This week’s episode is our first trip to the US!
Norman Brannon, musician and writer, was busy figuring himself out when he first stumbled upon Big Cup, a gay coffee shop that stood in Chelsea, Manhattan between 1994 – 2005…
I ask a bunch of awkward questions about life as a hare krishna rock star (who knew that was a thing?), and the rules of living life as a Straight Edge-r. We also talk about the thrill of being in your first queer venue, the changing face of New York and the importance of non-alcoholised spaces.
Find out more about Norman by following him on twitter.
Norman Brannon 0:00
When I lived there originally, it still felt a little edgy, you know, it had that sort of, you know, everything felt like it was something out of desperately seeking Susan is like, you know, all the restaurants seem gay and all the you know, like everything seemed gay on Eighth Avenue.
K Anderson 0:22
I am K Anderson, and you are listening to lost spaces, a podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there and the people that they used to know. Norman Brannon is a musician and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Best known for his work in the band, Texas is the reason we caught up to discuss become a gay coffee shop located in Chelsea, New York City between 1994 and 2005.
Norman Brannon 1:28
big cup kind of takes place in a period of my life that really sort of marks a lot of my sort of queer experience in different ways by where it bookended just by, you know, the fact of when it opened and when it closed. So in 1984, I was in Texas The reason I was 20 years old, 21 years old, and I was not out. I was a Harry Krishna at the time. And so I had, I joined the Harry Krishna was when I was 17. And I became a monk for about two years. And I took vows of priesthood, which sounds a little weird, but part of the vows included a vow of celibacy. So it sort of created a weird period of time in my life, because I think I knew I was gay. But I was also sort of practicing celibacy. And I was sincere about that I didn’t use the Harry Krishna as as a way to like be in the closet. It was just sort of what I was into. And but, you know, when you’re practicing celibacy, sexuality sort of felt moot, at least for the time being. So when I left monkhood, and
K Anderson 3:05
just before, just before you left, your involvement, then does that mean you have to live in a monastery?
Norman Brannon 3:16
Or in the temple? Yeah, I’m only if you’re planning on, you know, taking that sort of renunciate path. So there are different paths that you can take, you don’t have to become a monk. But I was in a predicament where I left home when I was 16 years old. I sort of bounced around a little bit before I just decided that I was going to be a monk. And, you know, for me, becoming a monk was about finding some discipline, finding some stability, finding some family, right, I left home, largely because my family life was poor. I came from an abusive home, my mother basically violently assaulted me my entire life up until I was old enough to fight back. And then she stopped. And I knew I always knew that I’d be leaving home as soon as I turned 16. As soon as I found out that they couldn’t legally stop me. That was when I was going to leave so. So you know, the Harry Krishna has provided me with a lot of those things. I was already you know, coming out of the punk scene, I had gotten into hardcore punk in New York, and very early on, like when I was 13. I went to my first show. And, and so, you know, this notion of looking for a surrogate family was very real to me. And the Harry Krishna movement definitely provided me with a more stable version of that than I think I’d ever had. So I just decided that you know, I was young. Why not? Try. And that was Yeah, that was two years of my life. And then
K Anderson 5:07
and so what was the thing that then made you fall out of love with it or want to move on?
Norman Brannon 5:14
Um, you know, I think the life of a monastic is definitely not for everyone, I think I definitely spent a good year grinning and baring it. Because, you know, you wake up at 330, every morning, you go through rituals from 430 to 515, then you meditate for two hours, then you have more rituals until like, you don’t eat breakfast, I think till 830 or nine, then you’re, you know, doing different service, whether that’s maintenance at the temple or going out and selling books or doing all these different things.
kind of lonely, I think. Because everyone is only relating to each other through the, through the prism of this religion. And so what I was originally sort of attracted to this idea of the surrogate family, it started to feel less real over time, because it felt like, everything was seen through this prism. And I couldn’t really have any sort of like real conversations with people without it, somehow going back through this filter, and that bummed me out. And a good friend of mine, who I’d met as a devotee, we started talking on the phone, like every night, and I was just, you know, completely going crazy. And he was just like, why don’t you just leave, and come live at my father’s house with me? And I was like, okay, isn’t your dad gonna care? Don’t you need to ask them and he was like, nice, fine. And he was he didn’t care. I literally just showed up. And he was like, Hey, hey, what’s up? And that started up, I think, what became my life, because that summer that I moved into my friend’s house. He also then asked me to play in his band who were going on tour that month. And they need a guitar player. And I was like, yeah. And that started my career as a musician. So
K Anderson 7:23
it’s not worked out. But what was that? We will get onto there. Yeah. What was that transition? Like from going from a very structured life to one that wasn’t?
