medusa’s on sheffield

Pride TBT

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Nunzio's Cafe 1984 Chicago

“I have a friend dying of AIDS. Before I was leaving for a trip, we were talking. He said, “I didn’t want this, and I hated this, and I was terrified of this. But it turns out that this illness has been my greatest gift.” He said, “Now every moment is so precious to me. All the people in my life are so precious to me. My whole life means so much to me.” Something had really changed, and he felt ready for his death. Something that was horrifying and scary had turned into a gift. Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

A little TBT and a nod to Pride Month. This is me having a little lunch cooked by my friend Bruce Fortner at Nunzio’s Chicago 1984…

Red Hot Chili Peppers t shirt… they played live at Medusa’s that year… as did Violent Femmes , ESG, Ministry, and Front 242.. I helped a friend open an after hours club in 83 and we were all surfing a big one.

This photo popped up on Facebook from a friend and it took me by surprise.I think mostly because this was just before the tsunami hit. It felt like the Renaissance here. 84 seemed golden.

I was 26 that year. Nunzio (owned the cafe) was still healthy and tickling his muse. Bruce (who posted the pic) was still living with his partner Joey well before Joey was snatched into oblivion. The next year all sorts of hell broke loose. My best friend withered throughout the year. I tested positive for HIV in October. My friend died on Thanksgiving. Nunzio disclosed that he was frantically and maniacally injecting himself with vitamins to combat the virus. Many of us dabbled with macrobiotic diets (see george kushi). louse hay’s los angeles hay ride was making history and a cultural and generational trauma happened at our doors.

I knew so many brave warriors at that time in my life. Many of them helped me survive. LGBT Pride doesn’t just exist because people come out of the closet. It also is real because people endure and make sacrifices without losing their will to be true to themselves. Just as our LGBT predecessors, many paid incredible prices for the choices they made. They danced to their own music and they followed the muses that are theirs. And our world and our collective culture is richer and more beautiful because of them.

front 242 shirt

Please take a moment to celebrate LGBT Pride Month. So many have gone before us to make it possible. They would demand that you find joy. They demanded nothing less of themselves.

It was certainly a time…… you can read about some of our little enclaves experiences at this resident advisor article…. interview with me begins just after Ministry ad if you click here..

pot luck

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i am still adjusting to having mondays off work. it is strange, but it is becoming part of the routine. i went to cardio class this morning, fell during class and sprained my foot. i hit the cleaners, the grocery store, and watched a really sweet gay hip-hop film titled “bashment”.

we are having a pot luck at the peer recovery group on wednesday so i bought the goods to make sausage, peppers, and onions. i may need to cut everything tonight as i have theater plans tomorrow. strangely, i will be going with a catering friend to see “priscilla” at dpmc with dinner first. thought i would do the cooking in a slow cooker on tuesday night.

Sausage, Peppers, and Onions re posted from
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow onions, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup Marsala wine
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
4 to 6 fresh Italian sandwich rolls, optional
Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook until brown on both sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain.

Keeping the pan over medium heat, add the peppers, onions, salt, and pepper and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the oregano, basil, and garlic and cook 2 more minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the Marsala wine, tomatoes, and chili flakes, if using. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the browned bits. Bring to a simmer.

Cut the sausages into 4 to 6 pieces each, about 1-inch cubes. Add the sausage back to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Serve in bowls. Or, if serving as a sandwich, split the rolls in half lengthwise. Hollow out the bread from the bottom side of each roll, being careful not to puncture the crust. Fill the bottom half of the roll with sausage mixture. Top and serve sandwiches immediately.

i worked a hella lot last week. regular work week plus 4 parties. i was pooped today really. i trimmed some bushes, did some laundry, and am planning on re potting about 10 plants i got at paulino gardens. i have a busy week finishing with 2 parties this weekend. rosh hashana on saturday signals the end of the crazy holiday month. but i do love spending time with other communities and circles. i prolly long for a life that includes these circles, and this may be as good as it gets.

september is recovery month and this will be the 7th year that i actually recognize this.. in  2006, i spoke at a rally for recovery in downtown denver and have been involved in some sort of recovery celebration  this year, is kinda special as i have been working with people in recovery on campus. the pr department seems to have taken a liking to our efforts. they produced a 9 foot banner to hang in our entrance way, have produced brochures for the peer recovery network- with some mention of treatment options, and are featuring one of our group on the company intranet each week throughout the month. so much to do and it’s only september 9th.

