According to Janece Shaffer, the Communications Director at the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the size of the Saint disco club’s singular memorial panel is much larger than the average panel submitted to the quilt. Typically, panels are3×6 feet (0.9×1.8 meter); however, the size of this quilt is that of an entire 12×12 foot (3.7×3.7 meter) “block” (“AIDS Memorial Quilt”).Blocks are usually composed of eight individual 3×6 foot (0.9×1.8 meter) panels, yet this block is its own individual dedication (“FAQs”).
The primary colors featured in the quilt are black, burgundy, and silver, though there are exceptions; the quilt’s inky colors evoke a funereal quiet. Many of the objects on the block have been stitched onto an expanse of either black or burgundy felt material, which raises them from the quilt’s flat surface. 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 this block).
In this essay, I intend to address how disco clubs liberated the gay and queer community in New York City by offering a historical account of the disco movement as well as a narrative of its seeming culmination in the creation of the Saint dance club. This paper will examine the effect of AIDS on the gay disco generation by honing in on remembrances and discussions of the Saint and other disco clubs in New York City.
My position on this topic will address the complexity of the influence of erotic social scenes, such as the Saint or founder Bruce Mailman’s other creation, the St. Marks Baths, on the spread of AIDS. I will attempt to answer the question that dominates Bruce Mailman’s controversy: did he condone the spread of AIDS through his refusal to close down his businesses? Was Mailman really a “merciless profiteer” who continued to ruthlessly benefit from the sex that took place in his establishments, despite growing awareness that HIV/AIDS was sexually transmitted (Peters, 82)? Neither a ruthless villain nor a sinless business owner, Bruce Mailman is a man who believed that he was protecting and affirming the civil rights of his customers.
My essay will first begin with a description of Bruce Mailman’s biography as well as a discussion of his philosophy towards gay male identity. Then, I will detail Bruce Mailman’s inspirations for the Saint dance club and examine the evolution of the extraordinary discotheque. I will conclude with an analysis of the impact of Mailman’s creation, as well as reactions to the onslaught of AIDS in the gay community and what that meant for the reputation of the Saint.
By describing the lifetime of the Saint, I will expand upon the current general knowledge of the disco era and make the details of disco’s presence in the 80s known. I will display the interaction between the gay community and the disco community by demonstrating the formation of the gay community around gay clubs that embraced the sexual liberation of the disco era (“Chapter 4: The Era”). As discos became cultural emblems of the gay community, their musical, physical, and emotional embrace liberated both young men and women by providing the space for their self-determination and youthful exploration (“Chapter 3: The Trip”).
I hope to increase awareness of the different ways that AIDS destroyed disco culture and the continuation of gay history. Once the disease disseminated throughout disco clubs and the larger gay community, AIDS ruptured the vitality of gay oral history. Death, sickness, and the isolation of the epidemic’s survivors disrupted the narrative of the gay disco generation (Peters, 143). Block 1087 captures only a fragment of the Saint’s significance.
The size of this panel is 6×3 feet (1.8×0.9 meter), the typical size of a panel on the AIDS Quilt. Located on the rightmost border of a 12×12 foot (3.7×3.7 meter) block, this panel is vertically laid and should be read from left to right. Blocks are usually composed of eight individual 3×6 foot (0.9×1.8 meter) panels, however, this block is comprised of only seven individual panels. In the center of this block is a 6×6 foot (1.8×1.8 meter) panel, to the right of which rests the panel this description refers to.
The quilt panel described in this piece is located on Block number 1045. According to the NAMES Project website, there are currently 5956 blocks, indicating that this particular block is a somewhat early addition to the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The subject of this quilt’s memorial is Allan Lazer.
The primary colors featured in the quilt are black, white, and mauve. Many of the objects on this quilt have been stitched on to an expanse of what appears to be a thin cotton material, which raises them from the quilt’s flat surface. However, there are exceptions.
This panel will be described from top to bottom, and will be organized by descriptions of specific sections on the quilt.
First, I will describe the mauve outer border of the panel, then the cloth frame found within the panel’s border. Next, I will describe the content inside the smaller frame, then move downwards to detail the bow ties found on the quilt. Finally, I will describe the toy cat on the panel and the writing on the bottom of the quilt.
