be there when

by Art Chantry (

I SPOTTED this little thing on a telephone pole and immediately snagged it. it took me a while to figure it out. at first i thought it was a show flyer, a gigposter. upon closer inspection, i saw it advertised either a flea market or a yard sale or a junk store. i couldn’t really tell. but, the amazing thing was that it’s on an actual sample of shelly’s leg’s stationary!

AC:think of all that "chrome and glass" and big blocky oaken furniture. man, it screams, "i love art deco!" patrick nagel and neon lettering and airbrush illustration. it was like it was all lifted from the 20s, 30s and 40s and just plopped down into the 1970's.

shelly’s leg was a notorious and famous club in seattle’s early underground scene in the early 70′s. some remember it as a disco, others remember it as a bar. ze whiz kidz played there and drank there and hung out there. it was the early 70′s and shelly’s leg was the place to be if you were a really hip cool weirdo. it was seattle’s first gay disco (with a straights welcome policy). it welcomed everybody and the line to get in snaked along seattle’s brutal waterfront. there was even a popular novel written about the place, “Inside Shelly’s Leg” by sara vogen.

interesting name, don’t you think? it was actually named after a leg that once belonged to the owner, named shelly. seems the leg was lost in an accident and the insurance money to compensate for the lost limb was the seed that opened the club. so, they named it after shelly’s leg. true story! (i guess.)

this little flyer was nailed to a telephone pole in the early 1980′s. long after the club was closed down. apparently, the person hosting the garage sale (or whatever) had a stack of these sitting around and used it for the flyer. it’s the only artifact i’ve ever found from shelly’s leg. as popular and legendary and important as that place was (you might actually make an argument that seattle punk culture as born there), there is almost nothing that remains from it. so, this little flyer is a sort treasure for my crap files.

but, aside from that, the reason i like this thing is that it illustrates an important revival of style that often goes unnoticed, and that’s the art deco revival that happened in the 1970′s. we don;t often think about it this way, but the disco style (even the glam style) was an art deco revival – the first real revival since the art deco era.

granted, pushpin studios were celebrating art deco styles in the early 1960′s, but the primary influences of the 1960′s were art nouveau and victorian and surrealist. the art deco rebirth came along in the 1970′s and was a gay culture contribution to our shared popular consciousness. everything from platform shoes, to mirror balls, to glitter suits were lifted from art deco. it’s an interesting filter to examine the period. the hard selfish ebullence of the period is a perfect reflection of the art deco mood – a sophisticated hard decadence. it’s no wonder that they paired up so nicely.

this letterhead (badly xeroxed at this point) shows exactly what i’m talking about. after a decade of dayglo glitter flowers and flowing afghans, the new underground gay culture (in the wake of the stonewall uprising) takes a u-turn and embraces a glorious celebratory hard-edged look. before the decade was over, the art deco revival had become a bad cliche and has yet to be re-activated in so large a way (you might make an argument that the new wave look pulled off Art deco, but that’s a tough position to make). the style is synonymous with the 197

242;s and it seems to have died one and for all with that decade.

so, nest time you crank up sylvester and the hot band or watch a roxy music video or even spend the evening at your local retro-revival disco dance club doing the bump, just think “art deco”. it’s a step back in time to another step back in time.


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