Tuesday, April 30, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #471] Kerr, a drag queen star in Las Vegas, dies

Russ texted me this morning to let me know that Kenny Kerr had died.  It might seem odd to mourn the death of a drag performer I'd met only tangentially a few times, but with her a little piece of my past dies as well.  When I first started going out in Vegas, Gipsy - that little "club", with a rainbow painted across the front and slot machines in the bar, on the Northwest corner of the intersection that served as Vegas's gay core - was everything to me.  It's where I met my friends, where I was out at least four nights a week, and where I finally started living the life I wanted.  And Gipsy wasn't separable from Kenny Kerr, who would often be there, sometimes performing, sometimes just there, but always a presence.

So hearing he died brings back all those nights - those many, many nights spent there with Russ, coercing Mike Odynski to have just one more - and all that grew out of it.  Suddenly this epochal period that normally seems so remote behind the years of life, in ever more distant cities since then, doesn't seem so far removed anymore.  And for just an instant - a fleeting instant - I feel like a Vegas boy again.  Only this time grateful rather than resentful; for all that Vegas lacked that I needed and fled to find, it's still where the foundations of my life were laid.  But it's just that little bit less fabulous now.

Viva Las Vegas,
Shaun



Updated  April 29, 2013 - 2:01am

Kerr, a drag queen star in Las Vegas, dies



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REVIEW-JOURNAL FILE
Kenny Kerr, in an undated photo, performs at the Plaza. Kerr, best known for his female impersonations, died Sunday. He was 60.





Kenny Kerr, the bad girl that Las Vegas fell hard for in the '70s, died Sunday. He was 60.
The star of "Boy-lesque" was the Strip's first must-see female impersonator, pulling a locals-heavy audience into a tiny casino called the Silver Slipper for 11 years with his deadpan stare, cutthroat wit and killer gowns.
"It's now to the point where there are three things you have to see: Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and 'Boy-lesque,'" Kerr said in 1988, when the show wrapped its long era at the Silver Slipper in anticipation of the casino's eventual closure and demolition.
Kerr's impressions of Cher and Barbra Streisand were matched by his comedic skills as the show's saucy host.
Drag was still somewhat taboo when Kerr came to town in 1977, but by then, he had already been impersonating Streisand for years.
Growing up in Blue Anchor, N.J., he was 16 when a couple who saw him shopping at a mall noted his resemblance to Streisand. They soon had him riding the bus into Philadelphia to perform at night while he was still attending high school.
"These people had a show of the sort I do now and asked me if I wanted to work in it," he recalled in 1982. They talked a lot of money. ... Most of my contemporaries had jobs for minimum wage or less."
Going out on his own a few years later, Kerr and his original cast showcased their act for free at the Sahara and caught the attention of Herb Kaufman, the owner of Wonder World discount stores.
The Slipper show quickly became a low-cost novelty for locals to take out-of-town visitors. But it arrived fresh on the heels of Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade, and for years Kerr said the question "Are you gay?" was one he had to dance around.
"It's a question I can't win by answering," he said in 1982. "If I said I am gay, there are an awful lot of narrow-minded people out there. And If I said I'm heterosexual, a lot of people wouldn't believe me."
Kerr kept working after the Silver Slipper era, with long runs at the Sahara and Plaza followed by smaller casinos and gradually diminishing returns, as the rival "La Cage" revue proved fierce competition and the shock value faded over the years.
After spending much of the 2000s in Palm Springs, Kerr returned to Las Vegas and forged on in clubs and the Onyx Theatre as recently as last year, after the death of his longtime partner and a serious illness.
"One thing about troubles is you quickly learn who your good friends really are," he told the Review-Journal last year. "People are always trying to stab you in the back. But lately I've been surrounded by so much love. I wasn't aware of all the love that's out there. I now appreciate the kindness that comes my way."





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Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com
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Monday, April 22, 2013

[The Life of Shaun #470] Manchester 2013

...I had my first trip since coming home.  It was odd upon getting back; since I didn't know exactly how long I would be in Chicagoland, I didn't make any future travel plans.  I'd be lost trying to remember the last time I didn't have a confirmed trip on my books.  But Marco and Jan came to the rescue on this one and agreed to a boys' weekend away to the capital of the North.

