1970’s chicago

sunday kind of love………robert gordon

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matt 81

That rockabilly sound wasn’t as simple as I thought it was.
(Carl Perkins)

in chicago in the late 70’s i discovered (or re-discovered) a sound called rockabilly. it was a melange mix of country and rock n roll and it lit a fire in my soul which continues to produce some heat to this day.  wanda jackson and then robert gordon were at the head of any rockabilly list that i generate. robert’s album “rockabilly boogie” remains a classic for me.

sunday kind of love……mixtape

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FOR LAUGHS, FOR LIFE, FOR LOVE…. heres to life shirley horn

being a child of the 60’s and 70’s, the mixtape was a part of my reality. it was a way of blending favorites memories together without all the b sides. hopefully you’ll humor me.

happy valenties day

in 1975 i was living in chicago, working as a dancer, and barely getting by. it was one of the most freeing time in my life. i was spending time (dating) a guy who worked in widnow display at carson pirie scott’s. i remember this song embedded as part of the soundtrack of the time we spent together.

a couple of years later i had become a bartender at a gay bar called “cheeks”. there was another bartender there named patsy who was one of the few women who ever worked there. there was a cast of “kookies” there – phil, steve allman, barry, baby cheeks, and vince the blind dj. he was actually myopic and always had a black spot on his nose from reading the labels of the vinyl. one night the music stopped as he halted the turntable trying to read.

next stop is the warehouse. frankie knuckles was the resident dj and ruled the roost. the term “house music” had not yet been coined. about the 4 th or 5th visit at about 5 am , frankie dropped this cut after an extended silence following a break. it was a game changer for me. i loved frankie knuckles like there was no tomorrow after that. and laurie anderson too.

i met some friends during those years that i remained close with for several years- mark stephens, blue, medusa, nealina, spider, bob anderson. before medusa opened his club, he was throwing parties around town build a following and keep his name out there. one halloween he rented an empty car repair garage. we pulled a few classics into some of the bays and called the party “pull up to the bumper”. that was hella fun night.

my years at medusa’s music hall from 83-87 were rich with music, laughter, and memories. the sadness was big too, but my life has always been accompanied by a spirit guide that loves to giggle. that gift has kept me from driving off many cliffs i am sure. the club was open 2 nights a week. saturday nights were commandeered by my great friend Mark Stephens. his light really began to shine during those years. it brought me great joy to witness. friday nights started with a northwestern university radio dj named kasey crabtree but then transition to the guidance of bud sweet. but had been a resident jock at a few alternative clubs and raised the bar on the edge that became medusa’s signature sound in chicago. i worked the light board-it wasn’t intricate as many of todays club lighting systems are. quite the opposite actually. the lights were bare bare bones but the fun came with a 16mm projector that i was able to show old films and documentaries with all over the walls. and i am including meeting billy miller here. billy was from the art institute of chicago, but he was so much more than that. he was  a vanguard. he was very much like the fairy godmother of medusa’s. he waived his wand of inclusion and approval and the creative harmonic convergence that lived within those walls took hold.. billy, bud, mark, medusa et al created a new pattern in that windy city’s portrait. it remains changed.

i ran to hide and die in denver colorado in 1987. without my knowing and without my consent, i didn’t die. i sang in a mixed chorus for a while, i befriended a lesbian/gay spirituality movement based in boulder and ran with those drumming outcasts for a while. i met a guy djing at a warehouse party and sorta fell hard. having a relationship with drugs and/or alcohol and with another person is tough. at least it was too tough for me. those times reminded me of my left of center roots. i was also reminded how it felt to have my heart engaged again. i will treasure that time always.

i’m skipping the rest of the hiv denial years for now. i had tested hiv positive in 1985 and spent the next 12 years waiting to die. when that didn’t happen and the cocktail came out, i suddenly felt better than i had in over a decade. but i also got very angry because i felt pressure to suddenly have a life plan. i moved to san francisco for a bigger life. sadly- the “dot-com bust” and “9-11” happened just after my arrival and made it frigging challenging to succeed. i got kidney stones 3 x from one of the meds in the cocktail i was taking and my anger ballooned. meth erased most of that, but brought another set of issues for me to deal with. i encountered “dirty vegas” during that time. the break dancer continuing to relive old moves as a way to resurrect his past is a metaphor for addiction to me. i have been that break dancer. still would be if a higher force hadn’t intervened.

i was strolling down market street in the castro and heard shirley horn’s voice wafting from out of the doors of a record shop. this song has been a sort of theme song for my recovery ever since i returned to colorado. the rockies have been really good to me.

this weekend in 2016 has me reviewing quite a few changes coming down the pike. excited and scared only begin to scratch the surface of my feelings about it all. i know that i am fortunate enough to have lived through all these amazing moments in life. i have seem and felt more than i ever dared hope.  i sometimes wonder if i chose this life or if it chose me. that one is still in the cooker. it’s a slow cooker and some things just take time.


