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The Butt interview that never was

samedi 27 novembre 2010 ,par Didier Lestrade

Spring 2010

Avec l’expo sur Magazine, les boys de Butt voulaient m’interviewer et voilà, plus de 6 mois après, c’est toujours pas sorti, donc je suppose que ça ne sortira jamais. Autant publier l’interview avant qu’elle ne soit complètement décomposée, ahah. Tout ça en dit beaucoup sur Butt, once again. The fab interview is done by Billy Miller.

-  Your recent exhibit has generated a lot of interest and awareness of the publication Magazine that you edited and published in the 1980s. What influenced you to make Magazine and why do you think people are connecting with it now after all this time ?

I guess I was trying to make a name for myself. I had no money, no connection, I was just starting to live in Paris and I wanted to be independant and start things from scratch. I knew I wanted to write but didn’t know how and had little respect for mainstream media. I was too gay, I suppose. Just like in music, I was specializing in stuff that was very separatist. When I got into disco, I decided that I would listen ONLY to black music. When I got into porn, I decided it would be clones only. When I got into photography, it would be black and white only.

People always told me to expand, that I was too narrow minded in my passions, and I wanted to grow the niche, even when that name was not used. « Specialize », I told myself, « it will hide all the knowledge that you don’t have ».

So maybe that’s why people feel interested now by Magazine. It’s such a good example for a niche from 30 years ago. In 2002, I did publish the diary of those years, but the 80’s revival was just starting, it was bad timing for the book. Too early. Now kids see it as « vintage » (even if that word makes me gringe), like some time warp. I think it’s because Magazine was so precice in its taste, in its view of men and art, it was basically what Gilbert & George were saying : « It takes a boy to understand a boy’s point of view ». That sentence ended up as a motto for us. Men for men.

- Even though they claim print is on the way out, the distribution system has grown and expanded far beyond what it was only a couple decades ago. In the early ‘80s, there just weren’t that many places to sell homo books, no homo art stars per se, and Abercrombie & Fitz, Calvin Klein, etc. had yet to begin to popularize homoerotic imagery in the marketplace. Magazine was in advance of a lot of things maybe younger people take for granted now. How was Magazine received initially and how did you distribute it ?

Well, in France, when you start something, anything, everybody tells you it will flop. They told me that for Magazine, for Act Up, for Têtu, for the stuff that I’m doing now, so in the beginning, Magazine was understood by very few people. It was only men, we were toying with dodgy ideas, just to annoy people, like Extreme Right images even if we were all well bred 100% socialists, but it was the beginning of the eighties, Mitterrand was in power, and we wanted to twist it a bit.

Our blason, for exemple, it a typical exemple. When Magazine co-founer and artistic director Misti Gris draw that blason, my first reaction was positive, but I said « Can’t you make that face a little more… masculine ? ». I was brought up on Colt, you know, their stone logo with the horse, so I wanted something manly, sexy. But Misti told me that it was better this way, people were going to feel not comfortable by it, because it’s such a logo that reminds you with scouts, old 50’s kids stuff, and then it was much more daring. And at the same time, it’s very pure, very iconic.

So in the beginning, Magazine was not this « breakthrough thing », it grew on people during a couple of years and then, by 1984, I suddenly realized that I was getting cruised by hunky guys at the Palace Tea Dance on sundays, real sexy guys who never laid their eyes on me before, even when I was strutting my stuff right in front of them. One night, one of the leader of the pack, Didier Claude, cruised me at the Palace and I went to his place, and before having sex I went to the toilets to have a pee. And that’s when I saw the whole collection of Magazine, along comic books on Miss Piggie (how predictable). Then I realised I was being fucked because of Magazine. It felt good.

-  Magazine had style, but didn’t seem to be about branding or particularly fashion-oriented – at least not in a marketing and branding sort of way. There were no international big brands that were reaching out to a homosexual customer base when you started producing your publication. Where there other magazines that influenced you ?

