Written November 27, 1977, the first feature article was published in Drummer 20, January 1978.
I. Author’s Eyewitness Historical-Context Introduction written December 29, 2002
II-A. The first feature essay as published in Drummer 20, January 1978
II-B. Written November 26, 1978, the second feature essay as published in Drummer 26, January 1979
III. Eyewitness Illustrations
I. Author’s Eyewitness Historical-Context Introduction written December 29, 2002
How the CMC Carnival Became the Folsom Street Fair The Role of Photography in the Psychology of Leather and the Image of Homomasculine-Identified Gay Men
My first feature article about the CMC Carnival (1977) was written November 27, 1977, and was published in Drummer 20 (January 1978) with seventeen photographs shot by “David Sparrow and Jack Fritscher.” My second feature about the CMC Carnival (1978) was written November 26, 1978, the Sunday before the Monday Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated; it was published in Drummer 26 (January 1979) with thirteen photographs shot by “David Sparrow and Jack Fritscher.” The second article appears again in proper serial order with the contents of Drummer 26 in Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer.
In Drummer 20, my second issue edited fully under my byline, I wrote my first of two essays about the annual bacchanalian saturnalia, the CMC Carnival, hosted by the California Motor Club. (Not “California Motorcycle Club.”) In the first report, I celebrated that long-running San Francisco party cum orgy as if it would never end.
Things fall apart. Things fell apart.
A year and six issues after that first article in 1977, and mere days after the CMC Carnival in 1978, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978.
That was the day the Titanic 70s first scraped the first cube of the iceberg.
Months before the November 1978 CMC Carnival, we all knew the party was about to be uprooted. Fielding our sense of loss because the host site, Seaman’s Hall, was for sale, I wrote my lamentation “CMC 1978” for Drummer 26 one day before the Moscone-Milk assassinations. “Everything must change,” I quoted Judy Collins. “Nothing stays the same.”
I did not know that the next day I would be writing another kaddish essay for the very same Drummer 26 titled “Harvey Milk and Gay Courage.” In my opening I keened:
Less than two hours ago, San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk was shot to death, reportedly by an ex-cop. Two years ago, I watched that ex-cop, Dan White, stripped to the waist and out to prove himself one more time, in his last Golden Gloves bout.” (For a dramatized description of Dan White boxing at the Golden Gloves, see Some Dance to Remember, Reel 1, Scene 16.)
My recitation of how tragedy looked like a curse on minorities continued:
Two months ago, Milk returned home from his supervisorial duties to find that his lover, Jack Lira, a Latino in his twenties, had hanged himself after taping the paperback of the TV miniseries, Holocaust, to the door. The Jew cut the Latino down and held the dead boy while the WASP media watched for a crack in Milk’s composure. Lira’s suicide served rather to firm up Milk’s personal resolve to campaign heavily against California’s anti-gay Prop 6, which Dan White, a recognized homophobe, apparently supported. Milk’s Prop 6 victory three weeks ago [in the November election] was his last.
Several paragraphs later, I added in the even more personal:
Drummer’s David Sparrow [my lover] was in City Hall at the time of the shooting. Within minutes, Harvey’s body, shot twice in the head and three times in the chest, was wheeled past Sparrow and out to the coroner’s office. My last paragraph was an explanation of my intent as editor in chief:
Drummer is dedicated to fun, fantasy, and fetish. But between the lines lies some social conscience, or, at least, we like to think, some recording of our gay social history.
That recording of gay history was what — the day before the killings — I had been writing about: the onrushing end of the CMC Carnival which was being ousted from the San Francisco Seaman’s Hall.
Like the seventeen photographs of CMC for Drummer 20, the thirteen documentary photographs in Drummer 26, pages 82-85, were shot by my domestic lover of ten years, David Sparrow, and me dba “Photos by David Sparrow.” We featured our Drummer cover man Mike Glassman aka “Big Mack Macker” who became the Colt model Ed Dinakos. In my ongoing credit and byline war with publisher Embry, both of my CMC articles (text and photos) were credited on the contents page solely to David Sparrow. The signature style of writing clearly identifies authorship even without byline.
