Nothing stirs the memory like death. Nothing dries tears like laughter. Al Shapiro, the artist who was “A. Jay,” was one of the Original Drummer Daddies. He died 21 days ago. He was the founding San Francisco art director who designed the fledgling Drummer’s basic graphic look. I know. He dragged me along in that transplanted, insistent New Yorker way he had, and I played editor-in-chief to his art director when Drummer was re-invented in San Francisco, after its escape from LA.
“The publisher’s given birth to a baby,” A. Jay said, “but he forgot to spank its bottom.”
That was our job: spanking the infant Drummer’s butt, and teaching the LA rag how to become very San Francisco, which, because San Francisco is the gay Mecca, made the mag’s rising awareness very national, and very international.
And it worked. Many people call those 1970s issues (19-30), “The Golden Age of Drummer.” Maybe. Maybe not. As a scholar of gay pop-culture, I’d like to think they were, but as Drummer’s chief writer at that time when I was also the editor, I have the interest that a parent has in a child who has grown up. Something Al and I did in those 70s issues put Drummer on the map. After that Golden Age of the 70s, what staff changes followed in Drummer’s stormy, tempest-tossed office could best be charted by the National Weather Service. Eventually, half of San Francisco was “editor” of Drummer, and every reader was either a Drummer daddy or a Drummer boy, or, god help us, Mr. Drummer. Nevertheless, Drummer was a force of nature.
Now , under new ownership, Drummer’s course is back on course, and Drummer enters its Second Golden Age. This is a renaissance, a “new” Drummer; but in remembering Al Shapiro, a man’s got to recall that during those first stormy, very embryonic years [a punning homage to John Embry, the publisher ], A. Jay was the one calming, creative influence who kept Drummer afloat with diplomacy, laughter, and love. He believed, as they say in Hollywood, “in the project.”
DON’T CRY FOR ME, SAN FRANCISCO
Truth is the best eulogy. Talk about positive attitude. Six months before he died of AIDS, A. Jay, the artist, who was intensely visual in sex scenes as well as in his art, went blind. He had just finished what would be his last drawing, incidentally, for a story I was writing. [I have the drawing to this day, 2002. –JF] We often worked in tandem, discussing a particular concept, then each going off individually, one to the typewriter and one to the drawing boards. The night he finished our drawing, he told his lover of eleven years, Dick Kriegmont, that he was truly at last losing his sight. When sometime later a friend came sympathetically to his bedside and said, “I’m so sorry you’re blind,” Al said, “I’m not blind. I can still see white light.”
ROUGH TRADE IN THE FINE ARTS
Before A. Jay’s physical health failed completely, he let me twist his once-robust arm, and, in the name of gossip and gay pop art history, he agreed to discuss something of the personal and professional comedy behind the mystery of the unassuming artist who was to nearly everyone the very incarnation of his own hot tits-n-pecs cartoons signed “A. Jay.”
That sleazoid incarnation was always comic and usually self-satirizing. Allen J. Shapiro’s tongue was always planted firmly in his, or someone else’s, cheek. If wrestlers and South-of-Market leathermen were his gods, the Slot was his sanctuary, the tits and piss-soaked jocks of the Cauldron were his heaven–and his degree was from Pratt. Let’s remember him in his drawings. Let’s remember him in his own words.
From information found in Jack Fritscher, “Introduction” to “The Academy: Incarceration for Pleasure, Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer Magazine, www.JackFritscher.com