Flights of Angels: My Life with the Angels of Light

Brooks, Adrian. Flights of Angels: My Life with the Angels of Light. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008. 272 p. Hardcover. ISBN: 9781551522319. $27.95

Cover of the book, Flights of AngelsSan Francisco in the 1970s was a city of action: artistic, social, sexual, and political. In this atmosphere, radical art and theater flourished, giving birth to such groups as The Cockettes and the Angels of Light. Born of East Coast affluence, Adrian Brooks’ inner drive as a poet and artist soon brought him to San Francisco and into the heart of this “magical vortex.”

In telling his story, and the story of the Angels, Brooks allows readers to experience these transformative times and meet the broad spectrum of individuals whose contributions—both positive and negative—made the queer arts scene in California and America what it is today.

Brooks’ story is fascinating; the people and events with which he was involved make juicy reading for anyone interested in queer history, theatre history, or the history of the Bay Area. The only drawback is, unfortunately, Brooks himself. His arrogant, self-congratulatory tone is tempered only occasionally with false modesty (his claim to understand the sufferings of the poor because he only allowed his trust fund to pay him the equivalent of a monthly welfare check is laughable), and toward the book’s end, the writing becomes fragmented, with people and events introduced and then forgotten. Despite these flaws, Flights of Angels remains an interesting read, and though its audience may be limited, those who seek out this story will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by Amanda Clay
Library Media Specialist
Lakeview Elementary
Norman Oklahoma

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1 comment

  1. As the author of the book criticized in this review, I’d like to make a few points, for while I respect serious criticism absolutely and thank Amanda for the nice things she said about the book, in some cases, there is a slight misunderstanding at play.

    At no point did I ever say that I felt I understood the plight of the poor because my small income from a trust (now defunct) equaled what other members of the ‘Angels of Light’ got from welfare. What I did say is: the prevailing spirit in the group was that it was fine- even laudable- to get SSI or ATD (funds for the mentally disabled) to ‘rip off the man’ and scrape by on a subsistence income while we pooled funds to fund the free theater.

    My circumstances were different because I got about the same amount from other means; it amounted to about $400 a month. But the source of my income, or of those who got SSI or ATD, had nothing to do with our ability to empathize with poor people; several people in the Angels came from well-to-do families.

    What’s relevant is that we welcomed the challenges of living marginally and devoting ourselves to making art that was a free, gladly given gift to our community. And the world. That it was offered in a spirit of idealism and hopefulness in social change was certainly shared by most of the people in the group, including myself.

    Maybe in retrospect it looks naive? Well, we were naive. Certainly I was. We believed that the power of truth could topple Nixon and restore America to a sane and holistic way of living.

    If I had any understanding of poverty in America, it had come earlier: as a volunteer for Martin Luther King and as one who, like other white people in the 1960s, were stirred to take risks or literally put our lives on the line because we felt so strongly about his call to social justice. Seeing black poverty first hand was my initiation, not what I saw in San Francisco in the 1970s.

    Forty years later, it may be possible for Amanda to overlook the risks that all the Angels of Light took back then. But at the time, gay people were being killed or beaten, yes, even on the streets of San Francisco. We were classified as ‘sick’ by the medical establishment, denied all rights and were the lowest of the low when polls were taken asking who Americans least wanted as neighbors. From the safe vantage point of today, such facts may get obscured. But if so, it’s because gay activists, like anti-war and black activists, took to the streets to try to surmount the confusion of a country (and a society) so wildly askew, and commit to changing that through direct personal action. Probably it does sound silly these days; maybe it comes off as ‘arrogant’ to say that we believed in our cause. Certainly the effects of McCarthyism, drugs and the unknown consequences of free sex remained unknown to us. But it takes a certain crazy faith and wildness to go that far. And in the 1960s and 1970s, my friends and I did have that credo. I’m happy to say it even if the whirlwind that ensued took us by surprise. But who could have predicted AIDS when we agitated for freedom and equality?

    Finally, by including my own emotional and psychological problems that began with severe child abuse but included sexual confusion, depression, my many mistakes and blunders and failures and wrong choices on the road to Selfhood, I hoped to put myself unapologetically in the soup, along with the rest of those who were certainly motivated by altruistic intentions even if, being youngsters (and stoned out of our ever lovin’ minds) we were dancing on the lip of a volcano. To the extent that Amanda missed this aspect of my memoir or brushes it aside, it’s unfortunate. But such is the nature of a personal criticism to a very personal book.

    Thank you.

    Adrian Brooks
    (Flights of Angels)

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