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Cynthia Carr

in conversation with Ryan Mangione

Cynthia Carr is a New York based writer. She served as a staff writer at The Village Voice from 1987 to 2003, establishing herself as an early forerunner in the burgeoning field of performance art criticism in an era where performance was still largely relegated to the underfunded and underreported fringes of subculture. Carr’s early writings on experimental performance art, theater, and dance—many of which are collected in her book On Edge (1993), an ur-text of sorts in the field of performance studies—are remarkable examples of public intellectualism, weighing egoless curiosity, a wry sense of political sobriety, and a palpable belief in the importance of the art she is covering in equal measure, all the while never once losing sight of journalism’s most basic task: to tell a good story. Since her departure from the Voice, Carr has authored the books Our Town (2007), Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (2012)—winner of the 2013 Lamba Literary Award for “Gay Memoir or Biography”—and, most recently, Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar (2024).

Carr’s work embodies a selfless devotion to telling the truth about other people’s lives—not just the lives of Big Name Geniuses like Wojnarowicz and Darling, nor the Big Name Events that crossed their lives like AIDS, Gay Liberation, and the NEA culture wars, but also, and equally, the thick stew of competing truths from which those Big Names have been plucked. Carr’s writing peddles in stories of strung-out accomplices whose names might otherwise go unremembered, small-time admirers offering up shelter for the night, estranged brothers, unlikely sisters; stories, in other words, that are so often both cruelly and lazily ground up by historians into the starch-white pulp across which the black ink of accepted history scratches its name into relief. I knew I wanted to talk to her the moment we decided to produce this volume, On AIDS. I wanted to understand what it takes to devote oneself so fully to the chronicling of other people’s lives, especially in the face of unprecedented trouble and despair—I wanted to turn the camera, however briefly, back on the documentarian. Our conversation spans the breadth of Carr’s career, from her early days spent attempting to break into media at publications like Artforum and the Voice and her experiences with barely making ends meet as a writer during the height of the mid-’80s East Village art market mania, to her ongoing commitment to the life of a biographer and her lasting friendships with those unsung heroes who devoted themselves to preserving the stories of loved ones like David Wojnarowicz and Candy Darling in the first place. This conversation took place in February 2024.

RM

I thought we might start by sketching a brief timeline of your development as a writer. In previous interviews, you’ve said that seeing the Bread and Puppet Theater on television while growing up in Peoria, Illinois, is what first exposed you to the creative possibilities of performance—you describe this moment as something that, “saved your life.” What about it was lifesaving, exactly? Do you ever imagine what shape your life might have taken had you not been exposed to performance in this moment?

CC

Peoria is a very conservative town, and my parents were right-wing Republicans, involved with the Christian Coalition. But that was just the beginning of how I didn’t fit in there. [Laughs.] I knew that I couldn’t live there permanently. That moment when I saw Bread and Puppet on television—I'll never forget it. It was just this very simple little theater piece, about a man who’d lost his shoes. A hooded figure sat on stage, whispering the story into a bullhorn. At one point the figure says, “This is the river.” And this thin giant puppet walks slowly in. That was the river. Then it slowly turns, and we see the shoes tied to its back. I almost can't even talk about it without getting emotional. I wish I could say why. I'll never forget it. It made me realize that there was such an incredible world of possibilities out there that I knew nothing about—all I knew was that I had to get to it. So I moved to Chicago and lived there for four years. That’s where I first saw Meredith Monk.

RM

What year did you move to Chicago?

CC

I moved to Chicago after graduating college, so probably 1973—I’d gone to the University of Iowa. I got a job as a proofreader at Encyclopedia Britannica, which had an office near the Loop. I would often make the short walk from the office to the Art Institute after work. I knew nothing about the arts. I didn’t study that in school. Early on I saw a piece there by Claes Oldenburg, a replica of Chicago Picasso—a huge outdoor sculpture made of steel. Oldenburg’s replica was maybe a foot tall and made from leather, so it kind of slumped over. So funny, so startling. I began to see how artists could take some reality and turn it over, reinvent it. At some point, the Art Institute showed a whole series of experimental films, people like Maya Deren and Michael Snow. I think I went to all of them. One night the art department there opened the museum and filled it with projects and performances. Like, someone had taken a color TV showing something like the Johnny Carson Show and changed all the colors. Again, they were showing me different possibilities for how things could be. I may have seen that before Bread and Puppet, I don’t remember. But I was just so intrigued. The idea of possibility is really what I keep on coming back to, I think.

I began exploring performance and dance in Chicago—Meredith Monk, Kenneth King, Laura Dean, for example. Then I moved to New York, and I got to see the Bread and Puppet Theater in person. You could go to shows very cheaply at that point in time. The fact that everything was so cheap meant that I was able to see a lot—even Next Wave at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ok, I was in the nosebleed seats there. I got to see Laurie Anderson, Robert Wilson, and more. I was working as a freelance proofreader and copy editor. Then, in 1984, I started working at the Village Voice as an assistant art director. Those were the old days before everything was done on a computer, and you had to “paste up.” I only came in on deadline days, which were Mondays—my hours were usually from 6 PM on Monday night to 6 AM Tuesday morning. On one of those Mondays, I said to an editor, “There are all of these galleries opening up in my neighborhood in the East Village. The Voice should really be covering it.” And that editor said to me, “Well, why don’t you do it?” So that’s how I started writing for the Voice. [Laughs.] I hope I’m not moving through things too fast!

RM

[Laughs.] No, this is all great. But I do want to rewind for a second to before you started at the Voice. I have two questions here, which feel closely related—or, I hope they feel related. In the original 1993 introduction to On Edge, you say that you came to New York to be on the frontier of art as it was happening in America. First, did you know anyone in New York before you moved here, or did you move solely based on the knowledge that this was where you needed to be? Second, did you already know that you wanted to write about art as opposed to making it, or did writing become more of a clear focus after first having spent some time here?

CC

A couple of my Chicago friends—Su Friedrich and Amy Sillman—had already moved to New York, and I was able to crash with them when I arrived with my life savings of five hundred dollars. I had always wanted to be a writer. I was editor in chief of my high school newspaper, and went to the University of Iowa on a journalism scholarship. I gave up on the scholarship—probably a big mistake—because I hated the way that they’d reorganized the entire journalism department to be based around semiotics and semiotic theory. I wanted to write stories. I switched to an English major, and then got into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop—they had a class for undergraduates, so I wound up studying in their fiction workshop. I also did some freelance journalism while I was living in Chicago. And I got a subscription to The Village Voice. I always read their arts coverage, and the writer Jill Johnston was so important to me. She was an advocate for avant-garde performers, from the Judson Church group of post-Cunningham dancers to the Fluxus group. This was soon eclipsed by her new image as America’s most notorious lesbian—the only out lesbian in the mainstream media. I was coming out as a lesbian at that point—so I loved reading her. In fact, if my Voice didn’t show up in my mailbox on Monday when it was supposed to be there, I would almost have a panic attack!

