Silly, joyful, and in honor of World AIDS Day.

December 1st is World AIDS Day, a date I usually note only in passing, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve been flooded today with memories of just how awful the AIDS crisis was.

Families disowning sons and daughters who tested positive, children hounded out of schools, and so, so many deaths. A generation of gay men decimated. I lost three friends back then: Danny, Mario, and Barry, may their memories be for a blessing. My fourth friend with AIDS, a woman, is today a grandmother. The scythe missed a few, and I am so grateful for every year.

At the time, as we struggled to learn just what “safe sex” was, suffered the slow deaths of loved ones, felt helpless and often quite terrified, there was much social activity — organizing, marches, simply speaking out. Knowledge, we said, was power. Silence was death.

Some translated these efforts, this pain, the love and fear, into art, some of it awful, some touching (remember the AIDS quilt, still going strong?), and much of it quite powerful. I was particularly taken with the Red Hot + Blue compilation, a tribute to Cole Porter that found new meaning in wonderful old songs (oh my, this kd lang version of So In Love, the video an absolute heart-wrecking complement to the lyrics…).

Under the circumstances, though, you can imagine that “life-affirming,” “joyful,” and/or “silly” were kind of hard to come by. It was a really, really dark time.

Into the breach stepped the always remarkable Billy Bragg — electric guitar folksinger, socialist rabble-rouser, and writer of some of the most lovely love songs penned in the modern age (see also). (Also: Fan of soccer and 1960s girl groups).

“Sexuality” was Billy Bragg’s contribution to the conversation, and it was joyful, silly, and very, very life-affirming (“Sexuality/ Strong and warm and wild and free/ Sexuality/ Don’t threaten me with misery”), and as with just about all of his songs, the wisdom and humor contained therein were pretty much applicable to all of us.

And so: In honor of World AIDS Day, in memory of Danny, Mario and Barry, and in gratitude that for all that we still struggle with this dreadful disease, it is not as it once was, I give you: Billy Bragg.

Come for the fabulous lyrics, stay for the heinous ’80s fashion!

4 Comments

  1. We live in a crazy world where this is scary (same-sex relationships/marriage) but starvation and war and hate is just how it goes.

    And the people that are good and loving and kind turn their eyes from what’s really happening to fight against same-sex relationships and all that entails.

    Some day our kids will try to explain to their kids and grandkids why we spent so much energy doing the wrong things, and it still won’t make sense.

    Which is why the music and joy and irreverence is so fun.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your friends. How many funny, irreverent, simply good kids died because otherwise “good” people turned away?

    Well, as they say – it gets better. I still believe that.

  2. caoil

     /  December 2, 2011

    A very dear friend of mine was a young boy during the height of the crisis. When he realized his attraction to other boys, he was terrified. He wanted to tell his parents, but he didn’t know how to break it to them. Not because they would be repulsed, or kick him out of the house, or send him to therapy. No, he thought that being gay meant that he had AIDS, and so if he broke the news to his parents he’d essentially be telling them he was dying. This, despite the fact he was just a young teen and had had no sexual experiences whatsoever! He laughs about it now, but it really had him in turmoil for a while. I do wonder how many other boys like him there were, thinking this equivalence existed.

    • I was the first Israeli journalist who interviewed people with HIV, and I very clearly remember having to fight back a sense that I shouldn’t drink from the coffee cups in their houses. We had begun to realize how nonsensical the fears were, but we hadn’t really banished them yet, and I had to talk myself away from them. And I was an adult, reading all the literature.

      I can only imagine that for really young men coming out to themselves at that time, it could have been plain petrifying.