Page 191 - Gay Pioneers: How Drummer Shaped Gay Popular Culture 1965-1999
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Jack Fritscher              Chapter 7                        173


                The East Coast establishment—even among the rival siblings on the
             Edmund White-Tony Kushner axis of authors like Larry Kramer lionized
             during the mid-twentieth century—has a right to its own strictures of
             gravitas and attitude, but perhaps the price of admission is too costly for a
             nonconforming writer and for what a human gets. Suffering for one’s art is
             one thing; suffocating it, and censoring one’s self, to be published at a big
             straight house is quite another. In the James Ivory film The City of Your Last
             Destination, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, adapting gay author Peter
             Cameron’s book, penned this exchange between characters to caution over-
             eager authors: “You don’t choose literature. Literature chooses you.” Hello,
             New York! Eros calling!
                Sensing this pressurized danger in the 1960s when I was living in New
             York to sample whether I would move there permanently, I figured a human
             life in letters could be lived, for me, at least, better on the West Coast, and
             more so in human-sized San Francisco than in skyscraper New York or
             freeway-scaled Los Angeles.
                A New Yorker living in three tiny rooms in a fifth-floor walk-up, as
             Mapplethorpe did at 24 Bond Street, writes differently and photographs
             differently than the same writer or photographer living in San Francisco.
             What if the beautiful room is empty—in the Castro? Unlike Manhattan’s
             insular formality, California is the pop-culture platform that comes with
             a better chance to grow personally with one’s art, and actually to own and
             live in—what Virginia Woolf said was absolutely essential—a room of one’s
             own, in a house of one’s own, in a State that is ten years ahead of the rest of
             American culture.
                When Robert Mapplethorpe and I were bi-coastal lovers, I experienced
             what his New Yorker friends did not know. There was an essential differ-
             ence between Robert’s “being” in San Francisco versus how he “had to be” in
             New York. The psychic cost to him taxed him long before AIDS killed him.
                As his career escalated in 1980s Manhattan, he seemed to become put
             off by New York faces staring back at him through his lens, and turned
             to shooting flowers and statues. Much of his best leather and S&M pho-
             tography was shot in San Francisco out of the personalities in and around
             the Drummer Salon to whom I introduced him. Because Variety magazine
             labeled Mapplethorpe as a continuing “Cultural Bogeyman” in its “Culture
             War Redux” (March 21-27, 2011, page 4), I wonder if one day his safe New
             York flower prints will ever begin to outweigh his dangerous San Francisco
             fetish photographs? As Edward Lucie-Smith reminded me, “Robert’s calla
             lily photograph hanging in an Upper East Side dining room gets its frisson
             from Robert’s fisting photograph hanging in the bedroom.”


               ©Jack Fritscher, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved—posted 03-16-2017
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