(Look for a post this Saturday thanks to donations topping $100 in the top jar! -ctan)
When you go to a wake organized by a disc jockey, you do your grieving while dancing.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of people were there not because Freddie Mercury meant anything to them, but because they couldn’t afford to miss being there. It bothered me. I felt like it was disrespectful to the dead, I guess, to be there for any reason other than to respect them. Does that make sense? Why it mattered to me, I don’t know, but I was really nagged by it.
The fact that my own relationship to Freddie–or what Freddie stood for?–or whatever was still murky and unclear to me probably had something to do with it.
The fact that I couldn’t look at a group of people who were self-professed parts of the music industry without being that cynical probably does, too. What did I expect? You get invited to a private party by an influential record producer, of course you’re going to go, whether you give a hoot about the bloke that died or not.
Let’s put it this way. I wasn’t in a cheerful mood, but you’re not supposed to be at a funeral.
Jordan got up in the DJ stand after a while, though, and at first I thought he was going to give a speech or something. The music up until then had been generic dance pop, but as he went up to the open booth, the lights trained on him and the sound potted down. He had put on wraparound sunglasses like the ones he’d been wearing a lot back when we’d worked on 1989; he probably needed them given how bright the lights were.
Jordan was not a guy who said a lot, though. He didn’t give a speech. He cranked up the speakers and hit play on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”
People took it as a command, I guess, beginning to fill the dance floor and strut their stuff. See and be seen, that’s the name of the game, I thought to myself.
Ziggy grabbed me by the hand (the good one) and pulled me onto the dance floor. I resisted for a moment, but only a moment. If he was going to dance, I sure as hell was going to dance with him. And dancing beat standing around feeling cynical.
Getting on the dance floor was the right thing to do. The bass thump of “Let’s Dance” morphed into the riff of one of the best-known Queen songs, prompting a smattering of boos from a few present but the moment of gallows humor galvanized everyone. The dancing went from tentative to fiery, from obligatory to fierce. People shouted along, “Another one bites the dust, hey hey!” with their teeth gritted and their fists in the air. This was a community that had already lost so many to HIV and AIDS, were there even any tears left for its most famous, most infamous, son?
Well, yes there were. Angry tears, helpless tears, tears of grief and tears of joy. A huge shout went up as the graphic on the projection screen above the DJ booth showed “Silence = Death.” This was the same roar I’d heard that day at Pride, after the moment of silence.
Jordan worked his magic from the turntables as he always did, mixing songs together and adding in samples… I confess I don’t actually know how he did half of what he did. It was a lot more than just putting on record after record and hitting “play”–that’s true of any good club deejay–but it being Jordan he had backing tracks and samples that no one else did. Many times at Limelight when he’d been deejaying I’d heard riffs that I myself had played but which had never appeared on any record.
But he had also picked a playlist where a lot of the songs seemed to have a message in context. Bits of R&B classic “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” matched up with “You’re My Best Friend” and things like that. I don’t know how long we danced but that was one of those things Jordan was good at–getting you on the dance floor and then keeping you there because you didn’t want to miss something good. Easily an hour, though. Maybe longer.
When you dance like that, you dance by yourself as much as with your partner or the people around you. Your emotions go on whatever journey they do while your body moves. When the deejay is good, I think they get everyone moving in the same direction. This definitely felt like that, like a great concert, forging the individuals in the audience into a crowd.
The set came to a crescendo with Prince’s “1999” (“party over, oops, out of time…”) and Jordan literally took a bow from the booth to the clapping and cheering of his sweaty, thoroughly disheveled party guests. He jumped down into our midst and accepted many hugs and pats on the back.
Prince lyrics notwithstanding, the party was not over, at least not for those of us in Jordan’s inner circle. The afterparty would be starting at his loft after a suitable gap for him to travel from place to place and for guests to reapply their makeup and/or change out of their club clothes.
Ziggy and I spent that hour riding around with Tony while Ziggy gobbled down the majority of an Italian sub sandwich. “God, that was exhausting,” he said, wiping oil and vinegar off his face with a paper napkin.
“Good party?” Tony asked from the driver’s seat, sounding a bit skeptical.
