1966–1975 Peace & Protest

From the Summer of Love to Women's Lib, Gay Rights and Black Panthers

The Second Gay Pride March
Toward a gay community
by Arthur Bell

July 1, 1971

Happy birthday, gay liberation, happy birthday to you! The baby is two years old and the song is sung by Martha Shelley and Allen Young and Judy from New York's defunct Gay Liberation Front, under a Christopher Street banner, a stone's throw from the old Stonewall Inn, so long ago and far away. Helping along with the celebration are about 6000 birthday guests. They've come from Toronto and Washington and Hartford and Columbus and Amherst and all five boroughs and flood Christopher Street from Sheridan Square almost to the river, Sunday under a cloudless pansexual sky . . .

The big parade starts. A marshal shouts, "Keep behind the Christopher Street Liberation sign!" Somewhere back there, a contingent from Perth Amboy totes a sheet spray-painted and stenciled: "A dream is a dream reality is real, open the door to the way that we feel." I see a Gay Jewish Revolution banner and the Gay Activists Alliance lambda and all those lambda shirts.

As the march progresses up Sixth Avenue, past Foam Rubber City, past the flower and plant block, the up-front banners move farther behind and the three city blocks of marchers become nine city blocks. By 34th Street, we're up to 15. There are no incidents. Some sidewalk observers heed the call and join us. At a 42nd Street construction site, three hardhats make ha-ha gestures. At 45th Street, an observer remarks, "I'm getting to feel like a real creep here with my husband and baby. I'm getting to feel abnormal." Near the Statler Hilton a group of young women sing "I enjoy being a dyke." "Join us, join us," shout the marchers to the bellhops and hotel guests. "Beyond the moon is Lesbos," says a frizzle-haired woman to a passing hooker. "This is a flexatone—the first gay musical instrument," says a flexatonist striking his pocket-sized instrument. Two, four, six, eight, organize and liberate.

The parade enters Central Park. Michael, in a Billie Burke–Wizard of Oz outfit with additional silver cardboard wings, tells the cameramen, "I'm just showing the straight people what a good fairy is." Miss Philadelphia does a belly dance near the zoo entrance. "I'm here because it's my day," she says, "and I want to be beautiful," and the beads and tassels shake, and click, click go the cameras.

We enter Sheep Meadow. An army of 200 or 300 more gay people enter from another pathway. We climb a hill. From a vantage point I see hundreds of shirtless men, braless women, give me a G, give me an A, give me a Y. They gloat, they dance, arms interwoven with arms, fists in the air. The Christopher Street banner lies limp on the grass. No one walks over it. The man next to me is crying.

Small vignettes are played on the grass. The woman with daisies in her hair is plucking out a baroque something on a guitar. An Indian headband falls off someone's head and a stranger picks it up and gets a kiss in return. Five naked men pass by and one says, "Why don't you just take off your shorts? Don't be embarrassed, don't be shy." Tarot cards are read. And Jim Owles says, "I've never seen so many beautiful faces in my life."

Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden (Jan. 1974)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

August 15, 1974
Dylan/Band: "Before the Flood," the live album made on the last night of the 1974 Dylan/Band tour, may turn out to be the least played Dylan record since "Self Portrait." Sales are not good; radio action is weak. One hears that Dylan's singing is mannered and emotionless (or worse, emotionally fake); that the music is sloppy and perfunctory; that the use of old songs is both a (failed) attempt to recreate a glorious past and an admission that Dylan cannot create in the present; that Dylan no longer has any real relationship to the generation he helped recognize itself. It is said that, at best, the album is a substitution of physical energy for the imagination and innovation of better days.

Dylan's generation dissolved as its members grew up. Dylan, quite some time ago, turned his back on his "generation," just as he abandoned the strictures of his old styles, and joined a bigger, more complex America. These days, anyone who writes about Dylan's audience as "us" is using a very ambiguous word, or a very outdated one. Dylan now performs as an American artist, not a generational symbol. "John Wesley Harding" was a deeply intellectual exploration of what it meant to be an American artist; "Before the Flood" offers not ideas but passions, and its ambitions are the same. The old context has crumbled—Paul Nelson is right when he says the center will not hold, but the center is not in Dylan's music but in the country itself. The triumph of Dylan's new music is that Dylan seems to take the failure of the center—and in terms of our generation, the failure of the edges—as his opportunity for freedom. If the failure is a fact, it is an exhilarating fact. —Greil Marcus

« Previous Page
Next Page »