Friday, 29 April 2011

NDP LEADS PACK WITH MOST GAY CANDIDATES

NDP leader Jack Layton back when he was a twinkie
Photo from www.vintagevoter.ca


(April 29)  "You’re writing a story about me? How about a centrefold?" then-PC Party MP Scott Brison told me, laughing, back in 2003 when he was running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives. After losing to the insufferable Peter MacKay – who I can’t help but remember was chatting up a girl with big tits in the Seahorse nightclub when I was in Halifax for the 2006 Juno Awards – Brison (who officially publicly came out in Three Dollar Bill) crossed the floor to sit as a Liberal MP on Dec. 10, 2003, four days after the PCs merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the new Conservative Party of Canada.

Which reminds me of the classic Ronald Reagan quote about why he became a Republican: "I didn't leave the Democratic Party -- the Democratic Party left me."

Anyway, since the rise of the new Conservatives in Canada, Brison married his partner Maxime St-Pierre and has run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. He is just one of several out candidates running in this federal election, though the party fielding the most gay and lesbian candidates - a whopping 10 - is the NDP, reports Xtra newspaper.

Toronto's Xtra also reports the Green Party has five openly gay candidates running in the election and the Liberals have three incumbent MPs seeking reelection who are openly gay. The Conservatives have run openly gay candidates in the past, but they’ve never had an openly gay member of Parliament -- although Tory pitbull John Baird was outed in February 2010.

Meanwhile, Libby Davies is the only incumbent queer New Democrat seeking reelection. She’s trying to hold onto the NDP stronghold of Vancouver East which she has represented since 1997.

Former NDP British Columbia MP Svend Robinson was the first Canadian MP to come out as gay, in the spring of 1988.

Canadians go to the polls on May 2.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

MONTREAL AUTHOR, FORMER GAY-PORN STAR DANIEL ALLEN COX UP FOR TRIANGLE AWARD

Author and onetime porn star Daniel Allen Cox Photo: Dallas Curow, courtesy D.A. Cox

When I first "read" Montreal author Daniel Allen Cox, it was either in the pages of Honcho or Inches magazines, where he posed buck naked some years ago. So I wrote a column about Cox and – because he was so tight-lipped about his past – dubbed him Agent 007 1/2 (though he's bigger than that…).

Montreal-born Cox didn’t just pose for skin mags back in the day, but during his time in seedy New York was a sex worker who raised his local profile by starring in a (pardon the pun) handful of gay porn films like the classic Brooklyn Meatpackers.

"There were always a few porn magazines lying around on the set to help you get hard," Cox says today. "One [set] location was in a place called Gavin Brown Enterprise [a gallery in Greenwich Village] and there were actually people living there! There were some graffiti rooms and I did a shoot there while visitors were milling about. It was very Warhol."

Cox had a fairly good run and even wrote about it in Shuck, his semi-autobiographical debut novel about a NYC hustler that was shortlisted for a prestigious 2009 Lambda Literary Award.

Cox returned to NYC for the awards ceremony where, incidently, one of my mentors, the Godfather of Gay Lit, Felice Picano, was receiving a lifetime achievement Pioneer Award alongside Andrew Holleran and Edmund White. Picano, Holleran and White are the last surviving members of the NYC writers group the Violet Quill who, to quote Wikipedia, are "the path-breaking gay male literary nucleus of the 20th century."

"My nomination was really unexpected," Daniel says. "It was just so fantastic to be in that room with so many great writers. It was neat to see all these authors [whose books are] on your bookshelf just a few feet away you! It was a great honour."

Well, Cox is back in NYC this week, a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction (named for deceased Violet Quill authors Robert Ferro and Michael Grumley) being presented at the The Publishing Triangle's annual Triangle Awards tonight (April 28), for his latest book Krakow Melt (Arsenal Pulp Press).
 
Krakow Melt tells the tale of two pyromanics, a bisexual male and a woman battling homophobia in Krakow as Poland slips into moral crisis. The year is 2005, Pope John Paul II (a Pole) is nearing death and the country’s soon-to-be president is a raging homophobe.

"I actually lived in Poland for a year and that inspired me to write this book," Cox, 35, explains. "It was born of the homophobia I experienced there. I mean, I even got harassed in gay clubs for kissing another guy! Just imagine what gays have to put up with there on the streets.

"But the key incident was a 2007 fire in my [Montreal] apartment on [the Main, next door to Ripples ice cream parlour]. The building didn’t come down but the smoke and water damaged everything that my boyfriend [Mark] and I owned. The incident [elicited] so much love and support from the community that it gave me the key element to create Krakow Melt."

It’s pleasing to see Cox doing so well. I’ve always had a soft spot for Daniel, from the day I interviewed him for that first column. Since then he asked me to write a back-cover blurb for his first book, the terrific 2006 novella Tattoo This Madness In. And if Shuck and Tattoo were inspired by his own life experiences, Krakow Melt has Cox stretching his wings.

Cox is enjoying himself in NYC this week, the city where he posed for adult mags like Honcho and Inches when he was an aspiring writer hustling in the Big Apple all those years ago. "All these magazines are gone now," Daniel sighs. "I’m still looking for copies of magazines that I posed for but they’re so hard to find now. But it feels good to know I was part of the print porn era which, sadly, has come to an end."


GORE VIDAL HEADLINES MONTREAL'S BLUE METROPOLIS LITERARY FESTIVAL

(April 28) American literary legend Gore Vidal wrote his first novel Willow while on night watch in port on a U.S. army ship during World War II, but he wouldn't hit the bigtime until a couple of years later when his 1948 novel The City and the Pillar outraged critics because it was about a well-adjusted young gay man who comes of age and - unlike gay characters in other books and movies of the era - does not die at the end.

Gore Vidal (Photo courtesy Blue Metropolis)
 Now 85, Vidal headlines Montreal's Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival this weekend with two public Q&A sessions. Vidal was granting just one interview to preview his Blue Met appearance and it wasn't with me (my colleague Matt Hays over at the Montreal Mirror got the interview). But over the years I have interviewed many folks who know Vidal, like author Edmund White, whose recent Broadway play Terre Haute was inspired by the essays Gore Vidal wrote for Vanity Fair about  Vidal's correspondence with Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Vidal freaked out and threatened to sue White for suggesting he’d been physically attracted to McVeigh. "I had [originally] sent him the script and he approved it," White says. "In the program notes, I was careful to note that [Vidal and McVeigh] had never met. But there is one Oklahoma bomber and one famous writer. So I wrote Vidal a letter and reminded him he approved it, reminded him of the times we had met, that he had blurbed a book of mine in 1978. Then he dropped it and never sued me."

It's true Vidal can be grumpy, but the man -- who has been at the forefront of US public intellectual life for nearly 60 years-- .is a living legend and the world is a better place with him.

Vidal will discuss his experience with the American and international media during a 90-minute Q&A session at McGilll University's annual Beaverbrook Lecture series on April 29 (Leacock Building, 855 Sherbrooke St. W, Rm 132). Free admission. It begins at 6:30 pm. Then CBC host Michael Enright will talk to Vidal in a 75-minute Q&A session at the festival's host hotel, the Holiday Inn Centreville (in Chinatown), April 30 at 4 pm ($15). Vidal will have book signings at the Blue Met bookstore (in the Holiday Inn Centreville) immediately after both events.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

MONTREAL DJ STEPHAN GRONDIN TAG TEAMS WITH KYLIE MINOGUE

It doesn't get more gay and fabulous than this: internationally-renowned Montreal deejay Stephan Grondin is opening for dance diva Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite Live Tour at Montreal's Bell Centre on April 28. One thing for sure is with all the dancefloor divas in the house that night, no one will remain seated for long. "This is not about playing a deejay set," says Grondin, who regularly spins at clubs and festivals across Europe and the Americas. "This is about pleasing the crowds and preparing the show for Kylie."

