PRIDE 2022: A MASH LETTER TO DJ PAUL V (PART 2)

Stop! Be sure to read part one first.

How did you become involved in the music biz?
Totally by accident! In 1980, I entered college with no real goals. I was still “dating” girls, and the girl I was seeing at that time said, hey, WCOZ radio needs interns to answer the request line. So I applied and got hired. They gave me the 6-9am shift. I would drive into Boston from the suburbs, answer the phones for the morning-show DJ, and then go to my classes at UMass Boston.

About a year later, the station partnered with a club in Boston called Celebration, which was going to be an 18-plus rock ’n’ roll dance club. They needed a DJ on Monday and Tuesday, and they hired me. So I basically just taught myself how to DJ and mix records together. And I was beat-mixing rock ’n’ roll bands like AC/DC into ZZ Top into Judas Priest. I eventually became the main weekend DJ, dropped out of college and really made a name for myself.

Then, in early 1985, a DJ friend at gay club Campus in Cambridge told me a new club called Man Ray would open as a second room, and they wanted a non-disco, non-Top 40 music mix. He pitched me and I got hired, and that was a big deal for me because it was only my second gig. But that crowd wanted stuff like Dead or Alive, Soft Cell and Echo & the Bunnymen, so there was a bit of a learning curve for me. I soon became a Billboard reporter, to submit my top 30 songs for the weekly Dance chart. As there are only a hundred DJs across the country chosen for that, it was a really big deal!

I knew Shaye Sullwold at Warner Records, which had one of the first club and college-radio promotion departments. They needed somebody to call college-radio stations, so she recommended me to Craig Kostich, who ran the department. The New Music Seminar was still happening in New York at that time, and I went every year. So Shaye and Craig said, “Let’s all have dinner,” and this also included Howie Klein and Seymour Stein from Sire Records.

The dinner was really an interview, and I flat-out told them: “I don’t know what promotion is.” And they were like, “That doesn’t matter. What matters is, you know and love the music. So your job is to get college radio excited about our records and play them.” And that night, they basically fucking hired me! This could never happen like that nowadays, but that’s how it was in 1988. So they moved me to Los Angeles, and my first two years I did strictly college radio. But then I became the Director of Alternative radio, for national KROQ-type stations. I was at Warner, and Steve Tipp had the same gig at Reprise.

So why didn’t you continue?
The truth is, I never enjoyed the schmooze that it took to get records played on commercial radio. Plus, as a gay man, I was dealing with probably 98% straight guys who ran the stations, and they were used to lots of bar-hopping or doing the “bro stuff” hangout with record-company guys. And I felt like a fish out of water.

So in 1994, Jane’s Addiction had broken up and Porno for Pyros got started. I was super-close with the entire band and especially Perry Farrell. And he asked me to be his sort of record-company-liaison manager. So I ended up co-managing the band for about two years with Roger Leonard. Roger was the day-to-day guy and more like a tour manager. So that was a unique dynamic, but it worked.

You did some other management around that same time, right?
Yes. Again, I’d never done this before, and it was all flying by the seat of my pants. But because I was more of a co-manager, I really wanted a band to work with that I could call my own. A friend told me about an L.A. band called Extra Fancy and said I really should go see them play. I did and I was completely blown away. I talked to [frontman] Brian Grillo after and I said, “I just started managing bands. Would you wanna work together?” As Brian was openly gay, I think he felt that if he was gonna be able to trust any manager, it was probably gonna be me.

It was four guys in the band, and I basically became like the fifth member. So I promoted them, booked their shows, and got them press. Their live performances were epic. Brian played a 50-gallon oil drum onstage with metal sticks, adding raw primal percussion to the vibe. I think as a performer he is right up there with rock stars like Iggy Pop or Jim Morrison or Perry Farrell. Eventually their album Sinnerman came out on Diablo Musica, a tiny indie label. But even with all their buzz, no major label would sign a band with an out gay singer. Meanwhile, we made a video for “You Look Like a Movie Star, Honey” for $10,000, and even basically unsigned, MTV’s 120 Minutes played it three different times.

So eventually we were led to Atlantic Records, who signed the band as part of a “gay music division” for queer-identified artists, and they would re-release the album. “Sinnerman,” a gospel song that they rocked out, was the first single. In the music video, Alexis Arquette played a homophobic preacher who is secretly attracted to Brian. And in the video, there are shots of Brian kissing a skinhead guy in a laundromat, and then ending scenes of Brian shirtless and hugging and kissing Alexis.

And remember: This was 1996. A music video with homoeroticism like that had never been made like that. But again, MTV were still fans and they played that a few times as well. Anyways, six weeks after that, the label inexplicably dropped the band. We were told. “Well, we’re doing spring cleaning,” and “The record’s not really performing.” And that was soul-crushing. Another layer is Brian is HIV-positive, which was known to his friends and family, but not to the general public. But a Rolling Stone writer outed him and published that information without Brian’s knowledge. So can I prove that it was homophobia and HIV phobia that got the band dropped? No. But I’m also not an idiot.

