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Disasterama!: Adventures in the Queer Underground 1977 to 1997

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  91 ratings  ·  32 reviews
DISASTERAMA: Adventures in the Queer Underground 1977 to 1997, is the true story of Alvin Orloff who, as a shy kid from the suburbs of San Francisco, stumbled into the wild eclectic crowd of Crazy Club Kids, Punk Rock Nutters, Goofy Goofballs, Fashion Victims, Disco Dollies, Happy Hustlers, and Dizzy Twinks of post-Stonewall Americ
Paperback, 284 pages
Published October 8th 2019 by Three Rooms Press
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Richard Derus
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
2020 UPDATE Nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in the Gay Memoir/Biography category. The Awards are announced on 8 June 2020.

The Publisher Says: DISASTERAMA: Adventures in the Queer Underground 1977 to 1997, is the true story of Alvin Orloff who, as a shy kid from the suburbs of San Francisco, stumbled into the wild eclectic crowd of Crazy Club Kids, Punk Rock Nutters, Goofy Goofballs, Fashion Victims, Disco Dollies, Happy Hustlers, and Dizzy Twinks of post-Stonewall American queer culture of
Jennifer Blowdryer
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow, just wow. Loved it 89 times. Cogent and deep. I don’t think I’ve seen philosophy and sociology brought into the context of contemporaryish memoir this way before. Disasterama! gently explains the life of a boy and his soulmate/debating partner (the exotically named Diet Popstitute) living in period where friends, lovers, former lovers, and frenemies were dying frequently and fast from The Virus. It asks important questions such as: do nightclubs change culture? Is high culture elitism? What ...more
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt
Far too many queers who have come of age in the 21st century (myself included) see the recent sparks of queerness challenging traditional forms of gayness and gender as novel and original, but Alvin Orloff's "Disasterama!" serves as a reminder that our queerness comes from a rich history of political and social disruption that we shouldn't coverup.

Orloff's story starts in San Francisco in the late 70s, a kid from Berkeley who meets his lifelong best friend Michael and enters into a decades-long
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm a huge fan of well-written memoirs, so maybe it's no surprise that I finished this book in two nights.

It was hard, though. While I didn't personally know any of the people about whom Alvin Orloff wrote, I knew many of their analogs. I was a "club kid" in Portland, Ore.. Having done a lot of theatre, I also know a good many LGBTQ+ people ... and I will never forget my nurse friend calling me one night and saying "There is this disease attacking gay men. They don't know quite what it is yet, b
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Alvin Orloff has written his most important and absolutely best book to date. It’s important because it’s not only an essential historical document about an explosively creative period in San Francisco and in queer history at a brutally devastating time, but because it’s written by someone who wasn’t just there, but who was one of those creators (songwriting, dj-ing, cabaret, theater, performance art, spoken word, ad infinitum). It’s his best because it brings out all his many talents, and is re ...more
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Disasterama! By Alvin Orloff. Three Rooms Press, 2019

Orloff’s memoir takes us through the late 70s, 80s and 90s club scene in San Francisco. In 1977 he took a bus to Polk Street, and his adventure began. While much of the first part of the story is about relentlessly cruising for sex, whether it be in bars, parks, or bathrooms, there is more to it. There is endless dancing (it was, after all, the disco era), a lot of humor, parties, fashion (both high and vintage), a deep knowledge of old movies
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A new book by Alvin Orloff is always a big joy for me, so you can imagine my delight at the chance to review an advance reader copy of his latest book (out in October). I was already looking forward to it, since I knew it was a memoir, and was eager to learn more about the life of one of my favorite authors. (Full disclosure: I also knew he would describe the “scene” that I was lucky enough to encounter when I arrived in San Francisco, so it had a certain personal nostalgia factor as well.)

Richard Loranger
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
With this personal account of the AIDS crisis told through the eyes of an indefatigable bon vivant and alt-culture maven (or as he puts it, “the true story of how a bunch of pathologically flippant kids floundered through a deadly serious disaster”), novelist Alvin Orloff’s voice takes flight to tell an absolutely essential tale from a dark period of queer history. Frank and self-effacing yet infused with wit and verve, Orloff’s account takes us on a romp through death and grief in late 20th Cen ...more
Isaac R. Fellman
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
A magic panorama of a book — camp cutting the melancholy, melancholy cutting the camp.
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Disasterama! : Adventures In The Queer Underground 1977-1997.
by Alvin Orloff
due 10-8-2019
Three Room Press
5.0 / 5.0

