This is real, honest-to-gosh, groundbreaking news:
Everybody‘s covering this story but it still seems an underplayed scoop. The AIDS epidemic struck while I was in my late twenties. I’d already experienced the tail end of the free love ’60s and the nonstop orgy ’70s. Then, coincidentally slithering in with the Reagan Era, the Age of AIDS dumped a bucket of ice water on all the bacchanals we’d come to think would be the new norm forever and ever amen.
My pals and I hung out in the punk clubs and the warehouse-sized gay bars back in 1977 and ’78. The joints throbbed with heavy bass beats and thrusting pelvises. They reeked of sweat, leather, and poppers. Swear to god, some of the more hard core boy bars redid their interior decor in non-porous painted cinder block so as to allow the clean up guys to simply hose the walls and floors down after a night of dancing and thrusting and if I have to explain why…, well, you just had to be there.
Then AIDS came along and, of course, the party was over. The crowd I hung with walked around for the next couple of decades in stunned silence, mourning their dead friends, scared to death that some quick clutch and grab with a little pony in chaps that time in an unlit corner of the Manhole a few years back might have left them with a ticking time bomb inside in their bloodstream.
All sorts of rock stars, artists, actors, hell, even bank presidents were dropping dead. All because they’d ridden bareback one or thirty too many times. Sex, it was said, equalled death.
Had there been even a hint of a headline that some kind of cure for AIDS was on the horizon, it’d have been the biggest news since…, since forever. For pity’s sake, it seemed every single goddamned episode of Oprah featured some concerned looking suburban mom standing up and asking the guest — whoever s/he may have been and whatever they hell they were talking about — “What about AIDS?” As if merely stepping outside the house put one at risk for catching the virus.
It can be argued that today’s reality that kids simply do not go outside to play the way every single generation since the hominids came down out of the trees in central Africa had come about in large part because parents were petrified their trophy children would somehow, in some bizarre way, get infected.
“A Cure for AIDS” would have rivaled “Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor” and “President Shot In Dallas.”
Now, after Freddie Mercury, Keith Haring, Rock Hudson, Anthony Perkins, Arthur Ashe, Liberace, Gia Carangi, Roy Cohn, Perry Ellis, Ryan White, Terry Dolan, Halston, Gil Scott-Heron, the dad on “The Brady Bunch,” John Holmes, Glenn Burke, Rudolf Nureyev, Steve Rubell, Easy-E, Max Robinson, and perhaps 40 million other, less celebrated, souls have died of the disease researchers offer a glimmer of hope that the thing can be eliminated the way smallpox, measles, and a few other scourges almost have been.
Really. This shit is big.
Ironically, it takes humankind’s most powerful tool that magnifies excruciatingly tiny things, the scanning electron microscope, to show us exactly what has caused all this death and panic the last 40 or 50 years.