Thursday, August 8, 2013

Adrian Brooks in "the Advocate"

It is the knack of any natural-born storyteller to engage our belief, so that with the very next sentence or flip of a page we might actually learn something about ourselves. And it's often the simplest of folk tales, the ones with equal measures of the horrific and fantastic, that rivet our attention the most. Adrian Brooks takes a child's delight in telling a good story and, with an appropriate mixture of innocence and fright, commands attention in The Glass Arcade.
   A shy boy in rural Germany sees his parents gunned down by the Nazis and is carried away. It is 1934, a decade before the rest of the world will know of the fascist big lie. The boy keeps the truth of the experience deeply buried- a persistent wound- and is unable to express it or live fully with it, even 30 years later as a comfortable, married New York suburbanite. Only a chance encounter with a handsome young stranger pierces this numbing anguish, and slowly the man/boy unravels the story of his abduction and subsequent life under the fascists, that of a painted slave in a glittering palace catering to the sexual appetites of the Nazi elite. It is a tale of adolescent awakenings and historic undoings, of tenderness found in unexpected places and of that particularly human quality that the Nazis despise, and fear, the most. It is also a tale that, quite simply, is irresitable.
    The book was released last summer by Pocket Books, an affiliate of Simon & Schuster. Like most first novels, it was expected to have a short life before heading off to the paper shredders. But word-of-mouth, that quirk of fate in any publisher's lexicon, quickly spread The Glass Arcade to a wide and appreciative audience. The novel is now in its second printing, a British edition has been released, and a Hollywood film is under serious consideration.
    For many readers, the heart of the book's appeal lies with a young boy's coming of age in a fantastic- and perverse- setting. Forging an identity as an alien, yet sometimes seductive, environment is a perspective especially familiar to gay readers. That many of the characters in the book- good as well as bad- are homosexual seems incidental to the story. What's central is the search for freedom and self-recognition in the face of impossible odds. The book, quipped one reader, is best described as "Madam Kitty meets Hermann Hesse."
    An unlikely pairing, but seemingly less so after a visit with Brooks in San Francisco, his home the past several years. Poet, playwright, burgeoning cabaret performer, and now novelist, Brooks somehow merges the trappings of a polite, upper crust establishment upbringing with the sensibilities of a globe-trotting wild child. His poetry has long been familiar to readers of Gay Sunshine. His work in the theater- both written and performed- is familiar as well to audience of The Angels of Light, a San Francisco troupe noted for their ingenuous blend of message and stage magic and the recent recipients of four Bay Area Critic Circle Awards, including one for best over-all production.
    It is the dichotomy- the unresolved tension between knowing the best the material West has to offer and paying the price for it- that has, in part, sparked Brooks' creative spirit.
    "My life has a double meaning, to be sure. But I have found that to be very helpful. I don't think you can create without a necessary impulse to heal or close a rift between subjective and objective reality." In growing up within the privileged environment of the Philadelphia Main Line, says Brooks, "There was always a duality between being spoiled brats and having it drilled into our minds that it wasn't enough being a spoiled brat- that you actually had to go out and do something, yet confining your views to upper middle-class ethics and the white ruling establishment."
    Fortunate for him, he says, that there were two factors making this "terribly impossible." He was gay and a Quaker. "I knew I was gay as a child and was encouraged to go around the house in drag- kimonos, scarves, jewelry. I was a little theater object from the time I was three. My parents loved it- their generation couldn't indulge that- but they didn't realize that there were raising an artist. And because I was also raised Quaker, I heard from a very early age about Mahatma Gandhi, prejudice and bigotry against black people, which horrified me completely.
   "I was told nonviolent action was necessary, there is no ultimate right and wrong, and that whatever you have to do, do it- because that's what Quakers call 'The Inner Light.' It's what will help in terms of the world."
   Being trained in the role of "accomplished intellectual," while at the same time exposed to the arts and to "a moral life which had no clear form on the surface" left Brooks feeling confused and in need of some way to express all the aspects of his personality. He finished prep school "an academic washout" and began to travel, still believing "that if you didn;t have a Ph.D you'd fail and die in the gutter." About a year and a half later, he met someone who had attended the Friends World College, the international Quaker school whose centers all over the world aim to turn students into agents for social change. "Naturally," Brooks laughs, "the Quakers put their schools in the middle of the best dope routes in the world."
   The central question raised by the college, he says, is how do educated people from the industrialized West reconcile their knowledge of materialistic society's limitations with the legitimate concerns of Third World countries and developing nations. "I went iinto this world under the context of being a nonviolent revolutionary. I wanted to change things. This is an artist's function. I think that's everyone's function, but when I say artist I don't mean people who just paint and dance. I think art takes many forms.
    "The question is, 'How do we live on this planet and not exploit it? How do we all see ourselves as part of the solution to the long tradition of trashing whatever could be trashed for the quick buck?' I think that people whose lives take a recognizable form and meaning are part of the solution. Time is running out and yet, instead of political solutions, I see the only answer that means anything in human terms. I'm a humanist, and believe that people are much smarter than the systems that oppress them."