THE CMC & THE SLOT
The first bike club to be officially incorporated in California was the CMC on April 15, 1963. The California Motor Club (not “Motorcycle”) was organized at 111 Gilbert Street, San Francisco, in a warehouse used by Jack Haines’ father to clean used refrigerators and stoves. Its industrial atmosphere made for a perfect clubhouse. The idea of the club was Jack Haines’ and another man, currently unnameable, as he is allegedly still in Mexico waiting for the statute of limitations to run out on whatever he has been accused of doing.
The CMC had nothing to do with Jack Haines’ two other ventures. Jack Haines was also one of the first celebrants of fisting in San Francisco in 1960; he brought the ritual from Los Angeles to his acolyte in San Francisco, Tony Tavarossi. He was also the founding owner of Fe-Be’s and the legendary Slot Hotel, the crystal palace, which seemed sprung from the mind of T. S. Eliot whose J. Alfred Prufrock was describing the Slot when he whispered on about “certain half-deserted streets,” about “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels,” and about being “etherized upon a table.”
“Oh, Baby, never ask, ‘What is it?’ on your visit! You may not be able to handle it.” — Jack Fritscher, “Leather’s Founding Daddies,” “Rear-View Mirror,” Drummer 129 (June 1989)
Beginning in 1966, the annual CMC Carnival was the main leather event of the autumn. The reason the Seaman’s Hall stopped renting to the CMC Carnival was because the once-small event had grown to a mob scene, always orderly, but huge, and sexual, with the first-floor parking area turned into a pissoir of wild sex on drugs celebrated by thousands of men in leather.
I think the CMC chose Seaman’s Hall, 350 Fremont Street, South of Market as a gayification of Ken Kesey’s throwing his successful “Acid Test” parties in San Francisco venues such as the Longshoremen’s Hall in North Beach in 1966. So many of us from South of Market attended Merry Prankster Kesey’s “Acid Test” happenings at the Fillmore that it seemed a natural progression when acid — versions of LSD — became the basic drug for mind-expanding gay sex. At the Barracks bath, for instance, an “office” water-cooler burbling with free Kool-Aid mixed with Owsley acid often stood in the lobby — especially on holidays like July 4, Halloween, Christmas eve, and New Year’s eve — with tiny white-paper cups for anyone who wanted a hit.
At the CMC Carnival, the mix of men and drugs and open-mindedness was so rich that a man’s life could be changed, revolutionized, and transmorphed in a moment. At the CMC Carnival in November 1977, an LA bodybuilder named Dan Dufort tripped me so we could fall into each other’s leather arms, and, although he and I after an initial affair turned out to be a lifelong friends rather than sexmates, he months later introduced me to the championship bodybuilder Jim Enger who became my lover for twenty-eight months while I was editor in chief of Drummer. In turn I introduced Enger, who ennobled my writing in Drummer, to my bicoastal lover Mapplethorpe who found it absolutely necessary to photograph the drop-dead blond physique champion. Life happened and art happened, and Drummer happened, because of the CMC melee which was the tip of the Titanic 1970s.
For details on how I directed and staged our on-location CMC photographs for Drummer, see the volume titled The Drummer Salon in this series Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer.
The CMC Carnival was such a representative and “high leather ritual event” that Drummer 3 (November 1975) bragged on page 46 that cover man Val Martin, star of the films, Boys in the Sand (1971), Sextool (1975), and Born to Raise Hell (1975), was voted “Mr. Leather” at the Hawks’ annual Leather Sabbath in Hollywood, and would be representing Drummer and “the Southern California Leather community at the even larger CMC Carnival in San Francisco in November.” Surfing a wave of homomasculine popularity, Val Martin also appeared as “Renso” on all thirty-six pages of Impact 1 (1974), a Ramon Publication, and in the one-issue magazine, Born to Raise Hell (1975), a Drummer Publication of stills from the film directed by Roger Earl and produced by Terry LeGrand.
