If you want to see, hear, feel, and understand the New York “downtown” of the eighties; if you want to see, hear, feel and understand how love, art, rebellion, self-destruction, courage and creation worked in those grungy streets, read Cindy Carr’s Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz. If it doesn’t show you, nothing can. I will spare you the usual hollow superlatives. Let’s say you can’t imagine how good this book is until you’re swept…not swept away, but swept into the way it was. Really was.
Let me stick to the part of David’s life that I know best: his relationship with Peter Hujar, on which I am something of an expert. I was there. I knew them both. Well. Hujar I knew much better than well. Carr’s account their bond is flawless. But I do mean flawless. Not one tinny note. Not one wobbly factoid. I don’t have a single quibble. Non-writers have no idea how very hard it is to write a 600-plus page book without getting at least a few facts wrong—-but Carr doesn’t. She sees what I remember right, gets it right, says it right. This is factual perfection. In a book that reads like the wind.
I believe that Hujar-Wojnarowicz relationship will stand in the history of art as like a kind of parable, too dense for any one interpretation. Like the best art, their bond was more than its parts. It was a bond between two artists whose highest achievements would not have happened without it. It was bond between two gay men that went far beyond sex, maybe even beyond love. It was also a bond between two men, just men period, two father-starved men of our era, men living with and through what all men, straight or gay, have to face and live with, live through.
To have invented this relationship as fiction would have taken genius. To have lived it for real, and lived it to the death, took it too.
Let David’s partner, Tom Rauffenbart, have the last word. “They were both more than and less than lovers. Peter was the one who saved him, who changed his life in a major positive way. They were kindred souls. David was missing something after Peter was gone.”