This Sunday, in honor of the 25th anniversary of AIDS Walk, the 25th anniversary of the Hispanic AIDS Forum and the 25th Anniversary of Keith Haring’s Party of Life, Café Con Leche will host a charity party to support these initiatives at the Arena Event Space. DJs Junior Vasquez, Merritt, Lord G, Derrick Foxx and many others will be on hand. My old pals Alvaro and Andre Charles will lend a hand as will Perfidia, Joey Rolon and dozens of others. I caught up with Joe Sheridan—long time supporter of this initiative—and asked him what this all meant and what he was up to.
A lot has changed in the 25 years since this began. Many people think AIDS is something that has gone away, or is “controllable.” Please address this. Until every human being on earth can receive effective treatment on demand for HIV/AIDS, regardless if they are rich or poor, insured or not insured, legal or illegal, this fight is just as important today as it was 25 years ago. AIDS is just a name given to a modern disease. Finding effective treatments to this disease is a noble battle. With that said, our drive for sex has driven us to create and destroy civilization after civilization. Spreading awareness of our personal responsibility to create value from that sex drive is what is important. I have been in a relationship for five years with one person. Here and there it can really get boring, but the joy from sharing your life with a single individual is boundless. Sexual drive is maddening and it has strayed me from my relationship a few times, but because of education I am aware of the consequences and protect myself and my partner to the best of my ability. The message for me is to create a goal of having a healthy relationship with one other person that will last a lifetime, when we don’t live up to our own goals we have to protect ourselves and if we contract a virus that leads to a disease then we have to make sure the opportunity for the most effective treatment is available to us.
To my readers of another generation, tell us about Keith Haring. Keith Haring’s most popular figures were his “Radiant Baby” and his “Barking Dog.” The “Radiant Baby” represents the optimism of our lives and the “Barking Dog” represents us barking at injustice and conformity. What I get from this is, Keith is encouraging us to be the radiant baby in own environment. He is also encouraging us to stand up to oppression and be a barking dog in our own environment. The daily challenge is to be both at the same time. The barking dog warns us of the dangers lurking, but people quickly grow tired of the dog barking, if that’s all it does. Keith’s challenge to us is to be the barking dog on the inside and be the radiant baby on the outside! Both figures have radiating lines around them that symbolizes the energy of these forces. The figures are a goal, the truth is the fine lines are easily erased and distorted with our daily challenges. Keith’s own lines were constantly challenged in his own life, he himself could not live up to the “Radiant Baby” and the “Barking Dog.” None of us can live up to our highest potential all the time. The figures are inspiring to everyone because they symbolize our loftiest goals.
Tell me where the money goes. 25% of the proceeds go directly to the Hispanic AIDS Forum, an organization Cafe Con Leche has a long standing relationship with. Another 25% of the proceeds go to the House of Latex, an outreach that hits the streets in a way that I instinctively feel Keith would have both enjoyed and supported. Another 25% goes to the Keith Haring Foundation. Keith set up the foundation to continue his message of HIV/AIDS eduction and to support causes effecting children. The foundation was set up by Keith and he entrusted certain people with his legacy through its founding before his passing. 25% of the money will go to paying the expenses related to creating an event like this. With this benefit I wanted people to know up front that 75 cents of their dollar was going directly to these three organizations. With the other 25% I hope to pay the money back I have borrowed to promote this event, print invitations, provide some money for some of the entertainers expenses and pay for the flights of several crucial people to attend including myself. Though I don’t want to mention anyone by name I am very grateful for the resources provided up front to finance the event.
Tell me about your work and things you have seen in your NY experience. I have been involved in the nightclub scene since I was a kid. Since I was a teenager, nightclubs have been the one constant in my life. I arrived in New York at age 19 to explore life and New York calls on us that want to see it all and that I have!
Do you still go out? How are things different now? I live outside New York. I live in Hot Springs National Park. I love my life outside New York and my life in New York. Someday I’ll live in both places, but for now I just visit. I own an inn that is evolving into a retreat for people hat tire of the urban experience to rejuvenate from time to time and need to a place to relax and be inspired and healed by nature. For New York and going out, everything has changed and nothing has changed. I am still the same insecure ball of nerves that walked in to the Mudd Club and Danceteria as a kid and will be that same insecure ball of nerves walking into Sunday’s event. I see the young kids on their own journeys and am excited for them.