In the zero degrees of separation, Mark Hemry and I, traveling on location in Europe with Roger Earl and Terry LeGrand, spent the summer of 1989, the last summer of West Berlin, shooting — up against the Berlin Wall in leather bars like the Knast— six video features for their Bound for Europe series which was the sequel to their Dungeons of Europe Trilogy. In LA, Val Martin was a business partner with my pal, Dick Saunders, owner of the throbbing Probe disco chronicled in the Richard Gere film, American Gigolo (1980). Val Martin died April 13, 1985.
In 1978 when Al Shapiro, John Embry, and I handpicked Val Martin, he became, by our appointment and not by contest, our first Mr. Drummer. For details of Val Martin featured on four Drummer covers and in many centerfolds, including my forty photographs of Val Martin with Bob Hyslop in Drummer 31 (September 1979), see in this Gay San Francisco series, the volume titled The Drummer Salon.
In my 1977 and 1978 articles on the CMC, I did not detail the Fellini-Jarman-Pasolini sexual mise en scene of the “Louis XIV” Carnival, because back in the 1970s everyone took the wild accessibility of surreal sex in public places for granted. The news story was not the “wet, escalating group-sex-on-drugs,” but the hard-knock realism that the straight corporate world was getting its fingers into the underground gay world that up till then had been so outlaw that corporations had no way of making money off it. (Except for the Mafia.) Having dismissed and ignored the CMC Carnival as a silly gay event, suddenly the Seaman’s Hall management, and the City of San Francisco, both woke up and began to increase the rental rate for the building and demand insurance coverage for the sex event. Insurance coverage was one of the reasons that our Pacific Drill Patrol, San Francisco’s first uniform club (founded 1972), stopped throwing our annual uniform orgy parties as early as 1975. The concern about the orgy being fun turned into worry about assumption of risk: “What if somebody falls down the elevator shaft?”
I am connecting historical dots of real conversations.
The demise of the CMC Carnival evolved into the Folsom Street Fair. However, it was not until five years after the annual CMC Carnival went out of business in 1979 that the Folsom Street Fair began in 1984. That first Folsom Fair was organized by native San Franciscan, leatherman Michael S. Valerio, who was also the Folsom Fair’s first executive director. Valerio died of AIDS at age forty; his memorial was January 15, 1995; and his obituary was in Drummer 182.
Entering into gay pop culture where the CMC left off, the Folsom Street Fair, meant to be a leather alternative to the ten-year-old vanilla Castro Street Fair founded by Harvey Milk in August 1974, did not become a wildly popular international draw until the dying time of the late 1980s brought 100,000 men out into the streets. In the way that David Sparrow and I had historicized the CMC Carnival in the 1970s with hundreds of photographs and with my reporting in Drummer, Mark Hemry and I began shooting our Palm Drive Video documentaries of the Folsom Fair in 1984 when the crowds in the street — mostly local leather-bar types — were quite small.
What is interesting to see in our chronicles of these street documentaries is how, as the years go by, the Folsom Street Fair crowd evolves in numbers, attitude, and intensity. Every three years, or so, the videos show a generational change in the tenor of the homomasculine leather look, even though, over-all, the iconic look of a defined muscular man in chaps and stripped to the waist wearing a chest harness, his skin tanned like a saddle, remains virtually unchanged. The strangest Folsom Street Fair we shot was two weeks after 9-11 when restricted air travel shrank the somber crowd to only the bravest souls. By 2002, the gay leather crowd was being morphed by straights pushing baby strollers while ogling men and women being whipped for AIDS charities by Peter Fiske and the 15 Association. I mention this to show the documentary value of what an eyewitness Drummer was in its photographic images: reflexive of real readers in the 1970s before video changed Drummer photography into an album of video porn stars in the 1980s.