RM

[Laughs.]

CC

When I move to New York, I knew right away that that’s where I wanted to work. Of course, it’s not easy to break in anywhere. That’s why I ended up taking a part-time graphic design job there on deadline days.

RM

You said this job at the Voice started in ’84, so this is after you had started doing work for Artforum, right? Correct me if I’m getting the timeline wrong, but you were already doing similar art direction work at Artforum in ’82 with Keith Davis, yeah?

CC

Yes. In fact, I probably started working at Artforum around 1980. It was one of my many part-time gigs. I was doing paste up there, and, because it’s a monthly magazine, the paste ups would usually take at least a few days to complete. Keith was the art director there in 1982. He introduced me to his friend David Wojnarowicz late one night, when Keith and I were working there alone. David had come by to borrow money from Keith. [Laughs.]

RM

Who else were you reading at this point? I know you mentioned already being a subscriber to the Voice back during your Chicago days, and that Jill Johnston was important in particular, but what else were you taking in? Was it mostly other critics and journalists?

CC

I read all of the arts coverage on theater and dance that was published in the Voice. I read visual arts coverage too, to a certain extent. And books by people like Gregory Battock. I still have two of his books right above me on the bookshelf here: The New Art and another with a title that was such a great product of its time, Idea Art. [Laughs.] I was reading a lot about all the new forms of art that were emerging at that time. One of the things that I realized while I was working on my new book on Candy Darling was that the Village Voice was really one of the only places where you could read about things like Off-Off-Broadway theater and experimental art. It was also the only publication really covering both second-wave feminism and gay liberation right from the very start. I went through old Village Voice issues page-by-page, starting in 1967 when Candy was in her first play up until shortly after her death in ’74—I looked through every single page. I wanted to look at the arts coverage, but I also even wanted to look at the ads, which would tell you, for example, when certain plays opened and who was in the cast. Also, by looking at every page, I got a sense of the context. That’s important to me. I think of these books—the one about David and the one about Candy—as cultural histories as much as biographies.

RM

As a reader I definitely get that from both of those books. On the topic of cultural history, I want to revisit what you said a little bit ago about how you began writing about the East Village performance scene for the Voice. In On Edge, you mention that part of how you ended up falling into covering the East Village scene had to do with the fact that there weren’t really any other critics who were willing to stay out until 3 or 4 in the morning in these makeshift spaces and rundown nightclubs, which was where most of the performances you ended up writing about took place.

CC

That’s true, yeah. I’m a nightowl, so leaving my apartment at midnight to go to a club was no problem.

RM

What did the bleed between your professional and social life look like during that time? Did one precipitate the other? By that I mean: did you first start hanging around these spaces on a social basis and then have the idea to write about them, or did the desire to cover performance become the impetus for seeking out these social worlds?

CC

I don’t think I was really hanging out in any of those spaces in ’84. For one thing, I had very little money. Even with how cheap everything was, it was still hard for me to afford. I caught a few things early on though, like the ones I mentioned earlier. But the first performance piece I wrote about was not done for an audience. Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh had tied themselves together with an eight-foot rope for an entire year. They did not want spectators. I went to an editor, Richard Goldstein, and said, “Somebody really needs to write about this”—I mean, this was a major ordeal piece. So Richard said, “Go ahead. Try writing about it.” Linda and Tehching had come nearly to the end of their year and, thankfully, they allowed me to come to Tehching’s loft, where they were living. I was able to interview them and hang out with them. That was the first piece I ever wrote about performance.

RM

When did you make the transition to writing full-time for the Voice? How did that come about?

CC

Well, the next piece I wrote was about Stelarc, who hung himself by fish hooks through his skin over East 11th Street. After that, the Voice editors decided that I could write about the performances happening in the clubs, because there was so much of that going on and no one was covering that scene. I mean, I couldn’t help but notice that other critics weren’t at the Pyramid Club or 8BC at 2 in the morning.

I got a column in ’85 —I called it “On Edge”—about a year after I had started making my way out to the clubs most nights. Part of what interested me about these performances was that they were not in the mainstream. I mean, at that period of time, performance was not shown in museums. It was not taught in schools. The fact that you can seriously study performance art in college is a very recent thing. I had to educate myself about all of this avant-garde performance history on my own, which I did. I was reading a lot of books about it and trying to give myself a crash-course on the history, because you weren’t going to able to learn about it anywhere else.

I’d go out to a spot like the Pyramid Club with a notebook and a tape recorder in my purse. I remember the Pyramid having a narrow ledge halfway up the wall. You could just barely stand on it, but I’d get myself up there so I could see the stage quite easily. I’d turn on the tape recorder and take out my notebook. When I got home, I’d transcribe the whole thing, even the really terrible performances. I hate to say it, but some of them really were terrible. But others were great. I still have all those transcriptions—these single space double-sided records of all the things I was seeing. I would even draw pictures of what the costumes looked like.

This was how a lot of my self-education happened. This is how I got a real sense of what I should cover and what I shouldn’t. I did a lot of tedious work to actually understand what was happening in the scene. It was so open when it started. I remember walking down Avenue B one night with some friends and running into the guys who ran 8BC. I didn’t know them at all but one of my friends did. The 8BC guys said, “Oh, we’re gonna start a new club.” Then they turned to me and said, “Do you want to perform there?” To which I said, “Well…no.”

RM

[Laughs.]

CC

But that’s what it was like. You could be anybody, or nobody, and you could get invited to perform. Around the same time, someone at one of my other freelance jobs asked me to join their band. I told them I don’t know how to play a single instrument, but of course that didn’t matter at all. That was what was going on in the culture. It was so great. I mean, talk about possibility! People were giving themselves the freedom to just try things. If it didn’t work out, you could just try something else.

RM

Right. In a previous interview you gave to Artforum in 1988, you talked a bit how early on in your career you would frequently hear from other critics and editors that transgression was over, or that there was no point in covering “subversive” work anymore. As you put it, there was this sort of pervasive sense that transgression and subversion had already gone the way of the dinosaur—I think your writing is a great testament to how wrong that sentiment was at the time, in many ways. What drove you to persist in engaging with these subversive forms of performance and performance spaces during those years? What did it take to shrug off the ambient sense of editorial disinterest and discouragement that was in the air?

CC

I was always interested in art that challenged the status-quo, and “transgression” was part of that. But things were changing around that time. People were starting to deal more with identity politics, for one thing. That really became the cutting edge, so I wrote a number of things about that as well. I also wrote a book about a lynching that happened in my father’s hometown [Our Town].