“Depends on your definition, but leave it to Jordan Travers to put a hundred Persian cats in a room and have none of them fight because they were too busy dancing their asses off.” Ziggy fanned himself.
“Just a much higher diva quotient than usual.” Ziggy sat back. “Although I could’ve decked that asshole Jonathan brought.”
“Davide? They’re pretty serious,” I said. “They’ve been dating for months. Like six months at least.”
“What happened?” Tony asked.
“The guy decides to do the domination by handshake thing on Daron–”
“Which normally I would, you know, crush him like a bug,” I added.
“–but he grabs him on the bad hand and jeezus-fucking-christ you should send him your next medical bill, I swear.” Ziggy blew metaphorical steam out his nostrils. “Asshole.”
“J told me he was trying to introduce him slowly to the whole celebrity scene,” I said.
“Yeah, well, he should’ve taught him better manners than that.” Ziggy shook his head.
“Maybe he just has a strong handshake.”
“Don’t be naïve, Daron. We all saw it.”
Okay, fine. I was trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but I guess there was no real reason to. “I’m fine, now.” I flattened my hand against my thigh. “Dancing was good. I’m in a much better mood now.”
“Of course you are. Nothing like a Neanderthal to bring you down.”
“My rotten mood had a lot more to do with the reason we were there in the first place than with J’s boyfriend.”
“I was kind of… out of joint because I felt like there were so many people there who probably didn’t give a fuck about Freddie Mercury the person but who were there because they felt they had to go because it would be an unparalleled Jordan Travers schmoozefest.”
Ziggy frowned at me. “Just because people see an opportunity doesn’t mean they don’t care. You’ve got to stop making everything an either/or proposition.”
“You don’t think it would’ve been disrespectful to the dead to go just to advance your own career?”
“It seems a little funny to think that getting together to network with other queers in the biz so we can all have brighter stars in the firmament would be seen as sacrilege at a wake for the original queer who worked the system…?” Ziggy said carefully. “No?”
“Well, while we were dancing I decided it made sense for everyone to be there whether they liked Freddie Mercury or Queen or not,” I said. “In a kind of tribe sense, you know? I mean, I had no personal connection to him other than we happen to both be gay and in the same business, right? But that’s not the right way to look at it, I guess. We all are part of a kind of tribe because of that. And we came out to commemorate the falling of one of our elders.”
“Some people were really broken up about it. Like, hysterical crying breakdown in the bathroom.”
“Yeah, and some people weren’t as personally affected but there’s a way in which we all were affected whether we even admit it or not.” I looked at the scar on my hand. “So I felt less angry about people there who were just there to schmooze. Eventually. Dancing helped.”
“All I can say is thank god it wasn’t Bowie,” Ziggy said. “Or I don’t know that I would’ve kept my composure. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to leave the house.”
He just nodded and looked through the tinted window at the yellow cab moving alongside us.
“I guess what’s still bothering me,” I said, tracing the darkest part of the scar down the center of my palm, “is that it’s all well and good to have your tribe rally around a… a symbol. But I’m still deeply uncomfortable with the fact that it has so little to do with the real person who died.”
Ziggy scooched over to me, tucked his arm around mine, and put his head on my shoulder. “Dear one, if anyone knew what kind of idol he was, it was Freddie Mercury. That’s why he made a statement when the end was near. Ultimately, he knew. He knew.”
“I guess that’s the word I was looking for. Idol.”
“You’ve never wanted to be an idol, and I always have,” Ziggy said. “It’s the biggest difference between us.”
“I just want people to accept me for what I am.”
“And I just want people to worship what I am.”
“And what are you?”
“I’m the thing that motivates them to scream their heads off, tear their clothes off, and throw their chains off… if I’m doing my job right,” he said. “To be their ultimate selves. An avatar of freedom of expression. You can’t separate creativity and sexuality from that. Freddie knew that, and Bowie knows it best of all.”
I had never heard Ziggy express his goals that way before, with such a clear philosophy. Then again, he had been reading a lot of philosophy books lately.
“But what about the real you?” I found myself asking.
“The real me is for you,” he said seriously. “Not them.”