The sociological value of our video street documentaries, shot not helter-skelter, but with a big-game hunter’s disciplined and controlled point of view, is that they collect outside in the sunlight the actual faces and bodies of men who are usually only seen under the dim red lights of leather bars. The value of daylight events like the CMC Carnival and street fairs such as Folsom Street Fair and Castro Street Fair is the ability to check out, document, and analyze that part of the gay population that only comes out at night, exhibitionistically wearing gear and getups usually only worn at night. The Folsom Street Fair is the libidinous gay homomasculine Id parading itself proudly. Mark Hemry and I proactively capture diverse images ranging from trophy gods to sexy trolls, because beauty is in the eye, as well as in the “fast-forward” and “freeze frame” of the ultimate beholder cruising the Folsom Fair from his couch. Shooting the CMC Carnival and shooting the Folsom Street Fair, or any large group of gay men, is a real test of an analytic photographer’s steel — and theory. As one photographer among the hundred who filled Drummer, may I explain my work regarding what as editor in chief I thought Drummer needed. I even asked Mapplethorpe to do the same when I cast his Drummer 24 cover. In all my photography, my camera style reflects my psychology. My angle anchors my point of view for the viewer. I cannot be detached and aloof from the subject because I must heat up the viewer to connect to the subject. That’s my job. This is not just documentary; it’s erotic documentary. I must become the viewer. I must turn his ignition to engage his willing suspension of disbelief that occurs when the viewer becomes his voyeurism — and his head and his heart and his cock leap up and become one with the screen.
My photography is the same as my erotic writing: intentionally interactive. In my erotic art theory, on page and on screen, my aim — using standard literary devices — is to connect with the readers or viewers in a way that causes them to experience orgasm.
I like my art on page and screen to start in men’s heads and work its way down.
That connectivity is what I hope distinguishes me as an artist who is a writer and a photographer from the other artists — the gay-genre writers — who are my unthawable peers, but don’t, won’t, can’t compose orgasmic erotica. I mean writers, for instance (and this critique is not meant as a pot shot), like the Violet Quill book club of Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, and all the usual suspects who are the pale darlings of the increasingly bourgeois and totally corporate mega-business of the gay establishment made up of professional homosexuals. Who of them was writing, and publishing erotica, popular or literary, back in the Titanic 70s when wide-open gay liberation would have allowed them to experiment any way they were clever enough to pioneer? I would have welcomed any of them into Drummer, but none of them was far enough along in his writing skills to pen erotica — or ballsy enough, perhaps, to come out of the closet as authors of eros. As an objective correlative of this sniffy 1970s attitude, I offer that it took until the twenty-first century for the Lambda Book Report to dare grant a Lammy Award to — eek! — an erotic book.
Writing is a solitary act and art. Photography is a cooperative act and art. One has to be sensitive to the men being photographed out in public, who because they are being outrageous in public, become newsworthy, and the more outrageous they dress or act, the more newsworthy they become. Sometimes they do not know this legal distinction. Public behavior determines whether or not a person can be photographed in public. The only two restrictions for such photographs is that in the photograph or caption the subject is not ridiculed, and that the subject shot in public is not used for advertising. A street documentary photographer must be ready to handle any response — including a punch in the face.
I have a relentless camera. As an artist, I have to have. To get meaningful footage that is not the kind of “tourist footage” that most video cameras shoot at Folsom Fair, one must be, well, actually, truly relentless and fearless of rejection — just like “cruising for sex.” I try to reinvent the public image of gay men with each shoot. How can I best present what is best about what they have done to themselves? I have to think my way into camera moments that tourist photographers coast through on autopilot.
The posed “snapshot” photo of three or four shirtless gay guys lined up, arms around shoulders, may be Whitmanesque, but it is an unfortunate tourist-camera “take” on street-fair and pride-parade photography precisely because it is posed. Maybe I’m too Weegee or too paparazzo, but a good photographer does not interrupt a man being natural and ask him to pose and grin for a picture.
Not only must the sensitivity of the subjects about the camera be considered, but their sex-appeal for the viewers must be instantly judged: are they hot, and how can I suck that heat into the camera so it warms the viewer alone in an apartment on a winter night. All the while the “clock” is also ticking on the shoot. The Folsom Street Fair rises like Brigadoon for five hours one Sunday once a year. Actually, fewer than four men in all these years have said, “No. Stop!” when I was shooting.
The ideal shot is to take candid footage of men simply “being.” The next most ideal is to shoot cooperative footage of performance art, such as men being walked on all fours as dogs, set-scenes of intricate Japanese bondage, whippings, wrestling, boot-polishing, and displays of huge silicone-enlarged penises. When appropriate, I communicate with the subject I’m shooting by smiling, or while I’m shooting, with hand gestures that indicate “A-OK” or “thumbs up” or a hand gesture that obviously means “keep giving me more of the same.” Also, I either say or mouth the words “Thank you.”
