By Michael Kearns
Paul Monette: I held his hand with my newborn daughter in my arms as he faced his final days. His name appears on the television screen for a heartbeat, triggering that memory. Just his name, elegantly rendered, accompanied by music that I interpret as the sound of angel's breathing. Paul's name is replaced by another. Then another, and another, and another. Thousands and thousands of names of men and women who have been taken from us.
There's a young man whose surname is Friendly. Another one is Gentle. Many Smiths. I recognize too many of the names as they scroll, in no particular order, giving no prominence to the celebrities whose accomplishments couldn't save their lives. Randy Shilts: I still have a letter he wrote me, promising me that I'd be in the film version of his book, And The Band Played On.
I'm at my Workspace in Silverlake, which is presenting AIDSWatch with the participation of Adelphia and City Channel West Hollywood, a decade long tradition that invites us to remember their names. We created an art installation with nearly two dozen televisions, strategically placed throughout the space. Beginning at midnight on World AIDS Day (December 1), the room seemed to virtually breathe with each name appearing, then disappearing, creating a pulse that was almost palpable.
Ryan White: His mother introduced me at a tribute to Liz Taylor where I read an AIDS poem. James Powell: Did I know him or is it just a familiar sounding name? Andy Esajeda: I directed him in AIDS/US/11 and remember that some nights he was so sick that he waited, passed out on a couch until the moment he had to make an entrance.
With each name that I don't recognize, I try to get acquainted, imagining, What did he look like? What did he sound like? Had I ever met him at a party? Blond? Tall or short? How old was he when he died? Did I ever flirt with him? Spend the night? Fuck him? Was Jackson from the south? Was Armand a swarthy type? Was Percy funny? Was Perry an optimist? Was Derek a pornstar? Did he die alone? Lover or no? Family?
More names, more families, more lovers and more best friends to consider. More tears, more fears.
Anthony Bruno: So fucking sexy, outrageously flirtatious. We had dinner one night at his house but I honestly can't remember if we did the deed or not. Freddie Mercury pops up. A few minutes later, Sylvester.
I am spending the night, alone, bundled up in blankets on a mattress recently seen in a revival of Jim Pickett's play, Bathhouse Benediction. Will I possibly be able to fall asleep? I try to close my eyes but I feel compelled to look at the many screens surrounding me. I recognize the names of set designers, doctors, actors, bartenders—men I didn't know but I felt as if I did. I try to cry but I can't. I think about jacking off, not knowing if it would be disrespectful or an appropriate expression of my attachment to the names, known and unknown.
Steve Kolzak: A former casting executive, one of the few who was out of the closet, and Paul Monette's second great love affair. We did the media circuit together on the East Coast in relation to a TV Guide story about AIDS in Hollywood. I remember him calling Paul and talking while we ate our room service dinner.
I drift in and out of sleep. The music soothes me; the angels are singing a lullaby. The relentlessness of the names is also comforting. Even if there are pangs of heartache and longing, they are accompanied by feelings of gratitude and hope. I am alive, a bit tattered, but still here.
The tribute, created a decade ago by David Reid, is breathtaking. AIDSWatch is truly an artistic masterpiece in the way that it speaks to us, moves us, saddens us, motivates us, enlightens and enrages us.
Joe Fraser: We played lovers in an AIDS play and even though his real-life partner, David Stebbins, was one of my best friends, I got a boner every night we did a make out scene.
James Carroll Pickett: I miss you the most, honey.
Dreams that defy death and exult in a world without end. Amen. Slow fade. Curtain.