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: An Introduction

Block 1087 of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is a quilt block that memorializes the staff members, DJs, and associates of the New York City Saint disco club.

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 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” (“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).

Saint Dance Club Memorial Block; Image Credit: NAMES Project

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.

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Annotated Bibliography Two – Annotation Six

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

secondhand qualities of the source

This magazine article has likely been scanned into a digital format and subsequently printed out. The article does not appear to be in its original form for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the photographs contained within the article are black-and-white, blurry depictions of the Saint disco club. Even the ads scattered throughout the text are in black and white, which seems to suggest that the article text has been reprinted from an original, colorful format.

The article was published in New York City in 1994; color photos and text would have been common in the USA’s mainstream media by this time. This source surely would have made use of color, given its subject of the sensual Saint disco. Though I cannot be sure that the article first appeared in color, its lack of color seems to suggest that the material I possess is a reprinted copy of the original source.

Additionally, the pages of the article are out of order. Beginning with page 36, and ending with page 38, the article has been stapled together in an haphazard fashion. The last page of the article, page 44, can be found in the middle of the packet. Pages 41 and 43 are missing, though their absence fails to interrupt the article’s narrative oddly enough.

The paper materials cited in this annotated bibliography have all come from The NAMES Project Quilt Gallery located on 117 Luckie Street NW, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. The tangible materials I cite in my bibliography (including this one) are secondary copies of the NAMES Project’s archival materials relating to the Saint’s memorial block, block 1087. Thus, it is possible that this article has been reprinted by a staff member of the NAMES Project, and stapled in the wrong order. It is also possible that the original owner stapled the pages in the wrong order, and the NAMES Project maintained the owner’s array. I can not be certain of either claim.

Regardless, the text contained within the article presents captivating details about the Saint’s demanding beginnings, the disco’s subsequent euphoric popularity, and the gay culture within which the Saint boomed and later withered, only to be gloriously revived once more.

the closet, the underworld

Author Jonathan McEwan opens his article with a description of the “dark and underwordly” nature of gay clubs such as the Flamingo and The Paradise Garage at the time of the Saint’s origination.

Though the late 1970s enjoyed the “height” of the disco era, exclusively gay clubs “were often dingy holes-in-the-wall” that were “hidden from view.” The “gay community was still tinged with the musty odor of a deep, dark closet,” whose liberation during the sexual revolution had yet to see an open representation of or welcoming of its population (McEwan, 36). Gay dance halls insinuated “criminal refuge” much the same as the “speakeasies of the twenties” did (McEwan, 36). To McEwan, they hardly evoked festivity or “dreams” (36).

Author Jonathan McEwan wholeheartedly believes that the Saint’s founder, Bruce Mailman, “gave the community something extraordinary” when he constructed the St. Mark’s Baths and the Saint dance club. Mailman created something “wonderful” that sadly lasted only for a “brief shining moment” (McEwan, 36).

Yet when the Saint shone, it radiated like a beacon, and drew crowds and crowds through its doors. Bruce Mailman’s inventive vision of the gay community’s liberation did not only include a thriving, gay disco. First, Mailman founded a steamy, gay bathhouse.

bruce mailman’s gay social scene

Bruce Mailman sought to “perfect what already existed and claim it for the gay community alone” (McEwan, 36). Multiple heterosexual bathhouses sprung up in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, yet there were hardly any bathhouses marketed towards the gay community.

To fulfill his endeavor for a perfected gay haven of free expression and community, Mailman created the St. Marks Baths, described by author Jonathan McEwan as an “exciting place in which to enjoy the pleasures of the then unhindered sexual revolution” (36).

Mailman’s bathhouse became a “gay social scene” and, thus, a measure of the level of acceptance extended to fellow gay men (McEwan, 36). Attendance at Mailman’s Baths became sacred to a man’s gay identity. According to a former visitor to the St. Marks Baths, “anonymous sex” was expected of gay men; suspicions of self-loathing or ignorance arose when gay men did not attend the Baths (qtd. in Peters). Read more about this here.

The St. Marks Bath inspired Mailman’s next business venture, or rather, its name did.