The placement of the camera is as important on the street as it is in a studio video. Most videos are shot from a camera held on the cliche of a shoulder. I spend a lot of time at the Folsom Fair actually creating shots instantaneously so the angle will erotically interpret what I see to shoot, by both moving the camera itself intimately in on body parts, as well as falling to my knees, shooting up at the men who are enlarged and heroized and empowered by that angle. Guys “get” it that it’s empowering when I kneel before them in a position of seeming subservience, reverence, and worship, but...it’s not personal. After all, I’m winning. I’ve got the camera and the footage forever.
My camera goes where the viewer would like to put his eyes and nose. I’m also kneeling for a diversity of home viewers cruising the Folsom Fair from their lounging recliner chairs. In actuality, I am totally anonymous on the street, because I wear a hat as protection from the blazing sun, and the video camera covers two-thirds of my face, and I am just one of thousands of cameras shooting every which way. All this combines to give me the leeway, like a hunter in a duck blind, to imprint the documentary with my own point of view, which, after thirty years of feedback from readers and viewers fairly understands the market of gay erotic taste.
While my camera seeks out archetypal leathermen, musclemen, fetish men, bears, and cigar smokers, the context around them reveals the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and other GLBT types also in attendance. This collection of homomasculine archetypes is for me the erotic documentary point: to capture the essence of “Folsom” at the Folsom Street Fair the way, for twenty-two years I captured quintessential males for Drummer. I confess I love these intensely interesting men who dare to put their sexuality out so publicly. My relentless camera is my post-HIV attempt to save them all for posterity, to have them all on digital video to admire forever.
Years from now when there is a gay satellite network streaming 24/7 programming to the Space Shuttle and Mars and beyond, my promise as a cameraman to these men I’ve shot will come true: “Want to become immortal?”
Sometimes, after editing the footage, and sitting back and watching an hour of all these men montaged together, I can only admire the Fellinithon of men that gay culture offers to western civilization as an alternative to traditional ways of being a quiescently frozen male.
The journalism of this Drummer article on the CMC Carnival? And the video documentaries of Folsom Fair?
This work is all about storing documentary words and images in a time capsule.
After all, the final thirty years of the twentieth century were host to the first generation after Stonewall. That era was populated by men who grew up in closets and secrecy. Back then, all of us continued on in amazement that cameras finally were allowed in to chronicle the public image of a culture that once had dare not record more than one or two Polaroids of itself.
In 1969, a camera in a gay bar started a stampede to escape out the exits. At the end of 1999, a camera at a gay event makes men ready for their close-up.
Actually, I think one street South of Market should be renamed “Drummer Way” or “Leather Lane.” (What a photo opportunity for tourists!) It must intersect Folsom Street between 6th Street and 12th Street. It need be no longer than one short block like Dore Alley or Hallam Close where the Barracks Baths once lit up the SoMa night and then burned down. Because gay culture traditionally has been so much a street culture, this is a significant way to rename an existing street or, while remodeling the grid of SoMa, to create a new mews to acknowledge all the style and character that Drummer culture and leather culture have introduced to San Francisco. From Drummer to Foucault (who tested his “power” philosophy on hot fists late night South of Market), such a dedicated street name is as legitimate as renaming other San Francisco streets representing the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Harvey Milk and his main competitor, Jose Sarria.
My “Berserker” description in the last paragraph is one of the first public definitions of the homomasculine look of the yet-to-emerge bear community.
II-A. The feature essay as published in Drummer 20, January 1978
Always Remember November...
The CMC Carnival 1977
The World’s Best Annual Gay Party
New York, New York, hardly knows what it misses every November when San Francisco hosts the CMC Carnival. The annual autumn bash for Viking-like Berserkers at the Seaman’s Hall began modestly a decade ago as a charity bazaar and has immodestly grown bizarre enough to be A Major Event of the West Coast Season. Multiple charter busses ferry LA-landers to the party, and San Franciscans prefer the November CMC at Seaman’s to October’s Halloween in the streets.
