You Got a Friend: Two Tales of Post-Seventiessexuals
I. Corinna and the Possibly Fake Iggy
Gimme danger, little stranger
And I’ll feel your disease.
—Iggy and the Stooges, 1972
“Corinna, Iggy is here!” hollered her mom into the basement from upstairs. Her daughter, this wild, sassy, enticing girl two years younger than me who moved to Michigan from down south, had promised to introduce me to the heroic figure from the Stooges. Corinna long had claimed, in her loud and brassy voice in the middle of our highschool art class, that she regularly succored Iggy Pop and various members of that band. If she irresponsibly circulated a dose of gonorrhea to her various bedfellows, she shrugged that it must’ve come from guitarist Ron, as if musical pedigree made the burning sensation a small price to pay for a brush with one who had brushed against fuzz guitar greatness.
Corinna (not her real name) was a brat. She wore a black t-shirt to school with a hand-drawn swastika in red, not as a political emblem but because she knew Ron liked Nazi regalia (and it also may have peeved her World War Two veteran father). She had a succession of garagey bands, which she fronted with Tina Turner exuberance--once asking me if I too had ever had an orgasm onstage--and the girth of the Shelly Winters of Rock. I had planned to take her to the senior prom, causing much irritation to the hardworking girl who helped me on the school paper, until Corinna’s father grounded his obstreperous daughter when he came across her cocaine. One evening Corinna—on her way to a date with another guy—had given me a foil-wrapped smidgen of the stuff, probably mostly speed. I went and painted a mural in the bedroom of that girl at the paper, with whom I had a wild affair at the end of highschool. Though Corinna and I got high together and enjoyed each other’s company, I was not yet in her pants. Nevertheless, I was pleased this afternoon to be sitting in the basement of her parents’ sprawling new ranch home at the edge of Ypsilanti.
The band the Stooges were ubiquitous in southeastern Michigan 1967 to 1972, but by the time Corinna and I were in highschool they’d made a record in London and played a final concert in Detroit. Iggy had moved to Los Angeles, which added to his celebrity mystique. Today a small, lithe male figure came downstairs, sporting a long dark shag haircut. glitter eyeliner, brown lipstick and a feminine lurex shirt, as would be expected in The Year of Our Glam Rock 1974. This Iggy looked smaller, less dynamic and compelling than he did onstage or in the frequent photographs in CREEM magazine. He was shy, polite but rather withdrawn as we made small talk about Michigan rock n’ roll. “Patrick’s an artist. He should design a record cover for you!” Corinna cackled. Yeah, that would be a good idea, Mr. Pop concurred, “Something with a lot of blood”. He soon excused himself and left. As I headed home a little while later, I was unsure. Had I met the real Iggy or not? Feeling inspired, that evening I started drawing bloody concepts. When I nonchalantly mentioned the meeting to musical friends and housemates, they groused I hadn’t invited Iggy over to jam.
A few months later Corinna and I finally made love, on the floor of her bedroom while her folks were out and the New York Dolls’ second album was blasting on the stereo. I later felt like Gustave Flaubert, whom after catching syphillis in Egypt from notable exotic dancer Kuchuk Hanem (originator of a dance called “the bee”), contentedly went home to live with his mother and write his novels. Instead I went away to college, left the midwest, designed book and even CD covers, married and rarely returned to Michigan. The girl from the paper, now a school administrator, sent me notice of the hip and kitschy jewelry store that Corinna and her obviously bisexual husband had opened, and my wife and I visited it when we were in town. My wife thought Corinna had a fun sense of style, but the costume jewelry she’d purchased all soon broke or fell apart.
On one visit, the day before my flight I stopped to take some trinkets and bibelots back home with me. Corinna’s bigass opera singer body looked emaciated and gaunt. “Patrick, I’ve got AIDS!” she crowed, in the same gossipy voice she might have announced she had David Bowie concert tickets. She was not much over thirty-five, and had a preteen daughter. Over the next year Corinna and I swapped a couple of letters and holiday cards, and I hoped the regimen of prescription drugs she was taking would keep her alive and well.
The next time I was in town, I stopped by...but Corinna wasn’t in the shop. Her husband said she was in the hospital but he’d happily call her there. When he handed me the phone we chatted warmly and drifted into what we both quickly realized were our last goodbyes. Out of the blue she said “Oh Patrick, I was such a big talker. Sure, I balled Iggy, but it was just once and he’s had millions of young girls.” I thought yeah, Corinna, but you and I did it only once and I sure remember you. She concluded that she knew she had told me a lot of fibs back in the day “but I was just trying to stir magic into our lives”. Was I supposed to put two and two together and conclude the lurex-clad skinny mellink in the basement twenty years before was a fraud? I didn’t ask.
Though his concerts with a backup band fill big Detroit theaters like the Palace, later generations of local creatives didn’t take Iggy so seriously as to worry about authenticity. Humorists at MOTORBOOTY put a wig and makeup on a mannikin supposedly exhibited in Ann Arbor’s historic “Stooges Wax Museum”; a writer at CRIMEWAVE USA simply made up answers when his scheduled interview with Iggy fell through. A few months after my last conversation with Corinna, when I was in town and stopped in their store, her husband said she was now in a hospice, no longer in her right mind, awaiting the end. He was OK though, taking his meds, was considering turning tricks for extra cash and had a new boyfriend to take care of him. In a few weeks, the school administrator mailed me the News’ notice of Corinna’s death. Eight years after Corinna died, Iggy--now living down south--and Ron reunited the Stooges for shows in Los Angeles and Detroit.