Yes, I had been dreaming about that branding thing all my life, and then we did it with Têtu, and then it bugs me now. The irony of it. When people ask me for influences, I keep on rambing about Straight To Hell and Folsom, but that’s true. I was really looking for « sister fanzines » and couldn’t find any at that time. There was no competition whatsoever. We were the only ones. I thought it would be so much better if Magazine was part of some fagzine movement.

Then one day I got one of the first books of dirty stories published by Boyd McDonald. I was really turned on. Those stories of guys having sex on the roads around military bases, I thought it was unique. And the writing was so good, so dry, so matter of fact. So I sent Boyd McDonald a fan letter and I guess he wasn’t getting any from France so he sent me copies of STH and my eyes went sore. I loved the idea of the no lay-out, just text with old cheap porn pics from NY seedy stores. And I was hooked.

Folsom, well, I loved it even more. Big format chef d’œuvre from SF, it was in colour and had this incredible flyers for leather events in the woods, big ones at that, with papier gaufré and stuff that you could scratch and smell and it was all about the leather / clone scene. The ads were gorgeous, you could tell they were working on those as much as they were working on the rest, text and pics. So I sent once again a fan letter from France and sure enough, very few letters were coming from Paris and Jim Moss was so happy that he lended us 10 pics (of real men) in our 8/9 issue. I was dead surprised to see that they knew about Magazine.

- We’re probably the same age, so I’m wondering what you remember about the world before “gay” ? In the States, my fellow Baby Boomers all have a similar cannon of mostly TV-derived pop culture personalities that were sort of adopted as pre-gay mascots. Do you recall a similar thing in France... maybe Jean Marais, or ? But then all French men are gai right ?... (all those berets and scarves and ruffles, etc...)

Yeah Cocteau was major for any queen in the sixties and seventies in France. But my earliest souvenir of being gay was not the French stuff. The men were too dressed for me, even at 10. It lacked real porn value. I got gay because of TV westerns, like Steve McQueen in « Wanted : Dead or Alive ». By 5 I was looking at him with my eyes wide open but the big click happened when I realized Robert Conrad was barechested in most of the time of « The Wild Wild West » and yes, I’m one of those older gays guys who got into him, his chest was so beautiful, I had NEVER seen beautiful body hair on muscuclar pecs like that on French TV ever and I got all flushed and wondered what was happening to me and it was that short, hunky, dark, all man sexy Robert Conrad who led me to be the man I am. Thank god for straights, I say.

- Along those lines, what other things were different about the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as compared to now ?

It was dull, girl. To me, the worst thing about the seventies was, it was so hard to dress in a proper way. I was a farm boy, always dirty and négligé and my father bought us one pair of pants PER YEAR and they looked and fitted bad from day 1. So when I got to Paris, I had more choice, and that was a relief. Getting to wear MA1 jackets, jeans and Doc Martens was a lifesaver during the heighties. I never bought a suit in my life. I managed to make a living without one, just like I make a living right now without a cell phone.

I think, the big difference was AIDS of course, and I have a feeling, but it’s hard to express it now because people assume I’m just an old git, that people were nicer before. One thing got really better since then was the music with house and activism got really better with Act Up and gay media is all around. So many things changed for gays. And we lost so many people who would be doing wonderful things today if they were around. Then I realized that porn got better too, even if the vintage stuff was already great. Gay porn today is really a topic to write about. But the biggest change for me is coming from straight people. No doubt about it. In 30 years, they opened up a lot, that’s why I’m not into the hardcore movement against homophobia. I am amazed how straight people are cool these days.

- Were you living in Paris in the late 70’s – early 80’s, and did you participate in the free-for-all sexcapades that were common in that era ? I remember hearing for instance about cruising in underground parking lots and other places.

