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”
Gay nightlife was “quiet” without the Saint (McEwan, 42). TheParadise 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.
Theunusually 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.
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.
In the early 1980s, the St. Marks Baths became known as the “epicenter” of a deadly disease later known as AIDS (Peters, 82).
During this time, Bruce Mailman was accused of being an exploitative, “merciless profiteer” when he “resisted shutting down the baths early in the AIDS crisis” (Peters, 82).
To Mailman, the St. Marks Baths were a “hard-won symbol of fraternity, equality, and liberty.” 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.”
Civil rights was on Mailman’s mind when he failed to close the Baths as early as critics wanted him to. Anyway, Mailman believes that more would have been done to “control the epidemic” during the virus’s germination period in 1980, 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 better able to protect his customers against a disease that only seems predictable in hindsight. In reality, AIDS descended without warning.
Additionally, 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 remained silent whilst AIDS devastated the gay community. Kenneth Bunch, or 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 the 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. The gay community was forsaken.
The government had abandoned its responsibility for its citizenry because of homophobia, ignorance, spite, and indifference.
A binary that persisted throughout the crisis described AIDS as a gay cancer. AIDS affected the gay community, not anyone else, not anyone normal. A blatant segregation of consciousness stated that AIDS has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them. The government felt no responsibility for heathens.
a conservative manipulation
Tom Steele wrote that AIDS was like a “shark attack” (qtd. in Peters, 82).
For a while, New York experienced a “dreadfully grim” period of despair in which a “sexual shutdown” created an emotional “black hole” (qtd. in Peters, 82).
Pat Buchanan and William F. Buckley, two conservative commentators at the time, began to advocate for “quarantine camps,” and “tattooing,” in response to the AIDS crisis, procedures reminiscent of the protocols of Nazi concentration camps. By condemning him and “not supporting the [St. Marks] baths,” Mailman believes the gay community was “really feeding into the hands of the right wing” (qtd. in Peters, 82).
Bruce Mailman insists that in 1983 the Baths were doing more good than harm in the gay community. His bathhouse offered counseling and distributed condoms in packages that read: “The contents of this envelope can save your life” (qtd. in Peters, 82). Still, he continued to be villainized.
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).
But is it just to fault one man for the devastation that resulted from a complex network of inaction and ignorance? Mailman wondered why members of the gay community would blame him or themselves for a disease that was unpredictable and, thus, uncontrollable.
His next business venture similarly entered a cloud of contention, just as the St. Marks Baths did.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s of the United States, white broadcasters owned black radio, and white announcers stifled black music (Cooper, 159). Air time dedicated to black musicality featured gospel music because it contained “nothing offensive or potentially seditious” (Cooper, 159). By failing to hire black announcers, white broadcasters deprived black musicality of its cultural context as well as of “any power to affect America’s social status-quo” (Cooper, 159). Radio refused autonomy over the black community’s own musical history. The struggle for authentic space and expression driven by members of the black community
speak for yourself, be yourself, and create your own context and community, find a space that is your own, embrace your rights to be loud, open, and honest about your identity and your
Yet, when the WDIA station of Memphis, Tennessee became the first “all black-formatted station featuring black on-air announcers,” black DJs began to thrive.
Spinning storied tracks that conversed with their audiences, black DJs demonstrated the talent, complexity, and necessity of black music. They became “community leaders” around the nation (Cooper, 159); along with black entrepreneurs, black DJs helped to engender a new culture of music: disco.
New York’s five boroughs were “particularly full of social and technological experimentation” (Cooper, 160). Black entrepreneurs began to transform college frat fundraisers and town rent parties into professional entertainment platforms.
The Manhattan clubs of Leviticus, Othello’s, Pegasus, and Down Under were birthed from the “art of throwing a party people would pay to attend” (Cooper, 160). And though these “black-oriented clubs” were strongly influenced by popular black radio, none of these clubs attracted the same audience (Cooper, 160). They were diverse.
Carol Cooper believes that “The biggest myth of late 1970s disco portrayed the disco audience as homogeneous in attitude and composition” (Cooper, 160). Disco has always been a “vast, multiethnic subculture” of music, whose various establishments served particular communities.
Disco “cults” fell along certain group categories such as gay discos, “new wave” discos, or “black mainstream discos” (Cooper, 161).
The Saint Dance Club is seen by many as the culmination of gay disco.
setting the stage for the saint
Stories of the Saint – Chapter 4: The Era
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.
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.
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.
The unusually large size of the Saint’s memorial block attempts to communicate its 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.
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.
Large, The Saint At. SUBmerged: The Black Party 2016 Trailer, 2016. https://vimeo.com/156787064.
underwater, sunken and submerged
The Black Party arouses and praises acts of Domination, submission, sadomasochism, and other explicit play (mature content: general information about BDSM).
Performances at the Black Party cover a broad range of activities, including, famously, a boa constrictor, according to Darrell Yates Rist’s article. This video advertises the Saint-at-Large’s 2016 spring Black Party.
Entitled SUBmerged: The Black Party 2016 Trailer, the video is marked as mature on its host site, Vimeo.
Within the first four seconds of the video, the words THE SAINT AT LARGE PRESENTS materializes on the screen. In what appears to be a bold white Arial font, the opening announcement emerges atop a black and gray background of viscous bullet-like shapes. These black gelatinous forms start shooting up from the bottom of the video frame like bullets, spiking to random heights to an unknown beat until the forms closest to the middle rise to the top of the frame and the words THE SAINT AT LARGE PRESENTS disappear.
The sound of a radar’s ping prompts the next images of the video to appear. Three old TVs sit side by side and depict the searching triangular slice of a submarine radar in a sea green color. The two TVs on either side of the middle TV depict flickering images of a radar’s grid and seem to be experiencing static.
An audio recording of a male voice repeating unintelligible words and the word “dive” begins.
Then, the TV in the middle showcases the text RITES XXXVII, denoting the 37th Black Party celebration. The TVs are barely illuminated and are framed by a dark, shadowy background. They seem to be experiencing interruptions in their signals.
With another sound of the radar’s ping, the image flashes to a singular TV with the same evergreen shade as background, whose center x axis along a typical Cartesian or rectangular coordinate system contains the words THE BLACK PARTY in the same font presented at the beginning of the video.
The image continues to flicker, before it becomes obscured by arrows and other geometric patterns.
The suggestion of an interrupted transmission evokes the presence of something haunted.
Next, the word SUBMERGED appears in thicker, bigger white font. The word “dive” is repeated with increasing volume. SUBMERGED flickers like a light, then disappears into a shifting gray ocean from its perch within a cloudy, overcast sky. The video turns black.
Then, suddenly at around 15 seconds, the tempo of the video rapidly increases. An alarm sounds from the video’s audio as a red light surrounded by white and gray water and a red warning symbol (typically associated with radiation warnings) flash across the screen.
Black dye diffuses in a red koolaid-like liquid. Green tentacles wiggle through red water, stirring large bubbles.
Two men engage in a heated wrestling of the arms and torso, their angered faces visible in the black and white film as their metal earrings glint against the incoming light. The men’s muscles bulge, and their closely-shaved Mohawks reveal pulsing veins in their foreheads. Random numbers, symbols, and letters appear in small, gray font across the clip of the wrestling men in an upside down triangle shape that has a bar running through it.
Their pearly white teeth glint.
The symbol for anarchy (an A inscribed within a circle) opens the next sequence of images.