Norman Brannon 7:37
Well, I think that when you leave the structured life, you go crazy. Yeah, it’s sort of like coming out of the closet and becoming a slot. Right? Which I mean, either. But it was sort of like that. I was just sort of like going crazy, like, so happy, like, free. I’m just gonna, like watch MTV. And yeah, eat junk food. You know, I mean, that was my version of going crazy. I wasn’t, I didn’t drink TV.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 14. I’m a nice boy. So, yeah, so my version was more more or less just doing whatever I wanted, like feeling that freedom for the first time in my life. And, and I think traveling the country, you know, in a rock band, and sort of meeting all these new people and not having any sort of rules. That was just exactly what I needed. And then I sort of scaled back a little bit. Yeah, because I had to realize, at that point, when I got home was, cuz I remember I got home from that tour, and I was essentially homeless. And I was like, okay, shit, I gotta figure out what I do. Yeah, who am I and what do I What do I do?
K Anderson 8:51
Yeah, yeah, cuz that’s the thing is, it’s like there’s something liberating because like, suddenly, all these rules that have been imposed, either by yourself or by other people have gone. But then, once that novelty wears off, it’s like, Ah, yeah.
Norman Brannon 9:11
Yeah, you can’t just sort of be without rules forever. Maybe some people can, but those are usually the people that everyone are like, Oh, man, that dude’s got to get his act together. And I never wanted to be that dude. I like to think that, you know, I have a decent enough head on my shoulders that I know when Enough is enough. I think
K Anderson 9:37
possibly. Okay, so you came. So you’ve been on this tour and came off tour. And so at what, how old? Were you at that?
Norman Brannon 9:45
So at that point, I was 21 going was nice. And I even I was like, 18 Oh, yeah, 19 years old, something like that.
K Anderson 9:53
Okay, so that’s like a few years before Yeah, open. So
Norman Brannon 9:57
like so basically like My life between big cup and let’s say, that tour was pretty much all building a career as a musician and a writer. So I did that one tour. And then I got asked to play guitar for a bigger band. And then I did another tour. And then I got asked to play guitar for a bigger band. And so by the summer of 93, I’m in one of the biggest bands of the scene at the time. And I’m making a living, I’m becoming well known things are starting to feel good. But the emptiness there was a few rounds of emptiness. So one was that the band that was in 93, was actually a band of Harry Krishnas. And they were called shelter. And shelter was a band that was sort of born from this legendary New York hardcore band called youth today. I grew up watching youth today and loving youth today. So when they asked me to play in their new band, I was just like, Fuck, yes, let’s do. I was thrilled. And I learned a ton from being in that band, because they were a big band. And I didn’t have to do any of the work to get there. And they’re already there.
K Anderson 11:17
But wait, so hang on. Is there a Hari Krishna scene?
Norman Brannon 11:22
They basically started to Harry Krishna. Rock world. Yeah. Okay. So it’s it actually, in the summer of 93, we actually took out a tour bus with like, I think they were like, 20 of us like 20 Harry Krishna is just traveling around America and Europe, like going to shows, you know, with, you know, chanting Hari Krishna between bands, like, you know, selling books and beads. And like, you know, it was like a whole, it was a movement. Oh, wow. Within the punk movement, so it was it was sort of intense. But what I started realizing on that tour, and that year, I was with them for about a year and a half. And during that time, I think there were two things that were going on. So one was that the sexuality part was becoming clearer to me. I was feeling like, it was coming to a head, like, I knew I was gay. And even celibate or not, I felt like I needed to express it somehow. And I didn’t know how. So that was one thing. The other thing was that I was starting, and maybe this was related, or I was conflating it. But I started feeling like maybe I didn’t really want to be a gay Harry Krishna. I didn’t really know. You know, well, actually, I did know, some Gary Krishna is and I’ll get back to that in a second. But
I didn’t know how to be a functional one, I guess. I don’t know how to explain that, without going into all
K Anderson 13:00
of the details of Harry Krishna says that you didn’t have any role models?
