Entertainment

Folsom Street Blues - A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco

by Brian Callaghan
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Sep 20, 2011
Folsom Street Blues - A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco

Other than New York, few American cities were more devastated by the AIDS epidemic than San Francisco. An entire generation of gay men from that era was mostly lost, leaving few survivors behind to tell the stories of the carefree days of the sexual libertine days of the 1970s.

Jim Stewart, a photographer from that period whose work appeared in galleries and Drummer magazine, is one of the survivors, and his new book "Folsom Street Blues: A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco," tells the story of the years he lived in the Bay Area from the mid-70s to the early 80s.

Stewart talks about his freelance career as an erotic photographer, as well as his stints as a carpenter and a bartender at some of the bars in the seedy South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood. He talks about his friends, their social lives, sexual pursuits, and nightspots they frequented. He also offers a number of anecdotes involving cocaine, pot and other recreational pharmaceuticals, the most hilarious being his attending the investiture ceremony of a new Catholic archbishop while tripping on acid.

"Folsom Street Blues" is a chatty, easy to read memoir that mentions several of the national events of the day (the Vietnam War, the twin assassination attempts on President Ford's life, the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, and the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic) but unfortunately doesn't offer the in-depth analysis you'd expect of a memoir of that historic decade.

It's surprising the book is so short on sharing any meaningful discussions Stewart might have had with his friends during that time. It's hard to believe they were all just frivolous gay men focused solely on their next trick or obscure foreign film.

"Folsom Street Blues" provides a record of what it was like to be a working class gay man with an overly active libido in one of the seedier neighborhoods of the city at that time.

Two of the other odd aspects of Stewart's book are his frequent mentions of how easy it was to find a parking space for his truck on various occasions, and his fairly rudimentary descriptions of his closest friends.

In 200 pages there must be 100-plus people mentioned but only a small fraction are even slightly fleshed out. He usually offers only physical descriptions or recalls the cars people drove, but rarely discusses the qualities that anchored his friendships with them. He also never mentions any feelings of romance or a desire for a relationship with any of his conquests, yet apparently found both with his partner of the past 25 years.

The book features about 20 photos Stewart took during his days as a San Francisco leatherman, as well as some poems written about various aspects of life in the city.

While not as literary or introspective as Paul Monette's marvelous, "Becoming a Man," "Folsom Street Blues" provides a record of what it was like to be a working class gay man with an overly active libido in one of the seedier neighborhoods of the city at that time. With so few of those residents still around, it's good to have Stewart's memories and snapshots of a long distant era, where you could get a two-bedroom apartment in SoMa for only $150 a month!

Folsom Street Blues
Jim Stewart
$14.95
Palm Drive Publishing
www.PalmDrivePublishing.com

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