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I laughed, I cried and was deeply touched by Farm Story. Eddie’s remarkable tale of self- discovery is woven with a golden thread of arresting honesty, raw emotion, decadent detail, and heartwarming sensitivity. His story speaks to the heart of anyone who has suffered in silence, imprisoned by the often crippling societal, religious, or family pressure to suppress difference and live someone else’s story. Through perseverance, bravery, and courage, Eddie found his own glittering story and has most brilliantly recounted the journey to truth, love, and acceptance.
—DIANE BIRCH, singer-songwriter
I am excited to announce that my story will be published and available soon. The book is my memoir about growing up in Winslow in the ‘60s and ‘70s, knowing I was different and the journey I took to understand where I belonged. Deeply committed to honoring the significance of that particular era in that special town, I’ve woven a series of portraits and moments that I hope resonate with not only the gay community, but anyone who has struggled to find their place as a young adult.
When romancing the past, we always like to think of a simpler, better time. For me, the late’70s and early ‘80s would be a time of change and self-discovery. As a boy, whether I was sitting in the school library or perched on an idle tractor, magazines were my escape. They were a glimpse into a world that was far from the confinement of the farm. They transported me away, long before traveling outside of Indiana seemed like a possibility.
I remember the photo staring back at me from the glossy magazine page. It was 1982. Cher had left her signature long straight hair and beaded Mackie gowns behind- this was a new decade. Sporting a shag haircut and black leather jacket, she was about to make her Broadway debut in a play directed by film auteur Robert Altman. New York – the era when the city was edgy, dangerous and seemed to hold so many possibilities. At least that’s how it read all the way back in Indiana. The cultural world seemed smaller then. Actors knew painters who knew musicians who knew writers – and they were all accessible. Gays who had been ruthlessly oppressed growing up in the decade of Eisenhower or Nixon were finally free to be open – until AIDS would bring it crashing down.
Just as I did with the liner and sleeve notes in my albums, I’d study the magazine credits carefully. People behind the scenes felt like stars in their own right. They too had talent – the talent and vision to tell the story and assist in creating the magic. Maddy Miller was no stranger to me. I recognized her name from countless magazine covers, book covers, album covers, and in documentary films. Coming from a family of photographers (both her father and her brothers) she would, as a toddler, accompany her photo technician father to Look Magazine. By the time Maddy was in her teens, she also worked for Look – photographing such rising stars as Elton John, James Taylor, and Melanie.
Maddy Miller’s photo of Cher was not a crystal ball for me but it should have been. I didn’t know that just as I was discovering Maddy Miller’s beautiful photo of Cher in Central Park, my life was about to change. Within the month I’d be making my very first visit to New York City; an Indiana farm boy walking through Central Park and meeting Cher. Many decades later New York City – the city I loved – would become my home. Today this beautiful silver gelatin print hangs on the wall in my apartment. I live with it as part of my personal landscape, but sometimes I take a moment to stop and admire and remember. A young man who had worked hard to conform to everyone else’s ideal of the perfect Indiana boy and failed. I created a new identity that brought me happiness and belonging.
I was lucky enough to meet Maddy Miller many decades later. She shared her memories of that time. The intimacy created between a photographer and subject due to simplicity; working with no assistant, no lights. A great time for photographing celebrities in terms of access – no glam squad, no publicist, and little fanfare – just a personal assistant to help. It was perhaps the last hurrah for that magical gateway where photography happened without the huge commercial machine it became. Artists created photographic images that were breathtakingly beautiful and real. Faces were distinct – no stylists were present and each person brought their own individual glamour to a session. Maddy Miller recalled Cher as accommodating, funny, and completely at ease in front of the camera. Shooting her alongside Robert Altman and Sandy Dennis outside the Martin Beck Theater, she captured the energy and the edge. She had just sat in on a rehearsal for Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. With camera in tow, Maddy accompanied Cher to Bergdorf Goodman, where she bought a pair of short red Arche boots, then to a friend’s boutique where she tried some things on for photos. It was important to Cher to include her friend in the magazine story.
Maddy talked about how she always liked (still does) taking her subjects to Central Park. So many possibilities, so much beautiful texture and open space makes it less intimidating for the subject. She was shooting Cher on rocks and with a police barricade. They passed by a bench – that great bench – and Cher said, “Want to see me sit on the bench?” Without pausing, Cher just sat down and Maddy knew that in that moment she had THE photo. She snapped and there it was.
She still gets asked if the image is photo-shopped – an expression she hates. Later, stopping past Gene Simmons apartment (“No pictures” there) she recalls décor from what seemed like an Egyptian fantasy – complete with a giant photograph of Diana Ross, alongside shelves of wigs on stands. Maddy wasn’t sure if they belonged to Cher, Diana, or Gene. Or for that matter, all three of them.
