It’s Southern Decadence weekend in New Orleans.
It’s probably hard to imagine what Southern Decadence is like unless you’ve actually been to it; even the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken and shared on social media over the years can’t even remotely begin to get the concept of what it’s like across–the same as Carnival, really; it has to be seen and experienced to be truly understood. My first Southern Decadence was in 1995, which was around the twenty-second or third time it was held; my knowledge of Decadence, primarily from urban legend and tales told from one gay to another and passed down over the years, is sketchy and probably untrustworthy (if you’d like the unvarnished truth and read about the history, I highly recommend Southern Decadence in New Orleans from LSU Press, co-written by Frank Perez and Howard Philips Smith; I have a copy and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Alas, my memory isn’t what it used to be, but the story is it began as a bar crawl for a friend who was moving away, and grew from those humble beginnings into a massive event that draws queers from all over the world).
That first Decadence I came to was also one of the hottest, temperature wise, or perhaps it was simply because I wasn’t used to the summers in New Orleans yet since I didn’t live here. I just remember being in Oz one afternoon and just soaked in my own sweat, and going down the back staircase from the second floor–the staircase that opens out onto the dance floor–and having to hold onto the railing because the steps were slick and wet. The railing was also wet, and when I touched the walls so were they–all the humidity and body heat and sweat–but at the same time it was so much fun. Gorgeous, flirty and friendly men everywhere, everyone scantily dressed and getting wasted and just having a good time. This was during the height of the circuit parties, most of which have died off over the years–there’s no longer a Hotlanta weekend in Atlanta in mid-August anymore, for example–but back then, it seemed like every month if you had the time and the money there was a circuit party somewhere you could fly off to and be yourself and have fun being in an entirely gay environment for a few days. That was, for me, one of the primary appeals of circuit parties and gay bars–they were safe havens for everyone to be out and proud and loud…and after a few weeks navigating the straight world for work and play and life in general…it was lovely to let loose in, for want of a better word, a safe space.
Circuit parties also had their downsides, don’t get me wrong–Michelangelo Signorile detailed some of those in his book Life Outside, which got taken out of context an awful lot–drug use and rampant sex and bad choices also led to other problems, not to mention the spread of HIV and other STI’s; the very first time I ever went to a circuit party–Halloween in New Orleans, 1995–there was a very Masque of the Red Death feel to it; here were all these gay men crowded into a riverfront warehouse, doing drugs and dancing and having a great time while the plague raged outside the doors. I even wrote about that in my diary on the flight back to Tampa a few days later.
But Decadence was always my favorite, out of all of them, and it was something I looked forward to every year. My workouts were always planned so I would hit peak physical condition for Decadence and maintain through Halloween, before starting to work on the Carnival body. It feels weird to talk about it that way, but that was my mentality and my schedule for years. Bulk up for a couple of months, then lean down leading into the event.
I had always wanted to write about Southern Decadence, and I know I’ve written about how I came up with the idea for the book numerous times; standing on the balcony at the Pub watching one of the strippers fight his way through the mob of gay men to get to the Pub so he could work, Paul saying you really should write a book about Southern Decadence and seeing a scene vividly in my head as I looked down at the sea of sweating gay men. I’ve also written about where the idea for the character and his family came from. So what is there left for me to say about Bourbon Street Blues?
The name’s Dansoir. Dick Dansoir.
Okay, so that really isn’t my name. It’s my stage name from the days when I was on the go-go boy circuit. I started when I was in college, at Vanderbilt up in Nashville. As with almost everything that goes on in my life, I became a go-go boy on a fluke. The Goddess brings interesting experiences into my life all the time. Sometimes I don’t think it’s all that great, to tell the truth, but she always seems to be watching out for me.
I was working out at my gym one day when this guy came up to me and asked me if I wanted to make some easy money.
Like I hadn’t heard that one before.
I was twenty-one at the time, just turned, but I wasn’t some wide-eyed dopey innocent. I was raised in the French Quarter, after all, and by the time I went off to college at age eighteen I had pretty much seen everything. French Quarter kids have a lot more life experience than other kids their age. You can’t really help it. The French Quarter is like Disneyland for adults, and growing up there, you get used to seeing things that other people can only imagine.
Anyway, this guy said he was a booking agent and scout for this agency that booked dancers in gay bars throughout the deep South. The troupe was called Southern Knights.
“You can make a lot of money this way,” he said to me above the sounds of people grunting and weights clanging. “You’ve got the look we like.”
I looked at myself in one of the mirrors that are everywhere in gyms. I was wearing a white tank top and a pair of black nylon jogging shorts. I was pumped up from lifting, and if I did say so myself, I looked pretty good. I’m only about five-eight—nine if I have thick-soled shoes on. I have curly blond hair that’s darker underneath. The sun does lighten it, but that darkness underneath always makes people think I dye it. I don’t. I have big, round brown eyes. I am also one of those blonds lucky enough to be able to tan. I’d gotten a good tan that summer and it hadn’t faded yet. The white tank top showed the tan off nicely. I also have a high metabolism and can stay lean rather easily.
But scam artists are everywhere. I wasn’t about to fall for a line from some stranger in the gym. For all I knew, it was a trick to get my phone number, or an escort service, or something else I didn’t want to be involved in.
Not that I have anything against escorting. People go to escorts for all kinds of reasons—loneliness, fear of commitment, whatever—but they do fulfill a need in the gay community, and more power to them. I just never saw myself taking money from someone for having sex. I like sex. I enjoy it. So, it just never seemed right for me to tale money for doing something I like.