Thanks to Library Thing for sending this ARC for review!
One of the most memorable memoirs I've read!
Alvin Orloff has such a joie de vivre and a kind, empathic nature that is truly amazing. He brings to light the socio-political environment conservatism of the time but puts the emphasis on the amazing and colorful people he met and that he shares he life with.
Alvin, was a shy boy grow
John Marr
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: punk-rock
I'm sure there are many reviewers who will describe with far more skill than I how fascinating, hilarious, and often touching this memoir of SF before, during and after plague years is. And I second all these sentiments heartily. But I would also like to add kudos for how this is the first gay memoir I have ever read where the memoirist cops to not getting laid every time he goes out. ...more
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
In his new memoir, fiction author Orloff details his personal experiences as part of the birth, rise and fall of retro-camp San Francisco queer culture, specifically the nightlife mini-phenomena of the band The Popstitutes, the events Klubstitute, and the spinoff Sick & Twisted Players. In between the descriptions of the club events, fashion, and his romances with celebrities of the subculture, he shares his charmingly sordid past as a gogo boy, stripper and sex worker. All the while, his search ...more
Reviewed for Library Journal.
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Telling the story about the AIDS crisis in San Francisco with some humor. Difficult task but he was able to pull it off. This book tapped into past sadness of lost friends.
Elizabeth Wenger
Though this book is categorized as memoir, it is so much more than the story of one man. As Orloff writes in his introduction, “You can read it as an elegy, apologia, cautionary tale, or social history, but it is also my memoir...” The book ripples out from Orloff’s personal story, coming out as queer and joining myriad misfits in the streets of San Francisco. It recalls drag shows, performance art, poverty, youth, and sex. It can be read as a first-hand history of the city’s ever-changing queer ...more
Aug 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
I really wanted to love this book, especially after the eloquent and thought-provoking introductory chapter by Alexander Chee. Queer history is so important to me, and often underdocumented and even more rarely well-recalled by younger generations. The introduction had me thinking about all kinds of parallels between the AIDS crisis and climate change, anticipatory grief and tragedies of the past. That said, this book just reproduced so many tropes of gay white male culture that I found myself r ...more
Blake Fraina
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
While his up close and personal recollections of the AIDS crisis certainly pack the biggest emotional punch, Alvin Orloff’s memoir Disasterama is so much more than merely a document of a dark time in America’s recent past. It’s the funny, colorful, poignant, smart, sometimes outrageous and surprisingly relatable story of a shy, geeky kid from the ‘burbs who finds his tribe and comes into his own in the big city (in this case, San Francisco). I’m just about the same age as Mr. Orloff so his story ...more
Glen Helfand
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I inhaled this book. Part of this is the fact that it is a time and place that I myself lived through, but more of its deceptive ease is Orloff's wonderful balance of wit and heartfelt observation. Often those attributes are so quotably intertwined. It is the story of lost bohemia, a lost friend, and employing nightclub artfulness in the fight against real political turmoil, AIDS and homophobia. The book intertwines Orloff's own trajectory, which may involve some archetypal scenarios--it is a qu ...more
I received an ARC copy of this book from Edelweiss

I read about a quarter of this and then skimmed the rest of it pretty heavily. I guess there is nothing really 'wrong' with this book but I'm not usually one for memoirs [I was trying to step out of my comfort zone] and I'm way too asexual to enjoy reading what is basically an extended 20 year summary of this guy's sex life. Also, as mentioned by another reviewer, this is a pretty narrow 'white cis gay man' view of the time period except for a fe
Kest Schwartzman
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
__received as part of LibraryThing's Early Review Program__

Like many memoirs, this is secretly a love story. Because it's a queer, punk love story, it's a love story to many people; to chosen family, to practical strangers, to lovers, to crushes, and to one great love who, as is so often the case in punk queer love stories, was never a lover at all.

This book could easily have tipped into the maudlin. It did not. It is sometimes nostalgic, but in the good way. As the author explains retro camp,
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A million stars! Thank you Alvin for writing this.

Disasterama made me laugh out loud, cry, wince, and feel all the things. It contains one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read (the toaster 🤣). Alvin’s stories and memories of SF during AIDS crisis are ones that everyone should read, queer or not. Here were some of my fav parts:

1) discussion re: politics of respectability and masculinity for gays and what that looked like in 80s-90s in SF during peak aids crisis. A lot of good content here for
Allison Floyd
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Oh man, this book is so great:

"I would become a writer! It made perfect sense: I'd always been socially awkward, pretentious, moody, self-loathing, judgmental, and besotted with the sound of my own voice. What else could I be?"