In between flashes of the caution symbol is a clip of an anonymous male dripping in the black viscous fluid found at the beginning of the video. His body, though covered in the sliding black liquid, is otherwise naked. His eyes are closed and his head lolls to his right side as his back arches. His photo remains still, and is soon superimposed by an upside down crimson triangle. The triangle is outlined in a lighter red strip with a line cutting beneath its top point (near the bottom), which then disappears, taking the man with it.
reach, glide, hands, octopi
Eight TVs flicker green images of radar scans, and the sound of the alarm calms to a rapid sputtering of radar beeps.
Gray octopus tentacles sway in black waters, before the video quickly cuts to clawed hands dripping in similar black viscous fluid as they disconnect from each other in a slow parting.
Bare tan skin lies stark against the black liquid netted on its surface. An arrow on what appears to be a sphygmomanometer, which measures blood pressure, swings back and forth. A hand clenches a red object beside a naked man’s muscled butt and thigh, around which a black strap squeezes.
Several hands reach across two outstretched legs encased in nearly thigh-high, leather stiletto boots.
The gelatinous fluid reappears, as well as a green, smooth tentacle which swishes out of frame and leaves only red water. A symbol of a trident whose handle tip is inscribed within a triangle appears within a plethora of similar small numbers and letters as those seen earlier in the video.
These images last for less than half a second on the screen.
The radiation symbol once again appears in red.
A steady club beat opens the next succession of images.
Glitching gray text informs the viewer of the music artists who will be performing at the 37th Black Party.
Their names type across the video screen swiftly, appearing under the header MUSIC.
Following the presence of this text are more octopus tentacles, which first wave through iron-colored waters as rusty limbs. Next, the tentacles reflect a greenish color at the viewer from within rose-wine illuminated waters, rippling like ribbons across the screen. WITH is the header that announces the final three musical acts to be seen at the 2016 Black Party, which include Massimiliano Pagliara (click here for more information about Pagliara, but you must have a Facebook account to view it), Ron Like Hell (click here and here for more information about Ron Like Hell), and Will Automagic (click here for an additional profile on Will Automagic).
A sound like static emits from the video as the gelatinous goo vibrates. The symbol of chaos, which is represented by eight arrows piercing out from the circumference of a circle, appears twice in different scarlet red designs over a circle of darker red water through which black dye diffuses. A clawed hand covered in black gelatinous goo reaches out from within the bullet-like stalagmites seen at the beginning of the video, and the sound of static and white noise intensifies.
Thick octopus arms, complete with suckers, extend from an unseen center body.
The octopus arms are as thick as human arms or calves; they twist in gray water in a counter-clockwise motion before the image transforms into a clip of several masked and anonymous shirtless men reaching along the bare legs encased in the boots from earlier. Most of these lean men wear various hoods found in Dom/sub play, including a leather skin that obscures the entire face, and an elastic mask with eye holes and a mouth hole. One wears a gas mask.
The pentacle, or symbol of witchcraft denoted by a pentagram inscribed within a circle, appears upside down in red over a lighter red nautical grid. A blip in the sound of static is soon perceived.
Green clawed hands sweep across a phallic structure in water, with another sudden blip unveiling a close-up of a gray face, over which an octopus arm sweeps. The right eye of this face is startling, both because of its wideness and because of its white iris. The man appears to be screaming, with an open mouth, yet only soft echos dominate the audio track at this point in the video.
In the next scene, however, as tentacles frame his face, the man’s head appears tilted back, away from the camera. His half-lidded eyes peer beneath his eyelashes and his mouth opens slightly, as if in a gasp.
The audio sounds like a soft wind and remains subtle for the next few images. Orange octopus arms, lit by a white light, drift close by the camera’s lens. Individual suckers can be examined for their size and shape.
A man’s tilted face, framed by light brown stubble, rests beneath the same dripping black viscous liquid as before. The liquid reaches the corner of his mouth and slides off his lip.
There is an extreme close-up on the man’s face in this shot; only the mouth, nose, and part of his neck is visible.
Next the camera gives the viewer a closeup of the same man’s chest, which is covered in the black liquid. He slides a hand down his right pec.
Then, the two wrestling men from before rest their foreheads against one another as a tone sounds from the previously quiet audio.
white eyes, bright eyes
The same white eyes from before now stare into the camera from within a black hood. The person fits into the center of the frame exactly.
The black hood the person wears covers his or her entire face, and visibly stretches across his or her nose and cheeks. Lips seem to be visible, but have likely been painted black so that they could blend into the surrounding fabric. Or this person’s lips may be concealed by the hood. It is hard to tell.
The white eyes continue to stare intensely and directly into the camera.
The person wearing the hood appears to be crouched or hunched.
Bare shoulders are visible beside the person’s face, and the person’s skin, particularly the creases found around his or her exposed collarbones, is illuminated by a red light that shines from beneath their body.
What I have just described of this hooded figure is the top half of this particular image.
The bottom half of the image acts like a reflection of the top half.
On the bottom, the person’s face appears upside down, and his or her eyes stare at the camera less noticeably. The entire “reflection” is subdued and softened by the black shadows that surround it, whereas the top half of the image stands out due to its ominously red spotlight.
Soon, these faces disappear with a sound somewhat similar to crinkling newspaper or a camera shutter.
HOOKS IN YOUR FLESH
Two men in gas masks stare each other down under green lighting as they stand with their arms braced against the other’s neck and back, respectively. A radar scans over their image, before the man on the left pushes his companion away. The image flickers to the same sound of static or crinkling newspaper.
The steady club beat from before reenters the video, increasing the pace of the images once more.
Green and blue bars fly across the screen, and the scene changes to a man in a beige gas mask, whose eyes are just barely visible, cradling the man from earlier, whose thigh and butt was encased in a black harness (though only a strap was visible at the time). The piece of clothing he wears is likely a jockstrap.
The man who wears the gas mask, which has a black mouthpiece, has tan skin, and may or may not be naked. His thighs and chest are completely bare, and only the other man he holds blocks the viewer’s view of his genitals.
The man being held has silver hair and smokey eye makeup. He is pale and possesses a neck tattoo as well as a sleeve tattoo on his right arm. His stomach is lightly muscled, and his legs are bent. The other man holds him underneath his back and his knees.
The other man is sitting down, and the tattooed man rests on his lap, sideways. His head lolls to the left in open air. The backdrop of the two figures is a molten gray.
The steady bass beat picks up with a bit of an electronic melody.
Small numbers and letters cross the screen in the pattern of the anarchy symbol and pulse over the two men. The two figures disappear leaving a black background beneath the white and gray anarchy symbol, before reappearing, then flashing away to reveal a mirror image of the hooded face from before.
The person wears a black hood and has white irises and looks at the camera with an open mouth. Orange tendrils divide the screen between the two nearly identical faces.
Red vats of boiling liquid appear, and the words STRANGE LIVE ACTS strike across the screen in the same thick font used to announce the musical artists. The music has a prominent melody now, and sounds like something you would hear in a club.
The next clip shows a person’s skin being punctured by a gold metal hook under bright fluorescent lighting.
The hook looks like a bait hook, and its place of piercing lies next to a bloody 6 inch line of metal additions. The camera pans out and focuses on a similar golden hook already pierced in that body’s expanse of skin.
What might be a silver fish’s open red and orange mouth appears in the next clip.
The next clip really flutters one’s stomach; it depicts forceps pulling out something clear from beneath the skin of an indescribable mass. I would guess that the the lens of a fish eye is being removed by the metal tool. I can not be sure. A nautical grid overlays these gray and white images.
The next image portrays a similar monochromatic scheme.