Outlining the four edges of the panel is a strip of mauve material similar to the color of weathered concrete. Stitched on with white and navy blue thread, the mauve strip is not one solid color, but a patchwork of visible interlocking threads that are sometimes lighter in color, and other times a pale purple. The lighter threads of the panel’s outer border burst through the mauve overtone like a muscled man in a tight shirt. Somewhat rough and gritty to the touch, the mauve frame feels a little like dried dirt or sand on one’s clothes. This outer purple border is 2.5 inches (6.35 centimeters) wide on the top and bottom of the panel, but varies in width on the sides of the panel.
Inside of the mauve border is the white cotton material upon which most objects on the quilt have been stitched or written onto. The white fabric is thin, but durable; it resembles linen but is not as lightweight as linen. The panel contains visible wrinkles and creases on its revealing white fabric from where the block has been folded for storage purposes. The sound of a pencil’s eraser erasing on paper emits from the fabric when one rubs one’s hand fast over the cotton material.
The top half of the white expanse contained within the mauve outer frame of the panel is dominated by a square frame of the same mauve material found on the panel’s border. Like dissimilar mirrors, these frames both encase memories of Allan Lazer, though the inner mauve frame is smaller.
The smaller mauve frame is 23 inches (58.4 centimeters) long with an upper bar about 9.25 inches (23.5 centimeters) from the panel’s outer frame. There is about 6.5 inches (16.5 centimeters) of white space between the outer and inner frame on the right side of the panel. About 3.75 inches (9.5 centimeters) of white space lies between the outer and inner mauve frames on the left side of the panel.
The inner purple frame is 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) wide at the bottom and close to 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide on all the other edges of the frame.
Life and Death
All of the words on the panel are handwritten in neat, legible handwriting. A white board marker could have been used to write on the quilt fabric, given that the strokes of the letters on the quilt are thick, as if a marker with a big tip was used to write them. The black color of the marker is somewhat subdued, so perhaps the marker was not intended to be used on fabric. However, the lack of a bold color could also be attributed to the age of the quilt panel.
Within the inner mauve frame (directly beneath the frame’s upper edge) is the name Allan Lazer, to whom this quilt is dedicated. The first letters of Allan and Lazer are bigger than the other letters in the name. The “A” and “L” are 2 inches (5 centimeters) tall, whereas the rest of the name’s letters are about an inch (2.5 centimeters) tall.
The dates of Allan Lazer’s birth and death are also an inch (2.5 centimeters) tall.
Beneath Lazer’s name is his birthday: 3-26-48. Beneath the birth date is a photograph of Allan Lazer, followed underneath by Lazer’s death date: 9-25-86.
Allan Lazer died when he was 38 years old.
In the center of the smaller mauve frame is a photograph of Allan Lazer.
Allan Lazer is a young man with curly, deep brown hair. He has a receding hairline that causes two bald spots to appear where an otherwise even hairline would exist.
There are prominent wrinkles in Lazer’s forehead, and deep, heavy bags underneath his eyes. In the photo, Lazer appears to lounge with his weight on his left elbow as he rests his back and legs on the ground.
Taken outside in a natural environment, the panel’s photograph showcases Lazer’s close-lipped smile amidst a blurry forest green background where there are probably trees. Lazer’s mouth doesn’t smile as much as his eyes do.
Brown eyes and nearly invisible eyelashes shine from the photograph’s surrounding earthy tones. Lazer’s eyebrows are thick and bushy and curl downwards at the ends. In the photograph, Lazer wears a tank top that is the color of a banana (the actual fruit, not the peel). Lazer has tanned skin, but appears to be Caucasian.
Lazer has a large mustache that rests above his thin pink upper lip, which is almost obscured by the bushy mustache. The mustache is the same color as his hair and eyebrows, and is longer than his lips, extending into the deep creases left by lots of smiling over the years.
Lazer’s bottom lip is plumper than his top lip, and it casts a shadow directly beneath it. It appears that Lazer is sitting in the sun.
Allan Lazer somewhat resembles Billy Burke, the American actor who plays Bella Swan’s father in Twilight, as well as a character in Drive Angry.
The actual photo is small enough to fit in a sleeve of a photo album and is protected by a thick piece of laminate plastic. The plastic has thick cracks in it. One can reach underneath the cracks to touch the photo, which appears to have been printed on thick stock paper. The photo is also slightly blurry and is dated by its poor quality. It is not as crisp or sharp of an image commonly found in the decades of the 2000s and 2010s.
