The Gate Is Always Open For You!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How Anne Rice Influenced My Life.

Many of my friends know that novelist Anne Rice is one of my heroes. I was eighteen years old when I first picked up her 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire. That book changed my life, it possessed my heart. The vampire genre had little to do with what lured me into her spell of words. These creatures never inspired me until I met the gorgeous, resilient Louis de Pointe du Lac in those sacred pages. To be frank, the only vampire book I had ever read was Bram Stoker's Dracula in a condensed form when I was sixteen years old. I didn't care much for it. But I loved Bela Lugosi's iconic portrayal of the seductive blood sucking fiend.
I fondly remember prowling through my elementary school library as a precocious child hungry for monsters and things that go bump in the night. I was in 2nd Grade reading these large  baby-shit yellow, lovingly tattered, and worn hardbacks of the old MGM horror films such as King Kong, Tarantula (I managed to get through that terror even though I had severe arachnophobia and still do), The Blob, It Came From Outer Space, The Preying Mantis, The Day The Earth Stood Still , Frankenstein, and lastly the vampires: Dracula and Nosferatu. These books were my first encounters with outsiders. I felt right at home mixed in with the company of the damned and deplorable. How I loved them. What I liked most about these spooks were the haunting metaphors they portrayed. Even as a small child, I realized they represented something deep, and as I got older those metaphors came alive with a palpable fruition. These characters represent the monsters inside of us all, even if we don't want to admit it.

 I had previously been to New Orleans twice (my cousin lives there). This was way before hurricane Katrina came along and blew it away and Anne Rice was actually living comfortably within the Garden District. I was completely unaware. My memories of New Orleans are simple and lively:

 I remember riding the green rickety St. Charles street car through the Garden District with my parents (for they had once lived in New Orleans as newlyweds), I remember the large buttress oak trees with their gnarled branches stretching across the sky in a dark shade of formidable green covering the gorgeous Greek revival mansions of the old district. There were other trees that had the haunting grey Louisiana swamp moss dangling in large clusters from the ancient branches to give a more cozy feel to the neighborhood. I recall the rotting putrid stench of piss and shit rising up through the sultry sewers. The fumes permeated through Magazine Street. I have memories of looking at antiques in large mortar brick buildings that were hot as hell inside because cooling systems were never installed. The building breathed in desperation through the open windows. The smell of old dust and aged lacquered wood is still fresh in my nostrils. The heat was fiercely dreadful and oppressive. It reminded me of a heavy gauntlet on my shoulder that would never let up, it just sweltered and boiled. It cooked my soul. Sometimes it would start raining in the daylight and my mom would call it liquid sunshine because of the tropical humidity.

I will never forget Bourbon Street. It was the first place I had ever seen a strip club and one could smell the rank odor of cigarette smoke drifting through the thoroughfare. The immaculate buildings that aligned the street had large opened two-story balconies that would reveal a bustling French Quarter. Black rout iron fencing wrapped around the ledges to protect patrons. Large lush green ferns hung from the ceilings of these French inspired dwellings from hooks and long black chains that were attached to metal baskets. The effort produced a beautiful image of grace and mystique. It was sensual to see the Parisian flair mingle with the Southern antebellum.

Catholicisms enveloped all around me. It was strange to see religion mix so well with the wild revelry and sin below the large steeples. New Orleans has an erotic decadence running through it. The St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square was daunting and graceful to behold with its large towers rising above the Quarter. I have always been fascinated by death, and I was fortunate enough to see the famous Roman Catholic cemetery St. Louis #1 before its watery demise by Mother Nature. These cemeteries are above ground. Some of the most beguiling and beautiful crypts and tombs reside here. I was completely unaware that the literary vagabond Vampire Lestat made his home here in Rice's work. But I knew that the infamous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau was laid to rest in this hallowed ground. It was something to go to her mausoleum.I remember being captivated by the story of Marie Laveau and wouldn't stop talking about her to my parents.

I have fond memories of the French Market with all its produce, souvenirs, and people bustling around in the humid sunshine. And no visit to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Cafe Du Monde. They have the most delicious and buttery beignets loaded with mountains of powdered sugar! Then there is the might Mississippi River to behold in southern splendor from the residing park. You can see "Dixie Gates", which are two bridges stretching over the river connecting the Crescent City with the West Bank town of Gretna. I remember watching sailors coming in from the gulf on battleships as homeless people were sleeping in the park to the sounds of steamboats churning in the water, jovial steam calliopes playing spirited melodies, and excited men waiting to touch land and have a rousing good time in the city that care forgot.

