Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Love

The recent death of Donna Summer has elicited memories in many folks of places where they remember having danced to her music in the Seventies and Eighties For me and my former boyfriend, Will, that place was most often The Love; usually called simply, "Love"; sometimes referred to as "Disco Luv." The disco itself had no sign outside, so both names were used interchangeably by its clientele, who found the place through the grapevine. It was located on the west side of Guy, in the west end of downtown Montreal, between St. Catherine and boulevard de Maisonneuve (Burnside before the Quiet Revolution), in a three story, typically Montreal, Nineteenth Century grey stone. The building survived until very recently, when it was torn down to make way for the John Molson School of Commerce at Concordia University. Architecturally and geographically, it seems likely that the grey stone which housed The Love had always had the vocation of a drinking and entertainment establishment.

The building originally stood directly across Guy from His Majesty's Theatre; one of Canada's largest and most popular theaters during the first two-thirds of the Twentieth Century.His Majesty's Theater served as a major venue for several ballet, theatre and opera companies and in its mid-life, was known for its productions of Broadway shows. Marlene Dietrich gave a reportedly memorable performance at His Majesty's in the early Sixties, shortly before its demolition; a performance, reportedly, drawing forth a multitude of cross-dressing Dietrich admirers. Those who frequented the grey stone across the street before and after performances at His Majesty's must have been largely of an artistic or theatrical persuasion; a gay crowd in what was known as a gay city; both in the original connotation of the term, as naughty, immoral, and in the later sense, as queer. It's amusing to imagine that Love incarnated within its walls the vibes of nearly a century of perversity.

Love opened on the top floor of that three story grey stone in the early Seventies; about a decade after the demolition of His Majesty's Theater. On the second floor there was a country and western bar and in the semi basement a tavern, whose denizens resembled those you would expect to find at a Legion Hall. While the tavern had its own entrance. Love was accessed by a staircase, so narrow you had to squeeze to the sides if another person were leaving or arriving. The passing by of the country and western bar and of its patrons was of the "ships passing in the night" variety; each clientele seemed to have no interest, interaction, even awareness of the other. A few years later, after Love had closed, the country and western bar became a neither very popular nor long-lived gay strip bar. The third floor space remained unoccupied. Nothing could replace Love.

The gay heart of Montreal was at that time centered around Stanley Street, a few blocks east of Guy. To my recollection, there was only one, gay, dance bar in that particular area at that point in time: Le Roqambole. It was regarded as rather dated by those into the gay liberation movement, who tended to frequent the Peel Pub or the more butch Bud's. The Limelight complex opened about a year or two after Love; though Limelight was Montreal's first, wildly popular, disco and had a considerable gay clientele, it was not, initially, thought of by gay politicos as gay friendly. Perhaps in order to avoid police raids in its inception, any displays of affection between men, even any touching on the dance floor, was met with a request to leave the premises. We viewed its clientele as mainly being kids from the suburbs.

Love could not really be called a "gay" bar, but not because there were any limits on same-sex displays of affection. It's clientele was equally mixed between men and women, mainly in their twenties and thirties, and included a great variety of sexual orientations and expressions. It would more aptly be referred to today as a "queer" bar; an evening spent at the bar would have provided a joyous definition of just what the word "queer" has come to signify.

The space that was Love must have been conceived as a nightclub; one of the many in the previous decades of Montreal's world renowned nightlife. On either side of the dance floor was a slightly raised area with tables and chairs; the DJ booth and a smallish bar where directly on the dance floor, which had the obligatory disco ball above it. Maximally, it would have held about three-hundred people, though it would have been a fire trap with fifty. The only exits being the narrow, entrance stairway and a rickety fire escape, which made its rickety way down the front of the building. When the bar was very hot, which could occur in both Summer and Winter, the windows leading to the fire escape would be open and the braver or more stoned patrons would sit on the fire escape itself.

People tended to come to Love in costume, though at that point in time, the border between costume and everyday wear tended to more blurred than it is today. There was the boy we called "Slither", because of his skill in suddenly appearing beside you on the dance floor or at your table. Although he was a Qu├ębecois, he usually dressed as an American Indian, complete with buckskin and feathers in his long, jet black hair. Several years later, Slither came on to me when we ran into each other on Mont Royal. We had a pleasant conversation. The last time I saw him, he was a deacon, leading responses in the liturgy, at Marie- Reine-du-Monde Cathedral. Another boy, Dallas, a fellow American, was one of the younger patrons; lithe, with long blond hair; most often wearing a diaphanous shirt and very tight bell bottoms; sometimes a sailor suit. I thought he was the sexiest of the regulars and his style of being indicated he would probably have shared my opinion. Another regular was a midget lesbian, who always wore Janet Joplin drag. Although I found it awkward dancing next to her, I reminded myself that, being by far the tallest person on the floor, I was no doubt someone else's freak. Love was a space where that thought occasioned a minimum of discomfort.

Robert Ouimet was the DJ at Love in '71 and '72 and was stolen away when Limelight opened. Anyone even vaguely aware of the dance scene in Montreal and Canada knows that Robert's name was nearly synonymous with dance music. If Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco, Robert was the King or, perhaps more appropriately, the Queen of the Disco DJs. The dance floor was always packed and the dancers mostly high on their drugs of choice. One evening a water pipe broke somewhere in the toilets, flooding the dance floor with several inches of water, and people just danced away, as though splashing around the dance floor was just the coolest thing ever.

Speaking of the toilets, there was a white haired black man, dressed in a white coat and tie, keeping watch over the men's room; offering a fresh, linen towel and bar of soap to each man on his way towards, though most often passing by, the sinks. I never saw anyone take either the towel or the soap, but nearly everyone gave him a tip, to which he always replied, "Best in the West". Probably, his major purpose was to keep the sale and consumption of drugs, as well as sexual encounters, to a minimum; I never saw either happening on the premises. We speculated that Love had once been a jazz club, and the toilet attendant came with the lease; though his presence may have been a condition of not being raided.

On special occasions, when Will and I got dressed up to go to Love, I would wear my fashionable, blousy, Indian shirt and wide-wale cord, bell-bottoms, while Will would dress in some, yet more fashionable top, and velour bell-bottoms. With both of us having hair down to our shoulders, mine a dirty brown and his a dark auburn, we were the very image of the more radical sort of faggy disco dancers; an indication of the radical being that I, no matter the occasion, wore Kodiak's; always ready to do some kicking; though in appearance only; excepting during the sandal-clad Summer months.

Our most memorable evening was one in which we had dropped acid before going to Love on a cold and threatening Winter night, somewhere between midnight and one. It was the night of the burst pipes; made more freaky by being high. By the time we left at about four, there was a monster blizzard happening. Ourselves, along with some other patrons of Love, managed to catch a bus, crawling along in the deep snow, going east on Ste. Catherine. At Peel the bus got stuck in a drift; the driver decided he couldn't continue, ordered the passengers off and went to call for help. This was long before there was any Metro; no cabs were moving; there was nothing left to do except walk home. We lived on the other side of Mont Royal and had to make our way along its periphery in snow drifts up to our knees.

The evening had presented several opportunities of being caught in a very bad, paranoid trip. I remember being on the edge of one as we were forced to leave the bus into the storm. Trudging across Jeanne Mance Park, through incredibly strong wind and snow drifts, could have been experienced as a near-death encounter; instead, with "Love to Love You Baby" still fresh in our somewhat addled minds, it was a magical walk in the snow.

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