Lou Reed and Tab Hunter: Long journeys to the Light

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A music pioneer, Lou Reed, passed away this week.

He is best known for the song 'Walk on the Wild Side,’ which was written, friends, about drag queens.

Yes, his electric and eclectic music gave life to the Velvet Underground, and yes, Lou Reed, 71, was a drug user and alcohol abuser. Like many pioneers who reach the cutting edge, he was dynamic as well as different. He was a musical genius, whose legacy will live forever. He also for a while was one of us.

Born in Brooklyn to a Jewish home, Lou Reed grew up as a rebellious teenager-a high school dropout- in a middle class home in Freeport, on the south shore of Long Island. But gay teenagers were not exactly acceptable in 1958. Lou's father sent him for repeated doses of electro-shock therapy to cure his 'bisexuality.' Reed would write about the revealing experience in his 1974 song 'Kill Your Sons,' then again in a book:

"They put the thing down your throat so you don't swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That's what was recommended in Rockland State Hospital to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can't read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again."

—Lou Reed quoted in Please Kill Me (1996)

That was considered enlightened therapy at the time, the alternative to being called a deviant pervert and subversive by Senator Joe McCarthy.

If you are 17 tomorrow and walking in a Halloween parade on Wilton Drive, dressed in drag or as Dracula, take note of the world that was. Appreciate what you have now and ask an older man what being gay was like in America one half century ago.

Yesterday, the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival honored Tab Hunter.  It was in 1958, while Lou Reed was getting electro shock therapy three times a week, that Tab Hunter was electrifying moviegoers with his role of a star baseball player in the film version of the musical Broadway hit 'Damn Yankees.' A year before, Hunter's song,  'Young Love,' was the number one hit on the Billboard charts for six weeks.

But today, Hunter, featured in last week's SFGN by our writer, J.W. Arnold, reveals he was not really soaking up the celebrity status in 1958. 'I was leading two lives,' he said in his autobiography,  'I never talked; never discussed with anyone my homosexuality. The word gay did not even exist.' It was a torture influenced by others and then inflicted upon you in the world that once was.

Lou Reed and Tab Hunter may never have met. However, the connecting and common universality of their experiences in life should not be lost upon you this week as you celebrate gay America's favorite holiday, Halloween.  If we are still fighting bullying now, can you come close to imagining the reality then?

Here's the thing to remember though in 2013. Unlike 50 years ago, we don't need to wear masks anymore. And this week we are celebrating Tab Hunter's life and remembering Lou Reed's. From yesterday's shadows to today's sunlight, the world evolves. Do your part. Make a difference. Norm Kent


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