On March 18, 2000, The New York Times’ Op-Ed page cheered the Vermont House of Representatives for its approval of legislation giving gays and lesbians the right to form legally recognized unions with “nearly all the benefits and responsibilities of civil marriage.” As one New York-based publicist recently found out, those benefits do not yet include coverage in The Times ‘ Sunday Weddings section.
On Aug. 30, Joseph Quenqua, the vice president of mPRm Public Relations’ New York film division, and his partner, writer Art Smith, plan to make their seven-year relationship legal with a civil-union ceremony on Lake Champlain in Vermont.
Back in March, Mr. Quenqua read the instructions box that appears in the Times Weddings section and attempted to submit an announcement of his union. First, he said, he made three calls to the phone number that The Times provides. When no response came, he tried the e-mail address. And then, upon advice from a friend who works at the paper, Mr. Quenqua wrote an e-mail to Robert Woletz, the Times society-news editor.
Still no response. And so, in a letter dated April 19, Mr. Quenqua wrote to a fellow promoter, Times creative director Tom Kulaga, and recounted his experience. “I have since heard through friends at the paper that there is, in fact, a policy against including same-sex partnerships on the ‘Weddings’ page,” Mr. Quenqua wrote. “I realized that this was a possibility, but if that was the case, why did I not receive some standard form letter from the society desk? I can’t imagine we are the first to inquire about including our union on this page.
“More to the point,” Mr. Quenqua continued, “I would have to assume that this non-inclusive policy would have been reviewed in light of the Vermont ruling.” (The state’s governor signed the landmark legislation on April 26, 2000.) He added: “I am sure you will agree with me that for a national paper that has made extreme efforts to include gays and lesbians in all areas of its editorial coverage (not to mention community outreach with programs such as yours), this policy smacks of hypocrisy.”
This time, Mr. Quenqua got a reply–from Times news editor William Borders. In a letter dated May 3, Mr. Borders apologized for the lack of response. (“There is no excuse for that discourtesy, and I really can’t explain it.”) He also offered an explanation. “We have given careful thought to the question, especially in the light of our editorial page’s long and unequivocal support of same-sex unions and the Vermont measure in particular,” Mr. Borders wrote. “Nevertheless the editors have concluded that the civil unions in Vermont fall short of equivalency to marriage in significant respects, and our wedding pages are still confined to marriages.”
Then Mr. Borders got to the point: “We don’t feel able to open those pages to civil unions in part because that would amount to taking an editorial position in the news columns on an issue that still very much divides society,” he wrote.
Mr. Quenqua wrote back to Mr. Borders with a number of questions, among them: “Since civil unions are legal bonds sanctioned by the state of Vermont–exactly as a marriage between members of the opposite sex–how is reporting on such a union ‘taking an editorial position?’ … It would seem to me that the far riskier business is to take the stance in your editorial pages.” In his concluding paragraph, Mr. Quenqua suggested “that this topic be reopened for discussion”.
“In fact it has never been closed,” Mr. Borders wrote back. “We review this policy frequently, as we do with other areas of the way we do things in print, and we plan to continue reviewing it at intervals (though not, I think, between now and Aug. 30).”
Though The Times has made significant advances over the past 15 years in both its treatment of gay and lesbian employees and its coverage of issues that affect gays and lesbians, perhaps it could take a page from The Staten Island Advance , which has already run its first–and only–same-sex civil-union announcement. The paper’s editor, Brian Laline, told The Transom that the published announcement was for a civil union that took place in Vermont. (Civil unions are not legal in New York state.) It did prompt some discussion, he said, but “because it was legally recognized, we felt it was the right thing to do.”
Mr. Kulaga, whose voice-mail message said he was “helping an old lady cross the street,” did not return a call. Mr. Borders said that his letter spoke for itself. And calls to Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s office were referred to Times spokeswoman Kathy Park, who in addition to citing Mr. Borders’ letter, said: “We welcome advice from lesbian and gay groups on new developments in law.” As for Mr. Quenqua, he’s given up on getting his announcement in The Times , but he did say that a number of the paper’s employees seemed to be on his side. “I don’t think anyone doesn’t agree,” he said. “I haven’t met the enemy yet.”
Guided by Hatred
The Siren Music Festival may have been billed as a big chill for the class of 1992, but backstage it felt more like the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of a Friars’ Roast. There was Superchunk; there was Guided by Voices; there was the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; there was Quasi; there was Man or Astro-Man?; there was plenty of Bud Light and postmodern irony, but no water. In other words, it was the perfect environment for the talent to rank on each other.
Under a tent pitched next to the Cyclone, Superchunk’s 34-year-old front man, Mac McCaughan, took a moment to reflect on his band’s enemies. “We really have a long list,” he said. “Seaweed. We made them break up, so we won that one.”
“When you’re enemies long enough, it’s sort of like a battle of attrition. We just outlasted them,” he said. “We started interband conflicts among our enemies. You know, we’d call one band with rumors about what the other one said about them.”
Jim Wilbur, who plays guitar, cut in with a hypothetical example: “Hey Aaron, Clinton fucked your girlfriend.”
“Yeah, stuff like that,” Mr. McCaughan said. Then he brought up the name of another once-hot, now-defunct college-rock band. “Tsunami–we made them break up. It was the same kind of thing. Our tactics were pretty standard. But people never get it.”
Drummer Jon Wurster ambled by. “Who else have we beaten?” Mr. McCaughan asked him.
“Pavement,” Mr. Wurster said.