Yeah, I was going on my bike to the Louvre where they used to cruise before they redid all the gardens, but I’ve never been a slut, really. I loved the Tuileries during daytime where a lot of gays were going. During the Magazine years, I was jealous of my friends who were doing it full time but I was so broke that I was working at 7 am as a groom in an hotel until 1pm to pay Magazine’s bills. And then I was working full time for Maga. So by the time it was getting late at night, I was wrecked and I just wanted a wank. And I guess, all my life I’ve been involved in very consuming jobs like that, like working 14 years for Act Up day and evenings, then for Têtu, and it keeps you away from the glory holes.

- I first found out about Magazine via our mutual buddy Bill Anderson – a/k/a “Sissy Fitzpatrick”- and then later on I was supposed to photograph the artist Etienne for Steve LaFreniere’s interview you ran– but comically, my camera broke the day of the interview and you ended up running another photo the artist gave you. Then soon afterwards I met your rock-star brother LaLa and Billy Boy when they stayed at Steve’s place on one of their nation-wide Barbie doll hunts for Billy’s couture project. While they were visiting, Diana Vreeland telephoned asking for Billy. What’s it like having such an unconventional extended family ? Oh, and along those lines, aren’t you literally a “flower child” ?

My familly is definitely a dead-end, the gay guys and lesbians cousins definitely outnumbered the straight ones and the Lestrade name is gonna die with us. Which is fine. When I was a kid, I had a special prep and inspiration from my older bro Lala, who’s the real artist and real special special person of my familly. Whatever I did and do in my life, Lala is always more inspired, better than me. So I owe him a lot and I owe a lot to the realiationship he has with Billy Boy, because they were part of the big queens around me. Still, with that in mind, famlly is really not and issue for me. I’m known for being the selfish one, the youngest one, the one who never calls for birthdays or Christmas or shit like that. It’s beyond me, I don’t like it, and people know that I don’t answer the phone either. And, yes, I’m a flower child.

- Can you tell readers a bit about your background and what lead you to take on the task of publishing an independent publication like Magazine so in advance of the market for it ?

I was born in Algeria before the independance and my familly was kicked off, rightlty so, by the war and my parents divorced on top of that. We were 4 boys, 3 of them gay, I was the youngest one and I grew up in the countryside, between Bordeaux and Toulouse. As a teen, I was into everything but mostly into Lou Reed and punk and folk to and I tried to commit suicide at 17, Larry Kamer way, with 200 aspirins. I missed it and decided to turn the page, live in Paris and fall in love.

See, I believe I’m alive and well because I have this obsession with the male face, the male body, the idea of masculinity. Some say I’m obsessed. I never met in my life somebody who can talk and talk as much as I do about the beauty of men. I found that most of the gays can’t keep up this discussion for much long and that still bugs me, I think this is the essential discussion, talking at length about some actor beard, some skin, some beautful torso, some dick.

- What made you decide to become involved in AIDS activism ? I mean lots of people with the virus become more concerned about politics but very few get involved.

After leaving Magazine, I started a successful freelance job as music journalist, writing in Libération about disco, the early days of house and techno in and other media. Soon, I was malking money for the first time in my life, travelling west, going many times to New York where I fell in love with Jim Dolinsky, the man who probably inspired me the most. I was already HIV+ and he got me to see Act Up-NY from 1987 and that blew me away.

So I got this nagging feeling that I had to give something back. As I saw it, gay people had been nice to me, Magazine was over but it gave me a name that sent me to bigger things. I met many friends, a lot of people I still cherish today. And as nobody wanted to start Act Up in Paris in 1989, so I did. A lot of it was out of sheer admiration from the NY chapter of Act Up, I was thriving to be as good as them. The TAG guys. I spent the nineties working like a dog on treatment issues and France was first in Europe to have access to new HIV drugs. We saved thousand of lifes.