A merman’s swaying tail appears in gray atop a starry black background. The camera zooms out to reveal the entire body of the figure, whose tail appears to be confined in a starry underwater environment. The merman bobs up and down lightly and is the same tattooed man who was being cradled in the lap of another earlier. This man has the same tattoos, and now wears black gloves. His arms are bent at the elbows and are raised on the level of his shoulders, with his palms facing the water below him. He has been illuminated with white light from his right side, though the image remains black, white, and gray.
An upside down pentacle appears on the screen once more, in gray, atop the merman’s body. It’s quite large. Then the pentacle changes design and appearance, and appears smaller, covering most of the merman’s tail, and not his entire body. The music continues to intensify.
DRESS: HEAVY are the next words to appear on the screen (in the same font as the other words, if not a little bigger this time. Condensation drips down the words.
Next, a flurry of images beat across the screen to the sound of melodic sixteenth notes. The images are of octopus arms the color of oxidized iron whirling back and forth in active white waters frothing with bubbles. These images move at a lightning speed and comprise a narrative about as long as a second.
Then, the music cools off into a sound of an indistinguishable mash of techno voices, and the video slows its pace.
a heated caress
At this point, a man wearing a black jock strap faces away from the viewer, so that his bare butt is visible. His arms are flexed at his sides, as another male caresses leather-gloved fingers down his behind, slightly squeezing it.
The beat picks back up.
Then the clawed hands seen earlier in the video begin to hold the long, phallic shape (which has a pointed end, like an eel) in either palm against a lime green backdrop.
Again, someone appears to poke around a fish eye.
The wrestling men reappear and arm wrestle as they glare each other down.
The man on the right is shorter than his companion.
The wrestling men still appear in black and white, yet this time they have the nautical grid superimposed on them, which almost looks like the lens through which a sniper might view a target.
Flames dance over the image of the wrestling men before a man smoking a cigar and wearing a garrison cap appears behind a porthole framing. He wears the same necklace as the shorter wrestler and appears to have the same tattoos. This is the first time the viewer will have seen this man face on, instead of from his left side.
The phallic, eel-like forms reappear in red water and in four reflections of each other, with each shaft pointing from the center of the video frame. The upside down triangle with the bar crossing through it reappears as well.
The upside down pentacle is expressed in thin white lines over an open fish eye.
The hooded figure with the white eyes appears underwater, and bubbles sprout to the surface.
The symbol of chaos reappears over a black background before transitioning to the image of the men caressing the booted legs between them. Their hands reach up, up, and up until they touch the top of the screen.
Octopus arms lick around their figures as the music fades to the quiet gurgling and breathy sounds of underwater existence, before picking back up with an image of the phallic eel and sphygmomanometer. The arrow gauge on the clock-like device swings back and forth on the right side of the instrument. It is not exactly like a sphygmomanometer, or even a speedometer, because the numbers on this device increase in increments of 100 from 0 to 1000.
Next, we see the two wrestling men making out or kissing passionately (with tongue).
More octopus arms gleam gray in the video frame. At one point the tentacles turn colorful and expand like a flower in the center of the frame, before shivering downwards and turning gray again.
The men wearing the various hoods and masks reach the feet of the legs wearing the black leather boots, and together, they drag the legs down.
3_19_2016 appears on the screen next, followed by the word BROOKLYN.
This denotes the location and date of the Saint-at-Large’s 2016 Black Party: March 19th, 2016 in Brooklyn.
The heavy club beat that had been recently narrating the video’s rapid imagery drops off to a tinny noise within the last frames of the video.
BLACKPARTY.COM is the last text of the video, and it is quickly obscured by the previously-seen black bullet-like forms pulsating from the bottom of the video frame.
The video is 1 minute and 15 seconds long.
about the video
The text in the summarizing section of the video states the following:
“Video Trailer Directed by Rob Roth
For Tickets & More Information: blackparty.com
THE SAINT AT LARGE
THE BLACK PARTY
Saturday March 19, 2016
10 pm until Sunday afternoon
1260 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn
Main Floor DJs:
Back Room DJs:
Ron Like Hell
Strange Live Acts | Dress Heavy
Set in world of surging oceans and drowning cities, rogue submarines break surface in the black of night to whisk willing survivors to an unregulated subterranean world of brothels, dungeons and decadence.
The Rites of Spring celebration, an intensely immersive environment ignited by world-renowned DJs and infamous Strange Live Acts, has firmly established itself as gay New York’s biggest night of the year.
The nature of this video is intense, and the narrative displayed is extremely fast-paced.
Images flit across the scene, and remain for barely half a second before flashing to another potent, well-crafted, and emotionally-charged photograph or clip. Colorful frames are juxtaposed by dark, monochromatic scenes. The video’s beauty is haunting.
This source does well to display 2016’s Black Party theme, which suggests themes of submersion, water, danger, and maybe even a Little Mermaid-like tale.
The source presents a compelling narrative that arouses the viewer’s interest, increasing the heartbeats of many with its dramatic storytelling.
One of the drawbacks of the source is that some of the images move so fast that one can only glimpse them before they disappear.
However, manually moving the dial on the video to control its pace allows one to view images in more detail, otherwise they move too fast for proper assessment.
This source is digital, so it requires an internet connection to be accessible.
The video does not name any of its actors, creators, or current hosts and organizers of the Saint-at-Large, which might be helpful information for someone who wants to learn more about the Saint-at-Large organization, however, it does offer a link to the organization’s website at the end of the video.
Still, the 2016 Black Party trailer video may still be limited in its impact, if only those with the means to visit the party it is advertising can attend the celebration (people who live close to or in Brooklyn and people who are able to travel there and find housing accommodations are the only ones who could go).
Yet even if the video advertises an unattainable dream for those people who cannot travel to Brooklyn, it still presents many elements of the Saint-at-Large’s creative energy and atmosphere in an impactful way. The viewer should not be disappointed if he or she may only be able to watch a video this time.
The art this organization creates to advertise its holiday events is stunning on its own.
Peters, Brooks. “The Sexual Revolution Mailman Delivered.” Out, 1994.
Bruce Mailman was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, a “poor industrial town outside Philadelphia” (Peters, 140).
Mailman’s parents were merchants.
When he was four years old, Bruce Mailman experienced his “first sexual experience.” A man had walked into his father’s shop wearing a “suede jacket without a shit on underneath.” Though Mailman “knew it wasn’t right, [he] didn’t know why.” However, he remembers wanting the man to “take off the jacket. [He] was consciously interested” (qtd. in Peters, 140).
Growing up, Mailman became aware of the “town queer,” Snookie, but knew he didn’t want to be like Snookie (qtd. in Peters, 140).
Alone in high school, with no gay friends, Mailman worked through his self-identity on his own. He became involved in art, theater, and music in high school, and went on to attend Temple University and the Tyler School of Fine Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the Tyler School, Mailman met other gay men, but still “had to hide” who he truly was. He pronounces that being gay was “mysterious, like being part of a private society. […] There was no openness.” Yet to Mailman, being gay was “as dangerous as it was interesting” (qtd. in Peters, 140).
After Bruce Mailman moved to New York to attend graduate school at New York University, he graduated with a master’s degree in the early 1960s. Mailman began working as a caseworker after graduation, and soon met his long time partner, John, a cardiologist. Together, John and Mailman began to invest in real estate, whilst Mailman began producing his own creative works and plays.
Mailman’s first production of a play took place in 1970.
The play was entitled The Dirtiest Show in Town, and was written by Tom Eyen. Starring a cast that was mostly naked for the entire production, the play nevertheless required costumes, which Mailman designed. Mailman also designed the set of The Dirtiest Show in Town.
The first production enjoyed over 500 performances, attracting a memorable review from critic Clive Barnes who stated that another controversially nude play of the time Oh! Calcutta! was practically “Little Women” in comparison (Peters, 140).
