The Face of Gay 23 (Martha Davis of The Motels)
Posted on July 6, 2018
Have you ever heard a song on the radio and not been able to get it out of your head? I’ve experienced this a few times in my life and one of the earliest I remember is from 1983. It remains to me a bit of magic to this day…a song that embraces the perfect combination of melody, vocals and lyrics. It’s called Suddenly Last Summer and it cemented my young, cute-as-a-button-back-then self as a fan of The Motels from that day forward.
It was years later in 2000 that I got curious about what the group was up to and looked them up online. As fate would have it, The Motels were playing a month later in Chicago during Halsted Market Days. My then-boyfriend/partner/future husband/Master over all living things (his words, not mine) lived two blocks away, so I flew out and, together, we watched Martha Davis and her troupe play live. What made it especially memorable is that she played a song from her solo album, Policy, called Just Like You and EVERYBODY knew the lyrics and sang along. Talk about magic.
We’ve seen Martha Davis and The Motels play live three times now, the last concert being in Palm Springs during Pride Fest a couple of years back. It was at that show during the finale of Only The Lonely when Martha actually stopped the song, looked at someone in the audience, grinned and announced “Holy shit! You hit the high note!” She’s no stranger to the LGBT community and when I approached Martha to ask if she’d consider writing a Face of Gay post, she didn’t hesitate. Her warmth and affection for all people shine through here and I can’t thank her enough for contributing to this series.
So, Happy New Year and welcome to the first Face of Gay of 2013!
The Face of Gay 23 (Martha Davis of The Motels)
I want to make this short and bittersweet. I grew up in Berkeley, California and my parents were die-hard liberals. We’re talking 1950′s liberals. They had friends who were “different.” Nothing was ever out in the open; in fact, it’s only in the dim memories of those days that I now understand that some of my parents friends were indeed gay and lesbian. Things back then were very shrouded, very dark matter. People may have known, but no one spoke…and fears caught closets on the way down.
As a child, I didn’t care or notice. My parents had a lot of friends, some of them seemingly kookier (in the eyes of someone young) than others. Even the 1000% over-the-top Liberace just seemed to me to be a fancy man, no more, no less. I was a child and people were just people.
My perceptions didn’t change much as I got older. Even when Elton John came along, I thought he was just fancy as well. Naive? Hell yes! But looking back on it, it’s really just a matter of exposure. I knew no one living as gay or lesbian. Well, not out loud anyway.
At 15, I had become pregnant and after a comical wedding in the Catholic church (I was eight months pregnant at the time), I shuttled off to Florida to become an Air Force wife. It was 1966 and living in Tampa was like going back in time 100 years. They were nowhere near accepting Civil Rights, let alone gay rights. I was labeled a Communist for wearing bell bottoms.
I returned home from the time warp in 1968 to find Berkeley in an explosion of change. It was the 60′s…”free love”, “make love not war”, love-ins… Sex was everywhere and we were all “doing it” with whoever was there at the time. Who could forget the immortal “Let’s ball, baby!”? And even though we were all fooling around and androgyny was the new heterosexuality, still I don’t think I was any closer to understanding what it really meant for a person who was gay to be gay.
Then came my friends, the ones who taught me, the great and wonderful friends in the LGBT community who I’ve watched over the years as they fought with their hearts and their souls for their rights.
I watched a community be born from the dark shadowy repressive and downright dangerous 1950′s, growing ever so carefully at first, then growing quietly stronger and larger. And just as it seemed safe to come forth, to walk in the light to show they weren’t afraid, came the plague; the monster, the disease that came through and wiped away so many brilliant, young, hopeful, people, so many friends, so much talent…and it brought with it so much fear.
One of those lost was a dear friend and colleague of mine. Danny had worked for one of my producers as a secretary. He was so great and talented and we got on so good that I nabbed him and made him co-manager of the Motels.
Danny was wonderful. We traveled to Japan together, made videos in Canada, recorded the Shock album, and laughed till we cried. I loved him. He was my friend. Then Danny disappeared…gone…phone calls not returned and no one had seen him. Then I heard from someone that he had moved. I was so confused. Had I done something? Did I piss him off? Why wouldn’t he tell me if there was a problem?
