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EVENINGS OUT

 

EVENINGS OUT
March 14, 2008

Doing the math

Hundreds of hotel beds have affected Tim Miller’s life on the road, and a few have changed it a lot

Throughout the ’90s and into the new millennium, performer and writer Tim Miller has worked at the intersection of performance, politics, and identity, using his personal experiences to create fierce and funny explorations of life as a gay American man.

His performances and books have ricocheted from the perils and joys of sex and relationships to the struggles of political disenfranchisement and artistic censorship. In his new book 1001 Beds (University of Wisconsin Press, edited by Glen Johnson), we have the most complete Miller yet--a raucous collection of his performance scripts, essays, interviews, journal entries, and photographs, as well as his recent stage piece “Us.”

1001 Beds--and the performance based on the book that Miller will be touring in Ohio the next few weeks--brings together the personal, communal, and national political strands that have fueled his work from its beginnings and ultimately define Miller's place as a contemporary artist, activist, and gay man.

This intimate--sometimes really intimate--autobiographical collage of Miller's professional and personal life reveals one of the celebrated creators of a crucial contemporary art form and a tireless advocate for the American dream of political equality for all citizens.

Miller is no stranger to controversy. He was one of the notorious “NEA 4” performance artists who had their National Endowment for the Arts grants taken away in 1990 for the content of their work, a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. His performances have been at the center of the culture wars, the fights against AIDS, the battle for marriage equality and the struggle for lesbian and gay culture for all of the 1990s and into the new century.

Miller’s partner Alistair McCartney will be touring with him, promoting his new novel The End of the World Book. This amazing queer encyclopedic novel heralds the arrival of a daring new voice in queer literature, the literary equivalent of Todd Haynes' collaged post modern films, Slava Mogutin's edgy urban photographs, Hernan Bas' paintings of decadent dandies, and the Magnetic Fields' music, merging irony and classic poignant pop.

As Dennis Cooper, author of The Sluts and God Jr wrote of the book, "If I've read a more deeply impressive, beautiful, sweeping, mindful, and innovative first novel than Alistair McCartney's The End of the World Book, I have no memory of it. McCartney is a writer of peerless, brilliant originality and pure, giant talent."

Miller’s performance 1001 Beds is a raucous and rowdy exploration of Miller’s adventures in his travels through love, politics and art. From a gay teen’s head-on collision with life in a sleazy hotel across the street from the Hollywood Bowl to an ecstatic queer vision of a sex-positive future on a mattress in a police holding cell, Miller’s 1001 Beds is a fiercely funny, sexy and inspiring story about the transforming power of art and the richness of gay identity lived out loud.

William J. Mann: So tell us about 1001 Beds.

Tim Miller: 1001 Beds is a collection of my essays, performances, manifestos, performance touring stories from Tokyo to Chattanooga and my tell-way-too-much journals. There is also a fun and fierce new performance based on excerpts from the book which will be touring all over the place, including my shows in Cleveland, Miami University and Ohio Wesleyan.

WJM: A thousand and one beds . . . You have been a busy man! It sounds nasty. Does that mean what we think it means?

TM: It is a kinky and funny journey through the beds and hotels and life on the road as a traveling salesman--oops, I mean a performance artist! I was doing the math recently and I figured that if I continue to tour as a performer for another twenty years, I will end up sleeping in at least 1,000 hotel beds in my lifetime on the road. For maximum poetic oomph, let's say a thousand and one.

WJM: Do you “do the math” in your life a lot? It’s always dangerous to do that.

TM: Yes. We like imagining the 25,000 or so sunrises you get to greet, but try pondering how many swimming pools of coffee you will drink or rooms full of hot dogs you will suck down in a lifetime. Swimming pools of coffee! Weenie infinity!

It is this dangerous love of life-statistics that made me calculate, when I was seventeen, how much semen I was likely to ejaculate over the course of a lifetime. I figured, based on a reasonable per-orgasm average of 1 tablespoon, cumming at least three times each day until I was 35, somewhat less since then, I was going to fill two large Hefty garbage bags with cum. Not a sexy thought!

WJM: What do all these beds and travels mean to you?

TM: It seems important to think about those beds. To let them wash over me, crush me with their rusty springs, dust mites and polyester comforters that Holiday Inn will never once wash! When I was a kid, I once saw, in a Ripley’s Believe it or Not book, a monument to a bed. The image was a four-poster bed up on a tall pillar like Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. As you might imagine, the monument was somewhere in the Midwest--maybe somewhere near Peoria--an area I have racked up many of those 1,001 beds. Anyhow, this monument was a tribute to the bed, a place where most of us are born on, most of us die on and most of us spend one third of our lives on.

This idea thrilled me as a boy, since I loved being in bed greatly and knew in my life, bed would loom large as an emotional, political and psychic hot spot. I knew my deepest sense of self would be forged in bed, history is made in bed, creativity and life force is generated from between the sheets: all those 1,001 hotel beds I would travel to in the Midwest, just like that one up on the pillar in my Ripley’s Believe it or Not memory.

WJM: Is there one bed that jumps out at you?

TM: Hmm, I think I would have to say the most important bed of my life has been a certain crummy hotel in London, the Adelphia Hotel in South Kensington, where I brought my Australian partner Alistair back to the day we met twelve years ago. Who could know that on that bed, that hot July night in London, underneath that water-stained ceiling, my life was about to be changed, challenged, deepened? Our lives, especially as gay people, are really written there in the sweat and heat of a tangle of sheets.

WJM: You and Alistair have been struggling for all those years against the injustice of U.S. laws denying marriage and immigration rights to gay people. Where are things at today?

TM: As we know, in America, millions of gay people are denied all the 1,049 rights, and rites, of civil marriage equality that all our straight friends get automatically. A serial killer on death row in Texas has the right to get married but a gay member of the U.S. Congress can't!

If you want a smack in the face that will make you understand what second class citizens gay people are in the U.S., all you have to do is fall in love with someone from another country. One of those big rights that accompany civil marriage is immigration--the ability to sponsor your spouse to remain in the U.S.--which every straight couple can do and no gay couple can. Alistair and I are barely hanging on here in the U.S. with our Lee press-on nails!

We lucked out and were surprised he managed to get a business visa for teaching at a university that you can renew for a limited time, but he is now in his final possible period of 18 months on that visa. We will probably be forced to join the thousands of other American gay couples and their foreign partners who have been forced into exile from America.

Every western country except America recognizes gay couples for immigration purposes. One of the things I try to do in my performances and this book is to let folks know how lesbian and gay relationships are completely stripped of civil rights under federal law. Someday our beds will be equal, but they sure aren't right now.

WJM: What do these 1,001 beds add up to?

TM: These 1,001 beds today have become the symbol of my life on the road as an artist and activist. My mission--and I have totally decided to accept it-- is to be always ready to run around and perform my lean-and-mean homo-drenched performances, cultural agitating, teaching and general being a way-out gay moving target. Whenever I need to hop on a tiny plane for Des Moines or Chattanooga and show the rainbow flag I am ready to do this. This new book explores my journeys and adventures and observations of this mission!

A complete listing of Miller and McCartney’s appearances in Ohio is available in Charlie’s Calendar.

For more information on Tim Miller go to http://hometown.aol.com/millertale. Alistair McCartney’s site can be found at www.hometown.aol.com/meaningme.

William J. Mann is the author of All American Boy and Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger. Currently working on a biography of Katharine Hepburn, he can be reached through his website www.williamjmann.com.

 

 

 

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