Browsing: The Otherworldly

November – December, 2010

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EVERYONE’S ACCOUNT of high school is different. For the jocks, it’s a time of tiny triumphs, of touchdowns, and cheerleaders. For punks and goths, it’s the age of rebellion, while for nerds and other pariahs, high school is a penitentiary of social embarrassment. “High school is a caste system,” declares cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (played by Emmy-winner Jane Lynch) on Glee, the hit television series now in its second season on Fox.

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AT A SMALL but select Walt Whitman exhibition mounted by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 2006, a tender photograph of Whitman with his partner Peter Doyle was matter-of-factly labeled as such; and my jaw dropped. It was the first time I’d ever seen an American museum correctly name this relationship, announcing in effect that Whitman, arguably our greatest poet, was emotionally involved with another man.

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“DID HE BROWN YEH, Jimmy?” one young man asks another in Roddy Doyle’s popular novel The Commitments, referring to the local priest. “No,” Jimmy responds. “He just ran his fingers through me curly fellas.” The church has little effect on the unemployed young men in Doyle’s 1987 novel about a would-be soul band from north Dublin, which is the basis for Alan Parker’s 1991 film.

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Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture by Alice Echols
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COMPARED TO MOST musical genres, disco ascended, flourished, and fizzled in a remarkably brief period from roughly the mid-1970’s until the early 80’s. It’s fair to say that disco didn’t even enjoy a solid decade of widespread popularity. Of course, those dates are debatable, and it all depends on how you define disco. And while disco’s reign was quick and fleeting (not to mention conflicted) in the U.S., it fared much better overseas. Alice Echols’ Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture offers a history of the disco era, but as the book’s title indicates, it’s more an interpretive, cultural history than a “who-what-where-when” catalog of disco’s origins, performers, and songs.

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THOUGHTFUL, deadpan, prolific, and possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of music, Stephin Merritt can be a tough nut to crack when he’s interviewed, whether by me or by filmmakers Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara, who spent a decade shooting the documentary Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields, which takes a long look at the creative processes behind one of America’s most versatile songwriters.

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FOR MOST OF US who have ever traveled to East Asia, the trip involves a several-hour flight across the Pacific. For Lucy Horne, her first excursion to Japan took her a full two weeks. She traveled by train. “Denmark to Warsaw, Moscow, Vladivostok,” she tells me the afternoon we meet. “And then over to Japan. I don’t like plane travel. You miss what’s in between. I wanted to know what was in between.”

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From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law by Martha C. Nussbaum
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In From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation & Constitutional Law, Martha Nussbaum argues that homosexuals in particular have borne the brunt of disgust used as a political weapon.

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A LONGTIME resident of Manhattan with a number of solo exhibitions and group shows from New York City to Provincetown, Gerald Mocarsky is a gay photographer whose work embodies a unique sense of queer urban living. Standing apart from a gay photographic world dominated by nude male Adonises, Mocarsky’s work urges the viewer not to salivate but to observe and think about what it means to be gay in the new millennium. Mocarsky works in series, not unlike Cindy Sherman and Jack Pierson: the images are individualistic, but connected by a universal arc of meaning. His two most recent series relate to dance and cosmetics.

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“WHAT IS an Itkin anyway?” The rhetorical question was put to me as I was sitting in a Manhattan leather bar one summer night in the mid-1970’s. My companion that evening was apparently a pretty boy in full leather, actually an attractive young woman by the name of Dusty Verity, a former circus performer who had written me a fan letter the previous week and had now turned up at the Eagle’s Nest in very becoming drag. We were discussing mutual acquaintances and soon discovered that we both knew the notorious anarchist bishop, Mikhail Itkin.

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Gay Bar: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s by Will Fellows and Helen Branson
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GAY BAR is a queer little book by a queer little woman who, yes, owned a gay bar on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles in the 1950’s. The book is a rediscovery, having been published more than half a century ago (in 1957) by a company owned by the early gay rights activist Hal Call. Now, writer-historian Will Fellows has repackaged the book, with a new introduction and copious notes and commentary.

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