GAVIN GEOFFREY DILLARD
The Naked Poet Bears All:
Talking With Gavin Geoffrey Dillard
By Owen Keehnen
This interview was conducted in November of 1997
Once upon a time (actually in the mid 70s) a budding young poet fled North Carolina to the Mecca of Los Angeles seeking experience…and he certainly got what he came for. He became a top party boy in town, starred in one of the very first big budgeted gay porn films, was swept up by a HUGE entertainment mogul, hustled, was swept up by an EVEN BIGGER entertainment mogul, hobnobbed with rich and famous, and did copious amounts of drugs.
Sometime later he found life at the top lacking and began a spiritual quest that included LSD regression therapy, life in a monastery, an assortment of yogis and gurus, swimming with the whales, channeling, and a myriad of other pursuits. Along the way he had a lot of sex, a lot of lovers (several of them famous), published 7 books poetry, edited several anthologies, made a series of tantric videos, became an expert dancer, songwriter, painter, performance artist, lyricist, model, horticulturalist and culinary master (even winning the 'Best Brownies in L.A.' award from 'The Los Angeles Times').
This "multi-hyphenate" man has an incredible life story packed with insight, tidbits, and anecdotes about Christopher Isherwood, Barbra Streisand, Bette Davis, Dolly Parton, Cher, Lily Tomlin, Jack Nicholson, Nancy Reagan, Mae West, Doris Duke, and literally dozens of others. His tell all memoir was initially scheduled for release in 1993 by Penguin Books but was met with lawsuits by Mogul #1 ("Sam") and Mogul #2 ("The Bear") and Dolly Parton.
Now almost five years later Barricade Books has finally released IN THE FLESH and the finished product was well worth the wait. It's juicy, sexy, riveting, courageous, smart, spiritual and one of those amazing life stories that leaves you wondering, "Where the hell did he find the time?"
Recently I had the chance to chat with Gavin, still youthful and yummy at 43, about the lawsuit, life among the rich and famous, his spiritual quest, and the joys of being "The Naked Poet".
IN THE FLESH was initially slated for November 1993 release by Penguin Books but was met prepublication by a three-part lawsuit from "Sam", "The Bear", and Dolly Parton. It's very odd for a book to be pulled at the galley stage. Tell me about that.
Initially there came letters from two lawyers, one was from Bert Fields representing Sam and The Bear and another representing Dolly Parton. They said the book was libelous and defamatory and then at the end of the letter asked to be sent a copy to see if those things were true. In other words, they hadn't even seen it. The Penguin lawyers just laughed and threw it back in their face. Letters went back and forth several times and we thought we were in the clear but then an edict was handed down from the top. Someone simply made a phone call and said "This is embarrassing, don't do it." It came to pass that the head pf Penguin at the time was directly involved in a business transaction with The Bear.
Well, I read one of those galleys, and yeah, The Bear is definitely powerful enough to pull those strings. What changes or concessions did you need to the text for its new publication by Barricade Books?
Barricade wasn't too concerned but we ended up giving "The Bear" and "Sam" those names…instead of oh…say Barry and David. We also changed their recognized girlfriends at this time; they became "a fashion mogul from New York" and "a former TV sitcom star".
Well what was Dolly Parton so offended about? Your story of befriending her paints her as quite charming?
What I wrote about Dolly was glowing because I thought the world of her and her talents at that time. I even mailed that section to her so she'd know it was happening. Then she attacked. The issue is I'm a little squirt from nowheresville, even though she kissed up to me once upon a time because of who I was sleeping with. But Sam and The Bear aren't little squirts and let's just say Ms. Parton knows who butters her toast. She was really just siding with them.
Sam and Bear and two big "out" moguls who still run Hollywood twenty years after your affairs with them. Why do you think being named in the book bothered them so much, because they simply weren't in charge of the information?
That's the main thing. However, I should note that at the time the book was initially set for release neither one of them was out. As a result of the book Sam outed himself in an Esquire article where he was pictured in bed with his boyfriend. I think he took the book as a wake up call, saw it was going to happen, and it would be better if he could control it. Bear, as wealthy a mogul as he may be, was still an employee of a major motion picture company. Also Sam is vice president of two major international corporations. Outing himself is one thing, but having a book come out by someone who says they met as a result of a porn film could be very embarrassing. It had more to do more with the nature of the situation rather than just being gay.
