Nostalgic Moment With Sylvester, Writing the Future While Listening to the Past

A few weeks back I did post on the Castro failing as a community/neighborhood.  Since then I’ve been developing an idea that will merge capitalism with activism. The details will be coming soon.

As I’ve begun walking down this path Sylvester has been providing the the spring in my step. For me his music represents a time when SF was influencing the rest of the world.

Distinct, influential, and timeless…a true legacy to be proud of.

“My life began when I moved to San Francisco,” Sylvester.

From Wikipedia: In San Francisco, Sylvester performed in a musical production called Women of the Blues, with his repertoire of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday songs in tow. In the early 1970s Sylvester joined a short-lived group of performance artists called The Cockettes, a psychedelic drag queen troupe founded by Hibiscus, aka George Harris. After leaving The Cockettes, Sylvester performed in San Francisco a number of different times as a solo act. One of his most famed shows, entitled “Jungle Sin,” which reprised Sylvester’s greatest Cockette solo songs, took place at the San Francisco supper club Bimbo’s, and was produced by the rock impresario David Ferguson in 1972. That same year, Sylvester performed at The Temple in San Francisco with the then-unknown Pointer Sisters, which was also produced by Ferguson. Sylvester can be seen in the Cockettes’ outrageous short film Tricia’s Wedding, lampooning the wedding of President Nixon’s daughter Tricia, and in an eponymous 2002 documentary about the group (which at one time included Divine).

In 1972, Sylvester supplied two cuts to Lights Out San Francisco, an album compiled by the KSAN radio station and released on the Blue Thumb label.

In 1973, Sylvester & The Hot Band, featuring Bobby Blood on trumpet, Chris Mostert on sax, James Q. Smith on guitar, Travis Fullerton on drums, and Kerry Hatch on bass, released two rock-oriented albums on Blue Thumb (their self-titled debut was also known as “Scratch My Flower,” due to a gardenia-shaped scratch-and-sniff sticker adhered to the cover).

In 1974, Sylvester met Horus Jack Tolsen (Keyboards), and together with Sylvester’s drummer Amadeo Barrios (drums) and his brother Adrian Barrios (Bass), formed a trio which backed up Sylvester at a nightclub in San Francisco called Cabaret – After Dark. Shortly thereafter Horus was fired, and Amadeo brought in new players — Archie White (Keyboards), Angel Reyes (Guitar), background vocalist Bianca Thorton, Gerry Kirby and another vocalist named Debbie. This took Sylvester into a new musical direction. The band unofficially called themselves The Four A’s and had finally thrown in the towel after several attempts to get signed by a major label. In 1975 The Brothers Barrios gave it one last shot before joining The Lenny Williams Band , and Sly Stone.

Sylvester signed a solo deal with Fantasy Records in 1977, working with the production talents of legendary Motown producer Harvey Fuqua, who produced his album Stars in 1979. Sylvester later alleged that Fuqua cheated him out of millions of dollars. Sylvester soon met his frequent collaborator Patrick Cowley. Cowley’s synthesizer and Sylvester’s voice proved to be a magical combination, and pushed Sylvester’s sound in an increasingly dance-oriented direction; his second solo album, Step II (1978), unleashed two disco classics: “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” and “Dance (Disco Heat)“. These two songs charted together on the American dance chart, and spent six weeks at #1 on this chart in August and September 1978. By this time both his live shows and recordings also recognizably featured the back-up vocals of Two Tons O’ Fun: future Weather Girls Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes. 1979 brought three Billboard awards and an appearance in the movie, The Rose, starring Bette Midler. He sang “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” live for The Castro Street Fair, thanks to future first openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk.

Moving to Megatone Records in 1982, Sylvester quickly landed a Hi-NRG classic with “Do You Wanna Funk”, which was featured in the 1983 film Trading Places. He was close friends with other Megatone artists Linda Imperial and Jeanie Tracy

Sylvester was also very close to Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash for whom he recorded background vocals for her dance hit “Lucky Tonight”.

Later pressure from the label to “butch up” his image would result in him attending meetings in full-on drag. A drag photo shoot, which he staged and presented to label heads as a gag (calling it his “new album cover”) would later grace the cover of Immortal after Sylvester died; it was the label’s way of paying tribute to his spirit. In 1985, one of his dreams came true as he was summoned to sing back-up for Aretha Franklin on her Who’s Zoomin’ Who? comeback album. His sole Warner Bros. Records album was Mutual Attraction in 1986; a single from the album Someone Like You became Sylvester’s second #1 hit on the U.S. dance chart, and featured original cover art by Keith Haring.

One of Sylvester's Suits, On Display in the GLBT Historical Society when it was on the corner of 18th and Castro

As a destination the Castro is thriving, as a neighborhood/community it is failing. Why? (27 empty storefronts)

Once a place with such a concentrated gay business sense and activism, the Castro has become a place where I see this identity slipping away before its time. Don’t get me wrong. I love the tourists. I love the families, straight and gay. But I don’t love what we are projecting as community. If we can even call it ‘community’ anymore. And while I understand  bar culture thriving in the Castro, is the reason there is a Castro, we are losing examples of  non-alcoholic entrepreneurism. Which is a complete and total shame.

