CAMP VALUES Says King (center, with his band What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?), "My favorite stars were Midler, Nicks, Garland, Cher — I really want to find out: What is it about these women?"
A few days after I graduated from high school, the Internet showed up. "Well," I thought to myself. "That's just fucking great."
Had this incredible, ever-expanding matrix of awesome gay porn and possibility made itself available through our phone lines just a few years earlier, I might not have had to stuff copies of Honcho into copies of Spin at Waldenbooks. Then again, I probably would never have borrowed all that Madonna vinyl from the town library, or read all that Genet during my dishwashing shifts.
My Fitchburg was singer-songwriter Brian King's Gloucester. And though there are differences in how we came up, they seem more like variations on themes. He got called "fag" in first grade, whereas I made it to third. He'd pretend to be a damsel in distress at recess; I enjoyed an equally flaming librarian persona. And whereas I marked unarticulated man crushes on D. Boon and Black Francis with photos on my door, King scrawled the words to Siouxsie's "Melt" on his bedroom wall in Sharpie.
"That's when we were discovering sex," he says, laughing. "We were having lots of sleepovers. All the guilt and Purple Passion. What were we thinking?"
We found unexpected mentors along the way. Mine was a graduate film student named Bruce from the state college up the hill who worked the counter at the variety store and would send me away with tapes of Throwing Muses or PiL. For King, it was Gloucester poet Gerrit Lansing, a chum of the late Charles Olson and a respected figure in a literary underground that included Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, and John Wieners. He was nothing short of a lighthouse beam through Gloucester's thick fog.
"If I hadn't met Gerrit," whom King first encountered at the latter's bookstore while buying a biography of Cocteau and some Anaïs Nin, "I really just don't know what would have happened to me."
King credits to Lansing's influence his discovery of the Beats, Warhol, and Mapplethorpe, along with his broadening tastes in music. Women perched upon various edges proved especially resonant: Kate Bush, Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks. But even as his inner mixtape grew into a long playlist, his big gay core values remained intact.
"What's really interesting to me is that I'm so typical. I'd love to do a scientific investigation on this. My favorite stars were Midler, Nicks, Garland, Cher — my cousin had a Cher doll that I wanted to steal. I really want to find out: what is it about these women? They have a connection to gay men, but it's not just that they're overdramatic or brassy. Bette used to perform at bathhouses. Cher was designed by gay men. It's almost as though they were vessels for gay men to express themselves — through a woman. It's like seeing a young Madonna wearing a Keith Haring jacket."