DRUM & DRUMMER:
WHO'S WHO: THE FIRST GENERATION
This historical essay was written June 1995 for the twentienth-anniversary issue of Drummer Magazine upon special request of its then-current editor.
As the oldest living Drummer editor, and as a 20-year-witness, O Baby, I personally here dub that first decade of Drummer during the Golden Age of Sex as THE TITANIC 70'S. As more than a mere survivor, I testify that everything then was very grand, indeed. Everyone on board was a star. We sailed a sea of sex and art, like gods, until the iceberg of a cold plague ripped through the immune systems of nearly everyone who was anyone. Some of us were left rowing in a lifeboat: a small band of survivors. Even before the mid-70's beginnings of Drummer and to the present, I have--driven by the scholarship of pop-culture--kept notes and tapes and have served as a purposeful historian of Drummer as well as of male-identified gay culture. As Drummer's founding San Francisco editor-in-chief, I added a pointed tag line to the masthead of Drummer in 1977: "The Magazine of Gay Popular Culture." As Drummer's long list of publishers, owners, editors, talent, and staff came and went, I remained faithful to the concept of the absolute Drummerness of Drummer being Drummer. Through 20 years, Drummer itself has endured stronger than any one person and stronger than any attack of censorship or virus.
WHERE'S THE NEW ISSUE OF DRUMMER?
Readers in general and fans of Drummer in particular have no idea of how immensely difficult it is to pull together even one issue of a magazine with all its elements of writing, drawing, photography, design, editing, advertising, and subscriptions. In my journals, files, experience, mind, and heart, the publishers and editors and writers--all the vast talents--all sit stored and storied like Indians in the Cupboard. Drummer's original art director, the artist A. Jay, more than once called me--with his famous great irony--the Original Mr. Drummer--and then he laughed and laughed because he saw the cultural foolishness of trying to be a lifebuoy for a masculine-identified magazine in a gay world identified with Bette and Barbra.
An editor is to a magazine what a director is to a movie. Editor-in-chief is a wonderfully terrible job. At its best, it's collaborative dysfunction--just like opera and pro-baseball. In publishing as in the real world, strong editors who are "nice" are often dismissed as weak, and editors who say "no" are considered to be shits. Publishing Drummer ain't never been for sissies. Actually, all persons who have contributed anything to the actual pages of Drummer during the first 20 years deserve a small trophy naming them "Mr. Drummer," because Drummerness is more than a leather sash. For instance, Drummer's premiere artist, A. Jay was, himself, a celebrity when we took up the new-born baby Drummer in 1977, spanked it, and made it cry out with a voice. A. Jay was the author of the first important gay comic strip, "Harry Chess," which he brought to Drummer's pages when he left his job of art direction at Queen's Quarterly magazine in Manhattan to direct the art and design of Drummer.
DRUMMER'S COLLECTIVE VOICE
An army of talent--literally hundreds of people: men and women--have contributed to the nearly 20,000 pages this anniversary issue celebrates. In the first days in San Francisco in the 70's, publisher John Embry gave me a free hand with the infant magazine he had brought as a refugee from LA's fascist police. Surrounded by lisping gay mags, I tried to create a ballsy voice for Drummer in both style and content. Embry embraced the tone and themes meant to appeal to masculine men who prefer erotic literature with leather, SM, and punctuation. In 1978, inviting reader participation, I invented "Tough Customers" as a Drummer column in order to showcase actual Drummer readers as inter-active sex stars whose celebrity shined in dungeons, bars, and bike clubs. I actively solicited their faces and voices, but, at the first, I couldn't even get them to show their faces in their own photographs! That attitude changed and "Tough Customers" became its own magazine.
In the 20-year story of Drummer, my job was to discover and mentor other artists and writers. Besides editing more than 1,200 Drummer pages, my own work, as thematic thread reflects the similar careers of other progressive editors like Joseph Bean. But while beating the bushes for talent, I have written approximately 400 full pages of Drummer (fiction, feature articles, personality interviews, erotic reviews, and leather history columns such as this "Rear View Mirror"), and have tallied another nearly 100 pages in photographs including many centerfolds and covers. For nearly three years, as editor-in-chief, my resume was married to Drummer (in sickness and in health, including the many dark months of publisher Embry's illness when A. Jay and I took the reins of Drummer and made it what it was by 1979, so we could give a fully realized magazine back to a happily recovered John Embry). This anniversary issue, like the 100th Issue of Drummer, reflects a complex, wicked, and wonderful world of personalities who can be best celebrated as sex in-laws, art outlaws, and artists who can live on no income whatsoever.
