Reply to "Dean Johnson - Death of a Legendary Legend"

I've been very disturbed by all of this since my friend Roger DeGennaro, a Howl festival organizer, told me about Dean's death last night. So I must, like all of you, share my memories of Dean in order to ease the sadness I feel.

I met Dean when he was doorman at the Boybar back in 1983. You couldn't NOT notice him, with that too-tall, lanky frame and basso profundo voice (he could have been the bastard son of Living Theater co-founder Julian Beck!)--not to mention his cutting wit and searing observations on all the wackery going on around him in those madcap EV days. My friends and I used to feel sorry for him standing out there on the cold sidewalk, and we'd often stop and chat, and more often than not dish about the cummings-and-goings of clientele of the St Marks Baths, then just up the street.

Once I remember we were both broke, he was hungry and I shared a slice of Stromboli pizza with him and some Marlboros.

Later, of course, he became a big (pun absolutely intended) star of the lower East Side, moving on to to tend door at Robots (I lived just up the block then, dodging the same junkies and needle-hawkers on 4th and B every goddamned day--"bohondo!" I can still hear them yelling to warn of oncoming cops), and the World. Dean always remembered the lowlier cast of us in the EV hierarchy, always offering good cheer and a free "in" to the club of the moment.

I remember going to the Quad to see "Mondo New York" when it came out, and I was thrilled to see his larger-than-life persona flouncing across the postage-stamp sized screen (which you can bet could barely contain it!). My first real-life movie star! That I ACTUALLY KNEW!

Then of course, Dean doored the World, which also was the site of his first Rock and Roll Fag Bar event, which I attended. While sparsely attended that night, the event as we all know became an institution that allowed all of us queer boys who didn't fit into to the disco-clone culture that pervaded that era then a chance for a piece of the action (and a chunk of the slutty glamor of it all). Once, I remember being at my friends' Bill and Loren's East Houston apartment just across the scraggly empty lot in front of the World, tossing through a pile of castoff clothing the pair had collected from the rag piles of the lower East Side. I mean just a mountain of stuff. We cobbled together outfits--I wore a white ruffly shirt with a beige blazer, some sort of pants, and something that resembled a dead beaver on my head, and adorned myself with ropes of fake pearls, cameos and other cheap baubles. Off we went--on acid or sh'rooms no doubt--to the World. I wasn't a dresser, and usually sort of tried to fade into the background but Dean noticed me that night in the crowd clamoring to get in and parted the hordes like Moses, beckoning me forth. He didn't recognize me, and when I revealed my "true" identity he lauded me on my fashion sense and shrieked that I looked "FABULOUS!" We never had to wait among the minions to get in ever again.

But then Dean was like that. No matter how (in)famous he became, he always took the time to say hello to me, stop and chat, offer some friendly words. I often went to see him perform at Pyramid (hi, Hapi Phace!--I was there at Whispers--de rigeur on Sunday nights for us sillies back then--when Dean unveiled "Terri Toye"--that YouTube clip brought it back oh so home!), Limelight, Brownie's, et al, alone or with his bands The Weenies and later of course Velvet Mafia.

As the 90s closed in, the EV changed irreparably, much of my circle was decimated by AIDS and other demons, and I myself retreated into my own drug-induced hell. From what I've heard and read here and elsewhere, a similar fate befell Dean for a time. I finally left in 1999, leaving the EV to the spoiled NYU brats, the Armani-suited hedge-fund studs and the Ferragamo-heeled Sex in the City sluts that rule those historic streets today.

Dean was a constant though. While I didn't see him again after I left, I noted on visits that he was still up to something outrageous, whether it was music, parties or performance, keeping that old spirit alive. Dean took what most people would consider liabilities--his awkward height and cadaverous looks--and made them assets wholly owned by himself and produced art with them. If Dean left any legacy at all, it was that anyone could find acceptance, contribute and be themselves regardless of their looks (ever so over-important in the gay subculture, even today). As well, Dean made it acceptable for gay men to love and dance to rock and roll at a time when the corporo-disco scene ruled full force.

While I haven't seen Dean in years, I've known he's been around--and a still-vital part of that magical (yes, it was) lower East Side scene of the 1980s that with his demise has nearly all but disappeared. He followed--and respected--the traditions of Ginsberg, Jack Smith, and so many others now gone before him. Hopefully, they are putting on a hell of a performance somewhere tonight.

While Dean's death is shocking and disturbing, and even confusing to us, the best thing we can do is to try to heal in a positive and loving way, not strike out at others or ourselves. Rest in peace, Dean, you big weenie!
×
×
×
×