The setting of Anne Rice's novels surrounded me at that time, yet I was too young to even know it. However,  I had my memory to conjure it all back up. The stage was set and her world was waiting for me silently with a fierce patience. Fast forward: I am eighteen years old, in the midst of becoming an adult for the first time...

My introduction to Anne Rice came from my aunt in 2005, she is not a reader. However, my aunt loves movies and adores vampires. She remembers watching the campy 70's soap opera Dark Shadows with vampire Barnabas Collins and his werewolf cousin. I used to watch reruns of the soap on the Sci-Fi channel. Who can forget the corny supernatural cries howling through the television speakers as dark moonlit waves crashed hard against the ominous rocky cliffs? I had been attending a Bible College in San Francisco Bay Area and was home for Spring Break. My aunt excitedly asked me if I had seen the film Interview with the Vampire. I told her I hadn't, but had heard about it for quite sometime and that the book was written by a woman named Anne Rice. My aunt had recorded it on television and we started to watch. By the end of the film something in me changed. I was crying. I can't explain it really...but I "got" the movie. I loved watching Lestat drive across the Golden Gate Bridge while Guns N' Roses sang a smashing cover of "Sympathy for the Devil". Another reason I was moved is because the film is set in San Francisco. I had always had a love affair with that city. The film offers some haunting cinematography of the city-by-the-bay. Another thing struck me as odd: I realized that the characters were actually residing not too far from where I was living at the time. I was in the setting.

The next morning I rushed to Wal-Mart and bought a paperback of Interview with the Vampire and finished reading it in two days. The story absolutely grabbed me. I fell in love with her style of prose. Its lush description and her erotic undercurrents captivated me. She was the first author I had ever encountered that saw the world as I did. I've always felt like I didn't belong anywhere. I was lonely, confused about my religion and what the church was telling me was sin and I inherently didn't believe the world to be evil, and all these philosophical questions were being raised through this sympathetic reanimated, blood-sucking corpse named Louis de Point du Lac who did not enjoy killing innocent people, but did because he had The Dark Gift. After reading the novel I started doing research on it's creator Anne Rice.

In a nutshell I came to find out that she was originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, had been a devout Catholic all her young life, her real name was Howard Francis Allen O'Brien, but when she started parochial school she told the her teacher her name was Anne and from then on it was. At fourteen; her mother died of alcoholism, and the young Anne O'Brien broke with the Church and became an atheist when she started college. The reason she lost her faith is because when she stepped onto a college campus for the first time, her mind was opened and free to explore anything she wanted. She didn't have the Legion of Decency and the Index of Forbidden Books looming over her. She was confused and was discovering the real world for the first time. Even though she was an atheist, she had strong morals and kept them. She always desired a meaningful life. She later moved to San Francisco, California to continue her studies. It wasn't long till her high school sweet heart Stan Rice proposed to her through a letter. She flew back to Richardson, Texas and married him becoming the name the world would eventually know her as: Anne Rice.

They moved back to San Francisco and enrolled in San Francisco State University. It was during this time that the great Summer of Love was happening. They lived in the middle of it within the Haight-Ashbury district. She was determined to get an education. Stan was already creating a name for himself through his poetry and eventually became a professor at San Francisco State in the English Department. Anne became pregnant and gave birth to a girl. They named her Michelle and she became the center of their lives. Anne had always been fascinated by gay relationships and she would incorporate this into her short stories. I firmly believe that if you are repressed hard by certain things you will explore them someway or another and Anne did so in her writings. Stan was becoming a local celebrity and Anne was the proverbial little wife and mother sitting in the back room typing away.

To Stan and Anne's horror, their daughter Michelle was diagnosed with leukemia and died just before her sixth birthday. This almost destroyed their marriage and they drowned their pain in alcohol while living in Berkeley. One night, Anne pulled out a short story she had written called Interview with the Vampire. She decided to expand it into something more. Anne would stay up through the night typing away, drinking beer, and pouring everything she wanted to discuss and grieve about into the key characters of Louis, Lestat, Claudia (a small child that was transformed into a vampire who was immortal), Gabrielle, and Armand. The story was cathartic. Two years later, the work was published by Alfred A. Knoph and it forever changed the vampire genre. Anne Rice evenhandedly reinvented it. Interview with the Vampire was her salvation so to speak and became a cult classic.

