all the works present in your Works Cited?

 

  • Who is the author you are citing and why are they credible? Why are you citing this author so much?

James Bridle Article Questions

Who gets to decide what is “ethical” or “moral”?

It is hard to say whether or not it is national guidelines that decide because we have an open internet policy that prohibits companies from controlling the stream of information. Who decides what is ethical or moral right now seems to be the individual. Whatever content you consume, that is what you consider appropriate, ethical, or moral.

if companies decided what was ethical or moral, there would be no consensus. it is too complex of an issue to be addressed on a large scale because it’s like these things are put into existence and they are just left to be used and abused by the masses.

We’re on our own.

What conversations should we be having as parents, siblings, grandparents, childcare providers, and friends among ourselves and with the children in our care about the internet and how to use it?

I feel like we should be more careful about giving kids control over the devices they own. My mom is always amazed by my six year old cousin, and the way that she seems to know more about technology than she does. My cousin has her own iPad and she watches videos on YouTube. She knows how to search for videos and how to change the video. She is really smart, and has very much been raised with a device in hand. She consumes a lot of media, whether it is on the television or the Internet.

I think one thing families might do is make a playlist of pre-approved videos, so that the children don’t have to choose other options, even though they’re still on the screen…but maybe make a playlist of videos that you know are appropriate.

Watch the videos with the children and help them to consciously evaluate what is going on on the screen.

I read fanfiction and when I found out an eleven year old I babysit also reads from the same fandom – I was like, okay, that’s great, but you should really be careful. Make sure you look at the tags associated with stories and if there is a warning that states explicit content, beware of it. I know exactly how profane and explicit online writers can be, and so her profession of reading from the same fandom made me pause. I was like, we better not be reading the same types of stories.

Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: Bibliography

  • Cooper, Carol. “Disco Knights: Hidden Heroes of the New York Dance Music Underground.” Social Text, no. 45 (1995): 159–65. https://doi.org/10.2307/466679.

 

  • Fierman, Michael. The Saint Promo. CD. New York, n.d.

 

  • Dunlap, David W. “As Disco Faces Razing, Gay Alumni Share Memories – NYTimes.Com.” Accessed October 10, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/21/nyregion/as-disco-faces-razing-gay-alumni-share-memories.html?mcubz=1.

 

  • Ganga, Maria L. La. “The First Lady Who Looked Away: Nancy and the Reagans’ Troubling Aids Legacy.” The Guardian, March 11, 2016, sec. US news. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/11/nancy-ronald-reagan-aids-crisis-first-lady-legacy.

 

  • Kennedy, Shawn G. “The New Discotheque Scene: ‘Like Going to a Big House Party.’” The New York Times, January 3, 1976, sec. Archives. https://www.nytimes.com/1976/01/03/archives/the-new-discotheque-scene-like-going-to-a-big-house-party.html.

 

  • Large, The Saint At. SUBmerged: The Black Party 2016 Trailer, 2016. https://vimeo.com/156787064.

 

  • Large, The Saint At. DARK MATTER: The Black Party 2017 Trailer, 2017. https://vimeo.com/208734189.

 

  • Lateef<yasirlateef112@gmail.com, Yasir. “FAQs – The Names Project.” Accessed December 2, 2017. http://www.aidsquilt.org/about/faqs.

 

  • Lateef<yasirlateef112@gmail.com, Yasir. “The AIDS Memorial Quilt – The Names Project.” Accessed December 2, 2017. http://www.aidsquilt.org/about/the-aids-memorial-quilt.

 

  • McEwan, Jonathan. “The Saint Goes On.” Metrosource, 1994, pp. 36-44.

 

  • Peters, Brooks. “The Sexual Revolution Mailman Delivered.” Out, 1994.

 

  • Rist, Darrell Yates. “A Scaffold To the Sky And No Regrets.” New York Native, 2 May 1988, pp. 17-18. 

 

  • TheSaintAtLarge. Stories of the Saint – Chapter 1: The Opening. Accessed November 2, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WObdp6fRsY.

 

  • TheSaintAtLarge. Stories of the Saint –  Chapter 2: The Architecture. Accessed November 1, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwtJiKCrW9s.

 

  • TheSaintAtLarge. Stories of the Saint –  Chapter 3: The Trip. Accessed November 12, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mtpBRrgI8o.

 

  • TheSaintAtLarge. Stories of the Saint –  Chapter 4: The Era. Accessed November 11, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WObdp6fRsY&list=PL_lECoVkeC8XKYN27-kssQwDG43QFN_Du&index=4.

