Dancing up a sweat on top of a speaker in a Boston gay bar in 1979, Nora Burns met shirtless gay adonis David. The teenage twosome tore it up to the Sylvester anthem blaring on the soundsystem, and were instant kindred spirits. A lifelong fag and hag romance was born, and Nora and David soon high-tailed it to a grungier New York City where the party went on all night long—a wild fin de siècle recounted in Nora’s beautifully elegiac new show David’s Friend at La Mama.
The piece plays almost as a disco-era flipside of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, as Burns recalls the endless nights of dancing with abandon, the hedonistic sex and the avalanche of cocaine. Luckily Nora sometimes kept a journal detailing their escapades, because as the saying goes, if you remember the '80s, you weren’t there. Photos of the pair getting ready for a night on the town are flashed to music by Burns' on-stage DJ Billy Hough, spinning all their battle hymns, like Roxy Music’s melancholy masterpiece Dance Away.
Nora & David
David’s Friend is a sweet funny valentine to her dearly departed pal, struck down by AIDS-related illness at age 31. Part requiem and part rave, the mood is never mournful. It’s a true celebration of life, love and friendship, reincarnating for audiences not only David and Nora at their youthful best, but the amazing fun of going out in an increasingly mythical and thankfully pre-social media New York City. See it, and you will feel like you are there.
Nora and I sat down at Housing Works Café to discuss how the show came about and what we do for fun nowadays.
OUT: How did David’s Friend come about?
Nora Jones: About 2 years ago I pulled up some photos of David on his birthday, and I realized how this person missed so much of who I am, and what happened in these 20-odd years since he died, I started doing comedy, had my kids. I miss having him in my life, so what can I do? I do shows, so I'll do a show. It was going to be just a one nighter at Dixon Place, but it went well. I did it again in Ptown [and] it felt a bit too memorial, so it got bigger and fuller. I really can’t say enough good stuff about the director Adrienne.
The DJ and having Billy Hough onstage makes it more of a party. You put the "FUN" in funeral.
It’s great to have a friend onstage with me. The show happens in the back and the story happens in the front.
For those who missed the era, how can you explain the power of disco, and of going out to clubs every night?
It was the magic of New York, you just DID. NOT. STAY. HOME! What was going to happen there? Nothing, that’s what. Even with a cold sore, a stye in my eye and on crutches I went out.
What’s your record for the most clubs and parties hit in one night, zig zagging all over town? Mine was 11 and I was 18 years old.
Wow—with all the energy in the world.
More like all the cocaine.
We didn't leave the house until like 1 AM, which now I find appalling. You always went out because you didn't want to feel like you were missing out. So much was going on.
Where’s the last place you went dancing?
Sunday night at the Monster! Lady Bunny’s night, It’s my favorite. I will just go there alone. Also it is nice and early!
It’s the early bird special, what are we in Boca Raton? The show is howlingly funny, and also quite sad. How do you keep it together onstage?
I literally haven’t made it through a rehearsal, run-through or show without breaking down at some point, and I never know when its going to be. I let it happen when it happens, its part of the ride.
What is it about these friendships between straight women and gay men that’s so special?
It's just a simpatico thing. My first one was Francis from theater class in high school. It feels like home. And the girls I have the closest bonds with are my fellow fag hags. But I hate the girls that go to gay bars like, "Oh my god we’re in a gay bar, there’s all these cute guys, but omg they’re gay.” You have to respect it. It's an honor and privilege to be there.
David’s Friend is playing ONE NIGHT ONLY at Joe’s Pub Thu February 15th, 9:30pm. Written and performed by Nora Burns, and directed by Adrienne Truscott. Tickets are $20 at joespub.com.