In 1998 Anne Rice returned to the Catholic Church after experiencing a religious conversion. During that time she wrote two novels that dealt with the life of Jesus Christ. Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. Being disgruntled with the Catholic Church's persecution of gay people, their abstinence of not supplying birth control, the destructive pedophilia scandal, and their views on women Anne Rice walked away from Organized Religion. On July 29, 2010 she publicly stated via her Facebook page:

"For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
 She followed up with:
 “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
She followed up again:
"My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become."
And lastly:
"My commitment to Christ remains at the heart and center of my life. Transformation in Him is radical and ongoing. That I feel now that I am called to be an outsider for Him, to step away from the words, "Christian" and "Christianity" is something that my conscience demands of me. I feel that my faith in Him demands this of me. I know of no other way to express how I must remove myself from those things which seek to separate me from Him."

I never had a severed break with my religion, but I ended up thinking outside of the box and chewing on the meat, while spitting out the bones so to speak. Anne Rice was the first person to let me know, "Its okay to think this way and explore." The Independent Fundamental Baptists didn't like that.

When I came back to college after Spring Break I would go to the library and read her books. I even hid some of the them in my dorm room. One time, I brought one of her books from the library and my dorm supervisor discovered it while I was in my room. He started reading a passage aloud and said, "Kevin this stuff is evil trash, why do you have this here?" I replied, "Anne Rice is one of the greatest authors in the world. You should check her out! It's not trash, it's lovely and she sees the world as I do." His face turned red and he this deep angry expression started to form upon his face. He  threw the book in a trash can and demanded it be thrown in the large green dumpster outside. I looked at him and said, "You should treat all books with respect, no book deserves to be thrown in a trash can or burned. You wouldn't do that to your Holy Bible would you? What's more, it isn't even my property. It belongs to the public library. They wouldn't be to happy to see this. And I absolutely love her style of writing! You can't stop a person from reading. It's not the Dark Ages." I thought the flesh on his face was gonna melt off like the villain on Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Arch! He demanded it be taken back didn't go back till I was done reading it. I was exceedingly proud of my rebellion and standing up for what I believed in.

The Bible College phase burned out. I couldn't take it any longer There was simply too many people being hypocritical and when I didn't agree with someone's view they lashed out in hatred, it made me feel ostracized and inferior. I didn't go looking for trouble, but I just didn't have their convictions. Never was, never will, never hope to. I remember this preacher ranting about the sin of the world and how he was tired of identifying with it. To this day, I still have this piece of paper in my Bible. It reads: Some preacher's talk about being sick of identifying with the world. In my case, I am sick of identifying with the Church." I still believe in God and am a practicing Christian, but I'm not rigid and so close-minded that it appears I'm brainwashed. You cannot keep a person locked away from reality. If you do, your not saving that person, your hurting him or her. They won't be able to function.

When I moved back to Arkansas I decided that I was going to collect one authors complete works in First Edition Hardback. I chose Anne Rice, surprise! This was exciting, it became like a game and I can't tell you how awesome it was to explore all those used bookstores and for her works! I love her book covers, they are beautiful and each one is special. It took me two years to complete the process. I have all thirty-two of her novels in hardback. Twelve are actually signed now. My collection is priceless and it's always a conversation starter when people look at my vast library made up of immaculate hardbacks. I love seeing the gleam in their eyes.

Anne Rice is my hero and my friend. On February 24, 2012 I got to meet her face to face for the first time.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Boys In The Band

I wanted to veer off into another genre: Queer Cinema. I chose this genre simply because I wanted to explore something different since I now possess the freedom to look into anything I desire without feeling guilty about it. If one chooses to explore it, he or she must advance to intellectual nirvana with caution back home. I worked in an entertainment superstore in Batesville, Arkansas for one year. During that time I had customers ask me where the "gay" films were in a hushed voice. Sadly, I had to take them over to the Foreign Films section because that is where the majority of them are filed away. Its not many. It always frustrated me that we had to keep these films in a proverbial back room, so to speak. They were basically locked up like a dirty secret. I have never believed in censorship of any kind, whatsoever.  But they are there, waiting to be viewed.