RM

That was your first book, right?

CC

I had published a collection of my performance essays already—On Edge. But Our Town was my first full-length book. I think you could describe all of these ideas as transgressive in a certain way. I mean, identity politics is still in the news with all of the hysteria around critical race theory and transgender rights. It’s still going on.

RM

Was there a point in which you saw yourself beginning to develop a particular personal lexicon of rhetorical themes and symbols in your work? Or a personal vernacular? I’ve just always been struck by your ability to talk about cultural history and performance in this way that is so idiosyncratic in terms of its observations and worldview while still feeling immediately familiar in terms of the ideas and conflicts you’re working through. Did you ever have a specific moment where you became self-aware of having a personal style?

CC

Oh boy.

RM

[Both laugh.] I know, I know, it’s every writer’s favorite question.

CC

I do have a definite style. I’m just not sure how to describe it or how it developed. I think a lot about how to get across a personal vision of how I see these artists at work, but without you ever knowing much about me.

RM

That changed with the David Wojnarowicz book though, right? There are moments in that book where your “I” starts to come through—I’m thinking about the final chapter in particular, which in some moments almost feels more like memoir than strict biography. What prompted you to bring yourself into the narrative there?

CC

Actually, that started with Our Town, which is about racism and was very personal for me. My grandfather was part of the Ku Klux Klan in Marion, Indiana, which is where an infamous lynching took place in 1930. I heard it discussed as a girl. In 1995, I took a leave of absence from the Voice and went to live in Marion for over a year. I was on a quest to find out who organized the lynching, but also to look at the bigger question of how do we get past these racist atrocities? How do we get to actual reconciliation? I worked on that for ten years, though for many of those years I was back at the Voice. That was published in 2006, and I then started work on the Wojnarowicz biography in 2007.

RM

You’ve already talked a bit about the economic circumstances of living in the East Village in the ’80s, and this give and take between, on the one hand, things being extremely cheap and then also, on the other, money being extremely hard to come by. The poverty of late-twentieth-century urban life is a recurrent theme in your work, as well as the violence and gentrification and policing of Downtown counter-cultural spaces—there’s a close attentiveness to how those economic and cultural forces shaped the trajectory of the galleries and artists you were writing about and living amongst. How were you personally navigating the psychic toll of making ends meet? Did the precarity of that moment impact your ability to write in any particular direction?

CC

I became a staff writer at the Voice in 1987, so I would have been on a regular salary then, but I didn’t have a consistent salary of any sort before then. I think a lot of people were living that way. As you’re kind of suggesting, the East Village scene only happened because everything was so cheap. This was an impoverished neighborhood with many empty storefronts and landlords thrilled to rent them out to young, inexperienced art dealers. When Civilian Warfare started, for instance, one of the dealers was living in the space, alongside running it as a gallery. The fact that so many buildings were vacant made it possible to repurpose the space and make things happen. You could actually get by, albeit quite poorly, on a part-time job, which allowed people to actually focus on making art or performing.

RM

Was that Dean Savard who was living in Civilian Warfare?

CC

Yes, that was Dean at Civilian. He lived in the back room, and it was small.

RM

Perhaps Civilian Warfare is a good transition into talking about David Wojnarowicz a bit more explicitly. You mentioned meeting him for the first time in 1982 through Keith Davis in the Artforum office. The two of you later became close towards the end of his life, not only because you were doing a lot of writing on his involvement in the NEA culture wars surrounding the Artists Space show Witnesses and his retrospective Tongues of Flame, but also because you became one of his caretakers as his health continued to decline. I was hoping you might be able to sketch out what your relationship was like in between these two points, which are separated by almost a decade. What did the broader timeline of your relationship with David look like?

CC

After I met him through Keith in ’82 I would occasionally see him around the neighborhood and just say hello. I wasn’t really a friend of his at all. I got to know him in 1990, around his retrospective show in Normal, Illinois, Tongues of Flame. After that show he was attacked by the American Family Association and other right wingers. Around that point, I called him and said I wanted to write about him and his work. I went to his loft and I did three long interviews with him, which became a cover story about David’s life. The Voice also sent an art critic, Elizabeth Hess, out to Illinois to cover the retrospective itself, but I was tasked with writing the story of his life. I realized later that parts of that story were…not exactly accurate. [Laughs.] But I was just going with what he had told me. I still wasn’t really close to him at that point, but I knew that he had been diagnosed. That was very clear. Then I started hearing from other people that he was really sick and that he wasn’t able to leave his apartment. So, I called him and left a message on his machine saying, “I hear you’re not feeling well. If you need help, let me know. I’ll get groceries for you or do your laundry. I can leave it at the door, you don’t have to let me in.” I knew that there were times where he just absolutely did not want to see anybody, so I made it clear that he wouldn’t have to see me.

I didn’t hear back from David at first. But then one day he called me—it wasn’t to ask me to do him a favor, though. He just started talking about everything that was going on in his life. He wanted to do a book tour around Close to the Knives. He had this whole plan. He was going to take a typewriter with him and had all of these ideas about the work he was going to do on the road. He had to cancel those plans, obviously. There was no way he was going to be healthy enough to do it. I started to go over to visit him around that time. I didn’t know it then, but he was being very selective about who he would let in. A lot of people he’d had been friends with for years were not allowed to come over. When he went into the hospital I went to visit him, and that’s when I met Tom Rauffenbart, his boyfriend. I didn’t even know Tom existed before that. David had left him out of his life story entirely when I interviewed him for the Voice piece.

RM

Almost none of David’s friends knew about Tom, right?

CC

That’s right. Just a handful of people had ever met Tom at that point. I started to visit David more regularly after that. For whatever reason, I was one of the people who was allowed to come over to the loft.

RM

Do you have any theories as to why David let you into his life at this point, even as he was shutting himself off from so many other friends?

CC

I can only guess, and that seems unwise. Those were terrible, terrible years. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to write the book about David. I thought that people didn’t know how bad that time was, and how awful it was to wake up every day and look at the obituaries first thing to see if someone you knew had died. One of my motivations for writing about David was to depict the horrors of the AIDS epidemic and how little the authorities did to help. Sick and dying people actually had to go out and demonstrate. It was just one outrage after another.

RM

When I was preparing for this conversation, I reread Fire in the Belly first and then went back and read the original version of your essay on David that appears in On Edge. It was interesting to clock which details changed—or, got corrected—in between these two iterations of his life story.