last week, i posted jacob arnold’s article about medusas music hall. please read it if you get the chance. it happened 30 years ago and i still find myself musically travelling down memory lane.

another little piece of my heart

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me, robbie little (foxy), and jeff van camp
pam and me
blue and i

below is a written piece  by jacob arnold recently published in resident advisor and reposted here.  jacob was even kind enough to quote me a couple of times.

 it seems well researched and quotes many of the key players involved in the creation and sustenance of a 10 year dance hall that seemed to become iconoclastic in chicago culture of the 80’s and 90’s. it was opened on a shoestring budget in a dusty lakewiew neighborhood in 1983, quickly rose to the “gotta do” list, welcomed the underage population and gave them a peek into adulthood and modern culture, and provided a space for very different subcultures to mix, mingle, share, and gain respect for one another.  and the music was legendary. i have posted a vid in case you would like to listen while you read… :O
music crossover was a big part of the scene, but so were fashion, ideals, artisitic expression, and sexual preference. in those days, all these cultural idiosyncracies had remained isolated for the most part. but the sheffield shake shack let loose our mortal coils and many young chicagoans became one culture, one club, one people. it changed my world forever.

i got to speak with jacob arnold for about an hour on a saturday morning in july 2013. it is the 30th anniversary of medusa’s opening in october 2013. 30 years is quite a stretch of time. it was a pleasure to look back to those days with a fresh eye. i remember scraping old paint off the ceiling beams and helping paint the bazooka pink that the club remained for several years. i remember the guy named marshall who was staying in the basement via the landlord and set the building on fire with his space heater. it was a friday night and we had to close the place. i sat on the stoop with my friend sue anderson and watched some snow flakes fly. marshall’s cat (and only friend) didn’t make it from the blaze. it was certainly an emotional night. 

there are so many golden memories from those years i had at medusa’s. in the space of 4 years, my life evolved what seemed decades. one big key to  the club’s success that did not get mentioned in jacob’s article was the influence of billy miller. he coordinated most of the performance art pieces and many art shows that happened throughout the club on many floors. billy was insane and wonderful and a  free-thinker. he reveled in the absurd and his joy infected the way we operated on a weekly basis. he remains to this day a handler and marketer of artists and their work. i can’t even type his name without smiling. 

i hope you enjoy jacob’s work here. the 1980’s were definitely a time of renaissance for us. the culture shifted and technology infused itself into our work and our play lives. our world became at once larger and more connected at the same time.

Medusa’s: Chicago’s missing link

Jacob Arnold explains how a little-known teen club for weirdos came to make a deep social and musical impact on Chicago’s scene. 

There are a handful of American dance clubs from the 1980s—the Paradise Garage, the Warehouse, the Muzic Box—whose names have become synonymous with underground music. Then there are those whose impact has gone unacknowledged. Medusa’s, a Chicago teen club that opened after the Warehouse closed, inspired an entire generation of dance music producers, from mainstream figures like Tommie Sunshine and Kaskade to underground artists like Hieroglyphic Being. It was a place where leather-clad industrial music fans rubbed shoulders with preppie house music jackers, shaping both genres in the process.

The club was founded 30 years ago this October by David “Medusa” Shelton, an energetic party promoter nicknamed for his curly blond locks. I first met Shelton on a foggy summer night at his latest club, out in the western suburb of Elgin. After ascending a steep stairway past noisy teens and velvet ropes, Shelton guided me through an airport-themed lobby to a dark, mostly empty lounge where three women in fishnet stockings go-go danced on the bar. We took a shortcut through a fire exit and a brightly lit back stairway before weaving through the crowded dance floor, eventually arriving in a shabby back office with an enormous oil painting of Liberace leaning against the wall. Shelton wore a sweatshirt and skinny jeans, his frosted hair artfully arranged above his tan face.

Shelton grew up in Elgin, but quickly found an escape. “In my early days of clubbing, I actually lived in Hawaii for a while,” he says. “That was part of the whole glam rock period.” In Waikiki he and a group of fellow beach bums danced at hula bars and discos that “went kind of gay and mixed—bi-sex—all the whole mix. We helped transform that island a little bit, I think.”

