(Read at Club Cumming, New York on September 20th, 2017)
Our founder Dean Johnson died in Washington, D.C. ten years ago to the day. Some of you here knew him and some of you didn’t so let’s pay tribute! East Village legend. Dean and the Weenies–seminal queercore band. He rocked drag on his tall skinny punk frame– the original bald queen. He faced homophobia in the music industry. As he wrote in his blog:
“I did this song called ‘Fuck You‘ in the film Mondo New York. From that I was able to get a contract with Island Records. When they realized I was a gay activist and a drag queen, they freaked out. They released my record in a brown paper wrapper and said they were dropping me because the album wouldn’t sell. They’d printed thousands of CDs of ‘Fuck You’–then threw them in a dumpster. Homeless people pulled them out and sold them on St. Mark’s and it became a huge phenomenon. That’s how I really established myself as a performer back in ’87.”
He later formed a freak band called the Velvet Mafia, which put out two albums. Check out his lyric genius on tracks like ‘Deli Boy’ and ‘Air Kisses For The Masses’. Some young talent should cover his songs.
He was famous as the door bitch at the World, and promoted his own parties in venues all over town: Rock ’n Roll Fag Bar, Uncle Buddy’s Amway, Pubic Hair Club For Men, Foxy, Magnum. He brought the tribes together in ways no other promoter could. He broke ground booking queer musicians into CBGB’s with HomoCorps. I designed some of his flyers and was later his doorman for Triple X at the Hole.
The Reading for Filth installment that was scheduled the week after his death became an impromptu memorial service. The crowd was out the door and into the street, and it was covered by the New York Times: “Disquieting Death Stills the Night Life.” I read a piece called “The Real Big Johnson.” Here’s an abridged and hyperlinked version:
I was a clueless Long Island boy when I arrived in the East Village in ’82 to attend the Cooper Union. By the time I found my way to places like the World, Pyramid, Save the Robots and Boybar, Dean Johnson was a New York landmark, like a tall tower or a tourist attraction. I didn’t meet Dean until much later–one night in back room at the Cock (some of you were in there that night too!) After our one back-room encounter, Dean unilaterally decided that would make we would make much better friends than lovers, and so it was from that day forward.
I got sober in ’98 and Dean was struggling to get sober so I tried to be a support to him in that. But AA was one club Dean could not get into. (The audience applauded that line, led by Lady Bunny. Fuckers!) We were friends through it all. We bonded out in Cherry Grove, sharing a love for naked bodysurfing in the rough sea. To watch Dean catch a wave and stiffen his long body into a surfboard and rocket into the sand, bald head first, was sublime.
When the NYPD chased Dean out of nightlife, he embarked on a career as an escort. ‘Big Red’ experienced an immediate surge of popularity. He was the new cock on the block. He was raking in the cash and used it to support his music and his art. Dean said that hooking was just like club promoting, only you’re the party.
His roster of clients included: submissives, size queens, cocksuckers, foot fetishists, advanced fisting bottoms, tight-assed ‘sons’ looking to be violated by ‘dad’, black guys with a taste for white meat, Asian guys looking for some ‘White on rice’, str8 hotties who “just wanna see it”, married men who “never do this”…the list goes on.
Dean happily treaded into taboo territory–incest, adultery, race–with guys who were obviously working through some conflicted feelings. Like all good hookers, Dean was part psychotherapist, his methods distinctly on the drama therapy-reenactment tip; but sometimes it was hard to tell who was on the couch. Sometimes Dean would get to the door and the johns would see him and cry “Oh my god, you’re Dean Johnson!” and slam the door; but some would open the door and cry “Oh my god, you’re Dean Johnson!” and turn out to be huge fans, and open their hearts, their wallets and their legs for the Big Johnson.
Dean’s larger-than-life physical attributes–his translucent whiteness, gargantuan cock, size fourteen feet, bald head–inspired awe, admiration, worship and obsession. Also larger-than-life attributes were his lunatic imagination, his barbed wire wit, and his acting skills. They made for the most lurid and vivid fantasy scenarios. We worked some calls together; Dean executive produced these fantasies in exquisite detail:
- For one black john with antebellum fantasies, Dean played a stern plantation owner and I was his ‘cousin’ from a neighboring plantation. We headed back behind the barn to see out how ‘Massa Dean’ doled out punishment and rewards.
- Dean, Dick, and I were three college buddies who were to pass around a middle-aged john like a drunken sophomore slut. Listening to Dean rattle on in his deepest voice about humping his bros at frat parties and locker room towel-snapping antics, I cracked up and broke the spell.
- Wearing sunglasses and ball caps, Dean and I were thieves breaking in to a john’s hotel room to rob him, only to discover him hiding in the bathroom; where we got to brutalize him with ‘no limits’–until the guy chickened out. Poor guy had no idea what he was doing telling Dean Johnson ‘no limits”!
Dean was greatly amused by these and all odysseys of longing. Anyone who could continue to laugh after being on the shit end of AIDS, heroin, and Mayor Guiliani is a spiritual being. (Can I get a big FUCK YOU for Giuliani? Who ruined New York nightlife, attacked the poor, and completely fucked up on 9/11?) Dean’s laughter was mountainous and epic and holy–and if you’d witnessed one of his orgasms, you know that they, too, were earth-shaking, seismic, accompanied by the thunderous growl of a diesel engine you could hear for blocks.
Dean never paid much attention to rule number one of escorting: don’t get emotionally involved. It’s a business transaction! Dean got entangled with just about all of his johns. He fell in love with one cocksucker and scared the poor guy off with his ardor. He got embroiled in a messy, adulterous, demented, co-dependent, romantic-obsessive love triangle with a Westchester dentist and his wife. He would spontaneously decide that he was no longer going to charge this or that john, but now they were boyfriends. Just like he did with me, he made these unilateral decisions. So imagine a john’s surprise to find he has a new six-and-a-half-foot tall boyfriend!
(In fact, the guy in Washington, D.C. started off as a john and wound up as a friend. He had fibromyalgia–a chronic pain condition. He had a lot of opioids in his apartment–some in large doses. He was also a BDSM bottom who’d hired Dean to whip and beat him. Hiring a hustler to inflict pain was the one thing that gave him a sense of control. Dean was moved by his situation and was visiting as a friend the weekend he died).
So sure Dean looked for love in all the wrong places–but really, is there a wrong place for such a divine mission? Stranger things have happened on this planet.
Dean was the spokesmodel for Rentboy (now shuttered by the Feds–they keep shutting down the party) and was proud of tag line he wrote for them: “Money can’t buy you love, but the rest is negotiable.” Dean’s love was non-negotiable, and this is his single biggest attribute–his huge heart. That was the real Big Johnson.
That’s our queercore glam punk drag queen party king founder. Now put some real Big Johnson in your life:
- Laugh hard at all the fuckery
- When haters shut down your party, be the party.
- Make your love non-negotiable.