Review of At Danceteria And Other Stories by Philip Dean Walker

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Listen to Philip Dean Walker’s show and find out more about his work here!

REVIEW

This is an audacious collection, set in the 1970’s and 80’s, featuring the rich and famous, dead or still alive. Audacious because the events are (probably) fiction, featuring real life celebrities (Freddie Mercury, Princess Diana, Halston, Liza Minnelli, to name just a few.) These affectionate and mischievous tales are moving, visceral and funny all at once, leaving the reader feeling as if they’ve been sand-blasted with fabulousness. Sparkly, yet sore as hell.

There is a distinct cool 1970’s/hot 1980’s vibe shimmering through this book, flamboyant characters coming to vibrant life, the drugs, the partying, the sex, the smart talk. Yet the whole thing is overshadowed by the spectre of AIDS. Death, dawning realisation, partying before someone turns the lights out, it is all here, in an incredible group of stories, the like of which I will never forget.

To find out more about each story, read below. Or don’t, and just read the book instead. It’s wonderful. And four weeks after reading it, still as clear as crystal. Damn you, Philip Dean Walker for getting inside my head!

By Halston is one night in the life of the fashion designer and his muse Liza Minnelli as they Hoover cocaine like Tony Montana before the launch of a new fashion collection (for JC Penney…) and party the night away at Studio 54. The crisp dialogue and insights into an outwardly glamorous world are pin sharp. Walker has studied these people and loves them, for all their faults and insecurities. Halston’s ultimate destiny is hinted at in one chillingly mundane observation, that he has “always preferred black rough trade.” He draws Halston as generous, egotistical, colourful, insecure, talented. Simply, he is Halston. By Halston.

Don’t Stop Me Now. Four besties, Freddie (Mercury,) Kenny (Everett,) Cleo (Rocos,) and Diana (Spencer,) a fantasy foursome if ever there was one, enjoy ribald humour and a night at a drag show.  This was hugely enjoyable yet so poignant, considering that all but one are now dead. I grew up with Freddie and Kenny. I watched Lady Di turn into Princess Diana. When they fell, one by one, it was as if a piece of my own history had died with them. So reading this gleeful tale of “what ifs” with the four of them having good times, going to a drag club, was wonderful. Diana dressing as a drag king might be implausible, but the way it was written, you could easily imagine it happening. As she strips herself of her “Princess” persona, a drag queen dresses up in her image, reminding her that the world needed Princess Diana. Nothing could stop her now.

In Charlie Movie Star, Rock Hudson is at the White House, a guest of Nancy and Ronald Reagan. Although he’s aware of the new virus circulating around the gay community, he feels remote from it, first inviting a younger staffer back to his room. Fast forward to Tracks nightclub, and he meets another man called Gus. In 2016, we know he’s playing with fire. Every fibre in me wanted to call out across the decades, “beware!” But he doesn’t, and we know what happened next.

The Boy Who Lived Next To The Boy Next Door deals with AIDS head-on, as the narrator (we never learn his name) observes people in his community dropping like flies with what he calls HGF (Hot Guy Flu.) For a while, it seems as if people actually want to get this new virus, because it is seen as a badge of their desirability. That is, until the first not-so-hot guy falls ill. From then on, no-one is safe. This is meant to hit hard, and it does. The beautiful ballet dancer cutting his own face to make himself ugly and protect himself against HGF is especially shocking; a sobering reminder of those terrible dark years.

Sequins At Midnight is one night in the life of Sylvester, disco king at the height of his fame. One fabulous night, with his adoring fans before him, among them is Jason, waiting for him to sing his favourite song. As Sylvester toys with him from the stage, he thinks about his life so far, and we are given glimpses into his private persona, from when he is growing up to what brings him to this night. AIDS hasn’t yet struck, but it is waiting in the wings. We know this, yet Sylvester doesn’t. He is thinking about his life, from the brutal realisation that he is gay, to his famous friends who adore him. Yet he also knows full well, no-one gets a show for free. There are no refunds at the door….

Jackie and Jerry and The Anvil A somewhat sombre tale. Jerry Torre (The Marble Faun) takes Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis to The Anvil, a notorious leather bar, after she insists he escort her for a night out. The idea of the fragrant Ms. Onassis in such a sweaty place, smelling of ass and leather, is a mischievous one, yet it turns slightly melancholy as Jackie O recalls a lost love, and it seems that life can be lonely living with so many riches, yet so little excitement. Meanwhile, Little Edie Beale seethes with resentment on the sidelines, thinking her cousin is so lucky to be in the position she’s gained….

At Danceteria, Keith Haring is celebrating his 26th birthday. Madonna is on stage, singing just for him. Life looks good, but talking to friends, he sees the undercurrents threatening the stability of his life. “Something is fucking happening here.” Five words that spread a chill throughout the sweaty club. Keith escapes the noise and craziness and goes up into the roof of the club. With a couple of Sharpies he begins to draw. He’s drawing his future, and what he thinks is the future of his community. He leaves an indelible mark, to show that once, he was there.

This is a brilliant, acid-tipped spear of a collection. Not to be missed.

 

 

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