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Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947-1985: Excursions in the Mind of the Life

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"A heroically imaginative account of gay metropolitan culture, an elegy and an apologia for a generation."—New York Times Book Review
A fierce critical intelligence animates every page of Queer Street. Its sentences are dizzying divagations. The postwar generation of queer New York has found a sophisticated bard singing 'the elders' history' (The New York Times). James McCourt's seminal Queer Street has proven unrivaled in its ability to capture the voices of a mad, bygone era. Beginning with the influx of ...

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Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947-1985

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Overview

"A heroically imaginative account of gay metropolitan culture, an elegy and an apologia for a generation."—New York Times Book Review
A fierce critical intelligence animates every page of Queer Street. Its sentences are dizzying divagations. The postwar generation of queer New York has found a sophisticated bard singing 'the elders' history' (The New York Times). James McCourt's seminal Queer Street has proven unrivaled in its ability to capture the voices of a mad, bygone era. Beginning with the influx of liberated veterans into downtown New York and barreling through four decades of crisis and triumph up to the era of the floodtide of AIDS, McCourt positions his own exhilarating experience against the whirlwind history of the era. The result is a commanding and persuasive interlocking of personal, intellectual, and social history that will be read, dissected, and honored as the masterpiece it is for decades to come. A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2003; a Lambda Award finalist.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
A late efflorescence of modernist experiment replete with lists, queer syllabi, repartee, feuilletons, snarkfests, fragments of plays, poems, mash notes to stars and ruthless anatomies of queer melancholy, McCourt's book offers an original, if mandarin, cultural history, disquisitions on film, sorties into literary criticism and, indirectly, a scintillating and elusive memoir … A fierce critical intelligence animates every page of Queer Street. Its sentences are dizzying divagations. The postwar generation of queer New York has found a sophisticated bard singing ''the elders' history.'' It is clear that Q.T. was there, that he came, he saw and he conquered. What's also clear: he listened. — Maureen N. McLane
The Washington Post
By turns entertaining, erudite and genuinely moving, this book leaves no doubt that, however fabulously furnished some closets were in those more oppressive times, freedom's better. — Bruce Bawer
Publishers Weekly
McCourt is the author of perhaps the best novel about opera (Mawrdew Czgowchwz, 1975, his first book recently reissued by NYRB Classics) as well as the best novel about AIDS (Time Remaining, 1992). Queer Street marks his debut in nonfiction, if such it can be called. His fans formerly waited eight or nine years for the master of camp glamour perfection to issue a new novel, yet the years since the century's turn have brought three books in rapid succession. Is this new productivity linked to a newfound confidence born out of Harold Bloom's elevation of McCourt in his appendix to The Western Canon (1994)? In McCourt's historical collage, an autobiographical thread prevails: young Brooklyn boy discovers Manhattan, grows up instinctively drawn to the artistic and pleasure centers its title evokes. Yet the book swells to bursting with other elements essays on film, lists of essential gay bars, invented characters bursting into Compton-Burnett chitchat. His wit is superb. "One cannot help noticing that a remake of Vertigo set in San Francisco today would be untenable: there is almost no one in California who does not believe in channeling and retrieved memory from former lives." McCourt can sometimes strike a needlessly provocative note (he implies a devotion to the Log Cabin Republicans just, it seems, to annoy) but readers straight and gay will be dazzled by the erudition he displays in listing every important event that happened in gay Manhattan over a 40-year period. They're all here Cardinal Spellman pinching altar boys; Douglas Sirk's shrewd casting of Rock Hudson as U.S. everyman; The Golden Apple as quintessential A-Gay musical. The staggering scale, the lighthearted valor and, most strikingly, a heavy reliance on Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1950 film All About Eve make this book, in every sense of the word, monumental: a Mount Rushmore with the familiar presidents' faces chipped away, replaced with those of Leonie Rysanek, Luchino Visconti, James Schuyler and Bette Davis. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Within a very few pages of this glittering mirror ball of a memoir, novelist and story writer McCourt (Time Remaining) makes clear his assertion that history, like memory, is a lie. What, then, are we to make of this work, which recounts queer culture during the last half of the 20th century? Maddening, frustrating, divine: history is here presented as memory, faulty and nonlinear, without the messy intrusion of facts and dates. Despite the often ponderous language and the need for an unabridged dictionary by the reader's side, McCourt's book brilliantly captures queer New York life just before mainstream pop culture came nipping at its heels to swallow it up. Every cultural stereotype is lovingly recounted: drag, disco, the baths, and an almost fanatical obsession with all things Bette Davis. Part autobiography, part cultural history, this book combines the self-conscious sensibilities of the poet with the dispassionate eye of the social commentator, where queer was found in every Hitchcock film, Judy Garland chanson, and Wagnerian aria performed at the old Met. Recommended for larger public libraries and queer studies collections.-Jeff Ingram, Newport P.L., OR Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A brilliant account of the evolution of modern gay culture in post-WWII New York. Not that such things can be pinpointed with any precision. "Queer Street," as McCourt (Wayfaring at Waverly in Silver Lake, 2002, etc.) calls it, is really a state of mind: "It doesn't start anywhere; there isn't a beginning." Yet a story has to begin somewhere, and McCourt locates his at about the time that armies of war-weary, liberated combat veterans returned home and decided to live on their own terms. Beyond Manhattan, the rest of the country wasn't quite ready for the gay veterans "and their undecorated coevals," McCourt adds: "Viewed by the world of straight America (primed to rescind the liberty and license vouchsafed queers under grueling combat conditions), [Queer Street] becomes the radical inverse of the renewed moral and civic duty prescribed in the triumphalist Republic." If that snippet has your head spinning, it is typical of McCourt's exuberant, elliptical style, which sometimes begs a Derrida to serve as translator. Blending personal and cultural history, McCourt takes a leisurely stroll along that long avenue, examining attitudes pro and con vis-à-vis the gay demimonde in a narrative that touches, dizzyingly, on the French martyr Simone Weil, Counter-Reformation Jesuitism, J. Edgar Hoover, Kaye Ballard, Broadway (when, in the 1950s, the "sensitive boy" à la Anthony Perkins, Roddy MacDowell, and Dean Stockwell emerged as an ideal), Method acting, Fire Island, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stonewall, and Bette Davis. This is magpie history, highly selective and full of shiny objects, but it is remarkably coherent for all its strange turns; McCourt's notes on camp (which locates "the success incertain passionate failures") are worth the price of admission alone. So is McCourt's sharp reminder that not the larger culture, not recruitment, not seminary "makes any boy gay . . . the job is done by the parents in the first two to four years of life, the end." A welcome makeover for the textbook view of New York-and American-cultural history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393326406
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 577
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

