Pat Loud celebrates her celebrity son in new photo book
by Jim Provenzano
"Television ate my family."
That apt quip from Lance Loud succinctly describes his quick rise to fame when An American Family, the acclaimed documentary series, aired on PBS in 1973. Along with his parents' divorce and other familial strife, Loud came out as gay, a first for any network, and his family became a media sensation that forever altered the nature of television.
Almost 40 years after the show's premiere, and more than a decade after Loud's death of AIDS in 2001, Lance's mother Pat Loud, with help from photographer Christopher Makos, have published Lance Out Loud (Glitterati Incorporated, $50), a beautiful 240-page hardcover photo book that celebrates the life of her son.
"Lance always said he didn't know he was coming out," said Pat Loud in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "He was just being himself. He was a marvelous character who had some inner light that just shined."
Discussing the book shortly after a release party in New York City, Loud, now 86, said she's proud of the book, which "tells more than Lance's story. It tells something about pop culture, which he was so involved in. He really understood it innately. I don't know how a kid living in Santa Barbara could absorb so much."
True, fame seemed inevitable to Lance, who wrote letters to Andy Warhol, who replied. Loud recalled one night when the pop artist called the then-14-year-old Lance, and convinced him not to run away to New York City until he was older.
Loud and Makos will attend an event to promote the book on Nov. 9 at Pittsburgh's Warhol Museum, which archived Lance's correspondence with the Pop Art guru.
In the series and afterward, Lance fronted the irreverent punk band The Mumps, whose members went on to other musical achievements. His high school friend Kristian Hoffman would later help shape Klaus Nomi's band and write some of his biggest hits while performing with his own ensembles. Bandmate Rob Duprey would later join Iggy Pop's band, and another high school pal, Jay Lee Daugherty, would later tour with Patti Smith. Although The Mumps never landed a major label deal, they played on bills with Talking Heads, Blondie, The Ramones, Cheap Trick and other groups, often at Manhattan's famous club CBGB.
After the band broke up, Lance continued his celebrity status by focusing on pop culture features for Interview, Details, The Advocate and other publications. He also remained a fixture at nightclub events in New York City and Los Angeles.
"David Keeps, then Lance's editor at Details, said that because Lance had a certain celebrity quality, they relaxed with him," said Loud of her son's charisma.
Lance also chose to share his demise with the viewing public, documented in the 2002 follow-up TV special, Lance Loud: A Death in An American Family. Discussions of his crystal meth addiction and HIV infections are interspersed with reflections on the original series.
Such biographical details are not included per se in the new book, which Pat Loud instead called "a celebration" of Lance's life. Packed with essays by bandmate Hoffman, Makos and friends and family, with previously unpublished candids of Lance, family and celebrity photos, drawings, even pages from Lance's datebooks, Lance Out Loud shares a delicious jumble of ephemera that visualizes the life of its subject, whose oft-repeated life philosophy was, "Never be boring."
Loud acknowledges that creating such a book as Lance Out Loud in a vastly changed world of publishing is a bit of a dare. "Publishing's in terrible shape," she said. "You can download so many things. Now it's like music. Who even wants a CD?"
Despite having worked as a literary agent (she helped get Andrew Holleran's bestseller Dancer from the Dance published) and a bestselling author (Pat Loud: A Woman's Story, published in 1974), Loud said, "It never occurred to me to do such a thing." Longtime friend Makos simply called her up, and told her his publisher shared the idea of a book about Lance.
"'Do you have pictures?' he asked. I have everything," said Loud. "I never threw anything away."
Makos and Loud perused hundreds of photos and other bits of memorabilia, then assembled them as a sort of collage in book form. They even considered adding a music CD attachment, but instead settled on bar codes that link a reader's cell phone to online videos.
Asked if editing down her son's life for the book was difficult, Loud agreed. "That was painful. I cried every day for a year when Lance died, and I could do it again, but I don't. Now I see what a life he had. It was almost like he knew that he wouldn't have a long life. He crammed everything into his 50 years."
Loud clarified that the book is not a "whitewashing" of the darker side of her son's life. "He was such an interesting person. He was one of the great innocents. But he was always on the wrong side of something."
In reflecting on her experiences, Loud agreed that her family wasn't exactly a typical one. Originally from Eugene, Oregon, the Louds' Southern California life was interspersed with vacations to Europe. "We wanted the kids to have a sense of their place in a world that wasn't frightening and huge, and they had an understanding, sort of beyond their years. They got to see a lot of the world."
The 2011 HBO dramatized film Cinema Verite, about the family and the filming of the show, revived interest in the series, which PBS aired in a marathon broadcast, also in April 2011. Loud said she enjoyed the dramatized version.
"I was so flattered that Diane Lane played me!" she said. "And Tim Robbins was marvelous."
The original series spawned an entire genre of broadcasting, from MTV's The Real World to a slew of vastly inferior "reality" shows. Loud expressed astonishment that so many of the shows are heavily scripted, and that so many people continue to jump at the chance for fleeting fame and long-lasting humiliation.
For a time, Lance, Pat and her family, and even An American Family producer Craig Gilbert, were on the wrong side of media critics, until they made a series of TV show appearances, most notably on The Dick Cavett Show . Loud recalls those difficult times, and the media barrage. One magazine called Lance "the evil flower of the family."
"WNET [New York] basically threw us under the bus," she said of the sponsor station's lack of post-airing support. Loud admitted a bit of naivete at the time.
"Daily life is pretty boring to people outside the family," she said. "It's like when you show home movies of your kids riding the merry-go-round. We thought when we did the show that that's what we were doing."
A memorable scene in both the documentary and dramatized versions took place far from the now-iconic family setting. Loud admits she was a bit shocked upon her first visit to Lance at New York City's Chelsea Hotel (where the first footage of the series was shot). Imagining a quaint inn, she not only smelled the distinct aroma of marijuana, but also met her first transgendered person, Holly Woodlawn, in Lance's hotel room.
"Even through all that, I knew Lance was where he belonged," she said. "It was what he had chosen for life. Pop culture was such an important thing to him. He understood the anthropology of the day in ways I never will. He embraced it so joyously."