By the end of the 1970s, Mailman had begun to fantasize about owning an exclusive disco club. When his otherworldly disco came to fruition, Mailman named it the Saint, after the St. Mark’s Baths.

Before the saint

Upon arriving at the Loews Commodore movie theater (which later became the Saint), Bruce Mailman’s long-time business partner, Steve Casko, noted that the place looked like a “disaster” (qtd. in McEwan, 36).

Once one of the sixth largest movie theaters in New York City, the Commodore theater experienced quite a few transformations before its regeneration into the Saint.

For a while, the theater was lonely and abandoned, until it became a rock haven called the Fillmore East in the 1960s. In 1979, the old theater was considered by a man with a fantastic vision, and eventually unveiled as NYC’s hot new disco.

But the Saint had a rough beginning.

Aside from the fact that “it looked like someone had detonated a bomb in the orchestra pit,” according to Steve Casko, there were also quite a few strings attached to the theater that required tedious bureaucratic untangling (qtd. in McEwan, 36).

Casko informed author Jonathan McEwan that it took thirteen months for he and Mailman receive permits to construct a disco club in the former theater.

An additional nine months were then devoted to the actual construction of the Saint, which included the removal of the theater’s seats and a demolition of a part of its balcony.

Due to a sudden revelatory insight, Mailman decided that his disco would be a planetarium in which men could dance, lit by projected images of the stars. His stunningly unique vision necessitated the implantation of a planetarium dome, which, upon its completion, spanned three stories above the dance floor.

Though originally estimated to be 2 million U.S. dollars, the Saint’s entire construction ended up costing a little over 4.5 million U.S. dollars (McEwan).

But Mailman knew what he wanted and had already amassed an annual revenue of millions of dollars during the popular years of the St. Marks Baths.

But not everyone approved of Mailman’s new business.

When he first tried to purchase a planetarium projector for his club, Bruce Mailman solicited Zeiss for the projector. At the time, Zeiss was the leading manufacturer of planetarium projectors. Zeiss denied Mailman.

Zeiss’s rejection of Mailman’s request was explained as an “inappropriate use for their equipment,” yet Steve Casko asserts that Zeiss just “didn’t want to be associated with a gay disco in New York” (qtd. in McEwan).

Fortunately, the two business partners were later able to purchase both a planetarium dome and planetarium projector from Spitz Space Systems. Through the use of mobile lenses in the club’s projector, hundreds of unique slide images could be projected onto the planetarium dome and reflected off of the Saint’s dancing crowds, illuminating them with bright images of starlight and other exciting designs.

the first party

The Saint’s premiere, entitled “The First Party,” was postponed until July 30 1980 due to a series of untimely impediments. However, during this word, the buzz surrounding Mailman’s mysterious new club grew exponentially.

To announce the opening of the Saint, Bruce Mailman sent out a blueprint of the club; the flyer demonstrated sketches of the Saint’s basic layout and informed readers of the benefits of membership at the club.

A $175 membership purchase guaranteed buyers a reduced cost of admission into the Saint as well as a locker in the club. The benefit of a locker applied only to the first 700 members. By the time the Saint opened, the club had 2500 members. Word about the Saint had spread fast. The Saint’s legendary opening night began with a line of men “wrapped completely around the block and back up to the door and into the street” (McEwan, 38). The Saint had officially become a hot commodity. Read more about opening night here.

Then, the doors opened.

As crowds explored the newly opened Saint, George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue “swelled” from the sound system and encased the public in a luxurious mood of classical music. I do not know if the orchestral rhapsody or the piano version of Gershwin’s composition was played during The First Party. I have included both versions below.

Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue on the piano

Original version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue

A spacious lounge dominated the main floor of the Saint, with metal stairways leading up to the the dance floor. The top floor had been devoted to a viewing area.

A fenced-in balcony overlooked the dance floor below it through a “porous aluminum dome.” A “knee-lighting array” called the mothership encased the planetarium projector found in the center of the dance floor (McEwan, 38. As the projector splashed light across the planetarium dome in “spectacular patterns of orange and rose,” men continued to explore Mailman’s new club (McEwan, 38).

As the night progressed, classical music slid into “slow and sexy dance music,” and sometime after 2:00am, the pace of the club “picked up” (McEwan, 38).

