Friday, November 21, 1997

Steve Kelso: What’s New?

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #65, November 21, 1997)

PHOTO: Steve Kelso and one of his many admirers.
PHOTO CREDIT: Thomas Fleisher

Male icon Steve Kelso paid a return visit to The Town House recently to raise money for the Aliveness Project's Holiday Basket Program. That gave me a chance to update the interview that appeared in these pages a year ago:

What have you been doing since you were in the Twin Cities last year?

We did the calendar last year, which ended up raising over $45,000 for different AIDS organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. I've been real proud of that, raising a lot of money for different organizations. I'm also real excited about how the calendar is being perceived — I want to change that whole thing about porn celebrities just doing it for the cash. I wish more people in the industry would get involved with their communities, I'd like to see more of that being done.

Last year you were talking about doing a second video. Have you?

This year it's gonna be a go. We're gonna start on it probably in about two months. Last year it was difficult. With all the traveling around we just could not find time.

What can you tell us about the new video?

Not real sure yet. I know it's probably going to be filmed in California somewhere, probably Palm Springs. And we're going to do it all-digital to keep the quality high.

What else are you doing these days? Still working at the club [The Den in Somerset, New Jersey]?

I'm there four days a week, but now that it's travel season promoting the calendar I've cut down quite a bit.

Do people walk in not expecting to see you, and then their mouths drop open when they see who's behind the bar?

I can tell right away when they've recognized me. But I also get a lot of phone calls to the club, people wanting to come in and meet me. A lot of people from out of town—they know I work there because of articles they've read. The best thing I can say is, make sure you call the club to make sure that I'm there and not out on the road. We've got it down this year to, like, maybe every two weeks or so I'm home for a two-week span, which is a lot better than coming and going every day or every other day. Last year I never knew when I was going to be home.

Have you got any other projects that you're either working on or that have come out?

Yes, we're going to start doing other calendars of different guys, putting together a "New Faces" type calendar, and make it the same type of vehicle for raising money for AIDS organizations.

Where are you finding the faces?

I find them as I travel around. Last year we were in forty cities, maybe more, and we meet people. And if anyone's interested, they can forward their picture to me (Eagle Studios, Inc., Lakewood, NJ). We're looking for good midwestern stock, your normal "Joe."

If somebody should hit the jackpot by having their photo selected, what can they expect?

I hope they take my job traveling around the country so I can stay home for awhile.

Do you think it could get that far?

I'm sure. I mean, if I can do it . . . .

(By the way, Steve has recently upgraded his site on the World Wide Web. His new web address is Take a look.)

Upcoming Leather Events

Black Guard 21st Annual Chili Feed
Sunday, November 23, 5-10 pm (or later), Rear Entry at Tropix, 3rd Ave. N. at 4th Street)
From North Washington Ave., turn west onto 3rd Avenue N. Park in back of the building (limited) or at the 4th St. Ramp. Go to the back of the building and follow the lighted fire escape. $8 at the door includes free beer, chili and door prizes. Specials on drinks, including soft drinks and water (which is a nice way of saying soft drinks, unlike beer, aren't free). Advance word is that fantasies will be presented by titleholders and other guys who really know how to present them. Special raffle with prizes including a run packet to Black Frost ’98 (see below). Leather/Levi dress code will be in effect.

Mark Your Calendar . . .

Sunday, December 7: Atons Holiday Fundraiser at The Saloon (details next issue).

February 13-15, 1998: The Black Guard present Black Frost ’98, their 21st annual run, at the Midway Days Inn. Thursday night pre-party is at Club Metro Underground; Saturday night banquet and show is at Tropix/Rear Entry; Sunday wind-down party (and new-officer installation) is at the Brass Rail, with a post-wind-down party at The Saloon. The theme this year is “Come Fly With Us!” In keeping with that theme, registering for the run is just like buying an airline ticket: all run registrations and requests for information are being handled by phone through The Travel Company. (Ask for the "Black Frost Desk.") Out-of-towners can make other travel arrangements at the same time: plane, train, bus, rent-a-car, extended hotel stay, etc. And this is the first run anywhere to take VISA and MasterCard! So pick up the phone and register now, and encourage your far-flung friends to do likewise—airfare discounts are 10% until December 10 and 5% until January 10. Rates for the run package itself go up after February 1.

