Pascale Borel a récemment été interviwée dans FIXE et après, c’était mon tour. Ce qui ressemblait au départ à une simple interview sur la musique est devenue une présentation. JE SAIS que je raconte toujours les mêmes choses sur mon enfance, mais je pars toujours du principe que les gens ne me connaissent pas, surtout à l’étranger et quand on raconte sa vie, on va souvent à l’essentiel, ce qui a vraiment compté. Donc voilà, une très bonne interview, gentille et tout.
Your childhood in the form of anecdotes.
It all started very badly. I mean, I later managed NOT to spend years at the shrink, neither my 3 brothers and my half sister because we’re a loving family, but to be born in the worst years of the Algerian war in the middle of nowhere in a farm, being kicked out (rightly so !) by the Independance in 1962 at the same time my parents were divorcing, it was all drama. I was the youngest of 4 boys and everybody did all they could to protect the "little one" but I missed my mom when I was a kid and was raised by my father in a farm of the South West of France. We were dirt poor and I guess I was saved by the fact that we are 3 gays guys out of 4, which is a odd ratio I admit.
As brothers, we were all into music in a big way, like many were in the 70’s and each one of us had a special niche in rock. And I think music saved us from the boring life of the time. My eldest bro Thierry was into jazz and folk, my bro Lala was into David Bowie and T-Rex, my bro Philippe was into Jimi Hendrix and Rory Gallagher and I was (VERY MUCH) into Lou Reed and Poco, Hawkwind, Kraftwerk, Led Zep, Mott The Hoople, Sparks, you name it.
Anecdotes ? I realized I was gay at 11 when I first saw Robert Conrad in "The Wild Wild West", I came out first in my family at 14, got really into Hubert Selby and Warhol’s Factory, stole records all the time and wanked on Playgirl (the Rock Pamplin years with outdoor hairy sunny ’stache men !) and dreamed about falling in love with one of those beautiful American guys. I was already obsessed with laid-back, bare-chested cowboys, you know. Working class men.
Didier as an adolescent. What were your fascinations at that time ?
I discovered Interview when I was 15 by traveling at night on trains to Paris without paying and buying stocks of magazines. Say, the 1972, 1973 Interviews with the Francesco Scavullo covers and I was reading everything, from the little credits to the mega long interviews by Andy Warhol. I didn’t know I would be a journalist later, I was not so good at school, I had no clue, I just wanted to leave to Paris and I would spend hours at the local train station just looking at the métro map of Paris. I wanted to meet guys but mostly I wanted to fall in love. I think the worst thing about being a teenager at that time was not having a boyfriend and waisting important years just looking for it. Never dated girls, I knew what I wanted. I had standards. That’s why I can relate to the young these days, I still feel the pain of losing my time in my teens and now, in 2013, it’s wonderful to see all those kids on Tumblr who show pics of themselves with their teen loves. It did get better, amen.
We want to know. Gaie Presse. Every detail. Did you hold on to some copies ? Would you consider reissuing it ?
Gaie Presse was just a try-out. When I got to Paris in 1977, I was 19, failed my school exams, no money, and started living in bedsitters and squats wih my bro Lala. You have to understand, Lala IS the artist in the family, I’m just a cheaper version of him. So I got to meet some cool gay kids like me who started the first gay fanzine of that time. And suddently, it went BAM in my head, that’s what I wanted to do. So Gaie Presse didn’t last long, just 3 issues and then I told myseld "Fuck it, I’ll start my own gay fanzine" with Misti, one of the founders of Gaie Presse. That went from 1980 to 1986 and it was a labour of love, starting with just 40 pages or so to ended up with 160 pages per issue. You can see all the back issues on my own site. I told all this to BUTT so I’m not gonna rant again.
What is so wondeerful about it is how gay fanzines now are so influenced by the lay-out and design of those post-punk years. Of course BUTT was a major fanzine event in the years 2000 but now the gay fanzines are all over the world and when you consider the state of crisis in the print media (I’m myself currently unemployed), it’s so wonderful to see all those hipster men all over creating new ways of photographing men, illustration is reborn like never before, it’s amazing. I mean, in my time, we were looking up to Tom Of Finland like some secret icon. And now, you go on Tumblr and you see thousands of people drawing, painting, doing sketches like mad, it’s an amazement for me, I feel like a Gus Van Zant of underground publications, you see ? I’m 55 but I marvel at what the 20 something and 3O something are doing now. It’s one of the very few things that don’t despair me about the state of the world, otherwise I’d just kill myself tomorrow. Frankly.
Magazine on my website
You have been involved with an impressive lot of influential publications. Can you tell us a little more about them and your role ?
