December 1st is World AIDS Day, a date I usually note only in passing, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve been flooded today with memories of just how awful the AIDS crisis was.
Families disowning sons and daughters who tested positive, children hounded out of schools, and so, so many deaths. A generation of gay men decimated. I lost three friends back then: Danny, Mario, and Barry, may their memories be for a blessing. My fourth friend with AIDS, a woman, is today a grandmother. The scythe missed a few, and I am so grateful for every year.
At the time, as we struggled to learn just what “safe sex” was, suffered the slow deaths of loved ones, felt helpless and often quite terrified, there was much social activity — organizing, marches, simply speaking out. Knowledge, we said, was power. Silence was death.
Some translated these efforts, this pain, the love and fear, into art, some of it awful, some touching (remember the AIDS quilt, still going strong?), and much of it quite powerful. I was particularly taken with the Red Hot + Blue compilation, a tribute to Cole Porter that found new meaning in wonderful old songs (oh my, this kd lang version of So In Love, the video an absolute heart-wrecking complement to the lyrics…).
Under the circumstances, though, you can imagine that “life-affirming,” “joyful,” and/or “silly” were kind of hard to come by. It was a really, really dark time.
Into the breach stepped the always remarkable Billy Bragg — electric guitar folksinger, socialist rabble-rouser, and writer of some of the most lovely love songs penned in the modern age (see also). (Also: Fan of soccer and ’60s girl groups).