The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Category: journalism (page 1 of 25)

How I Killed Father Ted

This year is the 25th anniversary of the launch of the much-loved UK sitcom Father Ted. This unpublished interview with writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews – in which I pointed out how many priests drop dead in their hit sitcom – was commissioned by Deluxe magazine in February 1998. The day after I handed my copy in, Father Ted, alias Dermot Morgan, 45,dropped dead of a heart attack. The interview was spiked and the series cancelled.

‘Nobody comes. Nobody goes. Nothing happens. It’s awful!’

Waiting For Godot, Samuel Beckett

Every decade has its sitcom. In the Sixties it was Steptoe and Son – generational conflict between two junk men left behind by Progress. In the Seventies it was Are You Being Served? – class war, campery and skiving in a department store going to the dogs. In the Eighties it was Blackadder – doomed get-rich-quick schemes of an ambitious, selfish, spineless loser. 

And in the Nineties it is Father Ted – crap priest exiled to a crap house on a crap island by the crap Italian-based multinational he works for, which forces him to mouth a crap corporate dogma which, try as he might, he can’t quite sound convinced by.

But Ted, now about to air its third series, is not just the best sitcom in years. It’s High Art. This is Beckett, but with better gags. Ted (Dermot Morgan) and his Holy Fool sidekick Dougal (Ardal O’Hanlon) are waiting for a Godot that will never come in a wasteland of frustration, bereft of any certainties, any values, any purpose or any decent night-clubs. A place where the only consolation is an endless supply of hot tea from Mrs Doyle which you didn’t ask for. 

Father Ted is so inspired that even Ted’s hair, with its enigmatic greyness and mysterious, shifting voluminousness, is a character in itself. Naturally my first question to the writer-creators Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan is, was it scripted?

Arthur: ‘It came with Dermot’.

Graham: ‘Dermot suggested it’.

Arthur: ‘Dermot suggested his own head’.

Time passes. 

Graham: ‘And it was just as well, because we were going to go for someone else’s head.’ 

Despite their occasionally Beckettian conversation, they seem like nice if slightly naughty Irish boys. They look the approximately the same age – thirty going on fourteen – but Arthur is actually ten years older than Graham who is 29. Graham talks more than Arthur, and seems more confident, but it’s not clear who wears the trousers in this relationship. Arthur grew up in Drogheda, a country town; Graham in Dublin. ‘I’m the City Slicker and Arthur’s the country boy,’ explains Graham. ‘I provide the hip cultural references and Arthur provides the authenticity.’

‘Thanks,’ says Arthur sarcastically. ‘I think that what Graham is saying is that it’s helpful for me to be from the country.’

‘And it’s helpful for me not to be,’ adds Graham.

They met when working on the Dublin listings mag Hot Press; Graham as a writer, Arthur as art director. After experimenting with a U2 pastiche band called The Joshua Trio they moved to London and wrote some sketches for Alas Smith & Jones before writing a very surreal series called Paris for Alexei Sayle in 1994. It wasn’t a hit.

Says Graham: ‘If you’d put it next to Ted and asked me which one was going to be a hit, I don’t know I’d have given you the right answer. I think perhaps it didn’t work because it didn’t have as many rules as Ted, and we didn’t realise that the central character is never as funny as all the satellite characters.’

Like Mrs Doyle, for instance, who is a seer and a prophet and deserves to be worshipped. Why don’t they give her more lines? There’s so much more that needs to be said about tea and sandwiches.

‘It’s funny you should say that,’ responds Graham, ‘because in this series we’ve tried to work a plot around each character and you get to meet Mrs Doyle’s friends. Who are, of course, exactly the same as she is. I’m sure you recognise some of your mother in Mrs Doyle…’

You know my mother??

Graham: ‘Well, you know the sort of thing I mean – you go round to your friend’s house and their mother….’

Arthur: ‘…will almost kill themselves if you ask them to nicely. “Would you mind killing yourself?” [Putting on a Mrs Doyle voice]: “Well, I don’t know…. Okay, I will.’

What do our dynamic comedy-writing duo like about one another? 

Arthur: ‘Graham’s a perfectionist. To a fault. He knows what works – he has really good instincts.’

Graham: ‘What do I like about Arthur? Er, well, it’s kind of like an imaginative haemorrhaging. He’ll sit down at a typewriter and millions of ideas will come out. That is so useful when you’re trying to get started. Arthur also has a lovely feeling for the way that priests talk.’ 

Where did the idea for Ted come from?

Arthur: ‘Growing up in Ireland we were surrounded by priests, of course, and so we didn’t have to look very far. The other day I saw a TV documentary from 1964 about Mods and there was a clip where we saw priests blessing their scooters. Now that’s pure Ted.’

Graham: ‘Arthur also used to do Ted as a stand-up character, so that makes writing for Ted very easy, because Arthur just has to start putting on his Ted voice and we’re away.’

It seems that the Irishness of Ted is the key to its success. Croft-Perry classic shows like Are You Being Served? and Dad’s Army, which Ted is very much in the tradition of, depended upon a repression which no one would really believe in if it were set in ‘classless’, individualistic Nineties Britain.

Graham: ‘I think that British repression is kind of dull now because it’s been done. But no one knew what a repressed Irish person would do.’

Arthur: ‘And in Ireland, of course, Catholicism takes on the role of class. Everyone’s very deferential to the priests.’

The lads claim Ted isn’t anti-clerical, and certainly Ted’s bungling, agnostic vanity (i.e. his human-ness) is probably a PR victory next to newspaper headlines of be-cassocked kiddie-fiddling. But I put it to them that priests do tend to die on the show like flies. Every time Ted calls a dog-collared mate on his mobile another one bites the dust. 

Graham: ‘S’funny, no one’s pointed that out before. But… people dropping dead is funny. In a comedy.’

Arthur: ‘As opposed to a drama. Where it’s not.’

Come on, you don’t see many people dying in comedies. It isn’t that funny. But dead priests are for some reason. [At this, Arthur laughs very loudly]. Maybe it’s because they wear black and talk about death all the time. Or maybe it’s because they’re just not very real people….

Graham: ‘Well, we certainly trade on unreality in the programme. We’ve constructed a kind of mythology around the priesthood. Because being a priest is a closed book to most people you can make up stuff…’.

Or as Ted put it: ‘That’s the wonderful thing about Catholicism, Dougal. It’s so vague that no-one really knows what it’s about.’ If Catholicism were a movie, it would have to be a cartoon. And there is a very strong cartoon, ‘surreal’ element to Ted. 

Arthur: ‘We’re big cartoon fans. Especially of The Simpsons.’

I can see there’s some Homer Simpson in Ted, but isn’t there more Daffy Duck?

Graham: I’d say it was Rain Man and Daffy Duck. We had a joke which we never used where Ted drops some toothpicks on the floor and Dougal instantly says, ’4,777’ and then cut-to an hour later and Ted, whose been counting them, says: ‘4,777 indeed. It’s 4,776, actually.’

Catholicism also provides a useful reason why Ted and Dougal are stuck together and why they share the same bedroom in such a big house – like Laurel and Hardy and Morecambe and Wise. 

‘Yes, there’s something that connects them all,’ admits Graham. ‘It’s as if they were non-sexual lovers, as if they were co-dependent brothers.’

Or just married – most marriages are non-sexual and co-dependent.

‘Maybe,’ laughs Graham. ‘I always hoped we’d get a gay following for Ted, in the same way as The Golden Girls did. But it didn’t happen.’

Probably because you don’t have enough drag-queen female characters. Will you be having a fourth series, now, boys?

‘You have to be careful not to outstay your welcome,’ hedges Graham. ‘We have to make each series better than the last. And that gets harder each time. At the moment we’re not sure.’

Go on. Go on. Go on, go on, go on. Just in yer hand. You will. Go on. 

Fight Them On The Beaches

Mark Simpson tests Essex’s coastal defences against renovation 

(The Times Magazine, 2001)

Whitstable, Broadstairs, Brighton and most of Suffolk have gone already.  Swept away forever under a tsunami of renovation. These once proudly tatty towns have been lost forever to the unsmiling, unfriendly, label-dressed invaders who prey on coastal towns (but curiously always seem to come from inland). Planning their devastation with the aid of Psion Organisers and some back issues of House & Garden, these are the worst kind of invaders of all. These varsity-educated Vandals set about destroying your town by doing it up.

The scramble of Londoners looking for a second home where they can actually swing a cat without having to mortgage their grandmother has already taken its devastating toll on much of the South East coastline. Having made London too expensive to lie down in, City and Media types are exporting themselves and their property problem to hitherto inexpensive-but-scenic areas within striking distance of London.

