Daisy Duck On Lougheed Highway & Willingdon AvenueThursday, September 13, 2007
In late October 1979, stopped at a light on Lougheed Highway and Willingdon Avenue, I could feel the stares from other cars. The reason was my passenger, Daisy Duck. Vancouver's 9th Empress was applying lipstick on his lips. The idea of two men with moustaches holding hands on Davie Street (pretty common then) was completely alien to we who lived in Burnaby, so the sight of an orange-wigged drag queen was even more startling.
Yet the burgeoning gay scene of Vancouver had been kind to my photographic career. Earlier that month, I had come to the realization that I needed a studio flash system. So I went to my local Bank of Montreal, on Willingdon and Hastings, and explained to the dour, gray-haired, Scottish loan officer that I wanted $2000. "What do you propose to offer as collateral?" she asked. I placed on her desk a thick pile of Bi-Lines , a gay tabloid published by Ron Langen in Vancouver between 1978 and 1979. She eyed the centrefolds. With a barely perceptible smile she said: "I see you sometimes used a fine Scottish name as a nom de plume." In the earlier issues of Bi-Line, my photos had been credited to Strut McPherson.
My first use of the new flash system was to photograph Daisy Duck and the Halloween show at BJ's, the gay basement club at 339 West Pender (the building, a heritage site was purchased years later by Mark James) that operated between Dec. 4, 1970 to Oct. 17, 1982. For some years my pre-teen daughter, Ale, would show the pictures, such as the one here, to her friends with the challenge to guess which one was the only woman.
During the late '70s and early '80s, before the AIDS plague changed it all, it was fashionable for straights to go on gay club/pub crawls. These included the Shaggy Horse, the Luv-a-Fair and the Gandy Dancer. The more daring would attend the mid-afternoon tea parties at the venerable Faces on the corner of Seymour and Robson. But for real fun, the reviews at BJ's couldn't be topped. My faves were the elaborately staged and lip-synced versions of Blondie songs like Heart of Glass.
Until BJ's closed, I would often go to co-owner Brian to borrow costumes for my shoots. In 1982, I photographed Art Bergmann and his band Poisoned at BJ's. Art was going through a gay/glam period. I remember Sam Feldman (Art's music agent in Vancouver at the time.) being shocked at my pictures. "They look like fags," he said.
I last saw Brian at a photography course I taught for Emily Carr's outreach program in B.C.'s interior in 1989. Brian was one of my students. He winked at me and in a whisper told me: "This is a quiet community, so I would appreciate your discretion." Sometime in 1999 showing my pictures to Jim the former DJ at BJ's he informed me that Daisy was no longer with us as we looked back on what to both of us were far rosier times.
And when Ale's friends would give up, she would say, "The woman is at the bottom row, right."