DRUMMER'S CHICAGO ROOTS
Drummer was, once, in 1975, a young magazine that was only TV Guide-size when erotic 'zines themselves were hardly newer than 1969's new laws allowing frontal nudity. The actual forebearers of Drummer were Bob Mizer's masculine Physique Pictorial out of his Athletic Model Guild in Los Angeles, and Chuck Renslow's leather-and-muscle-themed 'zines Mars and Triumph which Renslow created out of his Kris Studio in Chicago with the artist Etienne/Stephen. The stylized leather drawings of Etienne (whose name was Dom Orejudos) appeared early and often in Drummer. In 1965, the Janus Society of Philadelphia published a nude 'zine titled Drum, which suggested Drummer's more active name a decade later. Even so, with all this lineage, Drummer, at its founding, was so avant garde it was only the third large-format gay magazine founded after Stonewall, and the very first devoted to masculine men who march to Henry David Thoreau's different drummer. What made Drummer different was that it was masculine-identified and supposedly "queen-free," plus its attitude was imported from the values of the American Heartland.
Beginning in 1965 I lived in both Chicago and San Francisco. In Chicago in the mid 60's, I was a graduate student and then a tenured university professor. Chicago gave me two educations. The first was in American literature, but the more important tutorial was coming out into full-blown Chicago Leather in 1967 courtesy of Chuck Renslow, who is one of masculinism's most important leather forefathers. Renslow's Kris Studio, always celebrating more mature rugged models, and his classic leather bar, The Gold Coast, fed my taste for masculine men. So, Chicago-influenced, I fully understood the very early masculinist tradition that was already in San Francisco when Drummer was invented in the very different world of Los Angeles leather. (Need proof of these mid-west roots? To this day, the only contest that rivals Mr. Drummer is Chuck Renslow's annual International Mr. Leather.) So with both literature and leather in my repertoire, I thought John Embry quite clever to quote Thoreau who as poet and activist was as important to American culture as he was to American literature. Embry's nod to Thoreau, like Renslow's leathery biker masculinity, was my cue in 1977 to develop men's erotic writing in Drummer's still tentative pages. As a genre, "Leather Lit" (so later named by editor Tim Barrus) began in Drummer. So, symbolically, Thoreau was the patron saint whom Drummer celebrated in what became a flood of gay talent, male and female, including the great poet who wrote so early and so well on leather, Thom Gunn.
SOME DANCE TO REMEMBER
Who knew that so many of the gifted--so brilliant and dynamic--were doomed to die from guns, drugs, and viruses? Had I known that the Titanic ship Drummer would draw on board such talent, I would have kept even more extensive journal entries, recorded more audio tape interviews, shot more photographs. I mean, really, who knew? (To a very surprised, and very, very young man who once demanded I show him the video footage of the Stonewall Riot, I gave the reminder that there was no video available to ordinary people before 1981!) My advice to any twentysomething is the same advice Drummer-friendly British film director and activist Derek Jarman would give: record your life and the life of your friends who can't or won't take notes on their own adventures the way my one-time lover, Robert Mapplethorpe (whose first ever magazine cover was in fact Drummer# 24) left nothing but his glorious photographs and me with the promise to him to write about his life as we lived it when Drummer was a baby.