CC

I know—it’s a little embarrassing now, because that first piece was filled with errors. [Laughs.] But all the errors came from David. It was his life story, according to him. Looking back on it, I feel that he wanted to talk about his life because he wanted to make sure Peter Hujar made it into the story. Peter Hujar was the most important person in David’s life, and losing him was so intense for David. That relationship really became the center of the story he gave to me.

RM

David was famously prone to self-mythologization, and also often suffered from having a plain old faulty memory.

CC

[Laughs.] Oh yeah.

RM

How did that shape the task of writing the book on him? How did you go about navigating those erasures and gaps in information? Did you have any rules or hard lines in the sand past which you weren’t willing to offer conjecture in the absence of established fact or record?

CC

As a biographer, my job is to figure out what really happened. If I offer conjecture, I say it’s conjecture. David created a biographical timeline for his Tongues of Flame catalog and he definitely emphasized the hardships he’d endured. And he exaggerated. For example, he describes his French boyfriend, John Pierre Delage, as “a guy who didn’t speak English.” That’s not true. I interviewed Jean Pierre, and while he was not fluent, he certainly spoke some English. Or, for instance, since I’d never be able to corroborate the times David says he was “almost murdered” while living on the street, I included only what I could get corroborated by a friend of his or a reference in a letter or something. Here’s my conjecture: he wanted to create a persona. He eliminated the fact that he’d started out as a poet. None of his East Village friends ever knew about it. He eliminated the banal jobs he’d had. Like, he’d worked at Pottery Barn! But some of the most unbelievable things in his timeline and his stories turned out to be completely true. Like yes, he did set out to ride his bicycle from New York to California. His sister corroborated that. Thankfully, David was a great journal writer and tons of his letters are archived over at Fales Library at NYU. I also got letters from friends of his who had held onto them. I interviewed more than one hundred and forty people, including his siblings. So I was able to patch thing together slowly from all of these different sources.

RM

What did it feel like to draw those connections? Given how compartmentalized and private his life was, I’m assuming there were a fair amount of discoveries made during the research process that would’ve been impossible to uncover while he was still alive, yeah?

CC

Yes, he kept so much hidden. I tracked down quite a few people he probably wouldn’t have wanted me to talk to—like a girlfriend he had when he was 21. But he did keep a lot of material. For one thing, his archive at Fales Library includes all of these answering machine tapes—all these messages that were left for him on the phone over the years.

RM

Oh, wow.

CC

I remember that towards the end of David’s life Tom wanted to clean the loft. Big problem. [Laughs.] David was yelling at him, “Don’t throw anything away!” Tom was sweet and replied, “I’m just getting rid of the dust bunnies here.” David really wanted all of it to be kept, and I went through everything. I hadn’t started writing biographies yet when that first piece came out in the Voice, so I was just going by his word on pretty much everything.

RM

Pretty early on in the biography you claim that David has been misrepresented not only by the right wing, but also, in many cases, by those who claim to support him and his legacy. I think the ways in which he has been misrepresented by conservatives are probably well-known, but could you say a bit more about what you saw being misrepresented from the other vantage point? What parts of the record did you feel needed to be set straight?

CC

That had to do with the ants on a crucifix sequence from his film A Fire in My Belly, which I talk about at the very beginning of the book, and all of the controversy surrounding the inclusion of that film in the Smithsonian’s 2010 show “Hide/Seek.” He had been dead for eighteen years by then—a lot of time had passed. And a number of his friends were saying, “Oh, the ants on a crucifix? That’s about AIDS.” But I had a letter he’d written to the Tongues of Flame curator and here’s what he said about it: “The film deals with ancient myth and its modern counterpoint. It explores structures of power and control using, at times, fire ants north of Mexico City as a metaphor for social structure.” It’s wrong to say that the film is specifically about AIDS. I see it as a film about suffering, and for David, that would of course include AIDS.

RM

Right. His work has a larger theoretical world view. Obviously, he engaged with AIDS as a topic, but it really strikes me as a supplement to a preexisting structure of thought that he already had in place. It’s not as if there was any sort of radical break in his world view precipitated by the AIDS crisis—the foundation was already set years before, yeah?

CC

Yes. And his work was always political, right from the start. But at the beginning it was about something like war in El Salvador. It was not related to his own life. The second piece that I think is crucial here is Fuck You Faggot Fucker. Am I allowed to say that word in this magazine?

RM

We can say that. I have a hunch that that’s going to be a pretty common word in this volume. [Both laugh.]

CC

Ok, ok, that’s good. David found a little piece of paper on the street with an obscene drawing by some anonymous homophobe and the words, “fuck you faggot fucker.” He put that in the middle of his painting and then surrounded it with a big stencil of the two men kissing, along with photos of his friend and one-time lover Brian Butterick at the piers and a photo of himself sitting with his friend John Hall in an abandoned building on Avenue B. To me, it’s a crucial piece because it’s personal. It’s one of the first pieces he does that’s relevant to his own life. From there the work becomes more personal through the years. Once AIDS comes in, he creates, for example, the piece Untitled (Hujar Dead). It’s one of his major pieces—and completely personal. It took him awhile to get to where he was able to reveal himself. There are some pieces that I think are explicitly about AIDS. The famous photo he made of the buffaloes falling over the cliff [Untitled (Buffaloes)] is something that I see as an AIDS piece. Not everyone agrees about that. He never said it was about that, as far as I know. But it’s an image of these creatures rushing into something without realizing that it’s going to kill them. To me, that’s clearly about AIDS. Usually though, with David’s work, if it’s actually about AIDS you know it right away.

RM

I want to talk about the AIDS crisis a little more explicitly. In an interview you did with Creative Capital around the publication of Fire in the Belly, you mentioned that it took writing a book about David for you to fully reckon with the enormity of the AIDS crisis. What specifically got unlocked for you during the writing process that wasn’t apparent before?

CC

One thing I realized while writing the book was that AIDS had been like a shadow behind the East Village scene. Fun Gallery opened in 1981 very near the time of the infamous New York Times headline: “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.” So it was already there and no one knew it—and it was spreading. No one knew it was caused by a virus until 1984. I think I always had an understanding of its sheer enormity, though. I started collecting the obituaries, clipping them out every day. I still have a whole folder full of them somewhere.

RM

Did you ever feel as if David’s legacy was disappearing? It takes so much work to produce a book about even one person, and there are so many people from that world who were lost—so many stories have disappeared into the sands of time, because people were young, or they were too sick to worry about preserving someone else’s archives, or they didn’t have time to put together an archive in the first place, perhaps because they never could have imagined dying as young as they did. Was there ever a point where you felt as if people were forgetting David?

CC

Tom probably worried about that. Tom Raffenbart, David’s boyfriend, was the one who asked me to write the biography. Writing a book about someone does make a difference. Remember that show about AIDS at Artists Space that became so controversial? It was curated by Nan Goldin, and she called it Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing. Most of the artists in that show were already dead.

