Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Instant Disco History, Vol.1

Voggue - Dancin' The Night Away (6:18) Atlantic 1981

Two Canadian sisters, affecting a vapid image that simultaneously conjured the brittle fashion of the Dynasty uber-bitches and the hair-dont's of heavy metal rockers Poison, somehow delivered an elegant and elegial tome to disco culture, then being dismantled as disco, homophobia and "gay cancer" began their solemn pas de trois.

Breezy, jazzy, chugging and mid-tempo, a quintessential summer record, the track was a full-stop rebellion against the 136 bpm hi-NRG anthems crowding that period's dance chart. Therefore, "Dancin' The Night Away" was a guaranteed floor killer and many DJs would only play it early in the evening. However, the so late it's really the next day gay club scene was having a love affair with dreamy slow disco tracks and "Dancin'" became an eventual pillar of many morning music sets. This track was produced by another Canuck duo, the husband/wife team of Denis & Denyse LePage, better known in discoland as Lime, about whom I'll doubtless write at some time. Even to this day, in their production I hear the early echoes of Madonna's "True Blue", which followed "Dancin'" five years later.

My circle of friends so adored this song, that we actually invented a specific dance for it that we would perform in a half-circle on the edge of the Parliament House dance floor, ignoring the rolled eyes of the hi-NRG queens, impatiently clutching their amyl bottles. (Here's where you visualize the 22 year old Joe doing his "Dancin' The Night Away" dance.)

Voggue followed up "Dancin'" with "Love Buzz" an uninspired copycat record that nonetheless garnered a decent audience. It remains unknown to me whether the extra "g" in Voggue was an affectation or the result of threatened legal action from the magazine of the same name. For some reason, we seemed to speculate on this quite a bit. (I know).

Looking back at the lyrics from the distance of 24 years, my own gay Da Vinci Code finds ominous prediction in the simple words. Retroactively finding tragic portent in the lyrics of disco songs would become a sobering hobby of mine, once fully engulfed in the Plague Years.

Saw you on the dance floor
Telling me you wanna go

As we danced the night away
I wanted you to stay


Monday, June 06, 2005

The Bare Bears, Conclusion

The Bare Bears, Pt.1

It rained on the long drive through the mountains. It rained while we checked in at the main gate. It rained while we fumbled with our unfamiliar tent, then it rained as we hiked down the mountain to the bonfire and disco. We stowed our plastic Target bag, full of canned Budweiser, under a picnic bench and joined the other campers around the fire. Where it rained.

And yet, it was nice. There was a mood of relaxed exhaustion among the crowd, combined with anticipation. It was Eddie's first day at Hillside and while I was disappointed with the weather and its depressing effect on attendance (many campsites were empty), I was pleased that overall he seemed to like the Hillside crowd, especially when he announced that he found "the genuine civility" of the other campers to be "most refreshing and unexpected". I had warned Eddie that at Hillside one was expected to greet every person they passed, whether on foot or from their vehicle, and he found that a charming practice. It also didn't hurt that he immediately hooked up with a friendly bear whose full white beard and matching expanse of chest hair had earned from us the natural moniker of "Santa Bear".

Saturday morning we had breakfast at the tiny canteen and giggled over the sign announcing "No Shirt, No Pants = Fabulous Service!" The guy running the canteen clearly takes his cues from the Soup Nazi, but his gruffness came with a wink. Later, we lounged poolside and watched the bears cavort and skinny dip, where I pondered a possible correlation between body size and gregariousness, because the bigger the bear - the bigger the personality, or so it seemed from my relatively diminutive vantage. I watched and wished I acted bigger than I am.

More campers arrived after breakfast, once they were sure the weather was holding. In the afternoon, we dropped in on a keg party, hosted by a vendor that offers various bear tchotchkes. The cloudy weather had disappeared and I managed to totally fuck up my eyes with sweated off sunscreen. I looked like a hairy vampire, but a few minutes under a cold shower and some saline solution returned me to human form, mostly.

Saturday night, another bonfire/disco event, this one much better attended. Still, I wasn't feeling it much. I was missing my regular camp buddies, one of whom has moved to California, the rest kept at home by Friday's rain. Also, walking around camp in the daylight, I had noticed that a surprising number of the perm sites had been vacated from the previous season. In a few notable locations, gone were the whimsical shacks, replaced by sleek hi-tech trailers with expandable room pods.

The entire camp seems a bit more modern this season, cell phones miraculously now seem to work up on the mountain, and we even found a sign announcing a Wi-Fi hotspot, "courtesy of a perm camper." Ah well, the march of the pussy campers will not be stopped. Further eroding the remote feel was the camper I spotted cruising Manhunt.net on his laptop, from his campsite "Cumalot" (Many campsites are named, some with achingly bad puns, like the aforementioned "Cumalot"...or the equally cringe-inducing "Fuckingham Palace").