Framing the photo is a sandy colored swirly design. This border is likely glued onto the quilt, and might even be one whole piece with a place where a photo can be inserted in its back. The swirls are tightly bunched like a long coiled worm or snake. The swirls feel rough, with detectable textural grooves.
Black Tie Event
A real, wearable black bow tie as well as a fake bow tie have been stitched onto the quilt. There are 27.5 inches (69.9 centimeters) between the bottom right tip of the fake bow tie and the bottom mauve border. The outside of the fake bow tie is a smooth, deep black fabric. The knot of the black tie is rougher than its accompanying fabric.
The fake bow tie is about 5.25 inches (13.3 centimeters) wide. Composed of two flat pieces that have been knotted together in the middle, the top piece of the bow tie can be lifted up with one’s hand given that the two pieces have been pressed together, inside to inside. The underside of both pieces of the bow tie are a mustard color, or greenish yellow. This yellow fabric feels like mesh or net on the outside, and is thin.
The fake bow tie has hard creases in its fabric like a real bow tie would. The bow tie appears to have been stitched on at the knot.
The real bow tie has been stitched onto the quilt as well, but large parts of it can be lifted up from the quilt where there are no stitches. The real bow tie is stretched out, and not in the typical bow tie shape. There are creases in it from where the quilt has been folded up. Its material is smooth and cool to the touch.
Baby Blue Kitty
A toy cat has been stitched onto the bottom left corner of the quilt, and it rests 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) from the bottom of the quilt. The cat is bright baby blue like the color of a sunny blue sky. Little white hearts and white leaf structures comprise the fabric design of the stuffed toy cat.
The cat’s paws and ears are flatter than the rest of its three-dimensional body because they do not have as much stuffing. The cat’s eyes and nose also appear to have fallen off.
The cat’s whiskers are three individual 0.5 inch (1.3 centimeters) white threads on either side of a space where a nose used to be. At its widest point, the cat is 4.5 inches (11.4 centimeters) wide including its paws.
The cat’s head is 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide, and its tail curls up against its body.
The script of the words on the quilt gets progressively fancier and more cursive towards the bottom of the quilt.
The neat, beautiful handwriting on the quilt contributes to the formality and sophisticated appearance of the panel. The combination of the panel’s geometric framework as well as its uncluttered design provides an elegant and trim aura than is not ostentatious.
In the bottom left corner of the panel inside the outer mauve frame are the words: Thanks to: Micheal Loud and Juan Jose Arriles. The third part of Juan’s name is harder to interpret; what I have concluded from the script is my best guess.
What appears to be the word “Gito” has been written in the right bottom corner of the panel on the white fabric.
In the purple border beneath “Gito” are the words Made By Sister. The word following Sister is unreadable given that it has been stitched underneath the adjacent panel.
These letters are all less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) tall.
Hold On To My Love
Next to the blue cat, the words Hold on to my Love have been written in cursive. The H is 2.25 inches (5.7 centimeters), and the L is 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters). The other letters without tails or tall sections are about an inch (2.5 centimeters) tall. The text of Hold on to my Love has an ellipses (…) following it, and is written between quote marks.
Hold On To My Love was a popular disco song in 1980 that hit #7 in the UK Singles charts and #10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Performed by soul singer Jimmy Ruffin, the song “Hold On To My Love” is featured on Ruffin’s 1980 Sunrise album, and was written by Robin Gibb and Blue Weaver.
According to Janece Shaffer, the Communications Director at the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the size of this singular memorial panel is much larger than the average panel submitted to the quilt. Typically, panels are 3×6 feet (0.9×1.8 meter); however, the size of this quilt is that of an entire 12×12 foot (3.7×3.7 meter) “block.” Blocks are usually composed of eight individual 3×6 foot (3.7×3.7 meter) panels, yet this block is its own individual dedication.
The quilt described in this piece is Block number 1087. According to the NAMES Project website, there are currently 5956 blocks, indicating that this particular block is a somewhat early addition to the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The subject of this quilt’s memorial are the members and staff of The Saint Dance Club in New York City, NY, USA.
The primary colors featured in the quilt are black, burgundy, and silver, though there are exceptions. Many of the objects have been stitched on to an expanse of either black or burgundy felt material, which raises them from the quilt’s flat surface. Thus, this description will be organized by the objects and images found on the quilt. These descriptions will also progress from the center of the quilt towards its outer edges.
