This writer-performer exploded onto the New York scene in 1980 at the groundbreaking P.S. 122, which he co-founded. Some of the excerpts in the book date from this period, and the author's 1990 essay "Professional Autobiography" describes in detail some of this early work . Many of these pieces were dance or spectacle-driven, although always containing a leftist political slant. Best known as an autobiographical solo performer, Miller helped to popularize this genre along with such other artists as Spalding Gray, Holly Hughes, and Rachel Rosenthal. His previous book, Body Blows (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002), contains the majority of these solo plays, while the current volume focuses on Miller's more collaborative efforts.
One of the more fascinating elements of the book is its inclusion of three duets that Miller created with three different lovers during the course of those relationships. The first of these is an excerpt from Live Boys (1980-1981), a three-part series created in collaboration with dancer John Bernd. Also excerpted here is Buddy Systems (1985), co-created by writer Douglas Sadownick, with whom Miller was involved in a 14-year relationship. And 1001 Beds contains the full text of the short performance piece Carnal Garage (1997), which Miller created with his current partner of more than 10 years, Alistair McCartney. These texts demonstrate how Miller literally brought his boyfriends into his world; they also depict the often messy, fraught, erotic dynamics of these relationships.
The other performance text included in full is US (2003), Miller's funny and moving tale of his political awakening through listening to musical theater cast albums ("Who needs Marx and Engels when you have Rodgers and Hammerstein!") and his current political battle for gay marriage and immigration rights. As he mentions here and in numerous other places in the book, he and McCartney (a native Australian) will be forced to leave the U.S. when the latter's visa expires, since same-sex couples do not have the same protections and benefits -- such as the extension of one partner's citizenship status to the other -- that are automatically granted to heterosexual couples.
Editor Glen Johnson provides a useful introduction to the volume as well as short, introductory remarks for the individual pieces. These situate Miller's work within the context of the downtown New York performance scene in the early 1980s, the AIDS crisis, Miller's activist work, and the so-called "Culture Wars." Miller gained national notoriety in 1990 as one of the "NEA Four," whose National Endowment for the Arts grants were denied them due to the supposedly "obscene" content of their work. (Holly Hughes, John Fleck, and Karen Finley were the other three artists targeted.) 1001 Beds includes a number of documents from this period, such as the artist statement in Miller's 1989 NEA grant application. (A sample: "Look here Senator Jesse Helms, keep your Porky Pig face out of the NEA and out of my asshole.") Also collected are excerpts from Miller's deposition in the NEA Four's ensuing lawsuit and his report on the 1998 legal case in which the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the NEA could make funding decisions based on "general standards of decency." Giving the lie to the maxim "there's no such thing as bad publicity," Miller describes the hardships that the NEA Four debacle created not only for himself but also for the theaters that presented him.
Those who know Miller primarily as one of the NEA Four may be surprised by some of the other pieces contained in 1001 Beds. These include Miller's documentation of the performance art sermons he conducted with the Reverend Malcolm Boyd, plus accounts of his teaching and the activism in which he was involved as a member of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and on behalf of issues ranging from art censorship to gay and lesbian immigration rights. This volume captures the many facets of a fascinating artist who continues to present deeply personal and politically engaging work.
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