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Loud and Proud

Photo by Ann Summa

LANCE LOUD WAS NO ANGEL. He wasn't above telling the occasional fib, anything you loaned him disappeared into a black hole, and he really loved getting high. Those of us who knew and loved him forgave him all this, simply because he was so much fun to be with.

Like many Americans, I was first introduced to Lance in 1973, when he and his family were the subject of an experimental television series called An American Family. A seemingly average nuclear family living the good life in Santa Barbara, the Louds permitted a camera crew to move in and film them for seven months, then the results were aired on national television. During those months Lance came out as gay and his parents' marriage unraveled on-camera; the series was a succès de scandale, and the Louds were pilloried by the press as a case study in all that was wrong with American families. In fact, the Louds are a remarkable family -- one of the closest I've ever known -- and there was a great deal more to Lance than most television viewers knew.

Lance was diagnosed with HIV in 1987, and he had good years and bad years ever since. 2001 was a tough year, so I think he may have been ready to go when he died in the early-morning hours of December 22 at the age of 50. To the great surprise of his family, Lance invited the American Family crew to film him during the last two months of his life; it remains to be seen what will be made of that footage. Herewith, a few of his many friends share stories of the Lance Loud they knew when the cameras weren't rolling.

Bobby Mayhem (artist): The L.A. Times obituary for Lance that ran last month bothered me because it went on about An American Family, and mentioned that he'd had little success with his band [the Mumps], and some minor success as a writer, but none of that was the point of Lance. When Lance and I were growing up in the '50s, people were loath to even use the word homosexual, and it's hard for young gay kids now to realize what it was like then. Coming out gay when and how Lance did would've crushed most people, but he flew with it and laughed in people's faces. He was incredibly brave.

 

Pat Loud (mother): Lance was a joyous child, but he was dyslexic until the fifth grade, and his coordination was zero. If you threw a beach ball to him, it would bounce off of him, and he couldn't play boy games. Consequently he developed a rapier wit to protect himself, and he became very strong. Shortly after An American Family aired, Dick Cavett wanted Lance to be on his show alone. We didn't want him to do it. We wanted to protect him, but Lance wanted to duke it out with anybody. Cavett asked him, "How did it feel when you found out you were homosexual," and Lance replied, "I took a few aspirin and it went away."

 

Kristian Hoffman (musician): We met in our high school art class. He was this loud character who wore extreme clothes. People couldn't decide if he was a genius or an asshole, and some people made fun of him and called him "faggot." Lance always wanted to be at The Event, and he wasn't afraid to do things that seemed dangerous. A few days before the Stones concert at Altamont he said, "Let's just take your car and go!" We drove up there and pushed our way to the front of the stage. Until I met Lance I'd been a careful person who stayed home and got good grades, and he freed me. We once drove to L.A. wearing outfits we'd stolen from the Santa Barbara High production of Romeo and Juliet, to go to the opening night of Satyricon. We saw the Kinks, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground when they played the Whisky. We saw the New York Dolls every night they played the Mercer Arts Center. I was naive about sex, and Lance helped me realize I was gay, and he arranged for me to have my first sexual experience. He opened up my world, and I think he did that for everyone he knew.

 

Michele Loud (sister): You could never predict how Lance was going to behave. Once there was a huge rainstorm and the hillside behind our house was collapsing. My horse Charlie was out there, and I had to get him off the hill, but he was frightened and I couldn't control him. Nobody was home but Lance, who was always a big scaredy-cat -- you'd walk into the living room and he'd be standing on the couch screaming because there was a bug on the floor -- so I ran into the house to call a friend. Before I knew it Lance had gone out there and gotten Charlie and was walking him up the hill. Charlie was rearing up and resisting him, but Lance just did it.

 

Once or twice when he was a teenager he got phone calls late at night, and he wouldn't tell us who it was. Years later I wound up working in New York for Andy Warhol, and one day after I'd been there about three years, Andy turned to me and said, "How's your brother? He used to send me letters as a kid, and he was the only fan whose letters I loved. One time he sent a letter saying he was going to run away, and I got worried so I called him at night and told him not to run away." I think Lance had lots of secrets like that because he was so different from the rest of the family.

Delilah Loud (sister): One of my earliest memories of Lance is of a night when the whole family learned to do the twist at a country club in Oregon. Lance was a total natural and I can remember his energy and physical prowess. He was always ready to kick it up and be silly. He kept his creative magic going throughout his illness too, and, as sick as he was, he never stopped wanting to go places. You couldn't keep him out of thrift stores, and I think that goes back to his roots in Santa Barbara, when he discovered that thrift stores were a way of learning a kind of social history that really interested him. Nothing made him happier than finding a wacky pair of plaid pants.