 

  • TheSaintAtLarge. Stories of the Saint – Chapter 5: The Clubs. Accessed November 2, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY8sFvbAeQw&t=3s.

 

  • Weinstein, Steve. “DJ Sharon White Returns to NYC Nightlife For a Celebration 35 Years in the Making | Village Voice.” Accessed October 18, 2017. https://www.villagevoice.com/2015/11/17/dj-sharon-white-returns-to-nyc-nightlife-for-a-celebration-35-years-in-the-making/.

 

  • “1998wp98.Jpg (554×768).” Accessed November 3, 2017. http://saintatlarge.com/wp-content/uploads/photo-gallery/1998wp98.jpg.

 

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Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: The Afterlife of a Saint

staying afloat

Bruce Mailman made a number of changes to the Saint in order to keep it afloat in its sea of controversy. In 1985, Mailman began to sell liquor at the club; though he later opened the disco to heterosexual people on Fridays, attendance at the club still waned dramatically (McEwan, 42). The “ghosts of friends” haunted many members of the New York City gay community (Rist, 18). Most of the crowd that had frequented the Saint were older gay men who had either died from HIV/AIDS or were grappling with the grief of knowing those who had (Rist, 18). Many people avoided the Saint.

The younger crowd that began to populate the Saint didn’t come as often as older members once did because they didn’t have as much money; financial troubles swiftly appeared on the horizon, and Bruce Mailman began to feel that he could only own the Saint “for so long” (Rist, 18). Soon thereafter, the Fillmore East Village Associates Ltd. offered to buy the Saint from Mailman for 6.5 million dollars; by the Saint’s 1987 Halloween Party, the sale of the building had already “passed the point of no return” (qtd. in McEwan).

In 1988, the Saint’s surviving DJs and lighting technicians enlivened the club for the last time. The “Last Party” spanned “three days and three nights,” with Saint regulars attending 30 of the 36 hours (McEwan, 42). Jimmy Ruffin’s song “Hold On To My Love” played near the end of the Last Party; appropriately, the words HOLD ON TO MY LOVE have been stitched onto the bottom of the Saint’s memorial quilt. The words’ ash-colored lettering overlay a thick strip of the same shiny, silver material found elsewhere in the panel.

Jimmy Ruffin’s “Hold On To My Love”

reincarnation

Gay nightlife was “quiet” without the Saint (McEwan, 42). The Paradise Garage and Flamingo dance club had already closed when the Last Party took place, so, when Halloween came around after the Saint’s official closing in April of 1988, Bruce Mailman decided to host a party (McEwan, 42-44). This Halloween Party commenced a series of parties that became known as Saint-at-Large events (McEwan, 44).

Saint-at-Large parties now annually commemorate the four holiest celebrations of the original Saint: Halloween, New Years Eve, the White Party, and Black Party; the White and Black parties are the most popular events of the year (McEwan, 44). This annotation describes the Saint-at-Large’s 2016 Black Party trailer, whose wicked marine imagery elicits awe from the viewer. Further showcasing the living legacy of Bruce Mailman’s inventive artistry is the 1998 poster advertising the Saint-at-Large’s White Party.

Though the Saint-at-Large seeks to “keep the spirit of the original [Saint] alive,” many people have noted that the Saint-at-Large celebrations are mere “shadows” of what the Saint’s parties used to be (Peters, 142). The permanent loss of the euphoric disposition of the Saint’s heyday emphasizes the irretrievable nature of the past. Memories can never be replicated; the Saint will always maintain a “mystique” that is impenetrable even by vigorous research (Peters, 141). Generations now will never learn the liveliness of the original Saint; young gay men will never enjoy the “wonderful playground” that was Bruce Mailman’s very own haven of vices (Peters, 141). Though men still dance beneath dazzling lights and kiss in rhythm with Hi-NRG melodies, they cannot relish the gratification of the hours upon hours men their age spent in the original Saint (Peters, 142). They cannot travel back in time. To Jason McCarthy, the former night manager of the Saint, this restraint on any true comprehension of the Saint is lamentable (McEwan, 44). Younger gay generations who never experienced the original Saint “don’t know what it was [or] what they’ve missed” (qtd. in McEwan, 44). The naivete of this generation is astonishing to him given that they are grossly unfamiliar with the brilliant spark of their antecedents (Peters, 143). 

