“Blue Lights in the Basement”
Guest Writer: W.D. Foster-Graham
For those of us brothas of a certain age, “Blue Lights in the Basement” was the title of an album by Roberta Flack. When I think of that phrase, I think of a place and mood that took place despite the challenges. Hence, I consider this installment more as a meditation of a time gone by, but still in my heart.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the primary meeting place for LGBT brothas was at the clubs, where the activity was centered around alcohol. Being under 21, this was problematic for me unless I was shielded by going in with an older group. Given these circumstances, a more viable alternative was a house party, which was normally held on a Friday or Saturday night. Depending on the venue and the purpose, house parties were also known as “quarter parties” or “rent parties.”
Word of mouth by people “in the know” was key if you wanted to find house parties. The Twin Cities did have them, but not to the same level as those in such urban areas as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, D.C., etc. Because the clubs closed at 1:00 a.m., the parties would begin just before the clubs closed, the buses stopped running, and the downtown streets rolled up for the night.
My college classmates called me a fashionista, which was partially true since I spent a good share of time deciding which bell bottoms would go with what platform shoes and butterfly-collar shirt. I made sure my Afro was picked out to perfection, applying copious amounts of Afro-Sheen spray. Now, getting funky after an hour or two on the dance floor is one thing, but upon my first arrival at the party, it was essential to wear the right cologne (and not the cheap stuff!)
The mark of a good host was ensuring that people were comfortable and enjoying themselves, which included having sufficient food and drink—presentation, of course, is everything. A pivotal element in the mix was a good DJ; that made all the difference to me. Remember the line dances on Soul Train? That could easily have been me on that show amongst “the children,” given the amount of time I spent jamming on a dance floor.
Speaking of which, back then the mark of a great DJ was knowing when to bring the music up and when to bring it down. Ah, the ballads, the slow jams! There are those of you out there who know what I’m talking about—Barry White, the Isley Brothers, the Delfonics, Teddy Pendergrass, the Dells, the Stylistics. These were the opportunities for “up close and personal” time with your man; if you were single, it was another way to get better acquainted with that “phyne” brotha you had your eye on when you arrived to party. And if the vibes were right, you’d be going home with him and putting your Vaseline to good use.
Another advantage of a house party was a more controlled environment. LGBT rights were in the early stages, and clubs still ran the risk of being randomly raided; house parties provided a safe space to meet and be ourselves. Young brothas like me could socialize and leave with our hearing intact. The environment was more relaxed for taking the steps into our identity as Black gay men, in a community that was only beginning to become visible.
I deeply appreciate the progress made for LGBT brothas, such as marriage and raising children with the man you love–and living in authenticity. At the same time, it’s important to remember our history and that part of who we are–as well as to recognize the meeting ground between the generations. Each has a place in our lives, and I embrace both.
I look back on “Blue Lights in the Basement” with a smile. Believe in dreams and never give up.
© 2020 by W.D. Foster-Graham
All rights reserved.
W.D. Foster-Graham is an independent novelist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He received a B.A. in psychology from Luther College, and he was an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness. He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003.”
His tastes in writing run to family sagas and M/M romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits and classic movies of old Hollywood. He was also inspired by the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the books he/she wants to read.
Current works in development are a continuation of his Christopher Family Novel series: Never Give Up, a blend of historical novel/family saga /whodunit, and two M/M romance novels, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self.