Norman Brannon 13:04
Yeah, there wasn’t really anything like that. And and is it?
K Anderson 13:10
Is it like forbidden or frowned upon within that religion? Or?
Norman Brannon 13:14
I mean, it depends on who you talk to. I think there’s, you know, there are people who I like to call like born again, Krishnas, who sort of like bring in sort of weird Christian moralism into their,
K Anderson 13:25
their Harry Krishna that No.
Norman Brannon 13:28
Yeah, they, they bring it into their stew. And that’s how they do it. There are other people. So for example, the person who initiated me, who gave me my Harry Krishna name and who I made vows to my guru. He, I came out to him before he initiated me because I was like, he should know, just in case, that’s a problem.
K Anderson 13:49
And he says, sweet,
Norman Brannon 13:51
so what I wanted to know, too, and so I remember he just like, looked at me. He was like, so that’s it, though, right? I was like, yeah. And he’s like, okay, like, that’s cool. He’s like, my uncle was gay. Like, that’s fine. And he’s like, the main thing is that the sort of rules are the same whether you’re gay or not
K Anderson 14:10
like yeah, there are celibacy and surrogacy. Yeah, exactly.
Norman Brannon 14:15
And so there was this, you know, but there was a feeling of relief. And I was sort of like, okay, that’s cool. He’s cool with it, then I’m cool with this, like, you know, I’ll keep moving along in this this route.
it was definitely getting to a point where I couldn’t I couldn’t do it anymore as a role model Harry Krishna meaning being in this band, feeling like people were looking at me as some sort of way to be a devotee. And to what did you feel like you were a fraud, or did you feel that they
K Anderson 14:51
Norman Brannon 14:52
Well, there was still this feeling of you don’t know who I am. Okay. I think that you know, because I was Still in the closet, and not being able to express myself in any way. As a gay man, I think I was feeling just not whole. Okay. And that’s no way to be. And it’s definitely no way to be when people are looking to you potentially as a guide on their own paths.
K Anderson 15:23
Yeah. So but there was no, like, you know, lots of performers talk about their stage persona. And then the real there’s nothing there was there was no, there was just all one thing for you. It was all one.
Norman Brannon 15:35
Definitely. Yeah. So we, I sort of did the, I did that band for as long as I could. And then I had the foresight to start a side situation. About eight months before I knew I was going to leave the band for good, I started a magazine called the anti matter. And that became my job, then for the next two and a half to three years. So the first issue of that came out in 1993. And then second issue, by the time the second issue came out, I’d quit that band. And now this was my full time job. So that was 1994. And I was, so I was still obviously, friends with all the Harry Krishna has. And one of my best friends in the Harry Krishna movement had a loft in Chelsea on 24th Street and Sixth Avenue in New York. And I lived there on and off for a bunch of time in the 90s. So in 94, I must have been living there. And, and I remember one night, just as I’m gonna take a walk, took a walk. And again, at this point, I knew I was gay, but I had no reference for what that meant. A lot of what I realised I was doing was that a lot of my reference for being gay was just from walking around gay neighbourhoods. And at the time, in the 90s, Chelsea was a gay neighbourhood, but the West Village was still sort of more than a gay neighbourhood. So Christopher street, and you know, that whole area where Stonewall is, and you know, and so I just used to walk, you know, feeling connected to the, to the gay community at that point was walking down Seventh Avenue South and Christopher street, and not even going in anywhere. Literally, just walking down the street was my way of connecting,
K Anderson 17:31
and not going in. Because you were scared to go in or made already.
Norman Brannon 17:38
Yeah, no, I mean, there was probably fear. Like I, you know, I grew up in a Pentecostal Christian family, and being gay was very much shorthand for being a predator being a pervert, being, you know, the scum of the earth, basically, the demonic forces of Satan as a person. That was how I was raised. So whether or not I believe that implicitly, the residue persists. Yes,
yes. So can you just chuck that off? Yeah. Yeah. So there was absolutely fear. But then there was also
So I came from a subculture of the hardcore scene called straight edge, right have these three axes tattooed on my wrist? Straight Edge means you don’t drink you don’t smoke. You don’t do drugs.
K Anderson 18:39
But there’s also a sex thing isn’t there?