Bruce Mailman soon opened the Fortune Theatre with collaborator Andy Warhol, which Mailman claims to be the first place in New York City to showcase gay porn “commercially” (Peters, 140). Mailman also co-wrote a textbook, and became the manager of another theater. After Mailman created his infamous bathhouse, he became invested in the gay disco scene and excelled in similar fashion there with his creation of the Saint disco club of New York City.
a trip in the saint
In the article, Michael Fierman, an esteemed DJ of the Saint, explains that DJs had a responsibility to “make a musical statement.” At the Saint, evenings were given structure because of the DJ’s desire to “take the crowd someplace” (qtd. in Peters, 140). Fierman describes the Saint as a “decadent place” in a “non-negative way” (qtd. in Peters, 141). Yet of all the liberation the Saint appeared to have stirred in its gay members who reveled in the club’s hot parties, not everyone was 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, given that they did not fit the culturally-imposed ideal gay male figure. Peters continues on to say that “Drag queens were definitely not welcome” and that “lesbians were not included.”
Others steered clear of the Saint by their own volition. The sexual nature of the Saint was off-putting to them. Critics of the Saint believed that promiscuous and anonymous sex should not be equated with gay liberation, however, others feel that their physical excursions in disco clubs like the Saint were freeing and necessary. The sexual liberation of the Saint was rooted in Mailman’s precursor business, the St. Marks Baths, whose origination inspired a generation to be “honest,” according to Mailman (qtd. in Peters).
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).
Given that he rarely grants interviews, Bruce Mailman’s reputation generally proceeds his name in any conversation, however in this article published in the July/August 1994 issue of Out magazine, author Brooks Peter hoped he would finally “set the record straight” (Peters, 80).
Following the 1969 Stonewall riot, “more and more gay men and lesbians were organizing support groups and demanding equal rights. And businesses-bars and bathhouses in particular- began to cater openly” to the gay community (Peters, 80). At the time there were several bathhouses that Mailman remembers vividly offering a range of experiences such as steam baths, massages, and rooms where one could get hit with “birch branches” (Peters, 80). The Russian Baths, the Penn Post baths, and the Continental Baths are all famous bathhouses that Mailman remembers from his youth.
However, Bruce Mailman presents some criticisms of the gay bathhouses and community fixtures of the his time. To Mailman, the “whole gay scene was unattractive [and] freaky.” People did not seek familiarity from one another, nor did they want to even meet people. Mailman noticed that at gay bars, “people wouldn’t sign their own names. They were very embarrassed to see someone they knew on the street.” Mailman’s hope was to create a community in which people could be open and “honest” with each other and with themselves (qtd. in Peters).
Mailman also argues that “camp” gay men were “buying into the typical, straight-imposed ‘nellie’ stereotypes” that were self-deprecating and demeaning. He recalls being “outraged” when a young man called him “hon.” Mailman felt that campness demeaned the gay community, and sought to create spaces that manifested masculinity.
Mailman eventually charmed his way into ownership of the existing St. Marks Baths by convincing his backers that they were investing in a “viable proposition” (qtd. in Peters). When he remodeled the St. Marks Baths, Bruce Mailman invited a younger generation of gay men to his establishment, and they lost themselves to the liberation of New York’s sexual revolution. The bathhouse had five floors, a video room, and a luncheonette. It was magnificent.
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.
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.” Attending the Baths affirmed one’s identity and increased the fraternity and camaraderie among the young men who were there (qtd. in Peters). The baths were a “sexual” gathering where men could meet celebrities, plumbers, even nuclear physicists. Anyone and everyone seemed to belong (qtd. in Peters).
the disease, his controversy
The St. Marks Baths were “always spotless” (Peters, 82).
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 St. Marks Baths, however, this is the only time that things went “wrong” (Peters, 82).
Staff members of the Baths were fired “on the spot” if they were caught having sexual relations with guests or members of the Baths, though such relations continued on anyways.
To Mailman’s staff, Bruce 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 does not see himself as “tough or ruthless;” he is “goal-oriented.” Mailman cares about how he presents his work and simply wants things “done the way [he] want[s] it done” (qtd. in Peters, 82).
However, soon the St. Marks Baths (and later on, the Saint) became known as the “epicenter” of a deadly disease: AIDS (Peters, 82).
merciless or innocent?
Bruce Mailman was accused of being 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 Saint in the wake of the mounting evidence that AIDS was a sexually transmitted disease. Larry Kramer advised young gay people to avoid sex clubs and reduce their number of sexual partners, even to try abstinence. Yet Mailman did not want to “give up the freedom he had fought for so many years to establish” (Peters).
To Mailman, the Baths was a “hard-won symbol of fraternity, equality, and liberty.” Author Brooks Peters explains that the “right to be a homosexual man without harrassment from society was closely linked to the right to have promiscuous sex.”
Civil rights was on Mailman’s mind when he failed to close the Baths as early as critics wanted him to. Anyway, Mailman believes that more would have been done to “control the epidemic” during the virus’s germination period in 1980, but no one knew of the public health crisis to come back then (qtd. in Peters, 82). To Mailman, the accusations against him promote an argument based on hindsight bias.
Tom Steele wrote that AIDS was like a “shark attack” (qtd. in Peters, 82). For a while, New York experienced a “dreadfully grim” period of despair in which a “sexual shutdown” created a sort of emotional “black hole” (qtd. in Peters, 82).
Two conservative commentators at the time, Pat Buchanan and William F. Buckley, began to advocate for “quarantine camps,” and “tattooing,” in response to the AIDS crisis, procedures reminiscent of the protocols of Nazi concentration camps. By condemning him and “not supporting the baths,” Mailman believes the gay community was “really feeding into the hands of the right wing” (qtd. in Peters, 82).
Bruce Mailman insists that in 1983 the Baths were doing more good than harm in the gay community. His bathhouse offered counseling and distributed condoms in packages that read: “The contents of this envelope can save your life” (qtd. in Peters, 82). Yet, he continued to be villainized.
To Mailman, it is clear that the media hoped to villainize a distinguished gay business-owner in New York City in order to “appease people’s hysteria.”
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. He lost.
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).
Marisa Cardinale, the executive director of Community Research Initiative on AIDS (CRIA) in 1994, believes the following:
“Our right to privacy and our right to gather are two of the most important things, as gay people, we have. And I don’t think anything, [not] even AIDS, is worse than voluntarily giving up those rights” (qtd. in Peters, 82).
Things got worse.
The Saint disco lost club members, employees, and DJs to AIDS. The club eventually closed, a mere reflection of its former glory.
In 1991, drug and tax evasion charges were brought against Mailman.
An unjust investigation led by federal prosecutor James J. McGuire. McGuire and a team of IRS agents attempted to unravel the drug scene at Fire Island by targeting Bruce Mailman. Mailman eventually pleaded guilt to the charges of tax evasion, but he “vigorously” denied the raised drug charges (qtd. in Peters, 143).
No one in the gay community defended Mailman during his legal troubles, a fact that severely disappointed Mailman. The community’s easy abandonment of him hurt.
In 1992, Mailman’s case was thrown out of the court of law.
The Justice Department determined that fabricated evidence and homophobic motivations had significantly corrupted the investigation against Bruce Mailman. All charges against him were dropped, including those he pleaded guilty to.
Sadly, Mailman describes the entire experience as “being struck by a car” (qtd.in Peters, 143). What began with the closing of the St. Marks Baths swiftly “escalated” (qtd. in Peters, 143).