As I had made Drummer-like fiction of the Titanic 70s of all of us who had been friends and enemies and lovers and artists together in the Drummer-born 1990 novel Some Dance to Remember, so I tried to make accurate memoir of the 70's in the 1994 nonfiction book titled, Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera. Publisher Tony DeBlase, whose reputation hangs on his healthy respect for non-revisionist leather history, featured parts of both books in the nurturing pages of Drummer. I used my Mapplethorpe book even more than I used Some Dance to record gay history not just about Mapplethorpe or Drummer, but to mention in addition--very purposefully to get their names between two hard covers--the names of some of the Drummer-allied artists, photographers, writers, gallery owners, sex stars, and creators of gay male pop culture who might otherwise fall through the cracks of history. The men who founded the leather bars, baths, and clubs whom we often reviewed in Drummer were also the advertisers whose dollars supported Drummer. The guys who created The Tool Box, The Mineshaft, The Ambush, The Brig, Man's Country, St. Mark's Baths, The Catacombs, and the huge variety of bike clubs and fetish clubs are in their own way as much the celebrity stars of Drummer as the writers and photograpers, because leather is a lifestyle that is even greater than the magazine that reflects it best.
My Drummer-driven purpose has always been to insure some remembrance for these wonderful evanescent people who kept no record of themselves but their work which was larger than they were at the time (like Wakefield Poole's films and parties which are chronicled in early Drummer). In the 70's, most gay men lived for the day with no thought of tomorrow. They were all such innocents that most of them had no idea they'd father a new and younger gay generation. That's maybe the way between parent and child: the child automatically rejects the parent's values the way the 90's decade keeps trying to re-write, reject, and re-construct the 70's. Now is now; but then! Then! Then there was the hot tempo of the Titanic Decade, when we partied on Sexual Liberation's Maiden Voyage and boogied in the main salons, the main saloons, the ship's gallery, its gyms, cruising on its decks from upper class to lower class, with the heaviest sex happening down in the elbow-grease of the ship's hold where muscular men, stripped to nothing but jockstraps and boots worn with grey socks (with a red ring and a green ring around the calf) shoveled coal into the hot furnaces below...Ah! But that's another story for another issue!
THE GREAT L.A. SLAVE AUCTION
In 1967, eight years before the advent of Drummer, I helped found the American Popular Culture Association, so that when Gay Lib really began as a pop cult movement in 1970, I kept the journals and notes that daily tracked by dates, names, and happenings the course of the Titanic 70's which was the Golden Age of Male Sexual Liberation. When Al Shapiro, the artist A. Jay, whose feature obituary tribute I wrote for Drummer issue #107, asked me to meet with John Embry who had just fled Los Angeles to escape persecution by the LA police who, I think, hated Drummer's co-efficient of masculinity, because male-identified queers who were as butch as the cops scared the cops about their own bonding. Leathermeister Embry had been busted at his charitable fundraiser, "The Great L.A. Slave Auction," which made him to me kind of an activist hero. At almost the same time, Embry had split from the original group--including Jeanne Barney--who had conceived of Drummer. When A. Jay brought John Embry to my home, I liked Embry so much I agreed to take on his newly orphaned mag, not just for the $200 an issue, but for the chance to take his Los Angeles 'zine, mix it with Chicago leather, add some bar-bath-and-street smarts, and turn it into a San Francisco magazine that would virtually "invent" an international lifestyle.
THE DRUMMER FRATERNITY
Drummer was the center of a talent pool. Embry's lover, Mario Simon, was a top-selling disco singer in Spain. My friend, Robert Opel, who streaked the 1975 Academy Awards, was a writer and photographer whose work vivified Drummer until he was murdered in the first South of Market art gallery, Fey Way, in July 1979. Fred Halsted, the LA sadist, leatherman, bar-owner, publisher, and filmmaker, who was the S&M Leather King of the West Coast, frequently wrote columns for Drummer. The ruggedly masculine Halsted by his very presence set a Renaissance standard for the new male lifestyle in leather. Halsted, in fact, was one of the first strict arbiters of masculine-identified homosexual taste. Halsted the Top usually featured his blond lover, Joey Yale, in his films. Quickly, they became the first public Master and Slave model-couple in Drummer. Halsted's two male-identified films, L.A. Plays Itself and Sextool entered the permanent collection of the MOMA by 1979. Halsted, after the death of Joey Yale in 1988, committed suicide in 1990.