The disconnect that exists between the disco generation and the grunge youngsters saddened Bruce Mailman (Peters, 143). Mailman worried that his generation would not get to share its “collective wisdom” with the next generation of queer youth because of the devastation of AIDS (qtd. in Peters, 143). The sense that the “young [gay population] arrived newly born and can’t benefit from anything that went before them” is upsetting to Mailman (qtd. in Peters, 143). For the men and women who emerged out of the disco era and the sexual revolution, it seems the Saint is best appraised in recollection rather than revival (McEwan, 44). For them, nothing can compare to the original Saint and the original high of liberation (McEwan, 44). The freedom of the 70s never included the burden of AIDS now attached to gay identity; Mailman feels that the epidemic has darkened an otherwise beautiful expression of gay sexuality and identity (Peters, 143). He hopes that future gay generations will find the “same freedom [his generation] once had,” otherwise the community will continuously struggle to recover its historical vitality (qtd. in Peters, 143). 

Even if the Saint cannot be relived, its narrative must still be retold. The Saint is not irrelevant, even if, as Frank Courson acknolwedges, there “are entire portions of the city where [the gay community] can be comfortable” (McEwan, 44) The magnetizing majesty of the Saint comforted young gay men and offered them a “safe place” to be themselves and to love their significant others and lovers (McEwan, 44). The Saint shone like a beacon within the gay community, offering shelter and a supportive celebration of patrons’ self-hood that may seem unfit for the currently saturated generation (McEwan, 44). However, even despite the progress of civil rights within the LGBTQ+ community, the dissemination of the Saint’s story is still necessary.

Saint Dance Club Memorial Block; Image Credit: NAMES Project

The unusually large size of the Saint’s memorial block attempts to communicate the club’s extraordinary impact on New York’s gay history. The quilt’s size symbolizes both the magnificent breadth of the physical Saint as well as its metaphorical significance in history. 

The Saint was a sinfully sexual disco that manifested the spiritual realization of an unapologetic existence (Peters). Serenading its customers with the rapturous anthems of a liberated generation, the Saint dance club was emblematic of the entire disco generation (“Chapter 4: The Era“). Primarily, the Saint bestowed a jubilant embrace of unrestrained, open desire upon its gay patrons (“Chapter 4: The Era“). In the Saint, desires and dreams were set free as a hot revolution of self-respect unfastened the binds of closeted men and women and turned them towards self-acceptance and sexual liberation (“Chapter 4: The Era“). The lifetime of the Saint embodies the rise and fall of the gay generation during the 1980s due to the AIDS epidemic by encapsulating both the heroism and vulnerability of New York’s gay community. The Saint’s memorial block fails to communicate the tremendous culture of the Saint, however its archival materials convey the club’s life span well.

As Carol Cooper acknowledges, the lack of firsthand documentation from the people “most qualified” to tell the story of disco threatens to diminish the presence of the “rich social history of New York club life” (Cooper, 164). If future generations cannot access firsthand accounts of disco’s growth, transformation, and divergence into various cultural expressions, then “myths and rumors” will begin to dilute and destroy the truth (Cooper, 165). Cooper laments that writers purporting to be “authorities on cult clubs like the Paradise Garage never interviewed its visionary owner Michael Brody, or its principal deejay Larry Levan” (Cooper, 165). However, quite a few of the materials cited in this essay involve direct quotations from the Saint’s founder, Bruce Mailman. Darrell Yates Rist, Brooks Peters, and Jonathan McEwan are authors whose invaluable articles contain interviews with Bruce Mailman himself as well as interviews of other close associates of the Saint. Though direct experience is the only way one can truly understand disco clubs or feel the true impact of disco music, written narratives still provide a crucial glimpse of the nature of the disco revolution. Without the circulation of firsthand documentation on the Saint, Mailman’s concern that there is no “continuity in the gay population” will come true (Peters, 143). To communicate across generational lines the struggle, liberation, and resilience of the gay community (particularly in New York, U.S.A.), the story of the Saint must be shared, as it both explains the importance of discos to the gay community as well as the role of uninhibited sexuality in the community’s freedom from oppression.

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Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: Birth of a Saint

club of vices

The Saint honored the gay community by providing the “climax” of gay liberation: unfettered drug use, impassioned sex, and musical ecstasy comprised the ingredients of this mighty discotheque, though the club’s stunning architectural features similarly indicated the Saint’s superiority (qtd. in Peters, 80). At the Saint, a planetarium projector transported crowds into outer space whilst dexterous deejays weaved melodic memories into the night (Rist, 17).