I consider myself totally self-taugh and didn’t go to any journo schools but I was blessed to have around me smart people who told me way back then about the importance of simple design in magazines, the power of the image, beautiful typos, all that. You see, you have to remember that my generation of gays were pretty much into the minimal idea, "less is good", the clone look, just a Levi’s and a white T-shirt and Red Wings shoes. There was a way to be poor and still looking good. So I used those ideas in all the publications I worked for, like Têtu that I founded in 1995. People were still working with SyQuest you know ! No mail, no Internet ! And then it all started to get ugly, all this gay way of life that went totally bonkers with shopping, shopping, shopping. I hate fashion, even now. Basics is my middle name ! I mean, I can see the value of fashion, been there, done that, but I think that it’s sick. And it’s true that getting HIV positive in 1986 changed my life, I got into politics in a big way when before that, I was just a gay guy with shaved hair, Bombers jacket and only into dancing. So it changed all my frame of mind, getting to New York in 1987 and discovering ACT UP and house music, I was at the right time at the right moment. Reading The Village Voice, Paper, all that. And I fell in love with the big love of my life too. He died in 1992 and that was that, I haven’t been the same since.
Recount some of your more memorable experiences as a journalist.
Oh... Meeting Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat in 1984 and interviewing him the next morning in Amsterdam after sleeping with him... And to stay his friend and sharing a flat in Paris with him,,. Jimmy had such a huge influence on me, music wise and on politics too... Interviewing Sylvester in 1986 in London and talking to him just like if he was my big sister. Meeting John Waters and twice Divine. Interviewing Frankie Knuckles in 1995 and being on the edge of crying in front of him because I was having the big heartbreak of my life at the time. Meeting Larry Kramer way back then and being like a school boy in front of a huge mentor. Meeting Joyce Sims when "Come Into My Life" was such an incredible hit. And Todd Terry and making him blush because I was such a fan. I’m a professional, I always keep my distances but, sometimes, you get to meet people who move you so much that the whole process of asking questions in a moment of promotion (selling records, etc) is overwhelming. I think I always considered myself lucky to have worked in journalism at a time when you were still meeting wonderful people when it was not all about the market place, you see. Seeing people Vogue in New York in 1991, that was a life changer. So now I see music the way music s marketed and it kills me to see how sad it all got. I really thought, all my life, that music would really change the world. And now the world is such a mess...
As an activist in many forms, what have been the high and low moments of fighting for a cause ?
Well, I did my share. I always started with a huge complex facing the american activist movement and all those years, I was fighting to mesure myself in front of the men and women who were there before me, the people from ACT UP, the crazy queens of San Francisco, the drag people, the Ru Pauls of this world, the beautiful men who were fighting for their lifes and other’s people lives too. Man, I was trying to be as good as them and that drove me through years of despair and burn-out. So my big achievement was to put myself up there, staying safe in sex all my life, all the time, never give HIV to anybody, even if it alianed me thousands of people, being hated to try to show an example so that would maybe help people in moments of doubt and loss. So I’m happy with the stuff that I did because, in some ways, in terms of AIDS activism, France did a lot and treatment guidelines are now one of the best in the world and that sets an example, too, in the developping world. But I recently decided to leave the AIDS movement as I’m too sad by the infection rate with gay men and after more than 10 years of putting myself into it, at one moment, you have to give up. If gay men still want to get infected, so be it.
The selling of your record collection and the way in which you have chosen to do this is a mind-bending concept. A lot of care + love is going into their release into the world. Tell us more about this project.
Well, I have this collection that I built over the years, buying records and getting promo copies and I’m an old man now and leaving in the countryside, all those records are sleeping in closets. And I’m also broke, so, what the heck, it’s better to have those little gems going to new homes. So I decided to have a carpenter make 35 wood boxes that I cover with collage (always did collage on the walls of my house), and each box has a music genre or a concept. Say classic house, or Hi-NRG, or disco, or Detroit techno or breakbeats. Then I photograph each record so people can see what they buy and my special touch is writing a text about each box, putting freebees in it like a bouquet from my garden, house music magazines from the time when the records got out, old 60’s Physiques magazines, a special book that I like, old flyers, even some porn promo CD’s, scented pine cones with patchouli, you know, like a special thing from me to people who are nice enough to put 450 euros in a piece of memorabilia that’s a bit expensive in these times of financial crisis.
I have a lot of archives from my activist years and the thing is, in France there are no gay archives and it’s a nagging feeling, as you get older, that things won’t have a proper home to get saved. So it’s my way of giving back, as I don’t attach myself to things anymore, I left Paris 10 years ago to live in Normandy and I’m closer to nature and I don’t need all those records. I keep for myself something like a hundred records that I really really really can’t let go because I have too much affection for them, but the rest has to go. It’s all on display on a special Tumblr I did so people can have a look.
Walk us through your garden.