II. Bowie & Brenda
I'll call him Bowie, after the rock star of the time who helped throw gender definitions into question. That he traded some albums to the hash-dealing girl in our math class for her pair of crushed velvet bellbottoms wasn't particularly odd in that era. After all, the MC5 wore billowy satins, the Stooges growled in eyeliner and glitter, the Kinks sang of transvestite L-o-l-a Lola, and what about that Alice Cooper? Other guys in our highschool splashed Clorox on their hair towards an Andy Warhol effect, wore their silky manes down to their butts, or borrowed their little sister's tight scoop-necked top "to look like Rod Stewart" before musical gigs. And most of all, chicks dug it.
Ann Arbor public schools valued their smart kids, so creative endeavors like original music or movies or writing were encouraged, and not only by the hippie teachers. I thought I knew Bowie well, for we had played guitars together as we laughed our way through various classes, at the teachers and the stoners and the rah-rahs and all the other markers of highschool existence. He didn't date or have steady girlfriends, but most of my nerd friends didn't until college. After graduation, he moved to a distant city and we swapped Christmas cards sporadically over the years. At one class reunion, my perceptive wife remarked that man seemed so skittish and uncomfortable around women. His incessant chain smoking worried me.
Now, this is Michigan, and every man of a certain age either has a Classic (or Punk) Rock agglomeration on weekends, or else brags about the halcyon days that he did, like our landlord when he saw my musical gear in one corner. I had taken a new day job in a part of the state more conservative than Ann Arbor, and was still establishing myself among coworkers, when I was asked to play in a higher-up's garage band. I was packing up for a Saturday afternoon gig when the phone rang. It was Bowie, whom I hadn't heard from in a couple years. His voice sounded a bit different.
He was going through a sex change, and asked that I now address her as (something like) Brenda.
Whoa! My mind raced over various past situations, sexist jokes, etcetera. What would have been different back in the day if I knew this was a woman? But wait a minute, he wasn't a she yet. Or didn't know she was. This is confusing. After what felt like a long conversation, I wished her well and drove off still baffled.
You should have seen the looks when I mentioned the phone call that caused my tardiness to the guys in the garage band. They quickly recovered, shrugged, and launched into a Creedence Clearwater song. In the next couple years I spoke to Brenda, and each time her voice sounded...well, girlier. Once she said she handn't announced the change at her workplace yet and I guffawed out loud, for the difference sure was audible from here.
In high school my crowd had all been urbanely tolerant of gay and bisexual kids, including those who seemed as if a puff of wind might blow them into the female gender. Some of them had even crossed over those lines surreptitiously; an impressed woman once showed me a Jacobsons' women's wear ad in which one lithe boy from our school modeled a smart skirt ensemble. But if I'm self-congratulatory about 1970s Ann Arbor liberality, that doesn't mean I really know what any of those kids suffered, at home or in public.
A while before the next big highschool reunion I asked Brenda if she was coming to Ann Arbor, and suggested we re-form our short-lived band for it, a fun way that she could announce her change to the world. Our good buddy the drummer didn't even know yet. She said, no, not yet. People who needed to know, like a favorite hip teacher, already did and that was fine, and I was welcome to tell anyone I chose. The staid and placid reunion could have used a good band. When awards were given in various categories, the second-longest couple were two men, and that classmate's longtime companion looked as politely bored as every other spouse there.
At another Ann Arbor gathering I teased and confused Bowie's old college roommate in front of his wife (our highschool friend from the school paper, whom I once tried to fix up with Bowie). I began to talk about the days he had lived with Brenda...oh wait, he was Bowie then...for to be a wiseass about the topic meant that nothing really changed in our attitudes towards each other. One mid-career professional at the party, whose husband had left her for a man, said she thought this was probably a better age for Brenda to make that big change than during one's mate-seeking twenties or thirties.
I think of Brenda the Transgenda every time the subject appears on TV, which is usually on a cop drama that tut-tuts about invevitably tragic results. Brenda's revelation taught me that we really can never know another person, or at least that when men think knowing what someone feels (or says they do) about rock bands or sports teams or cars it doesn't necessarily mean a deep, knowlegeable friendship.
Perhaps there are two kinds of grownups in this world. For those of one kind, news coming in mid-life about something like Brenda's metamorphosis means the world is bad and dangerous, and exceptions must be proscribed by any means necessary, like the hateful marriage-defining amendment to the state constitution. Then there are those for whom it's a reminder that the world is full of surprises and complexity, and you'll get amazing surprises that spin your head around, that shake and erase the Etch-a-Sketch of your assumptions about people you think you know all throughout your life, so dig it. Brenda, I'm proud of your courage, honor your struggle, wish you a life of peace and love, and hope Michigan gets to hear your kick-ass rock n’ roll again soon.
Patrick Hurono has lived a life that's full, has traveled each and every highway.
Graphics: Aubrey Beardsley, color by Bad Subjects.