The mothership, mounted on a hydraulic lift, was able to rise and fall on its axis.

After 2am, the mothership rose above the heads of the dancers. Andrew Holleran, who wrote a remembrance of the Saint in the May 1988 issue of the New York Native reviewed the Saint’s 1980 opening party for Soho News. He remembers that as Donna Summer’s “Baby I Love You” began to play a little after 3:00am, “the stars appeared above and, as the song took off, the galaxies began to rotate. There was nothing to do but scream, throw up your hands, and keep screaming” (qtd. in McEwan, 38).

Joel Teitelbaum, the former manager of the Saint and passionate organizer of GMHC fundraisers, states that by the time the Saint opened, mirror balls had become “de rigeur – all the clubs had them” (qtd. in McEwan, 38). However, upon arriving at the Saint, the night dancers noticed that there was no disco ball. The stars “rotated” and the “galaxies and planets appeared and disappeared and lights strobed in tempo with the rhythm and vocal tracks,” and people began to assume that the club simply did not have a disco ball, given its marvelous overhead display (McEwan, 38).

Yet when the “music again appeared to crescendo, four spotlights shone dramatically into the center of the dome. An octagonal hole opened and, to the reverlers’ sheer delight, after a few minutes an enormous mirror ball began to lower into the space above them” (McEwan, 38-39). An otherwise anonymous attendee named Charlie describes the moment as “fabulous.” Charlie states the following:

“Up until then we were dancing in the Hayden Planetarium and that was cool. But the ball-it made it a disco!”

The mirror ball’s lighted revolutions n the planetarium dome was “Simply dizzying, dazzling, amazing…” (qtd. in McEwan, 39).

The First Party of the Saint proved the club was a king of discos.

the saint is king

From that moment, the Saint dance club became the “hottest, most exclusive ticket in town,” that “set new standards for lighting and sound” (McEwan, 39). Mark Ackerman “designed and operated the lighting for the first few years,” and later hired a young technician named Richard Sabala (he operated the lights for the 1998 White Party) to hold the brilliant reigns of the disco’s transportive illumination (McEwan, 39).

The planetarium dome of the Saint “was like a canvas” according to Jason McCarthy, the former night manager of the Saint and the manager of Roxy at the time this article was written in 1994 (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 Saint was revolutionary in its phenomenally immersive technology.

Joel Teitelbaum explains that “Dancing at The Saint was like nothing else then-or even today. [At the Saint,] It wasn’t just a night out. It was a kind of trip. A trip that started around midnight and didn’t reach its destination until 2:00 the next afternoon” (qtd. in McEwan, 39).

Susan Tomkin, Bruce Mailman’s assistant of thirteen years by 1994, similarly 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).

As explained in my annotation on Carol Cooper’s article “Disco Knights: Hidden Heroes of the New York Dance Music Underground,” various musical distinctions defined the popular discotheques of the 70s and 80s, such as the Saint and the Paradise Garage. In my annotation, I state the following:

“Carol Cooper cites Chaka Khan, the Emotions, and The Talking Heads, as famed performers of mid to high frequency music, which was traditionally played at The Saint.”

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 similarly “instant Saint standards” (38).

“Rocket to Your Heart” by LISA

“Trippin’ On The Moon” by Cerrone

DJ performances at the Saint also provided a unique experience.

A stage within the planetarium dome had a wall that could slide up and down; the deejay resided behind this wall and, thus, remained hidden from the crowd for much of the musical journey that he or she weaved into the night.

DJs generally just blended the crowd “into the beginning of [a] song,” but sometimes the wall blocking the DJ from view would recede and the DJ would give a “performance” (qtd. in McEwan, 39-40). The spectators who could see the DJ would “scream and applaud;” after “the performance was over the wall would come back up and the DJ would mix right into the next song-and the boys never stopped dancing,” according to Joel Teitelbaum (qtd. in McEwan, 40).

Open only on Saturdays and Sundays, the Saint made sure to wow crowds with unique experiences every time they attended the club. The club provided crowds with different experiences between Saturday night and Sunday night on the weekends. Former manager of the Saint Joel Teitelbaum notes that 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).