Tell me about the Paradise Garage. The first time I went to the Garage I went to a New Order concert. It was probably 1983, I was jaded and coming out the punk/new music scene! I thought everyone that worked there was way too happy! The second time I went to the Garage was Keith’s first Party of Life. I remember Madonna rolling around on stage and I remember her thanking Keith Haring. I remember thinking why is she thanking Keith Haring? Keith to me at the time was just a friend of my then boyfriend and now dear friend, Robert Hawkins. I did not really know he was really famous, because to me he was the nerdy white boy that rode around on his bike in the East Village that was becoming friends with the graffiti artists. I did not get it at first. It was an evolution for me to become influenced by the Garage and house music. Within the next few years, the Garage would come to have such an effect on my life over time that my entire being was controlled by it’s existence. I actually had to move away from New York when it closed. I remember the last party, standing outside at 6pm on a Sunday evening with people still dancing inside and just asking everyone ‘where do we go from here?’ It was the only question you could ask. So I actually took up and moved to California to be by the ocean, the only entity that I could think of that was bigger than the Garage!
Tell me about Cafe Con Leche. How it came to be. The niche it filled. In California I threw myself into spirituality. I spent several years completely immersed in Buddhist practice and study. In February of 1990, the president of the largest Buddhist organization in the world visited Los Angeles. He encouraged us to go out in the world and follow our dreams. Keith died the same month. In the deepest sense I knew I had to go back to New York to represent his spirit. I did not tell anyone because I did not want to be disrespectful and I had a long journey ahead of me to even really know myself. New York was a dead zone in 1990, everything was splintered. You had your white, black, and Latin gay clubs and your white, black and Latin clubs. Only a few promoters like you understood the value of creating a great mix of people in a club. Derrik Foxx, Robert Owens and I had a great party called Visions. Keith’s protege, Andre Charles, and I formed Urban Works, we worked as consultants for Unique, the center of our world on lower Broadway, and handed out fliers for all the clubs as well as did our own art-oriented UB events. I formed Cafe Con Leche with Naudio Feliz. Naudio’s passion was and still is to share and celebrate Latin culture. I knew Latin culture was the bridge that would bring the gays, the straights and the not quite sure together! I brought Keith Haring’s spirit to Cafe and Naudio and others of many backgrounds supplied the beautiful Latin bridge and Cafe became a true treasure of many people’s lives, including my own.
Tell me about the party, the DJ’s and who is attending. The year 2010 marks the 25th anniversary of AIDS WALK, the 25th anniversary of Hispanic AIDS Forum and the 25th anniversary of Keith Haring’s Party of Life. I felt compelled to put this party together just based on the auspicious fact that these three anniversaries were all falling on the same year. I really did not have the time or the confidence having been out of the day to day night club scene for so long. Two weeks ago, I realized that the party was really taking on momentum. I started realizing I was having to answer questions about Keith and thought I should brush up on biographical information online. I put aside some time one night after my boyfriend went to sleep. I had known the first Party of Life was in 1984, but I did not know the exact date. I searched Keith Haring Party of Life 1984 and the date May 16 was in the results. I clicked on the website and saw the t-shirt invitation with the date on it May 16th 1984. Goose bumps just filled my body and I walked outside my house to get some air. The artist Alvaro called me and I told him what was going on and the tremendous amount of pressure I now felt on my entire life. He asked me why I was outside, I told him I did not want to wake up anyone while dealing with all this. I never told him I was outside. He said “There are not many stars in the sky are there?'” I said, “No there were only a few.” He said “That star you are staring at is Keith. That’s Keith twinkling at you.” Though spiritual, I am a very pragmatic person and don’t like omens, but I did come to realize it was Keith throwing the party, not me. Keith throwing a party exactly 25 years later to the exact date that he gave of his life in throwing the first Party of Life on May 16th 1984.
The DJs? Keith had an enormous effect on Junior Vasquez, so of course he will be closing the night. Junior Vasquez and Christina Visca have definitely been the keepers of the torch of house music that Keith personified. All the Cafe DJs will be there with all the music Keith loved and would have loved and showing their appreciation for his continual inspiration. Attendees? We are inviting anyone that was influenced by Keith Haring, including Madonna. Franklin Fuentes is changing the words for his performance at this event to “If Madonna calls, we are here!” Everyone is leaving their differences at the door. Keith wants us all to enjoy and focus on causes bigger than ourselves. Based on Keith’s quote, “Art is for the People,” this party is a “donate what you can” event—even if it’s not money—perhaps an artistic expression of some kind showing gratitude towards his gift to us of the “Radiant Baby” and the “Barking Dog.”