Blueboy had a small part in the push to transvalue issues of class specificity into issues of taste—what’s classy, what’s not—rather than only into realpolitik. Some of the magazine’s models were trade, which was the vernacular before gay-for-pay, and before the entire mainstreaming of sexual preference—with its radical potential for undoing rote and rigid forms of relationality—became gay-for-pay or pay-for-gay—PayPal (read GayPal) in a sense, before the fact. In the quest to sell its dream, America has always privileged affluence, a dream of financial security, even clout, wooing a striving majority, whether they were part of a minority population or not, to vote with their wallets.
The fight to end the AIDS pandemic would rally grassroots coalitions and would stymie that push, if only for a moment; putting the action between the sheets into the streets. Fran Lebowitz has provided some of the most searching thinking on how we still live in the wake of that moment, the consequence of kinds of audience, many of whom would have read Blueboy alongside Interview:
When I was young, you know, later ’70s early ’80s, my first real audience was from Interview magazine, and at that time that audience was 99.9% homosexual, male homosexual. And that audience was very important to me. This is part of what formed my voice.
Everyone talks about the effect that AIDS had on the culture—I mean, people don’t talk about it anymore, but when people did talk about it—they talked about what artists were lost, but they never talked about this audience that was lost. When people talk about, like, Why was the New York City Ballet so great? Well, it was because of Balanchine and Jerry Robbins and people like that, but also that audience…was so… I can’t even think of the word. I mean, if Suzanne Farrell went like this [tiny gesture of fingers] instead of this [the reverse of that tiny gesture] that was it: she might as well just kill herself. There would be like a billion people who knew exactly every single thing. There was such a high level of connoisseurship…of everything that people like this were interested in. Of everything. That made the culture better. A very discerning audience, an audience with a high level of connoisseurship, is as important to the culture as artists. It is exactly as important. Now, we don’t have any kind of connoisseur audience. When that audience died, and that audience died in five minutes. Literally, people didn’t die faster in a war. And it allowed, of course, the second, third, fourth tier to rise to the front. Because, of course, the first people who died of AIDS were the people, oh, I don’t know how to put this, got laid a lot. Okay, now imagine who didn’t get AIDS? Okay? That’s who was then lauded as the great artists, okay? If the other people who hadn’t died, if they were alive, if they all came back to life, and I would say to them, Guess who’s a big star? Guess! Guess who has a show on Broadway? Guess who’s like a famous photographer? They would fall on the floor. Are you kidding me? Because everyone else died. Last man standing. […] Things in the culture that had nothing to do with the New York City Ballet, it just got dumbed down, dumbed down, dumbed down—all the way down. What we have had, in, like, the last 30 years, is too much democracy in the culture, not enough democracy in the society.
Inspired by mokuhanga, Japanese woodblock printing, Majoli’s large-scale Whiteline woodcut watercolor paintings are based on images from Blueboy, circa 1976-79, a period she considers “the halcyon years of gay liberation, when homosexuality was understood to be politically charged and under threat, presaging the trauma of the AIDS epidemic.” Halcyon provides a way to understand the aesthetic of the soft-core centerfolds of the magazine: the lighting is sun-kissed, the palette warm with rose-golds’ ember glow, the bodies toned and unmanscaped. Mother Nature smiles on these men making themselves available to other men, a possibility she always intended. (Long before homosexuality was legal, porn would show men in showers or out in nature, among flora and fauna, and it would be theoretically stingy not to see such scenarios as emphasizing the cleanliness and naturalness of such pleasures, when they were still seen to be “dirty” and “unnatural.”) The models were known by their first names (“Joe”, “Roger”); some appeared a single time, while others became featured players; they all had histories, lives, and they’re seen in repose that is also work. Their cocks, balls, and buns remain, as they were, magnificent and inviting. The hard-edged, roided body of the 1980s—a “built” body weaponized, Ramboized (apotropaically and/or phantasmatically) against viral invasion and wasting—is nowhere to be seen.