Pornstar Richard Locke, who starred in many male films, was the first Daddy presented in Drummer when I proposed a policy in Drummer #22 to break the age ceiling as we had broken the masculine barrier. That year a foreign film titled In Praise of Older Women prompted me in Drummer to begin a continuing theme "In Praise of Older Men" which developed into the Daddy-Son Categories. Two other Drummer "firsts" were the introduction of 1) the serious Gay Interview with a Gay Celebrity, and 2) serious reviews of gay artists' work. Drummer #27 featured an interview with the First Gay Filmmaker, Wakefield Poole, whose box-office smash, Boys in the Sand, a gay phenom reviewed by the New York Times, eventually brought pornstars like Casey Donovan, Roger, Bill Harrison, Mickey Squires, J. D. Slater, Al Parker, Val Martin, and Richard Locke into Drummer's offices, pages, and beds. Porn superstar Chris Burns, in fact, was the lover of latter-day Drummer editor, Jim-Ed Thompson.
Early on, Drummer's serious reviews of gay artists' work paid solid attention to the first films of Derek Jarman and Peter Berlin. Al Shapiro and I entertained the legendary Tom of Finland whom we networked through San Francisco on his first trip to the US. The incredible Brit Bill Ward is another international artist aligned with Drummer from the first; Ward's erotic drawing strip "Drum" still reflects the masculine, ideal men of leather and SM fantasy. Other artists like Harry Bush (who drew pen-and-ink versions of Physique Pictorial) and Luger (who was actually Colt Studios) arrived full-grown at Drummer. Other artists, like The Hun, actually developed from juvenalia to sophistication in the pages of Drummer. The artist, however, who most embodies Drummer's fetish text and secret-sauce subtext, is the reclusive American artist REX, who has drawn much for Drummer including the significant cover for Drummer #100. REX, whose name is always all caps, is an example of the perfect artist who has driven the mind and eye of Drummer by expanding the visual and psychological form and content of male-identified art.
Early Drummer also featured the fiction of the "Grandfather of Gay Writing," Sam Steward aka Phil Andros, who connected Drummer to the likes of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Thornton Wilder, and leather-filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Sam was very much part of the Renslow-Chicago connection; he had taught at Chicago's De Pauw University until he was fired when the school discovered that for many years Sam had been running--between classes--his own sleazy tattoo and sex parlor down in the Loop! As the 60's became the 70's, Sam moved to the Bay Area. The Leather Priest, Jim Kane, introduced us at a dinner party in 1971. In 1974, the State of Michigan Council on the Arts gave me a grant to tape audio interviews with Sam Steward who soon after was contributing many stories to Drummer. In the 80's, every gay and lesbian writer worth their salt paid calls of homage to suck up to Sam at his small cottage in Berkeley. Sam remained a great friend of Drummer until his death at 89 on New Year's Eve 1993 which was--by weird symbolic coincidence in male art--the exact same date that the late Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild shut its doors after nearly 50 years. Celebrity photographers in Drummer were the likes of Crawford Barton, Arthur Tress and Robert Mapplethorpe. In the world of leather, all these artists--and many others--are very prestigious names to celebrate in the earliest pages of just one very important magazine.
BEATING THE DRUM FOR MATURE WISDOM AND YOUNG ENERGY
From the first days of San Francisco Drummer, my intent was to invite and include the wisdom of established gay minds, talent, celebrities, and icons while encouraging the energy of new talent emerging from the closets opened by gay liberation. In the 1970's few men took the time to write, draw, or photograph, because everyone was orgying on sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. In the 90's, gay artists sometimes seem at each other's throats because there are so many people, male and female, who have forsaken actual sex for the virtual sex of art. Not so in the 70's of early Drummer! At that time we had to convince potential contributors that Drummer was really an action-adventure magazine by and about masculine men, because gay lib was so new and Drummer's leather-male premise was so, well, unexpected, shocking even, in an age of disco bunnies and clones (and women who had yet to really appear on the gay horizon). I actually worked the crowds of bars, baths, beds, cafes, and after-hours clubs in search of talent to fill the issues (#20-#30) with more than the closed combo of A. Jay's art work, the reviews by Ed Franklin, the plays by George Birimisa, the fiction of John ("Robert Payne") Embry, and and my own writing and photographs. (Hey! It's a hard job, but somebody had to do it, because magazines don't happen in a vacuum.) In those early formative issues we did what we wanted to lead the reader and to recruit men into the leather masculine lifestyle. Those 10 issues of Drummer single-handedly introduced a list of all new fetishes to the gay press: cigars, rubber, prisons/ex-cons, real bodybuilding, daddies/sons, fisting, tit torture, water sports, and even "gay" sports back when all sports were "straight." There are also words, actual vocabulary still in use, that were coined to appear first in Drummer: consensuality, mutuality, perversatility, homomasculinity.