And if Atlantic had only done the right thing and allowed Brian Grillo to be the rock star that he is, they would’ve made history. They could have looked like heroes.

You pivoted to club impresario at that point?
Well, Dragstrip 66 was already happening in tandem with Warner and band-managing. But in 2000, I decided to make my living solely doing Dragstrip, which had exploded by that point. And I thought, Well, this is what I truly love, and I’m my own boss now.

Talk about the blog and the book, which also requires going into your childhood.
I knew I was gay from the time I was three or four. I didn’t know what sexuality was, but I knew there was a connection and an attraction to boys and males.

Because I was artistic and sensitive, hated sports and hated gym class, I was basically called a fag from first grade through graduating high school. I don’t think I acted effeminately, but kids can home in on our queerness before we even know we’re queer. They pick up on the fact that we’re different.

My parents got divorced when I was seven, and I did not know my father really at all. My mom had a hairdressing license and started to cut hair to survive. Luckily it was just mainly me and my sister, so we never went without. But it felt like at any minute, things could go south.

And I’m what’s called a gold-star gay—a gay man who’s never had sex with a woman. Remember that girlfriend who told me to go apply to WCOZ and answer the phones? She was unbelievably hot, like a brunette Suzanne Somers. She could not understand why I never wanted to “take the plunge,” as it were. But I basically owe my whole music-biz career to her.

So in 1980, I came out to my friends. But my entire sexuality in my 20s and early 30s had the specter of AIDS hovering over it. It was really scary, and many of my friends died. So I didn’t come out officially to my mother until I was 30. I never had HIV, but I knew she would worry like crazy about me.

Did she really not know or suspect?
Well, when I made the trip home during Christmas, I said to my mom, “I have something I need to tell you.” And she didn’t blink; she looked me right in the eye and she said, “Oh, you mean you’re gonna tell me you’re gay, right?” Like most mothers, she knew since I was a little kid.

And this is the thing that I keep trying to impart to parents: Just ask your kid! But in the ’70s, you did not bring that topic up.

At what point did it start to be appealing to you to tell these stories?
Well, I got inspired by a photo. It’s the boy on the cover of the book, with arms akimbo and the plaid jumpsuit. He posted it on MySpace as a profile photo, and the minute I saw it, I thought, That’s a gay kid. I want to know his story. To be that sassy and fabulous at three years old? There’s a story behind that. And no one taught him to put his hands on his hips and cock his knee like that. That brand of fabulous came out of him naturally.

So that was the lightbulb moment, but I tucked it away in the recesses of my mind. And then, in the fall of 2010, there was a slew of gay kids that committed suicide all in a row. And that was like a dagger in my heart. “It Gets Better” was born out of that. And so was my blog.

Soon after, Lady Gaga revealed on the MTV VMAs that her next project was gonna be called Born This Way. And I knew it was gonna be anthemic. So I decided to call the blog Born This Way. And FYI: Gaga didn’t come up with the phrase. There’s actually a gay anthem called “Born This Way” by Carl Bean from 1977. In any case, I knew my message and Gaga’s were exactly the same: Be who you are and love yourself.

And my goal with the blog was to reach young queer kids, who might be being bullied or thinking of killing themselves. And I wanted them to know that (a) they’re not alone, and (b) there’s tons of people just like them who were bullied. But they made it through.

And most importantly, just hold on until you get out of school. You think that if you’re not accepted at school, that you won’t be loved or accepted anywhere else—and that school is the entire arbiter of who you are as a person. And, oh my God, fuck that noise!

Feels like a cultural wave.
The blog literally exploded! At first people thought the concept was send in your most flamboyant or butch photo. So a lot of the early photos were really funny, like faggotry in overdrive. Social media devoured it, then Dan Savage wrote about it, and it snowballed. It hit big in Spanish-speaking countries, so [Madrid newspaper] El País wrote about it. And that was when the visitor hit-counter on the blog was literally turning numbers over like a gas pump.

I knew that even for even the biggest asshole homophobe, it’s pretty hard to hate a kid like you see in every photo. I can’t quantify that, and that layer of the blog didn’t dawn on me for a few months, but then it became obvious.

For me, I like making people think. I like forcing people to look in the mirror and either admit or acknowledge that they need to work on being homophobic or racist or xenophobic or misogynist. So it’s not just about being gay that I have that activist spirit for. It covers everything.

So I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. When you’re in the thick of doing these things, you don’t think about the impact you might be having. But looking all the way back to 1980, I’m thrilled that I’ve made a positive impact on some people’s lives. And I mean, what more can you fucking ask for?

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