And then I got into that big big fight against bareback and gays doing all the wrong things about HIV prevention. In a nutshell, that’s what got me. I had to get involved. I thouht it was the ultimatate urgent, desperate and cool thing to do. For many years, Magazine was a tiny joke for me, compared to the hugeness of this epidemic shit. I stored the Magazine archives and seldom opened them. I know Butt doesn’t write so much about that, but AIDS is still major in my life. I consider myself a decent guy in AIDS, I practice what I preach, I am safe and judgemental – and that’s why people think I’m a pain in the ass too.

- Forgot to ask if you could tell readers about the exhibit/fair you recently took part in - and how Magazine was received there ?

I was surpriesed to get the proposal from Galerie 12Mail. I’m sad the Butt boys didn’t get to see it, but c’est comme ça, c’est la vie. It’s a small galerie so you can show stuff on only 2 walls and I figured out it was impossible to do a real overview of Magazine. So I told the guys at the gallery that I was going to xerox the pages of all the issues and do a collage thing. I love collage. If you want to show the range of the pics and the erotic drawings in Magazine, you have to splash it on the walls because there are so many of them.

It means there are a lot of dicks and naked guys and portraits of gay men from 30 years ago. It’s like anthropology, like when you see stuff from Old Reliable. So the walls were covered by all those photos, the lay-out of the text pages, and I framed 20 portraits of people we interviewed for Magazine, like Sylvester, Jimmy Somerville, Divine, Erté, Tom of Finland, Edmund White, and the sexy guy from The Redskins. It was all snapshots that I did at the time and never printed before.

People liked it. It was a nice and lovey opening with people blocking the street and people I love who worked for Magazine like Patrick Sarfati. There was a super cute 19 year old punk gay guitarist who kept asking smart questions about that time. He’s a friend now. People from the house scene came. Everything went smooth from day 1, and I never did an exhibition before in my life, I wasn’t stressed. Everything was in time. And I don’t have a cell phone.

- With "gay" bookstores closing rapidly in the U.S. and other places, and the print medium diminishing all the time, do you see a future in homosexualist publications or independent publishing in general ?

I really don’t know. Printing a gay fanzine has never been so expensive these days and peole do it everywhere so it must be possible. I guess there is going to be a growing frustration towards the gay mainstream press that fuilds it. It’s not that they don’t do things right, there are still good pieces of journalism in the gay press, it’s all the rest that they fuck up. The music reviews, the art stuff, the culture at large, the political agenda. They shrink things up because Internet is there and they think « well, if gay people wanna found out more, they will go on the net » but it’s a catastrophic idea and we know it doesn’t work even for straight media. Writing stuff with ink on paper makes a solid statement. The stuff that the main gay media do is so boring, so out of touch. They lower the standart of everything. Everything is washed out, you get to write about a book or a CD in 20 words. It’s sick. It’s not what I signed for.

- During your stint as editor/publisher of Magazine, you published the crème de la crème of international homo personalities of that period. I for instance was waaaaay impressed when you published an interview with Brion Gysin. Can you relate any anecdotes about working on any of those pieces ?

OK, I admit we were a bit snob. We wanted to rub our shoulders to those beautiful names that looked so good on a cover of a magazine. The cover of Magazine had just the titlle and a list of all 10 names that we interviewed for the issue. Their name itself were a brand for us. When you put Raymond Voinquel next to Paul Bowles, it looks good, it’s like that. Or Tommy Boy and Aldfredo Arias : it rocks. At 20, I was so excited to have my name related in a very very very remote way to Brion Gysin. In the first issue of Magazine, we managed to steal an old 60’s print of William Burroughs in a fancy parisian house owned by a rich gay guy and we published the print, it was a treasure for us, even if we didn’t have the right to print it.

How can I say ? Even way back in1980’s, we had the feeling that a gay world was vanishing, the one that happened before us, in the 50’s and 60’s ans 70’s. A part of me was happy about it, like « Good riddance and make way for us, bitch » but the other part was fascinated by the old arty queens and we were trying to hold something from that era before it went away.