Norman Brannon 18:41
in the original lyrics to the song was don’t drink don’t smoke don’t fuck or fucking it up. But it’s it’s in there. But it wasn’t like a thing about celibacy necessarily.
K Anderson 18:54
Yeah. But it’s, it’s more about non promiscuity. Yeah, we’re just like non it was basically like mindful sex, right? I guess know him for a week.
Norman Brannon 19:07
But but generally
speaking, straightedge kids, don’t drink don’t smoke. Yeah. And don’t do drugs. And many of them are vegetarian or vegan. Yeah. So that was the world that I was from. And at that point, I still very much called myself straight edge. So it it was something that I felt strongly about is a huge part of my life. And, unfortunately, walking down crisper street or walking down Seventh Avenue South. It was like, what was I going to do? Yeah, I was either going to a sex shop, or going to a bar, and I’m just gonna wet drink soda and hope that someone talks to me who’s not drunk, like, like, I just sort of was like, this sucks, like, so. That was really I remember that area. And I still you know, it’s funny. I still walk down Seventh Avenue South like just right randomly when I’m going places, and I get I moved right back into that mindset, and remembering that feeling. But it didn’t matter. Like, that’s the thing that’s crazy is that not going into any of these places didn’t matter to me. It still fed something in my soul. I cannot figure out why, or how. But that’s, that’s what it did for a good amount of time.
K Anderson 20:24
And so was there like a thrill to it?
Norman Brannon 20:28
There was also a thrill. Definitely, because there was a feeling of like, you know, you’re doing something that feels a little elicit. Yeah, could potentially I could potentially walk into this. Yeah. You know, like it. It felt like the thrill I guess it’s sort of like the thrill of like, when you just meet someone, and you don’t know where it’s gonna go? Yeah, yeah, that’s sort of how it felt any night could have been the night that something crazy happened,
K Anderson 20:53
right? You can go in all these different directions.
Norman Brannon 20:55
Yeah, but it, you know, I never did. And it just, and that was fine, because I was just sort of like trying to deal with my sexuality, the way that I can figure out how to deal with it. And I actually even remember, at that time, I was working at a health food store in the East Village called prana. And I remember one morning, so this would have been in 1993, or 92 or 93. One morning, I was sort of cleaning up out front, in front of the store, just sort of like, you know, getting rid of all the trash that gets swept up into the new york city streets overnight. And, and I remember I found a gay magazine. But it was like not like a glossy gay magazine. It was like a black and was tickling a fanzine. It was cool. Like it was pornographic,
it looked underground. I don’t remember what it was called. I don’t remember anything about it. I just remember taking it and just putting it in my backpack and being like, Oh, my God. Like, this is amazing. And then over the next
K Anderson 22:02
three months, we were covered in stains.
Norman Brannon 22:04
Yeah, well, actually, I kept it for like, a day before. I was just like, completely like, I can’t get this book. Because I was just like, worried of someone finding it. Yeah. Oh, so it was that you like
K Anderson 22:15
looked at the pitch? Of course. Oh, yeah. Like, yeah, no, I mean, those were etched into your brain. Yeah. Before you threw them. Okay.
Norman Brannon 22:20
And the excitement and sort of like, the, the reality of my wiring was very real. You know, like, I knew my being gay, even though I had not even kissed a man at that point, was not hypothetical. Whatever this was turned me the fuck on. It’s what I wanted. Right? So. So the Seventh Avenue South thing, that was a good period of time, but then I moved to Chelsea and I was living in Chelsea. And so in the 90s, and Chelsea, there was a strip, that, at least among people that I knew, we call it the strip. The Strip was Eighth Avenue between 14th Street and 23rd Street. And it’s funny, because over the years, there were even like, sides of the street that were like, like, the east side of the street was the cruzi side. And, and the west side of the street was more like, yeah, you have business to do. Yeah, you’re going somewhere.
K Anderson 23:24
What would you What do you mean, like if you’re walking along that, like
Norman Brannon 23:27
you almost expect it to be cruised on the east side of the street, like, whereas you didn’t get cruised as much on the west side of the street?