For some years now, sleepy seaside towns have been awoken from their slumbers by the terrifying noise of turbo-charged Land Cruisers, the ominous clatter of Prada-shod feet and the awful rumble of extensive remodelling, as the overachieving, overactive aliens from the Big Smoke have arrived – demanding larger kitchens, ‘wet-area’ bathrooms, cafes offering café latte and shiny fitness centres with comfy sofas in the reception area.

In fact, so successful has their invasion been that they are fast running out of targets. Soon every home on the South East coast will have polished wooden floors, an Aga and a well-into-three figures asking price.

However, there is one plucky strip of coastline between Harwich and Clacton which has so far held out against this onslaught. A part of the country which is forever…Essex. What was once the South East’s first line of defence has become its last. Can this stretch of East Essex beachy coast, considered of the most likely landing point for the invasion fleets of both Napoleon and Hitler, just a tantalising hour or so from London by road and rail, hold out against the yuppie commandos?

On a grey, out-of-season day on the Essex Riviera, Clacton-on-Sea seems blissfully unaware of its imperilment. But then, perhaps this is its best defence. Maybe it’s the sky, but the sea, choppy in a bitter wind slamming in from Holland looks an unfortunate muddy colour. For its part, Clacton pier looks less like an invitation to hedonism than a factory shed on stilts. As if acknowledging the prosaic reality of the English weather, most of it is covered{ it’s one of the bitter ironies of the ‘great English seaside holiday’ that you could hardly choose a place more exposed to the damp English weather than a place by the sea.

The usual ‘attractions’ are all present and correct: dodgems, smoky amusement arcades with twitchy, solitary adolescent lads manning a machine here and there, fluorescent strip-lit works canteen caffs with moulded green plastic chairs, Formica tables and friendly matriarchs dispensing all-day breakfasts; and a palmist booth with a familiar sign outside:

This lady is here to help you with any question you want to ask her. She has advised a very famous astrologer and many other stars who cannot be named as all readings are private and confidential.

I’d like to ask Rosalee what the future holds for Clacton, but it seems she’s gone home early, perhaps to advise another star who can’t be named.

On the sandy but windswept beach, kids watched by their mums, throw stones into the sea or bread to the seagull. Mum seems to be drinking in their child’s limitless enjoyment of such simple pleasures. Probably because they know it won’t last, and soon their little angels will be demanding rave holidays in Eyeebifa. In a greasy caff on the seafront, elderly couples sit snug, sipping hot drinks, counting the summers gone and staring through the plate glass as if looking for early signs of the next one.

Truth be told, Clacton-on-Sea and its pier owe its very existence to the hated Metropolis. In 1872, when seaside holidays had become popular, a local entrepreneur, Peter Bruff, opened the pier so paddle-steamers of the Woolwich Steam Packet Company could stop and disgorge their cargo of loaded Londoners looking to large it and take in the ozone. By 1893 some 327,451 were paying to visit the pier every year. Clacton’s fortunes continued to rise, and in the 1920s-30s the pier was extended and refurbished with three theatres, a dance hall, a zoo, a funfair, amusements and the first open-air swimming pool in the country.

In 1937 Butlin’s arrived and up to 100,000 visitors, many of them Eastenders, would march through their gates every week for some sensibly regimented leisure (Hi-Di-Hi was filmed a few miles further up the coast). The 1930s was Clacton’s heyday and it’s left its mark all over the town: the municipal-style construction of the 1930s is everywhere. Here and there a few Edwardian houses contradict Romford-on-Sea demeanour of the place, but thankfully nobody takes much notice.

Then came the war and Clacton’s famous sands were covered with tank traps, mines, barbed wire and dragon’s teeth to keep out Mr Hitler, and its ‘champagne air’ was filled with the sound of air-raid sirens. Clacton never really recovered – post war, people expected more sophisticated entertainments and had the money to pay for them. Light industry kept the town ticking over, but the recession of the early 1980s put an end to that, and Clacton became a centre for high unemployment.

Along Pier Street there are more amusement arcades. But their neon flashes and the screeching electronic fun sounds seem especially stranded and unhappy. Outside one of them, in the middle of the pavement, a crane-grabber game. A couple with a slightly scruffy kid in a pushchair are playing it avidly, trying to grab a stuffed toy. They fail. They try again. They fail again.

Away from the sea, towards the centre of town, like blood that has retreated from the cold, life returns and the shops and pavements are crammed with busy shoppers, the air filled with the roar of buses and the squeal of Boy Racer tyres. Crop-haired lads in brand new Adidas walk alongside girls in smart jean jackets wheeling pushchairs. No sign of yuppification here. Not even an All-Bar One.

Certainly, space is less of a premium here than, say, Bethnal Green. According to the ads in an estate agent’s window on a 1930s esplanade in the centre of town £90,000 seems to be the going price for a three bedroomed house. Thankfully, however, most of the houses on sale in the window are ugly, fairly modern houses with double glazing, plumbing that works and no dry rot, which should deter the Londoners (what would they have to talk about at dinner parties?).  Something, more Edwardian, more renovatable, more colour supplement will cost significantly more. I pop inside the shop and ask whether Londoners are beginning to buy up property here.  The estate agent, a thirty-something year-old man in one of those estate agent suits I imagine are available through mail order, eyes me warily.  He seems to think that it’s some kind of trap.

‘Well, I don’t think I can answer that question,’ he says hurriedly, turned sideways on to me, as if getting ready to run out of the back door. ‘It’s all very well you asking that kind of question.  And in fact, it’s a question that I could maybe discuss with you – if I had a few hours to spare,’ he explains, his eyes darting around his empty shop. ‘But I don’t, I’m afraid.  Good day to you.’

(I think this meant ‘no’).

So Clacton is safe for the foreseeable future – the seafront wrapped in the arms of a garish, almost Potter-esque memory of 1930s cheap-but-no-longer-quite-so-cheerful popular escapisms, while the town exudes a ‘vulgar’ vitality that should keep most self-respecting Yuppies at bay for some time to come.

Perhaps they will strike a few miles up the coast instead, at ‘respectable’ Frinton-on-Sea, a town whose whole reason for existing would appear to be to keep Clacton and much of the rest of Essex at bay. Once through the ‘gates’ as the locals call them (they’d like you to think that they live in Camelot, but in fact all they’re referring to is a level crossing) you will find no pier, no amusement arcades, no ice-cream vans, no seafront caffs. No fun, in fact.

In a supreme act of snobbery, with the exception of a row of studiously unpainted beach huts and signs threatening heavy fines for cyclists or dog-walkers who dare to venture onto the beach, Frinton refuses to even acknowledge the sea at all. There is merely a treeless windswept green lawn – the famous ‘greensward’ – between the houses and the seafront, where today a bored teenager can be spied flying a kite. Perhaps missing the customary seaside funfair and looking for any kind of thrills he can get, he allows himself to be dragged along the grass by his own kite.

Like Clacton, Frinton also owes its origins to London past. Founded by Richard Powell Cooker in the late Nineteenth Century as a genteel seaside resort for chaps who worked in the City while their wives played tennis or maintained the pallor of their skin in their beach-huts while observing the children paddling, he laid down strict rules which forbade the cooking of tripe and the keeping of ‘houses on wheels’ in the gardens. Frinton grew rapidly and by the 1920s and 30s was the chic place to reside in the Summer.  Edward and Mrs Simpson liked to stay here and once brought their Nazi chum Von Ribbentrop. Legend has it he was so put out by the frosty reception he received from Frintonians that he told Goering to make sure that the Luftwaffe bombed Frinton, which they did in 1942.

Since then Frinton has had to accept a few modern depravities, such as a fish and chip shop (albeit called ‘Nice Fish and Chips’) and, recently – despite vigorous protests from the FRA, or Frinton Residents Association – the opening of a public house.  However the real enemies have clearly been kept at bay: there is no Seattle Coffee House on Connaught Avenue, the main drag (watch out for the electric granny carts: they’re silent, surprisingly fast and driven by demons). While the curtain shop remains a glorious, reassuring temple to chintz. No wooden Venetian blinds here.

I visit the headquarters of Frinton-on-Sea’s Home Guard, otherwise known as the tennis club.  Covered today in that Essex stucco which looks like lumpy cake icing, it was the first thing that Mr Powell built of course, and with 850 members is still going strong today (even if many of the members using the clubhouse this afternoon seem more likely to lean on a golf club than swing it). The Secretary, Lt Col (Rtd) Roger Attrill is a very genial and affable man in tweeds. But I’m not fooled. I suspect that beneath this friendly, modern demeanour is someone who, when called upon, can defend Frinton from yuppie invasion. ‘There is still a men-only bar until 6pm,’ he mentions in the course of showing me round the club. ‘The ladies have their own lounge.’

