Don’t you love gossip?
In Hindsight certainly does, at least when it’s a back door to history.
And so this month we again feature QQ, Vancouver’s gay gossip columnist circa 1970-1975.
Kevin McKeown, the man behind the byline, was barely nineteen when he began to write for the Georgia Straight.
“I wrote about what was going on in the clubs: the new clubs that had opened, the change of hours, the constant controversy over whether it was an all men’s club or a mixed club, whether we should let the dykes in or not, who the go-go boys were, and then, the drag shows.
“I didn’t report on who’d been caught blowing who in the washroom at Charlie’s, or that sort of thing. I had to live in this scene, and if I had suddenly started telling really serious secrets out of class, nobody would tell me anything.
“I also learned fairly early in the game that fun is fun, but you can actually hurt someone,” he continues.
“There was a rather startling moment in my young life when I trashed a particular drag review —I suppose I probably was over the top and unnecessarily vicious because let’s face it, everybody likes a bitchy review —and the poor queen tried to commit suicide.
“I found her in the tub bleeding and rushed her to hospital. She no doubt had a thousand other problems in her life and I was just the last straw, but it was a bucket of cold water for me.
“It wasn’t a really, really viciously bitchy column, although it had its moments, I like to think,” McKeown concludes.
The scene QQ wrote about might have been small —eight or 10 clubs in all —but it was big in other ways. “It was an endless clash of egos and styles and everyone was ‘on.’
“God, some wonderful people like the Duchess Richard, Terry Wallace who did so much for the gay community in such a quiet way, Sandy St Peters, Dee Dee Ambrose, Charity, Bobby Blake, Ms Las Vegas, Rosie Slushcut, Messy May —where do I stop? Roedy Green who brought, god knows how many dozens of new vile young kids out of the suburbs for our collective entertainment and amusement.
“It was really exciting, it was glitter, it was fun, it was booze and it was drugs, and it was partying all night, and it was colourful personalities, and it was everybody getting laid at every opportunity. Remember, this was all totally pre-AIDS. It was a great party.”
Although his column addressed itself primarily to young club-going men like himself, QQ was attentive to older community figures and the stories they had to tell.
“Older queens who had worked the My Oh My, and the Jewel Box Review, Wally Price the Circus Clown, Victor Côté who had Chez Victor Restaurant.
It was like storybooks suddenly coming to flesh. There was someone who had actually been there, done that, seen the show, been in the show, and I loved it. And so I sought them out. I cultivated their companionship and I listened to their stories.
“I remember Richard Allen telling us that the gay bar used to be a certain corner in the basement of the old Hotel Vancouver, where there was a big pub, because there was no other bar. I remember Terry Wallace telling me about being 12 years old and going down to the old Lux theatre and having old men pay him 25 cents to jerk them off. I remember Wally Price telling me about his years as a hustler under the clock at the corner of Georgia and Granville.”
Today, McKeown himself has become a source of stories and memories, the latter including Faces, his first gay bar.
“I remember quite vividly what it looked like,” he says. “It was a hideous little rec room-looking kind of a place with a bar and a tacky little stage about the size of an office desk.”
McKeown still remembers who the go-go boy was the week he showed up: “Gary Gilbert, who unfortunately passed away, I think in 1987, but was quite well known here in Vancouver for many years.
“Gary was a go-go boy in his youth, and he was the first person I ever saw in a G-string. In later years, you wouldn’t have wanted to see him in a G-string, but he was pretty hot when he was 18.
“Anyway, you signed in, you got your membership for a buck or whatever it was, and Dennis on the door would buzz you in and explain to you that it was a bottle club. We had to bring our own bottles. They put your name on your bottle and put it behind the bar and you bought your mix and drinks.
“And it was a scene. It was a happening scene. Which, despite its relative shabbiness, was to my 18-year-old eyes, pretty exotic, especially the guy in the G-string.”