Parties at the Saint were planned ahead to an impressive detail. 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. On Saturday, “a seamless performance shaped to build until five or so and then taper off slightly before pausing for applause around seven” (qtd. in McEwan, 40). Sleaze music would then carry the club into the Sunday afternoon.

According to Jason McCarthy, the Saint “was an entire environment.” The club was a “safe place removed from the often difficult hetero world outside” (qtd. in McEwan, 40).

dance dance dance worship

Frank Courson, a management consultant in Manhattan, describes the Saint as a temple.

Author Jonathan McEwan expounds upon Courson’s claim. He 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” (McEwan, 40). The Saint certainly seemed to provide the services a traditional church would, and going to the Saint provided experiences close to what some might call religious.

Frank Courson states that “a lot of guys […] planned their entire lives around the seasonal calendars sent out by The Saint. There were people who leased apartments in New York, just so they could have a place to stay when they came to events” (qtd. in McEwan, 40).

The Saint was a big deal.

a saintly schedule

The Saint dance club had a unique schedule.

The club opened only on Saturdays and Sundays, and would present a special party for each month of its season of opening.

September brought the Opening Party of the season.

Halloween showcased yet another celebration, and the night before Thanksgiving boasted the Night People at Thanksgiving party.

During the month of December, the Christmas Party occurred, and in January, the News Years Eve party took place.

In February, the White Party embraced love.

In March, the “passage of spring” exhibited the “S&M and fetish tinged Black Party” (McEwan, 40).

Easter was celebrated with a Land of Make Believe party in April, and the Closing Party ended the Saint’s season in May. When summer approached, many “Saint boys” left the city to vacation at Fire Island or in the Hamptons (McEwan, 40).

Frank Courson notes that the “high holy days” of the Saint’s season were Halloween, New Years Eve, the White Party, and the Black Party (qtd. in McEwan, 40). DJs became famous for their performances at certain holiday parties at the Saint. Robbie Leslie always played the White Party, and Michael Fierman always played the Black Party.

This was their signatures.

Yet the Saint soon became known for more than just its music; what of its carnal celebrations?

disenchantment

The Saint was known to host frequent balcony sexcapades. The “narrow spiral staircases” led up to a “dark sexual scene” that came to haunt the Saint club’s memory in the eyes of many (McEwan, 42).

When AIDS struck, it decimated the Saint’s community; around 700 membership renewal forms were sent back through the mail bearing the message “Return to Sender. Occupant Deceased” (McEwan, 42).

DJs, staff members, and technicians at the Saint also fell ill.

Charges of tax evasion and a drug-dealing conspiracy were held against Mailman (though later dropped due to proven bias) at the same time that attendance in dance clubs and bars began to “radically” decline (McEwan, 42). Mailman became “disenchanted with the gay community,” according to Steve Casko, when he found himself fighting conservative city bureaucrats alone.

Though the club had a capacity of 5400 people, once the AIDS epidemic swept through the country, Saturdays at the Saint drew in at most 500 people.

Members were sick, and those who weren’t sick, were afraid to go back.

In 1985, Bruce Mailman began to sell liquor at the Saint.

Mailman later opened the club to heterosexual people on Fridays. To Susan Tomkin, Mailman’s assistant, straight people “just didn’t appreciate it” (qtd. in McEwan, 42).

Soon an offer to buy the Saint for 6.5 million dollars from the Fillmore East Village Associates Ltd. was extended to Mailman. By the Saint’s 1987 Halloween Party, the sale of the building had already “passed the point of no return” according to Joel Teitelbaum (qtd. in McEwan).

The final party at the Saint in April of 1988 lasted 36 hours.

the last party. the last party?

in 1988, the “surviving DJs and lighting technicians and a roster of live performers” enlivened the Saint one last time.

Saint regulars attended 30 hours of the 36 hour-long party, only going home to “bathe and change clothes,” according to Frank Courson (qtd. in McEwan, 42).

The Last Party spanned “three days and three nights,” evoking yet another Christian motif.

All things that are sacred come in threes.

Jimmy Ruffin’s song “Hold On To My Love” played as the Saint’s last party “drew to a close” (McEwan, 42).