Sunday morning, while Eddie was still sleeping off the Saturday bonfire, I wandered over to the Hillside Memorial Garden. Following the carved sign, nestled back against the mountain, after winding down a path through the stunning natural landscape, I came upon a circular clearing. There were two simple stone tablets, each engraved with the names of a dozen men. Some large boulders formed a natural altar of sorts, upon which were laid a collection of remembrances, some fresh picked flowers, some wilted ones, some plastic ones, and a few handwritten notes left out in protective plastic sleeves.

I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I climbed up on the rocks to examine the notes without moving them. Standing there on those rocks felt oddly sacrilegious, somehow. The notes were handwritten. Some contained just a name and some dates, others were long letters written to lost friends.

One letter, in large cursive script, began: "Al, it's been my privilege and honor to call you my friend. Thank you for your boundless love and the joy you've brought to my life. I will never stop missing you...." A few inches away, in a lucite frame, I found a newspaper obituary. The handsome man in the picture had died shortly after his 40th birthday.

I sat there on that rock and considered this place, this beautiful tranquil oasis. Even here, in these remote woods, were our stories. Were MY stories. I could hear peals of laughter rolling up the mountain from the closest tent site, but it didn't feel incongruous, it felt reassuring.

I went back to my tent and kicked Eddie awake.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Bare Bears, Part 1

It's 6am.

I awaken slowly, reluctantly, resisting any finality of movement that means I'm really going to get up this time. Before I open my eyes, I lie still...for just one more minute...and try to pick out the different types of birds whose morning songs are gently rousing me. When I do finally sit up and push the edges of my sleeping bag back, I'm overwhelmed by the fragrances of the nearby wildflowers. From last night's campfire, a lazy trail of almost invisible smoke is twirling up, making its presence known only where the verdant canopy allows the occasional golden shaft of morning light to break through to the mountain floor. I lean back on my elbows and smile to myself, quietly drinking in this rare, pristine, unspoiled meeting with nature.

And then a 300 pound naked guy walks by.

This is Hillside, the gay male, bear-friendly, disco included, clothing optional campground in the eastern Poconos of Pennsylvania. There's a network of similar campgrounds around North America, but Hillside is the only one I've ever been to. When the rest of gay Manhattan spends their summer weekend out on Fire Island or in Provincetown, I've been spending some of mine at Hillside Campground.

Hillside Campground is a strange beast, with a physical layout that clearly delineates the various cultures and cliques of its clientele. On the lower levels are trailers and cabins. Some of the trailers are as luxuriously appointed as a corporate jet, with opulent bedrooms and satellite television. Rumor has it that one mad queen actually has Reba McIntyre's old tour bus. Some of the cabins and trailers are opulently landscaped, with small bridges to their front doors and whimsical ornaments hanging from the lush greenery that surrounds them. This lower level of the campground is entirely populated by "perms", campground terminology for campers that live on-site all summer long, some even staying throughout the week.

Further up the mountain, the terrain becomes too steep for most trailers. This is where the "temps", the folks who only come on the occasional weekend, stay. There is a bit of a social disconnect between the perms and temps, because some temps consider the trailer/cabin crowd to by "pussy campers", whereas the folks further up the mountain actually stay in tents. The temp areas tend to be wilder, louder, friendlier. But even the non-pussy campers are pampered by picnic tables, grills, larger shower/restroom facilities and a water/electricity hook-up.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the entire camp, which can number up to a couple of thousand guys, gathers on one of the lower levels for a giant bonfire. There's an open-air disco next to the bonfire, and here's where you can find yourself dancing to Donna Summer next to Radical Faeries, bears, leathermen and the occasional baffled twink.

Hook-ups around the bonfire are common, but if that doesn't happen, there's always the dark area behind the rec hall, where shadowy figures and glowing cigarettes are all that can be discerned. That area seems to frighten me for some reason, and I never go back there. Really.

Most of my time at Hillside is spent traipsing from one campsite to another, always trying to keep up with the cocktail invitations delivered at the previous night's bonfire. The campers tend to arrive in huge extended families of men, most of whom have known each other for decades, it seems. There's a genuine, unforced conviviality that quickly disarms even the most cynical among us.

Now, as for the nakedness...yes, there's a lot of it. A lot. And the usual sort of illogic that applies to nude beaches seems to be in place here. You know, the less you'd want to see somebody naked, the more likely that they will be one of the naked people. But pretty quickly, you stop noticing that the guy you are talking to is naked, and you carry on discussing American Idol or whatever. (For the record, I'm not one of the naked people. Never have been, never will. Not that there's anything wrong with it.)

Today, I'm leaving for my first Hillside weekend of the summer. It's one of their themed weekends, "Bears In The Woods". One thing about bear events, you can always, always guarantee that the food is going to be great.

Continue to conclusion.....

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Field Report From IML

A tranny, a twink, and a bear
Were dancing and singing to Cher
As sex parties go
This was not apropos
And the host gave them all such a stare.

(Thanks to GT for the gossip. Apologies to GT for reporting said gossip in limerick form.)