He experienced a lot of grief.
ghosts of the saint mystique
in 1994, Bruce Mailman decided to start cleaning out, stating that he was “slowly getting rid of most of what [he] owned” (qtd. in Peters, 143). He was in the middle of “downsizing his operations,” and was already selling his house in the Pines.
Author Brooks Peters believes that Mailman’s decluttering is a physical embodiment of Mailman’s “disenchantment with New York’s gay scene.”
Andrew Holleran, the novelist, had recently visited Fire Island at the time of this article’s writing; once there, Holleran states that he “felt like a ghost.” He believes that Mailman is in a transition, just as he is. Holleran proclaims the following:
“You have to start seeing yourself in a different way. It’s like molting and growing a new skin. One’s ship is changing course, reorienting and using a different compass” (qtd. in Peters, 143).
Bruce Mailman knows that his generation was dramatically affected by the onslaught of AIDS.
To Mailman, being gay “today is to walk around with a burden which certainly wasn’t the case in the 70s” (qtd. in Peters, 143). Mailman hopes that future gay generations will find the “same freedom [his generation] once had.”
Another mournful result of AIDS is the disconnect which resulted from it. Mailman feels that his generation did not get to share its “collective wisdom” with the next generation of queer youth because of the disease. He feels that “There is no continuity in the gay population.” 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).
By 1994, Mailman owned the restaurant 103, was a silent partner in HX, a gay guide to sex clubs, discos, and bars in New York City, as well as the owner of several other real estate and theater investments.
Of course, Mailman still was involved in hosting for the Saint-at-Large, which for those old enough to remember the original parties at the old Saint, were only “shadows” of what they used to be. However, the Saint-at-Large parties remained a spectacle of “go-go dancers [and] horny bubble-butt boy-toys.” The “young, affluent men” who were allured by the Saint-at-Large in the 1990s were described as the “gay-geoisie” (Peters, 142).
discussion of Brooks Peters’ Article
Author Brooks Peters goes on to describe the lasting influence of the Saint in the nation’s queer community in the 1990s even after the club’s closing. Bruce Mailman’s presentation of erotic, masculine images in his establishment’s marketing during the 70s and 80s guided the creation of posters, ads, and book covers in the 1990s as they pay homage to the “scintillating spectacles and libertine sprawl of the Saint” (Peters, 141).
Party Promoter Dallas Boesendahl declares the following:
“Bruce was the king of New York night life. There is a mystique around the Saint that still exists today. It was a truly brilliant entertainment complex. A wonderful playground for gay men.”
This source does well to expand upon the argument mentioned at the end of Carol Cooper’s article, Disco Knights: Hidden Heroes of the New York Dance Underground. If one has not experienced a disco like the Saint for oneself, then the true impact and emotion of the club can never be felt. In other words, you had to be there.
The Saint-at-Large’s revival of the Saint’s parties seem like mere “shadows” of their original forms to the older men who remember the original Saint in its heyday. Their perception of shadowed, or weakened versions of the experience spun by the Saint through the Saint-at-Large’s party revivals, further emphasize the permanent loss of their youth’s pure euphoric freedom. Their memories can never be replicated.
This source also helpfully provides details about Mailman’s childhood, which I was unaware of beforehand.
Peters’ article addresses the history of the St. Marks Baths with extreme clarity, and provides needed information about his legal troubles, investments, and emotional response to the highs and lows of his life.
Peters’ portrayal of Bruce Mailman is also well-rounded. There were statements of Mailman’s that I disagreed with, yet by the end of the article I do not dislike him. I simply feel like I understand him more.
Some of the drawbacks to the source are its frayed edges. This is a physical copy of the 1994 article that appears to have been torn out of the magazine itself. Some words are missing from the text because of the uneven ripping, however, I do not believe those missing words significantly alter the narrative.
The source also quotes other opinions often, which helps to provide further context and thoughts on the particular subject being dressed.
AnOther. “A Rare Glimpse Into 1970s New York City Club Culture.” AnOther. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8415/a-rare-glimpse-into-1970s-new-york-city-club-culture.
Meisler’s Childhood Inspirations
Meryl Meisler is a Long Island photographer known for capturing quirky, humorous, and theatrical photographs. In 2016, Meisler premiered an exhibition of her young adulthood, which traversed the decades of the 1970s and 1980s.
Meisler’s exhibition opened at the Steven Kasher gallery in New York City, New York.
Growing up in the North Massepequa suburbs, Meisler matured whilst surrounded by the subjects of her first “serious” photographs: Meisler’s relatives, neighbours, and […] best friends.” Describing her collection as a “retrospective of [her] life in the 70s,” Meisler depicts photographs of New York nightclubs, sunny summers at Fire Island, and memories of her childhood home (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”).
MOVING ON UP
When Meisler moved to the upper west side of New York, she was embraced by a “diverse group” of poets and musicians. Living with her distantly related cousin and other “completely different types of people,” Meisler felt sure that she was home and in a place that was both comforting and compelling (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”).
Meryl Meisler “carried [her] camera everywhere,” hoping to capture every “thrilling” moment of her new life (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”) in the city. Having just come out, moved out, and struggled through “economic and social difficulties,” Meisler felt extraordinarily thankful that she had found a place where she “belonged” (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”).
Meisler began to frequent disco clubs in the area and grew immensely fond of their energy and charm. At first, Meisler primarily attended CBGB, where one of the two photographs I have included in this annotation, was captured. See above.
However, Meisler also “went with a friend to Studio 54,” and “loved it!” (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”).
Meisler also loved to dance. However, no nightclub was complete without Meisler’s handheld camera, which she often brought with her onto the dancefloors of various disco clubs, into the crowds and throbbing sounds of the deejay’s sonic magic.
Meisler claims that she “went to all the hot clubs in Manhattan,” and asserts that she “preferred the music in the clubs.” She also enjoyed the “mixed” atmosphere of the clubs she partied in, never wanting to attend “only gay nights, or only lesbian nights” (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”).
Taking photographs on the dance floors of disco clubs sometimes produced images that were “really not safe for work” (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”). The people Meryl Meisler encountered on the floors of disco clubs were really “friendly;” she was always able to dance with strangers, and later photograph them, even if they were in states of sensual and sexual expression.
In this article, Meisler states that there are some “people in [her] show that are totally naked, yet [are] very comfortable with being photographed, because [she] danced with them on the weekends” (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”).
Inspired by the French-Hungarian photographer, Brassaï, who took photographs of Paris and Parisians in the night, Meryl Meisler documents the nightlife of New York City in an exhibition of her experience within the disco dance scene.
Meryl Meisler was young when she started attending dance clubs, but, generally, always had a very positive experience in the clubs. As a young queer Jewish woman, Meisler remembers that “everyone was very friendly, warm, joyful, having a ball and finding themselves” (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse”). Alongside those changing adolescents, Meryl Meisler, too, began to mature and grow in confidence, both in her identity and in her art. On the dance-floor, through the lens of her camera, Meisler came of age.
But she had fun doing it. Meryl Meisler “felt like [she] was living [her] nightlife,” when she hopped from one club to the next, night after night. In the article, Meisler discloses that it was “a good thing that the doorman at Studio 54 liked us,” indicating that the doorman’s favor was likely the reason she could enter and enjoy Studio 54. However, “if the guy at the door that liked you wasn’t there, you’d go to another club” Meisler adds (qtd. in “A Rare Glimpse).
CLUB-HOPPING WAS A TYPE OF DISRESPECT
Meisler’s club-hopping undermines the importance of membership at disco clubs like Studio 54 or the Saint.
Carol Cooper writes in her article “Disco Knights: Hidden Heroes of The New York Dance Music Underground,” that the “best golden-era deejays worked hard to mark each night they played a special event, which is how membership-only spots developed” (Cooper, 165). People “proved [their] appreciation [of particular venues] by becoming a dues-paying member” (Cooper, 165).