After Jimmy Ruffin’s song ended, Marlena Shaw, a famous American singer closed the Saint with “Suite Seventeen,” a medley of the following songs: “It Was A Very Good Year,” “Love Dancing,” “Thank You,” and “Touch Me In The Morning.”

Shaw sang softly to a “tearful crowd” (McEwan, 42).

As Marlena Shaw’s performance culminated, “lightning flared in the [planetarium’s] night sky, the stage closed and the stars slowly circled over head. It was over” (McEwan, 42).

On the following day, 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.

Gay nightlife was quiet without the Saint.

The Paradise Garage and Flamingo club had already closed; Spike and the Eagle’s Nest were “really cleaning up” according to Jonathan McEwan (42).

Yet when Halloween came around after the Saint’s official closing in April of 1988, Bruce Mailman decided to host a Halloween party that, due to the circumstances, was not located at the Saint.

This Halloween Party, held outside of the Saint’s physical reach, began a series of parties that became known as Saint-at-Large events.

During the first Halloween party without the Saint, too few restrooms and an inefficient coat check hampered the novel Saint at Large event. Fortunately, they got over that.

Saint-at-Large parties are celebrated even today in 2017!

The four holiest parties of the original Saint (Halloween, New Years Eve, The White and Black parties) are currently hosted every year and are annually commemorated celebrations of the Saint’s legacy. In 1994, the White and Black parties were the most popular Saint holiday parties to be revived, and they remain so today.

Curt Wagner states that when he goes to the Saint-at-Large parties, he cannot “find a familiar face anywhere” (qtd. in McEwan, 44). Wagner believes that there is a whole “new generation out there-maybe two” (McEwan, 44).

Jason McCarthy laments that “so many of these young guys out there dancing never saw The Saint itself. They don’t know what it was-what they’ve missed” (qtd. in McEwan, 44). McCarthy believes that it is possible to bring the Saint back, but Frank Courson disagrees.

Though life without the Saint “seems somewhat stark and somber,” the world and all its people can “never go back” according to Courson (qtd. in McEwan, 44). Susan Tomkin cannot imagine the expense it would cost to build the Saint today, when it already cost 4.5 million dollars in 1979.

Today, there “are entire portions of the city where [the gay community] can be comfortable,” according to Frank Courson (44). During the 1980s, Frank Courson states that “we needed a safe place where we could be who we were and love as we wanted,” however Courson believes that the world has changed for the better since that decade.

discussion of The saint goes on

The Saint at Large continues to dazzle crowds the same way the Saint once did.

A “sea of muscular men [dance] in the darkness beneath incredible lighting” and the music “follows the same programming format” as before, which was described in Steve Weinstein’s article. Parties don’t end until “well into the afternoon” (McEwan, 44).

This source is valuable because it includes interviews from people who experienced the Saint directly, whether through working there, or attending its celebrations. Interviews of people who experienced the Saint’s phenomenon firsthand are critical to presenting an accurate narrative towards one’s audience.

This source is also valuable because it provides more detail on the season of the Saint, and of what its celebrations entailed.

The article is also helpfully aware of the importance of multi-modality, and utilizes pleasing visual, spatial, and linguistic modes appropriately.

Unfortunately, one drawback to the article is the blurriness of some of its images; many of the photographs included in the article are indistinguishable lumps of black and white. However, the photographs I recognize, though in black and white in this article, appear in color in the Saint’s promotional video.

This article provides critical personal experiences from people close to Bruce Mailman (his assistant and business partner), and from people who enjoyed his creations.

Though none of my sources contain interviews from John, Mailman’s partner, I believe this source, in particular, provides detailed narratives of the Saint that showcase both familiarity and fond remembrance.

Primary Source Description One – Gabrielle Williams

About the Quilt

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.

Disco Night

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. 

moon-like figure on the quilt

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.

Starshine

a close-up of the quilt’s section of stars

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.

Candy Lights

light structure representation found on the quilt

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.     

Silver Shrine

a close-up of the silver material and the text of John Reed’s name

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

a close-up of one of the letters used in HOLD ON TO MY LOVE

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. 

See photos of The Saint below:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/timothyhartleysmith/sets/72157603013834938/with/3346237383/