Cher, then 35, was quoted asking herself: Is there life after Flash? For Cher, there certainly was. Her future would include a successful acting career, an Academy Award, and an ongoing life as a highly successful entertainer. As I write this, that professional life has just entered its 5th decade, making Cher someone that matters to at least 3 generations of fans.
Maddy herself became People Magazine’s longtime Photo Editor for Special Issues. Today, she brings a career’s worth of knowledge and experience to her People storytelling style. She believes in informal individual family portraiture that happens in a comfortable non-studio setting. This, she believes, best conveys the personality of her subjects.
When I look at Maddy Miller’s print of Central Park, I’m reminded of an era that many not only mourn, but claim has had a lasing influence on American taste, music, writing, and painting. I also think of the countless times Jeff and I have enjoyed beautiful runs through and around Central Park, never allowing ourselves to ever take any of it for granted. And more than anything I remind myself, all that you hope to achieve can come to you. Work hard. Think hard. Think harder and talk about it. Write it down. Put it out there. Be brave. Love who you are and value being authentic. You’re never too old to Toss Glitter.
I wanted to be the perfect boy. A perfect boy would be loved by everyone around him because he was so perfect…
As a boy my father said I’d never be happy being who I was, and I believed him. The voices at church – my church that I loved- warned of this abomination called homosexuality. I didn’t understand what that was, but understood it was the worst thing you could possibly be.
When people reminisce, they often celebrate the past by saying it was a simpler time. A time of homespun wisdom and black-and-white choices. A time when the road before you was marked with clear lines and commanding signposts. But when I look back now, I think of the extraordinarily complex path it took to arrive at simple truths. Simple truths in a more complex world.
No matter how much time passes that boy will always exist. If I could truly go back in time- well, I’d tell that boy who heard he’d have a lifetime of misery if he continued down the path of just being himself- I’d tell that boy to hang on. I’d tell him a change is coming. I’d tell him he would have a happy ending to his Farm Story. But even more, I’d tell him he’d find a happy beginning.
That boy is smiling…
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy…
To everyone who has read, shared and added their own voice there are simply no words to express what that means to me. Thank you. Your support for Farm Stories has filled me with gratitude. The next few months I’ll be working towards the release of my book which looks like will be early spring.
FARM STORY: Coming Out of Indiana
I grew up on a farm in a small Indiana town where church, family, and identity were the unchanging signposts of an acceptable life. Conventionality was more than just expected – it was the highest form of success. Art, music, and movies might have their place here and there, but boys were expected to be boys and excel at traditional masculine pursuits. Despite always feeling somehow different and apart from most of everyone else around me, I worked hard to be the perfect image of a son, brother, and friend. Reared in a household where perfection and faith were the two pillars of the family, I struggled to understand my own identity as well as the currents of unhappiness – and change – that were beginning to swirl around both me and the outside world. Finding my way out of the straightjacket of my past into a different kind of future was a long rock-covered road. My choices would hurt people I loved along the way, but I somehow knew that living my true life would be the only thing that would make it all worth it. And only if I had a loving and forgiving heart myself would I be able to find my way back to people I loved while stumbling forward into a happier future…
Look up here, I’m in Heaven!
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen,
Everybody knows me now…
Transcending music,art, fashion and generations…
The boy inside me is broken hearted…
Because when it feels authentic you love forever…
Tossing Glitter… Marriage
“You don’t have to be perfect-perfection is a myth!” With those words a sense of healing and personal value began to bubble up inside me. Somehow, in just a few short weeks, I knew this was it. Jeff told me he wanted to share a happy life with me. ME!!! He believed happiness was attainable for us- together.
It’s hard pushing negative voices out of your head. As a boy my father said I’d never be happy being who I was, and I believed him. The voices at church – my church that I loved- warned of this abomination called homosexuality. I didn’t understand what that was, but understood it was the worst thing you could possibly be. I remember a time everyone thought I was wonderful. But I knew better. Because I was simply pretending to be the person that I believed I needed to be.
Pushing into a new world as a gay man I hoped to find my place as my true self. But those voices continued.
I knew absolutely nothing about gay life or relationships. I remembered hearing how gay people were incapable of commitment and incapable of being with one person. And I remember thinking “Am I incapable of that? Because that’s what I really want.”
Jeff had a beautiful and infectious smile. His take-charge personality gave me a combined feeling of safety and strength. He extended a genuine kindness to people – not just to me but everyone around us. His way of being in the world filled me a sense of love and gratitude. As the years began to pass, I found myself falling deeper in love. When you’ve grown up believing yourself unworthy of everyday happiness, you simply don’t allow yourself to take love for granted. But somehow, I eventually relaxed. I began to believe that I was worthy of happiness, that happiness belonged as much to me as to anyone else.