Medusa’s roots lie in the Warehouse, the club that inspired the name “house music.” Returning to Chicago around 1977 to work at United Airlines, Shelton wasn’t happy with the music scene until hearing Frankie Knuckles at Robert Williams’ afterhours club. Shelton found the Warehouse concept intriguing. “I learned a lot from [Williams],” he says. “He taught me how to do all the not-for-profit stuff.”

In fact, Shelton threw his first event at the Warehouse, March 17, 1979 calling it Men In Progress, with Frankie Knuckles as DJ. He then threw a series of “hit and run” parties at established discos throughout Chicago, including the Bistro and Coconuts. In October 1980, inspired by the Warehouse, Shelton founded his first afterhours club, 161 West, on Harrison Street near the Loop. Knuckles played there for a series of Friday night costume parties. A print ad for the club describes dancers “jacking their bodies all night.” Williams evidently saw the club as competition, writing a pointed letter to Gay Life in December declaring, “[161 West] is not the first after hours club of its kind… and also not the first to offer top name entertainment to its clientele.”

“He really didn’t like me and Frankie together, and I know and I get it now,” explains Shelton. According to Shelton, Williams briefly considered moving the Warehouse to 161 West, but ultimately Knuckles left to start his own club, the Power Plant. At the end of his letter, Williams graciously described 161 West as “our sister club.”

Shelton picked 161 West Harrison Street for its water tower and rooftop views, but he soon discovered the windows steamed up when the party was packed. Shelton says his lease was doomed as soon as the building owner realized it was “a black crowd, and it was this wild club.” A year later, he was forced to relocate.

Shelton recalls the day he discovered the site for Medusa’s, at 3257 North Sheffield. He was walking by when he saw a “for rent” sign in the window. “I rented it that day not knowing anything about licensing, neighborhood issues, nothing!” The building was an old Independent Order Of Vikings lodge before becoming home to one of William Russo’s experimental Free Theater companies in the early ’70s.

According to Gay Life, the club’s first night, Saturday 22 October, 1983 was an invitation-only affair. At first, Shelton employed a rotating cast of local DJs, including Frank Lipomi, Mark Hultmark, Michael Graber, Mark Vallese and Kasey Crabtree. Then he began to focus on two: Bud Sweet, who was known for playing “modern” or “new” music at Neo’s, and Mark Stephens, a 29-year-old former manager at Sears, who Gay Chicago once named DJ of the year.

Greg “Blue” Pittsley, a close friend of Shelton, worked at Medusa’s and became the club’s manager. He explains that even though Sweet and Stephens started as DJs with completely different styles, they “began influencing each other and their tastes in music,” and soon were spinning records he never would have expected, from electro to industrial to New Wave. “All of a sudden we had a full dance floor Friday and Saturday,” Pittsley says.

The rise of Medusa’s coincided with the rise of Wax Trax! Records, a label founded by Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher. In 1978, the couple opened a record store on Chicago’s North Side. Their label’s first releases were Strike Under’s “Immediate Action,” Divine’s “Born To Be Cheap” and Ministry’s first single, “I’m Falling,” all in 1981. By the time Medusa’s opened, Wax Trax! Records was introducing Belgian industrial group Front 242 to the US.

Mark Stephens’ playlist for June 28, 1984 (as recorded inGay Chicago magazine) ranges from Midwestern pop stars Prince and Loleatta Holloway to budding house artist Jesse Saunders’ “Funk U Up.” Mix tapes from 1985 demonstrate a shift to darker fare, including Ministry’s “All Day,” Portion Control’s “The Great Divide,” Anne Clark’s “Our Darkness,” Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” and Vicious Pink’s “Cccan’t You See.” Mark Stephens “could play everything, and he could mix it seamlessly… but his strength was really programming. He knew how to make a dance floor move,” Teri Bristol, a fellow Chicago DJ, recalls. “He was like James Dean kind of cool—just sort of like a natural cool guy, and people were so drawn to him.”

Teri Bristol soon began spinning at Medusa’s, too. “[Stephens] took me under his wing and mentored me,” she says. At one point DJs Bristol, Stephens and Psychobitch all lived in rooms at the club, as did Shelton. Asked for signature tracks, Bristol immediately cites the Wax Trax! singles “I Will Refuse” by Pailhead and “Everyday Is Halloween” by Ministry, admitting she would play “pretty much anything by Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb.” Surprisingly she also mentions the early hip-hop/electro cut “Watch The Closing Doors” by I.R.T., which house DJs Ron Hardy and Farley “Jackmaster” Funk were also known to play.