Mind, there are some very large and draughty looking old houses here. Many of them art deco. So is Frinton at risk after all? I pop into the local estate agents, where I receive a much warmer welcome than in Clacton. ‘I don’t really think there’s much evidence of people from London buying a second home here,’ admitted the estate agent. ‘Quite a few want to hire a house in the Summer, but not so many want to buy here. There’s always been a premium on property in Frinton, you see. It’s managed to maintain the distinction between itself and the surrounding areas.’ Indeed it has. An ordinary semi-detached three bedroom house in one of Frinton’s Avenues will set you back £250,000.

That settles it. Frinton is impregnable. The ‘gates’, the cladding, the curtains, the golf club and the speeding granny carts would deter but not prevent the yuppies. But the property prices make Frinton a veritable fortress against change.

‘You might want to try looking in Walton-on-the-Naze, just up the coast,’ advises the agent.  ‘There you’ll find the same sized house for about half the price.’

Now I’m a little worried. Perhaps Walton is the weak link. I’ve heard there is a marina there, and we know what that means. Once in Walton, I breathe a sigh of relief. Walton has a secret weapon ranged against the invaders – one that will strike terror into their hearts. A pier. And not just any old pier, but one that is bright yellow. So yellow, in fact, that it hurts to look at. It’s almost as if the pier is trying single-handedly to live up to the ‘Sunshine Coast’ Monika Tendring District Council have improbably given this stretch of seashore. Certainly you could get burnt if you stood too close to it.

Inside there’s the usual pier amenities and, even better, a ten-pin bowling alley which smells of chips. The pier extends an impressive 2610 feet out into the sea, and along the last 1000 feet or so are a score of single men fishing in bulky jackets and woolly hats, eyes watering in the wind. Looking landwards you can see the long sandy beach which stretches Westwards up to Frinton and above it a multi-coloured shanty town of English eccentricity, the beach huts. They seem to be clinging to the cliffs like wooden birds staring blindly out to sea, waiting for Summer to come and open their eyes again.

The winding streets of Walton don’t seem to lead anywhere much except the Naze Tower sea mark, a navigational aid for seafarers built in 1720 by Trinity House on the highest point of the Naze (an Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘headland’). On it some nearly writing nearly completely worn away by two hundred years of wind and rain warns that you will be fined ‘a sum not exceeding fifty pounds’ if you vandalise it. Looking at it, however, it’s difficult to imagine how you could vandalise such a solid piece of Eighteenth century perpendicular brickwork. You would have to be very determined and even more bored. (Obviously the sign was erected before the ten pin bowling alley was installed on the pier).

From here you can make out on the horizon the silhouettes of the huge container vessels and tankers churning their way through that mud-coloured North Sea for Harwich, reportedly still training their telescopes on this very spot to make sure they don’t run aground on the treacherous offshore sand banks.

Only a few feet from the tower is the cliff edge, and on the beach below, some distance from the cliffs, are Second World War concrete pillboxes (which would make such lovely bungalow conversions, in the minimalist-brutalist style). Now covered in seaweed and limpets, but which once scanned the horizon for Mr Hitler’s invasion barges that never came.

The sea round here is however intent on its own invasion and remodelling, and it’s winning. Slowly this part of Walton is falling into the sea. In a few years, the Naze Tower itself will tumble onto the beach below. Alas, change isn’t always something inflicted by human activity, or property prices.

Looking on the bright side, however, it does mean that the Naze Tower will probably escape the indignity being converted into loft apartments.

Slit-Trenches & Eternal Comradeship

Mark Simpson totally relates to the author’s 1970s childhood war-fetish, but has to draw the line at Ernest Hemingway.

(Independent on Sunday, 31 March 2002)

Robert Twigger is a man who wins awards. The jacket of Being a Man… In The Lousy Modern World boasts of the Newdigate Prize for poetry, the Somerset Maugham Award and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award. Perhaps this because Twigger is very talented, or perhaps it’s just because Twigger is the kind of man who wins awards.

Whatever the answer, despite ringing testimonials on the same jacket from those well-known gatekeepers of masculinity Will Self (‘a tour de force’) and Tony Parsons (‘I urge you to read everything that carries his name’) the one prize which Twigger’s been aiming for all his life – manhood – still eludes him.

Or as Leighton Bailey, Michael Horden’s fabulously starchy boss in the 1956 Rank film The Spanish Gardener says when firing him, ‘It’s as a man you’ve failed’. (As proof, Horden’s son has deserted him for his ‘Spanish’ gardener, Dirk Bogarde – yes Dirk Bogarde. In fake tan.). Of course, nowadays most men are ‘failures’ – but being manly is not now a very smart career move and most men under forty don’t seem to care whether they’ve failed as men or not, just so long as they win in the soft, sybaritic consumerist marketplace.

Mr Twigger however, does. Very much. Which is nice, but the real question is: should we care about Twigger?

Certainly Twigger’s evocatively recounted 1970s lower middle-class childhood is entirely familiar to me and probably millions of others: that odd emphasis on service and sacrifice, stoicism and stiffened upper lips, forever preparing to fight a war that ended thirty years previously. I too was an avid fan of The Colditz Story, The Guns of Navarone, Dambusters, Hotspur, Commando Comics, Victor, Dad’s Army and playing war in abandoned pillboxes. ‘Never mind the seventies,’ Twigger writes, ‘flower power, flared jeans and platform soled shoes; for me and my friends it was all war, war, war.’

Life forever presented itself as a test that might prove you wanting: ‘I never saw a river without imagining someone was drowning in it and waiting to be rescued, a railway track without working out how to save someone who had fallen in front of a moving train…’ Of course, it was a shining, virtuous childhood which laughably failed to prepare Twigger – or me – for the ‘lousy modern world’. Both of us would have been much better off with the platform shoes and flares the street-smart boys on The Estate wore.

If he’d lived in my village, Twigger and I would probably have been blood brothers for a few summers, covering the countryside with slit trenches and promises of eternal comradeship. But I suspect we would have drifted apart eventually, round about the time that I realised he didn’t have much of a sense of humour. Or maybe when he realised that I had a bit of an over developed one.

‘Being a Man’, we’re told, contrasts ‘twenty-four hours of “normality” in Robert Twigger’s suburban existence with half a lifetime of (mis) adventurous living’. In other words, bragging reminisces and whimsy about masculinity woven around a narrative of holding a barbecue and taking his wife to the hospital to have their first child.

Now, I don’t mind a bit of masculine bravado, but the ‘nasty scrapes’ the author has managed to get himself into, how if it hadn’t been for the adrenaline rush he wouldn’t have been able to haul himself back into the boat/onto that mountain ledge/confront that bull in Pamplona (yes, he really did go bullfighting) are, alas, mostly quite tedious. Several times Twigger mentions that his father was down the pub when he was born – but despite the fact that Twigger actually witnesses his son’s birth, with ‘Being a Man’ he somehow manages to be down the pub with the reader of his book, boring them to death with his tales of derring-do.

Twigger’s failure is a failure of self-consciousness, twice over. His masculinity is a failure because he’s always looking for the secret, the code,the instructions (hence a fascination with martial arts); but in a self-reflexive world this is to be forgiven. However his writing here fails because it’s not self-conscious enough; he doesn’t seem to realise how comically self-defeating that literal-mindedness is, or be able to diagnose his own malady, let alone anyone else’s. This is not forgivable, even without the constant invocation of that American granddaddy of twats Hemingway (and the‘lousy’ use of Americanisms throughout the book).

Twigger’s boyish Army obsession continued until he was sixteen; when he realised that the only people who wanted to join the army were either ‘misfits, gay… or teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.’ Yes, right, OK, but Robert I still don’t know why didn’t you join….

When Twigger finds himself in Mothercare he finds a part of his brain screaming that ‘BUYING NAPPIES IS STRICTLY FOR FAGS!’, an interesting response but one that is not analysed or even commented on. In a particularly risible passage he discusses at great length the story about Papa Doc’s encounter with F. Scott Fitzgerald in which Scotty complained that his dick was too small: Hemingway asked to see it and authoritatively pronounced it ‘normal sized’.

Twigger then advances an agonisingly torturous and entirely unnecessary argument that Hemingway worried about the size of his penis. Is Twigger the last person on Earth to have ‘twigged’ this? What’s clear is that Twigger has worried about the size of his penis – which is nothing to be ashamed of, especially in a book about masculinity – but he doesn’t tell us about it, instead he literally tries to put it in Papa Doc’s mouth. Not a pretty sight.

Speaking of which, in the gay world, afflicted as it is by far too much self-consciousness, there’s a term called ‘straight acting’. It’s supposed to denote ‘non-effeminate’ but unfortunately, unless the practitioner has a sense of humour, it too often merely denotes ‘a pain’. Alas, it would appear that this condition is not to be sexuality-specific. I have another award for the award-winning Mr Twigger: The Ernest Hemingway Award for Straight Acting Heterosexuality.