James McCourt is the author of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, Time Remaining, Delancey’s Way, Now Voyagers: The Night Sea Journey and Queer Street. He has contributed to the Yale Review, The New Yorker, and the Paris Review. He lives in New York City and Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Ch. 1 Predicament 5
Ch. 2 The Wherewithal 19
Ch. 3 Certain Shades of Limelight 29
Ch. 4 Identity and the Masks of Enclosure (The Existential Queer) 45
Ch. 5 How It Got to Be So (Study Period) 57
Ch. 6 Forensic Society 79
Ch. 7 A Sample Progress on Queer Street 105
Ch. 8 Mirror, Mirror: Same Difference (From the File on the Astor Bar) 123
Ch. 9 The Sunday Matinee 143
Ch. 10 A Performance to Give (The First Callback) 157
Ch. 11 Stipulations (Post-mortem with the Party in Full Tilt) 173
Ch. 12 Dirty Boulevard (Originating at the Meeting of Clearasil and Eye Shadow) 187
Ch. 13 The File on Fire Island 207
Ch. 14 The Theater 219
Ch. 15 While on the Town 239
Ch. 16 Author's Letters from London to a Former Schoolmate in New York (A Farrago of a Four-Year Stay Abroad) 265
Ch. 17 Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, but Not Yet 281
Ch. 18 Vilja de Tanguay Exults 293
Ch. 19 Moving Back and Moving On (Stonewall and Ever After) 321
Ch. 20 Fielding Shortstop 343
Ch. 21 Two serious Laddies: Raymond Chandler and Herman Melville 391
Ch. 22 Two Jims 403
Ch. 23 Personnel and Bulletins from Zones of Dread 429
Ch. 24 Two Almost Tragic Characters 447
Ch. 25 Storyboards 459
Ch. 26 On Location 477
Ch. 27 1416 North Havenhurst (Bette Davis) 487
Ch. 28 Star Soul (Prelude to a Postscript) Richard (Sauls) Rouilard, 1949-1996 513
Epilogue: While You Were Out (The Book Talks Back) 539
Captions and Credits 561
Index 565
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