When I arrived in that old house that my sister bought 10 years ago (I don’t own it, I pay the rent), the place had been shut for 40 years. There was no water nor electricity. The floor was dirt. So my sister and her husband had it all redone, it’s like a new house in an old house. Simple but nice, on top of one of the 135 most beautiful villages in France. The garden is on a hill with a lot of sun and a beautiful view on the valley, but when I got there, the place was totally wild, with all the rumble of a house that’s been redone. So I spent years by myself creating a terrace, a big field with flowers that I eventually changed with grasses wile the ones you have in the States, like Miscanthus and Calamagrostis or Eragrostis. There is a veggie garden too that I didn’t work on last year because I broke my leg while gardening. It’s a simple garden that I designed to be beautiful in winter, when the season is dull and grey, because all the grasses have incredible stems that glow under a few rays of sun, always moving with the wind, always beautiful with the frost and the snow. My idea is only to choose hardy plants that don’t need too much watering, they have to be low maintenance, that’s the way I like it.
From a Francophile to an Americaphile, what is it about the states that enthuses you ?
Oh that’s the best question !!! How should I start ? I could write a book on this. Well, you know, the sad thing is that I never got to some of the places I always wanted to go, like the deep South (I think of all the accents of the word, the southern accent is the most dreamy thing to me), or the Sierra, or even the so-called boring MidWest. I only know New York, LA, SF, Chicago and Miami, the big towns. But I must admit that I’m nuts for American culture, my influences are mostly anglo-saxon, and it all started when I read "Gay American History" by Jonathan Katz in my early twenties. That book changed my life. Because, well, it’s the men, you know. I have a special thing with men over there, I always found them bigger, better, sunnier, I love their voices, from all ethnies. I’ve been writing about this all my life, to the point that I was exhausting my friends who feel that I don’t respect French culture enough, and men are beautiful around the world but there is something about the melting pot in America that crushes my heart. When I go to New York and walk by NYU, I can see all these kids from all races, mixed blood, hanging out together, blacks and whites, asians and latinos, it’s like the world like I dreamed about it when I was young and there it is, it’s wonderful. It’s my obsession for minorities. I’m well aware that New York is not like the rest of the States but you are in advance with the rest of the world and that is that.
When did love enter your life + how did it change you ?
I’m so sentimental. Right now I’m alone after meeting last year the one that I thought would be the real deal and now it’s over as he met a 25 year old kid who is the ultimate beautiful, independant, masculine kid. I even can’t hate him for that. So I’m once again heartbroken, after a beautiful life filled with many lovers who are still my friends even after we broke up. I mean, this guy was different. Not the average gay man. Very spiritual, very masculine, very much into religion (I’m not but that tells you how deep he was) and very much into house and black music. So, what about love ? I think it beats all. Career, activism, money. All the things I did in life was to be good with the men that I loved, all the rest was second, and I’m even not very choosy in terms of sex as I consider myself very basic vanilla. But as you get older, when you are gay and past the legendary limit of 48, it’s very hard to find anybody, the age difference is huge nowadays and the sad truth is, I’m kinda giving up on the hope of meeting somebody who would be OK to bear the luggage that I have. I’m not a celebrity, but if George Michael has problems finding a man, who am I to compete ? It’s one of the weird things in life, you do all the things to get noticed and then you’re put aside because you did too much. Most gays, nowadays, they don’t want to fall in love with somebody who went all this AIDS shit, and you must understand that, it’s big burden.
What wisdom would you like to bestow upon the youth of today ?
Tricky one. I just published a post on the website that I co-run, Minorités.org, about 5 advices to the young. But it’s in French. And France, as a country, is doing very bad these days, on all fronts. So I advice them to go away. There are so many places in the world that are still not affected by pollution and crisis, they should know the world before the fish disappear from the oceans (which will happen in 30 years time now, which is soon). But mostly I tell them to stop loosing their time looking for love. Don’t think that you have to work on a carrear, or what the family wants you to do, or your own obsessions with what you feel you have to own, possess, or wear in the streets to conform. Be like me when I was 25 : keep the goal on finding the right one for you, and spend at least 2 or 3 years on each relationship, spend time together, learn the world through somebody you really love. If it’s somebody of a different ethnicity, religion, country, language, handicap, whatever. Make a list of the things you really want to achieve (make a short list) and stop procrastinating. I really don’t like his YOLO attitude, you know, you only live once, which is basically just another way to sell you things. You can indulge in drugs and booze, you can cover yourself with tattoos, but be careful with your body, don’t get AIDS, don’t get any kind of disease for that matter, don’t be a burden for others, be independant, try to live with as less money as you can. And if you get sick, fight it. And if the world is too much, well, you know, suicide is an option. I’ve been HIV positive for more than a quarter of a century and I went through all this by telling myself, "If it’s too much, you can go. At least you tried". And that helped me. A lot. Still today.
Any intimate obsessions/fixations that you would like to share ?
1987 was my fave year.
Didier Lestrade today.