Friday, November 7, 1997

Celebrating Tom of Finland

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #64, November 7, 1997)

The year was 1957 when the pioneering “bodybuilder magazine” Physique Pictorial became the first American publication to print the work of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen. Editor Bob Mizer assumed no one in this country would ever be able to remember such an unusual name so he decided, in a stroke of unintended genius, to call the artist Tom of Finland.

From that one magazine cover, the art and archetypes of Tom of Finland have gone on to profoundly influence gay male culture and, by extension, society at large. Tom’s men, still arresting and arousing today, were absolutely revolutionary at the time he started drawing them. He was creating positive masculine role models for himself, and for the rest of the emerging gay culture, where none had existed before. In contrast to the prevailing image of male homosexuals as either tormented, self-loathing souls or “sissies” (as documented in the movie The Celluloid Closet), Tom’s men were both rugged and beautiful at the same time, and they reveled joyously in their masculinity and their same-sex sexuality. The men in Tom’s world were free of guilt, shame and angst at a time when men in the real world were still struggling with that concept.

As gay male culture has grown freer and more comfortable with itself, Tom’s Men have become cultural icons. We are drawn to the look—we want to associate with these men, we want to become these men. And we do. From The Village People to real people in the Village, on Castro Street and in The Tank on Sunday nights, Tom of Finland’s pictures continue, forty years later, to define, mirror and inspire our community.

This 40th-anniversary year of Tom's first publication in America has been marked by three significant events: the publication of the Tom of Finland Retrospective III, containing many examples of Tom’s drawings that have never before been published in book form; the publication of The Complete Physique Pictorial 1951-1990, a complete reprint in three volumes of the magazine that introduced Tom’s art to America; and the introduction of a line of Tom of Finland clothing taken directly from Tom’s drawings. The clothing collection features high-quality, moderately-priced items such as flannel shirts, leatherwear, tank tops, swimwear, vests and “Tom Fit” jeans. So far, of course, you can’t buy them in the Twin Cities; evidently merchandise buyers for local stores don’t think we can handle clothes with that much testosterone.

You’ll be able to see the clothes (and let the folks from Tom of Finland see you) at the Tom of Finland “Manhunt,” an educational/promotional event which is currently touring the country and which will be in Minneapolis on Thursday, November 13 from 9 pm to 3 am. It’s called a “Manhunt” because they are looking for real men to model their clothes in advertisements in major fashion magazines. (No, they are not looking for pumped/steroid bodies. They are looking for men of all types, sizes, shapes, ages and colors, who share the attitude of Tom’s men in that they are confident and comfortable with their sexuality.) You’ll learn about the Tom of Finland Foundation’s mission, accomplishments, and upcoming events nationwide. You may even get lucky and win some of the books and clothing that will be given away. (Or you may just get lucky, if you know what I mean.)

As a warm-up for this event, you might consider renting a copy of Daddy and the Muscle Academy, Tom's filmed autobiography/documentary in which Tom himself (in Finnish, with eloquent subtitles) tells his own story and the story of his art. You’ll gain an appreciation of what makes Tom’s art so extraordinary and so enduring. (While you’re at it, make it a double bill with The Celluloid Closet.)

Yes, It’s At the 90’s. Go To It Anyway.

So far this column has stayed neutral on the subject of the Gay 90’s — I have publicized events at the Gay 90’s in the same fashion as events at other places. This column has never discriminated against establishments that cater to leather only on certain nights of the week, and it will not discriminate against establishments that cater to a gay clientele only on certain nights of the week (such as Tropix). If anyone is having an event that is of interest to the leather community, you’ll find it here (assuming I am made aware of it, of course).

The Tom of Finland Manhunt has three strikes against it: 1) It's Thursday night, which means people have to work the next day. 2) It's cosponsored by Camel cigarettes, which might be offensive to those obsessed with political correctness. And 3) It’s at the 90’s. I urge you to ignore all three of these reasons, and go anyway. Don't say “no” because it’s at the 90’s. Say “yes” because it’s Tom of Finland, an important part of both gay male culture and leather culture which deserves to be supported and celebrated. And you might even enjoy it.

Upcoming Leather Events

Tom of Finland Manhunt
Thursday, November 13, 9 pm-3 am, Gay 90’s Dance Annex
(See accompanying article for details.)

Mark Your Calendar . . .

Sunday, November 23: The Black Guard’s annual Chili Feed at Tropix, 400 3rd Ave. N., Minneapolis. (Details next issue.)