But the larger question was that we knew our gay history. We were learning all the time about gay stuff and we were always eager to lean more. It was impossible for us to say « Nah, I don’t care about male photography today, I’d rather fuck on the Minitel ». The first time I got to Fire Island, I was hesitating every day about what to do : go to the beach and enjoy the sun and cruise the boys or stay home in the dark with the queens and watch black & white gay movies ? I was amazed by the movie and Broadway culture that you guys have in America and I guess I wanted to learn. When I was young, I wanted to be able to sustain a conversation with a gay queen, to know her references, to be able to talk back, to debate. And maybe to get laid in the process if the guy was also hot. And that’s what I did with Jim Dolinsky in NY who was the first big collector of physique memorabilia I ever met. He had all the estate of Bruce of Los Angeles and the big photo studios of the sixties and when he died, he gave it all to the Mapplethorpe Foundation and it’s resting on basement somewhere. The shame of it.

I am freaked out by how quick we went from creating our own history to « We don’t care about gay history anymore ». It zapped so fast ! We haven’t really even started collecting all the old stuff from the Paradise Garage, Better Days, The Saint and stuff. And now gay people don’t seem to care. And I don’t wanna sound tired about the young gays, but they don’t go to gay bookstores in Paris anymore. We lost many customers. When you see that all the English queens who stayed in the closet for so long like the PSB got away with it and nobody, I mean nobody ar all is praising Jimmy Somerville for being the guy who really did the right thing for gays all his life. It bugs me.

The photographers and artists in Magazine were cutting-edge at the time and the work still holds up. Thing is however that this sort of art was not yet mainstreamed when you were doing it. I don’t even think Bruce Weber had started to popularize homoeroticism in advertising yet. Don’t know about Paris, but in NYC, i see normal families carrying shopping bags from Abecrombie & Fitz and other places with sexually suggestive photos of almost nude young men - and the same sort of over-the-top images of guys are also on billboards, taxis, and everywhere else. Did you have a feeling that it would all lead to the commercialization of homoerotic imagery that we have today ?

Mmm no, it wasn’t mainstream of course but don’t forget that we all bought the seminal copy of GQ, in 1980, when Bruce Weber got to do the whole issue around of the Los Angeles Olympics. When this issue was out, you could FEEL something was happening, we had never seen all those gay models posing this way. You could see Bruce Weber putting his finger on something we were dying for. And then, when we launched Têtu, we were all into the big CK billboards on Broadway, so we got that as an economic goal. Yes, we also did Têtu because we wanted to create a gay magazine which could get Renault ads and big corportation stuff, because there was no gay media in France before to make it happen. And deep down, I like that gay stuff is so in your face now, in the streets, in the ads.

So I’m part of the problem, I know. I might be dissing gay consumerism but I created the French gay media which made it all possible. I don’t think I was naive, I thought we had to go down the road of « gay money » because we thought that it was the key to get more power in the society. Little did we knew.

- There is a new international "connectedness" with like-minded people from all parts of the world now being in more or less constant communication... at least in the more affluent parts of the world that is. Do you feel that this may be a way of instituting effective change, or are people just essentially wasting time and not doing much more than clicking buttons  ?

Oh that’s a hard one. There is a strong lineage of protest in French culture and I want to believe that I’m a part of it, even when I’m doing some nice, lovey dovey things on Facebook too. I don’t throw my legs in the air and show my butt or my dick on the net, but I’m all out, HIV, porn, crazy. So I don’t get it when people are just posting Youtube videos all the time on FB, because it’s like so boooring while you could discuss about Gaza and make a stand and scream at each other. I am afraid gay demos are a thing of the past, that people do « kiss-in » because it’s dead easy, that we’e gonna wait a long time before some new group think it’s cool to demonstrate again. I love guys like Peter Thatchell in England who go out there and march. I totally worship them.

