Instant Disco History, Vol. 3
It was a long time after I started going to gay bars, that I could summon the courage to go to a leather bar. I wasn't quite sure what went on in them, but I was very sure that it was probably something to do with drinking blood. The men that I saw going in to leather bars, if I ever had to courage to actually be NEAR one, well...forget about it. These weren't happy furry dollies gyrating to disco songs like the Village People leatherman. The guys I saw going into leather bars were downright mean looking. Those motorcycle clothes. The Nazi-esque hats. I was really frightened by them.
Long before Al Pacino's Cruising came out in 1980, I was thoroughly convinced that I could never ever ever go into a leather bar, because I knew there was something seriously wrong with those people. In fact, due the fact that a small local bar that I frequented shared a parking lot with a leather bar, I would use the leather bar as a barometer of fuckability, when I saw a hot guy. If he left his car and went into MY bar, then he was a possibility. If he went into, or if I saw him coming out of the leather bar, he was right off the list. Right. Off.
When Cruising was in production, and continuing until its release, there had been a considerable bit of clamor from the (then relatively unorganzied) gay activists. The only real national gay press at the time was The Advocate, which was still a newsprint tabloid, so I actually found out about the protests from mainstream media, like Time Magazine.
And in those stories about Cruising, for the first time in my only-a-few-years-old gay life, I saw out gay men, publicly protesting their treatment at the hands of the movie industry. The stories I read at the time fascinated me because they not only were the first acknowledgement I'd seen in the press of any organized gay political movement (remember I was only 20 at the time), but they also drew my attention to the infighting that was possible within the gay community, as the leathermen protested that the other gay activists were attacking their image of being "bad for the cause". Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it?
The news stories about the movie's production and the growing protests kept my attention for several months. I pored over the stories and paid attention to any mention of specific West Village filming locations mentioned in the stories, because I wanted to know where everything was, when I moved from Orlando to New York City, something that didn't actually happen until 20 years later. The whole Moving To New York City fantasy was one that I shared with multitudes of other small-town young gay men, although I didn't know it at the time.
One night, the brouhaha about Cruising, which was about a serial killer stalking his victims inside New York's gay leather bars, finally pushed my curiousity past my fear, and with false bravado I entered my first leather bar. I remember the door having a tiny square window cut into it, from which the doorman could inspect approaching customers. Inside, the bar was very dark and crowded. The artwork was spookily lit from below, all pictures of men in various S/M scenes. I can remember feeling very uncomfortable as I felt the eyes of the patrons frankly appraise my person, in a (probably imagined) lustful way that I hadn't experienced before.
But mostly, I remember the song playing when I walked in. It was a harsh, aggressive song, with a loud chanted chorus. I had just seated myself on the barstool closest to the door, when the words began. The lead "singer" growled and spat his lyrics, telling the story of a man named "Creeper", giving evil chuckles before luridly describing the brutal way that "Creeper" was going to rape and torture his victims.
Creeper gonna creep and walk the night
All right, all right
Look out night
Creeper got mad and angry eyes
One look from him can paralyze
Resist at any time or place
Creeper gonna slap right 'cross your face
During that last line, I saw one of the bartenders mock slapping the other bartender, during the "right 'cross your face" part, then walk over to me to take my order. Before I could say anything, the next verse of the song arrived.
Upon his lips, the taste of pain
Venom kiss of love insane
He's got a rod beneath his coat
He's gonna RAM right down your throat
Make you grovel on the floor
Spit up and scream and beg for more
He'll rape you good
And strip you down
Hot child, gotcha!
The screaming is in the record, but I think that I might have screamed too, because right during the "gotcha!", I was grabbed from behind by a tall man wearing a harness, who growled the "gotcha" into my ear. I jumped up and ran out of the bar.
You can download the song here:
"Walk The Night" - Skatt Bros. (Casablanca Records, 1979)
Casablanca Records ended up having a moderate hit with "Walk The Night", mostly in the gay clubs, of course. I guess the straight clubs didn't have a big call for disco songs about gay S/M rape scenes.
In the music press, I found a story about the Skatt Bros. (ahem), who were being touted as a "straight" version of the Village People. Riiiiight. Oh, and it turned out that they were Canadian, which made the song a whole lot less scary.
The complete end of my fascination with the group came when I happened upon them performing "Walk The Night" on the Dinah Shore Show. For you youngin's out there, appearing on Dinah Shore was the absolute stamp of uncoolness. I can't think of any show that's on today with such buzz-killing rep, not even Carson Daly.
Still, for a least a few more years, "Walk The Night" kept me from returning to a leather bar. Granted the leather scene in Orlando wasn't exactly burgeoning, and it wasn't until I sort of aged-into the leather bar scene (as happens with almost all gay men), did I ever feel comfortable there.
Today, the leather scene is pretty much all that's available to middle-aged gay men, for a lot of sociological reasons, not the least of which is the real relative scarcity of middle-aged gay men, due to the decimation of AIDS. Maybe there'd be a vibrant bar scene, the scope and variety of which would compare to that available to men in their 20's right now, if AIDS hadn't come along and wiped out such a huge chunk of that market segment.
After I moved to San Francisco, I plunged headlong into the local leather scene. I bought a lot of the gear (outfits) and went to a lot of the events (parties) and experimented in the play scene (orgies). I went to all the major leather get togethers, IML, MAL, Folsom, Dore. And as you can see by the picture, I totally ramped up my working out, because dayum, it's hard to look good in leather if you're body isn't perfect.
As my English roommate in SF used to say, "In chaps, there's no room for error."
I suppose it all started with "Walk The Night". This picture of me was taken in 1999, which is when it probably peaked. I no longer look anything like this, sadly enough. In fact, while writing this story, a co-worker saw this picture on my computer and said, "Oooh, he's HOT! Friend of yours?" Can I get everyone to give me a heavy sigh of condolence? Thank you, my brothers.