HIV Prof was down to business in our last class, probably trying to make up for some lost time. We covered at least 60 pages of notes in our session AND ... we watched the final 10 minutes of "And The Band Played On". If you haven't seen this movie and you want to I recommend being prepared for the end, its high emotion. The final 10 minutes are nothing but somber frames of people that have died of AIDS; Rock Hudson, Arthur Ashe, Liberace, children, women ... its a staggering hammer to the head after an already emotionally volatile rollercoaster.
I suppose living in the Bay Area during the era 1976-1990, I had my fare share of exposure to the emotional upheaval HIV created. I had to be able to place it into perspective in order to make it through day by day, which I did.
After the movie I noticed basically everyone was teared up, particularly the young guy sitting next to me. Poor baby, he didnt know he was going to be sucker punched with that emotional bomb. We took a short break and my neighbor bolted out of the room. I ran into him in the hallway.Me
: "Everything ok?"Classmate
: "Yeah, its just so horrible, all those people!"Me
: "I know, but some of those people had incredible lives. Probably better to remember what they accomplished and how they lived rather than the fact that they aren't here"
I dont know why but a story popped into my head about my friend Johnny so I told it to him while we were on break. I thought it might help him put things into a clearer perspective.
Johnny was my friend Donny's roomate. He was hysterical, witty, sarcastic, campy, feverish, high energy -- chaos in a tall, slim Italian frame from Boston. He was also a fashion designer, an incredible one. To say that Johnny was into fashion was an understatement, he lived it. Many times I can remember passing him on the street, Vogue up in his face, cursing - "Those idiots, what are they thinking bringing back the A line skirt, noone looks good in that! And plaid? Great, now everyone will look like fat, bloated, PLAID Christmas trees!"
This was typical Johnny. From the time he got up he was sketching, buying fabrics, buttons, sewing, fitting, reading, cursing, criticizing, praising ... and all of it fashion related.
If you were in the house on Sunday morning you were going to church, Johnny's church. This included a strong cup of coffee and the perfect seat in front of the TV since you were watching "Style, with Elsa Klench".
He had a shop in the South Of Market area of San Francisco, a huge warehouse filled top to bottom with all of his work; formal, casual, business, retro, you name it, he made it. Each piece was so highly customized it was like looking at art - you'd always miss some detail the first time. His collection spanned from elegant to professional to punk but all of it had a street wise edge. I'm sure he could have put Prada out of business, he was that good and that ahead of the time.
His genius was truly revealed one weekend when a group of us decided to go to KD Langs very first concert in San Francisco. He had been such a huge fan of KD's and weeks prior to the concert he had been going on and on about how he wanted to whip up something of "form, function and fabulous" for the event.
The day of the concert he had finished his sketch. Yes, a sketch. That afternoon he mumbled around the house "OK, now fabric, yes, suede, no, well maybe. Black? No, not black I look bad in black. Conchos? Yes, but where can I find ...Ooooh FRINGE, yes, I've got to have ... Damn, what boots, where can I find ..?" The door shut and he disappeared into the city.
Six hours later he meets us at the Warfield dressed from head to toe camel suede; pants with fringe and conchos and the bolero jacket to match. The darker brown detail on the jacket and pants was staggering. He looked great ... and he knew it!
Its really the last memory I have of Johnny but its one of the best. Sadly Johnny passed away in the early 90's, he was in his mid 30's.Classmate
: "Are you trying to kill
me? Thats horrible, he was snuffed out before his prime!"Me
: "You're missing the point. Johnny had a gift. He used the gift to follow his dream, one that he was fortunate enough to live every day. Not too many people I know fall into that category. While you cry over the quantity, I smile over the quality. I'm glad Johnny had a quality life while he was here".
I think my classmate finally got it but who knows he was still a little blank as we headed back to class.
What I know
is that Johnny is still doing what he loves; probably trying to get God into a pair Versace jeans.
I can just hear him now ...
"Trust me babe, it works for you -- Form, Function, Fabulous!" :)