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Arts & Performance

Asheville's Gavin Geoffrey Dillard Shepherds Operetta Based on a Chapter of His Storied Life

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Gavin Geoffrey Dillard has a story to tell.

“I ended up being in a relationship with David Geffen,” he said.

And another.

“I wrote comedy for Joan Rivers, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, Vincent Price, Peggy Lee.”

And another.

“I was the No.1 gay porn star in the world for two years.”

And another.

“I’ve seen flying saucers up very close,” he said. “I’ve been taken to a place where there’s a wormhole and seen many ships go back and forth.”

And another.

“In L.A. I became famous as the naked poet, because I did poetry readings all over town in the buff, and the L.A. Times gave me the moniker of the Naked Poet and it stuck.”

If you’ve ever heard Sam Harris sing “The Rescue” on the radio, you’ve heard a little change drop into Dillard’s pocket, because he wrote the lyrics. Ever hear of the stage show “Bark! The Musical?” Dillard wrote most of those lyrics too.

You can Google some of this for yourself, along with other remembrances Dillard will recount with matter-of-fact pride. Other claims are destined to remain secrets of the stars. For now, here’s something verifiable -- Dillard is shepherding a chamber opera based on one chapter of his life.

“When Adonis Calls” is a small, gay-themed operetta born from Dillard’s poetry and the emotive letters Dillard exchanged over a short time with a young adult male fan. Performances through Asheville Lyric Opera are May 11-13 at the Masonic Temple in Asheville.

“When Adonis Calls” is the creation of John de los Santos, a freelance opera director and choreographer, who steered it onto Opera America’s 2017 New Works performance calendar. The production calls for two male vocalists, two male dancers and a five-piece chamber orchestra.


“The arc has to do with the older poet and the young muse who starts our very ambitious and wants to be a famous writer,” Dillard said. “That’s not exactly what the real relationship was, so it’s a bit contrived. It’s not inaccurate, but it’s not necessarily biographical."

A biography of any justice might require multiple evenings. Dillard was raised in Asheville, but soon after graduating the North Carolina School of the Arts, he took off for New York and then West Hollywood.

He recalls brushing shoulders with some of the Beat poets and a fling with soon-to-be music mogul David Geffen, whom he credits for both pulling him out of the porn industry and for introducing him to film and television mogul Barry Diller. Their relationship, Dillard said, lasted a decade.

“David was having issues, and he wasn’t out at that point. He was living with Marlo Thomas, so I was kicking her shoes out of the way when I got in and out of bed,” Dillard recalled. “I’d roll over in the morning and pick up the phone and it would be John Lennon, and David would run to the bathroom and say ‘Talk to John for a while,’ so I’d yammer for a while with John or Yoko Ono or Rona Barrett, whoever was on the line. David introduced me to Barry Diller, who interested me a lot more. At that point, I knew everybody, and everybody knew I was Barry’s boy.

Dillard wrote about all this and more — his drug use, the friends and lovers he lost to AIDS — in an autobiography nearly quashed by the threats of libel lawsuits.

"I never really had consistent living. I just somehow managed,” he said. “I bullied my way into a position of pastry chefhood and ended up taking over (the restaurant). I was pushy and I was cute and I knew how to get what I wanted.”

From his earliest memories, Dillard has written poetry, producing nine books of largely homoerotic verse. Public readings of his work in Southern California gave him another avenue of notoriety.

“One night I was going to come out and read and it just didn’t seem like my audience because there was so much noise going on, so I simply took my clothes off, lit a candelabra and started reading,” he said. “The whole room fell into a hush and listened to every word. I decided that was the only way I wanted to perform.”

Dillard returned to Western North Carolina seven years ago to care for a fading parent and bring more calm into his life. He said his passions have turned away from people to nature.

“My poetry is very much about nakedness as metaphor, kind of the unpeeling of the self, finding the true self beneath the facade,” he said. “I was working with this facade of what I grew up with that only was an inhibition between myself and my writing. My work has gotten much more in the direction of Taoist monasticism, woods and nature animals and nature spirits, and the things you find by yourself.”

Toward that end, Dillard is looking forward to a retreat to Ecuador later this year.

“At the end of the retreat, I will no longer be eating food. I will be a breatharian, officially,” he said. “It’s the next adventure. Who needs sex? Who needs food?"

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