Stephan Grondin

Grondin adds, "Actually, this is kind of surreal because I remember playing Kylie's first single Locomotion back in 1987 when I started deejaying."

Grondin learned to play piano and percussion as a kid, then began working as a nightclub deejay at the ripe old age of 17 when he got his very first residency! Now 43, Grondin has monthly residencies around the globe, at nightclubs like Splash in NYC and Stereo in Montreal. He's a regular on the Pride circuit, has spun at Black & Blue eight consecutive times, and has upcoming gigs at Guvernment in Toronto (May 6), the Blackcherry Club in Guadalajara, Mexico (May 21), the Megga Club in Sao Paulo (June 25) and the Paradise Festival in Hawaii (May 14). "Each club has a different sound," Grondin explains.


Kylie! (Photo via Wikipedia)
But after all these years behind the turntable, Grondin - like most old-school deejays - still isn't used to crowds looking at him onstage like he's some rock star performing at a concert. Like me, Grondin's idea of spinning is having a deejay booth like the one in the 1978 film Thank God It's Friday (that film starred Donna Summer who'd go on to win an Oscar for best song for her soundtrack hit Last Dance). The real star of the show, of course, is the energy the audience brings to the dancefloor and a deejay's ability to work that energy.

"I'm old-school too," Grondin says. "I don't know what to make of this [people looking at deejays like they're at a concert] because the music is more important than the deejay. Some deejays like to put on a show, but when the deejay becomes bigger than the music something is wrong."

Grondin's manager Marc Theriault is also his spouse (they've been married three years and been together 12, which is practically a century in straight years!), and while Grondin doesn't make any distinctions about who he likes to play for - gay or straight - there is one undeniable truth. "Gays are always on the lookout for the next big thing," Grondin  says. "They're always ahead of the curve."

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

MICHAEL V SMITH SHEDS DRAG ALTER-EGO COOKIE LaWHORE ON NEW BOOK TOUR

For years Canadians have enjoyed Vancouver author Michael V. Smith's drag alter-ego Miss Cookie LaWhore, who wrote the racy sex column Blush for Vancouver's gay newspaper XtraWest for a couple of years. But Smith - writer, comedian, filmmaker, performance artist and "occasional clown" - has pretty much changed gears in recent years. To wit, Cormorant Books has just published Michael's terrific second novel, Progress, and he's a creative writing professor at UBC. But are his days as a clown and sex raconteur over? "Cookie is resting," Michael says. 

Michael & Bugs in Montreal
 Still, I gotta know: Is there a battle between Michael the respectable UBC prof and Miss Cookie - you know, like the angel and the devil hovering above Fred Flintstone's shoulders?

"I haven’t done Cookie in years, so there’s no battle. Cookie is a character. Not myself. She was a vehicle to discuss sexuality in a way that was fun, and challenging, but still full of charm and appeal.  A different sort of hat, you might say, but doing a similar job to all my creative output."

About his old column Blush, Michael once wrote, "Each month, I sat down to write with the same question in mind: What about my sex life do I not want anyone to know? And that's what I wrote." 

Today, Michael won't discuss his sex life like he used to ("Um, I’ll pass on that") but readily admits, "I still reveal a lot. I [just] spent seven years working on a book that can make me cry when I read it aloud, so I think that’s a wee more vulnerable than writing about my sex life via a persona."

Michael - named one of Vancouver's 25 most influential gay citizens by Vancouver Magazine - is currently on a book tour of Eastern Canada, with stops in Toronto (Gladstone Hotel on Apr 27), Kingston (Queen’s Grad Club on Apr 29), Ottawa Writers Festival (May 1), Cornwall (Cornwall Public Library, also on May 1) and Montreal (Drawn & Quarterly bookstore on May 3). His book Progress tells the story of a woman who loses her fiancee and is unable to move on with her life while everybody around her does. 

Michael no longer needs gay characters in his work but he does not believe gay culture is losing its power via assimilation. "I think being woven into the mainstream is great, provided we are still doing some of that weaving. The gay marriages I’ve attended are still queer events, and everyone’s Aunt Betty and Uncle John are a little more queer for being at those celebrations. I don’t think we’re losing power. We’re gaining a new kind of power. Where we are losing power is with our sense of history. How did we get here? What was the cost of where we are today? Who paid it?  That’s why stories are so important, I think. They help tell a bit of that history. They get it down on paper so we can remember it, and reflect on it, and carry the truth forward."

And does Michael miss being outrageous?

Without missing a beat, Michael replies, "I still am outrageous. Or the Harper Government wouldn't still be in power."

Monday, 25 April 2011

HAPPY ROBIGALIA DAY! ROMAN EMPIRE CELEBRATED MALE SEX WORKERS EVERY APRIL 25


There are plenty of reasons I like American author Mack Friedman: I love his name because every time I say "Hey, Mack," I feel like I’m a gangster in an Edward G. Robinson flick; I think Mack’s a genuinely entertaining writer; and I admire his guts for putting himself through university with his ass.

"I had a stable of repeat customers," says the onetime gay hustler and Chicago native who used to place escort ads in newspapers when he attended the University of Minnesota. "I wedged them in around classes."


Mack was 19 at the time, and if he’d been caught by the law he might’ve had to offer up his ass behind bars for free instead (Mack also explains the ins and out of his old sexwork career in Hook e-zine).

But had this been the Roman Empire – where male prostitution was widespread and taxed by the state until 498 AD – he would have been feted on Robigalia Day, the national Roman holiday celebrating male sex workers on April 25 each year.

"The value of male prostitutes exceeds that of farmlands," Cato once astutely noted in the second century BC.

Much has, of course, changed since Cato uttered those famous words. Friedman, who wrote his must-read 2003 book Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture (Alyson Books) after graduation, knows all about that firsthand. But it wasn’t all wine and roses back in the days of Caesar, Nero and Claudius either.

Author Mack Friedman
 "In the Roman Empire, slaves and former slaves (freedmen) were engaged in survival sex and sold from buyer to buyer for the price of chickpeas," Friedman explains. "Freed imperial Roman boys could also have sex with men, as long as they did it voluntarily, not via servitude. They could expect varied rewards, ranging from love, tutelage and gifts to money, shelter and food. For the next few hundred years, it would still be respectable for youths of all classes to be passive partners in their rewarded intercourse with older men."

Friedman continues, "Excavations have unearthed ancient male brothels within the former Roman Empire, but these were not the only sanctioned spots for sex work. [Hustlers] plied their trade on thoroughfares, in alleyways and gymnasiums, at the pools and the public baths, in earmarked taverns – and in, as [historian Gary] Devore [put] it, ‘other spaces specifically set aside for mercenary sex or utilized for the selling of sex only at certain times, such as under the arches of an amphitheatre, in cemeteries, along city walls, and inside deserted buildings.’"

The biggest pimp of all – collecting taxes alongside the state – was the Catholic Church.

Yes, you read right: "The Catholic Church in the Roman Empire made a lot of money taxing male prostitutes," Friedman says.

Now, considering the Catholic Church created the world’s first multinational corporation on the backs of male sex workers, I find it rich that in the more than 1,500 years since Rome repealed its tax on male prostitutes in 498 AD, every subsequent pope has publicly demonized the sex trade and gay sex – all the while Catholic priests continue to sexually abuse thousands young boys around the world.

Moreover,  investigative journalist Carmelo Abbate's book Sex and the Vatican: A Secret Journey in the Reign of the Chaste (published in April 2011 by Edizioni Piemme in French and Italian, with anonymous testimonies from priests and undercover reporting) reveals a flourishing gay scene for priests in Rome.

