I grew up an 80s kid. As a provincial kid – in what I like to call Sweden’s Kansas – the bombastic nature of the mid-to-late 80s pop sound offered a confident breath of what the world was and could be. Even as a small child, I imagine that the notion of a passé was present in me. Somehow, I must have understood that Laura Branigan (RIP) talking about her lack of self-control did not pertain to the era I was born into, and that whoever was on Neil Tennant’s mind, perhaps, was not any longer?
Where the 90s Eurodance took the digital and ran with it, the late 80s straddled the digital and the analogue in a way that gave its musical output a special allure. I was captivated by the heaviness of sound in that brief period - that perfect juncture between what had been and what was to come. A dark, sometimes eerie, but certainly always bombastic pop universe: a POP DYNASTY.
In my teens, I started to gain a fuller picture of the 80s – a rich universe full of colour, leggings, sonic developments, and videos full of long linen curtains, wind machines and shadows (I still think one person somewhere is solely responsible for this visual idea) - but also funk and freestyle. I had found myself, for the time being. Later, in my early 20s, I came to fully embrace the late 80s and early 90s house scene (imagine Ron Trent playing on an NYC rooftop during sunrise in ’94), along with the softer edges of the early 90s (think Bedtime Stories/Janet).
The 70’s, on the other hand, with my imaginings of it – consisting of colours all within the spectrum of yellow and brown, saunas in new-built villa areas of Sweden with accompanying dads in track suits and in general “off and boring” fashion - had never truly fascinated me. Coupled with this was its analogue sound. Comparing it to the statement of intent that the 80s had become to me through its decidedly heavier digital beats, the 70s just sounded slow and antecedent – pedestrian almost (hate e-mails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org).
That is, until I was browsing Amazon for some new reads in December last year. I was no stranger to queer literature - always having found revelations, solace, and inspiration in and from depictions of gay life during earlier times. I ordered Andrew Holleran’s Dancer From The Dance – a raging depiction of gay life in the 1970s’ NYC and Fire Island – from the arid urbanity of the Financial District, full of nothing but giant empty warehouses and Puerto Rican delivery boys, to the derelict East Village (and I mean really derelict) and the lush beaches of Fire Island. The book follows Malone, a stupefyingly beautiful man, on the hunt for love through the urban play-field of NYC. Over its pages, Malone and the insane (and nascent) gay scene play tug-of-war with the reader in the middle, offering a hysterical, sexy, and ultimately humane depiction of life as a gay man in NYC in the 1970s.
I found myself enchanted – completely. Not the kind of enchanted where you can’t wait to finish the novel, but more of a treasuring, a nurturing – a need to process every word, every connotation, every reference. The need to get everything. It felt like I was reading something sacrosanct, like a manual – a manual of how to live my life. The thoughts of gay men – brave gay men before me – my Bible. A learning process.
Increasingly, becoming a gay man, I had been so angry at the historical ignorance I was brought up in. I had been so angry that I was secluded to the point that I thought being gay was something singular, and that no one taught me my history. No one told me that there was a plague that bulldozed through Manhattan and the world in the 80s and 90s and took so many beautiful, sexy, sensitive, creative souls with it. Angry.
This book, and the insights it gave me, seemed like a rescue. A comprehension. Not only of a bona fide moment in gay life – a moment of living as a recluse yet encircled by life and love – but also of my own place in that continuation of time. Something I could refer back to, take solace in, laugh with. With this also came a weird thought – was this the moment where I no longer could deny that the 70s were fun, opulent, even sexy? Granted that the whole decennium thing is just a construct, it’s still how we retrospectively process things, so somehow it made sense to reassess it. I came to realise – the 70s were really the GAY DYNASTY, and I just had to surrender.
With that realisation, and with the acuteness of the AIDS crisis (once again something I really should have been taught about in school) just becoming abundantly clear (thanks, Larry Kramer), the 80s instead took on this shape of a gay moratorium – of a collective anxiety attack – all set to a sonic landscape I had previously associated with something so exciting, so empowered. Instead I now kept listening to 80s mixtapes from Chicago’s legendary WBMX Hot Mix 5, and thought of all the gay men who were preparing for another night out dancing, or cruising, but with what I expect was an overwhelming sense of doom and worry. Gay life of course pushed on and developed through the AIDS crisis – although with a broken soul (read or watch Kramer’s The Normal Heart) – and some sort of a lost innocence. But still - the dunes of Fire Island must have not looked the same, felt the same. The lavish nightclubs of the city must have had different energies to them.
Perseverance. It had to be the answer. In the ending scene of ‘Angels in America’, set in January 1990, the cast wander in NYC’s Central Park by the Fountain of Bethesda – a reference to the biblical Pool of Bethesda. Prior, the protagonist (who lives with AIDS but defies the odds, surviving), his former lover Louis, and their friend Belize break the fourth wall – telling the story of how the angel Bethesda landed in the Temple Square in Jerusalem, and how a fountain shot up from the ground where she set foot. When the Romans destroyed the Temple, the fountain ran dry. If anyone who was suffering walked through the waters of the fountain, they would be healed.
Prior turns to the camera; “The fountain’s not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter. Ice in the pipes. But in the summer, it’s a sight to see. I wanna be around to see it. I plan to be, I hope to be. This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all. And the dead will be commemorated, and we’ll struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens; the time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous, each and every one. And I bless you. More life, the great work begins.”
I hope Prior lived to see summer. On a dark October night of the same year, I came into this world. I plan to only spin forward. I want to live to see another gay dynasty, and another, and more.