Sunday, October 20, 2013

Backstreet. (Blogohphilia 35.6)

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, "Hey, babe
Take a walk on the wild side"
She said, "Hey, honey
Take a walk on the wild side"  

Lou Reed, 1972


Before I was married, I was club kid.  From the mid 1970's through most of the 1980's, I could be found at various music venues in Atlanta and Athens. 40 Watt, Little Five Points Pub and Agora Ballroom dictated my schedule with both up and coming and national acts. I was always looking for the next best sound.   Because I was also fooling around on College radio, I occasionally got to meet the musicians and get a feel for where they were coming from and where they were going.  

During this time I had a friend, Steven.  A gentle soul, he was the first truly Gay person I spent any significant time with. He was the brother of a girl a bunch of us used to date.  We accepted him for who he was and the fact he could drink most of us under the table. He spent a lot of time taking us walking on the wild side.Usually, this involved getting us into gay clubs where under normal circumstances we would not be welcome, like Backstreet.  



One of the oldest alternate clubs in Atlanta, this place was an odd mix of Disco and Drag Burlesque. It was located down a narrow side street in Midtown. The clientele ranged from professional looking male couples to refugees from motorcycle gangs. I knew a number of women who would go on Monday nights just to dance with partners that treated them like royalty and expected nothing in return. On the other nights, some of the best Drag performers in the world would take the stage to make fun of the world around them. I would go with Steven and his partner Bob.  It was a good excuse to drink myself silly and have a good time.

One Friday night trip, Steven introduced me to a rather tall, thin black man wearing a muscle shirt and leather pants.  He called himself Paul and he had just recently moved to Atlanta from San Diego. We hung around the bar for an hour or so chatting and he mentioned he was one of the performers. I was doing a lot of community theater then, so comparing notes on roles and audiences was kind of fun.  Paul was very soft spoken, so I kind of wondered what his schtick was going to be. He soon excused himself to go get ready and everybody else turned around with our cocktails to watch the show. 

The first act was a Joan Jett parody, complete with Motorcycle jacket and Stratocaster.  Too bad he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. A chorus of catcalls came raining down.  A couple of patrons in matching dog collars threw dog treats at him.  To the performer's credit, he just ignored everything and finished the set. We just got another round of Martinis and debated whether we should take the bartender's offer of earplugs.

The next act was a takeoff on Roy Rogers.  Entering on a Carousel Horse that had been fitted with casters and a gorgeous pommel saddle, he made a fine profile.  His boots were good cowhide and his Martin guitar was well tuned.  This one could sing.  Texas yodels were mixed with upbeat trail songs and the audience sang along. During the middle of the set, a leather halter was brought out and a lucky audience member was selected to be led around the club like Trigger.  I was drunk enough I thought is was hilarious.  Even Doggy couple seemed to dig it.  As he finished, the audience cheered and the waitstaff hustled to get everyone refilled for the finale.  It dawned on me I hadn't seen Paul yet, so I wondered what I was in for.  

The houselights dimmed and everyone settled in for the main act.  A single, pink filtered spotlight lit the cheap curtain while a snare roll hushed everyone from the room. Voila, out stepped...



...in all of his glory.  Six foot Six in Six inch stilettos and taking charge. The platinum wig clashing with his dark coffee skin, he was a sight to behold.   As he took charge, the 40 minute set seemed to run by in just seconds.  He was better than 90% of the acts I had seen in the last ten years.  When the show was over, our group hung around a little bit to congratulate him on the show.  He stayed in character for the meet and greet and gave me his autograph.  Bob snatched it from me, but I didn't really care.  To me, Celebrities are just people with weird jobs.

Over the years, I have watched Paul as he moved to New York and developed his niche in business.  Out of costume in interviews, he is still the soft spoken fellow I met some thirty years ago. I wish him continued success, even though my tastes have changed.  I still feel privileged to have met him. 


21 comments:

  1. That is adventurous to go to a club like that. And a 40 minute set must be an eternity if it is a bad act. haha -David II

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    1. Oh, yes it was. I think we downed three rounds during it.

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  2. Warmly written on a topic many struggle with.

    My friend Stavros does a variety act in Brisbane, enacting famous routines of many female singers. He is one of the most genuine people I have ever met.

    Enjoyed this.

    Sharonlee

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    1. RuPaul was one of the warmest people I ever met. I ended up seeing his act a couple of more times before he moved and kept up with his progress as he rocketed up the New York club scene. He still keeps a condominium here and does some television.

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  3. Very nice, I still remember going to a gay club in Atlantic City with a guy wearing a dress.

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  4. Awesome. I have a few flamboyant gay friends who run and operate Karaoke business and are great at what they do . Always funny and sweet I always overlooked them being gay bc they never pushed it on me or others. Some of the nicest ppl I know. Love RuPaul.

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    1. Most don't. They know what backlash is and do their best to avoid it.

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  5. The first time I ever went into a karaoke club, was in the late nineties. It was in New Orleans, and we were tackling as many establishments as we could, so long as they did not have cover charges. It was senseless to pay to stay no more than half an hour.

    As soon as I stepped in the door, I could see a screen with lyrics provided. The performers were at the far end of the establishment... Man, they were awesome, as they sang, "Don't Let Go (Love)" every bit as well as En Vogue, whose hit song that was... Upon closer examination, it really was En Vogue! All they sang was that one song, the brief time I was there, but that was enough for me to say, I have been to an En Vogue concert... well, sort of.

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    1. I had an experience like that at a place in Nashville. The song was Summer Breeze and an older dude with a ball cap on was singing. Turned out to be Dan Seals out for some fun.

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  6. Nothing like a good drag show. Your warm admiration shines in this piece

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    1. Yeah. The old drag shows took the best parts of Vaudeville and Burlesque and made them their own. It was one of things you had to be in the mood for. But a good one was well worth the time.

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  7. WOW!! . rubbing shoulders with celebrities ... this is really cool Christopher..
    I have met very few celebs myself... a couple of comedians when I was doing the club circuit over here in Nottingham... Drag acts were all the go for a time in the 80's.. every club had one during the night's shows... it always amazed me how beautiful they was... you would never have took them for a guy in a million years.. but like you I did find very few that could sing.. it was just a good looking dress and a guys voice.. it didn't go right LOL.. but there was the odd one now and then that did quite well in the 80's... and managed to get on the TV too.... I looks like you had a great time letting your hair down Christopher on the club rounds... :-) .. that's when the beer flowed like wine and tasted like whipped cream... ahahah.. and the mornings was always a struggle till noon... ahahahah... great blog pal.. loved the read.. and for letting me recall the old days back when the world was one big adventure.. ahahah...

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    1. My experience is, out of the spotlight, they are just people. Some are interesting. Some are not. Most of them are rather insecure and they mask that with their onstage (and sometimes offstage) antics. The cool part about this was this was at the beginning of his career and you knew immediately he was going places.

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  8. I can't say that I love RuPaul, but nor do I dislike him. I just really am not 'into' any celebrities per se. I have friends of mine that are gay and I respect them. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

    Irene

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  9. I thought RuPaul looked familiar!!! 8 celebrity points, Earthling!! :D

    -Marvin Martian

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  10. Ahhh what an amazing story, so glad you shared it with us! I most definitely recognized RuPaul, what a character indeed he is. We used to do aerobics to his songs back in the day....:D

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  11. Wow! Thanks so much for the introduction. I always loved seeing him on TV but it's been quite a long time since I have. Awesome Blogophilia 35.6! ~barb k~

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