"Priests of all nationalities divide their time between Via della Conciliazione (the main road leading to St. Peter's Basilica) and the party scene of Rome by night," Edizioni Piemme stated in a press release.

No pope in history – except for, perhaps, the current one, Pope Benedict XVI (whom I call the Benedict Arnold of our times) – was more homophobic than the late Pope John Paul II. No pope in history has done so much to make so many people worldwide suffer needlessly.

"Pope John Paul II’s rejection of life-saving condoms contributed to the deaths of millions from AIDS," Brett Lock of the British gay civil rights group OutRage! said following PJP II's death on April 2, 2005. "He could have said it was the moral duty of Catholics to stop the spread of HIV. Endorsing the use of condoms would have saved lives. Despite over 40 million people being infected worldwide with HIV, the Pope turned his back on a proven method of stopping virus transmission."

Worse, as Lock rightly points out, "He even authorized the Vatican to lie that condoms spread AIDS by allowing HIV to pass through the rubber."

Science long ago proved that propaganda to be bullshit – which pretty much sums up Pope John Paul II’s legacy, from his poor micromanagement of pedophile priest scandals worldwide, especially in the United States, to the Vatican’s public lobbying against advancing gay human rights at the United Nations, right down to voting against benefits for gay UN staffers.

Pope John Paul II’s fingerprints remain everywhere. So I did not mourn his passing in April 2005.

Observers say the Pope suffered greatly in his last days. I am glad he suffered, as he made tens of millions of gays and lesbians around the world suffer until his dying breath. Watching millions of pilgrims pay tribute to Pope John Paul II at his funeral  – the most garish ever held in human history  – I could not help but think that, instead of celebrating his life (and with his successor Pope Benedict XVI continuing to hypocritically enforce The Vatican's anti-gay policies), the world would be wiser to celebrate Robigalia on April 25.

"There is more tolerance and respect for the sex trade in the gay community," Mack Friedman says. "I think we’re more open-minded about sex and its role in our happiness. We understand its importance. St-Augustine once said, ‘Banish prostitutes and you reduce society to chaos through unsatisfied lust.’ Who understands that more than gay men?"

Saturday, 23 April 2011

THE SORDID REAL STORY BEHIND THE STONEWALL RIOTS

Bugs visits the Stonewall on Christopher Street. The Stonewall was originally built in 1843 as stables and was never a hotel. When the stables were gutted by fire in the 1960s, it reopened on March 18, 1967, as the Stonewall. The exterior has hardly changed since 1969. Photo by Jamie O'Meara

(April 14)  If everybody who says they were at the Stonewall Riots of June 1969 were actually there, there would have been tens of thousands of gay protestors rioting in the streets. The other lie about Stonewall is that New York City police raided the joint just to harass the gay establishment. Truth is, the cops wanted to arrest Stonewall Inn manager Ed Murphy who was running a mafia blackmail operation out of the Stonewall.


But historians have mixed fact and myth since that historic clash between LGBT outsiders and the police during the early morning hours of June 28, 1969.

Just before I visited the Stonewall on the 40th anniversary of the riots, historian David Carter – whose 2004 book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution is the definitive account of the six-day riots and the basis for the the superb PBS doc Stonewall – told me that prior to the raid Interpol uncovered the theft of negotiated bonds which were turning up on the streets of Europe. The bonds were being stolen by gay Wall Street employees who were victims of a blackmail operation run by Stonewall Inn manager Ed Murphy.

Murphy, in spite of having been previously arrested for running an extensive national blackmail ring based on homosexual prostitution, had never been to jail because he had incriminating photographs of one of the prostitution ring's most prominent customers, then-FBI head honcho J. Edgar Hoover. “Hoover was a sonuvabitch,” Carter says.




But once the NYPD learned the theft of bonds was tied to blackmail at the Stonewall Inn, the order went out to shut down the club. Then came the infamous riots and a legend was born.

As NYC drag queen RuPaul  told me in a feature on Stonewall I wrote for Fugues magazine, “Stonewall is a subject very dear to me because it was those [drag] queens who had the guts to throw that first brick [at the police]. It's my goal to never let those brave drag queens be forgotten. That type of tenacity is what led this movement from the very beginning.”

Carter says, “Certainly the drag queens were among the first and most fierce resisters. But the people who resisted most were gay street youth, non-gender-conforming butch lesbians and effeminate young men.”

Nor does the real reason for the police raid diminish the symbolic importance of Stonewall.

“It's clear the people who resisted thought this was just another regular police raid,” Carter says. “Even though the police were just trying to shut down a mafia operation, they were brutal [to the bar patrons].”

So the following year, in June 1970, the first-ever Gay Pride parade was held in NYC to commemorate the riots. Today, there are hundreds of Gay Pride parades worldwide, most of them in June in honour of Stonewall.

“Stonewall is the single most important symbolic moment in gay history, perhaps even worldwide,” Carter says. “It caused a wave of gay civil rights activism to go global. It all had to happen, of course, otherwise Stonewall today would merely be a footnote.”

Stonewall Uprising airs on The American Experience on PBS on April 25

Thursday, 21 April 2011

LARRY KRAMER 100 % UNCENSORED!

Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart (about the dawn of AIDS) opens on Broadway on April 27
Photo by David Shankbone, courtesy Larry Kramer


There is more American history in Montreal than there is in most towns in America. To wit, soon after the American Revolutionary War began in the spring of 1775, U.S. General Richard Montgomery and his troops successfully invaded Montreal on Nov. 13 and held the city until June the following year, when Benedict Arnold and his American troops abandoned the city as British soldiers arrived.

During this time, the Château Ramezay in Old Montreal – today located across the street from Montreal City Hall – was the Canadian headquarters of the American Revolutionary Army, and it is here that Benjamin Franklin stayed when he tried to persuade Montreal to join the American Revolution.

Almost a century later, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, sent his wife and children to live in Montreal during the American Civil War.

Jefferson Davis' nemesis was, of course, Abraham Lincoln. So when McGill University commemorated the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth on Feb. 12, 1809, I decided to call up living legend Larry Kramer – whose 1985 play The Normal Heart opens on Broadway on April 27 – at his NYC home.

That's because McGill owns one of the world’s largest private collections of Lincoln memorabilia outside the United States. The collection includes the diary of Dr. Charles Sabin Taft, the 23-year-old army surgeon who attended Lincoln on his deathbed and details Lincoln’s slow death after he was shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, as well as 20 letters written by Lincoln.

But it is not these priceless letters that I am interested in.

No, the letters I want to read are those the once-married Lincoln wrote to the true love of his life, Springfield, Illinois shopkeeper Joshua Speed, with whom Lincoln shared a bed for four years in their apartment above Speed’s store.

Story goes a stash of love letters – not to mention Speed’s diary detailing their relationship – was unearthed some years ago and purchased by gay literary icon Larry Kramer.

Now when I tell straight folks that Lincoln was gay, they mostly scoff at me.

"Yeah, next you’re going to claim George Washington was gay!"

Well, folks, have I got news for you.

When I called Mr. Kramer he told me he had just printed up the 4,000-page first draft of his new book, The American People: A History, which he has been researching and writing for over 30 years. This is the book that will once and for all expose the truth of Lincoln and Speed’s relationship.

"It’s a monster book," Kramer says, noting the late Dr. C.A. Tripp compellingly argued Lincoln was gay in his own 2005 book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln (Free Press).

"My book will be crucified too," Kramer says. "People have vested interests in keeping their heroes straight."

Of The American People, Kramer adds, "It’s an attempt to put us [gay people] back in history from the beginning. No history book ever recorded anything about us, and researching this book I found out that both Lincoln and George Washington were gay."