RM

How often did you and Tom stay in touch between David’s death in 1992 and Tom’s death in 2019? Was there any sort of regular contact?

CC

Tom became a good friend. He’s been dead for five years now, and I really miss him. We socialized a lot. I spent every Thanksgiving with him. And Christmas Day. He was a really wonderful person. David picked a good guy.

RM

Did he stay in the East Village after David passed?

CC

After David died, Tom moved to the West Village, into an illegal sublet. He was HIV positive and he knew that he was going to need an elevator building. I mean, after a certain point David couldn’t leave his apartment because he couldn’t walk up and down the stairs. Tom lived in a walk-up just a few blocks from David’s place during David’s illness. So Tom moved to get an elevator. The illegal sublet was in a very big building, and somehow it took them years to discover that Tom wasn’t supposed to be there. After that he moved way uptown to Washington Heights—also an elevator building.

RM

Have your emotions surrounding AIDS changed in any way in the twelve years since publishing Fire in the Belly? Are there any new realizations that have come about now that you’re a bit more distanced from the writing process of that book?

CC

What stays with me after all these decades is the pain I still feel over the people we lost and the rage I still feel about our government’s indifference to it. AIDS changed the world for the worse, and I’m sure that many others who lived through those years feel the same way. We will live with these feelings for the rest of our lives.

RM

I want to talk a bit about the posthumous trajectory of David’s legacy. His work—like that of many artists associated with the AIDS crisis, although perhaps to a greater degree than most—has experienced quite a massive resurgence over the course of the past decade. It feels like there’s a new book or film or major show that includes his work at least a couple times a year. There are certainly a few moments preceding the biography that we can point to in retrospect as early signs of this coming resurgence, the 2010 Smithsonian show being the most obvious one—although, of course, you were already writing the biography by that point.

CC

Yeah.

RM

That said, and I hope this feels fair to say, the biography really feels like a watershed moment. In terms of a catalyst that marks a distinct shift in the broader cultural interest surrounding his work, it really feels as if there’s a pre-biography David and then a post-biography David—this isn’t the first time a biography has intervened on culture to such a degree, of course, but it’s still far from a common phenomenon when you take the totality of biographies published every year into account. I’m curious to hear what you make of the pronounced resurgence of interest in David’s work in the years that have followed the publication of Fire in the Belly. I don’t say this in an attempt to pass judgement, to be clear, but it really feels as if a whole cultural industry has popped up around his legacy in the last twelve years.

CC

When David had his retrospective at the Whitney in 2018, one of the curators—David Kiehl—announced twice in my presence, to substantial crowds, that the show would not have happened if I hadn’t written the biography. I should have asked him why, but I didn’t. Maybe it just made David Wojnarowicz more understandable? His reputation has certainly grown since he died. It’s funny—he always had such an adversarial relationship with the art world. He could be prickly with his friends, not to mention gallerists and curators. The people in charge of his estate—Tom Rauffenbart at first, and now Anita Vitale—didn’t share that approach. But then, David’s still not all that well-known in Europe. I was happy that the Whitney’s retrospective traveled to the Reina Sofia in Madrid, where I think it was very well received. His show was right above Picasso’s Guernica. You would go down one flight of stairs from David’s retrospective and there it was.

RM

Wow.

CC

He would have absolutely loved that. [Laughs.] I was actually really moved by that, to be honest. Anita Vitale brought some of David’s ashes and some of Tom’s and scattered them outside the museum—scattered them together.

RM

Was Tom able to see the retrospective when it happened at the Whitney?

CC

Yes, he did see it. He was in a wheelchair by then, but he was there. I'm so glad that he got to see it. Oh boy.

RM

In a talk you did with Lynne Tillman at SVA a few years back, you briefly mentioned wanting to write the book about David in part to preserve his legacy for a younger generation of gay men. Could you say a bit more about what you meant by that? What was his relationship to the idea of being a mentor to others?

CC

I don’t think younger people understand what we went through during the AIDS years, so that was part of “the legacy” I wanted to convey. But yes, I think David would have loved being a mentor. He only got to do it one time, when he was out in Normal, Illinois for Tongues of Flame and met a young artist named Patrick McDonnell who was struggling to come out. David acted the part of older brother, encouraging and advising him about both art and life. He wanted to be the mentor that Hujar had once been for him.

RM

I want to stick with the AIDS crisis for a bit longer, but perhaps pull back from talking about David specifically and pivot to your own life story. Were you involved with ACT UP or any other direct-action groups at the time?

CC

I did not go to ACT UP meetings. I would march with them at events like the Gay Pride Parade and at some of the other bigger marches, but I wasn’t personally involved. I was too busy writing. I knew people who were in ACT UP who kind of stopped their work and fully devoted themselves to activism. I really admire that, but I didn’t do that myself. I mean, I was actively covering the culture war at that time and didn’t want to give that up.

RM

But writing that type of journalism and covering the specific stories you were covering is still a form of political engagement, no?

CC

I thought so. Definitely. I was politically engaged, trying to expose the right-wing lies and their real agenda. They were attacking these performance artists who had almost no income. People were getting death threats for their art while working part-time gigs as waitresses. It was so awful. I think it really changed some artists’ careers for the worse, and did huge damage to the National Endowment for the Arts.

RM

Right. I mean, I’m thinking of someone like Ron Athey, who was effectively banned from performing in the States for twenty years following Four Scenes in a Harsh Life in 1994.

CC

Right. That was after he performed at The Walker in Minneapolis, and he’d gotten some tiny grant to do the show.

RM

It was like $150 or so, right?

CC

Yes. That’s right—$150. And it attracted the right-wing frothers, as I used to call them. Right-wingers are really good at picking scapegoats. And most Americans have ever seen any performance art, so it’s easy to lie about those artists. And then Ron’s work—I mean, talk about transgressive. He was pushing the boundaries. There used to be bloodletting during his shows—though it was always very ritualized and controlled, and there’s a spiritual aspect to it. But it’s easy to make that sound really terrible, right? [Laughs.]

RM

Right. There isn’t a painting you can point to, for instance, and say, “The way they described what this looks like is objectively, categorically wrong.”

CC

Yeah. I think something similar is happening in the new culture war. Now the far right is targeting transgender people, for one thing, and they’re easy targets because a lot of Americans have never met a transgender person.

RM

Or they aren’t aware that they have.

CC

Yes. And trans people are a small minority, so it’s easy to make up scary stories about them. It just feels so eerily similar to me.

RM

On an emotional level, what was the task of getting up day-to-day to work during the AIDS crisis like? What was the emotional toll of writing with the knowledge that you were trying to push back against these lies?