At the time, with popular sounds like post-punk and post-disco, boundaries between genres were fuzzy. In the June 19, 1982 issue of Billboard, Cary Darling notes that Kraftwerk was getting “massive R&B and dance play” across the US and so-called “new music,” a somewhat more accessible version of new wave, was “spurring renewed interest in 12-inch singles and EPs and providing crossover material” for clubs and radio.

In 1984, Medusa’s began to host live performances, including ESG and Violent Femmes. In September, a Ministry show was followed the next week by Front 242’s first US appearance. “It was a roar of machines and the hammering of a thousand boots jumping up and down,” Smart Bar and Metro owner Joe Shanahan told Spin.

Ministry and Front 242

The Red Hot Chili Peppers played that November to a room filled with skateboard ramps, though, Shelton quips, “No one knew who the hell they were.” 1985’s lineup included Liquid Liquid, Front 242 again and Divine. “She showed up at the back door, her wig off, just this bald head!” says Shelton. Anne Clark, whose song “Our Darkness” was a club favorite, performed live in June 1986.

Medusa’s third floor was divided into shifting spaces, including an art gallery, a room for performance art and a video room that had beanbag chairs and a large projection screen with stacks of monitors on each side. Video jockey Joe Michelli was poached for Medusa’s while working at Berlin, a nearby club that opened around the same time. The video set-up included cutting edge technology, such as an editing deck that allowed Michelli to insert brief non-linear snippets of footage. At the time, not all singles had music videos, so Michelli and other VJs put together their own custom visuals. “We would have boxes full of VHS tapes,” Michelli says. “I was the guy who would come in there and sit from 10 ’til 3 in the morning assembling and insert editing all this crazy stuff that I’d get off the television—steal from movies. Leroy [Fields] would go to the video store, and he’d just come back with a stack of stuff.”

From the beginning, David Shelton encouraged performance artists to create installations for the club. One group, SSPU, which later became SXPU, created an installation called Digest Blood Beat. Rod Rushing remembers “pseudo-electrical machines” with noises and blinking lights. Upstairs, a bathtub was full of red liquid, and a bound Louanne Ponder writhed to a tape loop growling, “You know you like it like that, don’t you, baby!”

Another performance group, Family Plan, lived together and ran a storefront. Its members walked the streets of Chicago in bizarre, custom clothing. Pittsley describes their performances as macabre and disturbing. “There was a glass case on the mezzanine which was basically a small sliver of a room with two big picture windows,” he recalls. “One time, on one side it was an elegant cocktail party with all of these people in black, and on the other side were people who were sitting in this sort of clinical setting, and they had IVs in their arms that were pumping their blood into tubes that were filling the glasses of the people on the other side.”

Every few months the club’s decorations would change. A Chicago Tribune article, from October 1986, describes neon and black lights, “giant Tinker Toy replicas dangling overhead,” and a dance floor “broken up by obelisks decorated with apocalyptic graffiti.” One of the first theme parties, according to Rushing, involved a human zoo. Wooden cages all over the club contained specimens such as a secretary, a TV viewer on his couch, and a heavyset man in a pig mask and ladies underwear preparing for a night out.

Early on, the Medusa’s family faced dark times. “By ’85 a lot of our friends were getting sick and dying, ’cause AIDs was happening,” Rushing says. “There was a lot of unspoken fear and sadness that was swirling around all that at the same time. I tested positive in 1985. My best friend passed away a month after I tested positive. And then Mark [Stephens], I think, tested positive right around that same time.”

Medusa’s DJ Mark “Hot Rod” Trollan, who mixed and edited the first commercial release of Jamie Principle’s house classic “Your Love,” passed away December 19, 1986 at the age of 31. Rod Rushing helped sprinkle his ashes on the dance floor, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes.” In some ways the club provided a welcome escape. “The experiences were richer because they were some respite,” Rushing says. “At nighttime when the music was loud and everything was going on, there was really an opportunity to sort of forget.”

Because Medusa’s was in a residential area it met with immediate resistance from its neighbors. In November 1985, Alderman Bernie Hansen led a police raid of the club for alleged occupancy violations. In January 1987, Hansen and Eugene Schulter introduced an ordinance forcing juice bars to register (for a fee) and follow bar hours, citing complaints from residences. Hansen claimed clubbers were hanging out near Medusa’s drinking, smoking and having sex in their cars. Another factor was Medusa’s clientele, which the Sun Times described as youths with “spiked fluorescent hair and [a] penchant for black leather.” Stoking these fears, the same article stated that three teenage regulars “confessed to Hanover Park police that they plotted to kill the father of one of the trio in a meeting at Medusa’s.”