Kramer points out Washington was in love with Alexander Hamilton, whom Washington appointed the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

"I got that from Gore Vidal," Kramer explains, "and because of [Washington and Hamilton's gay relationship] the country became Hamiltonian instead of Jeffersonian."

About Lincoln, Kramer continues, "Tripp and I shared information with each other, and I was the first person he showed his book to. But I have stuff that will go beyond anything that has ever been written or said."

In other words, Abraham Lincoln was a fabulous cocksucker. I’m so excited I want to scream it loudly from the rooftops.

"Straight people have trouble with everything to do with us and we have learnt not to let that bother us," Kramer tells me. "People [also] laugh at me when I say Lincoln was gay. But I say, ‘How dare you laugh? Why is it impossible and why is it funny?’"

Kramer – who was just the 11th HIV-positive person in America to get a liver transplant, in December 2001 – is now 75.

"I just hope I have enough years left in me to finish this book," says the former Pulitzer Prize and Oscar nominee, whose play The Normal Heart was crowned one of the Hundred Best Plays of the Twentieth Century by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, and who famously started the life-saving AIDS activist group ACT UP in the 1980s.

In short, Kramer is Gay America’s Abe Lincoln. He will set us free, at least in our history books.

But when I call the living legend an icon, the warrior replies, "When people call me that, I find it embarrassing and move on."

O

Essential buttplug Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart - a play about the dawn of the AIDS crisis - opens on Broadway on April 27 at the intimate John Golden Theatre (252 West 45th Street). Directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe, the production stars Broadway actor-director Joe Mantello as activist Ned Weeks, leading a cast that includes Ellen Barkin and out Canadian actor Luke Macfarlane (you've seen him in the ABC drama Brothers and Sisters).

Following the first preview performance on April 19, volunteers handed out copies of a typed letter from the 75-year-old playwright that you can read in The Advocate in its entirety. The open letter concludes, "Please know that the world has suffered at the very least some 75 million infections [of HIV] and 35 million deaths [from AIDS]. When the action of the play that you have just seen begins, there were 41. I have never seen such wrongs as this plague, in all its guises, represents, and continues to say about us all."
TheNormalHeartBroadway.com 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK LOVES LESBIAN SEAGULLS!


I remember blabbing with Englebert Humperdinck some years ago when he was riding yet another wave of popularity after recording the song Lesbian Seagull for MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head movie. "They liked that I had a sense of humour," explained Humperdinck who - if time and weather permit - still likes to ride his Harley Davidson motorcycle from concert to concert. "They asked me to sing a serious ballad and I listened to the song and it was quite beautiful. So if it [homosexuality] can happen in humans, it can happen to birds. And I support that. We should all have freedom of life."

 Also, for pop culture triva buffs, it was not Elvis Presley who made sideburns famous. It was his good friend Engelbert. "I’m the one to blame," laughs Humperdinck, who headlines Montreal's Salle Wilfred-Pelletier on April 21. "I saw The Beatles and decided to design a hairstyle that would be mine."

Swinging London may have thought Engelbert was uncool but he had the last laugh: Humperdinck has gone on to sell over 130 million albums, but only after he changed his name. As he tells it, in his early days both Humperdinck and Tom Jones were managed by Engel’s childhood friend Gordon Mills.

"Gordon recorded Stay, a song I wrote, and took it to Decca under the name of Gerry Dorsey and Decca said, ‘He’s old hat – he’ll never make it.’ I was just in my early 20s. We changed the name and they signed me immediately. That’s what a name is all about."

Humperdinck also recalls Jimi Hendrix being blown away by Humperdinck and his Harleys. "They were introducing Jimi to Europe and had him open the first half of the show. It was quite an experience, no pun intended. One day my guitarist didn’t show and Jimi said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll play for you.’ He played from backstage and sounded like three guitars."

Twitter.com/bugsburnett

Monday, 18 April 2011

GAY IS BEAUTIFUL

My buddy Bruce Yelk in Philadelphia produces that city's fabulous annual Mr. Philadelphia Gay pageant (this year held in Philly's Voyeur nightclub in the heart of the "gayborhood" on April 16) and another friend and colleague of mine, Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto, was a pageant judge once again.

Bugs and Michael in Montreal
 Except this year one of the contestants (and eventual winner), a petite gymnast named Dashiell Sears, veered off-course during the Q&A segment when contestants were asked, "Who's your favorite menswear designer?"

Sears told Michael, "It's an honor to meet you but it's really unfortunate, too. I admire your work and so did a bisexual friend of mine, who came out because of your column."

The moment took a further turn for the worse when Sears revealed that his bisexual friend "killed herself because she just couldn't go on. There's so much homophobia out there. She would have loved to have met you. That's what's so sad."

But, as Michael wrote in his own blog La Daily Musto, "Stunned, I hugged Dash and said it was such a sweet, poignant story that he didn't even have to say who his favorite menswear designer was. He replied anyway: 'Calvin Klein. Because I like the underwear.'"

God, I love gay people.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

JUST DON'T CALL BRAD FRASER A "BAD BOY"

Whatever you do, don't call playwright Brad Fraser the "bad boy" of Canadian theatre. Okay, maybe "bad man." But certainly Fraser has outgrown the "bad boy" moniker, even as he gives good quote to The Globe and Mail. About his recent plays premiering in Manchester Brad said, "Because I don’t live there I haven’t actually alienated everyone in town." Not to mention to Xtra whom Brad told he believes Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian is responsible for a mediocre Toronto theatre scene.

Brad Fraser
"My work seems to be accepted and lauded in the UK much more than in my home country," Brad said. "Part of it is the level of critical mediocrity that permeates the Toronto theatre scene, specifically because of the pernicious influence of Richard Ouzounian at the Toronto Star, who really should give up the professional theatre and become the flamboyant high-school drama teacher he was meant to be."

Fraser's new play 5 @ 50 (about five 50-year-old women and middle-aged friendship) premiered at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre this week and runs until May 14, while his critically-acclaimed 2009 play True Love Lies (sequel to his 1989 international hit play Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love) opens in his hometown on April 23, at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre.

Personally, I really enjoyed True Love Lies during its Canadian debut run at Toronto's Factory Theatre in 2009. On the eve of that run, Brad (who turns 52 on June 28) told me some wild stories about his youth. Take the time Brad walked along Ste-Catherine St. from Montreal's downtown Black & Blue circuit party – that was the year 3,500 hot boys paid $14 per head (!) to attend B&B at Métropolis in 1992 – all the way to the Village wearing nothing but a jockstrap and army boots.

"I’d never been so high in my life and ended up [leaving] with four guys," Brad recalls. "When I came to [my hotel room] in the morning, I was naked on the bed. There was this giant bottle of lube and it’s empty and I’m like, ‘What the fuck did I do?’ I’m sore all over and I thought, ‘Well, I’m in Montreal, no one will know!’ A year later, a New York Times reporter was interviewing me and said, ‘I saw you dancing on a speaker at Black & Blue last year!’"

Brad continues, "That’s why I love Montreal. I have nothing but those [kinds of] stories."

Brad may no longer consider himself to be the "bad boy" or even "bad man" of Canadian theatre anymore, but his fuck-you attitude has, ultimately, served him well -- a brand as iconic as Chanel.

Admits Brad, "When I turned 40 I stopped going to gay bars, drinking and fucking around every night of the week." But today, healthy and happy, he adds, "I’m having better sex now than I ever have!"

5 @ 50 runs at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre (UK) until May 14

True Love Lies runs at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre from April 23 to May 15

Friday, 15 April 2011

MAMBO ITALIANO OPENS IN VANCOUVER AND HEADS TO BROADWAY AS BIG-BUDGET MUSICAL!

