I’m back!

i’m not sure if I still have any readers on this site anymore since I’ve been away from my postings for so long. Sorry about that. But I promised myself I wouldn’t post again until I had a chunk of my new novel written. Last week, I sent off 101 pages of THE SENSUAL MUSIC OF NEGLECT to my agent to see if they are worthy to show to publishers. I hope so. I think I’ve come up with something quite different and moving and funny. But we’ll see. I’ll keep you … ah … posted.

I’ve been up in Provincetown since June 1st – except for a brief trip back to NYC and Washington D.C. to do a couple of readings of MISSISSIPPI SISSY as well as furnish the “entertainment” to a big Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Waldorf at which we raised over a million dollars for the upcoming campaign. In NYC I did a reading at the Gay and Lesbian Center that went really well. Down in D.C. I did one at the FDIC as its featured speaker for Gay and Lesbian month.

It’s my sixth summer here in Ptown. Last night was typical of my time here. I went to see Hairspray at the local movie theatre and as I walked out I ran right into my old buddy, John Waters, who wrote and directed the original version. John is a Ptown summer denizen like me. He asked what I thought of the film. “Well, I can’t lie to you, John. I thought it was a mess. I started to hate it during Michelle Pfeiffer’s first production number and it went down hill from there. I adored the Broadway production. But this mess of a movie just made me realize how much I loved your original version.” John smiled and shrugged. “I think they did a fresh job. I liked it,” he said. “But I didn’t make this movie so you can’t hurt my feelings about it. A lot of people feel the way you feel about it, but a lot of others love it. Are you coming to my party later?” he asked, moving on to more important matters. I told him I was but first had to catch a ten o’clock performance of the Nellie Olsens, an edgy sketch comedy troupe that consists of three old NYC friends of mine. They were hilarious. Then I rode my bike to John’s party and as I walked in I was confronted with a social tableau that could only be witnessed in Ptown, which is why John and I all those like us who revel in the slightly taboo and a kind of grin-inducing incongruity summer here. Before me, as I entered his party, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Cunningham and editor-in-chief of New York magazine Adam Moss were being introduced to gay porn icon Jeff Stryker. When I coupled that image with one I had earlier in the evening of my old friend Andrew Sullivan and his partner Aaron (to be married here in a month) stopping to share a few laughs with Miss Richfield, one of Ptown’s reigning drag divas, as they strolled along Commercial Street with columnist Dan Savage and his partner and their young son who are here for Family Week which started yesterday … well, it all just reminds me why I keep coming back to this most quaint of fishing villages at the very tip of Cape Cod, an end-of-the-world kind of place – geographically, not philosophically – where all are welcome.

It’s good to be back – in Ptown as well as this blog.

The Inn Crowd

Okay. By Wednesday of this week I had processed the review in the Times that’s running. I listened to a lot of Lena Horne to help me do it – especially her “Live on Broadway” recording. I not only love listening to her sing her songs, but also all the patter between them when she relates the ups and down of her life and how she consistently had to overcome shit. “I ran up the steps of MGM (where I was already signed) and told them you call Twentieth Century Fox and you tell’em ah’m back and ah’m gonna be Pinky!” she exclaims at one point – I love that moment – when she heads out to LA on the Super Chief train in the 1940s, quitting her job at Cafe Society to try and break into the movies for the second time, in order to claim the title role in that upcoming movie. She loses out, however, to Jeanne Crain. “A pretty little brown-haired blue-eyed child,” she says, her voice reverberating, reverence far from its tone, with all the times she had heard that very phrase spoken around her, no doubt, as she grew up in Brooklyn able to pass as a pretty little white girl herself but proudly refusing to do so, joining the Cotton Club chorus line by the time she was 16. “I felt bad for a while,” she deadpans to the audience about losing the part to Crain. “About 12 years. But I got over it. I knew life would go on and history would catch up and I’d end up sweating like a dog up here on Jimmy Nederlander’s stage actin’ like a damn fool and lovin’ every minute of it!” God. I love Lena Horne. If you don’t have any Lena in your music collection, go out and get some. She won’t let you wallow in self-pity; even when she’s singing about it you can hear in her voice that it ain’t gonna last too long because wallowing is for lower forms of life. And Lena is one superior form.

If color-blind casting had been in effect back in her day, Lena would have made a great Scarlett O’Hara. In fact, I summoned my inner Scarlett on Wednesday night. I stared at the drapes in my window. Tore them down. And whipped myself up a gown to wear out and hold my head high. I’d been invited by Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair, to a cocktail party he was throwing for an old colleague of his, Kurt Andersen, who has just published a highly praised novel, Heyday. Graydon was holding the party at his exclusive new restaurant, Waverly Inn. At first I thought I’d not go since I knew probably a lot of the people there would have already read the nasty review of Mississippi Sissy in the NYTBR. (It publishes early and the literati of Manhattan all grab their early copies so they know what to gossip about in the days leading up to another Sunday.) But I held my head high and made my way to the Village. Sure enough, a lot of the people there had read my review and were spitting mad about it. I talked to several friends who bucked me up. Others, I spotted, to reprint the list that Page Six ran: Rosanne Cash, Jim Cramer, Barry Diller, Jonathan Franzen, Kurt Vonnegut, John Huey, Walter Isaacson, Norm Pearlstine, Rick Stengel, Jacob Weisberg, and Michael Hirshhorn. Amy Fine Collins and I hung out for most of the party and made our way back to the lovely garden room of the Inn. It is said – this was my first time there (I did love the murals) – that one doesn’t want to be seated back there because it is considered Siberia, not part of the inner sanctum’s inner sanctum. But that’s where I felt most comfortable.

I walked home listening to Lena. I smiled all the way.

Enjoy this while you’re here:

The Birth of Mississippi Sissy!

The American South of the 1960s was no place to be different, much less a freak. Back then, boys grew up to become football heroes and marry girls who were taught to be perfect Southern belles. Segregation ruled, and you never voted for a Democrat in a national election, especially not a Kennedy. As far as music was concerned, you never sang anything in public other than a hymn. But Craig Gray knew he was different. His hero wasn’t Mickey Mantle. It was Arlene Francis. He knew the lyrics to Broadway show tunes as well as he knew the Baptist hymnal, and his grandmother’s African American maid, Matty May, taught him that the color of a person’s skin was not as important as what was underneath.

In his growing up, Craig Gray was a decidedly different resident of Forest, Mississippi, a solitary little boy whose parents died by the time he was eight years old. But he learned how to survive by drawing his family close to him, keeping dark secrets others feared to tell, and learning how to turn the word sissy on its head, just as his mama had taught him.

In a memoir set in Mississippi’s small towns, as well as the wider world of Jackson, Mississippi Sissy is a memoir of Southern voices now gone that mixes the tart-tongued, race-conscious patter of Craig’s Aunt Lola with the artistic, politically liberal musings of one of his early mentors, the great American writer Eudora Welty. It remembers the literary and theatrical lessons of journalist Frank Hains as well as the opportunistic and sinister preaching of a traveling evangelist who taught other, darker lessons. And, finally, it looks clear-eyed at the bittersweet truth of a Southern life touched by a violent and brutal act, an act that brings home the lessons America’s South can teach to those who are different.

In Mississippi Sissy, Craig Gray, one of our best-known celebrity journalists, creates a great panorama of the American South at mid-century as seen through the eyes of an odd little boy who took one small word—sissy—and made it bigger and stronger than anyone ever knew it could be.

“When I am asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it’s because we are still able to recognize one.”
— Flannery O’Connor