The Saint originated as a house of Bruce Mailman’s vices, or the pleasures Mailman paid money to enjoy. One of his vices was dancing at the Flamingo night club (Rist, 17). Another vice was Mailman’s deep appreciation for the “imagination and theatricality” of Studio 54, whose attractiveness caused Mailman to return to the club rather often (qtd. in Rist, 17). Together, the “hard-driving” sexuality of disco dancing and imagination of theatrical nightlife supplied formative experiences for Mailman. He was thus inspired to construct a haven of vices that he could go to for free (Rist, 17). However, Bruce Mailman’s desires were elevated by his intention to add a new dimension to the disco scene.

Simple mimicry bored Mailman; he wanted to produce a unique club of vices (Rist, 17). At first, Mailman could not figure out how to promote the individuality of his disco, yet following the night that Mailman went to sleep pondering ideas, the man awoke with the image of a planetarium in his mind (Rist, 17). The club Mailman envisioned wouldn’t be “limited to a stage;” what would become The Saint would be “completely round,” with a large dome sky (qtd. in Rist, 17). The dome would immerse club-goers in an environment similar to the great outdoors; men would kiss and dance in bliss underneath strobes or stars.  Following his revelation, Mailman called planetarium companies to see if his fantasy could become a practical and affordable reality. In 1980, Mailman redesigned the old Loew’s Commodore Theater for almost $5,000,000 US dollars; the large theater could accommodate both a planetarium projector and a planetarium dome (Rist, 17). Located on Second Avenue and East Sixth Street, the Commodore Theater underwent a truly heavenly transformation for The Saint’s opening.

Stories of the Saint – Chapter 2: The Architecture

the first party

Bruce Mailman and business partner Steve Casko acquired a planetarium dome and planetarium projector from Spitz Space Systems, structures fundamental to the architectural anatomy and jaw-dropping identity of the Saint (McEwan). The use of mobile lenses in the club’s planetarium projector permitted light technicians to project hundreds of unique slide images onto the sky-like dome (McEwan). These images reflected off of the Saint’s dancing crowds and illuminated them with bright patterns of starlight and other exciting designs. The Saint Promotional Video exhibits photographs of crowds in the midst of sweaty gyrations and stirring light choreography. The following image can be found on the Saint’s memorial block; it displays a representation of the Saint’s planetarium projector and light structure. The stitched-on representation of the light structure is a weathered gray color that has been topped by an orderly row of circular bulbs that exude colors of red, green, orange, purple, turquoise, yellow, and pink. The structure juts from the bottom of the quilt panel and is comprised of a material that feels sturdy and thick, a composition that demonstrates its purpose of strength, support, and vibrant bedazzlement. The actual Saint contained a “lighting tower with about 1,500 fixtures, topped by [the] planetarium-style star projector” in the center of its dance floor (Dunlap).

light structure representation found on the quilt

On September 20, 1980, the anticipation of 3500 men in East Village, New York was subdued and satisfied by the Saint’s impressive premiere celebration, entitled “The First Party” (Rist, 17). At midnight, these men (2500 of whom had already become members of the Saint), lined almost an entire square block hoping to unravel the mystery of Bruce Mailman’s new creation. When the doors of the Saint opened, these gorgeous gay men eagerly began to explore the newly opened disco (Rist, 17).

George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue “swelled” from the sound system and encased the public in a luxurious mood of classical music as the projector splashed light across the planetarium dome in “spectacular patterns of orange and rose” (McEwan, 38). As the night progressed, classical music transformed into more sensual ballads, and sometime after 2:00am, the pace of the club “picked up” (McEwan, 38). The mothership, mounted on a hydraulic lift, rose above the heads of the dancers. The Saint had milked the virgin qualities of its club-goers by prolonging the reveal of those spectacular tricks hidden up Bruce Mailman’s sleeve, but their emergence was near. As Donna Summer’s “Could It Be Magic” began to play, the club lights dimmed and the planet’s stars appeared. In the video below, Michael Fierman recalls a distinct gasp from the crowd at the sight of the stars, before a mad cheer erupted. Fierman’s disclosure indicates the brilliance of the club’s planetarium projector, and illustrates the first sublime experience of the Saint.