You’ve heard of the movie Mambo Italiano but the family comedy began as a stage play in Montreal, penned by Montreal enfant terrible Steve Galluccio (though Steve is now 50 years old!).

Mambo tells the tale of a 20-something Italian-Canadian who tells his immigrant parents that he’s gay. The play has been successfully staged in theatres around the globe, and this week begins a two-week run at Vancouver's Firehall Arts Centre, a copresentation with Western Theatre Company.

But what about that planned Broadway musical based on Mambo Italiano with renowned NYC producers Jean Cheever and Tom Polum, whose rock musical Toxic Avenger did boffo business off-Broadway?

"It’s supposed to go for the 2012-2013 season but it’s very hard to get something done on Broadway right now," Steve explains. "I don’t think we’ll break the show on Broadway. It takes a lot of time and patience. Not to mention the average cost of a Broadway play now is around $2 million to $2.5 million. The reality of doing theatre in New York on Broadway is so different than the reality of doing theatre here where everything is spoon fed to you. You get money from the government, you put your play on for four weeks and then you go on to your next play. In New York you have to find investors and it may close after three weeks. There are so many plays that close in New York that it’s such a big gamble for everybody. So when it comes to Mambo Italiano, I’ll believe it when I see it onstage."

Meanwhile, the Vancouver cast includes David Adams, Susan Bertoia, Gina Chiarelli, Susanne Ristic, and Francisco Trujillo..

Mambo Italiano runs at Vancouver's Fire Arts Centre April 14 to April 30

Thursday, 14 April 2011

SIX BLIND HORSES AND A SCHLONG


Most folks know the play
Equus because it starred that kid from Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, stripping buck naked onstage in both London’s West End and on Broadway. All in the name of art, of course, for Playwright Peter Shaffer’s famed 1973 play, which tells the psychodrama (inspired by a real-life incident) of psychiatrist Martin Dysart uncovering why 17-year-old Alan Strang – sexually obsessed with horses – deliberately blinds six horses.

Bobby Lamont (Photo courtesy Village Scene
Strang is portrayed in the Montreal production by local actor Bobby Lamont, who doesn’t have a problem stripping for the stage. “To be honest, I haven’t spent any time worrying about how my own particular naked body will look in the context of our production of Equus,” says the handsome Lamont. “I don’t think any amount of worry would help to make the performances any more real for our audiences. It is not my body that is the story, after all, either. And it would be vain of me to attribute it much importance by worrying about it. My concern is entirely with making sure I give every ounce of my energy to inhabiting the heart and mind of a beautiful and tragic character.”

Director Paul Van Dyke – who stripped naked onstage  last in Mid-Life Crisis of Dionysus at Mainline Theatre, wearing nothing but a bunch of grapes on his crotch), says, “Everybody knows Harry Potter stripped in this play but Bobby is very committed to the role. The nudity is just part of the story and not in any way gratuitous like when I wore grapes in Dionysus!”

Adds Lamont, “Too much focus on just the nude bits can cheapen the art of the thing, I think.”

Van Dyke says this production also overcomes the looming dimensions of Montreal’s cavernous Rialto Theatre which its new owner, Ezio Carosielli, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on to refurbish.

“For too long the theatre lay dormant and unused,” Carosielli says. “We fully intend to reanimate and revitalize it. We see The Rialto as a center for the performing arts: open and inclusive, multilingual and multicultural, grounded in the present yet not afraid to wink at the past.”

 Equus at Montreal's Rialto Theatre from April 14-24

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

THE TOP 20 TDB LEDES OF ALL TIME!

Cartoon of Bugs published in HOUR magazine exposing Bugs being arrested buck naked (true story!) after being caught by the police in Montreal having consensual sex with a (GASP!) woman! No more chicks for Bugs! (Cartoon by the incredible Dan Buller)
 
I've got to say, my years at Montreal's HOUR magazine were punctuated by being dragged to the Quebec Press Council several times, being banned in Winnipeg, getting death threats, Three Dollar Bill being investigated by The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, being screamed at backstage by Cyndi Lauper, getting the last-ever sit-down interview with James Brown, or having a cartoon of me being arrested buck naked by the Montreal cops (true story!) drawn by HOUR's awesome editorial cartoonist Dan Buller -- the list goes on and on. But the list I treasure most is the following one, which I began compiling in the late 1990s when my Three Dollar Bill ledes started pissing off people.


My old friend and colleague, former HOUR news editor Michael-John Milloy reminded me of this last week when he wrote a Facebook posting about when he joined HOUR in 1996 at the invitation of then-news editor Lyle Stewart..

"My life in HOUR began when Richard puked on me." MJ wrote. "Lyle had recruited me to write a story on the latest doings of the nimrods in the McGill student council and, after my story was published, invited me for drinks at Upstairs [jazz bar]. Bugs met us there after hanging out at the Roddick Gates and we soon set to drinking, ogling Lyle's girlfriend (Richard) and desperately trying not to embarrass myself in front of two of my local heroes. As a callow, know-it-all jackass at the McGill Daily, meeting Lyle and Bugs was meeting the kind of journalist I wanted to be: fearless, funny, caring and paid. Luckily Bugs dispelled my reverie when, after a quick pitcher and some shots of rotgut tequila, he laughed and, just as quickly, threw his hands in front of his mouth. Lacking the panic reflex I developed over the next decade, I sat immobile as a thin stream of vomit arced out from between Bugs' fingers and painted my shirt"

When someone commented on MJ's awesome lede, MJ replied, "My hommage to Bugs' many, many superior ledes."

Which reminded me of the list of ledes from Three Dollar Bill that I had been compiling for years. So here are my Top 20 (Thanks, MJ!):

  1. “I tried everything except blowing Conrad Black to kickstart my journalism career.” (Aug 1999)
  2. “I have never sucked Mike Piazza’s cock, so I have no idea if he’s gay.” (June 2002)
  3. “I can’t help but think when I look at Michael Jackson that his face is tighter - and whiter - than my ass.” (July 2002)
  4. “It’s true, alas, my asshole is not the centre of the universe.” (July 2000)
  5. “Arrogance, not to mention my pumps, is humankind’s Achilles heel.” (April 2000)
  6. “The only schmuck convinced that no one believed former Canadian Olympic champ Brian Orser was gay is, go figure, Brian Orser.” (Dec 1998)
  7. “Ricky Martin can sit on my face.” (June 1999) Oh yeah, I outed Ricky two years later in TDB.
  8. “I love to fuck. I love to get fucked. I just wish straight boys had as much guilt-free sex as queer boys do (and with queer boys!).” (Aug 1998) This column got me banned in Winnipeg.
  9. “I am living proof that in less than a century gay life has gone from being the love that dared not speak its name to the love that won’t shut the fuck up.” (Nov 2002)
  10. “You know, after putting up with straight people all my life, I’ve figured out that most of them really aren’t all that bad.” (June 1997)
  11. “I adore women and Lord knows I love a fabulous rack. But honey, there is a limit. I mean, there I was at Barbarella’s, an Ottawa strip joint for a stag party last weekend, and I hadn’t seen so many flabby asses waving in the air since, well, Gay Pride.” (Oct 2000)
  12. “It must be spring because here I am lapping it up – behinds, that is, like a bitch in heat.” (May 2001)
  13. “I don’t think the man they called Jesus of Nazareth ever sucked cock, though I bet he would have loved it had he taken the time, and made a proper fag hag of his beloved Mary Magdelene.” (Dec 2001)
  14. “A fuck is a fuck is a fuck.” (April 2000) The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary investigated complaints that TDB was pornographic after this column ran.
  15. “I always tell people I graduated from the Malcolm X school of rhetoric.” (Oct 2001)
  16. “Pope John Paul II is a sonuvabitch”. (Aug 2003)
  17. “If the Gay Games are the Uganda of the sports world, then the Federation of Gay Games is Idi Amin.” (Jan 2004)
  18. “Imagine the relief sexually abused choirboys in the Catholic Church are feeling now that the Grand Séminaire de Montréal has announced it will test all new priests for HIV.” (January 2004)
  19. “I'm no slut, but I lost count of all the cocks I'd sucked when the number topped 200 some years ago.” (November 2006)
  20. “If there is anybody who deserves to die of AIDS, it is the HIV-denialists who after 25 years of solid science still insist that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.” (March 2011)

