By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
THE PARTY'S OVER
Editor's Note: Steve Weinstein's article "Partying Like It's 1979: Gay Revelers Herald the Return of Springand Sex" (April 2) generated an unusual amount of mail. Some of the letters and a response by Weinstein follow.
I agree with Steve Weinstein, who, in his review of the Black Party, concludes with a quote from the book The Trouble With Normal by Michael Warner, that "when you strip away all sense of shame, you get the essence of human dignity." But I'm old enough to have watched half of my friends die of AIDS while our government did nothing. And since it's 2002, and not 1979, I'm not sure what "human dignity" has to do with OD'ing on drugs and fucking without condoms on the dancefloor at Roseland. Don't get me wrong. I like leather, sweaty sex, good dance music, and getting high as much as the next gay guy. But with the rate of new HIV infection among gay men on the rise, and government attention focused on anthrax, not AIDS, maybe a healthy dose of shame is in order for people whose "spiritual" rites include giving each other HIV. Things were bad enough in 1985 when we were dying and didn't know why. In 2002, I don't have much patience for guys who get infected and should've known better. Those gay men at the Black Party and elsewhere who value themselves and their brothers enough to protect each other from HIV infection form the real community based on the essence of human dignity. By romanticizing a culture in which unsafe sex and drug abuse are not only "chic" and acceptable but carefully planned out, Weinstein confuses "exuberance" with flat-out stupidity.
Steve Weinstein's article "Partying Like It's 1979" disgusts me. His generally uncritical portrayal of the self-destructive and dangerous activity by the partygoers reads like a confirmation of the very worst stereotypes of gay men (e.g., "According to a doctor who was volunteering at the party, there were 10 fallouts altogethera remarkably low number for such a large all-night eventand this was the only person who needed serious medical attention").
Mr. Weinstein, other people will need serious medical attention, namely the participants who become infected with STDs or AIDS from their "spiritual" sexual activity. This letter comes from someone who is supportive of gay rights and generally on the left with regard to social issues. However, I do not absolve party participants of any responsibility for their dangerous behavior, and I don't think Mr. Weinstein should either.
In "Partying Like It's 1979," Steve Weinstein writes: ". . . the word most people here use to summarize this ball is 'spiritual.' " Of course, Weinstein quotes just two men at the Black Party, who happened to support his view that it is a spiritual exercise as opposed to a form of glorious nihilism.
The Black Party is a business. Its operator, like [gay nightlife guide] HX and, apparently, the Voice, is going to pretend that the mix of unsafe sex and drugs is not driving the resurgent HIV epidemic among gay men in America because to warn gay men about this would spoil the party, wouldn't it? And spoiling the party is bad for the bottom line.
In reference to Steve Weinstein's article on the "Black Party": Is there any particular reason the author has chosen to focus on the "spirituality" of an event that is, apparently, focused on flesh and blood? The author has confused energy with spirit, behavior with ritual, and drug use with freedom. The text of this article suggests that the "Black Party" allows one the freedom to celebrate a seasonal rite of sexual expression. The subtext argues that the "Black Party" allows one to use drugs to get the energy to have unsafe sex all night long.
I would like to ask the author if he suggested to even one reveler that he use a condom. I can only guess from the writing that, instead, he mingled, he was entertained, he probably had the sense not to have sex with anyone there, and that he lost his train of thought between the front door and the coat check. There is no evidence in the article, however, that the author was able to connect with any "spirituality."
Gary Dokter II
If only our community could apply the kind of money, time, energy, numbers, and commitment we do at events like the Black Party to our own civil rights movement. Partying and "spirituality" through self-destruction seem to be more important than fundamental issues like AIDS, adoption, marriage, gays in the military, inheritance, visitation, and even the right for us to exist in America. But we sure are "fun."
Clint Page Henderson
San Francisco, California
Steve Weinstein's article was rather disturbing to me. I am not referring to the gay lifestyle; I am offended by his use of the words "neo-druids" to describe the people who attend the "Black Party" and "druidic" to describe the event itself. Druids (Celtic spiritual leaders) did not go into the forest and have anal sex, "rim," or anything of the sort. Mr. Weinstein's connection of these people with the Celtic religion is disgusting. Perhaps in France some ancient Celts practiced homosexuality, but more often gays were drowned in the bogs. I am growing increasingly impatient with those who practice "alternative" lifestyles trying to re-create my ancestral religion in their image.
Steve Weinstein replies: If some idiot wants to have unsafe sex, it's as easy to find as the nearest computer modem. Having buried my partner of over 11 years last May, I am second to none in my hatred of this disease, but I am realistic enough to know that a venue where condoms are readily available is preferable to getting rid of such parties, which would only increase gay men's isolation. Making party producers act in loco parentis shifts responsibility away from individuals, and blaming the party for unsafe sex is like blaming bars for alcoholism. If people quit partying, would they magically transform themselves into full-time activists? No, they'd probably be home watching TV. So instead of blanket condemnation of having a good time, perhaps activists like Osborne might consider working with the Black Party to help encourage safer sex in a controlled environment. And remember, for the vast majority of participants, this is still primarily a dance party! As for 10 fallouts, get 8000 straight men into a club and then count the bodies. I freely admit I couldn't find anyone to condemn the party; all of the pseudo-Druids were having too good a time.
