Hard sunlight bullies through smoke and soot. Something awful is burning all the time and a haze mutes even medium distances into old photographs. Our town is shrouded in perpetual smoke that fades red to an 1890s sepia, and clouds any blue to a dusty gray. Muted colors make us feel like we’re in some scratchy old movie. That in turn slows everything down. Traffic lights halt movement for almost all of a Linda Ronstadt song even when there’s nothing to wait for. Birds seldom fly and when they do they don’t flap. They circle the instant then of now, riding the heat that rises off pavement.
I leave Stockton, holding the image of that SNL episode with Bowie and the aliens and following the promise of a place where freaks are welcome.
I move first to San Francisco, clueless that one of those aliens, Klaus Nomi, is on his deathbed in New York. His passing will be credited as the first celebrity death from AIDS. So little is known about the disease, many of his friends are afraid to even visit him in the hospital. Joey Arias however stays by his buddy’s side. Joey being, of course, the other alien.
Years later my pal Gwenaël and I will meet and interview Joey for a project about Nomi and the atmosphere in New York during that switching of the decades from the seventies to the eighties. The project will take various forms, including a zine of collected interviews and collages called Apocalypse Then (2004). [The zine will be dedicated in memory of Rick Jacobsen, a future lover of Gwenaël’s and my future best friend and roommate. Rick will be diagnosed HIV positive in the late eighties, and will pass in 1996. As of the date this post is published, I’ve yet to write 1996. I suspect the experience will be heavy. But hard to say. This project has surprised me a few times already: what gets chronicled, and what gets left out. Like any story, the future/past has a will of its own.]
Regarding the period that Joey and Nomi lived together, Joey will say, “We would sing to each other: little mini concerts. I was Billie Holiday and he was Maria Callas.”