As Twigger writes himself: ‘What follows may be bollocks, so be warned.’ A commendable and very necessary warning.

Shame it doesn’t appear until page 121.

Killer Queen: Andrew Cunanan, My Love Rival

by Steven Zeeland

I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing, but Mark Simpson made me.

Write a preface, that is – for the following journalistic essay “Killer Queen” on “gay spree killer” and “Versace assassin” Andrew Cunanan, my erstwhile love rival who once offered to kill me. It was first published in The Stranger July 23, 1997, concurrent with the breaking news of Andrew’s death by self-inflicted gunshot to head upon being cornered by police, a week after shooting Versace to death outside his house in Miami.

The uber-cool Seattle alternative weekly had a red hot global scoop on its cover. The piece was widely picked up and also syndicated in The London Times, the Irish Independent and The Face. This is the first time it has been available online, however. So in a 21st Century sense, this is the first time it actually exists.

Some 20 years later as I write this, American cable channel FX is airing episode 3 of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. The show is said to be “loosely based” on a book by Vanity Fair contributor Maureen Orth: Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History.

I – and mutual acquaintances of Andrew Cunanan much closer to him – freely shared all we knew with Orth. At the time, she was best known as the wife of long-time NBC TV  Meet the Press host Tim Russert.

I vividly recall the moment sitting on my Murphy bed in Lower Queen Anne speaking on the phone with Orth when, after flattering me with praise for the article below, which had been faxed to her, she asked me to explain to her the specifics of what a “glory hole” was. When it came to the gay demi-monde she was certainly out of her element. The world of alternative newspapers also seemed to present a problem: in her book she cited “Killer Queen” as being published in “Seattle’s gay magazine, The Stranger.

Ironically, there was no glory hole in this story. Not per se. It was an, um, enlarged peephole in a men’s room partition on the Navy base in San Diego. Smaller than a glory hole, but large enough to stick a finger through. I explained this to Orth.

She sighed. “And I have to deal with the family.” The family of Andrew’s first victim.

No, I didn’t think much of her book, Vulgar Favours. (I thought her nemesis Gary Indiana actually came closer to hitting the mark, with his novelizing non-fiction a la Truman Capote in Three-Month Fever.) But, in my very limited personal human contact with Maureen Orth, I guess I couldn’t help empathize with her: she had gotten in over her head when it came to the specifics of implied dick meatus touching; I ended up with people mistaking me for someone interested in their “True Crime” horror gore.

I didn’t watch the latest instalment of The Assassination of Gianni Versace – and I’m not planning to watch the other eight episodes either. Why would I want to?

* * *


by Steven Zeeland

(Originally appeared in The Stranger, 24 July, 1997)

Andrew Cunanan gave me my first Xanax.

This story starts on the beach in San Diego. Andrew used to go there with Corporal Jay. I am what some people would call a “military chaser,” a lover of men like Jay.

When he was a little boy, Jay told his grandmother that he wanted to join the Marine Corps so he could be trained as a marine biologist. She laughed and said, “Oh, you don’t want to go in the Marines. They don’t teach you anything about marine biology, they just teach you how to kill.” At 18, Jay joined the Marines and learned how to kill people with his bare hands. But he retained his affinity for sea creatures. One late summer’s day in 1994 he was wading back from a swim when he stepped on one. It was a stingray. Jay was spared the full fury of its venomous tail; he got away with minor puncture wounds to his sole.

Andrew was equipped to treat Jay’s pain. He made him swallow a Vicodin, a narcotic analgesic. When Jay came home to our Hillcrest apartment, his foot was still a little sore, but he was smiling glassily as he marveled, “Andrew’s a walking drugstore.” He added that Andrew had finally revealed how he obtained at least some of the money he threw around so freely: Andrew dealt prescription drugs.

Probably there was not a long pause before I said, “Maybe he can get me some sleeping pills.” I’ve been an insomniac since I was five. The day of the stingray I was uncomfortably close to exhausting the bottle of Restoril, a sedative, that a sailor friend left in my apartment when he shipped out.

A few days later Jay returned from a night at the bars with a miniature Ziploc bag containing three lavender pills. “I told Andrew what you wanted. He scoffed and said, ‘Restoril is not a very potent drug.’ He said that you should try these. It’s what he takes.” I asked Jay how much I owed Andrew. “It’s a gift. And if you want more, he said that he’ll give them to you at cost.”

Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication prescribed to inhibit panic attacks. A few nights later I took one of the pills at bedtime.

I didn’t like Xanax. It got me to sleep all right, but the entire next day I felt…emotionally flat. Not up or down, neither anxious nor particularly relaxed, but as though a little too much of my personality had been stripped away.

Even then I suspected that Andrew may have considered lacing the Xanax with poison–I knew he didn’t like me. But I placed an order with him for more Xanax anyway, to keep on hand for when I felt panicky after waking from nightmares. Or for when I had to see my family. Or for when Jay indulged his pesky habit of turning psycho on me.

I didn’t take a Xanax the night in early May when I received a phone call informing me that Andrew was accused of murdering former Navy Lieutenant Jeffrey Trail, 27 (bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer), Minneapolis architect David Madson, 33 (shot in the head and back), and Chicago millionaire Lee Miglin, 72 (stabbed, tortured, throat cut with a gardener’s bow saw) in a cross-country killing spree. A few days later it was reported that Andrew killed a fourth man, New Jersey cemetery groundskeeper William Reese, 45 (shot in the head). Then Andrew disappeared.

I felt astonishment, not anxiety.

That was to change.

* * *


An accused man takes on a special beauty. That, at least, is what Kafka says in The Trial.

I thought Kafka must be right when I saw photos of Andrew on TV’s America’s Most Wanted. Andrew was a lot better looking than I remembered – sneering, scruffy, unaccountably butch – almost hot. Then I realized that the photo could only have been taken before the murders. So was what I recognized an anticipatory hint of the enhanced attractiveness that Andrew was about to assume? Or did what I now saw in him reveal something about what makes a man attractive to me?

In May and early June, the same photo of Andrew was featured in magazines and newspapers across the country. The accompanying text didn’t vary much. As pieced together from Andrew’s press clippings:

     “The sequence began in San Diego’s funky, gay-friendly Hillcrest neighborhood, with a 27-year-old who called himself Andrew DeSilva, but whose family knew him as Andrew Phillip Cunanan. Bespectacled and slightly paunchy, ‘DeSilva’ liked to dance with his shirt off.” Time. He “laughed loud, bought expensive gifts for friends and always covered the dinner tab – sometimes for as much as $1,400.” Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He was vague about where the money came from, suggesting to some that it came from his ‘rich Jewish family’ and to others that his father owned land on the Riviera and a plantation in the Philippines.” Newsweek. “Reporters located his mother, MaryAnn, in a central Illinois town, and learned [that] the Cunanans were once wealthy, as Andrew used to brag.” Time.

As an “openly gay teenager” at the exclusive Bishops prep school in La JoIla, Andrew “would whistle at the boys on the water polo team, and he once came to a school dance in a tight red bodysuit with an older man his date. The yearbook voted him ‘Least Likely to Be Forgotten.’” Newsweek. “When his schoolmates teased him, he gave it back to them with a jaunty, ‘Come on, you want some!’” Philadelphia Inquirer. “In 1988 his father, Modesto [a retired Navy career officer turned stockbroker], fled the country to avoid arrest on charges of misappropriating funds.” Time. “Court records say Andrew Cunanan moved to the Philippines in November 1988 to live with his father, returning after only a month because of ‘squalid conditions.’” Minneapolis Star Tribune. “MaryAnn Cunanan now gets food stamps.” Time. “She thinks her son supported himself with money he got from wealthy older men. He was a ‘high-class homosexual prostitute,’ she said.” UPI.

“In late April, DeSilva/ Cunanan told friends he was leaving town, starting with a trip to Minneapolis to visit David Madson and Jeffrey Trail.” Time. Four of his friends threw him a farewell party at his favorite Hillcrest restaurant, California Cuisine ‘The party lasted almost three hours; they ate beef tenderloin, ostrich, and trout. And, for once, Cunanan didn’t cover the food tab – for $220. The waiter who served the party said Cunanan seemed strange, and spoke as if he were reciting prepared lines. ‘He said, “This is a very bittersweet time for me.” Then he leaned back, put his hands behind his head and said, ‘Everyone has their own version of what they think I am. Nobody knows the truth.’” Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The reporting in Andrew’s hometown was disappointing. The San Diego Union Tribune pretty much just ran stories off the wire services. The town’s two gay papers devoted full front pages to the case (“America’s Finest City Home to America’s Most Wanted”), but offered no insightful anecdotes from “the community.” Area TV stations maintained a weeklong vigil in front of California Cuisine, but were reduced to running stories about how they couldn’t get a story because no one wanted to talk.