The juice bar ordinance passed January 1987, going into effect April 1. Afterhours clubs throughout the city were affected, including the Muzic Box and the Power Plant. Ironically, the changes to Medusa’s hours made for a younger crowd, since it was no longer a destination for drinkers after last call. To encourage the transition, Shelton worked with a promoter to create special hours for 13-15 year olds and to place ads in school newspapers. It was around this time that the house producer Jamal Moss (AKA Hieroglyphic Being) first visited the club, at the age of 14. “And that was by accident,” he says. Moss and his friends walked by one night and were drawn in by the crowd outside. For Moss, it was a “culture shock to be around that many people of non-black origin… coming from the hood and then hanging out in the spot, it was mind-blowing.”

Chicago has always been a heavily segregated city, but by all accounts Medusa’s brought together teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. VJ Leroy Fields says, “Our club would draw straight kids, gay kids, punk kids, goth kids, skinhead kids, Asian kids, black kids, suburban kids, city kids—even sailors would come there from the [Naval Station] Great Lakes. The Navy sanctioned it ’cause they weren’t drinking.”

Shelton recalls sailors in uniform dancing next to house heads, drag queens and early goths. “You would see the jocks and the cheerleaders and all [of] them come because we were the place to be,” Shelton says, “but the other people ruled. For once they ruled, you know?”

“Me and some of my friends, we became the equivalent of what you would call black goths,” Jamal Moss says. “We started wearing the eyeliner, the hoop earrings, the whole black kilts with the black combat boots, the black suit tops. And I’m glad to say there ain’t no photos floating around with me looking like that!”

Unfortunately, a crowd containing that many different groups of young people didn’t always get along. “Fights would pop off in the club, on the side of the club. Definitely in the Dunkin [AKA Punkin] Donuts parking lot,” says Moss.

“I had my worst night out of my life at Medusa’s,” Detroit techno artist Derrick May said via Facebook. “One time I was coming into the club and the door guy holding the clipboard with the guest list told me, ‘We don’t want your kind of people coming in here—go down to Halsted Street [to the Power Plant] where you belong. I punched him in his face as hard as I could, knocked his ass out cold, and I ended up spending my 21st birthday in jail. I never ever went back there.”

Shelton admits, “I had all these skinhead securities.” But not all Chicago skinheads were white supremacists. In fact, some were black, and they called themselves “Bomber Boys.” A 1989 Chicago Reader article explains the phenomenon, profiling Medusa’s patron Dwayne Thomas (who, oddly, had already been featured in The Observer).

Not everyone’s memories of the security staff are negative. “Those guys were as loving and as caring as anybody else,” says Pittsley. “We got them to go out with us in drag on Halloween, and they were proud of it. They would protect us and look out for us, and we did the same for them.”

In 1987, Medusa’s crowd began to change, in part due to a new DJ—Jonathan Gilbert, AKA Scrappy. “There was a period of time when I did teen and late night back to back,” he recalls. “When I told everybody to get out for teen night, I would have to run down the street on my scooter, even in the winter, get a sandwich at the deli, get a fifth of vodka, and head back in time to get back there and start DJing.” Gilbert began to draw a more preppie crowd. “I started playing house, and I got a lot of slack for that,” he says. “We stayed with it and eventually it got received well, and Teri Bristol was starting to play it, too. It was working.”

Gilbert decided to make his own house records, so he hired performance noise artists Die Warzau—Jim Marcus and Van Christie—as studio musicians. His first track, “Touch Me,” was featured on the D.J. International and Westside Records’ UK compilation Jackmaster Acid Trax. He then released five singles as Scrappy, including “Freeze,” “Love Motion” and “Don’t You Wanna Dance,” the last on Atlantic Records.

“I used to leave my records there, locked up in a bin,” Gilbert says. “On multiple occasions I would go into the DJ booth and the skinheads [had] sprayed swastikas all over the DJ booth. They knew I was Jewish, somehow, and it really bothered me, of course. Dave [Shelton] said, ‘Oh, those guys are just playing around with you,’ and I thought that he should be more sensitive to that.” Gilbert left Medusa’s for Limelight, a rival club, in 1989.