the goddamn lady

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Mental health needs a great deal of attention. It's the final taboo and it needs to be faced and dealt with. Adam Ant Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/mental_health.html#KrJ3hdPEWUCjw5os.99
Mental health needs a great deal of attention. It’s the final taboo and it needs to be faced and dealt with.
Adam Ant 

i moved to the lakeview neighborhood in chicago in 1974. it became a learning experience that changed my world during the 12 years i was there. walking up and down clark, broadway, and halsted between addison and fullerton became a regular activity. it was easy to check out the in and out flow of boutique shops in the neighborhoods, take a look at the fashions of the moment, and to see how some other parts of the populations lived, breathed, and survived. that’s where i first encountered her- the “goddamn” lady. she was a caucasian woman in her 50’s who lived on the street (assumption) and would wander the streets mumbling to herself with the occasionally “GODDAMN” shared at full decibel. it startled me initially. i was in my late teens and had no first hand experience with homelessness or severe mental health. i had never even heard of tourette’s syndrome. quickly however, the goddamn lady became a part of my vernacular, my scenery and my neighborhood- especially once i realized she probably would most likely not harm me.  i was 17 years old then. leaving home, living a bohemian lifestyle in the urban setting of northside chicago, graced me with propensity for acceptance and diversity that continues to pay dividends in my life.

now if i could only start to find more compassion and understanding when i see or hear from the likes of sarah palin, ted cruz, or the teaparty crew- after all- there are significant visible evidence of mental health issues demonstrated.

at seventeen

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By Janis Ian

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth…

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say “come dance with me”
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen…

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said: “Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve”
The rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly…

So remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debitures of quality and dubious integrity
Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen…

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
the world was younger than today
when dreams were all they gave for free
to ugly duckling girls like me…

We all play the game, and when we dare
We cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say: “Come on, dance with me”
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me, at seventeen…


i worked a coupla weekend parties in the foothills and came home pooped. it morphed into a melancholy saturday evening mostly due to time travel. i managed to be in 2 places almost at the same time. i was moving small platters of food through a milieu of gentiles, and all the while i was whisked forward to the past. i have an incidental connection with the family i worked the parties for. a now-deceased member of their tribe had a profound effect on my sanity and my sense of self and style.

her name was cat and she still seems as aloof and elusive as she did when we met. i was almost sixteen and really struggling in my life. i had become caught up in teenage self-loathing, hormones, and my homosexual proclivities like a fox in barbed wire outside the coop. i kept running from home because home was so very unhappy and somehow i landed in the very hot and very humid south with an uncle and his bride of 2 years. they were in their 30’s so it wasn’t about a honeymoon for them. i now believe it was about the distraction. but then that’s another story.

i arrived in the late spring and had the whole summer ahead of me. there was a pool, 2 acres, a room of my own and about 8 chow chows that cat bred within the confines of her kennel. it was, it turns out, my own version of armisted maupin’s “tales of the city”. it was the 70’s (spring boarded by the 60’s) and all manner of roles and boundaries were being tested. cat was an extremely exotic person to this 16 year old mid western boy. she smoked pot, drank diet dr. pepper by the case, bred chows, and wore an almost inappropriately revealing 2 piece bikini daily as we sat by the pool and swapped stories about life, beliefs, growing up, and sex.

cat changed my life that summer. she seemed even more odd than i felt and that resonated somehow into my feeling better about myself. i fell in love with the dogs- especially blue and maya- 2 chows- i believe blue was a champion- and then there was sing-sing- an adorable and misfitted pekingese who ended up following me around like a vow had been taken. cat’s life, her aura, and her presence fortified my sense of propriety in the world. her words and her attentions steered me towards believing that indeed i wasn’t the most outrageous individual or foreign particle in the universe, which i had silently believed up until that point. it certainly didn’t rid me of those thoughts internally, but it did provide me with a new direction in which to move my thinking.

i enrolled in the local high school in the fall, but the insular quality of the summer faded like grapes on the vine. within a couple of months cat and my uncle’s relationship had become more volatile. they were avoiding and whisper-arguing and i knew that my time there had come to a close. i headed back up north to chicago and tried once more to sow the seeds of a less manic life. lord knows it was quite some time until things settled a little.

i have come to explain to people my belief- that living with bi-polar disorder is what it must be like living on a ship or boat for most of one’s life. the motion that emanates from the ocean is normal. the strangeness in life comes when the ship docks and one walks on dry land. the lack of motion seems out of balance-abnormal, trippy. instinct tells us to get back to the sea. even though the ground is quiet and less chaotic, it doesn’t feel right. it doesn’t feel natural. the constant motion feels like home. mental health treatment- especially therapy provided me with some tools to understand this. but sobriety is the plow that tilled the way.