“The murders have sent many gay people in San Diego into a panic,” reported the weekly Reader. “From the Chee-Chee Club downtown to the International Male fashion store in Hillcrest, people said they ‘knew nothing’ about Cunanan or were unwilling to talk.”

The Reader did manage to interview one friend of murder victim Jeff Trail. He described what happened when he tried to procure photos of Andrew for the FBI: “I couldn’t get one person in this community to give me a picture. They thought of [Andrew] as this rich guy who gave away thousand-dollar coats and gave away shoes and paid for dinners and tipped well and should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Some said they’d actually take him in right now if he needed shelter.”

On June 7, America’s Most Wanted dubbed Andrew “Public Enemy Number One.” Their profile included an interview with Andrew’s most recent roommate, shown only in extreme close-up of his teeth. Another San Diegan interviewed, however, was not at all shy about appearing on camera. Under the landmark pink “HILLCREST” neon sign, Nicole Ramirez Murray, the town’s best known gay activist, hammed it up in alternately male and female drag, boasting that while he had only seen Andrew once at a party, he was intimately acquainted with the two worlds Andrew moved between: “One, a very closeted social elite. A very powerful movers-and-shakers world. Then he was among his peers, which was your party boys and your bar and restaurant scenes.” Murray offered that Andrew “probably could be in drag now. I would advise him to be in drag.”

A week later, Murray scolded readers of his gossip column in the Gay & Lesbian Times: “This whole murder spree has taken on a media circus of its own, with just about everyone claiming that they knew him.… Please! Was I a close or good friend of his? No,” he snapped, “and no one really was.”

In truth, just about everybody in the San Diego gay scene did know “Andrew DeSilva.”

The friends I shared with Andrew confirm that the media got at least two things right: Andrew never forgot a name. And he liked to give people presents. In recent months, perhaps hundreds of men have stared at their own personal mementos of the now famous accused “spree killer.”

To retrace how my world overlapped with Andrew’s, I returned to San Diego, one of his presents hanging around my neck.

* * *


Inevitably, news stories on Andrew invoke Californian inclinations for shallowness, spectacle, and lunacy.  But San Diego’s huge military population makes Hillcrest very different from West Hollywood.

Quoting Murray, an East Coast daily reported: “The San Diego gay community can be particularly secretive, even from the inside. Gay military men and women based in San Diego fear their careers will be destroyed if they are discovered [Note: the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was very much in effect at this time], as do wealthy retirees still active in political circles.” Murray should know. In addition to having 30 years’ experience as a political operative, he is allegedly a former street drag prostitute who specialized in turning military tricks. He told a reporter: “When I saw Cunanan, I thought, there’s a guy who knows how to handle himself, and he’s making a career, or whatever it is he’s doing.”

For my part I never recognized a kindred spirit in Andrew. Flashy, flush with cash, wildly exuberant and always grinning, he seemed if anything almost my opposite.

I sometimes have a hard time being sociable. But for the first year or two of the four years I lived in Hillcrest (Jay and I left San Diego in September 1996), I spent almost every night in the gay bars and dance clubs, hanging out with my own circle of military boys and hunting for more. My objective was not usually sex – I preferred other venues for that – but to befriend and win the trust of men I could interview for my books. By 1994 I’d met hundreds of sailors and Marines.

Two military men, however, got to know me better than the others. Out of all my San Diego friends, they also happen to have spent the most time with Andrew. Tim, a Navy Lieutenant, met Andrew through Jeff Trail in 1993. At first he saw Andrew mostly at Flicks, the Hillcrest video bar next door to California Cuisine.

“He was a very engaging personality. I liked him very much and spent a good amount of time hanging out with him.” They started going out to dinner together one-on-one. Andrew liked to gossip, but he also enjoyed talking about books. “He was well read, and very intelligent. And in San Diego that’s not a very common thing to run across.”

Tim was puzzled when another Navy officer he knew expressed dislike for Andrew. “I thought, ‘What’s not to like about him?’” Over time, however, Tim began to notice things about Andrew that bothered him.

“Andrew would never reveal very much, other than the stories he would always tell everyone about himself. He told me that he grew up in a very wealthy family. That his parents made their money from owning parking lots in Manhattan. That he had been an intelligence officer in the Israeli Navy. He told me that he went to Yale as an undergrad, and that he was a member of Skull and Bones, the very exclusive fraternity. These pieces started not fitting together.”

More suspicious was Andrew’s presentation. “He had these pat stories, and it was always as if he was doing a performance. I mean, the same inflections of voice, the same types of facial expressions at the same points in the stories. I started to get the feeling I wasn’t talking to someone real. Almost like the way someone famous behaves when they’re being interviewed on TV.”

Tim was uncomfortable when Andrew insisted on giving him a fancy calculator. “That was another thing that kind of set off the alarm bells. ‘This guy’s trying to buy me.’”

I asked Tim what he thought Andrew wanted from him.

“Andrew was someone who craved attention. He craved having people around him who would somehow reflect what he wanted to pretend to be. And you saw that with the old men he hung around with. Because they had money.”

Tim, who is muscular and handsome, does not believe that Andrew was sexually attracted to him. “I never, ever heard him talk about having sex. And even when he did express interest in someone, it was like so put on, it was almost over the top. He would just make extravagant gestures, talking about some guy’s body and, ‘Oh baby, What I would love to do to you.’ But it was never anything you could take seriously.”

Tim says his awareness that Andrew was not what he seemed came in stages, “I started feeling a little queasy, like maybe he was a little too saccharine. And then there were the lies. The final thing was when I heard that Andrew was trying to get Jay to sell drugs. That was the last straw. And I was going to…” Tim laughs. “I’m so glad I didn’t do this; people look at me and think I’m a brawler. The truth is, I’m just a big gentle guy. But I was going to go up to Andrew and threaten him. Now that would have been among the dumber moves I would have made in my short life.”

Another Navy lieutenant told me that Andrew was always ready “to add another military person to his list of friends. What drew me to him was that he knew everyone and was a friendly guy. Since I was assigned to a ship, I would be gone for weeks at a time and did not make many friends right away. So when I would go into the bars, Andrew was someone who I could stand and talk with when I didn’t know anyone else.”

Tim agrees that Andrew was a good contact for military men. “While I was in the Navy, it was an awkward thing for me to go and meet people socially. Because I had so much that I had to hide, and I was just so protective. Here was a guy who could introduce you to anyone. Maybe part of the reason that military people hung around Andrew was that he was just kind of a hub of a wheel.”

I began to realize that Andrew’s life overlapped with mine more than I had expected.

Military boys make easy targets for all sorts of predators. Andrew drew them into his circle by showering them with money and attention. I just gave them attention. He pretended to be a rich former military officer. I admitted to being an obscure, usually broke author, but even that impressed them. In creating our personal mythologies Andrew and I both adopted new last names. We both haunted San Diego gay bars courting beautiful young men that we didn’t want to have sex with (how many other men can say that?).

And, we competed for the favor of one young military man.

* * *

Steven Zeeland playing dead amongst the cacti with Jay, east of San Diego – some years before meeting Cunanan


“Jay looks like a baby seal – just about to be clubbed.” This was the parting shot from the sailor from who I inherited the Restoril and Jay, an adorable 21-year-old Marine from rural Wisconsin who attached himself to me like a burr, taking the place previously occupied by the sailor.

I don’t remember now exactly when in 1993 Jay first mentioned Andrew, or when Andrew first came by our apartment to pick him up, or when I first started getting worried, as opposed to merely feeling jealous. But for two years, Andrew was my biggest rival for Jay’s affection.

“A social cyclone” is Jay’s term for Andrew. “He could always move in and dominate any room. Tim introduced us. Andrew struck up a conversation with me. I was in the Marine Corps at the time so he asked me a lot of questions about that. And then he was gone. The next weekend I bumped into him again. He recognized me, and he remembered my name – which is a rarity. He just said, ‘Follow me.’ We went to the bar, where he proceeded to buy me two gin and tonics, one for each hand, and tipped the bartender $20.’”

I asked Jay what he thought attracted Andrew to him.

“I don’t know. I mean, at that time I had a certain unworldliness. I was probably easy to manipulate.”

Andrew gave Jay presents.

“That camera. An electric razor.” He laughs. “This watch.”

But Jay, too, insists that Andrew was not interested in him sexually.

“The topic never came up. He did joke about it once, but it was in a big group of people. Andrew was bending over and backing into people. I was not singled out. He was doing it to a bunch of people.”

Occasionally Jay did observe other men trying to pick up Andrew.

“Andrew would just lead them along, and be all coy and seductive. Usually they were young, flitty dance bunnies. Andrew would buy them drinks. And finally, right as the bar was closing and they were all worked up, he’d say, ‘It was nice to meet you. Goodbye.’”