Medusa’s was officially alcohol-free, but it certainly wasn’t hormone-free. “I’m pretty sure I had sex in every room of that building,” admits Jim Marcus. “I think the fact that it wasn’t like a frat boy club or something like that, and that there were a lot of female voices as loud as male ones there, made a lot of girls feel much more comfortable. It was one of the first places that I went out and saw people dancing in their underwear.”

Many of Medusa’s employees referred to the sense of being part of a family. “Medusa’s was one of the first places I saw actual gay adult role models,” says Marcus. “I was growing up bi-sexual, and I had friends who were growing up gay, and a lot of us were like, ‘What does it mean to be gay or bi and actually grow up?’ And suddenly now you’re at Medusa’s and there’s people like Dave and Blue and people like that who are just honestly and genuinely nice people… and pretty easy to talk to about this kind of stuff.”

“It wasn’t really only gay youths,” Pittsley says. “It was a support system for people who were just going through the various types of angst that people go through as they’re growing up. I was lucky—programmed to be optimistic and upbeat, and I had a wonderful family life, so I didn’t ever feel needy or lost or anything and neither did Dave. We were both teachers at heart, so we would sit and listen to these kids telling us stories about why they hated being at home, and of course you do that a little too much and all of the sudden you’ve got somebody saying, ‘Well, can I just stay here?’ I counseled many people to go home rather than to run away.”

Around 1989, Shelton began hiring house DJs, including DJ Rush, Lil’ Louis and Armando, who drew a largely African American audience to Sunday night parties. “Lil’ Louis’ whole family worked there,” Shelton says. “His dad searched, his mom or his sister took money at the door, and then at the end of the night we just split the money. No contracts.” Lil’ Louis popularized “French Kiss” at Medusa’s.

Medusa’s was featured on MTV’s “120 Minutes” that year. According to Pittsley, the club’s attendance tripled as a result. “The people who started showing up weren’t the same group of people I remembered at the beginning,” explains Marcus. “There’s nothing wrong with that… But the very first groups of people who were there were people who I felt were more like me, where nobody got them. They were weirdos, they were freaks, and they had no place anywhere.”

No party lasts forever. In June 1992, Shelton lost his lease. He believes the local alderman threatened to hold up his landlord’s development projects unless Medusa’s was forced out. The club’s final weekend included Wax Trax!, retro and house music nights. June 25, 1992 the club held a final, private gathering for employees and friends.

A few months later, Shelton tried to hold parties at the Congress Theater, but the area proved to be too crime-ridden. Shelton decided to call it quits “before someone got hurt.” He opened his Elgin club in 1997. Some of his current patrons’ parents met at the old club. “At least we’re still hip enough that their kids think we’re OK,” Shelton jokes.

There’s no question Medusa’s influenced Chicago’s art and music scenes, but it had a social impact as well. “It forged some friendships for the better that actually molded Chicago to the way it is today,” explains Moss. It drew teenagers from wealthy North Shore neighborhoods (as depicted in John Hughes movies such as Sixteen Candlesand The Breakfast Club) who otherwise never would have partied with youths from the city’s South and West Sides.

Musically, it was a true mix as well. “There were punk clubs in the city where the minute they played a disco record everyone sat down on the dance floor,” says Marcus. “Medusa’s had a little more freedom.” The relationship between house and industrial music is seldom acknowledged; Jamal Moss made his series of Medusa Edits to set the record straight. “I just wanted people to know it wasn’t just all about the black soul aesthetic in Chicago when it comes to dance music culture,” Moss explains. “This was what helped change and evolve the sound of Chicago for a lot of cats who were in house who got exposed to industrial.”

As the ’90s progressed, what was once avant-garde in art and fashion became commercialized and homogenized, but looking back at Medusa’s rough edges—at the fights in the street or the teenagers who dyed their hair and were kicked out from home—it’s obvious that the club provided an escape for many youths who had nowhere else to turn. “There was nothing glamorous about Medusa’s at all,” summarizes Pittsley. “It was really raw, and I think that was what its charm was. It didn’t pretend to be something that it wasn’t.”



