The last two months have seen the deaths of two legends of Joburg’s gay nightclub scene; house music pioneer DJ Patrick Talmadge and the underground drag performer Sharon Bone. Sadly, they died paupers. Few seemed to notice their passing, but many will remember being touched by their talents and personas.
REST IN PEARLS SHARON BONE
By Adam Levin
Pics by Johannes Dreyer
Sometimes the most extraordinary people just slip through a crack in the pavement of life. Sometimes they climb back out and step a little more carefully. And sometimes they don’t. And so my thoughts these past few days about the final death of my old friend Sharon Bone have a bitter-sweetness to them.
Yes Sharon Bone had ‘died’ many times. Such is the nature of message reception in deep subcultures. Or of desperate scams for funeral money. And so, often, we just sighed at the mistake: A strange sigh of relief tinged with anger and tragedy – because sadly, Peter, the lovely man behind the signature mal wig, don’t care limp and missing tooth had left us long ago.
For any of you who partied in Braamfontein’s Heartland strip in the late 90s or early 2000s, you will remember Sharon, who owned and performed at the New Moon Cafe and also hosted the Divine Bar at Therapy and the upstairs bar at Bitch. Bone was born David Jonathan Nel in Hillbrow Hospital in 1964, then adopted as Pettrus Albertus Kotze and known to his friends as Peter. But many of you knew or had seen the notorious Sharon Bone – a performer, rather than a drag queen, in the school of Leigh Bowery or other outrageous transgender artists.
Bone’s performances were often impromptu. She often forgot the words or got them out of synch, but they were never forgettable. I remember her take on Des’ree’s Ain’t No Sunshine When He’s Gone, up on the little stage at the original Moon Cafe in Orange Grove. During the chorus, Bone would lift her arms and the brown 60s crimplene mini she had on would raise to expose a flaccid, subversive surprise. There are ‘fancy’ drags who’d kill for that genius comic timing.
And so, on March 9th this year, when Peter slipped quietly through that crack, (It was a seizure that did it) a ray of irreplaceable sunshine dimmed in Jozi’s hard-core memory. A ray that will only shine on in the hearts of those who got him at some point.
The last time Bone died was around five years ago. Having been urged that this time it was really true, I’d written an obituary of sorts. And it was as Mambaonline was about to publish it, that I spotted the photographer Johannes Dreyer, who’d shot such amazing portraits of Miss Bone – up on the roof in Orange Grove; with someone’s gran in a bikini; or lying in a bath with heels on. Johannes looked at me, his eyes widening in crazed shock. “The Bitch is alive,” he grinned, shaking his head. And I guess that’s when I said my good-bye.
I will always remember the one Tuesday morning, after the Easter Weekend of April 1999, when I’d found myself and Ms. Bone, alone on the kitchen floor at the New Moon Cafe with the club’s doors locked. I was moving to New York in a week or so, and it had been one hell of a final blast – dancing at Therapy across the street and hopping to the New Moon and back. We didn’t say very much as we sat there. We just chilled and exchanged the odd laugh. We didn’t need to say much because we’d been there. And So there. So out there too. It’s my strongest memory of Peter. Caring. Smart. And long before we’d imagined the cracks in the pavement might be quite so perilous.
That memory brings to mind one of my favourite passages about ‘having been there’, from Adventures in Wonderland, Sheryl Garratt, the editor of the legendary The Face magazine’s take on the high, heady days of what amateurs only knew of as rave culture. “On the phone to Goldie one night,” she wrote. “We were talking about my experiences in 1988 and 1989 … and about how hard it was to describe it to those who had never experienced it. ‘Do you know what it smells like when everyone leaves the club? When the lights go on and they sweep the floor?’ He asked. ‘Have you ever stood there? It’s a funny atmosphere. It’s so different. So surreal. .. After that vibe when the floor is full and it’s really kicking off. No drug can replace that feeling. You can’t stop rebellion. You can’t stop youth culture chasing what it believes in. And you can’t stop people having faith in one tiny club.”
And this is the thing, Ms. Bone (Cos I have no doubt you’ve charmed someone into reading you this final obituary wherever y’are): all the theory or gossiping in the world can’t explain what it’s like to have been there, in the middle of the floor when a night takes off. To dance so hard you forget yourself, you lose track of time and you feel that the music, the weird, motley crowd and the gutted building somewhere in Braamfontein have all became one living organism of which you and a few hard-core Jozi jollers were a very special part.
I am tearier than I’d expected bok. So I’d best not waste ‘em. I’m going to look for some mascara to smudge in your honour. After all, perhaps in the end, all it really comes down to is that feeling. We did it because it was fun. And many of us had the time of our lives.
I, and many others, will miss you.
FOOTSTEPS ON THE DANCEFLOOR… DJ PATRICK TALMADGE
By Stuart Hillary and Andrew Wood
Born in 1955 in Durban, Patrick Garth Talmadge (aka “Doris”) was a lovely gentle friend, an entertainer of note, and a film buff to the end. Whether it be in drag in an on-stage performance, or as a DJ at some of Johannesburg’s most legendary nightclubs – including Anaconda, Mandy’s, Idols and Therapy – Patrick truly made his mark.
He was one of the pioneers of the house sound in South Africa, and many an old school DJ will tell you that Patrick, through Look & Listen, Delicious Vinyl and The Works Records, was the key person to get the best music from.
Patrick had an upbringing in part defined by the idiocy of Apartheid: he had a coloured mother and white father (whom he never knew). He was brought up by his aunt, Ida, because she was classified as a “second-class white like the Chinese” because she was from Mauritius.
Career wise, he alternated between music, movies and hairdressing. Hairdresser by day and DJing by night. He spent many years as a music and video buyer and sales person for the original Look & Listen in Hillbrow, and worked in many salons in the Yeoville, Hillbrow, Killarney and Rosebank areas.
He was also well known on the drag circuit and was part of the 80’s “drag troupe” Boylesque, which had a brief theatre run (and even a dance single) produced by Patrick van Blerk. His “signature act” was Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots are Made for Walking.
Patrick was also an avid movie fan and tried to make a point of watching at least one movie a day. He used to write down every movie he watched in notebooks; lists of which must have run into the many thousands by 2011.
He LOVED Barbara Streisand, adored Bette Davis and worshipped Alfred Hitchcock. He could hold his own with the bitchiest of queens, but you couldn’t hope to mee