Dining at California Cuisine was a new experience for an enlisted Marine who once lived in a trailer park.

“I was always hungry afterwards. He saw my reaction when I saw the prices, and when the small portions arrived. He assured me that if I wanted to, we’d go get something else. But I was never demanding. I think that’s probably another reason why he was attracted to me. I never wanted anything else from him. At first I was uncomfortable with him buying me drinks, so I’d buy my own. But he figured a way around that. He’d buy the drinks before I could. He knew I wouldn’t turn them away once they were already bought.”

Jay and Andrew went to the movies together. “I actually got to go see Pulp Fiction with him,” Jay laughs. “Andrew was all animated and yelling. He especially liked it when the person’s head was blown off in the back of the car. He proclaimed it the best movie ever made.”

Jay also accompanied Andrew to a gay Tupperware Party. “He won my melon-baller for me. I was his partner in the little game where they quiz you on the various features of a certain product. He wanted me to get the orange-peeler, but I said, “No, I have to have the melon-baller.”

Jay says he never questioned Andrew’s stories. “He was so knowledgeable about such a variety of subjects that he could easily deceive anybody. He knew things about the Marine Corps that – if you studied history you wouldn’t even know these things. He could rattle off all this detailed information about life in the Israeli military. Nobody ever challenged him. Not in San Diego.

“There was one time when I actually spoke back to him. I mean, before the last time at the tide pools. It was one night when we were at the bar. I was a little bit depressed. He already bought me so many drinks I was drunk, and I said, ‘I really don’t want another drink.’ And he snapped back, ‘Shut the fuck up. You don’t know what you want.’ He wasn’t laughing. He was very serious. And he got me another drink and he forced me to stay there until I drank it.”

Jay pauses. “You know what? There was one person that he did have sex with. And afterwards every time that person came around he tried to shut him down real quick.”

Andrew wasn’t a “military chaser” like me, but he did court a lot of military men. Were military guys more susceptible to his approach?

“Well, yeah. Most of the military guys out there didn’t have that many solid connections to the gay community. And him being knowledgeable, knowing the whole rank structure, it made him easier to get along with.”

How was Andrew different from me?

Jay laughs. “He was very different from you. He had money! And he was very social, very outgoing. He wasn’t… Scandinavian like you. Andrew was not at all reserved.”

Were there any ways in which we were similar?

Well, you both paid attention to me.”

* * *

The Navy restroom where Zeeland met Trail


Between the stalls in a men’s room on one of San Diego’s Navy bases is a waist-high hole barely large enough to accommodate a man’s finger. Lunchtime is the best time to visit it. Uniformed sailors seek out the hole on their break, as do Navy men in civilian clothes attending classes held in the adjacent conference center.

In 1995 I told Jay about an especially beautiful man I’d encountered there, for the third time. The guy was shy, and only once, briefly, did he kneel down and in accordance with the prevailing etiquette stick his penis under the stall. Most of the time we just watched each other through the hole, or took turns sticking our pinkies through it, touching, just barely, the tips of each other’s penises. His face (I saw through the gap in the door as he arrived, and from the parking lot afterward as I watched him drive away) was boyishly cute. On one of his bronzed, hairless legs was a small tattoo. I’d studied it closely and identified it as a cartoon mouse.

Jay asked: “What kind of car did he drive?”

I told him.

“What color sticker?” he pressed, referring to the Department Of Defense decals that identify service personnel as officers or enlisted.

“Blue,” I muttered.

He laughed. “That’s Jeff,” he said. “He’s one of Andrew’s friends.”

Later I was introduced to Jeff at the gay dance club West Coast. We shook hands, he looked at the floor. I didn’t ask Jeff if I could interview him. By then my book on sailors was finished. And he had already done his part for the gays-in-the-military debate, appearing on a network tabloid news show on the topic, in silhouette.

Jeff used to go to the beach with Jay and Andrew.

“Andrew really, really liked Jeff. Jeff was given respect, and space which Andrew didn’t give to that many other people. Andrew always referred to Jeff as ‘the alpha male,’ as in Jane Goodall’s research into chimps. He did it mainly as a joke. He’d say that to show proper honor to the alpha male you have to expose your genitals. He went up to Jeff and imitated a chimpanzee showing his genitals to the alpha male. Not his actual genitals, he just opened his legs.”

Tim knew Jeff, too. Both men graduated the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Jeff Trail, Cunanan’s first (known) victim

“Jeff was a guy who absolutely loved having attention heaped upon him. He craved it. In fact, we used to make fun of him, that if you didn’t pay him enough attention he would start to behave like, ‘You’re not paying attention to me!’ But it wasn’t like he would be putting on performances and making grand gestures to get it. He just liked having people around. He threw parties, and they were very neighborly types of gatherings. They were not the self-absorbed spectacles of an Andrew DeSilva. Jeff was very… Illinoisian. He was just a good-natured, folksy kind of guy. He was such a lot of fun. Really great sense of humor. Very, very loyal type of person.

“When I heard that Andrew was trying to recruit Jay to sell drugs, I spoke with Jeff. At that time I was probably hanging out socially with Jeff more than anyone else. And I said something about Andrew: ‘I just don’t like the guy. There’s something not right about him. He lies a lot. He’s involved in some illicit activities. I just want to stay clear of him.’ The funny part is, Jeff agreed with me. But Jeff’s response was that Andrew considered Jeff to be his best friend, so how could Jeff turn him away?”

I remind Tim of what he told me in his interview in Sailors and Sexual Identity: “No matter how old a group of sailors are, because of the retarded lifestyle of the Navy, they’re a very boyish group. But beyond boyishness, there’s just an incredible vulnerability about them. You realize how much these guys need to be taken care of.” I tell him the cartoon mouse tattoo makes me think of Jeff as especially boy-like.

“Yeah. Actually, that’s a very good description of him. He was kind of like an overgrown 16-year-old.”

Why did he stay so close to somebody like Andrew?

“I think it was Jeff’s loyalty. I think it was also Jeff’s love of attention.”

So Andrew himself craved attention, but he was also a master at providing it.

“Most definitely. I think that was one of the things that probably drew me to him. I mean, it’s not something you like to admit, that you have an ego that needs stroking, but I think when it’s done subtly enough, it’s very comforting until you realize, ‘Hey, I’m, being stroked here.’”

Tim attended the memorial service held for Jeff Trail, Andrew’s friend and allegedly his first victim. I didn’t find out about it in time, but I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway. Some people would probably question the legitimacy of my connection to the murdered former lieutenant. But I couldn’t sleep the night I read that his mother said his bludgeoned body was unrecognizable.

* * *


Coming home to Hillcrest felt like slipping into a blood-warm pool, the air scented with eucalyptus and jasmine, painfully beautiful semi-naked creatures bobbing about me. At first I marveled that anyone should need Xanax in such a naturally tranquilizing atmosphere.

From the airport I went directly to the place where Jeff and I had met.

I am not authorized to visit Navy bases, but the guard shack at the entrance was unmanned. Out of habit I peered inside, looking for Polaroids like the ones I’d seen posted in guard shacks of sailors blacklisted for misconduct. There were none. Instead, there was an extremely poor quality photocopy of Andrew’s FBI poster, the photos all but unrecognizable.

The men’s room was deserted. I checked for graffiti but found only a message from a person who signed himself “Zyklon.” He wrote that he killed faggots, boasting “the bodies are never found.”

I tried to use the Polaroid camera Andrew had given Jay. It jammed. In my frustration I used my Swiss Army Knife to pry open the back of the camera just enough to slice through the print, which came out black but for a blot that Jay, when I showed it to him, said looked like dried blood. I took another shot. Again the camera jammed. I managed to extract this photo intact. It was completely white. How perfect, I thought, that the “man of many faces,” a man who the FBI says leaves no fingerprints, and has no distinguishing scars or tattoos, should give a camera that records no images.

But Andrew was everywhere in San Diego. At least in casual conversation.

Many of the acquaintances I talked to about Andrew seemed unaware that I had not been living in San Diego for eight months. It was as though I never left. And they appeared blithely unconcerned about the prospect of Andrew coming home to kill them. Instead, they joked about him. A man who works at the copy shop where I used to get my mail pressed his fingers to his temples and deadpanned: “Someone was just in here asking for you. Some guy named… Andrew Cunanan.”

A high ranking Marine Corps officer I ran into in a coffeehouse found it humorous that he had let a prostitute, drug addict, and accused serial killer use his cell phone. In a gay bar, I walked into the men’s room and hesitated before eschewing the urinals in favor of a stall. “You don’t have to worry, I’m not going to kill you,” a stranger standing at the urinals reproached me. “I’m not Andrew Cunanan.”