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hereafter image credit

I bought a ticket to the world, 
But now I’ve come back again 
Why do I find it hard to write the next line? 
Oh I want the truth to be said

august 26 2012 i will have my 54th birthday. it seems very surreal to even be walking in this truth. i am living well today and manage to find contentment most of time. i am happy and at peace. i went to the wedding of a friend (alone) and was reminded that deep in the recesses, there are some things i believe will never be part of my journey. for some reason i have found myself a little weepy this week.

in 1984 i was at the precipice of something remarkable in my life. i lived in chicago and held court at an after hours dance club in chicago. the party had been going for a decade, but some unexpected turns had begun. boys were disappearing like cattle in the darkness being abducted by aliens. in my world, it started with john bennet. i remember him talking with my friend blue in the loading dock recounting his fears of this virus thing. john was gone within a few months. and soon it was almost like he was never there. then there was hot rod- a dj friend of my friend mark stephens. hot rod left earth early on. i will never forget the night that mark spread his ashes on the dance floor at medusa’s per hot rod’s request. it was at once pagan, macabre, as well as celebratory..

a year or so later my best friend, paul pfohl, who was living in nyc and going to columbia was unexpectedly returning home to chicago. when he arrived back in town he had lost so much weight it was shocking. for so long we had spent so much time trying new restaurants and basking in conviviality, but upon his return and a gnarly case of  thrush, food made him cry in discomfort as his tongue was unable to take the stimulation.

he continued to deteriorate over the next 13 months or so. he died on thanksgiving in 1985. but one month before he did, after nearly fainting in an aerobics class, i was diagnosed with that new virus and dr. bernie blau put a check mark in a column next to my name just in case quarantine might somehow become reality. i went numb that year. not until these last few years did i realize that some old trauma was reignited and new trauma was unleashed. but paul’s death that next month really sealed the deal.

i had been dating a young man named todd thennes from mchenry through about 6 months of this 1985 drama. he was sweet and definitely a welcome distraction. my drug use had already begun to morph from fun to frightening. todd was sweet and a rascal- which was kinda perfect for me. but of course with the diagnosis and the terror that came with it, i cut that relationship out just like a benign mole at the dermatologist. it sealed the deal as he informed that he had tested positive as well.  he had befriended my entire social circle by that time though and he became part of the family of choice that was ours at medusa’s.

1985 signaled the onslaught of the tsunami that was the holocaust of our time. hot rod, mark stephens, todd thennes(who did a lot of the holiday decor at the club and for david), neil adams (nealina), bruce bliss and rick(who did much of the styling for the club the first couple of years), paul pfohl, sugar(medusa doorman), michael hamburger, jc, chicky are only a handful of the medusa boys who went to carousel. there’s a scene in the beginning of “hereafter” where a tsunami hits a beach town in thailand and washed over people and takes them with it. some are gone and some miraculously are not touched. this is precisely how it felt. once we were all there, but in what seemed an instant they were gone. and there i stood in a holding pattern.

it took awhile for the fear to recede – about 12 years actually. research, science, and advocacy changed the course of that story. after i started meds, i found myself really angry. angry because i didn’t have a plan, i had spent 1/3 of my life waiting for that tsunami to take me. and it fucking didn’t. out of that anger came a decision to move to san francisco. albeit an incredible city without compare, it took me on a darker path than i had traveled. and it left me like wicked witch of the east, crumpled up silently by the weight of a dark empty house.

in my recovery- which started in september 2004, i have made a conscious decision to not be like some men i know in my long-term position. i don’t want to be bitter, burnt out, sarcastic and cranky queen. it wouldn’t seem respectful to all those boys that got swept away. what would it say if i was a complete asshole when i had been granted an opportunity that they were denied? no better to embrace joy and work for happiness and to give care and love to others. besides, with all my experience in the darkness i can understand  fear, denial, and drug abuse in a real and connected way. so that is what i do.

i was 27 years old in 1985. that was exactly 1/2 my life ago. i have traveled the world, laughed out loud, cried in silence, made messes and cleaned them up, engaged in 2 careers, gone broke, started over more than once, and still i am here.

i have been weepy this week, mostly thinking about those boys i loved that went missing 1/2 my life ago. i don’t ever want to forget them. it is by grace that i am still here. that is the only explanation that makes sense. and believe me boys- i haven’t at all forgotten about you. this much i know is true.

vicious pink…. cccan’t you see

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How did it happen? If I have asked myself that question once, I have asked it a thousand times, and I still don’t have the answer. By now you are probably asking yourself, how did WHAT happen? How did a reasonably intelligent, hard working guy like myself get hooked on drugs? More specifically, that nasty bitch we lovingly, at first, call Mz. Tina….