“Pavement. We loved Pavement. But good bands kind of gotta be your enemy, because they can’t be on your side–there’s not room enough for everybody.”
“They recorded Brighten the Corners 40 minutes from where we live,” Mr. Wilbur explained. “And we would go over there and sabotage their living quarters, and make it look like people in the band had done it to themselves.”
“It started the infighting,” Mr. McCaughan said. “Because they didn’t have the character to weather it out. Right now, Jon’s working on Guided by Voices. Trying to drive that wedge.”
For its part, Guided by Voices has made enemies with a little less precision. Singer Bob Pollard has been known to brawl with any band that tampers with his backstage beer stash. Janet Weiss, who drums for Quasi and Sleater-Kinney, passed on a rumor that Mr. Pollard recently came to blows with indie-rock artist Ted Leo (Chisel) over some rather personal remarks one of them allegedly made about the other’s sister.
Mr. Pollard didn’t confirm the incident. But he did say, as Ms. Weiss’ band went onstage: “Is that Quasi? They don’t have a bass. Did you ever hear a band that didn’t have a bass that was good?” He took a swig of Bud Light. “What do you think about Man or Astro-Man?” he asked The Transom. “That’s your favorite band. You love them. Aren’t they supposed to be crazy? They’re not crazy!”
Mr. Wurster popped by. Since GbV’s regular drummer broke his hand after he got a little too drunk at a friend’s wedding, Mr. Wurster was called on to fill in. Was this … the wedge ? “Oh, yeah,” Mr. Pollard giggled. “He’s going to play even worse with us.” Another swig. “You know, we could have headlined this show,” he said. Instead, GbV were opening for Jon Spencer. “We could have. We just didn’t want to. I don’t care about stuff like that.”
Later on, after Quasi was done, Ms. Weiss contemplated her own enemies list. “Superchunk, for sure,” she said.
“They’re assholes,” said Sam Coomes, her bandmate and ex-husband. “They’re like the worst people in the world.”
“They’ll backstab you,” Ms. Weiss said with a grin.
Just then, Mr. Pollard stumbled past. “When I was playing with Sleater-Kinney,” Ms. Weiss said, “Guided by Voices stole our dressing room. So I’ve got a bone to pick with them. They’re a potential enemy band for Quasi.”
Mr. Coomes interjected, “They’re a potential enemy band for everyone.”
“But they’re really Sleater-Kinney’s enemy band,” Ms. Weiss said.
“And Peaches,” Mr. Coomes went on. “Everybody’s talking about Peaches. But I thought it was pretty lame myself. It’s just a schtick.”
But Mr. Coomes needn’t have worried about Peaches, the NC-17 Jewish-Canadian rapper whose real name is Merrill Nisker. She had gotten herself kicked off the stage earlier that day. “There were a lot of moms complaining,” the 34-year-old Peaches told The Transom. “It was like, ‘That girl’s masturbating onstage. What do I tell my kid?’ To the point where the stage manager made a sign that said, ‘Say goodbye’–like, you’re done. They turned off my microphone during ‘Fuck the Pain Away.’”
Lastly, there was Mr. Spencer. As headliner, he had won the battle by default. Who were his enemies? “Are you trying to make me say something funny?” he asked with a touch of resentment. “We don’t have enemies.” Don’t be so sure about that , Mr. Spencer.
Apocalypse Now Reflux
“It was like seeing ghosts,” the actor Frederic Forrest said about watching himself in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux , a restored, reedited and greatly expanded version of his surreal 1979 Vietnam film. Mr. Forrest, who played Chef, wasn’t kidding. Watching him, Robert Duvall, Albert Hall, Laurence Fishburne (who was in his teens when he made the film), Sam Bottoms, Colleen Camp and others who starred in the picture walk onstage at the film’s July 23 premiere at Alice Tully Hall and then seeing their celluloid images, some 22 years younger, on the big screen did feel ghostly. Later in the evening, at a party at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, Mr. Forrest told Mr. Coppola’s daughter, Sofia–who was 8 years old when Apocalypse Now was first released–that when she met Marlon Brando on the set, she said to him: “So you’re the big cheese.” Ms. Coppola, who’s 30 now, said she didn’t remember the moment, but that she’d heard she’d been a source of “comic relief” for the cast and crew. Comic relief at the after-party came in the form of numerous jokes about how Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, whose reputation for editing down films earned him the nickname Harvey Scissorhands, had managed to rerelease a film that was now 50 minutes longer than its original version.
When asked which of his other films he would revisit next given the chance, Mr. Coppola said that it would probably be The Outsiders , which adapted the S.E. Hinton novel and starred Ralph Macchio (who attended the premiere), Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez. The Transom then asked Mr. Coppola if he’d thought about taking another crack at Godfather 3 , which fell far short of the other films in the trilogy. Mr. Coppola said that because Paramount had rushed him in “all phases” of that film’s production, including “the writing,” it wasn’t something he had considered.
The Transom Also Hears …
… Sting wasn’t home when his film-producer wife, Trudie Styler, hosted a benefit premiere of her film Greenfingers at the couple’s Central Park West apartment, but the music stacked around the family grand piano communicated the kind of studied eclecticism that the world has come to expect from him. On the piano’s music stand was Igor Stravinsky’s “March”; on its lid sat The Frank Sinatra Songbook . Also checking out the décor were Christy Turlington, with her fiancé Ed Burns in tow, Sheryl Crow and Bruce Springsteen.
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