When I got the camera fixed the results were almost as disappointing as the blank photographs. The Polaroid Captiva 95’s format is ill-suited to exterior shots of, for example, the apartment buildings of alleged serial killers. The Captiva was designed as a “party camera.” The best photo taken with the camera Andrew gave Jay is still the first. Shot in a bar – by Jeff Trail – it depicts the reputed psycho killer in Nautica jacket, his head pressed to Jay’s chest, a smile on his lips that now, at least, seems to betray trouble.

Cunanan with Zeeland’s boyfriend Jay – photographed by Jeff Trail

* * *


Andrew has been everywhere; nationally too, often in many places at once. An FBI spokesman told America’s Most Wanted, “He’s been sighted in practically every state in the union.”

A Marine Captain who lives in the Bay Area emailed me: “The latest news reports put him in San Francisco. The community is ALL abuzz about it, rife with sightings and reports of encounters. The five o’clock news was actually interviewing bartenders and regulars from the Castro who had seen him. It was really weird, like Elvis sightings or something. I don’t think there’s ever been a gay serial killer like this. It’s very different from Dahmer and the other guy who dressed up like a clown.” This was before Andrew turned up in Miami.

Andrew‘s place in the pantheon of gay serial killers seemed secured when the FBI added him to its Ten Most Wanted list. The Advocate fretted about the bad PR. The San Diego Gay & Lesbian Times editorialized: “Neither Ellen [DeGeneres] nor Cunanan are representative for most people in the gay and lesbian community.”

It was hard to know whether to cringe or laugh at America’s Most Wanted’s interview with Andrew’s roommate’s teeth. Asked the excruciatingly earnest reporter: “There’s been a lot of speculation about the motivation behind these terrible crimes. Was it AIDS causing the fury?”

The Teeth replied: “The HIV-positive thing is a big hoax, I would like to say. It’s just a big rumor.”

Tabloid TV could buy that. But when asked: “Or was it the effect of Cunanan’s interest in sadomasochism?” The polished white incisors chattered: “Andrew did have a, um, fetish for S&M. It never crossed over into his day-to-day activities. Just because someone likes, you know, wrist ties, or, or, anything of that nature doesn’t mean they’re going to go out and kill somebody.” Scary horror movie music erupted as the Fox TV series’ producers cut to a zippered mouth being pulled shut on a leather hood.

The San Francisco Examiner reported that a man “with whom Cunanan had planned to share a two bedroom apartment… got chills when he heard the news of the killings. ‘I’m glad we didn’t become roommates. I feel bad for him in a way, though. If someone had reached out to him, maybe he wouldn’t have gone on this killing spree?’”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted the author of a police textbook on homicide investigation as an expert in “homosexual killings.” He called Andrew “a classic example of that type of serial killer. This is a psycho-sexual manifestation of Cunanan’s rage. Every time he kills a man, he kills that bad part of himself that he doesn’t like.”

“Why is it,” Mark Simpson, author of Anti-Gay, wrote me [collected in The Queen is Dead], “that these days if you’re homosexual you’re not allowed to be evil? You’re just misunderstood. Really, I sympathize with Andrew. You go through all that trouble of murdering your friends, hitting them over the head with claw hammers, cutting their throats with bow saws, torturing them, wrapping them in plastic, and still people won’t accept that you kill not because you’re full of ‘self-loathing,’ but because you enjoy it. Especially when it’s written all over your face. I looked at that snap of Andrew with Jay which you sent me, and immediately thought: ‘Who is that mad, scary bitch?’ But then, people say the same about me.”

I wonder if Andrew and I got some of the same laughs out of his press. When police found the murdered millionaire’s Lexus, the car was strewn with Andrew’s press clippings.

I know that there are many people Andrew would want to kill before me. But I’ve had to consider whether publishing this essay might not move me up on his list. Maybe he would grant me an exclusive interview, my last and best remembered. At its close, in a slightly desperate stab at humor, I’d quote the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Mam is Hard To Find”: “You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you come from nice people!” As my body fell limp to the floor, my cat would rub affectionately against the killer’s leg.

Of course in writing this, I’m indulging in the same drama queen silliness of Andrew-spotters nationwide. Really, Andrew never paid that much attention to me. But he did once offer to kill me.

* * *


Military boys share something of the attractiveness of the accused. There is a vulnerability and menace about them that derives from their apprenticeship in institutionalized violence, but also from the troubled backgrounds that propel so many of them toward the military, especially the Marine Corps.

One evening Jay returned from dinner with Andrew at California Cuisine to discover that his car had been broken into. Missing were a green suede jacket and a car vacuum cleaner. Probably it was something in his past that led Jay to conclude it was me who had violated his trunk with a screwdriver. He appeared at the door and, to my confusion, wordlessly began packing up his belongings.

Later, Jay related that he went to Andrew for advice. (Tim was out of town.) Andrew told him that he did not know me well enough to say whether I was the type of person who would violently betray the trust of his best friend. “But,” Jay told me cheerfully, “he said that if I wanted him to, he would kill you anyway.”

This offer didn’t seem a big deal at the time. After all, Jay had confided that he himself sometimes dreamed, and daydreamed, about murdering me. “I won’t tell you the details,” he once chuckled, “but it involves an ice pick.”

When I brought this up during our conversation about Andrew, Jay protested: “Doesn’t everybody sometimes dream of murder?”

He has a point. And Jay was, for the most part, a lovable psycho. Even if he did confess that he equates fucking another man with sticking a steak knife into him, to my knowledge he’s never physically hurt anyone who didn’t want it.

Still, after meeting us, Mark Simpson (who’s had his own hair-raising involvements with military boys) wrote me that although he admired our unorthodox partnership, “perhaps I will yet read of one or both of your bloody ends, a la Joe Orton, in the National Enquirer.”

* * *


I don’t know Andrew well enough to say whether he’s the type of person that would violently betray the trust of his best friend. But the incident that marked the turning point in Jay’s – and my –

relationship with Andrew will not come as a surprise to anyone versed in serial killer narratives.

Jay: “We were down at the beach in the tide pools. There was a really, really big anemone that I found. Andrew shrieked and said, ‘I’m going to catch a crab for it!’ So he went around to a rock, and there was a crab that Andrew saw, and it crawled into a little crevice. He tried to dig it out with his fingers and it was pinching at him. He got frustrated and took out his keys. I said, “You know, there’s probably other crabs in other places. We really don’t have to feed the anemone.’

“He snapped at me to shut up. Then he started jabbing his keys into the hole. He had a very focused look in his eye. He just kept jabbing until the crab was basically mush, and there were little pieces falling out. He took the little pieces and fed those to the anemone. Then he went around and found a different, smaller crab that he fed alive to the anemone.”

So that disturbed you?

“Oh yeah.”


“Well, there was a certain amount of violence. And he’d already shown me his gun. I guess I kind of took your and Tim’s words to heart and started distancing myself. Which wasn’t too hard to do because a month later I started up school, which almost totally removed me from the picture.”

Jay majored in marine biology.

“Sometimes I would still see Andrew out. He’d say, ‘You haven’t called me,’ but he was never reproachful. He would say, ‘My number’s still the same.’ He’d buy me drinks. It was like I never left.”

* * *


It seems safe to call Andrew a particularly extreme casualty of what author Frank Browning calls the “burden we all face in contemporary consumer society, where we accumulate concepts and slogans about experience instead of living inside of experience.” But, obviously, questions remain.

Writing this essay gave me nightmares. After I got back from San Diego, I visited a low-income medical clinic. Offhandedly I told the doctor, “I need a refill on my prescription for Xanax.”

He grimaced, sighed, and demanded: “Do you have some insight into why you need this?” Ultimately he condescended to prescribe me exactly seven tablets, protesting: “Xanax is such an ’80s drug.”

The night I took my first licit Xanax I had my worst nightmare about Andrew to date. In my waking life I am a pacifist. In my dream, I cut Andrew to pieces with a knife.

© Steven Zeeland 2018 – website.

The Queen is Dead, Zeeland & Simpson’s collected critically-acclaimed collected correspondence from this period, is now available on Kindle. patrons can read here Zeeland’s ‘Making Money Out of Andrew’ July 1997 letter to Mark Simpson about  the background to this piece, how the Seattle Stranger spiked it – until Cunanan shot Versace to death. And how he nearly got a five figure advance to write a book about ‘Uncle Monkey’ – until a cornered Cunanan selfishly shot himself in the head.

Morrissey & David Hoyle Spent The Day in Bed

I recently got around to watching the video for ‘Spent the Day In Bed’, Morrissey’s first single from his new Low in High School album.

Since writing Saint Morrissey – which was something akin to an exorcism – I’ve taken a somewhat more leisurely approach to the Stretford Bard’s output. Perhaps I’m slightly disappointed that he didn’t have the decency to finally retire incommunicado to Bognor Regis after it was published over a decade ago.