Danny had gone home to die. He went home alone to die of AIDS. He fucking went home alone to die of AIDS and didn’t tell me. It wasn’t till years later that I found out what happened and this still breaks my heart.
But he wasn’t the only one.
Tony Viramontes, the brilliant designer of the Shock album, so young in the Polaroids we took at my house of him playing with my dog, died in 1988, three years after Shock came out.
That same year, Ernie Banales, who would style my hair, who was young and sweet and kind and gifted, would also die. I watched a community’s heart break, as did mine. More tears would fall as we watched the dark powers manipulate the tragedy and capitalize on the fear for their own ends, to drive the hate, to claim the righteousness that is never right and always wrong. And I watched a community so shaken and ravaged pull itself close, hold itself and weep. I watched it tend its wounded and not let go. I watched determination grow, conviction solidify and as I saw it heal, I watched pride emerge.
My life has forever been changed by my friends both living and gone…and that wonderful community that accepts all, but that has yet to be accepted by all.
I know the time is near and I wait for the day when it will be as it was for me when I was a child, when I didn’t care or notice that someone was different. Because after all, we are all just people.
If you’d be so kind, please leave Martha a little love and some hug noises in a comment below. If you have a story of your own or about somebody you know, please give me a shout and let’s get set up.
The Previous 5 entries in the Face of Gay Series:
Julie L Hayes says:
January 1, 2013 at 10:41 am
Martha, I totally get where you’r coming from. I was born in the 50′s and my parents were far from liberal. They didn’t have black friends or gay friends. I’m not even sure who their friends were, to be honest. Back then, homosexuality was something I never heard of, had no experience with, and wouldn’t have recognized, even if it looked me in the face. Like Liberace, or Elton John. I can still remember how shocking it was when Christine Jorgensen went to Sweden for the much publicized sex change operation!
It wasn’t until my second marriage that I began to catch a clue. My mother-in-law had a lot of gay friends, and styled herself a fag hag. There was one guy she was close to, she brought him to my mother’s house for Christmas and said he was her boyfriend as a joke, and I remember going along with it and calling him Daddy. My mother never got it, and years later, after he was gone, I finally told her that he was gay and it was a joke.
I love your music, especially Suddenly Last Summer and Only the Lonely, and loved the videos. Thanks for sharing your story with us. Lots of hugs to you, and may 2013 be a banner year for you and yours!
Michael Thomas Ford says:
January 1, 2013 at 10:52 am
As a 14-year-old gay boy living in a tiny upstate NY farm town, I fell in love with Martha and the Motels after getting the All Four One album from the Columbia record club. I got all of their music I could find, and I still remember staying up to watch her perform “Icy Red” (or was it “Danger”?) on Dick Clark’s NYE special. I’ve only gotten to see them live once. I was a freshman at an awful Bible college, desperately in love with a straight boy, and I took him to see the Motels at Radio City when they opened for Supertramp on the Shock tour. (We left after their set because, well, Supertramp.) Years later, I titled my first novel LAST SUMMER because it was inspired in part by the lyrics and message of “Suddenly Last Summer.” Thank you, Martha, for the music and for sharing your story.
January 1, 2013 at 10:52 am
Thanks for a moving look at our community through the eyes of someone not directly a part of it but wonderfully empathetic to it. Were all heterosexuals as understanding and accepting.
A great start to 2013′s Face of Gay.
Jaime Samms says:
January 1, 2013 at 11:13 am
I confess, I’m a bit too young to know many Motels songs. I was barely a teenager in 80′s and knew nothing about anything. Still, this post gave me goose bumps for the sadness and the hope Martha has wrapped up in her words. Thank you for sharing it.
Patricia Logan says:
January 1, 2013 at 11:37 am
The Motels were my comfort music when I was growing up… like comfort food, you know. I can relate to much of what you say, Martha. I also grew up thinking that Boy George, Elton John and Liberace were a bit excentric but it was their look. Then, Rock Hudson started dropping weight as he played a character in my favorite show, Dynasty. When he died very sick and it was rumored to be from AIDS, though the media spun it differently, I was shaken to the core. It was my first brush with the disease.
