From Issue 3.4 - May 1997
Music from a Bygone Era
By Gayle Rubin
The Catacombs on 21st Street was San Francisco's major fistfucking
club from 1975, when it was opened by Steve McEachern until 1981, when
it closed following Steve's sudden death from a heart attack. Steve's
surviving lover Fred reopened the Catacombs on Shotwell Street, where
it enjoyed another run from 1982-1984.
My first encounter with the "music of the baths," or music programmed
to enhance S/M or fistfucking, was at the 21st Street Catacombs, where
Steve and friends put together a series of brilliant tapes. The party
tapes relied primarily on disco and electronic space music, although
there were also rock, soul, funk, and other genres. Upbeat and driving
songs dominated the prime time party soundtrack, while slow, spacey
stuff came on in the early hours of the morning. The following
annotated list is drawn from memory, fragmentary documentation, and
records obtained when Fred sold some of Steve's personal effects.
Skatt Brothers, "Walk the Night/Fear of Flying/Life on the Outpost."
"Walk the Night" was a particular anthem of late '70s gay male
S/M. The Skatt Brothers were similar to the Village People, but with
lyrics that were darker and more explicit, for example: "He's got a
rod beneath his coat/gonna ram right down your throat/make you grovel
on the floor/spit, bump, and scream and beg for more."
Bette Midler, "Knight in Black Leather." This send up of gay leather
was another Catacombs greatest hit. Midler was backed up by a male
chorus. At one point, the chorus is singing, "we're in control," when
they trail off in a descending scale, as if their poppers had just
Hot Chocolate, "Heaven"
Rick James, "Love Gun"
Grace Jones, "I need a Man"
Kiss, "I Was Made for Loving You"
Kraftwerk, "The Man Machine" album, "Radioactivity"
The Village People, especially "Macho Man," "San Francisco," "In the
Navy," "YMCA," and "My Roommate"
Donna Summer, especially "Queen for a Day" and "Sunset People"
Jean Michel Jarre, "Oxygene" and "Equinoxe" (played late night and
Klaus Schulze, "Timewind" (late night and early morning)
Space, "Just Blue," "Save Your Love for Me," and "Deliverance"
Elton John, "Love Lies Bleeding" and "Candle in the Wind"
Amanda Lear, "Follow Me"
Cindy and Roy, "Can You Feel It?" This was an obscure disco single
with the lyric, "can you feel it in your body?/let your body move"
Joel Diamond Experience, "Music Machine." Another obscure disco song
with a repeated refrain of "in and out," which seemed utterly in
keeping with all the arms pumping away.
the disco versions of Ravel's "Bolero"
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, "Electricity"
Giorgio Morodor, "The Chase" (theme from the movie Midnight Express)
and the B side of "Theme from Battlestar Galactica and Other
Compositions" (Steve used the other compositions)
Music from "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Star Wars," and "The Wizard of Oz"
There were other Catacombs songs I remember well but do not know the
names or the artists. One featured a male vocalist who sang, "you need
a strong love...a man's love." Another spoke of needing to be
"changing jobs" after staying out at too many all-night parties. If
anyone knows of these or recalls other songs from the Catacombs,
please contact me in care of Cuir Underground.
Gayle Rubin has been chronicling the history of the local leather
community for nearly two decades.
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© 1997, Cuir Underground
Last updated: 31 May 1997