 

Victoria Galves (artist): One night in 1977 Lydia Lunch and I went to CBGB when the Mumps were playing. I saw Lance onstage in black leather pants and a bright red shirt, and said, "Who's that!" Lydia said, "That's Lance Loud. He's gay. Forget it." I said, "I don't care! He is great!" So we went backstage and I met him and wound up dancing onstage with him during their next set. Our relationship was confusing because he was gay, but we were kindred spirits and fell in love. One night we dressed as Sonny and Cher and went to the Mudd Club, where Lance wound up doing a duet with Joey Ramone on a completely punked out version of "Helter Skelter." He was always fun, and he could really zone in on what was cool about a person. Lance saw people the way they wanted to see themselves.

 

Margy Rochlin (journalist): Lance went through a period where he was acting in a lot of plays, and I remember going to one of them and rushing in at the last minute only to discover there was just one other person in the audience. The play began and the cast was grimly marching through it, when out comes Lance. He said a few lines, then turned and looked at me and said, "Hi, Margy." Throughout the rest of the play he would address me directly.

 

Rob Sheiffele (television producer): Last summer I took him to a hospital, and the nurse was running through her list of questions as she admitted him. She asked him if he had any religious beliefs, and he replied, "Baked goods." The nurse said "What?" And he said, "Yes, baked goods. When I got off drugs, I didn't turn to God, I turned to baked goods." The nurse immediately loved him.

 

Debbie Trent (nurse): As all his friends know, Lance had a serious relationship with drugs, but I understood why he took them. Life was so big for Lance that he wanted to soak it all in at once. There was always more to do, more to read, more people to talk to. He had such a jack-rabbit mind. He was also very kind. When my husband left me after 20 years, it was Lance who came and brought boxes and packed up his stuff. It was Lance who picked me up and dropped me off at the airport, and Lance who painted my bathroom. He was an incredibly giving friend.

Bryan Rabin (nightclub impresario): Lance was a hurricane of a human being. He took me under his wing and in his crazy way really guided me. When you were with Lance, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the world, but Lance blew in and out quickly so you had to grab everything you could when you were with him. I think he moved fast because he was afraid he'd be discovered as a big fraud -- which, of course, he wasn't. He was able to move from high society to the most downtrodden filth in town with great elegance.

 

 

Jeff Spurrier (journalist): He had a sharp tongue and wasn't afraid to turn it on himself. Given his condition, he spent remarkably little time feeling sorry for himself, and regardless of how self-absorbed he sometimes seemed, he was always extremely loving to the people around him.

 

David Keeps (journalist): Lance imprinted very strongly on an entire generation, particularly people struggling with issues of sexual identity. I regarded Lance as an absolute hero when An American Family aired. Here was someone who was not only unashamedly gay but extremely attractive. I had a huge crush on him. When I was an editor at Details in the early '80s and found out he was a writer, I had an opportunity to work with him. I was really excited. He had a great grasp of language, and his critique of pop culture was brilliant, but writing was hard for him. When you become a television celebrity, especially the way that he did, all you have to do is show up and talk, and Lance was good at that. But getting Lance's stream-of-consciousness genius down on paper is another story.

 

Ann Summa (photographer): I remember attending a rather staid dinner in L.A. several years ago for Details magazine. Suddenly Lance roared up outside on his motorcycle, marched in wearing his leathers and practically climbed up on the table and entertained everyone the rest of the night.

Over the past year we talked a lot about spirituality, and he wanted to achieve some kind of peace with dying, but at the same time he resisted it. He went to Self-Realization Fellowship with me a few times, and he seemed to like it, but then one day he turned to me and said, "I don't want to study Self-Realization because I don't want to end up a fat Indian." He was referring, of course, to my guru, Yogananda! Maybe it was a result of the artificial fame thrust on him by An American Family, but he often said that he'd wasted his life and hadn't achieved anything materially. He never understood how much we all loved him, and that it didn't matter what he achieved, because he was his greatest artwork.

 

Bill Loud (father): Lance could always charm the birds out of the trees, but he was an unusual kid. He didn't want to do sports and was in love with his stuffed animals. When he was 11, I took him on a trip to Canada and he still had his stuffed animals and his favorite blanket with him. When he was 10, we moved from Eugene, Oregon, to Santa Barbara, and just before we left he was in a school play where he played a sacrificial Aztec victim. They had a big papier-mâché volcano, and he came out in a thong and jumped into it. He was so proud of that performance. Things got hard for Lance after we got to Santa Barbara, and he became the object of a lot of derision at school. A well-known actor lived behind us, and Lance confided to him that he was gay, and the actor went to school and told everyone "Lance is a fag." I was so dumb I didn't know what was going on, because he didn't confide in me. Now I can see there was a spiritual hunger in Lance that I didn't recognize and respond to when he was growing up, and I feel great remorse for the ways I failed him. Shortly before he died he gave me the Frank Sinatra CD, Fly Me to the Moon, and he wrote on it, "When I fly I'm going to fly alone, and I can't take you with me, but I'll be thinking of you. Love, Lance."

Donations in memory of Lance Loud can be made to AIDS Healthcare Foundation, 6255 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028.


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