First, I will describe the moon-like figure on the quilt, which immediately drew my eye when I first viewed the panel. Then, I will describe the “sky” the moon rests in, where many stitched stars shine. Next, I will describe the structure found underneath the stars, before expanding my focus to the larger, outer sections of the quilt, and their encompassing design.
The outer sections of the quilt include the black felt section of silver triangles, the burgundy felt section containing the memorial note, the silver section containing the words HOLD ON TO MY LOVE, as well as the cream outer border.
What appears to be a moon glows near the center of the 12×12 foot (3.7×3.7 meter) block. Painted onto the quilt, and aligned on the vertical axis that cuts the panel square into two twin-bed-sized halves, the moon first appears to be silver in color. Upon closer inspection, the moon reveals itself to the viewer: swirling grays and ultramarine tones sparkle from within the moon as the glitter dressing the moon’s surface reflects overhead light back at the viewer. This moon could very well be a disco ball, shining 3.5 feet (1.07 meters) from the top of the quilt. In fact, according to David W. Dunlap of The New York Times, The Saint Dance Club contained a “ceiling hatch through which a three-foot mirrored ball could be lowered.” Dunlap’s observation indicates that the moon-like figure on the quilt could represent a disco ball. The figure could even double as both a mirror ball and a moon. For the purpose of this description, this figure will continue to be referred to as a “moon” or “moon-like figure,” whose form is thickly coated with glitter paint, but feels smooth, if not a little grainy, to the touch.
Circling the neat, spherical shape of the moon are twinkling rays of light. A shimmery green like the underside of a maple leaf comprises the first ring of glitter glue light. Just outside of this soft, mint green band, are similar brush strokes of a glittery electric blue. This blue is the color one might see in pool tiles or during twilight. These marks pop from the burgundy material surrounding the moon, and feel like gentle sandpaper under one’s fingertips. These hand-painted marks contrast in both material and boldness to the moon’s solidity. The moon’s radiance is faint, brushed by hand with glitter paint or gel.
Additionally, though the moon is full, with an 8 inch (20.3 centimeter) diameter, its light seems subdued in power when compared with the entire quilt. The moon’s overwhelmingly silver color contributes to its quiet brightness.
A section of black felt contains the upper glitter essence surrounding the moon, which, due to its differing background color, may alter one’s visual perception of the glitter’s color. Given the background color change, the previously electric blue color appears to me as more turquoise on the black felt section. However, to my vision, the green color remained relatively the same. Other altered states of the colors may be observed through another person’s eyes.
Once one expands one’s focus from the moon, the stars on the quilt become apparent. Acting as a spotlight in the quilt panel’s sky, the moon rests at the apex of a triangular section of stars, which does not form a shape nearly as geometric as the moon. Altogether, the starry section of the quilt looks like a skinny stingray, or thick boomerang. If the moon is the kneecap of a slightly bent human leg, then the stars fall like a curtain beneath it.
As David W. Dunlap notes, these stars represent an actual feature of the subject of this quilt’s dedication, The Saint Dance Club. “The Saint” contained a “a sweeping planetarium dome,” with stars that flashed across its surface and illuminated the dancers below (Dunlap).
On the quilt, most of the stars are evenly spaced. Like party confetti, these stars are golden, with five points that could prick one’s finger. Their surface is flat and slightly cool to the touch though their points are sharp.
A burgundy wine color splashes in the space between the stars, complimenting the deep black fabric found above the stars on the block.
Between all of the stars are brush strokes of the same kind of glitter essence found around the moon, though it is featured in both electric blue and bright silver coloring. These strokes could be shooting stars.
Beneath the stars, a stitched-on representation of a tall structure juts from the bottom of the panel. The structure is a kind of weathered gray, like one might see on a beach dock. Similarly, the material that the structure is comprised of feels sturdy and thick. Its composition demonstrates its purpose: strength and support.
The structure’s 3 foot (91 centimeter) long center column upholds a 2.3 foot (71 centimeter) wide horizontal frame. Providing additional support to the rendered horizontal platform are two similarly-colored pieces sticking out from the center column like short, thick arms. These pieces form two right triangles underneath the structure’s horizontal platform; however, these triangles are not identical, and are different sizes. Both of the triangles’ hypotenuses face the open wine-colored felt material surrounding it, whereas their shortest sides are contained within the horizontal bar above them.