It is simply amazing that Thulani Davis, one of the nation's best reporters, has authored an article that has so many errors ["Black History for Sale," April 9]. Many of the miscues could have been avoided had Ms. Davis consulted the very fine chronology in the book of photos and text about Malcolm X that she edited.
First, the date of Malcolm's assassination is wrong. It happened on February 21, 1965, not February 17. (Also, the article has the 13th of that month on a Friday, when it was the 12th that year.) In addition, Dr. Betty Shabazz was not alive in 1999 when the article has her contesting the ownership of Malcolm's bullet-riddled address book. Moreover, I am listed as an organizer of Malcolm's last major speech in Detroit, when I recall telling Ms. Davis that I was close to the organizers and was merely a spectator at the event.
When I wrote for the Voice several years ago, I endured a platoon of fact checkers picking over my articles. Where were they when Ms. Davis needed them? Even the misspelling of the name of the director of the Schomburg Center, Howard Dodson, is a matter that could have been avoided with a little more time and attention to this very important article.
Malcolm deserves better.
Thulani Davis replies: I appreciate Mr. Boyd's letter and I take responsibility for the obvious glaring mistaken date of Malcolm's death, Howard Dodson's name, and the failure to say that Malcolm's diary was reclaimed by the late Dr. Betty Shabazz's lawyer, Joseph Fleming. My notes of the Boyd interview include his mention of Malcolm's returning on a Friday, and ambiguous language that I took to mean he helped host Malcolm in Detroit. Mr. Boyd is probably even a bit too young to have been an organizer of that 1965 event!
BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS
In response to the article "Rough Trade" by Douglas Wolk [March 26]: You can show facts and figures that suggest the decline in record sales is due to the economy. The Recording Industry Association of America can show us different stats that suggest the slump is due to online theft. There's bias everywhere, but in the end the real issue is avoided, just as it was in Wolk's article: an artist's rights.
Whether the Napclones are promoting or hurting CD sales is irrelevant. The real problem with these programs is that they take away an artist's right to choose how to distribute his or her work.
As a composer, I can make my work freely available (which some of it is) or charge a fee. It's my workI bled, sweat, and cried over it. To take control of what I made away from me and give it to "little Johnny" is a crime.
I've made sacrifices. I've worked shit jobs and live in a shit apartment so that I have time and money to dedicate to my art. Why should Shawn Fanning, the founder of Napster, be a multimillionaire off my sacrifices? Every time someone "shares" one of my songs, he or she reduces my chance to ever be able to quit these shit jobs, and make a living doing what I love.
If someone set up a Web site with the entire contents of The Village Voice on it, sans ads, sans creditsthere'd be a lawsuit. Perfectly fair, it's your material. I ask the same respect.
Mr. Wolk has been a great advocate for new music; for my own, in fact. But promoting sites like Audiogalaxyand by merely mentioning them, you do promote themis only going to make artists' lives far more difficult.
FROM HILLY TO THE HIGHLANDS
In response to Bill Werde's article about the Ramones' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ["Punks in the Hall," March 19]: I'm sorry, but I saw the Ramones plenty when they toured the U.K. in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Johnny never played a single fuckin' soloapart from bending the G string in the middle eight of "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You" a couple of times. Don't get me wrongJohnny rocksbut he's famed for not doing solos. He should be proud of the fact that he only knows rhythm. (Isn't that a rhythm guitarist's job?) It's pure punk not to be concerned with solosthe Ramones were one of the first punk bands, for God's sake. They had no blueprint to follow. They made the rules, so Johnny shouldn't be ashamed of them.
Regarding the statement by Marky about someone playing behind a curtain: I could always hear the solos when they played live, but I thought that was in my head ('cos I knew the records off by heart). And as for Johnny's assertion that CJ was more important than Marky, I say, "Get real." Marky was the most solid drummerhis arms didn't move, his wrists were a blur, he never broke into a sweat. He was coolness personified.
Must mention Joeyhis album is better than the final Ramones album. But that doesn't say muchand [longtime producer] Daniel Rey obviously played most guitar on a number of Ramones albums, by the sound of this CD. But Joey's version of "Wonderful World" is an instant Ramones classic. I was in Chile when he died last April. He is loved there as much as he is here.
It's good to know that the U.S. is catching up with third world countries when it comes to recognising their own rock bands' success and cultural impact.
Re Jerry Saltz's article on the 2002 Whitney Biennial ["American Bland Stand," March 19]: Here in California the sun is again shining. We are so grateful to New York City for hiring Larry Rinder to curate the "lousy," "tepid," and "irresponsible" show at the Whitney. Californians ignored his pandering productions, refusing to view his systemic bad taste and wishy-washy careerism. Far from "declar[ing] war on the Whitney" because only three Los Angeles artists are represented, we can't wait to get to the top floor of the show, breathe a sigh of relief, laugh, and shout, "Please keep these bland Bay Area artists, too!"
The cover photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in last week's issue was incorrectly credited. It should have been credited to Bettmann/Corbis.
In Cynthia Cotts's Press Clips column last week ("Everyone's a Critic"), restaurant reviewer Jonathan Gold was identified as a contributor to L.A. Weekly, which is owned by Village Voice Media. Gold, although listed on the masthead as a contributor, writes a regular food column for the paper called Counter Intelligence.