Marriage means different things to different people. We’ve all known someone who shares a seemingly volatile and unproductive life with their spouse and we shake our heads – it just makes no sense to us. How did they get married in the first place? But it’s their marriage, and only they know the truth of it.
But I think people see my life with Jeff and understand why we wanted to be married. After nearly twenty-eight years of a shared life together, marriage brought a renewed sense of adventure and freedom. The ease and comfort that comes from deep commitment is something that Jeff and I both value. And we feel a sense of accomplishment in our commitment, knowing that we share an authentic, happy life. Knowing that we are a family.
The voices still exist. They will always exist. But when you’ve found your own voice and created your own narrative, those voices can’t hold you captive. They can still hurt but they cannot rob you of what you have. Your own inner voice is more important than the shrieking of others. You begin to understand that biting criticism reveals more about the critic than you. They want their truth to be the only truth. But that simply isn’t true. You have to remind yourself that nothing hurts more than hiding in the shadows. And you need to look those critics in the eye and declare that your own ability to have a happy and productive life with your chosen partner is wonderful. It is fulfilling and life-enhancing. And you are not falling short of anyone’s ideals because your own happiness isn’t identical to theirs.
I once made a list of the things I hoped to accomplish in my life. It was a short list but a good list. Growing old with the person I love was number one on that list. And I simply can’t imagine a bigger accomplishment than that. To experience the magic that’s created through a shared life of truth, love and commitment…
That’s strength, that’s glitter, that’s marriage.
There are all kinds of faith, and kinds of ways of having faith.
Implying that someone’s faith is somehow false because it is different than yours is hurtful in the most personal way.
Faith is supposed to be used to inspire. God is big enough to handle everyone being unique. God transcends everything.
Using the life and words of Jesus as an example to give and extend love and support. Love and support that has no beginning and no end – it doesn’t exclude anyone. Reflecting love is for everyone. Never be afraid to ‘Toss Glitter’ the world needs more of it…
Tongue tied and twisted
It always comes out wrong
Comes out wrong
There’s a time bomb ticking
You’ve only got so long
Got so long
Who’s gonna hear your prayers
If you don’t, if you won’t
Who’s gonna sing your song
If you don’t, if you won’t
As it so often does, the universe was working it’s magic, though it would be several months before I’d come to connect the dots. I’d heard the name Diane Birch as we had several mutual friends, one of whom brought her to our wedding. This was a magical night. I was marrying the man I had committed my life to. Standing with Jeff, greeting family and friends from every decade of our life together, I found myself looking into Diane’s huge, beautiful and bewitching eyes for the first time. I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve always believed eyes truly are the window to a persons soul. I felt an immediate connection with her. Diane would tell me later that she kept hearing from different friends about these guys who were affectionately referred too as ‘The Guncles’. Later, she realized that Jeff and I were those “Guncles”.
During the wedding, the music trio began to play a slow, haunting and melodic version of Cher’s Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves Diane told me that as an artist she hoped to create a moment of impact with her music –to bring a moment of joy, or comfort, or beauty for that listener in that moment.
Though I’d been writing down my thoughts for the past ten years- and searching for more clarity within my writing voice – I often felt like I kept hitting a wall. I hadn’t thought about a process that might help pull me inside myself and give me what I needed to push my voice further. Jeff was traveling on this particular morning, and I’d decided to face the treadmill solo instead of the street. Pulling my I-pod and headphones from the closet I quickly scanned my playlists. Though completely out of character – I’ve never been a flavor-of-the-moment kinda guy – I found myself looking through iTunes in search of something new. Suddenly, Diana Birch caught my eye. Smiling at the memory of those beautiful, huge bright eyes I hit download and minutes later stepped onto the treadmill. The music filled my headphones and lyrics filled my mind:
Looking through a dark light
Tear this page away
Another side of midnight
With nothing left to say
The sound and the words felt so fresh and new, yet there was something very familiar, and old soul about it. Glorious. It had been a very long time since I thought of the word ‘glorious’ when listening to new music. By the 3rd song, I was lost in my thoughts. Visions from Farm Stories were playing in my mind so vividly I could barely get though my run. Back inside my apartment my thoughts were overflowing. I sat down at the computer, and the keypad could barely keep up. Was this simply a fluke? The following day I returned to the treadmill with Diane Birch and headphones in tow, and it was a repeat performance. If it hadn’t have been happening to me I might not have believed the effect someone’s voice, lyrics and music could have on another person’s creative process. It was as though her voice helped me to open my heart and mind and in response, hear my own. True inspiration. My process was born. Running and listening to Diane Birch became my way. And days turned into months and now into years.
‘Speak a little louder’ showed me the way to do just that. Diane Birch, as an artist helped create that moment for me through her art. And I’m grateful.