Mechanical Fantasy Box: Review

Mechanical Fantasy Box: The Homoerotic Journals of Patrick Cowley
by Patrick Cowley, Gwenaël Rattke
Dark Entries Editions

Reviewed by John Francis Leonard

Patrick Cowley embodied urban gay life in San Francisco of the seventies. A composer, producer, DJ and a musician (who, by the way, scored many of the era’s most popular gay adult films), he provided the soundtrack that made the seventies what they were for a burgeoning gay culture caught short by the AIDS epidemic of the early eighties. He himself died of AIDS-related causes at thirty-two years old in 1982, but his music, and now his journals of his prolific sex life, live on. In the sixties and seventies, gay sex wasn’t just personal exploration, but a political statement——and what some might view as licentiousness represented hard-won freedoms to many in the gay community. Accompanying Cowley’s diary entries are the fascinating, highly original illustrations of Gwenaël Rattke, which look authentic to the era.

These diaries are an account of Cowley’s pre-AIDS sexual adventures in the back rooms, bath houses, and sex clubs of a different era, when the worst case scenario was seeing a doctor for a shot to rid yourself of “the clap.” Reading these staccato yet poetic entries, you can’t help but draw comparisons to our modern era of PrEP and U=U, when people are discovering a new sexual liberation, but there is no comparison. We can’t unsee what so many of us have collectively seen; we can’t undo history. What we can do is enjoy ourselves and relish the freedoms we have rebuilt and expanded upon in a post-AIDS world, freedoms fought for by people like Cowley.

We can also enjoy these diaries. They’re a cunning tribute to male beauty and the brotherhood between gay men that is too often forgotten in a cutthroat modern world. There’s love and passion in these pages, even if it’s between strangers. There’s a wry humor to his words at times, but it’s tempered. Sex has changed for us as a community and sexual politics along with it, but there is much to learn from a time when everything seemed new, and humbling to remember that we ourselves didn’t necessarily invent the wheel. This is an important document in the history of the gay movement, the history of the sexual revolution’s effects on that movement. It’s late coming to us, but the friends to whom Cowley entrusted this document couldn’t have had better timing for its publication.


A Patrick Cowley Playlist

Patrick Cowley, considered a pioneer of electronic and HI-NRG music, composed and produced three studio albums during his brief career. Notably he worked with Sylvester. As a solo artist, he reached number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play twice with the songs “Menergy” and “Megatron Man.”

A new album, named Mechanical Fantasy Box (Dark Entries), features thirteen unreleased songs. Proceeds from this album will be donated to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Below is a Spotify playlist of his most played tracks, including solo work and collaborations:

1. “Do You Wanna Funk”
2. “Surfside Sex”
3. “Megatron Man”
4. “Do You Wanna Funk” (feat. Sylvester)
5.. “Somebody to Love Tonight”

To purchase the new album, log on to: darkentriesrecords.com.


John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.