At The Loft, founder David Mancuso threatened to withdraw patrons’ membership if they did not attend his private disco parties on a weekly basis. To Mancuso, the presence and feedback of the audience was just as important as the disc jockey’s musical compositions in the booth. To Mancuso, those savoring the musical, sensual, and transcendent fruits of disco clubs should, in turn, offer their thanks and appreciation by becoming paying members.
To Carol Cooper, “building that sense of interdependence between a deejay and his or her public was the key to the growth of black radio in this country, and subsequently the key to the growth of a dance music community out of the disco underground” (165). Thus Meryl Meisler’s club-hopping might have been frowned upon by some disco owners, who felt that the crafts hosted within their clubs deserved commitment.
a discussion of meisler’s narrative
Meisler’s narration of her experiences during the 1970s provide a personal, subjective insight into the goings on of popular disco clubs. Her narrative serves as a specific historical account of the disco era, which narrows one’s perceptions of the era to precise moments in time and intimately connects an observer to an otherwise foreign epoch.
The photographs included in this article are expressive and impactful; they serve as communicative devices beyond the somewhat flat affect of written accounts. Photographs from inside of the disco clubs one reads about do well to express the physicality and attitude of the club as well as its attendees.
In contrast, Meisler’s verbal account of her experience during the 70s leaves the reader grasping for more information, details, and stories. Though somewhat lacking in volume, Meisler’s memories still attempt to satisfy the dilemma introduced in Carol Cooper’s article “Disco Knights: Hidden Heroes of New York Dance Music Underground.”
Currently, the disco era suffers from a lack of firsthand documentation of the disco experience from the people “most qualified” to report on the era (Cooper, 164). In this article, Meryl Meisler’s storytelling attempts to provide such firsthand documentation, even if she lacks the details of the inner workings of disco clubs that owners, DJs, or other staff members would have been able to share. Her account still delves the reader deeper, personally, into an era he or she may be unfamiliar with.
Read more about why the disco era lacks firsthand documentation beneath the MISSING FIRSTHAND DOCUMENTATION header on this annotation, found near the bottom.
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/.
born in the 50s, Disc jockey in the 70s
Sharon White was born in 1954. As an adolescent, White grew particularly attached to “British blues rock,” and admired artists such as Led Zeppelin, John Mayall, and the Faces (Cooper, 162). White grew up in Babylon, Long Island, New York, U.S.A and became passionate about drumming and percussion early on in her life. Music beat through her like a lyrical pulse.
Studying drumming at a Manhattan conservatory during college, Sharon White befriended Allison Steele, a widely admired radio DJ for the NYC-based WNEW-FM station, through her own participation in college radio. Through her connection to Allison Steele and her work in radio, White was exposed to the culture of disc jockeying. She became intensely interested in the craft of deejays, and eventually received airtime on the radio after diving into the craft. Achieving radio play precipitated White’s first live disc jockeying gig, which was performed at a bar in Long Island alongside Roy Thode. Thode was a friend and mentor to Sharon who was respected as “one of the great innovators of his craft” (Weinstein).
White’s live gigs only extended so far. In the earlier parts of her career, Sharon White was limited to giving performances in women’s bars. However, despite the subset of venues she was able to perform in, White often explored gay clubs downtown such as 12 West and the Flamingo. Though she was the “only black woman in a sea of white muscle,” White would dance with the grooving crowds for the entire night, possessed by the DJ’s extraordinary music (Weinstein). White was amazed by the way a DJ could “shift the mood [of the audience] with a different tempo or key change” (Weinstein). Sharon White studied as she danced, internally hypothesizing the best method for “‘catching'” a beat from record to record (qtd. in Weinstein). How could she transition between songs without disrupting the music’s rhythm?
At the time, sound equipment and technology was rather “rudimentary.” White remembers in some clubs the screeching feedback of records blasted through low-quality speakers. Additionally, needles on the record player sometimes skipped on records played in clubs when vibrations from the dance floor became too forceful. Yet the mid-1970s brought a number of advancements for the disc jockeys of the world.
12 inch extended single records “improved the ability of deejays to compose a smooth set with seamless transitions.” Similarly, “more sophisticated technology and club sound systems […] began to advance the skill sets of accomplished jocks.”
“During this time, Sharon White was perfecting her craft at a lesbian club called the Sahara. There, White caught the interest of several club promoters and sound engineers of the industry alike. As a percussionist and former radio operative, White possessed a talent for detecting the “sonic nuances” of “densely orchestrated instrumentals and vocal tracks” that only a technical ear could perceive and manipulate to energize crowds (Cooper, 162).”
By the time the Paradise Garage opened in 1977, White had already grown her expertise and experience as a DJ, but she still sought the thrill of the club scene and the musical affairs of other disc jockeys. The Garage more diverse than the other gay clubs White had before attended, with more women and people of color dancing beneath the disco’s lights. Paradise Garage was unique in other ways, too. At the Garage, lead DJ Larry Levan transported crowds on a “musical journey” (Weinstein). Spinning an “eclectic mixing of musical genres,” Levan enthralled audiences until they were “rapt,” or practically oozing at the bliss of his musical theater (Weinstein). Sharon White’s background in musical theory made her all the more appreciative of Levan’s skill.
According to White, the “journey began with David Mancuso at the Loft” (qtd. in Weinstein). One “had to be there from the beginning to hear what was coming,” White continued. Deejay equipment had grown in sophistication throughout the opening of the Loft (1970), the Paradise Garage (1977), and the Saint (1980), able to withstand dance floor vibrations and simulatenously proudce “state of the art” sound.
The musical journey
At the Paradise Garage, the concept of the musical journey emerged; at the Saint, the musical journey evolved into a methodological procedure for stimulating various emotions of the crowds. First, lighter fare music escalated into Hi-NRG (high energy, now known as EDM or electronic dance music in 2017) beats and vibrations. Then those “hard-driving beats” would melt into “melodic morning music,” before concluding with songs later classified as “sleaze” (Weinstein). Sleaze was a swoon of romantic ballads that cascaded from the Saint’s planetarium dome like stardust. Sharon White made a name for herself at the Saint, but that was only after a lucky circumstance propelled her to the club’s DJ booth.
Though invited to join a pre-opening tour for the Saint, Sharon White states that it soon became clear that Bruce Mailman, owner and founder of the Saint, did not want her to occupy the DJ booth. Mailman envisioned the Saint as a male haven; nearly all of the club’s members were male, and female guests had to be pre-approved before attending the night’s festivities. That didn’t stop White from attending Jim Burgess’s last official performance as a DJ. The Saint threw his going-away party in January of 1981, which famously ended in his sudden desertion of the deejay booth.
As the last record Burgess was playing ran out, the crowd turned confused. Burgess had simply “stopped the music, left the DJ booth, got into his Bentley, and left” (Weinstein). People wandered the dance floor, utterly perplexed. The Saint’s coat check then broke down and exacerbated the situation. A manager at the Saint noticed White was in attendance, and commanded her to DJ the crowd. Sharon White asserts that she was “in the right place at the right time” when she instructed a few other staffers at the Saint to go to her home and bring back the bags of records that she had color-coordinated (Weinstein). White played until 1:30pm and caused quite an uproar. Until the Saint’s closing in 1988, Sharon White succeeded as one of the club’s most popular DJs, though she is not cited as a “big” DJ by Bruce Mailman in his interview with the New York Native. Yet she was “big” and her talents attracted the attention of Lenoard Bernstein, a renowned composer and conductor. Bernstein approached White in the booth one night and discussed his pleasured with her adaptations of “a few of [his] pieces” (Weinstein). She “had made a medley of things […] into a dance project,” which her audiences loved. Yet, White didn’t stay local and loyal to the NYC crowds.