The book contains an abundance of juicy and titillating anecdotes about the rich and famous - Lily Tomlin, Dolly, Christopher Isherwood, Mae West, Nancy Reagan, Cher, Jack Nicholson, Doris Duke, Barbra Streisand, Pee Wee Herman, etc. Who impressed you the most?
Generally the people we think of as celebrities or icons I find unimpressive. The regular folk I talk about in the book were infinitely more interesting because they were about exploring themselves.
Rather than maintaining a static image or front?
Yeah, people in the industry are generally limited in who they've allowed themselves to be because they can't appear in public with shit on their faces. That said, when I met Dolly Parton she was definitely a breath of fresh air, marvelously good looking before she started messing around with herself. She had hips, a shape, and this wonderfully natural and wholesome face. Also, she was an incredible songwriter early on, but the market kills the talent of so many people. Lily Tomlin was sweet -- I enjoyed her. She is a very unglamorous person in real life. I was impressed by how comfortable and natural Jack Nicholson is as a human being. It's like life as a superstar means nothing to him that you can see, and that's impressive to me. Christopher Isherwood was a thrill because at the time he was one of my existing heroes. Meeting him was awesome and within minutes of our meeting he said, "Oh yes, I've read your books" and recited a poem of mine. It was fabulous.
Definitely a writer's fantasy! After exposure to the pinnacles of wealth, fame, and power you realized there was more to life and began a spiritual quest that encompassed everything from LSD life regression therapy to life in a monastery to channeling to a slew of spiritual gurus. At the time did you feel destiny and circumstance carrying you forward?
Yes, I've always felt that. I'm a big page-turner. As soon as I feel a page is finished I turn it even if I have no idea what the next chapter is about.
I think that very tendency makes your life story so incredibly rich and diverse. What was the greatest hurdle in your spiritual search - overcoming your past, your logic, your ego, your inhibitions…
It’s all the same thing. The issue is your mind that mistakenly perceives itself as an independent identity and holds us back. Rather than allowing that to hold me back I lunged into that fear and that's what kept catapulting me forward. It's the mind and all those tapes form the past that’s the real monster.
Where are you spiritually today?
I'm still jumping, still exploring, still meditating. I don't use drugs anymore, not to say I never would, but it seems really inappropriate. I have a spiritual teacher and we are talking about starting a little agrarian community to ride out the end of the world. There's a group of us considering buying some land and having a little family. It just sounds really appealing to me and something I've aspired to since the hippie days.
Richard Rouliard coined you 'The Naked Poet', a combination of bearing your soul in your writing and doing readings in the raw. Was that easy for you to do?
It was something I thought would be impossible so I didn't think about it - I simply took off my clothes and walked out on stage. Once I'd done it once I could imagine doing it again, but it was very challenging.
And it goes so well with your poetic theme of vulnerability and exposure.
I always saw it as a spiritual metaphor. Naked is how we leave the world so that's where I've always been headed on a spiritual level. Unfortunately most people see it as a sexual statement. That's why I stopped doing it. It's too bad because I've always thought people needed to divest themselves of all their stuff and be willing to appear in all their innocence to the world.
Your poetry like your memoir is a constant and seamless fusion of the spiritual and the sexual. Why do you think there's such a tendency to place them as polar opposites?
We've been forced to polarize as a result of the evolution of religion, but there's a time at which the pendulum stops swinging to the extremes. Because of that polarization we as a gay society have made this push for sexuality because we've been so repressed, but we get carried away into this whole miasma of sex and sexual need and sex drive till all we can do is look between a person's legs. That's not what life is about either. Sex needs to simply be integrated into physical reality, to perceive it as anything evil or wrong is a complete misrepresentation of the truth.
Speaking of sex, you starred in 'Track Meat' in 1977, one of the first decently budgeted and full dialogue gay porn films and had a featured role in 'Stryker Force' a decade later. What changes did you see in the industry over that span which included the emergence of the AIDS pandemic?
More than the AIDS issue I think it reflected how gay culture became an arm of capitalism. The industry became a factory - there was no aspiration to art, romance, or sensuality - it was simply cranking out fuck films. The naturalness was gone. Here's a fuck icon, here's what icons do, this is what icons say, and this is how we market it. There's no enjoyment in making it and it shows.
Life as art is also a core theme of your memoir. How would you describe yourself at this point as a work in progress?
I continue to refer to myself as a poet. It's a moniker, a tag, and a metaphor that always works for me. In my spiritual quest The True Poet is an enlightened being because I see the poet as someone who has divested him or herself and is ultimately naked.
Thanks Gavin, all the best with IN THE FLESH as well as your future projects.