My heart bleeds for Mark Abramson.
Through all the darkness of the plague he’s somehow kept his sense of humor.
I’ve got to admire him for that.
Author: Mark Abramson
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
From the Publisher
Mark Abramson was a bartender on Castro Street, Haight Street, and South of Market during the worst years of the AIDS crisis, roughly from 1984 to 1996 when new life-saving drugs came on the market. He was also involved in several of the major fundraising events of the times, from gay bars to the waterfront piers of San Francisco and theaters in between.
For My Brothers is filled with true stories of encounters with Connie Francis, Johnnie Ray, and Christine Jorgensen, plus friendships with Al Parker, John Preston, and Sylvester and dozens of lesser known characters who deserve to be remembered.
Why did I pick this book? Initially, it was because I saw Al Parker in the blurb. I went through an iconic gay porn star phase recently and Al topped that list. I wanted to know more about him. Then I read Mr. Benson by John Preston and the light bulb went off and I thought, “I wonder if he’s in that book”? He is! It turns out he and Mr. Abramson were roommates in college and stayed friends throughout the course of his life. That sealed the deal. I had to read this book. Plus, I was genuinely curious about what it was like to live in San Francisco during, what could arguably be considered, its darkest days.
What I learned about Al Parker a.k.a. Drew Okun is he was a charmer. Everyone loved him. He was kind hearted, took the time to interact with his adoring fans, drove a van and smoked a lot of hash. Generally speaking, vans creep me the hell out, but the fact that Al drove one and smoked hash in the back of it with his friends endeared him to me for some inexplicable reason. What I learned about John Preston is he was actually a paid professional dominant and, apparently, a highly sought out one at that. He counted politicians and celebrities among his clients. He also preferred penny loafers to boots and didn’t take himself too seriously. I love learning these things. I love little quirks, all those tiny kernels of knowledge about a person that you remember once they’re gone.
Honestly, my expectations prior to reading For My Brothers were that it would be morbid and depressing. All told, I think it balances the depressing with the humorous well. Mr. Abramson is remarkably candid in these tales. His candor provides a realistic look at the impact HIV/AIDS had on the gay community of San Francisco from his personal experiences on the front lines. Quite a few of the recollections are funny as hell! To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what I sure be more impressed by, the fact that he had the balls to admit to some of this and put it out there in print for all the world to see and judge, or the fact that he can remember this stuff at all. By his own account, he spent most of the 70s and virtually all of the 80s high, drunk or both. His brain cells are certainly resilient. There can be no doubt about that.
What I found both refreshing and at times maddening was how honest Mr. Abramson was about his own reactions to the plague. He and everyone he knew at the time were faced with friend after friend, acquaintance after acquaintance and a myriad of obituaries in the B.A.R. on a daily basis. Sobering events to live with on a daily basis to be sure.
“By 1987 someone was dying of AIDS in San Francisco every seven hours.”
I thought he made a heartfelt confession about his fallibility regarding his own reactions to what was happening around him when he said (paraphrasing) he went into denial and continued to indulge in sex, drugs, and partying-living his life to the fullest. He even recalls the bathhouses and Feinstein’s attempts to close them and recalls thinking they kept men cleaner between partners. He makes no apologies for his actions and he certainly wasn’t alone in them, but I can’t help but be saddened by them all the same. He recalls one instance of meeting a young sailor during Fleet Week and thinking he had to use a condom with him because he was “too pure, too precious to take any chances”. God complex anyone? I strive not to be judge-y, but I gotta be honest, that statement pissed me off.
As much as For My Brothers is an ode to his fallen brethren it’s also a tale of survival. Mr. Abramson survived a plague of epic proportions and has suffered more loss in one lifetime than any one person should have to. I was surprised by how many people he’s known, come in contact with or, more likely, fucked. The afterword list hurt to read. It physically hurt and I didn’t know any of these people personally. What must it have been like to live through this? What he’s done with this book is remember them, celebrate their lives and let the world know that they’re not forgotten, that they’re not just some name on a quilt. They were real people who were funny or played trivia at the bar or were frugal or wore preppy outfits to a leather party. Real.
Mr. Abramson did a fantastic job of incorporating San Francisco into this book as much as the stories contained therein. He describes the city beautifully and all the bars and events that happened there, specifically the Castro district. I also enjoyed the fluidity between the vanilla and kinky gay communities. How everybody came together for the big events like the Pride Parade. He tells probably my favorite anecdote about him and Mr. Preston “having to be at the Ramrod by 11:00” because that’s when they showed Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and all the bar stopped to watch and laugh then at 11:30 they all put their “hard-core leather men” faces back on. HA! Fantastic.
Some of the stories I liked better than others. Some are dry. Some are raunchy. Some broke my heart. Some I think you really ‘had to be there’ to get it. Some didn’t seem to flow together well. The vast majority are funny though. I think it would’ve benefitted from being organized chronologically rather than scattershot or perhaps have it broken up into sections by person. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking, “I should know this person, but I can’t remember from where”. The writing itself is fairly pedestrian, but I applaud Mr. Abramson for giving of himself. It must’ve been an excruciating experience to write parts of For My Brothers. I hope it was cathartic for him and I’d like to say a heartfelt, Thank you for writing it.
If you’re interested in a realistic take on what it was like to be at ground zero during the plague with a humorous slant, read For My Brothers.
Where to Buy
I would like to thank Wilde City Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
|This post may contain affiliate links.
|Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews. The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.|