   One of the central characters in Brooks' recent novel is the aloof, majestic, and ultimately compassionate Frederich Lorken. Lorken had been a famous cabaret performer in Berlin, then the gayest city in the world. With the Nazis' rise to power he is scooped up and transported to the Glass Arcade, a palatial estate turned male brothel, where he is expected to ply his powers as a consumate illusionist for the price of his life. One suspects a strong connection between the character and Brooks' own psyche.
   "At an early age," says Brooks, "I chose illusion over reality. I used to come home from school and make tiny little villages and monasteries behind a hydrangea plant in our backyard. I had a whole concept of a nonviolent, well-ordered little world. The games were my illusions and I had an enormous peace while playing with them, an incredible feeling of sanity- my own. Frederich is a dreamer, but because he is an artist he actualizes his dreams. The Nazis profit from his power, but he finds out how to restore his honor by investing more in truth and love, as he sees it.
    "Still, at a very early age he thought he might be immune to the political activity around him because he was an artist. He was much more cavalier towards life. When he slipped, he saw immediately that protection, isolation, does not work for anybody."
     Brooks based his novel on a story by film director Paul Aaronm who had attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the man in charge of the "Final Solution"- the concentration camps.
    "I had originally set the novel during the closing moments of the war, but after reading about the persecution of homosexuals under the National Socialists, Ernst Rohm and 'the Night of the Long Knives,' I changed the focus to an earlier period. Because until Hitler killed Rohm, assuming command of Germany by eliminating his only rival, homosexuals still felt that they were immune from persecution. In Mein Kampf, I don;t think that Hitler had marked homosexuals as fit targets for persecution. In fact, there was a longstanding tradition of homosexuality in the German military and in 1928, shortly after the National Socialists did say that homosexuals were unfit people, the Reichstag passed a law making homosexuality legal. Immediately after this the stock market crashed and that liberal law was never enacted."
      Are there any lessons to be learned from this today? "In Germany, which after all was a very civilized country, homosexuals didn't see themselves as an oppressed minority until, in one fell swoop, they realized how precarious their position was. There was a certain myopia within the general body politic which thought, 'Things are very complicated right now, but if only we had a strong man in there it'll be all right.' Aside from the fact that the Nazis were lying to the German people, the people wanted a simplistic answer for a complicated situation.
   "Today, in this country, certainly in recent years, the same thing is going on. When homosexuals came out of the closet in the Stonewall riots there was an initial period of flash and exuberance and a sense that society was going to be shaken up. But as in any minority movement, after a certain period of attention-getting and achievement of immediate goals and priorities there is a real schism between people who want to be content with minimal acceptance and the people who realize that the fight and need for social integration isn't done until there is no longer any issue. The conservative drift in the gay community- particularly in so many peoples' conformity- is so highly obvious right now. But the danger is that this safety is completely illusionary.
   How is Brooks dealing with those issues in his art? "There is a basic choice that every artist makes between personal concerns and an overriding view of society. The worst art to me is political art. I don't believe in it. I'm not into slogans. I'm much more interested in seductions. In all my work there is a concealed message. When you get to the end of something you can say, that showed a woman taking responsibility for her life, or that showed old people capable in the face of a society that denies their existence, or, that showed a homosexual who wasn't so insatiable that he wouldn't be responsible. While I would like to entertain and tell wonderful stories- my priority in life is to become a performer- those ideas are my concerns.
   "My thinking isn't dictated by the fact that I'm a homosexual. To me, it's an endless source source of wealth, but I'm not a gay writer. I'm a writer who happens to be gay. If The Glass Arcade is successful it has to do with the fact that there is a fully human, interesting gay character who cares about art, life, people, politics and values- who is also trapped.
    "One of the most powerful answers that gay people have to offer is how life can be lived not for material gain or territorial protection, but how a heterogeneous society can value more than just breeding grounds or the economics that support biological renewal. There are bigger things at stake."
   In The Glass Arcade Brooks has used the disparate elements of his life- adventursome play in a glitter-theater of the absurd and fantastic, the awareness of social privilege, the insight that comes from conscious seeking- to reveal some of mankind's darkest repressions. Yet the book titillates more than it expounds, captivating with charm, sometimes by way of our prurient curiosities. Brooks knows all too well the use of the veil- a device used here not to disguise, but to prolong the pleasures of a singular tale well told.
   "I feel articulate and capable of disciplining myself after 33 years- something I thought I'd never master. Part of my urge to write is necessary proof to myself that I'm capable of maintaining form. And there is a need for people who can create- on any level- to do that. It helps other people.
   "It's difficult enough to make sense out of the world. The only sense I find is in people who inspect their own hearts and decide what is meaningful to them. Not taking form was the most terrifying prospect for me. Tennessee Williams says that being a writer is like trying to construct a new reality before the old one becomes untenable. I feel that way too. Each time I begin a project, I'm changing my life. I'm moving forward and trying to heal some fractures within myself."
                                                                                                                               by Mark Thompson
                                                                                                                               the Advocate
                                                                                                                               May 28, 1981