- Being from the lower class myself, I’m keenly aware that the visible gay "community" these days is almost entirely composed of middle and upper class consumers. My thinking is that they are expressing their so-called "gayness" mostly by just that... i.e. "consuming". I recently read an article on a popular gay blog about how buying Lady Gaga records was a way to combat homophobia. Is that all there is to it, or am I missing something ? I mean the world is pretty much fucked. The environment is being destroyed by greed and nobody is doing much of anything. In the face of all the threats to our general quality of life and with religion threatening to drag the world into a new version of the Dark Ages, what difference does it make what the latest style of sandals from Paris, NYC, or Milan is ? And what are fags doing collectively to change anything ?

Well, if you wanna start me on that, I really think that gay people have been bought very cheap, when you compare with other minorites. We got gel in our hair and lube in our ass. I’s sticky, but cheap. I can’t answer to that question in so many words, I wrote a book about breaking away from the gay market, I buy clothes once a year now, I don’t have a cell phone and I live in the countryside by myself, so I’m already deep into Thoreau. I’m so much more interested in porn than in fashion and decoration.

- I was just having a look around your website (which is really cool by the way !) and noticed that you wrote something about my buddy Brian Kenny... what’s up with that ?

Well, when I look around and look at who could be the poster boys of Now, who would be classy and sexy at the same time, he is obviously there will Chris Miller. I never met those guys but I have some experience in looking in the back of their pics or to get the mood of them and they’re decent people, in my opinion. They are AAA list, but OK. I might be wrong, but they’re too wonderful to be really dark. Chris is so beautiful and smiling ! And Brian is just perfect. It’s not only the fact he’s sexy, it’s really the work behind it, the drawings, the art, the look, he is just at the crossroads of so many great ideas. I wanted to write something to him as some kind of love letter because I wanted to make a point that these kids are making me happy to be gay. I mean I don’t need them to be happy to be gay, it’s just makes me happier.

- If you had your pick of anyone, now or ever, could you possibly name a few folks that you’d like to take to bed... and why ?

Now again, do you wanna start me on this ? Do I get to pick FOR REAL ? How can you ask me such a question, now we have to get rid of the whole interview to make way for this one ! There are so many guys… For me, it’s bowls down to 3 categories. Actors, porn actors and FB guys. Teddy Riner, our French judo champion (black, huge, sweet, bearded). Otherwise, I’m pretty much middle of the road gay.

Actors Scott Caan and Ben Cohen (yeah I know), Jake Gyllenhal (I’m part of the minority of gays who fancied him more than Heath Ledger in « Brokeback », Eduardo Noriega (anything by him), Shia LaBeouf, Ryan Gosling, Mehcad Brooks, Sam Worthington, Idris Elba and ALL the guys from « The Wire ».

Porn actors Huessein is my fave. I think nobody compares with him for me, he’s the ultimate macho man who knows how to take care of his partner. He is ALWAYS masculine and hard. I’m not a stocker but could become one for him. For me, he’s like the judo champ Ilias Iliadis or Angus from Angus & Julia Stone : real, hairy guys with a beard and a great face. I can’t resist beautiful hairy chests either.. Otherwise : Blu Kennedy, Junior Stellano, Tristan Jaxx, Matt Hugues, Roman Ragazzi, Mitch Branson, Gio Forte, Fred Faurtin, Shane Rollins and Arpad Miklos (anytime), Dean Flynn, Antonio Biaggi and this new RG guy, Alexsander Freitas is incredible ! And Remy Delaine is sexier now than when he was younger.

FB guys Those are the ones you get to know a bit better and really understand if they’re OK or not. See, I’m dead stupid about beautiful men but what really gets me going is when I get to see that the guy is genuine, that’s he’s a great person in real life. And FB gives you a hint of that, better than sex websites I think, because there are stuff that you show on FB that you would never put on a sex hunt. So the guys I really like are Isaurio Cario, Joe Mitchell, Chris Miller, John Nooher, Nick Hutchkings, but the best one by far is Ahmed Ibrahim. This guy is wonderful, as a soul.

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