Stories of the Saint – Chapter 1: The Opening

Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue on the piano

Original version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue

Donna Summer’s “Could It Be Magic”

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Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: Mailman’s Steamy Bathhouse

a sexual revolution

Andrew Holleran, a prominent novelist, describes Bruce Mailman in the following way:

“The thing about Bruce Mailman is that he is the eminence grise, the Cardinal Richelieu behind the scenes in the gay world. He culminated and codified and realized physically the climax of the 70s. He provided the settings, literally the theater, for all of these fantasies” (qtd. in Peters, 80).

Following its remodeling, the St. Marks Baths boasted five floors, a video room, and a luncheonette. Larry Kramer, a prominent activist, playwright, and author acknowledges that Mailman “succeeded” in giving the gay community the “nicest baths” (qtd. in Peters).

Attracting millions of dollars each year, the St. Marks Baths became synonymous with gay and queer culture. And sex.

There was a lot of sex.

One visitor states that “if you didn’t like the baths, you had to examine yourself. Maybe you had a serious case of self-loathing, or maybe you hadn’t gotten the message. It was part of the culture to have a lot of anonymous sex” (qtd. in Peters).

Stories of the Saint – Chapter 4: The Era

mailman’s gay social scene

Mailman’s bathhouse was a “gay social scene” (McEwan, 36). Attending the Baths affirmed one’s identity and increased the fraternity and camaraderie among the young men who were there (qtd. in Peters).

Inspections were conducted every 15 minutes in the bathhouse to ensure everyone’s safety and to guarantee that there was no injury. Sadly, a member drowned in a hot tub at the baths; however, this is the only time that things went “wrong” (Peters, 82).

 

To his staff at the St. Marks Baths, Bruce Mailman was “not easy to work for” because he “had more respect for the clientele than he did for his employees” (qtd. in Peters, 82). Yet Mailman did not see himself as “tough or ruthless;” instead, he was “goal-oriented” (Peters, 82).

No one could have prepared for the impending epidemic.

Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: Kingdom of a Saint

painting music on a blank cAnvas

After the First Party, the Saint dance club became the “hottest, most exclusive ticket in town,” partly because of its astounding technology. The Saint set “new standards for lighting and sound,” that showcased the truly unique properties of a club with a planetarium inside of it (McEwan, 39). According to Jason McCarthy, the former night manager of the Saint, the planetarium dome of the club “was like a canvas” (qtd. in McEwan, 39). Lights “aimed at the [dome from the] mothership, from the base of the walls and from the catwalk that circled the outside of the dome” (qtd. in McEwan, 39). The effect of the multitude of lights cast onto the dome was breathtaking; splendid stars and psychedelic designs delighted audiences as they danced beneath the large dome. Susan Tomkin, Bruce Mailman’s assistant, states that “being under the dome on the crowded dance floor with the lights and the stars was a spectacular visual experience that if you didn’t have, you’ll never know” (qtd. in McEwan, 40). Tomkin’s declaration demonstrates the impossibility of conveying any true experience of the Saint to a person who has neither seen, felt, heard, nor entered the club. Essentially, without experiencing the Saint firsthand, men and women will never truly know what it meant to dance under the Saint’s dome. 

Image Credit: Saint Promo
Image Credit: Saint Promo
Image Credit: Saint Promo

worship

The Saint aroused a spiritual thrill in its masses. Many have described the disco as a deliverer of near religious rapture. Frank Courson, a management consultant in Manhattan, describes the Saint as a temple (McEwan, 40). Author Jonathan McEwan expounds upon Courson’s claim in his 1994 article entitled “The Saint Goes On.” McEwan explains that the Saint had “four opposing entrances that led to the circular dance floor, an icon of worship (the mirror ball) and even an altar (the DJ booth). The DJ played a liturgy designed to engage the congregation in ritualistic dance” (40). Thus, the Saint seemed to provide the services a traditional church would. Going to the Saint certainly provided experiences that many would call religious; however, devout members of the Saint were not puritan men solely concerned with enjoying the night’s music or getting emotionally stimulated (McEwan, 40). Men chased the high of unreserved worship, which lasted for hours, beginning Saturday night and concluding on the following Sunday afternoon (McEwan, 40). During this time, deliciously “decadent” drug use and sexual pursuits sinfully silhouetted the Saint against its rather innocent namesake (Rist, 18). Author Darrell Yates Rist remembers “a perpetually euphoric storm of orgies in the balcony above the planetarium dome” as well as an “endless fountain of drugs from […] men who themselves were intoxicating” (18). What was saintly about Mailman’s disco was not its innocence, but its absolute embrace of male pleasure.