Then, a childhood friend got sick and suddenly, it seemed that everyone was sick. I remember very well, the quilt, the marches on D.C., the candlelight vigils and everyone on the left screaming for a cure. Those days were awful and I’m sad to know that so many were as affected by it, as I was.
Thank you for sharing your experiences, sad though they were.
January 1, 2013 at 12:19 pm
Having come into my own in the nineties, I unfortunately missed out on Martha and the Motels; fortunately, I also missed out on the worst of the aids epidemic. It is very heartwarming to hear of people like you, Martha, that have always realized that we are all people looking for love. Thank you for your wonderful post.
sue hughes says:
January 1, 2013 at 1:36 pm
thank you for your words
Katherine T. says:
January 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm
Thank you for sharing your story. You’ve seen the community struggle thru some very painful times (and cried right along with them) and seen them grow stronger and more proud becuse of it. Your parents blessed you with and accepting nature by surrounding you with their friends as you grew up. They showed you that people come in all kinds of packages, but their “differences” aren’t what matters —— love is what matters.
I grew up much the same way. My parents had all kinds of friends (some very much individuals), but all were good people and that is all that mattered. I thank god every day I had such an up bringing. I would have missed out on knowing some really wonderful people if I was taught to be narrow minded, judgemental and ignorant.
Your story is a wonderful beginning to a brand new year full of possibilities. May it bring you (and all of us) great things.
January 1, 2013 at 9:27 pm
Thank you. Just…thank you.
Lexi Ander says:
January 2, 2013 at 1:06 am
Gah! I’m still crying. Thank you for your words. ~hugs~
CR Guiliano says:
January 2, 2013 at 9:30 am
I have no words….
Christian Klemm says:
January 3, 2013 at 9:26 pm
Wonderful words, what an amazing experience your life has been so far, meeting so many interesting and extraordinary people. You made me cry, I’ve not been touched personally, as far as I know, by any AIDS related deaths and I hope to god I never am, what a frightening time it must have been for everyone. Here’s to good health and great times to all of my LGBT friends.
Lloyd Songal says:
March 10, 2013 at 12:33 pm
Thank you for sharing you life experiences and love and understanding for our gay culture even though you yourself are not gay Martha Davis. You grew up having great parents who harboured no ill will toward anybody. Not only were you fortunate to have been reared by wonderful parents who were so accepting of humanity that they passed that trait onto you. You had a great support group in your musical career and it is a wonderful thing that you were able to appreciate and give them the support that everyone wants. To be appreciated, feel loved and needed. Thank you so much for sharing your special story. Don’t feel too badly about you friend disappearing; sometimes people just want to pass silently away. I think that it would have been more stressful to him seeing you in distress over his pending death. Love you,
Dana D. says:
May 18, 2013 at 3:43 am
You know, I never disliked homosexuals until they started this pushy crap on everyone. They don’t effect me either way and I don’t hate them but I did despise their flamboyant in your face pushy crap. I really don’t care if a person is a homosexual but apparently I must according to most of them. I can remember the 60′s and remember people that were homosexuals and nobody cared either way that I knew. Now we have to listen to this shit every day by one group or another. You MUST accept this and you MUST accept that. I think they brought the whole hate homo stuff down on themselves. Gay means happy to me and marriage was pretty much founded by straight people thousand of years ago. So why push it? Why steal meanings and pervert them for your own cause? Why piss people off? Why not create new words for your choice of lifestyle? Why not leave the rest of us the fuck alone?
May 24, 2013 at 10:15 am
There were three ways to respond to your post. The first would have been out of anger, but I think there’s been enough of that. Two, by ignoring it and I don’t agree with that either. Something was on your mind and you actually took the time to write a response, so it feels wrong to ignore it. Third, to respond like I am now.
Many on this side of the fence feel exactly like you, only instead of being the ones pushing, we feel pushed. You wish to be left alone as do we. Ironically, we ultimately want the same things and to be able to co-exist peacefully. That may come during our lifetime. I hope it does because it’s not a lifestyle. It’s a life, no different than you consider your own life to be.
So I’ll leave it at that. And should we ever come across each other in our travels, I hope our understanding of each other is a more positive one.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, and the brand new Falling Awake II: Revenant.