Besides, taking money for it would make it work. I prefer to keep my status amateur.
I got a copy of the book out yesterday and skimmed/read it again, to get another look and remind myself of Scotty’s roots and beginning. I realized yesterday, as I turned the pages of an ARC (yes, I still have ARC copies of Bourbon Street Blues available), several things: one, that the reason I always hate reading my own work is because my brain is trained to read my work editorially, to fix and edit and correct and look for things needing to be fixed (and I can always find something) and that second, it’s really been so long since the last time I looked at this book–or any of the earlier Scottys–was four years ago, when I was writing Royal Street Reveillon. So, by making the obvious effort to flip the editorial switch off, and having so much distance from the book that it almost seemed like something new to me, I was able to skim/read the entire thing without wincing in horror or pain or embarrassment.
Bourbon Street Blues was also the last novel I wrote that didn’t have an epigram of any kind, let alone Tennessee Williams: I started that practice with Jackson Square Jazz with a line from Orpheus Descending: “A good-looking boy like you is always wanted.”
Reading the book took me back to the days when I was writing it. The Greg who wrote Bourbon Street Blues is still here, I’ve just been through quite a bit since then and have changed because of my experiences. There were some sentences in the book I would change now to make better, but there are still some jewels in there, and well, I can kind of understand now why the character is so well-liked. He’s charming and humble and kind; sure he talks about “being irresistible” a lot, but that’s part of the charm. Guys find him attractive. He doesn’t necessarily see it, but is more than willing to accept it and not question it. He enjoys his sexuality and he enjoys having sex. I wanted Scotty to be unabashedly sexual and to have no hang-ups, carrying no stress or issues about being a very sexual gay man.
As I read the book again, I also started seeing something that had been pointed out to me over the years a lot–and began to understand why this was pointed out to me so much; an old dog can learn new tricks, apparently–but I still think other people are wrong. The book isn’t “all about sex,’ as some have said. Rather, Scotty sexualizes men; he sees them as potential partners and appreciates beauty in men. His friend David also loves to get laid, so they cruise a lot–whether they are at the gym (either the weight room or the locker room), a bar, wherever they are–and so people get the idea that the book itself is incredibly sexual, even though there is literally only one sex scene in the entire book and it’s not graphic; Scotty’s weird mish-mash of spirituality and beliefs and values make the act itself a sacred ritual, and that was how I wrote the scene; from a spiritual, commune-with-the-Goddess perspective. It’s also funny in that people are so not used to seeing world through the Gay Male Gaze that it’s jarring, and puts sex and sexuality into the minds of the reader.
The question is, would people think the same if this was done through the Straight Male Gaze, in which women are sexualized? Since this is the default of our society–literature, film, television–is flipping the script to show the Gay Male Gaze so uncommon and so unheard of that it triggers such a reaction from some of the readers?
There’s also so much innocence in the book, and it’s also interesting to see it as a kind of time-capsule: Scotty doesn’t have a computer; his rent (on Decatur Street in the Quarter, with a balcony) is $450 a month (ha ha ha ha, that’s what the condo fee would be now monthly); and he also doesn’t have a cell phone. The whole point of the book was to do a Hitchcockian wrong place/wrong time now you’re in danger kind of story; and that is precisely what Bourbon Street Blues is. I’d forgotten that one of the running gags in the book is that he never gets a chance to sleep much throughout the story so he’s tired all the time and just wants it all to be over so he can go to bed.
Another thing that’s dated: even in 2002, in my naïveté and innocence, the evil politician running for governor–when described by Scotty’s brother Storm as problematic–even he doesn’t support an outright ban on abortion–he wants to ban it but with the rape, incest and health exceptions.
Even in 2002 I couldn’t conceive of anyone running for statewide office calling for an outright ban on abortion.
How things change.
It was also interesting that I got two things very wrong in the book, too: for one, I was thinking for some reason the swamp on the edges of Lake Pontchartrain on the way to Baton Rouge on I-10 was the Atchafalaya (it’s the Manchac/Maurepas), and while I had always remembered I’d given Scotty’s mom a name in this book but forgotten it later when I needed a name for her in a different book–I had the name wrong. I thought I’d called her Marguerite in Bourbon Street Blues then named her Cecile in a later book; I had actually called her Isabelle. (I’ve even told that story–about the names–before on panels and been WRONG ALL THIS TIME!)
It was also interesting and fun to remember–as I read–that Scotty was also not looking for a boyfriend. He was perfectly happy and content being single (which was also something important I wanted to write about–a gay man who didn’t care about finding a life-partner, figuring if it was meant to be it would happen). I also presented him with two potential love interests–Colin the cat burglar and Frank the hot daddy–with that actually being resolved without him having to make a choice between them. I also had the book end with Scotty being slowly persuaded into becoming a private eye.
Originally I had conceived it as a stand alone novel, but the publisher offered me a two-book contract, so when I was writing Bourbon Street Blues I knew there was going to be a sequel. This freed me to leave some personal things open for him; I knew I was going to bring Colin back in the next book so he was going to have to choose between them, and I also knew the personal story needed to be wrapped up by the end of the third book, which was going to be the end of the series with everything resolved. That changed when I wrote Mardi Gras Mambo, but that’s a story for another time.
Bottom line: it’s a good book and I am proud of it. It’s only available now as an ebook from Amazon, but I hope to eventually make it available through every service as well as get a print-on-demand version for those who might want one.