Stories of the Saint – Chapter 3: The Trip

to be special, to be beloved

Open only on Saturdays and Sundays, the Saint made sure to wow crowds with unique experiences every time they attended the club (McEwan, 40). Former manager of the Saint Joel Teitelbaum notes that on Saturday the staff of the club would “set up art installations or fill the club with balloons and cotton clouds. Then, right after the last dancer left on Sunday afternoon, a crew would remove all traces of the Saturday night party and reset the lights so that Sunday’s would be completely different” (qtd. in McEwan, 40). The continuous production of remarkable art for the promotion and adornment of the Saint gratified members and visitors by making them feel “special” every time they walked into the club (qtd. In Rist, 17). Other discotheques attracted celebrities as famed, esteemed guests, yet at the Saint, “no one looked at other people” (qtd. in Rist, 17). The people themselves “were the stars,” and the Saint devoted every passionate night to its audience so that each person there could receive the best experience possible (qtd. in Rist, 17). Parties at the Saint were planned ahead to an impressive amount of detail;  (McEwan, 40). DJs contained playlists of songs to which they envisioned specific staging cues (such as the descent of the mirror ball, or the appearance of the stars) being enacted. The Saint dance club’s unique holiday schedule also challenged staff members to entertain crowds according to different themes (McEwan, 40)

DJ performances at the Saint also contributed to the club’s dominion of disco. In Brooks Peters’ 1994 article “The Sexual Revolution Mailman Delivered,” Michael Fierman, an esteemed DJ of the Saint, explains that DJs had a responsibility to “make a musical statement” (qtd. in Peters, 140). At the Saint, evenings were given structure by the DJ’s desire to “take the crowd someplace” (qtd. in Peters, 140). Their desire to establish a musical journey developed into a methodological procedure for eliciting various emotions from their audience. First, lighter fare music escalated into Hi-NRG music (now known as EDM or electronic dance music in 2017). Then those Hi-NRG “hard-driving beats” would melt into “melodic morning music,” before concluding with songs later classified as “sleaze” (Weinstein). Sleaze described the swoon of romantic ballads that cascaded from the Saint’s planetarium dome like stardust.

transcendence

Joel Teitelbaum witnessed the transcendent nature of music and dance in the Saint. He states that dancing at the Saint was “a kind of trip […] that started around midnight and didn’t reach its destination until 2:00 the next afternoon” (qtd. in McEwan, 39). The trip that Teitelbaum references symbolizes the ability of the Saint to transport crowds to a spiritually resonant realm. Carol Cooper cites Chaka Khan, the Emotions, and The Talking Heads, as famed performers of music traditionally played at The Saint (162-163). According to author Jonathan McEwan, songs fitting the club’s “interstellar” theme such as “Rocket to Your Heart” by LISA and “Trippin’ On The Moon” by Cerrone were also “instant Saint standards” (38). 

Unfortunately, despite all the liberation the Saint stirred in its gay members, many populations in the queer community never directly received a similar hearty welcome. John Preston recounts that at the Saint there was “a sense of exclusion of those [individuals] who weren’t pretty enough” (qtd. in Peters, 141). Author Brooks Peters states that black people “complained” that they were discriminated against at the Saint because they did not fit the culturally-imposed ‘ideal’ gay man or woman, who were white (141). Peters also notes that “drag queens were definitely not welcome” at the Saint and that lesbians were just “not included” (141). Others steered clear of the Saint by their own volition; the sexual nature of the club was off-putting to them. Critics of the Saint believed that gay liberation should not be equated with promiscuous and anonymous sex, however, others felt that their physical excursions in disco clubs like the Saint were freeing and necessary (Peters). 

The Saint was nevertheless highly influential despite these internal debates.

“Rocket to Your Heart” by LISA

“Trippin’ On The Moon” by Cerrone

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Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: The Fall of a Saint

his moral character

Erotic social scenes, such as the Saint and the St. Marks Baths, facilitated the development of honest sexual expression among its gay patrons; however, these institutions later became infamous “epicenters” of an emerging disease known as AIDS (Peters, 82). During the onset of the deadly health crisis of HIV/AIDS, figures of the media accused Mailman of acting as an exploitative, “merciless profiteer” when he “resisted shutting down the baths early in the AIDS crisis” (Peters, 82). Many people, including Larry Kramer and other vocal writers and leaders in the gay community, believed that Mailman took too long to close the St. Marks Baths in the wake of the mounting evidence that AIDS was a sexually transmitted disease (Peters). Mailman, however, considered the civil rights of gay men when he failed to close his businesses as early as critics wanted him to (Rist, 18). Gay men had fought valiantly to achieve the sexual liberation that marked the decades of the 1970s and 1980s; he did not regret the sex that occurred in his establishments – it was necessary – even though many of the men who were members of his businesses were dying (Rist, 18).

