Felice Picano

An Audience with the Éminence grise

Richard Burnett
Commentaires
Felice Picano

I adore the éminence grise of queer literature, the fearless writer I call the Godfather of Gay Lit, Felice Picano, whom I last saw when he visited Montreal in November 2016. Felice stayed at my place and gave a public Q&A at the Never Apart gallery in Mile Ex as part of their Legend Series.

I adore the éminence grise of queer literature, the fearless writer I call the Godfather of Gay Lit, Felice Picano, whom I last saw when he visited Montreal in November 2016. Felice stayed at my place and gave a public Q&A at the Never Apart gallery in Mile Ex as part of their Legend Series.
 
Make no mistake, Felice is a living legend. He revolutionized literature as the founder of SeaHorse Press and as one of the founders and Editor-in-Chief of Gay Presses of New York, which launched such writers as Harvey Fierstein, Dennis Cooper and Brad Gooch. In fact, when SeaHorse Press began in 1977, it was just the second gay publishing house in the world, after Gay Sunshine Press in San Francisco. 
 
Felice shot to fame in 1979 with the publication of his controversial thriller The Lure, with its candid depiction of the gay sexual subculture of the era. A prolific writer, Felice is also a great memoirist who has met practically everybody. I first met him at a Montreal brunch in either 2000 or 2001, and have written my annual Felice Picano column ever since. When I caught up with Felice recently, he was nursing a bad cold. 
 
How did you get your cold?
 
I lost my health in San Francisco. It’s a new song. Every time I do a book tour for more than two weeks, I get a cold. I remember one book tour a few years ago lasted two months and I got three colds.
 
About the Oscar-winning film Call Me By Your Name, you recently posted on social media, “I would watch Armie Hammer recite the phone book, especially if he stripped while doing it. But this movie about a privileged and shallow gay teenager's limerence and love-suffering was a chore… I cannot believe how grown queens who ought to know better are gushing over this.”
 
I never thought I would ever find gay romance and gay sex boring, but I found this film boring. I literally stopped watching the DVD halfway through. I went back to it the next day. It was too pretty, it was too fey. They danced around without ever really going near the subject. And I had trouble with the way the young man was represented. Though I thought Armie Hammer did a great job with his character who was a handsome louse. In some ways it’s not a completely honest movie. I think of it as a New York Times movie, and the book it is based on as a New York Times book. 
 
Speaking of books, I have in front of me your bestselling epic Like People in History. 

Fantastic! This morning I received a contract via email to turn that book into a TV series. I am laying it out to see if it would work for six to eight episodes, and it looks good. The person giving me the option keeps saying, “Now’s the time.” We’ve been talking about it for at least four or five years as a movie, but I can’t see it as a movie. The novel is set up like The Odyssey or even The Iliad. It is six books divided into two, so 12 books. So it’s structurally an epic too.
 
What are your thoughts about the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida? What do you think of these high school teens rising up?
 
I hope we are at a turning point (for gun control), and if we are, it’ll be the first generation since the baby boomers to do anything in the way of real protest or political action. It has been 50 to 60 years between the two generations. I am hoping with all my heart that this galvanizes a generation of youth to protect themselves because they just figured out the man doesn’t give a shit about them. They’re just beginning to realize this. I hope they have the fortitude and persistence to take this to the next level and keep at it. 
 
You've witnessed some bad American presidents in your lifetime – Nixon, Reagan and Dubya. What do you think of Trump?
 
This presidency is off the charts! I think people who voted for him really thought some kind of change was necessary. Besides the fact that I think the election was essentially fixed at some point and that Trump is not a legal president – and I think this Mueller investigation will show that – I think Trump is moving quickly because he knows he has limited time.
 
There is no question the Republican Party is betraying everyday Americans. This is the party of Abraham Lincoln, don’t forget. I think they were so desperate to win that they accepted any candidate. They won this last election, but they probably won’t win again in our lifetimes because they have galvanized so much opposition. Look at those kids in Florida wearing signs saying “We vote next.”
 
Media coverage of alleged Toronto gay serial killer Bruce McArthur has often focused on gay male promiscuity and our use of dating apps. Your thoughts?
 
I’ve been following this story out of Toronto and we have seen this (narrative) before. When I was in Toronto in 2016, people were talking to me about the possibility that there was a serial killer in their city and how the police weren’t doing anything about it back then. Now it’s like, “Well, if you weren’t on dating apps, this wouldn’t happen to you.” It’s blaming the victim. Like, what the fuck? Gay-male promiscuity is always the go-to whipping boy, because straight people can’t do it openly and they’re jealous. I think this victim-blaming is typical and if Toronto’s gay community makes enough of a stink they may be able to get rid of that guy (Toronto police chief Mark Saunders), though he seems to think he is protected by being a minority. But if police had done something about it, they wouldn’t have more murders on their hands.
 
Aside from possibly adapting Like People In History into a TV series, what are your upcoming projects?
 
I am just back from San Francisco, I am going to New Orleans for the Tennessee Williams and the Saints and Sinners literary festivals, a New York theatre company will stage readings of two new plays, and my writing workshops at the West Hollywood Public Library run from April to June. And they are free! It’s a rich little city.
 
The past couple years I’ve been teaching these writing workshops and the main thing I say to someone writing a book is, “Get the reader to page two, then page five, then chapter two, then chapter five.” You can tell who is a natural writer because they don’t have to be told that. They understand that a narrative has a natural thrust propulsion.
 
You and your two great friends Edmund White and Andrew Holleran are the only living survivors of the mythical Violet Quill Club. How do you feel about being called a living legend?
 
I have no problem with that. I just think there is a whole generation of young people who have no idea who I am. It doesn’t upset me. I am still writing and doing stuff. It’s just when I look at writers like Andrew Holleran – who is one of the best writers of our generation, if not the best – he has essentially stopped publishing, except writing reviews. 
 
Is there a general gay amnesia?
 
Possibly, probably, yeah.
 
I can’t let you go without asking you one question about celebrity. You once had an affair with Hollywood actor Anthony Perkins.
 
You know, Tab Hunter once told me that being gay ruined his Hollywood career. But I never talked about the closet with (Anthony Perkins). We never talked. We didn’t talk about anything. We just did it. It was just sex. Nothing but sex. He was a huge guy, like a basketball player. But he was very sweet. 
 
Visit www.felicepicano.net for more Felice Picano.
Read Richard Burnett’s national queer-issues column 
Three Dollar Bill online at www.bugsburnett.blogspot.com.



 
 

Max Raabe & Palast Orchester

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum! 

 
Berlin crooner Max Raabe is a dandy throwback to Noel Coward and Cole Porter. Now, his famed 12-piece orchestra Max Raabe & Palast Orchester will make their Montreal debut on April 16, performing songs popular during the Weimar Republic (1919 to 1933) when Berlin was the gay capital of the world and LGBTQ life flourished and was celebrated – as epitomized by Liza Minnelli in Cabaret. Raabe is also 
a favourite of Berlin’s LGBTQ community for his AIDS work: in 2007 he succeeded German comedy-legend Loriot as honorary MC for the
annual Berlin opera gala of the German AIDS foundation
 
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester headline
Théâtre Maisonneuve on April 16. 
For tickets, visit placedesarts.com.