My hometown is predominantly rigid Baptist and Pentecostal. I miss home, but it took moving to California to fall in love with it. The Bay Area has opened my mind with a sense of limitlessness, but my "flyover" state of Arkansas will always be home. I know that the sheer goodness that lies within the Ozark Foothills will never be extinguished because the people that inhabit that region of the country have an eternal flame.

The city and county of San Francisco, California has a rich, fascinating, and confusing history. Lately, Ive been collecting books on the history of my great city to fill the shelves of my ever growing library. I could take the time and tell you the history of San Francisco in a nutshell, but this is not the time. However, I will say this: when you boil it all down; the city of San Francisco is inhabited still to this day by risk-takers, dreamers, artists, writers, musicians, outsiders, and people on the quest of finding themselves. The inhabitants of San Francisco are transcending life every day and our Golden Gate Bridge is our symbol of freedom and acceptance to continue transcending no matter what the world may say. Its our invitation to you personally to flock here, and discover yourself in our streets and rolling hills. The gate is always open. Its been called "Baghdad by the Bay" and "Sodom by the Sea". San Francisco has always commanded people to gawk their attention towards it. Its the loudest, flamboyant city stage I know of. It's citizens all know by now that God knows, anything goes.

My fellow Baptists in Arkansas were not the one's that made me an activist for Gay Rights, it was the Imperial Galactic Independent Fundamental Baptist Empire during my Bible College days that made me stand up for what I believe in. I once told a professor of mine:

 "I see all these people around me so in love with what they are doing for the glory of God. They are in the zone of their passions for Him. But I am absolutely miserable, I don't possess that joy within my heart. I don't feel that desire. Honestly, I feel that they are all trying to push their convictions on me. If I don't agree with them, they argue with me and it converts into hatred. I feel condemned. I cannot, and will not be forced to believe in their convictions when I inherently don't view the entire world as evil, sinful, and inherently evil. I don't feel bad for believing differently from them and whats more, I don't think God is staring down at me with a large hot lighting bolt aimed for my head! I don't have their convictions and I will not be moved. I am not ashamed. My curiosity and obsessions rule me, and I believe that is God given and far from Satan spawned."

He was moved by my statement and didn't know what to say. Looking back now, I think that is the first time I realized I needed to get the hell out of the ministry because it was too extreme and close minded. I didn't fit in...I was an outsider amongst those who belonged there because I thought outside the box.

 It still amazes me how Christians treat gay people. You can be a recovering raging alcoholic, a drug infested zombie trying to get off deadly substance abuse, you can even be a whoring adulterer with a sex fetish, an abusive wife or husband who hurts not only the significant other, but the children, and residing family members: and you can be washed in the Blood of the Lamb, be forgiven, and turn your life around without being hounded. People rejoice that you finally found the love of Jesus to get you through your daily battles. But...if your a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning person there is no hope. You are damned for all eternity without even being pitied with the likes or whores, drunks, and deadbeat parents. Your basically given a one way ticket down the elevator shaft to a flaming, boiling, dark, sulfur incensed, scream-filled corridor of roasting, demon infested hell! I'm baffled that Christians, who are supposed to be loving and accepting people, treat homosexuals like steaming manure. The persecution of gay people is evil, pretentious, and malicious. I strongly believe that "Christians" need to take a long look in the mirror and realize that so many people hate them and that the people's hearts are hardened towards the Love of Christ is because it's the so called "Christians" own damned fault! It's ridiculous to me that Christians pick that so called one SIN and do a Riverdance number on it!!!

I started fighting strongly for Gay Rights and being an advocate for their causes when I was in Bible College. The proverbial straw that broke the camels back for me personally was when I heard a well respected preacher (I won't reveal his name) during a Pastor's Conference use the word "faggot" from the pulpit. He also pranced around the stage and talked in a feminine manner not only to illustrate one of his points, but to also make the audience laugh. He also condemned every homosexual to the burning, boiling, dark bowels of stinking hell! I sat in the pew utterly discussed and angry. I even looked at my friend and whispered, "What a foolish asshole. I wish I could just leave." I couldn't believe a "Man of God" was doing this. So much for compassion and love! I also witnessed other preacher-boys: "supposed men of God", who were called to preach the Gospel refer to each other as "faggot" and "gay" to one another in the dorms and restrooms. Nothing made sense anymore, I was terribly confused and angered. After that, I threw every preacher's view of homosexuality out the window. I became tired of identifying with the Church on that issue.