After the Saint closed, Sharon White toured clubs in Tokyo, Berlin, even Reykjavík, Iceland where she drummed up the crowd’s energy for the opening of a United Service Organization (USO) center. In Saudi Arabia, Sharon White performed for the king in a burka, yet for the prince, White was able to dress more casually, whose palace he had had transformed into a disco. A London techie organized the sound equipment for White’s later disc jockeying. White states that she “knew him from Fire Island” and that he was on the “down-low” (qtd. in Weinstein). The prince noted that he had three wives, but that everyone at the disco party “knows,” presumably about his sexuality (qtd. in Weinstein).
the next generation
After suffering a horrific trauma in 2000, White escaped to Washington D.C.
There, White played house parties, after-hours bars, and small clubs, where she “learned to open doors and expose [herself] to different types of music” (qtd. in Weinstein). She adopted a mentoring role to younger DJs, just as Allison Steele had once done for her. found herself mentoring the next generation of DJs. Later, White reconnected with colleagues from the Saint, who stirred up fond memories of New York, and her old home.
Now, the Saint-at-Large seeks to “keep the spirit of the original [Saint] alive” by reviving famed parties and themes from the 80’s Saint. Led by Stephen Pevner, a distant relative of the Saint’s founder, Bruce Mailman, the Saint-at-Large has recreated the Black Party and hosted a 35th anniversary celebration for the Saint called Night People.
The Black Party was a “fetish-themed […] bacchanal” that took place every March at the original Saint. Night People was a party dedicated every night before Thanksgiving at the Saint.
After inviting White to spin at the Black Party, White was then invited to join two other former Saint DJs Michael Fierman and Ryan Smith at the Night People celebration in 2015.
Here is a clip of Sharon White preparing her set:
According to Steve Weinstein, Sharon White had scheduled gigs for 2016, though there is little Internet coverage for them and little recent news. However, at the time that this article was written, White was posting podcasts and staying active with the newest generation of “DJs and clubgoers” (Weinstein).
Though this article is not a primary source, or an interview conducted during the 80s in which Sharon White was disc jockeying, it still serves to provide descriptive firsthand accounts of White’s disco experience.
White herself attended, danced in, and frequented renowned disco clubs such as the Saint, the Paradise Garage, and the Loft. Still active as a disc jockey, White engages her past disc jockeying experience with her current maturity in a fresh, fond perspective on her past.
However, one disadvantage to this article is the author’s reliance on the linguistic mode to convey information about a lively, interactive, and sensual era of music history. Steven Weinstein hardly incorporates other modes of communication such as music clips or photographs. Unlike the piece on Meryl Meisler, which at least contains multiple photographs taken in the disco era, there are no photographic or aural forms of historical evidence captured during the 70s and 80s decades.
There is also a lack of sufficient detail to Sharon White’s storytelling, which leaves the reader wanting for more information.
What were the records that White played on her first night disc jockeying at the Saint?
What were White’s favorite songs, or sets as a DJ in the 80s?
What other types of interactions did she have with people in the club scene at the time?
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.
black radio becomes black disco
Disco emerged out of a struggle for communication and representation.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s United States, “so-called” black radio was owned by white broadcasters, and black music was stifled by white announcers (Cooper, 159). Air time dedicated to black musicality featured gospel music because it contained “nothing offensive or potentially seditious” (Cooper, 159). White broadcasters intended to generate profit by attempting to appeal to black audiences, however such attempts were insulting and selfishly motivated by potential monetary gain. Broadcasters exploited black music by depriving it of its cultural context as well as of “any power to affect America’s social status-quo” (Cooper, 159) by failing to hire black announcers.
The first “all black-formatted station featuring black on-air announcers” was the WDIA station located in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A. (Cooper, 159). WDIA was the only station at the time that catered to black listeners, so the station was able to charge advertisers higher prices for air time. Soon, broadcaster chains around the nation began to adopt black-formatted radio stations for the sole purpose of achieving a bigger profit. White corporations realized that they could benefit from recruiting black on-air personalities, and so they did. Yet, black disc jockeys became like “community leaders” across the nation (Cooper, 159). Spinning storied tracks that conversed with their audiences, black DJs demonstrated the talent, complexity, and necessity of black music.
According to Carol Cooper, the author of this article, the “1960s and 1970s were the golden decades for diversity in radio, and the 1970s and 1980s were years of tremendous progress and diversity in clubland” (160). New York’s five boroughs were “particularly full of social and technological experimentation” (Cooper, 160). College frat fundraisers and town rent parties demanded a jock “with personality and great music” (Cooper, 160) Once black entrepreneurs advanced this festive design, charging people to attend those functions developed into a professional entertainment platform (160). Manhattan clubs such as Leviticus, Othello’s, Pegasus, and Down Under were birthed from the “art of throwing a party people would pay to attend” (160). Yet though these “black-oriented clubs” were strongly influenced by popular black radio, none of these clubs attracted the same audience (160). They were diverse.
DIVERSIty, retaliation, CULTS
Disco has always been a “vast, multiethnic subculture” of music, whose various establishments served particular groups. The Copacabana nightclub was “predominantly Latin,” whereas Disco 2000 attracted Italians; Steve Rubell, the co-owner of Studio 54 described his club as the “white, Hollywood version of Leviticus” (qtd. in Cooper, 160). Yet much of the music played at these various disco nightclubs was “uptempo R&B” (Cooper, 160).
However, when record promoters wanted to test “fresh sounds,” they used DJs to expose “different kinds of listeners simultaneously” to their potential hits (Cooper, 160). Personality jocks with a “fanatical following” could often determine “hit records” within a week based off of their crowds’ feedback (Cooper, 160). Jocks were influential, cultural sculptors whose experimentation and increased technological sophistication continuously encouraged jocks to “live up to the expectations of [the] crowd” (Cooper, 161). Loyal, regular patrons loved, respected, and trusted their jocks. The reliability of a regular crowd inspired a confident desire in male DJs to improve their “sound system, […] technique, and record collection” (Cooper, 161). Yet once city policy limited the number of venues that disc jockeys could perform at, competition for sets in popular clubs surged.
Out of the competition for listeners sprung disco “cults,” whose determinations fell along certain group categories such as gay discos, “new wave” discos, or “black mainstream discos” (Cooper, 161). The byproduct of politicized jock competition was a “segregation of the disco market by style and demographics;” rather than being “mere happenstance,” such dissociation of the musical market intentionally and “forcibly [changed] the way new music could be presented to the public” (Cooper, 161). Once DJs acquired a steady gig, they sometimes felt pressured to abstain from making any new sound waves. These DJs played “more proven hits and less risky long shots” in order to maintain their job. The musicality of the disc jockey was quickly becoming stifled by the “narrow formatting” being forced upon crowds. Thus, some DJs began to perform as guests during special event nights at various clubs. Without committing to any one steady gig, these jocks were able to continue mixing different types of music and playing to different types of audiences (Cooper, 161).
This “cultural give-and-take” especially thrived in the 1980s, when jocks moved between uptown and downtown gigs, rendering musical excursions upon their crowds through expressions of rock’n’roll, reggaeton, and R&B music (Cooper, 161). Carol Cooper believes that “The biggest myth of late 1970s disco portrayed the disco audience as homoegenous in attitude and composition,” which, to her, is an undeniable falsehood. (Cooper, 160). Music is multidimensional, multi-ethnic, and attractive in different ways to different audiences. In fact, there seemed to exist a “gulf” in musical interest at white and black gay clubs in the 1970s (Cooper, 162). There were also several musical distinctions between the more popular discotheques of the 1970s and 1980s, such as the Paradise Garage and the Saint.