CC

The rage I felt really motivated me. It would have taken more of a toll on me not to push back. It wasn’t just each day’s obituaries. I could walk down the street in my neighborhood and see people who I knew had AIDS—because they had Kaposi’s on their face, or because they were so skinny and frail. They were my neighbors and, in some cases, my friends. I was just outraged by the way they were being treated. And I hated the way the targeted artists were being treated. So I had no problem trying to write pieces that would get the truth out.

RM

Right. Speaking to your point a moment ago about the depressing continuities between the culture wars surrounding AIDS and transphobic rhetoric today, maybe this is an appropriate point to pivot to talking about your new Candy Darling biography. To start, when did you start working on the book? What initially drew you to Candy as a biographical subject?

CC

Well, it’s similar to Tom approaching me to write about David. When it came to Candy, I was asked to do it by her friend Jeremiah Newton. He and I were both part of the first Acker Awards—named after the writer Kathy Acker. The awards go to people keeping the “boho spirit” alive here in what we used to call “downtown.” This was in 2013. Jeremiah got an award for his film about Candy, Beautiful Darling, which I hadn’t seen at the time. I got an award that same year for my book about David. The next day, Jeremiah called me and said, “I don’t know much about you, but I saw you on the stage and decided that you’re the person who should write the book about Candy.” I initially wasn’t sure about the idea, to be honest.

RM

What about the idea of writing a book on Candy were you unsure about, specifically?

CC

I didn’t know anything about her apart from the glamorous image. Also, I’m not trans. But I told Jeremiah that I’d meet with him. He lived over on Avenue C, so just a fifteen-minute walk from my house. When I went to see him, he showed me that he did have quite a bit of her stuff—journals, photos, and letters. But the thing that really got to me were his stories about her, which kind of encapsulates what her struggle was. I mean, she was a great beauty, and in Manhattan she was going to glamorous parties, hanging out with famous people, and getting acclaim for her performances. Then, she goes home to her mother’s house on Long Island, and her mother says, “Don’t come until it’s dark. Don’t let anyone see you. Don’t answer the door.” The shaming and hardship—that was my emotional link to the story. I need to have that link to keep me engaged and motivated through years of work. The Candy book took ten years to research and write.

RM

When you say “emotional link,” does that imply some sort of added personal responsibility to, or complicity in, the telling of the story of a person’s life? Or is it just a simple matter of needing some sense of added pathos to keep the wheels turning?

CC

It’s something that gets me to my sense of outrage about how this person was treated—all of the unfairness that was there in her life. I think there is pathos in the book. But there’s humor as well. Candy was around a lot of vivid, creative, and funny people, like Jackie Curtis. But hers is a tragic story. Despite her beauty and talent and well-connected friends, Candy still couldn’t get anywhere. She wanted to be on Broadway or in Hollywood, or both. But she was never going to get there. It was totally impossible.

RM

It's a story about Candy Darling, and it’s also a story about a particular time and place in New York. At the same time, though, it’s also a story about Jeremiah’s love for Candy, and all of the things he did to protect her legacy after her death—I mean, he fled the state with her ashes to make sure that her family couldn’t do anything with them that might have gone against Candy’s wishes. Talk about undying love, right? It struck me that there’s a corollary there with Tom’s story, one that extends beyond merely asking you to write a book—there’s a corollary there about unbreakable love, or outliving someone you love by a number of decades, or doing whatever it takes to make sure their story is either told the right way or else not at all. I’m trying to find an actual question to land this on, but I keep on coming back to this idea of stewardship, and how that act manifests equally in grand displays of love and also in the tedious banalities of maintaining an archive.

CC

Yes, in both cases, there was someone left behind who kept advocating for the person—someone who loved them. Of course, Candy and Jeremiah were never romantic, never a couple, so that sets them apart from Tom and David, but Jeremiah was really devoted to her. I was thinking about this today as I was going through some of my old notes on David before this conversation: I had forgotten that there was always this issue in his life of, “How much of myself can I reveal?” He always thought that if people really knew who he was that they would hate him. He thought of himself as alien. He had decided that it would be impossible for people to ever fully understand him. Candy never really articulated that sentiment as directly, but I could see it in her too. They both erased parts of their earlier life. This carried on throughout both of their lives, even with the people closest to them. Tom never knew that David used to be a poet. It’s just gone. David erased it. Candy never talked about her childhood. Even her closest friends never knew much about it. Candy felt like, “I’m a woman, this is who I am.” The other stuff didn’t matter. They also both spent so much of their early lives focused on survival. For Candy, that never really changed, up to her death. Towards the end of her life she was living back at her mother’s house, though she would stay with people in Manhattan when she felt well enough. She never had a place to live, and once she got sick there was no way that was going to change. She was still at that level of survival worries. She said to Jeremiah, “Where am I going to go? Where is there a place for me? I can’t sleep on people’s couches forever.” And David, once he had dementia, was back to thinking he was homeless, that he had no money, that he’d end up back on the street.

RM

I was struck by how many uncanny resonances exist between their two lives. I mean, they were both preoccupied by this sense of isolation and alienation, not just from mainstream American culture, but also from their peers—neither of them fully, or at least comfortably, saw themselves as part of a broader collective that was based in a shared political experience of sexuality or gender. They were both obsessively overcome with feelings of fatalism and mortal precarity from a very young age. They both self-mythologized and actively erased portions of their lives. Sorry, I know I’m throwing a bit of a laundry list out right now.

CC

[Laughs.] No, it’s all spot on.

RM

In the broadest sense though, they’re also both propped up as icons of queer counter-cultural history, and they both had their lives cut tragically short by illness. Maybe I’m overdetermining a false parallelism here, but I was struck by the sheer level of similarity.

CC

You brought up fatalism, which is a really important thread I think. They both thought that they were not going to live long. For David, this began long before AIDS was around—it started when he was a teenager living on the street for all those years.

RM

Right. He was always haunted by the feeling that he was one misstep away from landing back on the street, right?

CC

Absolutely. By the end of his life, he’d been living in Peter Hujar’s loft for several years, but one day he said to me, “Where am I?” When I told him he was at home, he looked so puzzled. So I said—Second Avenue and 12th Street. And he said, “Oh, Hujar’s place,” and then he looked so relieved. He didn’t remember that it was his place. Or that he now had money. He’d gone right back to that moment in his life when he had nothing. So I also told him that if he ran out of money, we were all going to give him money. He said, “Oh, thank you.”