OLD RELIABLE'S STAR RISES
In San Francisco, quite actively, I dragged my friend David Hurles' photographs and audio tapes out of his 10th and Mission apartment across from the Doggie Diner and on to the pages of Drummer where I introduced him to the world under his trade name "Old Reliable"! Before Drummer, no gay mag of queens would touch Old Reliable's pix of ex-cons and street hustlers that quickly grew to be a whole new kind of gay icon. I took the pop-talk audio tapes of Old Reliable and had them transcribed by Steve MacEachern (who was famous for founding the original Catacombs fisting parlor in his San Francisco Victorian in May 1975). Those audio tapes, in a time when plays like Hair and A Chorus Line, were communally composed, I then turned into writing to be read in "Corporal in Charge of Taking Care of Captain O'Malley" (Drummer #22 & 23) and "Excons: We Abuse Fags" (Drummer #24 & #25). Old Reliable was such a hit on the page, my spouse, Mark Hemry (no relation to John Embry) and I abducted him to our home and locked him in our bedroom and didn't let him out until he had edited together the first Old Reliable video tape in 1981. Later, Old Reliable, whom I still love dearly, and for whose studio I have shot a video or two, moved from his slum flat in San Francisco to the trendy hills above LA where his "Boulevard Boys" work has made him a world-renowned celeb revered by French film critics as well as American video voyeurs who like masculine rough trade.
SONS OF DRUMMER
For a time, I had brought Old Reliable himself into our Drummer office to edit Drummer's new sibling publication the Alternate which publisher Embry named to pique the pre-LA Advocate which was then based south of San Francisco in San Mateo. In the 70's publishing wars, Embry saw the kveenly Advocate as his main rival. (Go figure!) However, Old Reliable's preference was not in editing magazines so much as to be featured in them. Luckily then, at Drummer at that time, when we were at the 1730 Divisadero office, there was a young office "boy," who had done a slave/bottom turn in a couple of low-budget porno films and written a piece or two for Drummer. His name was John Rowberry. Later, because he was available and willing and knew punctuation, he became editor of the mag no one wanted to edit, the Alternate, and, when I graduated from Drummer, he, for a time fronted as editor for publisher Embry. By the mid-80's Rowberry had become a star publisher himself packaging magazines like Uncut, Skin, Inches, and Studflix. Old Reliable, Rowberry, and I--all veterans of Drummer, worked together on those 80's mags which all were somehow sons of Drummer. I wrote more than 30 stories and features for Rowberry's magazines which regularly featured hundreds of photos by Old Reliable. Tied to Old Reliable who had jumped immediately into video, Rowberry just as fast jumped early on into gay video reviewing even though his reviews reflected his own taste for blond bimbo boys more than the more mature taste of the men whom he had never quite understood in the Drummer audience which he had abandoned. I once told him, "John, you like boys in videos so young that if sperm could act, you'd give it 4 stars." We were all bonded like that--so similar yet so diverse--and we worked together until a year of so before Rowberry's death in 1993.
ALL ABOUT EVE...