"Holy Cow!" An Angels of Light show in 1979 and 1980

This was a show by the free theater- the Angels of Light- in 1979 and, again, in 1980.
(Adrian Brooks on left). For more photos, check out the Facebook photo albums

Angels of Light Facebook Page

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anti-LGBT violence in Russia & calls for an Olympic boycott

Two weeks before the end of WW2, the Nazis murdered Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a long-jailed Lutheran clergyman, internationally famous as a humanitarian. This is something he wrote about his silence during the long, intensifying vice-grip of Hitler and his henchmen:

"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Should I raise my price?

I hate Microsoft. As if they don't already have all the money in the world, they call me several times a week, trying to sell me things I don't want. There's no way to block them because the people who call are in India, beyond the ability of a US phone company to fend off. And I've tried everything.

This morning's call came at 8:30 AM- a bad time for me because I go to bed at 1 or 2 AM and do not take kindly to be awakened by yet another phishing sales pitch from Microsoft.

"I hate Microsoft," I told the eager young Indian man. "As I tell each person who bothers me, I will never buy anything from your company. Never. Ever."

Without missing a beat, he persisted, "So what do you want from us?"

"What I want," I retorted, "is for you to leave me alone and not hassle me."

"That will cost you $200," he said.

"And it will cost you $2000 to suck my cock," I told him, ignoring his horrified gasp. "So if you send me $2000, I'll pay you $200 and we'll all be happy."

Then I hung up.

I wonder if this will work? If not, should I raise my price?

Please advise. And please feel free to try this approach.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Moon Rocks in Africa

The radical Quaker school I attended in 1969, the Friends World Institute, occupied a former colonial hotel- "the Kaptagat Arms" in the White Highlands of Kenya, thirty-seven miles from Uganda and at an altitude of 8,000 feet. There were leopards in the forest and a man known as "the monkey demon" roaming the hills. I saw him once- all covered with animal pelts- but I can't remember much else. Kenya has the best marijuana in the world, and it was the Sixties, after all, and even though we were supposed to be saving the world- like Peace Corps volunteers- the truth is we were just so, so stoned.

One day some other students and I were loaded, as usual, and sprawled out on the lawn just being in Africa, loving Africa and the freedom and sheer glory of it all, when an old woman came down the red dusty drive. She was bent over and relied on a stick but she did, finally, come approach us. Clearly, she was upset about something but she was probably Kikuyu and none of us spoke anything more than functional Swahili so we got Kamau, our cook. Kamau was a cheerful guy who always looked happy, especially when he got to behead chickens with his panga, a short machete. Now he was especially happy to translate. This made him feel even more important.

