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Just Say Yaz

July 5, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 246
Photo: Joel Benjamin

Photo: Joel Benjamin

by Steve Desroches

VJ Tom Yaz came of age during the heyday of gay nightlife in Boston and the dynamic club culture of the famed Lansdowne Street.  Barely old enough to get past the doormen of the clubs of the early 1980s, Yaz began working as a bar back where he immediately began to absorb all that was going on around him. Disco, New Wave, punk—Boston’s club scene was rich and varied, with about a dozen gay nightclubs open seven days a week.  And he was well aware that what was going on during those late nights was not only fun, but culturally significant and historically important. He decided then that he was going to become a part of it all.

Now, years later, Yaz is a nightlife fixture, having masterfully maneuvered an ever-changing landscape focusing on quality and creating a blend of the cutting edge and the classics that span generations. As one of the first video jockeys in the country, Yaz continually weaves magic in the air as he dips into his vast archives, which are always growing, creating a night like no other. While other VJs may focus on creating a “brand,” the buzzword of the day, Yaz conjures a spell over the crowds at the Wave Bar at the Crown and Anchor, his home for the past 17 years.  A bit of camp, a touch of glamour, a dash of edge and the ability to read a crowd keep Yaz on the top of his game and a staple of a summer in Provincetown.

“I walk into that booth every time like it’s the first day at work,” says Yaz.  “Times change and people change, but people here want to feel like they are in Provincetown. They want the gay aesthetic. They want the nostalgia. They want that Provincetown feeling.”

Having long had an interest in videography and music, Yaz saw that club-goers loved the combination of music videos and nightlife in a time just prior to the advent of MTV. And Yaz was right; bringing in the visual element along with music created a whole new experience.  Following his passion, Yaz began to hunt far and wide, compiling videos with alternative versions of club favorites as well as work not released in the United States, making him a top notch curator of the music of the times as well as a tastemaker.

Playing the Wave Bar five times a week – four with his Current and Classic Videos and Wednesdays with his super popular Stage and Screen Musicals night – Yaz delights as much as he surprises those who specifically flock to see what he will show from his massive video archives, featuring the best of today’s club hits as well as yesterday’s favorites. He is clear his nights are not “the oldies,” but a mix with something for everyone: “Millennials, Generation X-ers, Baby Boomers, and queens of a certain age.”  And much like when he started out in the 1980s, the culture has again shifted, with the Internet providing people of all ages access to independent music and original club remixes, meaning Yaz has an audience of all ages that loves what he does. It’s a music lovers and pop culture fanatics paradise.

“I have things that have never seen the light of day on You ube,” says Yaz. “A lot of artists have reached out to me for copies of their videos that even they don’t have anymore.”

YAZ-testpatternnopicWhile Yaz is well known for his club work here in Provincetown, Boston, private events, and RSVP cruises, he is increasingly garnering attention for another aspect of his work in video. Starting in the early 1980s Yaz began taping Boston Pride parades as well as shows and special events throughout New England. Yaz now has an archive of thousands of hours of footage featuring a treasure trove of nearly 40 years of New England LGBTQ history. NBC Boston has used some of his footage, and he is in talks with PBS for an upcoming project. The collection is in pristine condition, both in its original format and as he continues to digitize this historically important collection. Yaz’s video collection goes beyond entertainment and makes him a significant figure in the documentation of an often-ignored history.

Yaz’s passion for not just nightlife, but the history of the LGBTQ community shows when he speaks about his collection, and in how he has expanded his work to digitize the collections of others that are on VHS and Super 8 film.  He speaks with an urgency, as VHS in particular is only meant to last for about 25 years, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. He can’t imagine the footage being lost to history as he rattles off moments he captured on film. He frequently followed the late, outrageous drag queen Syliva Sidney around Boston and Provincetown, capturing her crazy antics. It’s just one example that proves the Yaz collection is unparalleled in scope and content. “I even have her on tape getting caught shoplifting,” says Yaz. “Whenever she got caught she’d pretend to be senile. And one time she pulled this choking routine at the Hilltop Steakhouse to get out of paying. She’s pretending to choke and choke until the meal was comped.  And she’d never leave a tip, just an autographed photo of herself. We sped off out of that parking lot with a spray of gravel and pink feathers.”

VJ Tom Yaz presents Current & Classic Videos Thursday through Sunday starting at 9 p.m. to close all summer long at the Wave Bar at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial Street. Yaz also presents his Stage and Screen Musical Night every Wednesday from 9 p.m. to close at the Wave Bar with co-host Liza Lott. For more information call 508.487.1430 or visit onlyatthecrown.com.