Thursday, May 28, 2020

John, Sugar and Larry Kramer

I mentioned a couple of days ago that we're getting some new murals in West Hampstead, on the bridge over the railroad tracks. Well, they're finished now, and they're beautiful!

On the right side in the photo above are portraits by artist Zabou, including...

...John, our late used book vendor, and his dog Sugar. This is where they used to sit every day as John sold his books. I photographed them here a couple of times. You may remember John died last May, not too many months after Sugar.

I love the portraits, and I can't help but wonder what John would think if he could see them. When I gave him copies of the photos I'd taken, he said they were "pukka" or "a bonzer" -- but obviously these murals are on a whole different scale. They'd blow his mind.

Zabou also painted portraits of David and Amy. I don't know the backstory on these two, but the mural is supposedly meant to raise awareness of homelessness and the issues that homeless people face. So maybe they're somehow associated with that purpose. Amy's even got her coronavirus mask on, it looks like!

On the other side of the bridge are these words, which is the name of the project. The organizers are crowdfunding to help pay for the artists and their materials. I gave them a donation. I think these murals are a huge boost for the community.

In other news, I have to take a moment to mark the death of Larry Kramer. He was a giant in gay and AIDS activism when I was young, a guy who helped all of us find our voice and use it against the injustices of society and the government. To be honest, he always scared me a little -- he burned so fiercely with righteous anger.

When I saw a revival of his classic play "The Normal Heart" in New York, in 2004, I wrote this in my journal: "I'm kind of embarrassed to say I didn't like it -- in the gay world, that's a little like saying you don't like the Bible. But I don't go for Larry Kramer's brand of delivering a message -- all the anger, the yelling. I understand the source, but at this point it all seems somewhat dated. And I know it's dated partly because all that anger wrought change -- but Jesus, it's exhausting, being yelled at for 2 1/2 hours."

Sometimes, though -- like in the '80s, in Reagan's America -- you need someone angry to get the job done. RIP, Larry.


  1. I wish he was yelling the murals!

  2. E: Well, that's true -- we no longer need anger to get attention and funding for AIDS and gay rights (well, generally) but we DO need it to correct many other current injustices. I'm not a yeller, but anger DOES help drive my determination to do my part to work toward change.

  3. Wouldn't John be proud? I think he would.
    And where would we be without Larry Kramer's anger? It was a righteous anger. It was a constructive anger. Doesn't mean you have to like his plays though.

  4. I teared up looking at that mural of John & Sugar - what a fine tribute!

    I agree with e - we need some fire these days. I'm just so worn down by all of the injustice out there...

  5. I love those murals. Really well done. I wasn't tuned into the news in the 80s very much so I somehow missed Larry Kramer. Or maybe I just don't remember. I did see a news piece about him last night on PBS, and interestingly it said something about him and Fauci getting into a bit of a disagreement back in the day. Then, they made up and really appreciated each other's work. Fauci said some lovely things about him. There were some old clips, and yes, he really did yell quite a bit!

  6. I LOVE that new public art. I'm not a fan of the lettering, but that's OK. The idea is brilliant and the art itself is exquisite!

    I agree with you about Larry Kramer. He did so much for the gay community and people with AIDS but his constant anger scared me, too. I found The Normal Heart to be brilliant and overwhelmingly rage-filled. I'm glad he was on my side because he took no prisoners and his personal attacks were so cruel and so hard to recover from (although many didn't DESERVE to recover). In regard to that, Anthony Fauci has been a model of grace over the years. And we all owe so much to Larry Kramer and his righteous anger.

  7. Those murals are wonderful and the fact that they honored John and Sugar sort of melted my heart. They did a very nice tribute to Kramer on the PBS News Hour last night. I didn't realize he had a connection to Dr. Fauci until I saw that piece. Of course Fauci wasn't really a household name until just lately.

  8. These murals are so awesome. I love the colors and detail. Your friend John would love them I am sure. And what a sweet memory of Sugar and it is wonderful to see them finished. Your so good at capturing the heart of things in your world that speaks so much to the heart of the moment.
    Have a really wonderful day!

  9. The artwork is really good. Such a lovely tribute to John and Sugar. I agree about not being turned on by a lot of yelling. I know sometimes it helps to get someone's attention, but I think that words do a much better job of reaching people when they are spoken and not yelled. Enjoy your day, hugs, Edna B.

  10. I read that Kramer formed the first group to fight AIDS but when the other members grew tired of his ranting they threw him out. He called them a bunch of sissies and went on to form ActUp. There was a long and worshipful obit about him on NBC Nightly News last night. I thought, "how far we have come."

  11. love the murals and public art in general. I don't really know anything about Larry Kramer but I am glad that we have evolved somewhat as a society in regards to the other gendered. attacking a person's sexuality is like attacking them for the color of their eyes.

  12. Larry Kramer truly was a giant among people. He changed the way clinical trials were done in the US. New Yorker did a piece on Dr. Fauci and he talked about how Kramer had changed medicine. There is a 2002 piece on Kramer in New Yorker that was pretty good. I do love those murals, they're very well done.

  13. The art work on the bridge is superb but I expect that before too many moons have passed it will be spoilt by mindless oiks. Mark my words. However, we should remind ourselves that all art is ephemeral. Wonderful tribute to the bookseller.

  14. we still need screamers- protests with fire and gas- for all sorts of injustices. But humans will not change much, it is always something. Anyway, Mr. Kramer did his good work , brought some needed change, set the bar pretty high, and lived a long time and that is that. well done. I have found though, that if I whisper , people tend to hear me better. A trick learned from having a loud big brother.

  15. Ms Moon: I think the play was incredibly effective at the time it was first produced. The world has changed since then, and circumstances don't warrant that much angst over those same issues. So it's hard to watch it in revival.

    Bug: Isn't it a great tribute? I just keep thinking what he'd say if he could see it.

    Robin: He and Fauci were legendary foes back in the '80s, but I think they grew to respect one another.

    Mitchell: We do indeed owe him a lot. And as I posted subsequently (and E alluded to above) there's still a lot to be angry about.

    Sharon: I know! It's so beautiful to see their faces up on the wall right where they used to sit.

    Beth: They are a fine tribute!

    Edna: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, right?

    Catalyst: Yes! He alienated so many people who just couldn't stand his abrasiveness, but in the end he was more effective than all of the rest of them. (Thus disproving, I suppose, what I told Edna above.)

    Ellen: Yes, it's such a relief that we've come so far on those issues.

    Allison: Yeah, I read that Fauci piece and of course I remember those arguments over drug trials when they were going on. Kramer was definitely a game-changer.

    YP: I expressed the same fear to the woman who coordinated the murals. I'm sure it will happen, but the fact that it's in such a prominent place and out in the open might discourage vandalism. (As opposed to the much-defaced Billy Fury mural, which is tucked into a side alley.)

    Linda Sue: I think we need a mix -- some screamers and some soft-speakers. Like you, I am the latter.

  16. Wall murals are fantastic and these were great to see. We have a number of them here in Nashua, NH, and this post has given me a bit kf an impetus to start taking photos for future posts. And, it would get me out and about as well.