Lance Loud: The Gay Icon that Rocked PBS and CBGBs
Publisher: Glitterati Incorporated
Publication Date: October 2012
In the new book “Lance Out Loud,” a mother who appeared with her husband and five children in millions of American living rooms in the early 1970s shares intimate letters, essays and photographs that recall her larger-than-life son, Lance Loud.
With his cheeky charm, extravagant self-expression and a confidence that belied his 20 years of age, Lance, who was also openly gay, made a riveting impression on American audiences during their first exposure to a reality television series. In 1973, “An American Family” on PBS documented the lives of the Loud family in a 12-part series, even as it went through a marital separation and other splits, such as Lance’s move from their upper middle class home in Santa Barbara, CA, to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City.
While he made his mark in the underground East Village music scene as front man for the punk band, The Mumps, Lance Loud continued to fascinate mainstream America through cover features in national magazines and guest appearances on talk shows such as Dick Cavett and Merv Griffith. Lance became a gay icon, was revered and reviled for it, and went on to focus — as much as his multitude of interests allowed — on journalism for the next 30 years. Loud died in 2001 from complications caused by hepatitis C and HIV.
MetroFocus spoke with Pat Loud about her son’s New York years and the process of making “Lance Out Loud.”
Q: Lance moved to New York City in 1971 when he was 20. What did you think of New York City back then, and his ability to navigate it?
He was working with WNET as a consultant while the company was editing “An American Family.” Lance was a very precocious boy. He had always followed his own star and done what he wanted to do. He was just old enough to go to New York if that’s what he wanted to do and that is exactly what he had in mind.
He was a big follower of Andy Warhol. He had an almost preternatural understanding of the world and of contemporary thought and he was just ready for New York. It wasn’t like he was a baby.
Q: You had no fears of crime?
Of course I did! I moved there in ’74. New York was a very serious drug scene at the time and the police had their hands full. I found an apartment on East 79th Street. I was mugged once on the street on Third Avenue. It was a very tough city then.
Q: Lance began a correspondence with Andy Warhol when he was 13 or 14. Do you know how he discovered Warhol at that age?
A: I really don’t know. Lance became enthralled with him. [The correspondence] was very unusual. Lance started writing to him and then Andy started writing back. One night we got a phone call and it was Andy. At one time, Lance told me he was going to run away and go to New York. He got downtown in Santa Barbara and he called Andy, and Andy talked him out of it. He came home and waited a few more years! I’m sure (Andy) was thinking, ‘I don’t want this kid hanging around my house!’
Q: Did you get to experience Lance in his music scene world in New York?
A: Oh yes, I went to CBGBs several times. Lance’s band The Mumps was one of first bands to play at CBGBs. There was Blondie, Talking Heads, The Ramones – I saw all those bands.
Q: Was that normal for you?
A: It seemed pretty normal to me. I have five kids, and I understood that culture pretty well.
Q: Lance was so close to his family and open, in general. Were there new insights you gained while working on this book collaboration with photographer Christopher Makos?
A: I have known Christopher since he was a kid. Lance met him in New York and he came to stay with us in ’72 for a week, so I’ve known him that long. I don’t feel like I got any new insights, but what I did get is enormous sense of what we’ve lost. The entire family loved Lance and we miss him very much. This book brought that up again. All of my children are unusual, I’m sure you heard many mothers say that; in my case, it happens to be true and Lance is a good example of that.
Q: There’s a mystery to Lance’s life left in the book – it’s like finding someone else’s journal. For whom did you and Makos make this book? What effect did you want it to have on the reader?
A: I never thought about it in those exact terms. We just wanted to present the many sides of Lance’s life and we did not want it to be a sad book or chronological. We wanted it to be a book that was more a celebration of his life than a eulogy.
Q: Was there ever a discussion of filling in readers more on who Lance was – using any narrative approach?
A: No. There is a method to it. It’s not haphazard. There are people who knew Lance intimately who could best explain him and their relationship to him, and those are the people who wound up in the book. We didn’t try to whitewash Lance, I think you’ll see that.
Q: We see so many youth in the public eye crash and burn. Did Lance have any tough moments?
A: I don’t think I can answer that question. If he did, he didn’t share that with me. I think Lance had a bit of celebrity and I think he enjoyed it. I think he was hard on himself, he felt he should have been a better writer, for instance, and that he shouldn’t have taken so many drugs. He was more a positive person. He liked himself. He was not angry with himself. He was a complete person.
Q: Many parents must be curious: What was it about the Loud family that nurtured your children. Many people might think you did something unusual.
A: I think in a way we did. We took all five children to Europe twice, when they were quite young. We wanted them to have a world experience we wanted them to see the world and not be afraid of it and know they are part of a much larger place.
Q: Even before “An American Family” was broadcast, did the experience of being filmed influence Lance and his life choices in any way?
A: No. Not at all. Lance was a very unique individual. He just knew what he wanted to do and he did it and he didn’t care what people thought.
Q: Do you ever play Lance’s music?
A: Oh yes! (She laughs.) I have pictures of him in my house, I have his music and he’s in my heart.
Q: Now I’m curious about what the range of your musical taste is.
A: (Laughs) I go to the opera and I do like rock and roll. I love the oldies because that’s my music of my youth and I do like good old rock and roll. I like classical music. Lance was the same way – we loved music itself. If it was good, it was good. It didn’t matter what genre it was.
Q: The love that your family has for one another is impressive. I think of all the things kids do and don’t want their parents to know about. It seems like that wasn’t part of your relationship with Lance.
A: By and large, [our kids] were not afraid of us as parents. We had a house that all the kids came to because we had so many children, and so they spent a lot of time at our house and I always welcomed that. I liked having a house full of kids because I knew where my kids were and I knew what they were doing. There was a lot of life. I think back on that time with enormous pleasure.
Q: When you come back to New York for the book launch events, what else will you do?
I went to see the Warhol exhibit at Met and visit friends at my old apartment. I have so many friends there I’m dying to see.
Q: What else would you like to share about making the book?
A: I am so happy and proud of that book. The book explains this wonderful personality that that was my son Lance and it does it, warts and all. I think it’s a beautiful book. In the very back there are six little square “blobs” [QR codes] and you put your smart phone and you can see videos of Lance performing and some of his friends. Get your smart phone out and go for it!
Q: You’ve kept up with the times. Yours was the first reality TV show family, and now you’re using smart phones and collaborating on books.
A: I’m still very old-fashioned but I do understand the world is so different from the time I was up and going. It’s fun to use these new things, like the computer (laughs), and I enjoy it a lot.
This interview has been condensed and edit. Pat Loud will be signing copies of “Lance Out Loud” at the Rizzoli Bookstore on at 31 West 57th Street on Oct. 3, 5:30 – 7 .pm.