With Candy, the fatalism comes up mostly in her journals. She never revealed to people—not even her good friends—that she was haunted by these feelings of, “I’m going to die” or, “I should die” or, “I want to die.” There’s that famous Velvet Underground lyric from “Candy Says”: “Candy says, ‘I’ve come to hate my body.’” One of her friends said to me, “Oh come on, she didn’t hate her body.” But it was right there in her journals, though—ok, her exact words were “despise my body.” Somehow, Lou Reed got that out of her. It’s pretty magical that he was able to get her to say that, because she wasn’t exactly close with him—they would hang out at Max’s Kansas City sometimes, but that was about it. Still, she did hate her body. That sense of fatalism is so important. At the same time, she and David were so different. Candy had zero interest in politics, while David was engaged with politics from the very beginning. But, they both suffered from homophobia and, in Candy’s case, the transphobia that was a constant in her world.

RM

You get into this a bit in the book, but I feel like it’s worth noting that the cultural discourse around sex, sexuality, and gender looks so different today, on an epistemic level, than it did in Candy’s time. In many pockets of American culture at that time, there wasn’t as clear a distinction being made between homophobia and transphobia—Candy knew from the jump that she wasn’t the same as the street drag queens she was hanging out with in the late 1960s, who for the most part openly identified as gay men in drag and not as women, but the external violence and visited upon both Candy and the drag queens was largely the same. It was a much more amorphous blend of homophobic and transphobic language. It’s the type of blended discourse that led to such pointedly violent concepts like autogynephilia and “transsexualism”—which, it should be said, have since been reclaimed and reappropriated by some trans people, but were certainly much more one-dimensionally transphobic during Candy’s time—which foreclosed upon the idea that transwomen could be anything more than men who were aroused by the idea of pretending to be women.

CC

Anyone who was born male but seemed feminine in any way was in big trouble—and this is still true now almost everywhere. In Candy’s day, trans people didn’t really have a place in Gay Liberation. There’s that famous scene, which I talk about a bit in the book, where Sylvia Rivera gets booed off the stage at a gay pride rally, for instance. There was no place for Sylvia. Or Candy. All of these conversations around second-wave feminism and gay liberation were just beginning. Those of us who were a part of those movements thought that we had the answers, but we didn’t. We were just starting to figure things out. There was also a lot of tension around drag in Candy’s day. Some women completely objected to it. I like to think that if Candy had been able to live a little longer, she would have developed more of a political consciousness.

RM

Sure—it’s hard to really spend that much time theorizing about the politics of gender, or to even care that much about it in the first place, when you’re preoccupied with questions like, “Where am I sleeping tonight? How am I going to eat?” There’s a pyramid of needs there, and intellectualizing one’s personal relationship to gender and sexuality isn’t necessarily at the base in every situation.

CC

Exactly.

RM

How did you thread that line when writing the Candy book? There’s obviously a lot of language we have on hand today for signaling to different contours around transness, sexuality, and gender that simply didn’t exist at the time—which is to say that, in one sense, this language doesn’t in every case necessarily help us as far as explaining the actual debates, emotions, and vectors through which someone like Candy was experiencing reality. How did you, as a biographer and cultural historian, thread that line between writing for a contemporary audience while also arresting a sense of how things actually happened in that moment? Were there any rules or lines in the sand you had when it came to imposing contemporary terms or concepts on the past?

CC

Well, it was difficult at the beginning of the book, where she’s still Jimmy. I had to figure out if I could really call her Candy in those years before she actually chose the name, which is something I talk about a bit at the very start of the book. In Candy’s day, pronouns were not politicized at all, there was no word like “non-binary,” and even the word “transgender” was not very common. She would have been called a transsexual. All of that language has obviously changed. But I was faced with that problem at the beginning of the book, where she’s a kid and where everyone—including her—knew her as “Jimmy.” In a way, Candy actually helped me decide what to do. She said things like, “It doesn’t matter who we were, only who we are.” I also found out that near the end of her life she had told her manager, Jane Friedman, “I do not want the headstone to say James Slattery. I want my name to be changed legally.” Obviously, for her it was crucial to not be called Jimmy. I felt that I had to honor that. At the same time, I managed to track down and interview a handful of people who went to school with her as kids, or who knew her when she was still young, and they all said “Jimmy” and “he/him.” I decided that I couldn’t really change that. As a biographer, that would simply be wrong—it would dishonestly distort the facts of how certain people knew her and talked about her. So, I only ever call her Candy, and then I let the people who called her Jimmy call her that in their own words. When I started writing this book in 2013, none of this stuff was quite as politicized as it is now.

RM

I was so fascinated by the storyline about Christian Science, and how obsessed Candy was with it.

CC

Oh yeah. [Laughs.]

RM

I was so drawn to how she was pirating these different ideas from it about the mind-body split in order to make sense of her own relationship to her womanhood. She really was developing a sort of nascent theory of what might now fit under the broader spectrum of trans studies and queer theory. I mean, the language and ideas she was borrowing from Christian Science would probably be relatively unintelligible to a contemporary academic discourse, but her journaling was by no means lacking in a certain deeply idiosyncratic philosophical sophistication. What was the experience of reading those journals for the first time like?

CC

I had no idea about this religious interest of hers when I started writing the book. Actually, it’s by far the thing that most surprised me about Candy. [Laughs.] I only learned about it when Jeremiah told me that he had her Mary Baker Eddy book, which I now have—Jeremiah died last November, by the way. It took me years to find it in his apartment. He was a hoarder, and his apartment was filled with boxes. I looked through them all and got a friend to come in and lift them so I could see his bookshelves. But I couldn’t find the Mary Baker Eddy book. Then, a few years ago, Jeremiah went into the hospital and friends of his came over to clean his apartment. They took everything out and put it in storage and then painted the place and put in a new floor. This was Penny Arcade and a woman named Marie Cardinal. Marie found that book amongst the stuff she had taken to a storage space in New Jersey. She told me that she almost threw it out because she looked at it and said, “Really, Mary Baker Eddy?”

RM

[Laughs.]

CC

But then she looked at it and realized that it was completely full of notes and underlines.

RM

Oh, wow.

CC

Candy’s notes and underlines! And I thought, “Oh my god, whew.” To think it was almost thrown away! I will never know where it was hiding in Jeremiah’s apartment. Candy had some odd religious things in her papers—notes about a guy named Raymond Charles Barker, for instance, who was a leader in Religious Science. I had never even heard of any of these people! Another one was a woman named Annalee Skarin. Candy’s friend Steven Stern told me, “Oh yeah, we went to the library to get an Annalee Skarin book.” And I thought, “Who the hell is that?” She was another very sort of marginal religious leader, an ex-Mormon. Candy was really working to try to figure all of this stuff out, because she believed in god, but Catholicism was just not working for her.

