Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Was Hired to Turn a Gay Bar Redneck

For a minute, I might be turning apolitical, or not.

Back in the seventies -- this was years before AIDS devastated the San Francisco community -- my band, a bluegrass novelty act that broke Yiddish and classical before slamming a cajun fiddle tune full-force or channeling Jerry Jeff all on a constantly changing array of 23 instruments, was hired to play a long stint at the Shadowbox cocktail lounge. The Shadowbox was the former home of the late jazz great George Shearing, who died earlier this year at 91. He'd bought it to have a home base in the City. It was still his club when I encountered it.

I don't know much else about the club, except it was one that was at one time obviously elegant but from which now had fallen the original sheen. It had everything a nightclub needed: a curved bar, a spacious dance floor, a stage once graced by a grand piano -- now missing except for the dents -- and intimate booths all around. The feeling was black drapes, mirrors, shadowy paisley carpet, and a disco ball above the dance floor.

We started one evening without knowing what was up. We didn't necessarily know much more as we churned out our tunes, from Rocky Top to Tennessee Stud to Redneck Mother, but we were taken aback a bit when we saw guys making out in the booths and grabbing each others' butts on the dance floor.

We were hippies from the sixties who skipped disco and went straight to alt-country before there was alt-country. Like a lot of people then, especially in the Bay Area, we weren't very judgmental, but we didn't know much about teh gay. Not one way or another. It was like, I don't know, Belgium to us.

So, I went to get paid at the end of the night, and a lovely scarlet-haired women a bit on the Liza Minnelli side said, "Sorry about the gays. We hired you to chase them out." She said she liked the gays and they liked her. It was a business decision and not necessarily hers. "Oh well, Whaddya gonna do?" she said as she paid us. "You guys are great!"

The gays kept coming but dwindled as the weeks rolled by. In the beginning it was funny to watch the rednecks - such as they were -- come in, see the gays and go, huh?, and walk out. Slowly the rednecks stayed to dance, and the gays looked around and felt more and more out of place.

In its last weeks or so of being a gay bar, the Shadowbox saw gays walk in, look around at the rednecks in cowboy hats and wonder what the hell was going on. They'd stand there considering taking a booth and thought nah, and walked slowly out.

Soon there were no gays.

Our Liza Minnelli was now being dragged onto the dance floor to do the Texas two-step very much like the gays who loved her had done to take a turn with "YMCA" cranking out past the disco mirrored ball. It was apples and oranges, oranges and apples to her, all smiles, and a paycheck.

Me, I was Nick Carraway in a ten-gallon hat, all keen observer of my own ill-begotten Jazz Age. Only it was country and not so gay.

Now, the question is: In this parable (okay, a true story), which group is Daily Kos and which group is firedoglake? You've got thirty seconds, and the judges are the fans of Eschaton. Go! (Quick hint: Find my diaries at DK and FDL and read the comments.)

Alternate ending: Just read the story and.....

1 comment:

  1. Interesting story...But strange a bit, actually. Wasn't it offensive to you that you were used to get rid of the gays? I mean, it's a kind of fascism, no? Prevailing groups and such like things. I don't think it was really modest. Anyway, thanks for sharing the experience here.