Thank goodness for the GLBT Historical Society is there, otherwise Britney Spears wouldn’t have had anywhere to pose that didn’t have a backdrop of booze.

Perhaps evolution is taking its natural course and the gay identity is being pushed out of the neighborhood where it was born, for profit. Or is it something else?

Maybe this is the future we’ve been fighting for–total integration, assimilation, homogeneity–at a price tag we can’t afford. The issue for me is our fight isn’t over. It’s really just begun.

Now that things are moving toward a more integrated future we need to celebrate our history and be strategic about our future. We need to lead through example and help people understand how the differences, we are inherently born with, can actually be advantageous. Being able to drink the rest of the country under the table shouldn’t be our standout attribute.

Currently there are 27 empty storefronts. Many of which were iconic gay businesses that created a sense of community and drove activism through example.

I was walking through the Castro last Thursday baffled by the amount of vacancies.  Then I saw this  post on Monday by Michael Petrelis on his blog Petrelis Files.  While it’s worth a full read, I’ll include an excerpt here:

There are more than two-dozen empty retail spaces, restaurants and an entire building up for rent or available for purchase in the Castro district, and the reasons for rather high numbers are many, starting with the continuing recession and stretching to greedy landlords wanting too much coin.

The Castro, as with all gay or hip enclaves, is always evolving and recreating itself, but I sense a deeply nervous entrepreneurial community worrying about the businesses of the area and an equally anxious grassroots network of activist wanting greater say in who controls local public spaces.

Then I saw this post on craigstlist — $10,000 for 2,000 square feet. But YAY, there is parking…no wonder things aren’t renting. Who can afford the rent?

Um, yeah...OK I'll take two

I’m not giving up, just putting it out there. I think we can do more. I have some ideas. I hope you do too.

Bevan, I’ll be calling you very soon.

One of many empty slots to showcase our talents. If only the price was right
Not iconic, but prime real-estate
I have plans for this space once Bevan has won, and no longer needs it as headquarters

Following the DEAD on Twitter & Ghost of Alexander McQueen, Lady Gaga’s Dom Top From Heaven?

Ok two amazing post regarding stars from the other side. The first is about Tweeji. The second is about Lady Gaga being controlled by the ghost of Alexander McQueen.

High-Level On Tweeji: Follow dead people on twitter
Dead people on twitter aren’t new.  I’ve been following Jesus since before last Easter–defintiely a rough patch for him.

This site aggregates all the dead folks into one place. Notrious B.I.G,  Walt Disney, Buddha, Edgar Allen Poe and many more. Check it out:

Alexander McQueen Channeling Twitter

McQueen Dom Top From Heaven?
The second bit of otherworldly gossip, is the ghost of Alexander McQueen is apparently controlling Lady Gaga.  Thankfully it’s not John Denver. Imagine the internal struggles she’d be having.

According to the UK Mirror, as reported by Harper’s Bazaar as channeled through Lady Gaga from Alexander McQueen in heaven.

SHE’S certainly full of spirit – but now Lady Gaga reckons she is being controlled by a GHOST.

The oddball popstar is claiming the spectre of her dead fashion designer friend Alexander McQueen, who killed himself last year, is orchestrating her career from up above.

“I think he planned the whole thing,” she says. “Right after he died, I wrote Born This Way. I think he’s up in heaven with fashion strings in his hands, marionetting away, planning this whole thing.”

Gaga said she realised McQueen was now in charge of her affairs when her record label moved the release date for Born This Way – to the anniversary of his death. “When I heard that, I knew he planned the whole damn thing,” she tells Harper’s Bazaar. “I didn’t even write the f***ing song. He did!”

It remains to be seen whether he will get a credit on her new album, which is out next month. But Gaga says: “Born This Way is the marijuana to the heroin of the album. It gets massively more intense as you explore it.”

Joe My God Reports Eagle SF is Closing ::final two weeks?::

I had blogged about the SF Eagle being earmarked for condos in December.  It seems rumors are swirling again, this time from bar staff.  According to Joe My God, the SF Eagle has two weeks left.

Readers are emailing this weekend to report that staffers at San Francisco’s Eagle Tavern are telling patrons that the iconic Sunday beer bust hangout will be closing in two weeks. Last January a local website reported that the building was for sale and provided the below rendering of what may be built at that location. Man, I’m gonna miss that dump.

If the Eagle does close, what are we evolving towards. Would love to get your thoughts.

The beloved Eagle as it looks today
Rendering for Modern Condos to go on the site of the Eagle -- as Reported on Socketsite


More details :: Edge SF’s Last Call:: Farewell Party Set for this Sunday, Owner says

I stop drinking and bars start closing. As reported earlier today, it’s looking pretty certain the owner of the Edge will not renew his lease. The owner of the building says they are still in talks.