K Anderson 23:34
How is this street? It’s just sort of like it was almost like a hankie code of a street. I don’t know. That’s what if you were on the west side, and you spot someone that you fancy on the east side, you have to like get well, you wouldn’t get because it’s a it’s an avenue. So it’s a pretty it’s quite, it’s six lanes? No, no, it’s for so you wouldn’t? You wouldn’t necessarily, I mean, you can still spot someone that you fancy you wouldn’t
Norman Brannon 24:02
know now, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t. And if you were looking up on the side
K Anderson 24:09
okay, so there’s no like massive pile ups of cars, because you
Norman Brannon 24:15
know, but but that so that period, and so at this time in 1994, I didn’t know shit about Eighth Avenue. I didn’t know what it stood for. I didn’t know anything about Chelsea really.
K Anderson 24:26
Until one fateful day
Norman Brannon 24:27
until one fateful night it was. So I was I was just bored. And I was sitting at home. I was like, I’m just gonna go out and wander and explore. And,
K Anderson 24:38
and this is what people did before the internet, right? Yeah.
Norman Brannon 24:42
Exactly. Well, so like, I lived with a bunch of Harry Krishna. So we didn’t have a TV. We didn’t have Yeah, we didn’t do shit.
Did you have a toaster? Yeah, we weren’t Amish. But, um, but yeah, so like, I left the house and I guess I lived on sixth and 24th. So I just walked West. And you know, sooner on eighth and 24th. And then I walked out and I saw this coffee shop and I was like, at this school coffee shop, I walk in here. And I went into the coffee shop, I ordered some coffee. And I sat down. And I remember like, looking for The Village Voice or something, and like, you know, and seeing, there was village choices, but there was also Ajax, you know, the sort of like the game mags, they’ll game weeklies with all the club dates and all that stuff. And I was I kind of wanted to stick an Ajax in a village voice, and I was like, oh, lucky me, you know, kind of thing. And, but then as I sat there drinking my coffee, it became apparent to me that there were no women here. That all of the men looked vaguely familiar. And,
and just then, you know, there were just other things. I mean, they were I think there was a rainbow flag somewhere in there. It was like, you know, it was starting to feel like, Oh, shit. Is this a gay coffee shop. And just feeling like this. I mean, again, it was sort of like, first that feeling of like, illicit illness. It was actually like an excitement, like, holy shit. I’m in a gay establishment. And then there was also a fear of like, holy shit, I’m in a gay establishment. What if somebody walks past and sees me This place is well lit. And, and I remember like, I just drank my coffee and left and then sort of like, was like, goodbye. I was just completely. You know, it was scared. It almost felt like losing my virginity in a way. Because it was really the first time that I’d ever spent time sitting in a gay establishment around gay people. It was like Seventh Avenue South taken to the next level. I wasn’t just on your street. I was in your building. And your lavatory? Yeah, it was really. It was intense. And it sounds stupid. But it really was. And so this was your first time. You were there for how
K Anderson 27:15
long? long enough to drink a cup of coffee. One cup of coffee. Yeah, no one talked to you. You didn’t? Did you make eye contact with anyone
Norman Brannon 27:25
not know. Now, as soon as I realised, no, that’s true. But as soon as I realized that it was a gay coffee shop. I got really, you know, shy and and I just remember like walking home and just being like, oh, shaking, almost like I was like, Oh, my God.
K Anderson 27:45
And the shaking was because you were excited because you’re panicked. All of it. All of it,
Norman Brannon 27:51
all of it. Because it was becoming real. You know, I think that there are different moments in a game man’s life where things feel real. You know, maybe it’s the first time that you knowingly masturbate to something gay. And you’re finally just admitting it, that that’s exactly what you’re doing. You know, like, Oh, no, accidentally masturbated? Wow. Okay. I mean, I don’t know if you’re of the School of gay men who never looked at straight porn.
And, you know, pretending that you cared anything about the Oh, yeah. Now I know. Yeah.
I mean, a lot of people I know did I certainly did. It was definitely like, this cognitive dissonance that I was creating in my head where I was just like, it’s just boring. You know, every now and then I’d look at the woman. But that wasn’t, you know, that wasn’t what I was really fixated on. Yeah, that wasn’t where my fantasy was going. And then there there is definitely, at that point, I was knowingly stepping, unknowingly stepping into a gay establishment. But there was a conscious decision to stay to linger to sort of experience it. You know, and then there’s obviously, you know, kissing a guy for the first time or all these other things. They all are even coming out for the first time saying I’m gay. All of those things gave me the same type of feeling. I remember that. That’s super weird, shaky, kind of exciting feeling. And that was what I got that night. It was a really, it was a feeling that this is getting real.