a slice of sweet memory

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i saw this photo of gilda radner (aka candy slice and the slicers) today on fb and i experienced a delicious stir of echoes. at some point during the 1970’s in chicago, some friends and i created a literary street gang as an homage to the movie “warriors”. at the time we were working at george badonsky’s “brewery” restaurant.  sometime during that period i was downgraded from badonsky’s “tango” restaurant after having rolled a shopping cart with a brewery bartender through the kitchen and into the lower level of the dining room in the middle of a packed saturday night- that dining room was silhouetted by chocolate brown walls that were studded with warhol’s marilyn prints along one side. there was a warhol mao tse tung on another wall. the restaurant resided on the ground floor of the belmont hotel. tango was uber chic with marble floors, live jazz late night, smoked sturgeon and olives stuffed with roquefort, and 350 wines on the sommalier’s list.

that time was a renaissance period in my life. i was a poet, a comic, a fashion icon, a scorned lover, a dancer, and bohemian. i modern danced  through disco and punk, rockabilly and retro, leather and scag drag. i  remember life seeming as full of possibility and my friendships were fast and very “st. elmo’s fire-ish”. i ran with the gang for over a year- learning to love kerouak, ginsberg, burroughs, wolff, stein, and lessing and spent the wee hours reading the classics, imbibing heavily, speaking with words of violet and midnight. we howled at our poverty and our lives seem now to be not far from the urban backdrop of the musical “rent”- la vie boheme.

during those days, badonsky had a relationship going with a japanese clothing designer named noriko. there were artists and designers coming out of the woodwork in the badonsky orbit.. noriko had acquired an apartment in old town on wells street. she needed some help getting the place together and badonsky hired paul pfohl and i to help her get some baseline cleaning done. we were lowly servers and welcomed both the extra  cash and the adventure.

it just so happened that on a particular day gilda radner was in town with her one woman show tour. her career was stratospheric at that moment and the show was a hot ticket. saturday night live had catapulted a bevy of circuit players into the limelight and  gilda had a blaze that still glows in my heart- ooops i get lost in the sweetness. her tour manager’s name was dennis. noriko and gilda has some weird intersection and dennis showed up at her place in old town on the day paul i and i were there. we chatted, we three, chatted, cavorted, snorted, and giggled.

the irony of the day for me was the messaging later that night at our prospective restaurants. my manager mentioned to me that dennis had found us very entertaining and was interested in dating the cute brunette. paul had really been a warrior in my life. he had breeding, intelligence, perspective, and charm. he was a stunner in my mind- a complete package. so when i heard that dennis wanted to date paul it seemed to be nature’s way. as i relayed the story to him, he had an identical twin reaction. my surprise and delight though, when i then heard that dennis meant me and not paul, rivaled my first gaze upon “the bearded lady” swinging from the ceiling of the bistro in 1975. i never dated dennis, but it didn’t matter. the folklore was cemented that night.

my writing feels frozen lately when it is pointed towards today, but i feel warm and comfortable when the rear view is lit. maybe the terrain of my brain and my heart were tilled and textured during that time. my imagination was ignited and images and memories were branded into my memory bank with the heat of original sin. i am completely  grateful. the  memories and the innocence of experience invoke a time when i was not yet able to touch my childhood struggles. only when i overdrank or used would wounds uncover. no this time was exploration and discovery. the creation of a larger world view.

as i peruse these images, i am gobsmacked by what a geek i was. i have been holding this alternative  memory of living on the edge and as a trailblazer.well- pop goes the memory bubble. all that is left are the sweet stirs of memory and any polaroids.i might have left of the veedubs…( vw’s- our gay and lezzie street gang- hat tip to the movie “warriors”) all of us gay. in 1978 we started out quoting woolf and kerouac on the street corners by diversey and clark and our fetes transitioned to fuzzy-seeped happenings and pre-happenings at the barbie motel (abandoned 3rd floor apartment located on clark just north of diversey) and paul and jim faucetts place further north by belmont- they had a cat they named renfro which was given cuz he liked to eat flies. our crew got involved with a zany labor strike at the brewery with our main adversary being quincy the assistant manager there. paul, ellen, and i transitioned to a french patisserie located on madison street downtown chicago. that’s where we met sue and joe mondlak, kate janotta, kat camera, our gang – and the need for it- dried up like spilled cider on sundrenched cement- so sweet then- all gone now… most of the polaroids are from the 70’s. the medusa’s shots (with the horse half) are from early 80’s- the last time ellen and i were able to see paul together- he would be gone within 2 years of those colorfu shots- with one of those years being spent in and out of the hospital with aids-related complications.

myself and michael h- i was 19 and bartending at tango
solo lovebird named macy in the background
wow- what foreshadowing

katie j, kendra m, and moi at annex lounge

bob and betty baxter- all american couple

bob and betty redux 1983

katie j’s apartment in old town

medusas main floor with paul pfohl 1983

on the stoop of our apartment on pine grove just behind tango- bradley davis and james burnett roomies

the veedubs… vwsccc etc..

jim pruett and paul pfohl at the barbie motel above denzer art gallery

                  it’s the laughter…… we will remember… whenever we remember….. the way we were….