You can read more, on the update since my post,  in the Bay Area Reporter.

From Inside The Edge - Castro Street Fair 2010
Snapped in Front of the Edge -- Castro Street Fair 2010

SF Edge Closing Its Doors This Sunday…Death of SF Institution – Take Two

I just saw a flurry of conversations on Facebook that the Edge, on 18th and Collingwood, is closing its doors. Apparently the new building owner isn’t allowing them to renew their lease.

This brings up a the topic of the evolution of gay culture, moving away from bars. Last month my post on the death of the SF Eagle sparked some great conversation on this topic.

Guess we should all say our goodbyes this weekend. Or not? Tell me what you know.

Snapped in Front of the Edge -- Castro Street Fair 2010
From Inside The Edge - Castro Street Fair 2010

Reader Struggles with Knee Jerk Reaction to Saving Historical Gay Bars – What Are Your Thoughts on Passive Gay Culture?

My post on the Death of Beloved SF Institution: The Eagle resulted in a number of emails and comments. While the end for the Eagle may or may not be near, a dialogue this post sparked is worth sharing.

Read the following and let me know your thoughts on the evolution of gay culture.

From Riley, regarding my post on the death of the Eagle:
I struggle with the knee jerk reaction to “save historical gay bars”– our “gay culture” is radically changing- morphing into something we don’t seem to be guiding – so we jump to save the past versus sweating to build a future– many people criticize our ‘passive gay culture’ as compared to generations before– but it’s not a simple discussion:  it’s complex and includes big topics such as our relevance/potency as a RACE of people to the rest of the people/races on this planet!

So  much of our history is steeped in bar culture (which has been slowly  dying and proving an antiquated model for social interaction/ transcendence): just as the clubs/nightclubs have become nearly non-existent in SF, it seems the bar culture is facing the same fate.

Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is what new concepts/constructs do we need to BUILD for the modern queer race.

What is the evolution of the bar? I believe this also ties into the dialogue of what is the relevance of “gay community” centers…

I’m not sure locking myself to a bulldozer going nose to beak with the Eagle is activism. I’m more interested in rallying every young LGBTQ  (etc, etc) individual to interview/document the stories/struggles/history of his or her eldest queer friend–now that’s saving our history!!!

The SF Eagle is a place of Sunday ‘worship’ (yes a double entendre). It’s a place of brotherhood and transcendence for many men (from raw laughter, to raw sex, to stimulant inspired highs). I am thankful it exists, thankful for its history; thankful of its influences on me, and for the many, many, many memories it holds. And for the many who have held me there.

The beauty/liberation of our bar culture is tempered with the destructive nature of bars in general. For the many people we lose to abuse, we still don’t seem to have created an option– a new forum/model.

Some say the Internet/technology and online sex killed nightlife/dance clubs-and now killing the bar scene–some say it was/is drugs that kills the scene– some say its because gay bars have become so body/age/race specific — Darlings, WE kill the optimism by misusing the tools — so don’t blame the tools- we simply need to figure out how to  use the tools to build a better solution.

“Gay bar” owners have a larger pressure than a str8 bar owner… They inherit a responsibility to the queer cultural as their businesses are frequently the PRIMARY hubs for queer culture (which historically use to be sanctuaries/havens, now really just venues with ties to a historic past). Look at Lonestar, the difficulty of those boys navigating through honoring the past/present/future generations.  They struggle at great expense to innovate new ways to mix the segregated gay community” – pay homage to the past while welcoming the future.

Perhaps there is a poem/hidden message in the story/potential fate of  the SF Eagle (a gay American icon).

I personally know Stanley (the architect with the proposed schematic),  he is a wise, talented, potent and influential architect- and he is an  openly gay man. He is a credit and trophy to our race. His ideas/aesthetic have added to the evolution of SF. He is an ACTIVIST in my  opinion because his actions are conscious contributions to find/create  better ways of living verses talking about contributing (as so many others do). I have not discussed the Eagle site with him- but I guarantee he has something interesting to say.

Hmmmmm? The potential replacement of the old ‘dirty’ Eagle with a stark minimalist/contemporary community dwelling (likely with gay/straight tenants living side by side) designed by a widely celebrated  ‘gay /South African architect’ — is this a poignant commentary of our  own queer gentrification?

I miss the era when gay culture contributed beauty–  when the angst  of our struggle/oppression was expressed through influential/inspiring  aesthetics.

Perhaps as we grow closer to the prize of  “acceptance”/”integration” we will lose more and more of what bonded us together – pain/angst… Desperation for expression of self.

I’m eager to see what this gorgeous thing we once called “gay culture” is going to evolve into if into anything, I know I have to let go of my  definitions of what it has been- my nostalgia is part of my personal  identity. But keepsakes get heavy— the young queers of today are living in a world I never thought I’d see in my lifetime- And they  appear to be packing very lite baggage. I hope they can help develop new tools or better ways to use the old ones.

Metamorphosis Uncertain