K Anderson 29:41
And so so you rushed home? Yes. How long before you then went back? Not long. It didn’t
Norman Brannon 29:53
take long. I mean, I probably say like maybe a couple of weeks. I did have to work. A little nerve up to sort of like You know, it may have even been worse something where I was just walking around, you know what I mean? We’re in the back of my head. I knew where I was going, but I didn’t want to admit it. And, and then how many times did you pass the door before
K Anderson 30:13
you plucked up the courage to actually go in?
Norman Brannon 30:15
Oh, at that point, I, you know, I was fine going in. Okay. But it still was illicit. It’s still a secret. It still was something that I didn’t talk about. I didn’t tell people I’m going to pick up. I’ll see you there. It was.
K Anderson 30:36
But would that have meant anything to anyone?
Norman Brannon 30:38
I don’t know. Okay. I don’t know. But I didn’t want to deal with if it did, okay. Um, the thing is, is like, so in 1994, I was finally in a band of my own. Right, I was finally starting a band of my own, like, I was finally in a place where I built up enough of a name for myself and enough of a network around the world where I could start a band. And if we were good things could happen. It could be real. And the idea of coming out at that point was, um, fathomable. unfathomable, like, no, I would have more success just being out Harry Krishna than an out gay man. And that’s a fact, I have no, I’m not going to be one of those guys, who tells you like I should have just come out back then. Because it would have been fine, it would not have been fine. I’m not in my scene at that time. And, and so I had to sort of just be insane, insanely secretive, and insanely closeted, really. I wasn’t closeted to the point where I was like, talking to people and saying, you know, oh, that girl’s hot, or something like that, I just, you know, was very quiet and didn’t really talk to people at all. And I just did whatever I needed to do to sort of nourish that part of myself. And so, the thing about big cup is this. It was as much or as little as you wanted it to be. It was a gay space. without pressure. It was a gay space without sort of hard rules of who can attend. Right, like at any given moment, there between spares jocks, daddies, whoever,
K Anderson 32:43
like me, even women, and even
Norman Brannon 32:44
women. Not that much. It was just like one girl hanging out with a gay friend. And occasionally, the random stray person who wandered in her cup of coffee.
K Anderson 33:01
But it was,
Norman Brannon 33:03
it was all the things that I feel like I couldn’t get from any other gay venue at the time at the, at the best case scenario, the other venue, and not a venue. But the other public space that I could go into also getting that same sort of nourishment was the different light bookstore, which was not far on 18th Street, I think around the corner, and a different light bookstore, which doesn’t exist anymore, either. Also sort of the same vibe. And it reads that really sort of spoke to me as somebody who is a writer and like, is interested in sort of books and like reading, like, that’s, you know, that’s where I started, like buying sort of, like my first little books here and there. And, you know, and then just only I’m just open minded, you know, reading my open minded books. But I remember there was a book that I bought, called the best little boy in the world. And I, I would love to read that book again, I wish I still had it. My memory of it may be completely flawed, but I related to that person, whoever this person was that he wrote under a pseudonym, and then eventually came out as Andrew Tobias, who I think was like, eventually the democratic Treasurer in the United States government, but like, at the time was a random guy writing a book anonymously,
because that’s what we did.
And he was a very overachiever he was one of those type A guys that was type A because Wait, do we need to explain what type aka means? overachieving
K Anderson 34:48
guest I would say like you know, somebody who just very good with impossibly white teeth.
Norman Brannon 34:54
But someone who’s who’s. I can explain it through my prism like which is to say like, Growing up, I was straight A student, best behaved like, most together child that you could ever see. Because as long as I was all those things, no one would ask What’s wrong with you? No one would ask, no one would think that you could be anything other than the perfect is contained.