Portrayed as either a guiding light to the gay community or a ruthless businessman who condoned the spread of AIDS in order to continue collecting profits, Mailman wrestled with a torrent of public disputes over his moral character throughout the 1980s (Rist, 18). To Mailman, the St. Marks Baths were a “hard-won symbol of fraternity, equality, and liberty;” the bathhouse had released men from the psychological turmoil of unrealized desire (Peters, 82). Author Brooks Peters explains that the “right to be a homosexual man without harassment from society was closely linked to the right to have promiscuous sex” (Peters, 82). This quote shows the close link between sexual expression and the vanquishing of oppression. Mailman did not wish to discontinue an institution that had allowed men to live and love uninhibited by shame or fear, even if shame and fear were intervening into the consciences of gay and queer residents once more (Rist, 18).

In Mailman’s opinion, closing the Baths when critics wanted him to would not have made any impact on the spread of or obstruction of AIDS (Peters, 82). Closing the St. Marks Baths during the germination period of HIV/AIDS in 1980 would have been done more to “control the epidemic,” but no one knew of the impending public health crisis back then (qtd. in Peters, 82). To Mailman, accusations against him presented an argument based on hindsight bias. Critics falsely believed that Mailman should have been able to better protect his customers against a disease that only seems predictable in hindsight. In reality, AIDS descended without warning, and by the time it arrived, many members of the St. Marks Baths, and the Saint, had already fallen ill (Peters, 82).

laying the blame

AIDS decimated the Saint disco’s community. Many members of the Saint became sick. Others were dying. At least 700 membership renewal forms were sent back through the mail bearing the message “Return to Sender. Occupant Deceased” (McEwan, 42). Once the AIDS epidemic swept through the country, Saturdays at the Saint drew in at most 500 people, though the club had a capacity of 5400 (McEwan, 42).

People accused Mailman of condoning the transmission of HIV and AIDS. Others said he was liable for his members’ deaths due to his inaction. It was a known fact that sexual acts took place in the Saint’s viewing balcony. In his interview with Darrell Yates Rist, Mailman insists that the balcony was never intended to be used for sex. He swears that he wrote to members of the Saint and tried time and time again to get people to stop using the balcony for sex; however, Mailman certainly did not want to police people’s behavior (Rist, 18). Mailman is “not happy” if “someone was harmed” in his club by contracting HIV/AIDS, but he has “no regrets” (Rist, 18). Mailman does not believe that people should look back and feel that they shouldn’t have engaged in sexual activity in clubs like the Saint; he feels that gay men had “fought hard to be at that level of liberalization,” and that their free expression was neither inappropriate nor foolish (Rist, 18). It was emancipating. Mailman wondered why members of the gay community would blame him or themselves for a disease that was unpredictable and, thus, uncontrollable (Rist, 18). To Mailman, revision of the past is a problematic and pervasive attitude within the gay community (Rist, 18).

 

citizen and country

The AIDS crisis was exacerbated, not only by what some consider to be the failures of individuals, but also by governmental neglect. The Reagan administration witnessed the devastation of the gay community due to AIDS silently. Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch of the order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, felt afraid that the gay community would “disappear” because of AIDS, but the government proved its ugliness through gross inaction (qtd. in La Ganga). To what extent would Mailman, as an individual, have been able to alleviate the severity of AIDS when the federal government itself refused to acknowledge the thousands of sick and dying men and women? Research into AIDS was not being funded. Healthcare provisions were abysmal. It appeared to many people that the gay community had been forsaken (La Ganga). The binary that persisted throughout the crisis described AIDS as a gay cancer. AIDS affected the gay community, not anyone else. This blatant segregation of consciousness stated that AIDS has nothing to do with the government, and everything to do with those people (La Ganga). The government felt no responsibility for gay men and women, so is it just to fault one man for the trauma that resulted from a complex network of inaction and ignorance?