Saturday, 9 April 2011

WHY GLAAD HAS BECOME AS DULL AS A FRUITLESS CARMEN MIRANDA

Ricky Martin's 2010 memoir Me (Celebra Books)
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation presented the Vito Russo Award to Grammy Award-winning pop star Ricky Martin at their 22nd annual GLAAD Media Awards in NYC on March 20. Yes, the one and same Ricky Martin whom I outed in Three Dollar Bill back in March 2001 on the eve of the nasty legal battle to repeal Puerto Rico's sodomy law (finally repealed in 2005).

Now, the Vito Russo Award is presented to an openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality for the LGBT community.

But, if you all recall, for years Martin played footsy with the closet all the while enjoying the protections and privileges of the gay community.

When I saw Martin - whose recently published memoir Me is more of a spiritual read - headline Montreal's Bell Centre a couple of years ago, I actually walked out halfway though the concert, absolutely disgusted with how Martin disingenuously played up the role of heterosexual matinee idol, clearly to sell more tickets.

So when Martin finally "officially" came out last year, I believe he only did it because - like Rosie O'Donnell and Clay Aiken before him - he doesn't want to look like a hypocrite in front of his own children.

When Martin took the stage at the GLAAD Media Awards in NYC, he actually said, "What an honour. I have no words but to say, 'Thank you.' GLAAD has helped me so much. A couple of months ago, I was being attacked by someone in the media in Puerto Rico, and I called GLAAD and I said, 'What do you do? Because I'm new at this, I really don't know what to do.' And they said, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of it.' And they hopped on a plane and they went to Puerto Rico and they did what needed to be done. And today, Puerto Rican television is one step closer to being free from hate, thanks to GLAAD."

Quite frankly, when GLAAD has been reduced to rewarding Ricky Martin for being some kind of hero, it proves once and for all that GLAAD really has become as dull as a fruitless Carmen Miranda.

As for Ricky Martin, that Puerto Rican maricón headlines Montreal's Bell Centre on April 12.

ART AGAINST AIDS BRINGS OUT THE BIG GUMS, ER, GUNS AT GALERIE DENTAIRE




ARTSIDA, Montreal’s third annual art expo and fundraising auction to benefit this city’s only English-language HIV/AIDS support group, AIDS Community Care Montréal (ACCM), runs for three weeks at Galerie Dentaire in the Gay Village.

The event has raised over 65,000$ since it first began in 2009. This year’s edition features 60 Montreal artists, including such well-known artists as Daniel Barkley (whose work illustrated the popular posters for Bryden MacDonald’s hit 2009 play With Bated Breath that played at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre), iconic Montreal graffiti master Zilon, Charlotte Greenwood, Jean Chaîney, Jean-Pierre Perusse, photographer Inked Kenny, Yvon Goulet (one oversize painting of one of Goulet’s iconic male faces), a rare 1974 drawing from the late Peter Flinsch, as well as a special painting called THINK by Montreal multi-media artist Kat Coric.

“I think its important to be involved with ARTSIDA, firstly to support ACCM because all of the people affected with HIV/AIDS in Quebec rely on this noteworthy organization for help,” says Koric. “I have lost many friends to AIDS and have many close friends living with HIV right now. My painting THINK was created to remind people to “think” about not contracting HIV.”

Bugs, Kat Coric and Yvon Goulet
ARTSIDA runs at Galerie Dentaire (1239 Amherst) until April 13 (free admission) and concludes with an auction at Hôtel des Encans (872 rue du Couvent) on April 14. Cocktails and buffet at 6pm, auction at 7pm. Tickets are 35$.

OUT IN PHILLY!


Robert Indiana’s iconic Love sculpture is located in at JFK Plaza across from Philadelphia City Hall. 
Photo by J. Smith for GPTMC
 
I knew I was in the City of Brotherly Love when I sat on a bar stool in the Venture Inn, a comfy gay neighbourhood watering hole in Philly, when, behind me, as I nursed a double vodka on the rocks, I heard one guy shout to another, "Shut your fucking hole, bitch!"

And when I turned to look, they hugged!

Yes, this is the Philly I know and love, hometown of Noam Chomsky, Dick Clark and Bill Cosby (who once told me he doesn't like being called "America's Dad"). I've visited this tough city a few times over the last decade - preferably in summer so I can attend a Phillies baseball game - but I'll be damned if I was going to turn down an invitation to visit Philadelphia last month, a city that's way warmer than snowy Montreal in wintertime.

In fact, you could say Philly is blooming, no more so than at the Philadelphia International Flower Show - the oldest and grandest show of its kind (this year's theme is "Springtime in Paris") - which I attended when i was there, the evening before it opened to the general public.

And let me tell you, this event is gayer than the Gay Games. And way more fun.

"You will lose 1,500 calories per day walking through this exhibition!" Drew Becher, president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the event, told me as I guzzled a Philadelphia-brewed Yuengling lager.

But wait - it gets gayer!

The handsome Becher got his PHS gig after a five-year stint running Bette Midler's famed New York Restoration Project, which reclaims old New York City lots
and transforms them into local urban gardens. Their goal is to plant one million trees in NYC because, says Becher, when Midler moved to New York from L.A. some years ago, she exclaimed, "Oh my God, this city looks like Courtney Love!"
Midler was also on hand in Philly last November when she and Jerry Seinfeld helped launch that city's pretty awesome National Museum of American Jewish History, about a block or so away from the National Constitution Center in historic Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

Of course, when I'm in town, I get Danny Bonaduce opening the Forman Mills Clothing Factory Warehouse.

Anyway, if Midler wasn't gay enough, when you're at Philly's Jewish museum, make sure to check out a number of costume objects worn by Barbra Streisand in the 1983 film Yentl.

The museum naturally focuses on America's great Jewish cities - New York, Boston and Philadelphia - but it also points out Montreal has also been home to a great Jewish community since the 1700s. In fact, today, Montreal is home to the world's third-largest Holocaust survivor community, after Israel and NYC.

That's not the only Montreal connection here. On this trip I made a point of visiting Benjamin Franklin's grave in the Christchurch burial ground just off Philly's historic Independence Mall. Few folks remember that in 1775 Franklin stayed in Old Montreal's Château Ramezay - then the Canadian headquarters of the American Revolutionary Army (today located across the street from Montreal City Hall) - when he tried to persuade Montreal to join the revolution.

Near the Jewish museum, Philly's red-brick Independence Hall is where George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the U.S. Continental Army, Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution was adopted.

I tried to relive some history myself: 150 years to the day of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural speech on March 4, 1861, I stood on the very spot outside Independence Hall where Lincoln himself raised the American flag (back on Feb. 22, 1861).

"We are not enemies, but friends," Lincoln said that March 4, in a bid for reconciliation with the South.
Today, there is just so much to see in Philly and so little space to write about it all.

So this season, go for the art: Don't miss the Secrets of the Silk Road exhibit at the Penn Museum (runs until June 5); Iraq's Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur's Royal Cemetery, also at the Penn Museum (opens April 30); the 150-artifact Mummies of the World exhibition at the kid-friendly Franklin Institute (opens June 18); and the month-long Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (opens April 7).