An orderly row of colorful spheres sit atop the thundercloud-colored horizontal frame. These spheres resemble a row of Smarties or even a candy bracelet, exuding colors of red, green, orange, purple, turquoise, yellow, and pink. There are sixteen of these 1 and 7/8 inch (4.8 centimeter) circles, and all of them contain a white line of stitching that connects them to the quilt. These sixteen spheres are some of the smallest circular shapes on the quilt panel, with cloth hairs that tickle one’s fingers upon contact. These circular shapes are likely club lights, given that The Saint also contained a “lighting tower with about 1,500 fixtures, topped by a planetarium-style star projector” in the center of its dance floor (Dunlap).
Two cloth sticks upholding two bagel-sized circles jut from within the row of round candies. Similar to the moon’s size and coloring, these two circles are slightly smaller, like baby moons. They have a diameter of 5.5 inches (14 centimeters), and their cloth material raises them from the quilt. In fact, the entire structure in this part of the quilt possesses depth, puffing its chest from the flat quilt square. The baby moons jutting from the row of candies lean inwards towards each other and touch at several points along their surface.
Their heads protrude into the quilt’s star-filled sky.
There are three sections on the quilt panel; these sections are differentiated both by the color of the section’s felt background and the images and content that section contains. Felt is a thick fabric with short fibers that are both soft and dense. The smoothness of felt is distinct, though it also feels almost impenetrably thick. When one traces one’s fingers down the material of this quilt, a sound somewhat like the falling water of a distant waterfall emits from the quilt.
At the top section of the quilt, reflective silvery material similar to the color of tinsel has been cut into triangular shapes and sewed onto a large expanse of black felt. These smooth, reflective triangles are dissimilar in shape and size. Some of the triangles are flexible or slightly warped. Other triangles appear like rigid sword sheaths. Still, others are fat, isosceles pizza slices. However, these triangles do share a significant characteristic: all of the triangles point towards the moon. Like a halo of shards of glass, or fragments of light, these triangles come from many directions. They occupy the block panel from 8:00 to noon on the left side of an analog clock and from 4:00 to noon on the right side of an analog clock.
Thirty three of the triangles have the following names stitched or ironed onto them: Shawn Buchanan, Mario Z, Alan Noseworthy, Alan Kanghi, Alan Magioncalda, Tony Devizia, Greg Koulis, Bob Updegrove, John Mensior, Tommy Ayala, “Michael Beck, M.D.,” Hector Garcia, Bill Bruno, Jim Hicks, Elliot Siegel, Mel Albaum, Robert DeVito, Jim Leys, Joe Palmeri, Julio Morales, Jorge Villardel, Jürgen Honeyball, Victor Zaragoza, Peter Spar, Mark Ackerman, Mel Fante, Peter Vogel, Frank Olivia, John Reed, Bruce Crave, Tom Clancy, Eddie Lopez, and Joe Semiday.
Where Memories Lie
In the bottom left corner of the panel, the words IN MEMORY OF THE MEMBERS AND STAFF OF: are completed by the ones followed in the bottom right corner of the panel: ‘THE SAINT’ DANCE CLUB OF NEW YORK CITY. The text of this memorial note is smaller than that found at the very bottom of the quilt panel; in white, thin lettering, these words stand out against their burgundy background.
There are no stars or glitter in this section of burgundy felt. The material is solid burgundy, whereas the starry section provides decoration to the burgundy.
With the use of a running stitch, the words HOLD ON TO MY LOVE have been attached to the bottom of the quilt. The words’ soot or ash-colored lettering overlay a thick strip of the same shiny, silver material found in the top section of the panel. This silver strip is 8 and 2/3 inches (22 centimeters) wide.
“Hold On To My Love” is a song by musical artist Jimmy Ruffin. According to David W. Dunlap, Ruffin’s song was one of those played on April 30, 1988, as The Saint Dance Club prepared to close after eight years of business. Though this closure turned out to be temporary, in 1989, The Saint closed permanently.
The letters in HOLD ON TO MY LOVE are four inches (10 centimeters) tall, and have been stitched on with dark gray thread. A cream colored border two inches wide surrounds the entire quilt, like the color of slightly aged vanilla icing.