Talking With Armistead Maupin :: Telling Tales in Ptown
We know that Armistead Maupin is a great storyteller from his legendary "Tales of the City" book series and other novels he's penned over the years, and this weekend he is also going to be telling those stories at the Paramount in Provincetown.
At his two shows set at the Paramount (at the Crown and Anchor), Maupin will be telling stories about himself and his journey that began, in his words, when he was an "ultra-conservative" young man who is now an activist and voice for the queer community.
When EDGE talked to him earlier this week, the esteemed author didn't have anything to announce quite yet about what may or may not be happening with a potential "Tales of the City" revival on TV; but there was still plenty to talk about in terms of his love for Ptown, how it and San Francisco are similar, and, since he was present at the recent San Francisco premiere, his thoughts on the upcoming "Looking" movie on HBO.
EDGE: Tell me about what you're doing in Provincetown this year. Is calling it a stage show correct?
Armistead Maupin: Well, I'm standing on a stage or sometimes I'm sitting on a stage. Usually I get an armchair and a lamp and it's like 'Uncle Armistead Tells Stories.' I'm going to be reading a few chapters from my memoir, a few fun chapters, and then just chatting with the audience. That's what I usually do.
EDGE: I didn't think you were up there doing a song and dance...
Armistead Maupin: No, no. I wish I were Leslie Jordan but I'm not!
EDGE: How do you approach these shows?
Armistead Maupin: It just really depends on what is going on in my life at the time. I'm pretty comfortable talking in front of a room full of people so it's never an issue for me. I get enormous strokes when there is laughter or tears or anything in between.
EDGE: And you'll be there at the start of Bear Week!
Armistead Maupin: I've been there the last five or six years during Bear Week. It's a great audience and, let's face it, I'm a bear!
EDGE: It's no coincidence, then!
Armistead Maupin: Right. I seem to be wearing suspenders these days so I think that's a good indicator.
EDGE: When did you realize you were a bear?
Armistead Maupin: I love the people who tend to identify as bears. I don't have a paw tattooed on my shoulder but I think it's great that us bigger guys are getting appreciation. It's quite genuine since I'm married to a man who likes my belly.
EDGE: How do you see San Francisco and Provincetown? I think they might be more alike than we might realize at first. What do you think?
Armistead Maupin: You know, I was thinking the same thing this morning. I was walking back from breakfast and past these little cottages and the blue sky and feeling very much contained by a village and it dawned on me that there are similarities with Ptown. I think most of us crave community in one form or another and these places that tend to put a lot of queers in one place can be extremely satisfying.
EDGE: What is it you like about Provincetown?
Armistead Maupin: The foot traffic and the ability to stroll down Commercial Street and bump into people you haven't seen in 6-8 months or two years and feel as if you're all in Mayberry together. Chris dragged me kicking and screaming to the Boatslip. I tend to not like large crowds but if you woo your way over to the far end you can actually sit down and watch the festivities. I enjoy that immensely... Ptown has the pleasures of a small town with a lot of urban sophistication thrown in.
EDGE: Is there a place you just have to go whenever you're in Ptown?
Armistead Maupin: I love the Canteen! That seems to be a steady one for us these days.
EDGE: Are you going in just for your shows or staying the whole week?
Armistead Maupin: We'll be there the entire week and hoping to see a number of friends there such as Alan Cumming, James Lecesne and my old friend Kirk Frederick, who is going to be reading from a book about Charles Pierce, the great male actress in the old days as they called him [and] as he called himself. I wrote the forward to [the book]. He's going to be at the library in the Marc Jacobs Room. (July 16 at 2 p.m. at the Ptown Library).
[Pierce] had a great influence on me, actually, in terms of just making me let my hair down when I was a young queer. Sometimes you have to see someone who's sillier than you are to make you see the truth.
EDGE: Where is your favorite place to write? Some people write at their home but others like to go somewhere else to write. What about you?
Armistead Maupin: No, I have a friend who goes and sits on a hill every day and that would drive me crazy! I have to be right here at home on the same computer lost in whatever world I'm trying to create. When I was younger I used to think I could go rent a cabin in the Sierra but you just end up wondering where the can opener is. At home, you just have it all around you and I think it's a myth that a beautiful, distant place will make you write better.
EDGE: I saw you at the 'Looking' premiere in San Francisco. What was your impression of it?
Armistead Maupin: I was a fan of the show and I'm even a bigger fan of the movie. There was something about knowing these people intimately already in this two-hour story that centered on the Patrick character that made it very, very satisfying and moving. I have nothing but respect for Andrew Haigh, the director. The whole thing is a visual poem to San Francisco. I think Andrew Haigh's work is amazing. I loved 'Weekend.'
And I got to know all of those boys, if I can call them boys at my age, who were in 'Looking.' They're just as lovely human beings as they are actors. The whole thing felt very, very like a class reunion because they had spent time here in the Castro for a better part of the last few years and you could see Groffy riding down the street on his bicycle or have your barber brag that he'd cut Russell Tovey's hair just the day before. They're good souls. Daniel Franzese, I adore him.
EDGE: I still hear some grumblings from people who did not like the show as we did. Why do you think that is?
Armistead Maupin: We're not a monolith, that's one thing we should learn. Everybody thinks differently. It rang some people's chimes and it didn't others. And I think the pressure is so enormous on any show that gets a lot of focus as a gay story to appeal to everyone, all the time. There were people who said it wasn't racially diverse enough but it seemed to me that it was but maybe I'm seeing it through an old white guy's eyes.
But I thought it caught the flavor of the city and, to a certain degree, the complexities of man-on-man relationships, the way that love affairs can evolve into friendships and vice versa and the perils of that. I think it made us squirm a little bit because it was very close to the truth at many times.
EDGE: What can you say about your memoir?
Armistead Maupin: The memoir that I'll be reading from is called 'Logical Family,' which is a phrase I coined in 'Tales of the City.' It's the family that takes care of you when your biological family isn't doing the job. I'm writing it right now.
EDGE: How has it been going back to earlier times in your life?
Armistead Maupin: It's a little bit creepy because I'm examining my ultra-conservative youth. We can often blame our parents for everything but at a certain point we have to say, 'yes, that's the person I was then' and be honest about it. I think it's why I am the person I am today, which is a good thing. Both Harvey Milk and I started out as Naval officers and Goldwater conservatives before we cut loose. I think in some ways it makes for a better informed activist if you've lived on the other side.
You can catch Armistead Maupin on Sunday, July 10 at the Paramount at the Crown and Anchor on Commercial Street. For ticket information, follow this link. You can also keep up with Maupin on his website.