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.
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.