The Pornographic Gaze
You have to understand that I lived all the lives I was never going to live here in New York City in the 1980s. As my own life spiraled inevitably into stability and middle age, I would escape to New York, where I would pretend to be young and free. I had affairs here, both short and long, but it was not really about that; it was about the air of possibility, of something wonderful about to happen. Even now, as an old man, walking down these same streets, looking at a new generation of young and beautiful people, I feel moments of that same possibility.
In 1980, before I’d ever invested that kind of emotion in Manhattan, I wrote a song that I performed with my band. The lyric, in a repeated section that lead up to the chorus was simple and direct. “I want to leave every life, and now I can lead every life, and now I don’t have any life at all.”
My song lyrics, good or bad, have always had an unsettling way of predicting my future, and two years after i wrote the lyric just quoted, I was spending a great deal of time in New York, and nothing could have illustrated what my life here was like more profoundly.
My New York adventures, although I didn’t realize it at the time, coincided with the end of my youthful fantasies of rock ‘n’ roll stardom. I had played in my own mildly popular band around Los Angeles, and then had joined a much more popular band as a sideman. That, the decision to give up what was truly the heart of my dreams, was made without much thought. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The band I joined was popular in Los Angeles, and that lead to offers to write screenplays about popular bands. Two years after I’d jumped ship on my dreams, I had quit the band and had started to write as a full-time endeavor. Several of my early jobs were New York-based. And so there I was. The belly of a beast I had barely known existed
What I’m saying is simply that even as my dreams died, I was entering the dreamscape of 1980s Manhattan, moving into this moment where I was another person, knowing that there would be a time when I would have to go back to my life, and terribly afraid that I had realized just how much fun an irresponsible life could be when it was too late for me to be irresponsible.
I don’t have a lot of clear memories of that time. I remember certain hotel rooms, and certain evenings. And an overwhelming sense that I had left the game too early.
I know that now, women talk about the pornographic gaze; that horrible way in which men stare at them as they walk down the street. And I know that this barely more subtle version of a wolf whistle must be terribly offensive and hard to bear. I can only say that in my case the look is not pornographic, it is an impossible hope for all those lives I want to lead and cannot lead, coupled with the sorrow of knowing that now I don’t have any life at all.
That song, and apparently, at least for the moment I’m writing about the song, was called “The Making Love Project.“ It was a look, albeit a muddy one tempered by my desire at that moment to be as cool as David Bowie, at my first unsuccessful couplings as a teenager and in my early 20s. I remember the line. “This is where the avalanche began.“ I guess that in that moment where I still believed that someone was listening, I also believed that I could exorcise all my sexual demons by singing about them.
The astonishing thing about New York was that here I was another man. I was cool, poised, confident and capable. I’m trying to write here, as so many others have done, about why I love New York and what it means to me. And instead it appears that I am writing about the moment where I could overcome post-adolescent impotence and become, for a short time, virile.
I think that perhaps, I want to explain to every woman I’ve stared at while walking down the street, that I didn’t want to fuck them as much as I wanted to fall in love with them. I have no idea if this in anyway helps. Probably not.
Right now, this minute, I am walking home or that is back to a hotel, in 2018 New York City. It is a late September night and there is a wind blowing the first cooling breeze of fall. I behaved abominably in those days, both to the woman and the life that I was steadily building in Los Angeles, although less so to that, because I believe it was obvious to both of us that that was where I would eventually stay, and to several of the people I spent a great deal of time in New York with. I lied. I pretended. I was a coward and an asshole. I like to think that the damage I inflicted was ultimately minimal, but I have no way of knowing if that’s true. I mean this in no way as a defense, merely has a statement: Like the pornographic gaze, it had much more to do with my desperate attempt to lead more than one life than it did with any easy desire to get laid.
I’m certainly not here now to have an affair. Parenthood and prostate cancer have rendered that idea tired and impossible. But, as they say, I still can’t help but look. Because I still want to lead every life, and now I can lead every life, and now I don’t have any life at all.
About the Author: Les Bohem has written a lot of movies and TV shows including A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5, The Horror Show, Twenty Bucks, Daylight, Dante’s Peak, The Alamo, Kid, Nowhere To Run and the mini-series, Taken which he executive produced with Steven Spielberg, and for which he won an Emmy award. His stories are up and about in numerous places as is his novel, Flight 505. He's had songs recorded by of Concrete Blonde, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. His first solo album, Moved to Duarte, was released last year to rave reviews and absolutely no sales or downloads.