My lamentations about the decline of Manchester's gay life from an undiscovered delight to suffering the same (though milder) Northern disease that seems to be taking hold everywhere outside the M25 remain valid, but Manchester still holds a special place in my heart.  I'll never forget the unbridled joy that seemed to flow forth on Canal Street on my visits there over the first many years.  So while it's disappointing to see the changes, I still enjoy its company.  And to be fair, some bars along Canal Street have started implementing firm no-hen-night/stag-do policies (though stag-dos are not the problem - few straight men want to spend their last night of freedom trolloping from gay bar to gay bar), so perhaps there's some fight in the community yet.

Anyhoo, to Manchester we went, glitter headbands and matching sassy tee-shirts be damned, and had a very good time.  I went to my current favourite bars, discovered some new ones, and succeeded spectacularly in showing Marco and Jan what a Manchester hangover felt like.  However, going with them there was very different from my previous trips with Russ.  Apparently there's a whole city out there beyond the train station, Canal Street and the path between the two.  Who knew?!  And what's more, Marco and Jan (well, Marco) wanted to go see it as well.  So I can safely say I discovered a whole new side to Manchester this weekend.

Next time?  I'm going with Russ again.

Cheers,
Shaun



View of Manchester from the flat we rented.



Machester Town Hall (lovely, innit?)



Random agreeable architecture



Jan was a little less keen on standing under his own power than Marco



Two old pub buildings in the city centre.  Apparently, they were picked up from elsewhere and moved here to save them.



In 1996, the IRA bombed Manchester's city centre, destroying much of it, and setting off the regeneration that has allowed it to clearly become the main city of the North, and arguably on the way to usurping Birmingham as Britain's second city.  This is Exchange Square, part of the redevelopment, and designed by Martha Scwartz.



This is the pillar box (mail box) that survived the blast and serves as its memorial.  I was really quite taken with this.  Had this been in America, there would likely have been a shrine built around it, with water features, jagged glass sculptures, gardens, poems etched in walls, all of it drenched in red,white and blue light features.  Here, they simply allowed the box to remain in service, inconspicuously standing on a through street (you'd never know what it was if a local didn't tell you) with a small bronze plaque reading: "This postbox remained standing almost undamaged on June 15, 1996 when this area was devastated by a bomb. The box was removed during the rebuilding of the city centre and was returned to its original site on November 22nd 1999".



The Northern Quarter, Machester's Dalston...


...where we had great Lebanese food at The Cedar Tree, and were completely beguiled by the decor...



...though they didn't quite seem to get the meaning of vegetarian.




Last, but certainly not least, Canal Street, before the boys have come out to play.

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Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com

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[The Life of Shaun #469] Half truth

I haven't written in a while, but there really hasn't been much to write about.  The first week back was a bit surreal; everything felt a little false.  Being back at work, going through the motions - it felt like trying to pretend nothing had happened.  Then things got better, and then they got worse, and then better again.  And that oscillation has been the rhythm of my life the past few months.  Hardly the stuff of gripping reading.

I've been dreaming about Mom a lot the last two weeks - most always about wanting to relieve her pain - so I know there's processing going on in the back of my head as well as the front.  Who knows where that's leading, but the one thing I can tell you is that the people who say to tell those close to you that you love them every day, they are right, but they're not telling the whole story.  I bore this advice in mind and told Mom every day - many times a day - and I know she died without any doubt about how much I loved her.  But what nobody tells you that it doesn't matter.  Regardless of how much you tell someone you love them, even if you tell them till you are blue in the face every single day, it still doesn't matter.  The first time you want to tell them that you love them, and you can't, it aches in a way you couldn't understand before.

But it hasn't all been macabre and painful.  My friends have been great, and Mary Keany an absolute treasure.  Her mom died of lung caner a little over two years ago, and she approaches me with a care and delicacy - and sometimes the tough love - that only the commonality of our sorrow can allow.  But everyone's taken care to fill my diary and my days with the life I love living here.  And with that more positive note...

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Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | shaunism.blogspot.com

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