Oh, it started innocently at first when I stop and think back on it. Out for the weekend at a club and a friend says, here try this, it’s great you’ll feel like a million dollars and we can party on ALL night!!! And the sex is going to just be Fabulous…with a recommendation like that, I thought, I’d be a fool to not try it. At least once, I said.

I tried it, just a small “line” at first I mean its not like I was one of those “druggies”, or one of those low life homeless guys…I had a job and a car and a house. I wasn’t like them. That could never happen. Guess what? I DID feel like a million bucks and sex WAS fabulous…even sex with people I would not normally even speak to let alone have sex with!!! It just made me incredibly horny and sexual and I just felt like every one was my friend…there wasn’t always a cute guy around who was my type but with Mz. Tina around, I didn’t care…I’d just “snort” them pretty and go ahead and do the deed anyway…yes the standards definitely got lowered a bit…at first it was just once every couple of weeks or so…I was only partying on the weekends, Friday night and Saturday night. I had to work on Monday so I stopped partying Sunday so I was good to go on Monday morning. By this time Id been doing Mz. Tina for about 6 months, but only “recreationally”, meaning on weekends. I told myself it was okay because it was only 2 days a week and I did have a job and a car and a house…and it WAS the weekend I deserved to have some fun…

I managed to always get to work on Monday and get thru the week in good shape…. I soon found myself daydreaming and wishing that Friday would hurry up and get here…hey I was ready to have some more fun again, as so often happens with Mz. Tina, the weekends began to start on Thursday and end on Sun night…I started to show up at work looking like the wrath of God has been thrown at me. BUT I was still at work on Monday so how bad good it be I told myself…and I did have fun, I think, hmmmmm parts of the weekend are awfully fuzzy. I just did not always remember the whole weekend…I knew that Id had fun and id made some new friends…now if I could just remember what his name was. Did he give me his phone number? Did I give him mine?

I wrote it on a scrap of paper somewhere. Ill find it later. He liked me, I could tell…but what the hell did he look like? Did we have sex? Was it fun? Better yet, was it safe…?

No time to worry about it now Id tell myself…I’ll be better next weekend…..

quoted and reposted from

i was scrolling through an fb page for the club i used to manage back in the 80’s and savoring many of the songs that the dj/vj’s posted. bands like skinny puppy, nitzer ebb, front 242, and even rights of the accused. but then all the way at the bottom was a band i had nearly forgotten about- vicious pink.

ccccan’t you see was such a complete anthem in my eyes. it had so much of that quintessential crossover sound of that decade. and it opened up a floodgate of feelings and memories when i heard it.

at the same time i noticed that a friend was celebrating his birthday at the same time, so i posted it to him with a short and sweet (hopefully) note of good wishes.

i got back a quiet message which was a bit of a surprise. it was about his new relationship and how they have been slamming T a coupla times a week. Also detailed was how that part felt like it was getting outa hand and going south quickly. he wrote about shaking so much he doesn’t get a good hit, and maybe it’s a good day to say “done with it”.  the note was finished with a tender bit about me being a safe place to drop a random note like this because i could understand after having been through what i’ve been through.

quite a birthday note eh? and it does lead me to consider where my life has led. he is correct- i do understand. i have honed my understanding to include never going back. it’s odd that i have about 3 or 4 really close friends (from those days) who all continue to engage in serious dance moves with getting high. for  this one it’s iv crystal, for one it’s iv crystal and crack, for the 3rd its crack. they maintain (something i could never do) but i wonder if they grow. i know i feel my life has really opened up since throwing down the sword and walking away from the battle. and i also know i cannot live my friends lives.

there are not so many people left who hold my history in their hearts. it’s important for me to love them, albeit from a distance. too close would be toxic. perhaps for each of us.

when i was in a gala chorus in the 90’s here in colorado, i remember an introduction by one of the gala organizers describing lgbt people as those who said “yes” to pleasure in ways that others were afraid to do. that has resonated with me all these years and still does. there is a lot to be found in the idea that denied inclusion, acceptance, and visible demonstration for so long might just lead to a determination of having pleasure after the coming out process.

that day held some quiet and remarkable reminders about my life, my friends, my culture, and my journey. i numbed out for a minute after the note, but felt empathy almost immediately. i felt allegiance for the trust that was given me. i cannot help really other than hold good thoughts for my friend and the situation. it continues to be a twisted web we weave and it’s remarkable the challenges we traverse in the name of love.