Friday, January 31, 2014

January 31

...with a side of socks:

Sam Harris: Ham - Slices of a Life

Sam Harris (b. 1961) grew up in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, a town of fewer than 8,000 people at the time. Possessed of a major, seemingly untamable talent for singing, acting and dancing, his overt “gayness” as a misfit youth led to bullying and a failed suicide attempt (small town Oklahoma was not exactly an embracing environment for a singing/dancing gay boy). However, he went on to gain national recognition in 1983 when he won the grand prize on the first season of Star Search, a television talent competition. His rendition of “Over the Rainbow” has to be seen/heard to be believed. Harris has since enjoyed a career as a recording artist, author, script writer and actor on television, stage and in films.

This week saw the release of “Ham: Slices of a Life” (Simon and Schuster) a collection of sixteen biographical essays and stories. I first learned of this last weekend when Harris was interviewed on NPR about his new book (available in e-reader formats; in the audio book format, Harris himself reads the book). The chapters are variously tragic, triumphant and hilarious, sometimes all at the same time. There are already ten YouTube videos of Harris reading from his book (click on link below).
The chapter on Liza Minelli’s surreal wedding to David Gest is destined to become a cult classic (Sam and Liza have been best friends for decades). Not to be missed is his recounting of a concert in Cleveland, at which he was the opening act for his idol, Aretha Franklin. The crowd cheered Sam and booed Aretha; the Queen of Soul was not amused.

Sam and his partner Danny Jacobsen, a director, presentation coach and film producer, have been together for twenty years. They adopted a son, Cooper, in April, 2008, and married seven months later. The chapters dedicated to Cooper’s birth and his son's alpha-male bonding with partner Danny are so honest and tender that they will bring a tear to your eye and a belly laugh, simultaneously.

I admit that, while I recognize Harris’s tremendous talent, I am not a fan of his over-the-top vocal performances in which he bleeds all over the floor and needs oxygen to recover, but when he reigns it in a bit, he’s in a class by himself (I can recommend the slow ballads on his album “Standard Time”). Here’s a television performance of the classic revenge ballad, “Cry Me a River”:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

January 30

...with a side of boots:

Klaus Wowereit: Berlin's Gay Mayor

Berlin's current mayor, openly gay politician Klaus Wowereit (born 1953), has served as governing mayor of Germany’s capital city since 2001. In coming out publicly prior to the 2001 mayoral elections, he coined the now famous German phrase "Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so" (I'm gay, and that’s a good thing). With his coming out, Wowereit wanted to beat the tabloids to exposing his sexual orientation and prevent them from writing sensational and fabricated stories about his private life. Wowereit said those now famous words during a convention of the Berlin SPD (Germany’s Social Democratic Party). At the end of his speech, there was spontaneous cheering and applause. Wowereit’s civil partner, Jörn Kubicki, is a neurosurgeon, and the pair have been in a relationship since 1993.

Wowereit, who was born in Berlin, has served as President of the Bundesrat (the fourth highest office in Germany), and his SPD-led coalition was re-elected in 2006.  In the 2011 elections he and his party were again victorious. Wowereit’s election as mayor made Berlin one of three major European cities that saw openly gay mayors take office in 2001, along with Paris’s Bertrand Delanoë and Hamburg’s Ole von Beust. Berlin and Hamburg, being the two largest cities in Germany, are also German states in their own right, which meant that both Wowereit and von Beust became state premiers.

Wowereit also served in the Berlin House of Representatives from 1995-2011, and since 2009 has been Vice Chairman of his party, the SPD.

Wowereit with partner Jörn Kubicki (at left):

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 28

...with a generous side of legs:


H. H. Munro – “Saki”

A master of the short story, H. H. Munro (1870-1916), known by the pen name Saki, was a British writer whose witty, mischievous and sometimes macabre stories satirized Edwardian society and culture. At their best, they were the highest of high camp. He was born in Burma, when it was still part of the British Empire, but at age two, upon the death of his mother, was sent by his father to England to be raised by his spinster aunts and grandmother.

Munro was homosexual, but at that time in the United Kingdom, sexual activity between men was a crime. Especially after the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde (1895), that side of Munro's life had to be kept secret. His pen name, however, was a strong hint: Saki was a term for a cupbearer, a beautiful boy, an object of male desire. Munro kept a houseboy (hint) throughout most of his life, and many of his stories included coded references to homosexuality. In a series of stories, the suspiciously close characters, dandies Reginald and Clovis, engage in dialogue and activity that allow the more astute reader to read between the lines.

According to biographer A.J. Langguth, regarding Saki’s same-sex activity: “(His) average in his best months was an encounter every second day; when he was busy or traveling, every third day.” Maybe that’s why his stories were so short.

Most of Saki’s short stories were first published in newspapers, then collected and later published in anthologies. He also worked as a journalist and served as an enlisted man in WW I. He was killed by a German sniper’s bullet in the Battle of the Somme on November 13, 1916, at age 45, and after his death, his sister destroyed most of his papers. It was widely reported that his last words were, “Put out that bloody cigarette.”

A sampling of Saki’s epigrams:

“I'm living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.”

“I always say beauty is only sin deep.”

“Think how many blameless lives are brightened by the blazing indiscretions of other people.”

“To have reached thirty is to have failed in life.”

“Being too tasteless or too poor, which may very well be the same thing, is no excuse for wearing a cravat that does not match your frock coat.”


Queers in History (2009), Keith Stern


Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990), ed. Wayne Dynes