 The Peacock Male: Exuberance and Extremes in Masculine Dress exhibition runs at Philadelphia Museum of Art through June 2011.  (Photo by Richard Burnett)


When I booted over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the Marc Chagall exhibition (runs until July 10), I accidentally discovered the superb exhibition The Peacock Male: Exuberance and Extremes in Masculine Dress (runs through June 2011).

Needless to say, it's fabulously gay.

Finally, you only have until July 3 to check out the Barnes Foundation's 1,000-piece art collection before it closes to move to their new downtown digs which will only open in the spring of 2012.

The Barnes "priceless" collection is worth billions and features 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes and 59 Matisses (including his Spirit of Life, worth an estimated $100-million)!

The art here dazzles and overwhelms, which is why I especially enjoyed one painting by local Philadelphian Harry Sefarbi, who died at the age of 92 in Sept. 2009. Decades earlier when Sefarbi was a young man, Dr. Albert Barnes bought one of his paintings and hung it above the door in Room 9, which is packed with priceless Renoirs.

"Until the day Harry died," museum director Andrew Stewart said as he gave me a personal tour, "we'd sometimes see him visit the museum and just sit there [in Room 9, awed], his painting hung next to those of so many masters."
O
Essential buttplug Visit Philadelphia at www.visitphilly.com and gay Philly - now one of America's Top 10 most-visited gay destinations - at www.visitphilly.com/c/gay.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

BUGS GOES OUT IN A BLAZE OF GLORY HOLES!

Bugs smooches Nick Auf der Maur
Photo by Jamie O'Meara


Well, it has come to this: The global decline of newspapers has claimed yet another victim, Montreal's venerable Hour magazine, at least as you've known it, which for almost 20 years has always gone the extra mile covering this city's fabled underground cultural scenes. With the introduction of this column in July 1996, Hour became the first amongst Canada's alternative and mainstream newspapers to publish a real gay column, Three Dollar Bill.

Don't get me wrong, a new Hour will publish next week, but it will be a different paper than the one you are reading now, with an all-new editorial team. But when I started here in May 1995, following a period when a series of corporate mergers forced newspapers to cost-cut newsrooms into oblivion, my way into the newspaper biz was to be out.

Today when people ask me if I am more than just Mr. Three Dollar Bill, I reply, "Well, now that I'm in I can't get the fuck out."

As my friend and colleague, Globe and Mail arts columnist, author and playwright R.M. Vaughan once told me, "When I was shopping one of my books around, [one publisher] said they already had a gay writer. It's like that old porn adage about blacks: 'One's exotic, two's a ghetto.' It's an eternal battle. There is a lavender ceiling. I've hit it enough times to know. Newspapers expect us [gay writers] to write about art and culture. 'Why do you want to write about the Iraq war? That's for straight people.'"

But those early years at Hour were really fun, especially the summer of
1996 when we had no editor-in-chief and the run of the place. We pumped out many in-your-face newspapers during that era, a time when I fell in with my two mentors, legendary Montreal boulevardier and Gazette columnist Nick Auf der Maur, as well as another legend, New York Times bestselling author and the Godfather of Gay Lit, Felice Picano.

Nick - who passed away from cancer 13 years ago today, on April 7, 1998, just three days short of his 56th birthday - was always one for pithy anecdotes and hearty advice.

"Nick was a charming man, and he'd pinch anyone's bum!" Nick's daughter Melissa Auf der Maur told me two weeks ago. (Nick once even pinched the ass of Rudolf Nureyev!) "He is still an inspiration to anyone who reads about his life [in Nick: A Montreal Life, the anthology of his columns featuring an introduction by his old friend, Mordecai Richler] and the way he chose to live it. He was a quite a man.

"I'm happy for you that you got to see the last of that generation, all those old journalists before the Internet, before TV, when print was our source of news for hundreds of years," Melissa says. "My father was the last amazing generation of it, right down to the hat."

Many Sundays I joined Nick to read the Sunday New York Times at Else's bar, punctuating our grunts with tequila shots. After one all-night Crescent Street boozing session we ended up in his favourite pizzeria at 5 a.m. with his godson Jake Richler, where the staff served us hot coffee laced with Baileys.

And when I freaked out over work, Nick always calmed me down.

Like the time in 1997 when I interviewed Danny McIlwaine - the Montreal hustler convicted of murdering the Rev. Warren Eling - at Bordeaux prison. My lede read, "Danny McIlwaine was sucking on a crack pipe and drinking rum punch the night Anglican priest Warren Eling asked him for a blowjob."

My cover story not only pissed off McIlwaine's lawyer, but also many of Montreal's gay activists. "Don't worry about it," Nick (who inherited Eling's cat) told me. "You know you're doing your job when everybody's pissed off at you. Besides, it was a great lede!"

My other mentor is Felice Picano, whom I first met at a Montreal brunch (merci, Louis Godbout!) over a decade ago. Picano founded two pioneering gay presses, Seahorse Press and the Gay Presses of New York, which launched writers like Harvey Fierstein. Moreover, with Andrew Holleran, Edmund White and others, he founded the Violet Quill, the groundbreaking gay male literary nucleus of the 20th century.

More importantly, Felice and his friends laid the groundwork so that folks like me could actually write Three Dollar Bill. When his publisher wanted to subtitle Felice's 1995 international bestseller Like People in History with the words "An American Novel," Felice insisted it be subtitled, "A Gay American Novel."

I've eaten smoked meat with Felice at Schwartz's; took him to the site of Sex Garage, Montreal's Stonewall; and for a decade he told me star-studded personal anecdotes for my annual Felice Picano column. I still remember the first time Felice read one of my columns. He said to me, "You're not an ordinary writer, and neither am I."

Over the years here at Hour mag and TDB headquarters, I've gotten death threats, outed politicians like Andre Boisclair, been banned in Winnipeg and investigated by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, got the last-ever sit-down interview with James Brown, pissed off B.B. King and been screamed at backstage by Cyndi Lauper.

I shall miss this paper, its editor and my good friend Jamie O'Meara, who always made me look good. And I still miss Nick terribly. He'd be disheartened to see the old newspaper world crumbling around us.

What I know for sure is, without my mentors Nick and Felice, this would be a different world.

But Felice has promised me his personal tour of San Francisco, and Nick, well, he'd be proud that after I get tanked tonight, I'll make a point of taking a piss in Ruelle Nick Auf der Maur.

O
 
Essential buttplug Thank you to all my TDB readers over the years. You can still find me here and in the pages of Xtra, Fugues and Current magazines.

THE END OF AN ERA

HOUR Magazine's final editorial meeting with (L to R) news editor Meg Hewings, arts editor Robyn Fadden, editor-in-chief and music editor Jamie O'Meara, film editor Melora Koepke and editor-at-large Bugs Burnett. The April 7, 2011, edition of HOUR mag brings to a close almost two decades of Montreal's alt-weekly HOUR magazine.  (Beginning April 14, 2011, HOUR mag will continue publishing as "HOUR Community" with an all-new editorial team.)

ALL-STAR TRIBUTE TO GAY ICON ELIZABETH TAYLOR

Studio publicity portrait of Elizabeth Taylor


Elizabeth Taylor's stormy love affair with Richard Burton will always be synonymous with Montreal, the city where they first got married, back on March 15, 1964, in suite 810 of Montreal's Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

The Taylor-Burton wedding contract was drawn up by renowned Montreal notary Lionel Segal, who a couple years earlier also notarized the wedding contract of yet another British Empire glamour couple, my parents, Gordon and Liliane Burnett.