We would have these trips to San Francisco. While on our way there other students would make comments like, "You know all the gays live there, its Sodom and Gomorrah, filthy Sodomites! They are all going to hell if they don't repent!" I was repulsed, sickened, and infuriated. I remember standing up for the city, and the gays. By this time I had been doing extensive research on all the districts etc. and the history of the city. I asked them to just listen to themselves talk! I then said, "Its not all gay. If you want to see gay go to the Castro, that's where it all is. There is so much more to this splendid city besides that. You're all a bunch of close-minded hypocritical Stepford robots from space! You don't even realize that San Francisco was a city built by outsiders and that the Golden Gate is a symbol of freedom for anyone: gay, straight, or bisexual to come here and find themselves. San Francisco is one of the most loving, diverse, and accepting cities in the world, and you guys make me want to puke when you speak of this epic city in such ways! I think you're all backwards for thinking like this when you live in one of the most liberal areas in the country!!!" 

Jesus H. Christ! Torches were lit and I had to run like mad!!! The story has a happy ending: I got out of the ministry, discovered Anne Rice, and continued to explore my Divine curiosity and interests! Bible College was exhaustive and suffocating. I believe that was the toughest part of my young life so far.

The picture you see above this post is taken from Mart Crowley's play The Boys in the Band (its not a musical). It was the first gay themed play ever to grace the dimly lit stage of an off-Broadway production in New York City. It was a colossal success. Mart Crowley had been down on his luck and residing through a huge storm of unfathomable depression. A good friend of his asked him to house-sit her residence for one month as she was flying off to do business. He was on the verge of being homeless, so he took the chance to live for one month in her Beverly Hills mansion. One late evening he was was having bouts on insomnia. He sat up in bed with a large ream of yellow legal pad and started writing obscure dialogue from the top of his head. Thus the The Boys was born. The following day he started typing out his soul and his own feelings towards homosexuality. It should be noted that Mart Crowley is not a gay man. When the play was finished being produced from a typewriter he began looking for someone to buy it, while his manager tried to discourage him. He was terrified it would ruin Crowley's career. Crowley decided not to listen and eventually sold his play. 

After it's success on off-Broadway it was brought to the attention of film director William Friedkin (who's cinematic masterpiece is The Exorcist). In 1970 Friedkin transformed The Boys in the Band into film and it has become a legacy. I won't go into the plot details, but it involves a group of gay men who have assembled for Harold's 40th birthday bash in a New York City apartment. As the evening grows later, the alcohol starts pouring, and the claws start coming out of the closet after a special game is devised. Each man must call the one person they love the most via telephone. In so doing, their past scars and revelations are conjured up, and are revealed to one another and the audience. My favorite line in the entire play is:

Harold: "You're a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be, but there's nothing you can do to change it. Not all the prayers to your god, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you've go left to live. You may one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough. If you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate. But you'll always be homosexual as well. Always Michael. Always. Until the day you die."    

The film is exceptionally clean-cut, philosophical, heart wrenching, full of brilliant comical one-liners, and offers a sympathetic view of homosexuality. You, the viewer, will laugh and weep for the boys in the band. 

Queer Cinema should not be considered taboo. There is nothing pornographic about it. Each film discusses the issue of homosexuality through hysterical humor, heart break, profound morals, and a sense of majestic grace and optimism. Some films that I have recently watched in the genre include:

1. The Celluloid Closet- A touching documentary based off Vito Russo's work of the same title about the role of gays and lesbians in our Cinematic history. It has a sweeping score, is narrated by Lily Tomlin and has interviews with Tom Hanks, Whoopie Goldberg, Susan Surrandon, Shirley McCalin, and a host of others. I recently purchased the book in a used bookstore for my library.
2. The Boys in the Band
3. The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
4. The Edge of Seventeen
4. The Children's Hour
5. Camp
6. Sordid Lives
7. Female Trouble
8. Pink Flamingos
9. But, I'm A Cheerleader
10. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
11. Suddenly Last Summer
12. Mommie Dearest 
13. Torch Song Trilogy 
14. Latter Days
15. Milk
16. Fried Green Tomatoes

Each of these films have perfected scripts, exceptional morals, flawless acting, and have won prestigious awards and accolades from organizations like Sun-Dance, and  the the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. A few are cult classics and classics, but are considered part of the genre. If you get a chance, seek them out and watch these amazing films. I'm sure you will love them.