Filmmaker Howard Brookner (1954-1989) is the focus of this engrossing, intimate memoir by novelist and biographer Gooch (English/William Paterson Univ.; Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, 2009, etc.).
Meeting at a gay bar in Manhattan in the 1970s, Gooch and Brookner felt instant attraction and rapport. “Our warped lives, our shared predilection for the ‘far out,’ was a bond between Howard and me, as well as between us and our peers,” writes the author. “We were all trying strenuously to walk on the wild side.” An “increasingly bold and expressionist phase of gay culture” fueled that wildness with rent boys and bathhouses, speed, cocaine and heroin. Brookner was involved in making a documentary about the notorious writer William Burroughs. Gooch, after earning a doctorate in English at Columbia, detoured to become a male model. Needing a portfolio, he approached the only photographer he knew: Robert Mapplethorpe. “Robert and I were both pretty clueless about fashion photography,” Gooch admits, and the results were bizarre. In Paris on a modeling gig, Gooch met the young Andy Warhol, “weirdly, transparently needy and vulnerable,” and spent some time on “Planet Warhol…a giddy, weightless planet, but without much oxygen.” When modeling ran dry, Gooch turned to writing, first porn reviews for a gay newspaper, then fiction, mainstream articles and interviews. Brookner’s career took off after he released Burroughs: The Movie in 1983, to critical raves. By then, however, gay exuberance was tempered by rumors of an insidious virus. In 1987, Brookner tested positive for HIV. For Gooch, the news felt like “emotional whiplash.” Soon, Brookner fell prey to an opportunistic virus that affected brain cells, and he began to lose his sight. Spasms, fever and bacterial pneumonia followed. At the age of 35, a man Gooch calls “a cresting young genius” was dead.
This candid memoir lovingly evokes a life, and a world, lost.