During this era my British banker dad was the assistant manager of the CIBC branch at Expo 67 before becoming known locally as the "King of Chabanel" at the height of Montreal's schmatte business in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, my Mauritian mom's Robin Hood politician father - Felix Laventure, who not only refused a diplomatic posting, but was eventually forced into exile by the British - had words with Montreal's Catholic Archbishop because the Catholic Church refused to marry my parents since Dad was - wait for it - a Protestant.

A deal was struck and my parents were married in Montreal's swanky Berkley Hotel, a couple doors over from the Ritz-Carlton, where Taylor and Burton were married.

"It was early March 1964 when I received a phone call from Edward and Max Bernfeld, a father-and-son law firm, wanting an immediate meeting with me in absolute privacy," Segal explained in a story about Elizabeth Taylor - who died at age 79 on March 23 of congestive heart failure - that Segal wrote for the Montreal Gazette. "I was a young notary at the time, in practice since June 1960, and I had no idea what these lawyers wanted from me, although I knew them well and thought they might have a client wanting to purchase a major piece of real estate in Montreal.

"It turned out they had been advised by Lou Herman, an attorney in Toronto, to arrange to have a marriage licence issued in Montreal for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who planned to marry as soon as possible."

Segal continues, "At the time Mr. Burton was in a stage play in Toronto, and they were having trouble obtaining a marriage licence there because they were both in the midst of obtaining divorces in Mexico, she from Eddie Fisher and he from Sybil Burton. I had obtained from the authorities in Quebec the right to issue marriage licences, which dispenses with the publication of banns prior to any marriage.

"At the time, civil marriages did not exist in Quebec, and neither did divorce, except by going through the Senate. Marriage was handled by religious authorities."

Bestselling Hollywood biographer William Mann in his 2009 biography of Taylor, How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, writes that the Montreal wedding was "the climax of a red-hot, two-year romance that had left two continents scorched in its wake. The beaming bride, her hair braided with white Roman hyacinths, wore a gown of yellow chiffon designed by Irene Sharaff, who'd done her costumes for Cleopatra."

Like my mom, whose childhood friend Jackie committed suicide because he could no longer bear living as an out gay man in Africa, many of Taylor's closest friends were also gay men - iconic actors Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Rock Hudson and Roddy McDowall.

"Elizabeth Taylor wasn't a fag hag, but in a beautiful way she was," author William Mann told me the week his Taylor biography shot up the New York Times bestseller list. "She loves camp and bigger-than-life personalities. She's always been ahead of her times. At 18 she told Monty Clift, 'You will find a man to love someday.' That was in 1951!"

Five years later, Taylor cradled Clift's bloodied and broken body after he smashed his car into a telephone pole after leaving her Beverly Hills home during the filming of Raintree County.

"History has always tried to imply they were secret lovers, but that's bullshit," says Mann, who also wrote the awesome 2004 must-read book Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. "From the start they were close friends. Remember, she was 14 when they met and he was this hero to her. He was a rebel. He taught her you didn't have to be a slave to the Hollywood studios."

About Taylor's relationship with her gay Giant co-stars James Dean and Rock Hudson, Old Hollywood starlet Noreen Nash recently claimed Taylor and Hudson had a bet on who could seduce Dean first.

"I don't know if it's true," says Mann. "At first Elizabeth didn't like Dean at all because he was a method actor. She thought he was ruining her takes and was full of himself. And there was a rivalry between Dean and Rock Hudson. But by the end of the shoot they had become friends."

In fact, very close friends. Following Taylor's death, author and former Interview magazine editor Kevin Sessums, whom I interviewed in TDB a couple of years ago, revealed in The Daily Beast that Taylor told him, "I loved Jimmy. I'm going to tell you something, but it's off the record until I die. Okay? When Jimmy was 11 and his mother passed away, he began to be molested by his minister. I think that haunted him the rest of his life. In fact, I know it did. We talked about it a lot. During Giant we'd stay up nights and talk and talk, and that was one of the things he confessed to me."

Two years later, in 1958, when Taylor filmed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Paul Newman, she understood the gay subtext of the Tennessee Williams Pulitzer Prize-winning play because, Mann says, "Her second husband Michael Wilding was gay. So she knew exactly what Maggie was dealing with."

Of Taylor and Roddy McDowall - also famed for his weekly Hollywood "salons" where he invited Old Hollywood and New Hollywood stars for brunch every Sunday for decades ("Nobody does them anymore and nobody did them like Roddy," Joan Rivers once told me) - Mann says, "They were girlfriends."

And how much did Liz love Rock Hudson?

Well, when Rock died of AIDS in 1985, at the peak of AIDS-fuelled homophobia, Taylor threw caution to the wind and, as Mann told me himself, "became the single greatest force in the fight against AIDS... Unlike so many celebrities today - today every celebrity has to have a cause - Elizabeth stood up because someone had to."

Taylor founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985 and later also established the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Then, back in April 2000, America's Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation presented Taylor with GLAAD's Vanguard Award for promoting gay equality.

"It's the first award I've received from a gay organization and I'm honoured and just tickled," Taylor said in her acceptance speech. "I started my activism in the '80s when a new disease emerged that was quickly and inexplicably killing people. Worse than the virus there was the terrible discrimination and prejudice it left in its wake. Suddenly it made gay people stop being human beings and start becoming the enemy. I knew somebody had to do something. For God's sake, our president didn't even utter the word for years into the epidemic. So I got involved."

Taylor continued, "All of my life I've spent a lot of time with gay men - Montgomery Clift, Jimmy Dean, Rock Hudson - who are my colleagues, coworkers, confidantes, my closest friends, but I never thought of who they slept with! They were just the people I loved. I could never understand why they couldn't be afforded the same rights and protections as all of the rest of us. There is no gay agenda, it's a human agenda."

So it should come as no surprise that when Taylor went out for a drink, she went to her favourite gay watering hole, The Abbey, in West Hollywood.

In fact, Taylor's last public sighting was here, on Thursday, September 11, 2008, when she reportedly enjoyed a reportedly "sizable" martini. Then she was wheeled out through the hushed crowd to a waiting, blacked-out sedan.

"At The Abbey she [was] treated like a queen by all the queens," Mann told me.

Following Taylor's death on March 23, news reports that the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church was going to picket her funeral were overshadowed by news that Taylor has reportedly left the bulk of her $600-million fortune to AIDS charities. According to Fox News, Taylor's famous jewellery collection - worth an estimated $150-million in 2002 - will be auctioned off to benefit the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and amfAR.

In the coming weeks, expect more biographies on Taylor to be published, including one by my colleague David Brett in the U.K., who told me a couple years ago he had already completed his bio of Taylor, which was to be published posthumously. Taylor once famously said of Brett, "He's a shit but a lovable shit."

Brett's biography of Taylor will of course describe the Burton-Taylor wedding in Montreal that made the front page of newspapers around the world. "In 1964 Elizabeth Taylor was bigger than Princess Diana," William Mann says. "Nobody was bigger."

But I leave the final anecdote about Taylor - a genuine hero to the gay community - to my friend and New York Times bestselling author Felice Picano, the man I call the Godfather of Gay Lit. The last time we blabbed I asked Felice, "Who is the most glamorous movie star you have ever met?"

Instantly he replied, "Elizabeth Taylor! I was walking along the dock with my partner [Bob] on a hot Saturday afternoon at Fire Island Pines in '82 or '83 and we heard a voice above us say, 'Do you have food there? I have liquor!' So we looked up at the very top of this very big yacht and there was Elizabeth Taylor! We went up, she was alone on the boat - evidently the others had stepped out while she was napping - and we had some snacks and a drink with her.

"She was really very nice," Felice said, "and she had really purple eyes."

Twitter.com/bugsburnett