To Mailman, it is clear that the media hoped to scapegoat a distinguished gay businessman in New York City in order to “appease people’s hysteria” (Peters, 82). In 1985, Mailman was forced to close the St. Marks Baths due to increased political and legal pressure. Mailman states that he spent $300,000 U.S. dollars defending his right to keep the St. Marks Baths open, but, eventually, he lost (Peters, 82). Some writers in the gay community did defend Mailman’s desire to keep the St. Marks Baths open. Bruce Mailman never “sat there with a shotgun and forced people to have sex” says Marc Berkeley, a club promoter in New York who later worked at the Saint during its closing years (qtd. in Peters, 82). Not everyone could so easily remove Mailman from the list of blame. 

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Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: Bruce Mailman Emerges, An Entrepreneur of Ingenious Artistry

oasis of desire

Bruce Mailman was an entrepreneur based in New York City, U.S.A. who was integral in providing sensual havens for the gay community during the 1970s and 1980s (Peters). In the eras of the Sexual Revolution and of disco culture, Bruce Mailman endeavored to engineer an oasis of open desire and free expression in which gay men could engage (Peters). To do this, Mailman first created the St. Marks Baths, a bathhouse described by author Jonathan McEwan as an “exciting place in which to enjoy the pleasures of the then unhindered sexual revolution” (36). Later, Bruce Mailman founded the Saint disco club, which, to many, came to represent the apotheosis of the disco era.

Mailman’s inventiveness sculpted the Saint into a matchless, mammoth disco. Born in Chester, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. to a family of merchants, Bruce Mailman first developed his creative spirit through thespian engagements. In high school, Mailman became involved in art, theater, and music. He went on to attend Temple University and the Tyler School of Fine Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Later, after he graduated with a master’s degree from New York University in the early 1960s, Mailman met his long-time partner, John, a cardiologist. Together, Mailman and John began to invest in real estate, whilst Mailman started producing his own creative works and plays (Peters, 140).

Mailman’s enterprising attitude helped him succeed as both an entrepreneur and an investor; importantly, many of Mailman’s businesses were spaces that encouraged the gay community to live openly and freely (McEwan, 36). Several experiences in Mailman’s life inspired him to create such liberating environments. When he was four years old, Mailman observed a man wearing a “suede jacket without a shirt on underneath” walk into his father’s store. He remembers wanting the man to remove the jacket; he “knew it wasn’t right, [but] didn’t know why.” (qtd. in Peters, 140). Additionally, though he knew of other gay men in university, Mailman still “had to hide” his sexuality. He pronounces that, at the time, being gay was “mysterious, like being part of a private society. […] There was no openness” (qtd. In Peters, 140). Mailman despised this obligatory charade and desired to counter his lingering internalization of the country’s homophobia. For many, the 1969 Stonewall Riots realized Mailman’s aspiration for he and other gay men to be out and honest. Mailman hoped the fierce resilience that arose in the gay community during this time would create an unapologetic sentiment among gay men. It was time to be frank, and it was time to have pride (Peters, 140).

come as you are

At first, gay men did not seek familiarity from one another; most preferred to remain closeted by keeping their nightly escapades private and maintaining their anonymity, even in seemingly safe spaces. Mailman knew well that being gay was “dangerous,” but the shame of some of the men he saw was disheartening (qtd. in Peters, 140). Mailman found it strange, and sad, that “people wouldn’t sign their own names [at gay bars],” and that men were “very embarrassed to see someone they knew on the street” (qtd. in Peters). His observations demonstrate the stifled nature of gay identity during his youth in the 1960s, which Mailman yearned to combat. He intended to untie the fists of gay men bound to closetedness by creating a community where people could be “honest” with each other and with themselves (qtd. in Peters).

Mailman’s particular philosophy of honesty generally manifested itself as a type of sexual expression; at Mailman’s own St. Marks Baths, the physical rapture and release from oppressive confinement exhilarated many customers (Peters, 80). Attracting millions of dollars per year, the St. Marks Baths became synonymous with the 1970s gay and queer culture. Visitors and staff members indulged carnal pleasures on every one of the bathhouse’s five floors; the sexual revolution was truly ablaze (Peters). One visitor to the Baths states that “if you didn’t like the baths, you had to examine yourself. Maybe you had a serious case of self-loathing, or maybe you hadn’t gotten the message. It was part of the culture to have a lot of anonymous sex” (qtd. in Peters). This quote shows how Mailman’s equation of genuineness with uninhibited sexuality was a commonplace ideology in the 1970s.

However, the men who attended the Baths connected more than just their bodies. Mailman’s bathhouse was also a “gay social scene” that affirmed the identity and increased the fraternity and camaraderie among the young men there (McEwan, 36).

Stories of the Saint – Chapter 4: The Era

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