Well, the old woman took her time. She had to sit down and catch her breath. And we all sat there, stoned out of our minds and wondering what all this was about. But at last, she was ready and she spoke to Kamau, who dutifully translated.

Is it true that people from your country have really gone to the moon?

Ah. Yes. That is true, we told her. They did do that. They went there.

She nodded but she had to think about that. Carefully. And this took time.

Her next question: Is it true that they brought back rocks from the moon?

Yes, we told her. That is also true. The people who went to the moon did bring back rocks.

She nodded and had to think about that for quite a while before she spoke again.

And is it true, she asked, that those rocks are getting bigger and bigger and there is no way to stop them from growing and, soon, they are going to come here and crush us?

Now, honestly, we hadn't heard anything like that. But, then again, we were living at 8,000 feet in Africa without newspapers or TV or even radios so we couldn't be 100% positive. Still, we didn't want to stare- our eyes were so red!- and it would have been rude to laugh, and Kamau was looking so excited- just dying to tell her that it was true and panic the poor old thing. But we ruined his fun and, finally, someone said. Oh no, we haven't heard anything like that but it's probably not true, no.

She was so relieved, she thanked us and got up and started back to her village to share the good news: the big rocks were not coming. And we just stayed on the lawn, hoping that we were right.

This is where it happened:


Friday, August 2, 2013

For Writers In Hope of Good Angels

This is my first "unassisted blog," one I'm doing by myself, so I want to address it to other writers, particularly. I'm one of you and have been writing creatively for 40 years, keeping a journal for- gosh- 46 years. In sum, I've been through the ropes and through the publishing world mill, in various ways. All along, I got handed the same bullshit by top agents and big publishers: "You're really a fine writer and, if you were famous, I'd sign you up (or publish this), but you're not famous so I have to say No." When I asked how any writer was supposed to get sufficiently famous without an agent or publisher going to bat for them, these people invariably said that they couldn't answer that question. All said, "Basically, it's a crap shoot so... keep trying."

But it gets more surreal. One top agent in London who asked to see my work after we met socially, ripped my book to shreds when we spoke on the phone (by appointment) six weeks later. He told me that, though he hadn't finished reading the novel, he'd read enough to know that I had little, if any, talent; that I might consider going to school or learning how to write; that I didn't have a sensible plot or real characters. As he went on and on in this vein for at least five minutes, I took notes. Finally, when he'd finished, instead of committing suicide, I asked, "Well, as you say, you didn't finish it, so could you tell me where you are in the book so I can better understand your critique?" He said, "They're in London now." I replied, "Mark, my book doesn't take place in London." Long silence. Then I inquired, "Mark...? What is my book about?" Another long silence. Then I asked, "Mark, have you read even one word of my novel?" After another silence, he said, "I am so embarrassed." In short, this asshole hadn't even read one word of my work but felt justified in shredding- or trying to shred-  any confidence I had in myself as an artist, or a creative person with integrity.

My point here isn't to complain. In fact, it's the polar opposite. What I want to say to all writers out there is this: after four decades of being bludgeoned by top agents and big publishers, I realized that, even in a publishing world as crazy-making as the one in which we (all) now find ourselves, it's small independent presses, which treat authors with sensitivity and respect. And now, after all this time, almost as if the gods decided that I'd been through enough, I've connected with someone wonderful, whom I respect as a human being and friend. She's showing me that the equation so widely touted as a thing of the past- a human relationship between a writer and a publisher- is not entirely dead. It still does exist. Somehow, I've stumbled upon it. And it seems to be acquiring traction.

I cannot tell anyone else how to find it. In my own case, it came almost as accidental magic, simply as honestly respecting the publisher involved, not seeing her as part of a publishing world engine. Perhaps that is a lesson? Perhaps when/if we surrender to our own karma, or trust the fates, or don't stop believing in ourselves, (or listen to asshole agents who set out to destroy without bothering to read our work!), we allow ourselves to see others- and for us to be seen- in appropriate context? I hope so because, having been bulldozed and knocked around by the Establishment, I can see that the personal, warm, human association which I celebrate in my work and so looked for from editors or guiding figures is not impossible to attain. It still does exist. People do come through for one another and, so, I'm writing this to encourage all who read it not to give up believing in yourselves, or in your work, or in the fact that there really are "good angels" out there. I earnestly hope that you find them.