Who doesn't love a glitter-spackled, tongue-in-cheek contrarian? Yes, the end of this book, if you have a shred of human feeling in you, will probably make you cry, but hey! Catharsis!
Trish Mullahey
When I started reading , I thought well okay, another tell all of details that may or may not lead to the most compelling part of any book, a love for the narrator , the hero or heroine .
Alvin is the most endearing character . Funny as hell , but deep and sentimental too.
It is a thing Americans in particular struggle with, Self Love . He tells that story so redemptively.
And I love knowing more about the people of San Francisco .
The Blowdryers ! His college band!
Lawrence Rinder
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Alvin Orloff, thank you for writing this book! You captured a very important, very evanescent moment that might otherwise have simply disappeared. I lived through part of it, in NY and SF, and felt much that was familiar, though you jumped in the deep end of the pool and I only waded. It was fun times! Darkly tinged with tragedy as you so well evoke. Really, you are a wonderful writer and a great historian. Congratulations!
Olga Zilberbourg
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A hilarious and poignant account of a couple of heady decades in San Francisco's queer scene. The tone is irreverent and playful, and the story has very much a Bildungsroman drive -- combined with the virus pandemic narrative. Down with the bourgeoisie! Maybe. The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know what San Francisco is all about. ...more
Vincent Meis
Feb 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There is always something to be learned when a writer gives us an account of people living on the edge. But when the writer is as adept as Orloff, we get a thoroughly entertaining romp that is both hysterical and heart-rending. He does not hold back while giving voice to the heroes of the queer underground who fought to survive during the most devastating years of the AIDS pandemic. The language is so rich it practically makes the reader dizzy at times.
Kevin Carter
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved this. It was like reliving my youth in SF in the 80's (minus the hustling and stripping part.) I went to the same clubs and cafes and bars as the author, and even knew some of the same people. It was wonderful to see that time and that world captured so lovingly. ...more
R.J. Gilmour
Jun 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Orloff's book is a memoir of his life in the underground queer communities of San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles from 1977-1997.

"Joe proceeded to ravish me with hand and mouth, pawing and slurping in a manner that suggested he was trying to absorb my youth through osmosis." 7

"At first this was all done ironically, with an eye to the giggle, but irony is an unstable compound. Over time, it breaks down into a complex mixture of facetiousness and sincerity, allowing for all sorts of nuance. I
Eric Cuadra
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
With covid being in full swing for a year now, I’ve started to forget the feeling of going out and participating in a night of debauchery with friends until the wee hours of the morning. Reading this memoir prompted a vicarious adventure through the eyes and heart of San Francisco club kids in the late 80s early 90s, and boy did I need it. This book served almost as a reminder that the freewheeling expressive experiences that make San Francisco so weird have not gone but simply gone into hiberna ...more
Scott James
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A front row cabaret table at San Francisco's Weimar era. Orloff's memories are vivid, colorful and compelling, making me wish I'd been there to see it myself (well, at least the good times). But while this is an engaging and entertaining memoir, it's also an important work that documents the people and places of one of America's most significant chapters of queerdom. ...more
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Alvin Orloff began writing in 1977 as the teenage lyricist for The Blowdryers, an early San Francisco Punk band. He spent the 1980s dabbling in avant garde theater, underground cabaret, performance art, and nightclub DJing before remembering all he ever wanted to be was a writer. His memoir, "DIsasterama!: Adventures in the Queer Underground 1977 - 1997" is coming out this fall. Alternately hilari ...more

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“Unlike prostitution or promiscuity, stripping was entirely public. One foot on the state would forever mark me as a disreputable character, the sort respectable people called a sleaze. On the other hand ... I didn't know any respectable people and my workday would be a mere thirty minutes long. And, I had to face it, some quirk of my psychic constitution rendered the strictures of ordinary jobs insufferable to me. Restaurant work felt like a cross between the treadmill at the gym and one of those Japanese game shows on which contestants are abused and humiliated in front of a sadistic audience. Office work was even worse, calling to mind those B movies in which some poor soul--bound and gagged, but eyes wide with terror--is slowly walled up brick-by-brick in the dungeon of some damp, rat-infested Transylvanian castle.” 0 likes
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