In 1979, publisher Embry handed me a manuscript that was clearly the draft of a novel, but not yet a novel. Embry insisted we had to publish it, because he had already paid for the manuscript. Prepayment was not Embry's style, so A. Jay and I figured he had a thing for the aggressive young writer. "Drummer has a certain literary standard," I maintained before I even met with the author, "and the only way this draft of this novel can be serialized is with a final re-write." At Embry's insistence I met with the east coast writer at the upstairs bar across from the Cafe Flor and proceeded to tutor him for 3 afternoons in the ways of adult writing in general and Drummer writing in particular, especially when it came to leather and S&M. (Half the job of anyone's editing Drummer is mentoring the talent.) Among other recommendations, I told the author that gay liberation meant he did not have to fuck anyone to get published and he should be proud enough to use his own name. I counseled him to stop calling himself "Jack Prescott" and to sign his work "John Preston." He got part of the message, learned some of his lessons, and his manuscript was edited to the Drummer standard. All this history reveals some of the inside of publishing Drummer: except literally who was actually fucking whom! I was happy to have Prescott/Preston to edit, because Drummer needed good writing. Readers interested in the history of gay literature might find an interesting contrast and comparison between the serialized chapters in Drummer and the final printing of the novel which came to be titled Mr. Benson which Embry published and promoted as an in-house Drummer book. Long before his death, John Preston had achieved his patented Vampyr-like look which--perhaps born out of his hanging around with the Queen of the Night, Anne Rice--was not so far a cry from the petulant bad boy whom I had tutored years before in the Castro. But that's the point: everyone entered Drummer one way and exited much more experienced. Too often these days their bottomline stories are told mostly in obituaries.
YOU CAN CHECK IN,
BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE
Drummer, you can see, has never really been fiction so much as documentary of up to the minute leather behavior. The cocky heart of Drummer, at this 20th anniversary, is still a clenched fist. Drummer has always been Sex-Plus-a-Mind! The written contributions of Guy Baldwin and the graphic energy of Mikal Bales (ZEUS Studios) have kept good company over the years with talents such as evergreen writer/editor/artist Joseph Bean, writer/editor Tim Barrrus, as well as latest incarnation of the man known as Mr. Marcus Hernandez or of the woman known as Ms. Pat Califia, to the earliest incarnations of the founders of Colt and Target, Jim French and Lou Thomas whose company I had kept from 1969 onwards into Drummer.
Drummer is a tribal magazine whose three generations of publishers have each shaped the magazine. Embry, the first solo publisher (who, as mentioned, had gained custody of the infant Drummer from the mag's founding partners in LA), was introduced to me, the writer, by A. Jay, the bald-headed artist. We three resembled the cast (and the plot) of Sunset Boulevard! Actually, Publisher Embry has always lived a life of no mea culpa, and I don't blame him! When Embry sold Drummer to Tony DeBlase and Anthony Charles, Drummer caught a second new wind that reflected DeBlase's more sophisticated approach to the leather world. When I asked Tony DeBlase, just prior to the publication of Drummer #100, who Drummer's intended market audience was, he said, "Anyone who wants to read it." DeBlase's universalist approach has evolved into the third-generation publisher, Martijn Bakker's, inventive--and very 90's--deconstruction and internationalization of Drummer, which should soon, I believe, publish writing, but only good writing, in languages other than English inside the English edition. (This "Rear-View Mirror" column will soon feature the last interview actually given by Rob of Amsterdam as well as a major interview with Wally Wallace, the founder of the infamous Mineshaft.)
A DRUMMER CULTURE WORTH SAVING
Ideally--with the decade, century, and millenium all ending, the time has come to take Drummer and re-publish all its written contents as a book, in order to focus on the actual linguistic texts of leather, gender, and race. I'd give it a working title of: DRUMMER SPEAKS: A Pop-Culture History of Leather and SM of the 70's, 80's, and 90's from the Pages of Drummer Magazine. Drummer is hot even without the photographs and drawings, and with the graphics subtracted, Drummer's written text might finally get into States in the United States where adult constitutional rights to art have been taken away and into countries who won't let Drummer across their borders. I also think it's time for Drummer the CD:ROM--even before SONY becomes the fourth-generation publisher of Drummer!
PARTY ON, DUDES!
Drummer is a rich territory. It's sex, art, erotica, literature, politics, culture, and personal histories acted out as performance art. Literally, hundreds of writers, artists, photographers, editors, and staff--each in their own way celebrated contributors--have touched Drummer or have flowed through the Drummer offices. There's a thousand stories to tell about "The Making of Drummer" and all of them are as true as the remembrance the teller remembers. As A. Jay said on his death-bed: "If we throw a party for everyone who's ever worked for Drummer, we'd have to hire the Cow Palace."