RM

It rarely does…

CC

[Laughs.] Right. But Candy was on what I would call a spiritual quest. So I ended up with all of this metaphysical stuff to work through. I’d like to add that I did get some help on this, mostly through talking to a former evangelist named Anthony Venn-Brown. He was very helpful as far as explaining who these people were and what they all had in common—the fact that they were all engaged in a deeply metaphysical approach to religion. He’s on my acknowledgement page now. I was so grateful for his help, because I really did not understand what the hell was going on with Candy’s explorations in religious metaphysics.

RM

Sure. To be honest I knew next to nothing about any of it before reading your book, so I don’t think you’re alone in that. As a quick aside, did Jeremiah ever get to read an early manuscript of the book before he passed?

CC

The same day I got galleys, I brought him one. A galley is the pre-publication version that goes to reviewers. No pictures. No index. I made a few changes before the final book came out, but mostly the book is done when there’s a galley. I’m told that a caretaker staying with Jeremiah read some of it to him, but he was in really, really bad shape by that point. I wanted him to at least see the galley, because I had a strong feeling that he wasn’t going to live to see the actual publication date. And he didn’t. But I knew how important it was to him that the book got done.

RM

Unlike with the case of David and most of the stories you’ve covered through your journalism, Candy’s story is about a figure who was alive during a place and time in New York that you didn’t experience firsthand. How did working with the slightly more distant past reshape the writing process for you?

CC

I wish I’d been here then! I moved here in ’77, so three years after her death. There was still a bit of a sense left of what things had been like three years earlier. But you’re right, it’s very different. With David, I knew him, so I had faith that I was getting it right based on my own experience of him. With Candy, I had to rely on the people who knew her, and who knew the New York of that time. I have since had some feedback from those people who tell me I got it right, and that response means a lot to me.

RM

What drove you to revisit that earlier moment in cultural history now? Why do you think it might resonate today?

CC

It really goes along with the stuff I talked about at the beginning about the Bread and Puppet Theater and all of that. It’s this period of cultural ferment where so much is happening and so much is new—so many artists are experimenting. That period, the ’60s through the early ’70s, has always been of interest to me. I wish I’d been able to see those plays and performances. I wish I’d been able to go to Caffe Cino.

It was just a rich period of experimentation. Think about what was happening at Judson Church, for one thing. All those dance performances—Yvonne Rainer and Simone Forti and Steve Paxton and Carolee Schneemann. And the Fluxus people too, I love Fluxus. And Yayoi Kusama. And Jack Smith. If only I could have seen Charlotte Moorman’s Avant-Garde Festivals. I had no problem getting myself to research that period, I’ll tell you that. [Laughs.]

RM

Maybe this thought is a little overdetermined by the fact that I read the Candy book before rereading the David one, but I couldn’t help but feel like, on a cultural history level at least, the Candy book is a sort of prequel to the David one. I mean, thinking of the timeline, David would have been in his homeless teenage years wandering the streets of Manhattan during the final years of Candy’s life—he’s a decade younger than her, but he was there on the same lower half of the island. There are other moments that jump out, most particularly the one regarding Peter Hujar—the hospital room that Hujar shoots that famous picture of Candy as she’s dying in [Candy Darling on her Deathbed] is the same place, down to the exact room number, that David would spend countless nights caring for Hujar in as he was dying a little over a decade later. To what extent were you thinking of historical continuity when writing the Candy book?

CC

Candy’s period is the direct precursor to all of the stuff I’ve written about as far as New York performance, and David too. You’re right to point out that there is just one character who appears in both books, Peter Hujar. But, to be honest, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. I just knew that this earlier period was of great interest. In the Candy book, I talk about the beginnings of La Mama, for example—how precarious that was in its early years. By the time we’re in the David years, La Mama is completely established compared to the places I was covering—the Pyramid Club, for example. I don’t know if I have a deep thought to offer there, but I always like looking at what’s happening in the margins.

RM

Ok. Let’s bring it up to the present to land things. I’m thinking about the type of cultural ferment and energy that is embodied by figures like David Wojnarowicz and Candy Darling, be it in terms of troubling boundaries of gender and sexuality or in terms of pushing the boundaries of artistic possibility—do you see that happening anywhere today? Is there anything you might point to as a clear inheritor of that spirit?

CC

One of the pieces you can find in On Edge is titled “The Bohemian Diaspora,” which I think tells what I think about this topic. [Both laugh.] And that was published early in 1992! As far as I know, there isn’t one place anymore where you will find “bohemia.” It seems to be scattered all over. Even in terms of New York, it’s out in Bushwick, or the Bronx, or certain places in Queens, but it’s not much in Manhattan anymore. Every inch of Manhattan has been colonized at this point. In the second edition of On Edge [2007], I wrote a new epilogue called “The End of the Edge.” So I saw it all disappearing by that point, which is very sad to me.

RM

Sure. It’s hard not to feel a little depressed looking at the timeline. The cultural and political and economic enemies of Candy’s time, and of David’s time, are largely, structurally speaking, the same enemies facing us today, yeah? It feels harder to pinpoint a locus where there’s a concentrated amount of energy being funneled into pushing back against it today. How can we work against those forces in the present? What does that energy look like today?

CC

[Sighs.]

RM

I know, I’m sorry, million-dollar question.

CC

I don’t think I know. It’s scattered, but artists are still doing their thing, nonetheless. People are connecting online now. In the ’80s East Village, I could pass artists on the street while walking to the grocery store. And one of the functions of the clubs I covered, from the Pyramid to 8BC, was just to be a gathering place for artists of all kinds. Now I find them on Facebook, which is good in that you don’t have to live in New York anymore, but still—it’s a little depressing that there’s no longer a geographic location for that boho spirit. I wish there was, because I’d go there!

RM

You and me both. [Both laugh.] Maybe we can end things on a brighter note. What gives you hope to keep on moving? What draws you back into life in this moment? Do you have any fantasies for what a more beautiful future might look like, or are you wary of being overly romantic about our prospects?

CC

I do keep looking at art and theater when I can afford to go to it, and I’m always excited about finding new artists. Several years ago there was an artist, Theaster Gates, who was in the Whitney Biennial when it was still Uptown. I hadn’t heard of him before and I thought, “This is someone who’s work I want to follow.” That still happens fairly often. I see something and think, “Oh, I’ve gotta look for the next thing that they do.” I have enough faith in artists to believe that I’ll keep finding people who can create new pathways in my brain with whatever they do. I have faith that will keep on happening.

RM

I hope it does. We’re in bad shape if that joy of discovery goes away for good.

CC

[Laughs.] We sure are. But that's always what I loved in the work I did. Even back when I was covering clubs, that was the best part—the moment where you get drawn into being fascinated by something or someone that you’ve never encountered before. That’s always the greatest moment, and I really hope it will continue to be.