The Paradise Garage blasted low-end frequency music, whereas the Saint often played high or mid-range frequencies. According to the Paradise Garage Wikipedia page, three songs made popular through the Garage are “Don’t Make Me Wait” by Peech Boys, “Do It To The Music” by Raw Silk, and “Heartbeat” by Taana Gardner.
“Don’t Make Me Wait” by Peech Boys:
“Heartbeat” by Taana Gardner:
“Do It To The Music” by Raw Silk:
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. The following songs are “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan, “Stay Up Late” by Talking Heads, and “Don’t Ask My Neighbors” by The Emotions. They give a range of the artistry found at mid to high frequency music.
“Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan
“Stay Up Late” by Talking Heads
“Don’t Ask My Neighbors” by The Emotions
The “densely arranged vocal records” of artists such as Chaka Khan, Talking Heads, and The Emotions were given “a clarity and a […] cerebral jolt unequaled anywhere else” at the Saint when they were articulated through a jock’s musical, technological, and storytelling style. (Cooper, 163). Popular clubs like the Saint, the Paradise Garage, and the Loft did not always play according to their brand though. In order to “pay tribute to their collective dedication to giving their respective patrons a unique musical experience,” these clubs sometimes played music that was usually identified with their so-called rivals (Cooper, 163). Such blatant branding still dictates the complexity of disco styles and genres, showing that the music from this era is not a uniform, indistinguishable mass of sound. Their homage to rival dance clubs additionally shows the aforementioned “cultural give-and-take” of the 80s (Cooper, 161).
On page 162, Carol Cooper divulges to the reader that all the jocks she has been discussing, those who had to grapple with narrow formatting and excelled when exposed to a variety of audiences and music, are male.
However, there are two female disc jockeys that “deserve examination,” despite that fact that mainstream media does not consider them worthy of news coverage since they are “neither tragic nor dead” (Cooper, 161). These two black female jocks are Sharon White and Gail King, whose talents at musical instrumentation imbued their passion for the music scene.
Sharon White grew up drumming and specializes in various forms of percussion. Gail King was the lead guitarist of several jazz and funk bands as a teenager.
In college, both women became exposed to disc jockeying through their participation at college radio stations.
When Sharon White wrote to the famed radio disc jockey Allison Steele, the two women swiftly became friends. Steele had been an “idol” to Sharon White, and acted as her mentor as they got to know each other. Eventually, White “drifted into clubs,” hoping to satisfy the “child” in her that had “always wanted an audience” (qtd. in Cooper, 163). To White, “spinning at a club […] was a hundred times better” than doing radio because she could see “500 people reacting to [her] music,” whereas during her nighttime slots on the radio, only a call or two would inform her that anyone was listening (Cooper, 163). Along with her expertise on the drums, White “knew the music,” having grown up listening to and loving artists like the Faces, John Mayall, and Jimi Hendrix (Cooper, 163). She quickly became extremely influential in the music scene.
12 inch extended single records arrived in the mid-1970s, and they significantly improved the ability of deejays to compose a smooth set with seamless transitions. During this time, Sharon White was perfecting her craft at a lesbian club called the Sahara. There, White caught the interest of several club promoters and sound engineers of the industry alike. As a percussionist and former radio operative, Sharon White possessed a talent for detecting the “sonic nuances” of “densely orchestrated instrumentals and vocal tracks” that only a technical ear could perceive and manipulate to energize crowds (Cooper, 162). Read more about Sharon White here. More sophisticated technology and club sound systems simultaneously began to advance the skill sets of accomplished jocks.
Gail King and Sharon White were among the known accomplished jocks. In the 70s, both women were elected to become members of Billboard’s national deejay panel, which “determined the chart position for dance singles” (Cooper, 163). Whereas Sharon White often drafted playlists of songs fitting the “white gay market,” King’s playlist indicated “potential hits among the young black and Latin vanguard of Generation X” (Cooper, 163).
Gail King possessed further expertise in the field of music.
By 1977, King had immersed herself in roller disco, a subculture of disco that was popular among “dating-age” blacks and Hispanics. King formed a rollerskating performance group that toured local skating rinks for “fun and profit” (Cooper, 163). At the roller disco, Gail King was esteemed for her fantastic ability to play to skating and dancing crowds. It was well-known among observers that “it took a particular ear to choose the perfect records for skating” (Cooper, 164). Read more about roller disco here.
After her escapades with the rollerskating performance group, Gail King became the main disc jockey at an upscale black nightclub called the Red Parrot, where she became a powerful influence on mainstream music. As rap and R&B began to converge into the “newjack” movement, hip hop broke into the mainstream media and radio. In the 1980s, scratching deejays, skate-dancers, graffiti artists, and break dancers all pulled from the musical tastes of the previous decade as well as their own creativity to contribute this hip-hop revolution. The Red Parrot attracted an audience of sports, music, fashion, and film celebrities, to whom King mixed the diverse “idioms” of house, reggae, and rap. King’s mixes were often emulated on the local black radio. Because of her work at the Red Parrot, Gail King became a prominent figure in the club scene and music industry.
If King “broke” your record to an audience at the Red Parrot, then your song was likely to receive air time on local radio stations. King became as essential to pulling crowds as the Red Parrot itself, which the club began to resent. After a dispute with the Red Parrot over its decision to add strippers to the night’s entertainment, King retired from her post as a DJ there. During the day, King had been working at a local radio station as an audio-production engineer. The steady, dependable skill set of King’s day job expanded her resume; King favored it over the fickle nature of the club scene. Not even a year after King left the establishment, the Red Parrot fell into a mockery of professionalism of artistry, and eventually closed.
missing firsthand Documentation
On the last pages of her article, Carol Cooper informs the reader of crucial information regarding the documentation of disco history.
A 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). Some of the experts who were present in the disco era are unwilling to write about their experiences. Still, there are influential disc jockeys who “have died without passing on their personal memories of important records and party-moments” (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). Other contributors to the “early club-underground-like the Loft’s David Mancuso-[…] are notoriously shy and dismissive of latecomers to the scene who think they can understand more than a decade of fanatical allegiance to nightlife by pumping a famous jock for a few hours of colorful anecdotes” (Cooper, 165). Firsthand experience of the disco generation cannot be “accurately conveyed through the abstract medium of dry print” (Cooper, 165). Direct experience is the only way one can understand disco clubs or feel the true impacts of disco music. Even recordings of the time period in the mediums of radio and video are insufficient. The “interactive immediacy of a dance club” is the superior way to disseminate music and meaning to the public (Cooper, 165).
a discussion of carol cooper’s article
Cooper’s article is scholarly, well-researched, and well-written. Her article has been published with an accredited university, Duke University, and was published in the journal Social Text.
However, one drawback to her article is that I cannot access Cooper’s list of references through this article alone.
Yet, Cooper’s credibility is strong. She informs the reader of critical details and historical timelines one may otherwise never have known.
Cooper describes the selfish motivations of white broadcasters as well as the media’s disregard for female jocks without citing direct evidence of either entity’s personal inspirations. Though she does not give explicit evidence supporting her assertions, any evidence she could use would be hard to consolidate into one article.
Cooper relies on our ingrained cultural knowledge of the history of race and gender in the United States of America to support her claims, causing readers to conceive of the ways cultural prejudice and cultural diversity also played a role in disco’s origins and disco’s life.