We have a silly little owl from Japan that waves when the sun is shining. He stopped waving some months ago, and this weekend I took time to fix it. A wire was loose, needed to be soldered. I got out my soldering kit, which I used to take to gigs in case my Fender Rhodes needed repair. In the kit was a pair of earplugs (which I always wore cause I was usually set up right near the crash cymbal when I played back in the early 80’s). I showed them to my partner – “Hey, look – 40 year old earplugs!” and went to put them in the trash. She stopped me – “That’s a part of history – you’ve got to save that!”
A part of history? It was the height of the gay scene in San Francisco, before AIDS hit. In addition to my job delivering Singing Telegrams for Western Onion, on weekend nights I made ends meet by playing with Amanda Hughes and ENERGY at the Q.T., on Polk street. We played Rick James, Prince, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder. Amanda and her back-up singer/tambourine player had great outfits (shiny vinyl, platform shoes) and could almost carry a tune if they weren’t too coked up. The bass player was pretty good, and drummers rotated in and out, some of them really good. We played on brown shag rug multi-level platforms at the far end of the room, 8 to 11 feet up in the air.
I liked playing the music, I was born with a funk gene (Tower of Power was my main love in High School). The rest of the band was black, I had my long blonde hair – I never felt like I didn’t belong, though. Below us, the packed crowd of men danced and flirted. If trouble started, the bouncer, a muscle-bound Dyke, had total control of the situation.
The only part I didn’t like was when we took breaks. There was the tiniest of dressing rooms, and even if it had been spacious I wouldn’t have wanted to hang out while they sniffed cocaine. The bar had a massive sound system with a reel-to-reel tape player pounding out the latest Disco hits (I Just Can’t Get Enough…) that must have clocked over 100 decibels. So I’d go out to my car and read a book for 20 minutes. There were plenty of possible distractions – lots of guys cruising, for money or just pleasure, and if I’d parked in the alley it was blow jobs in motion, but it never felt dangerous, just scuzzy, and I would lose myself in my reading. When break time was over, I’d climb the shag stairs back to my perch, and enjoy getting funky with the band.
I think most patrons got the vibe that I was straight and left me alone, but of course I’d get hit on sometimes. My favorite was when I was getting a club soda at the bar, and a guy shouted in my ear “I love watching you play”. I thanked him. “It looks like you’re cumming!” I thanked him again, and climbed the Shag stairs for the next set. I like the idea that my ecstasy in playing is readily evident in my demeanor 🙂
In the 1970s and ’80s, the QT was the hustler bar on the block. Once a week it hosted an amateur strip night, where young guys, just off the Greyhound bus from out of town, shed their clothes for the local gays. For every drink you bought, you got a ticket to vote on which hustler should win the $100 prize. “The cocktail waiter had a crush on me and would give me handfuls of tickets without buying drinks,” recalls Bus Station John, a DJ who has been spinning in the TL for decades. “I would always vote for the most unappealing, paunchiest hustler on stage.” The Bold Italic – Tears for Queers