Yes. Yeah, just the perfect person. Yeah, you’re gonna be such a success when you grow up. And, and then you a lot of people carry that into adulthood. They never, it never goes away, you just sort of ice it has gone away from me. I’m not bad anymore. I don’t care. I’m now at this point. I’m just sort of like, yes, I’m flawed. I’m fucked up. And I’m twisted. And I’m also gay. But back then it was sort of a measure of armor against any sort of feeling that there’s something quote unquote, wrong with you. Yeah. And I read that book. And it just was, that was a huge, huge moment of recognition for me as seeing someone who represented the type of person that I thought I was,
K Anderson 36:10
yeah. And so does the book. Like, unpack the mindset of that? Well,
Norman Brannon 36:20
there was a follow up book, called the best little boy in the world grows up. And I feel like that unpacked A lot of it more than Okay, the other one, the other ones felt more like a coming of age story. Okay, the second book sort of became like, a more preachy, or a look back at that story, critical lens. Because it was more like, I can use my real name now even. Right? Um, yeah, anyway, but so that’s a different light, big cup, those are places that I felt like I could go to where I could feel gay, where I could exchange words with gay people, where I could sort of like, dip my toes in very non threatening, very inclusive, very welcoming, and also very non judgmental, you know, it wasn’t like going to a bar. And where the energy is either alcohol-alised or sexualised. You know, people, I think, in retrospect, talk about big conferences, super cruisy place. And I guess that was the case. I’m certainly people tried to pick me up. But like, I didn’t feel it. I didn’t necessarily feel that way about him. I felt like people sometimes just wanted to sit there and just hang out. And that was that was more sort of what my vibe was, I just wanted to hang out.
K Anderson 37:57
And so why couldn’t those people just hang out in a coffee shop for anyone?
Norman Brannon 38:04
Um, you mean, just a regular coffee shop? I think that’s a certain to certain extents. They did before big cup, right? Like, there were other coffee shops that weren’t officially gay coffee shops. But I feel like it’s important to have a space that’s yours. And I think that that was the thing about big cup that everyone I know, who’s been there will say the same thing. Like, it just felt like we finally had a space that we could go to during the day where we could be us completely, no matter what. And I still think the 90s was a time in the early 90s was a time where we weren’t allowed to be ourselves completely no matter what even if we were, you know, Starbucks, or wherever, you know, was open in 1993. It’s just, I don’t even think you get that at a gay club or a gay bar. You can’t be yourself in a gay bar. Nobody’s themselves at a gay bar. I feel like you put on your gay bar persona. I think people have gay bar personas.
K Anderson 39:19
And that’s because of the sexual nature or the, you know, like, Oh, yeah, there’s I mean, and it’s like more of a bravado.
Norman Brannon 39:30
Sure, like, as I eventually graduated into gay bar, or
K Anderson 39:35
did you get a certificate?
Norman Brannon 39:37
I didn’t, I sort of skipped a few grades. Now, but I mean, as I eventually started moving into a gay bar world, it was, you know, I realised that I had to walk a certain way I had to project a certain
K Anderson 39:52
thing. Yeah, definitely. I mean, if I was going to get any attention, okay. Okay. So I do want to talk about this. So To At what point after you’d started going to pick up? Did you then graduate.
Norman Brannon 40:07
So this is where it’s kind of interesting. So the band took off. And then I just sort of was on tour all the time. And I’d come home from tour and I, you know, I’d still visit, I’d still go there. But little by little, it was sort of becoming not enough. Like, because I was still not out, like properly out. At this point. By the end of the band, I would say, like people knew, and not because I particularly come out, but more because I just didn’t censor myself anymore. I sort of just would say things that a gay man would say. Like, I don’t know, I mean, I wouldn’t care about calling a guy hot or cute or like, you know, things like that, you know, which, like, most of my straight friends did not do. So, you know, I think people were eventually hip to it. And I never actually, I would say came out, I think everyone just sort of knew and accepted it almost overnight, at least within my world and music. But when the band broke up, it was a traumatic situation. And that was in 1997. And so, at that point, I moved to the Lower East Side. And I got super depressed. And I remember like, for an entire year, I just were all black. And I just, I went to this coffee shop in that neighbourhood in my neighbourhood, called the pink pony cafe, which unfortunately, despite His wonderful name was not a gay cafe. But it did have a good friend of mine who is the barista and he would just give me free coffee until I was like sweating and jittery freaking out. And then I would basically just go home and do nothing all day, because the band had made enough money to where I didn’t have to have a job. I could just do nothing and be depressed for a year. So I did that. And but you know, the Depression was partially the band breaking up, and it was also partially finally getting to this place now where it’s 1997. I am 23. And it’s just like, I’m fucking over this,
I need to come out. I need to be fully Yeah, I need to be whole. And
so at this point, I actually left New York, I moved to Chicago. And my first gay sexual experience happened at a gay club. You know, like, well, didn’t happen there. But it happened after that. 23
So that was and that was a very conscious thing, where I said, I need to take the next step. To make it real. I need to be real. Like I’ve got all these steps that feel real but now it’s like, this is the one like I need to go this route. And and
K Anderson 42:57
what are we talking like any old man will do? Well, let’s get this over and done with you know,
Norman Brannon 43:07
I didn’t go first of all, I didn’t even I didn’t go to the club looking to get laid or say I went to the club just to like, hang out and you know, dance cuz I liked, you know, house music. It just so happened that a very cute guy. put his hands around my waist on the dance floor. And I just thought, Oh, hello. Okay, I’m into this. And, and things went from there. And I was like, you know, got that shaky, jitter thing after. And, and, you know, everything’s just felt confirmed, right? But I feel like, but whatever way you had
K Anderson 43:47
sex in the club? No, oh. I’m not
If it was like in someone’s apartment, I don’t care.