IS IT RICH? IS IT RARE?
Some guys think the CMC Carnival is overcrowded: two floors of booths, beer, and 10,000 bodies. CMC addicts, on the other hand, get off on the press of flesh, the long lines to the outdoor Port-a-Sans, the straight security cops staring into midspace as if they see stand-up orgies for thousands every Sunday afternoon.
SOME ON THE GROUND
The first floor of booths peddles food, drink, leather codpieces, T-shirts, amyl, and games of chance. Wandering among the predominately leather crowd are the year’s muy macho contenders for Mr. CMC whose nomination may be determined by his looks, but whose winning is decided by the cash he raises for charity. They glad-hand with genuine friendliness, climb good naturedly up on stage to rousing cheers at their lengthy charms, pumped chests, and cleft chins. The crowd by 4 PM is shoulder to shoulder, peeling off layers of leather, unable to move more than five feet in ten minutes.
SOME IN MID-AIR
Some guys meet, marry, consummate, and divorce all in one glorious CMC Sunday afternoon. For men more adventurous, the lower-level disco orgy teaches the Funk and Wagnalls truth that carnival means “a celebration of meat.” Performing on your knees on top of a cement floor, piled three-feet-deep with beer cans, makes walking on water an easy trick. Dancers dance and a sucker is always a sucker. The only hitch in the crush is getting back up from your knees to your feet. If ever a man fantasized about his face surrounded by a dozen loaded groins, and a lot of chest-to-chest action, then there is no mall to maul him nearly so good as the CMC carnival.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS
So, New York! Book all of Manhattan onto your charter flight for next November. CMC Carnival is a date not to be missed. Mark it firmly on your Drummer Calendar of Autumn Events.
Proper Berserkers are mighty of stature, hairy of face and body, generously thewed and sinewed. Their interest is not war but battle. In time of peace, they sharpen their wits and mend their scanty battle harness. They are inclined to drink. Experienced Berserkers are able to transform themselves entirely into animals. Wise Berserkers provide themselves with wooden shields covered in leather, for it is their custom to chew upon the rims as they wait for battle. Metal shields do great damage to teeth and gums. Berserkers’ spit is thought to be more corrosive than most. If not paid attention to, Berserkers show interest in little, except becoming werewolves.
II-B. The feature essay as published in Drummer 26, January 1979
Lost Our Lease. Everyone Must Go...
Seaman’s Semen’s End CMC Carnival 1978
Everything must change. Nothing, not even the California Motor Club (CMC) Carnival stays the same. So give us an OI! Give us a VAY ! Gone are the CMC’s of yesterday!
This season’s bash at San Francisco’s Seaman’s Hall was the last ever in that sanctified location. And the change of place will inevitably change everything. Remember how London Bridge changed when moved to the
U.S. southwest? Un-believable! Remember how you changed when you moved your ass out of your cedar-lined closet in whatever Cedar Rapids or Cedar Falls? Even more un-believable.
NO MORE MR. CMC?
The CMC Carnival, like every good show, must go on. After all, some events become institutions that resonate with an importance beyond themselves. Think of the Super Bowl. Think of the Academy Awards. Some events start out ordinary and end up as annual tribal rituals. The CMC Carnival, with proceeds donated to charity, plays in this league. The show must go, but shouldn’t the show go on?
So where? Seaman’s two floors of wall-to-wall wet, leathered bodies was the perfect ritual ground. The Cow Palace next? Too big–unless we either start to propagate or start to recruit. Somewhere there’s a place for us.
Meanwhile, just keep clapping your hands and believing so Mr. CMC will continue to live.
FISTING FOR DOLLARS
In one wild aberration even in wild San Francisco, several carnivals ago, one inventive booth offered a willing ass propped up and ready to go (for charity, remember!) at 50¢ per fist. Now, THAT’S entertainment!
Some CMC veterans may blush to remember, but any group up front enough to sponsor a bash that turned from a simple beer bust into one of the world’s wildest standup encounter groups, not only can’t be bad at all, but must make sure their charity show goes on and on and on. CMC forever! No matter where!