Instead my 58 year-old subject has, very selfishly, continued to tour furiously, put out new albums, as well as open his big Manc mouth and managing to epater les bourgeoisie fairly regularly, getting his name in the papers. I’m positively dreading all the updating I’d have to do for a new edition. Just when you think you’ve pinned and mounted your butterfly….

To make matters worse, ‘Spent The Day in Bed’ is Morrissey’s strongest, catchiest, most lyrical single for years.

Yes, the themes are very familiar – you might almost say… ‘tired’. The lines ‘Spent the day in bed/As the workers stay enslaved’ could be a three decades on sequel to ‘Still Ill’: ‘And if you must go to work tomorrow/Well if I were you I wouldn’t bother…’. And also ‘Nowhere Fast’ of course, with its lying in bed thinking about life and death and discovering ‘neither one particularly appeal to me’.

Morrissey - Spent the Day in Bed (Official Video)

‘Spent the Day in Bed’ and the video are full of lazy intimations of mortality and gallows humour – but this time, a third of a century on, and with recent cancer scares, the gallows looms rather larger. Those sheets for which he’s paid and in which he’s laid could also be winding sheets, just as those pillows are ‘like pillars’.

But why not lie in your bed mausoleum taunting death?

‘Oh time do as I wish/Oh time do as I wish’

And avoiding life. Or at least, the impostor version of it we have to submit to:

‘No bus, no boss, no rain, no train./No emasculation, no castration’

In the video, when he gets to ‘no castration’, I think I detect a flicker of a self-mocking grin.

The video is almost as darkly funny as the lyrics. Morrissey in a Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? wheelchair is trundled into what looks like a dimly-lit 1960s Manchester working men’s club by a smirking, fresh-faced Joey Barton (I’d like to think Moz insisted that he get a shave if he wanted to be in his promo).

Barton, a famous Morrissey fan, is a professional ruffian footballer and tattooed boy from Birkenhead – well, Huyton if you want to be pedantic. And who wouldn’t want to be wheeled around by him in their dotage? Especially since Bette Davis is no longer available. (Though a passable stand-in does make an appearance later…)

Moz then performs the entire song seated, head tilted backwards, perhaps to catch the little light there is, perhaps to stretch out his 58-year-old neck, while his band perform on their feet around him – finally falling off his chair and out of shot at the end. A reminder that:

‘Life ends in death/So, there’s nothing wrong with/Being good to yourself/Be good to yourself for once!’

Life ends in death, so pamper yourself. By rehearsing it.

But it is the dreamy ‘Oh time do as I wish’ interlude in the video which is the main reason I’m writing this post. I almost fell off my chair when my old chum the performance artist David Hoyle suddenly appeared onstage at this point doing some sexy dancing with something shimmy. Watched avidly by Morrissey and Joey Barton, the latter hungrily popping peanuts into his mouth.

David, someone I got to know in the early 80s in London when we were both teenage runaways to Sodom-on-Thames, now lives in Manchester but grew up in Blackpool – where as a teenager he performed Shirley Bassey numbers in working men’s clubs, rather like the one in the video.

Hoyle and Morrissey have a lot in common – both northern, scornful, working class poet-prophets of the absurdity of desire, both determined not to keep the customer satisfied, and both keeping on keeping on, though one rather closer to the breadline than the other. It’s about time they got together.

And in fact much of the sentiment of ‘Spent the Day in Bed’ is also present in many of David’s shows (you can see many of them on YouTube) – which are also chock-full of gallows humour.

David likes to remind his audience regularly that they’re all going to die, despite their precious identities, ideologies and Sainsburys loyalty cards. He also likes to urge them to not bother to go to work tomorrow and try a little bit of anarchy instead. No bus, no boss, no train, no rain….

Here’s a review I wrote of one of David’s shows at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London in 1998, a frightening two decades ago, when he was still appearing as The Divine David (a persona he was shortly to kill off – before it killed him). All will be explained. Or perhaps not….

Joan and Bette together again


by Mark Simpson (Independent on Sunday, 1998)

Last year a one-man avant-garde whirlwind arrived on the London alternative cabaret circuit. Looking and sounding like Bette Davis meets Iggy Pop (and drinks him under the table) he proclaimed the death of drag and traditional crowd-pleasing en-ter-tain-ment.

Oh yes, and the redundancy of sexuality and gender as well.

“REMEMBER!” he would howl at the audience, after some crazed portrait-painting or singing Bowie’s Heroes in the style of Tommy Steele, “you may be standing there feeling very proud of yourself for being ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ , ‘a straight’ or a” – spitting the word out like a piece of four-day old mince he found lodged between his teeth – “‘gay’, but you’ve all got something in common, something much more certain than any of these fragile illusions. YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!”

“Now,” he’d add softly, “isn’t that lovely, ladies and gentlemen? Doesn’t that give you a warm feeling inside?”

But The Divine David has decided that this isn’t the kind of thing that the punters want. The embodiment of the avant-garde after the death of the avant-garde, the zombie Spirit of Humanity that used to urge audiences not to go to work tomorrow or pay any bills has gone corporate. A glossy colour leaflet advertises his latest show, Viva 5 Apathy, with pictures of smiling people in suits clutching lap-tops at board-meetings and includes a statement from the President, The Divine DavidTM, about how market research has convinced him that what is needed is a more consumer-led product.

“This time,” he concludes, “it’s corporate!”

Although this sensible mission statement is undermined slightly by a photo on the last page depicting The Divinely Skinny One snapped from behind in a pair of purple briefs, looking over his shoulder, sloppily lip-sticked lips parted coquettishly, mouthing a faux surprised “OH!”.

At the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, now re-named the Royal Vauxhall Conference Centre, Jay Cloth, The Divine David’s delectable-yet-efficient secretary and receptionist, takes your money (£3 waged/£3.50 unwaged), issues you with a name badge and does a spot of niche-market research, showing you some flash cards featuring fire, ambulance, police and mountain rescue and asking: “Have you used any of these services recently?”

The Vauxhall Tavern is a perfect venue for the Divine David’s reinvention of himself. Built in the mid-nineteenth century as a music-hall venue, after the Second World War it became a drag pub. In the seventies disco lights, black paint and a dj booth was added and it became a gay drag pub. Corinthian columns, flaking paint and a century of tobacco smoke, alcohol fumes and rowdy, anarchic performance reaches its apotheosis and nadir in The Divine David.

Except, of course, he’s now gone corporate. “I’ve learnt that people want entertainment”’ he announces when he finally steps out onto the stage, wearing a business-like mauve woollen twin-set with padded shoulders Herman Munster would have envied. “Audiences don’t want anything that will stretch them a bit. There’s going to be none of that avant-garde rubbish tonight. None of you need go home tonight to your rented accommodation feeling stupid.” He then performs a cappella quite the most disturbing version of ‘You Made Me Love You’ – so inane that it takes on meanings you never wanted to think about before: I didn’t wanna do it…

Entertainment over, David conducts a flip-chart seminar on how to “make a go of it” in business. “First,” he says, all schoolmarmish, “you take your self,” and writes ‘SELF’ at the top of the chart. “And then you get rid of that.” He strikes the word through. “And you become a what? Does anybody know?”

“A CUNT!” shouts out a drunken Scottish voice.

“Yes, a cunt that’s right.” He writes ‘CUNT’. “And what do you end up in?”


“A nightmare, exactly,” agrees David in a businesslike fashion, writing ‘= A NIGHTMARE’. “Does everyone see how that works? That’s lovely.”

The Divine David, corporate or avant-garde, doesn’t have much time for sentimentality. At one point he declares his support for Tracy Edwards: ‘Any woman who kills a man is a friend of mine.’

A little later he ruminates: “When I’m at a garden party or some such social occasion, people often come up to me and say, ‘Oh, David, there’s a gay over here, you must meet him.’ And I say, ‘Oh a gay, I know all about that – that’s about gristle up your shitter – if memory serves me right….’.

Not very fond of ‘men’ or ‘gays’, The Divine David has what some might call a certain distance on his predicament. Others, of course, will accuse him of ‘self-hatred’. But the whole point of The Divine David is drama and conflict, a refusal to become what you are supposed to be, a refusal to relax into identity, into niche markets and corporate/corporal values, into predictability. Or profitability.

So before the second half of his performance, we hear him announce over the p.a.: “Ladies und gentlemen, I’ve a confession to make. I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve gone avant-garde again!”

Out he prances on stage in an alarming vented black body-suit, stretched over his gangly frame and his head, leaving a mad little oval of smeared red lips and melting mascara eyes. To the tune of a disco rhumba he then dances and mimes in a delightfully demented way with a couple of hoops, including an hilarious wheelchair moment straight out of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.

The Divine David is back – quite the scariest, funniest, smartest, truest, noblest thing you can see for three quid. Invest now.

In the 21st Century David Hoyle is on Facebook.