Norman Brannon 43:57
No, it was in my apartment. But um, but you know, after that, and sort of like, and then finding other spaces. So for example, in Chicago, I worked at a record store called gramophone records. It’s worldwide legendary. One of the most major first house music record shops in the world, still exists, like incredible place. And the owners were a gay couple. They sort of became I felt like my gay godfathers. Like, I was just so like, when I got the job, I had no idea what I was getting into because a straight person actually brought me in. And, and then when I met everybody, I was like, Oh, my God, everybody here is like gay or trans. Or, you know, like, this is amazing. And I remember just feeling like, I was talking about this one time that I was like, standing by the cash register, and I sort of like looked around and surveyed the store. And I was like, you know, straightway Guy, gay black guy, trans black woman, gay, Asian, white gay couple, like, you know, and I was just like feeling like, Oh my god, this is like what I’ve wanted my entire life. Like, this is a place with people like me. You know, even the people that were straight, were basically gay. Because I mean, in Chicago house music is gay. Yeah, you know what I mean? Like, we, we know where it comes from. And nobody’s trying to put that back in the closet. Nobody’s trying to say Frankie knuckles wasn’t gay. I mean, like, Derrick Carter is gay, you know, like, it’s like, we know that this is a gay subculture of people of color, and we treat it that way. And so that was another part of my identity that I think had also sort of like gone by the wayside. You know, because I was involved in such white subcultures for so long that when I moved into house music, I was finally able to sort of embrace the fact that I am not white, and hey, I need to talk bad. And what you know, what was going on? How did this get lost over the years? So, um, so gramophone, I think played a really huge part of my becoming whole, you know, integrating my identity. And like, I always talk about how, you know, this word integrated, you know, is very closely related to integrity. That’s what it means to have integrity, it’s to be whole to be perfectly integrated, not compartmentalised. You know, which I think is what I was for so many years. And so I, you know, I lived away from New York for some time. And then I came back to New York in 2003. And moved to Chelsea 2003 2000 forms pretty much right when big cup was about to end. But at that point, I was an out gay man, I was
on the town.
K Anderson 47:10
Explain that. It was
Norman Brannon 47:11
a very different time in my life. But it was, it was amazing. To I, you know, I can’t describe the whole that left, because the Starbucks opened across the street. On the west side, the non cruisy side of a big cup was on the east side.
going and re approaching this space, as an out gay man who’s sexually active and fully integrated. It just felt like I finally understood everything that I didn’t understand all those times where I would just go and sit and drink coffee and occasionally strike up a conversation but never take it to the next level. Because all I wanted from that first wave of big cup was to feel like I belonged. But in the second wave, when I came back to New York, it was about it was it was more like I was appreciating it, and sort of understanding it for what it was in in a way that I could never have understood 10 years before.
K Anderson 48:36
Did you ever go to big cup? Well, if you did, I would love to hear from you. Please share your stories, anecdotes and any photos. Even if you had an embarrassing hair cut at the time. via social media. You can find me under the username K Anderson music. You can also find out more about Norman at Instagram and Twitter with the user name Norman Brandon. Law spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the stories that took place there. And we will be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single well groomed boys, which is also playing underneath my talking right now on all streaming platforms. If you’d like to this episode, I’d really appreciate if you subscribed, left a review or just told someone who you think might be interested in listening to. I am K Anderson and you have been listening to the last spaces