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And the band played on–Book Review


And the Band Played on

By Randy Shilts (1987)

Book Review

By Marivel Guzman

 

And the Band Played On, cover book by Randy Shilts

The beginning of the AIDS epidemics creates a blurred line in the history of the United States, nobody, that could have done something to stop the spread of the epidemic did anything of substance, except for their relatively small almost intrusive hand in the political game of the times.

Scientists and the first victims of AIDS will be exonerated by history. The gay community was scared, uninformed and was caught out of the guard, and the scientific community was left to their fortunes to try to stop the disease from disseminating.

I was in nursing school back in 1977 all the way to 1981. In those years the word AIDS did not exist in the pathology book we have to memorize to pass the class. Cancer in those days, it was a new disease being researched, but already making inroads in the life of Mexican women in hospital wards of Mexico.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the name given to the disease, a shorter and less scary name for a Syndrome that will definitely kill anybody with the virus, which by 1980 was killing ‘gays people’ without having been properly known.

The scientific community of the US and France were in a battle for recognition, both nations top scientific did not really know what they were confronted with.

Shilts 657 pages The Band Played On book indeed did a good job into chronologically recording the juiciest aspects of the gay community with their “bathhouses” and their organizations.

Randy Shilts makes 273 references to Bathhouses all throughout the book and The “Blood-industry,” is repeated only 41 times, blood transfusion(s) is brought out only 67 times, but none of those mentions makes the blood industry to come clean for partaking in the spread of the HIV.

Presently a person with AIDS’s life expectancy is about 78, with medical treatment.

Coincidentally I did my one-year clinical practice in Mocorito, Sinaloa, Mex., which it was known as the town of the gays.

I was the head nurse of the rural hospital in Mocorito Health Center, I do not remember to see troves of gays with Kaposi sarcoma, actually, I do not have any recollection to see cancer cases at all. I do remember, we were running a program to eradicate Tuberculosis and Hepatitis, and for a town with so many gay people, it is strange not having a memory of AIDS cases.

In June 1981, the CDC published a report of five gay men from Los Angeles, Ca., who contracted a life-threatening disease, PCP pneumonia, which was never seen on people with an intact immune system. Also, in July of the same year, published the cases of a rare type of skin cancer that kills young gay people with AIDS, Kaposi’s sarcoma.

I appreciate the dignified pity Shilts dedicated to the gay community victims of AIDS, but I reproach the way he brushes off the blood industry for the spreading of AIDS. Stanford University, the biggest supplier of blood is the main responsible for the spread of the AIDS virus. The scientific community of United States has its big share of guilt, as well of Congress and the federal government.

By the way, Shilts makes so many references of the “bathhouses” all throughout the book, makes me believe he blames the bathhouses for the spreading of the disease.  Shilts makes 201 references to Bathhouses and 72 references to “bathhouse.” This insistence on focusing so many chapters to the gay community as the culprits of the sin of AIDS is unfair.

AIDS being a new disease taking everyone by surprise should have put the media in a state of alert, but also, they fail to give the AIDS epidemic the attention it required.

The earliest press releases by the CDC confirmed that they were already taking measure to tackle the disease, but Reagan did not have any hurry in “tarnishing” his image with the epidemic. Shilts does not make a great effort to call onto the Reagan administration, or Congress into doing more allocating bigger budget for the investigation and treatment of the disease that it was costing so many lives.

I have to give him credit for taking such paramount job into writing the story of so many known guys affected by the disease in its earliest stages. He does fail to do more investigative reporting in other cities, he concentrated his stories in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York, and by lack of imagination, he did not wonder in other towns and cities hospitals.

As an RN nurse and with knowledge of infectious diseases, I know that a disease such as AIDS, it wouldn’t have city lines.

Coincidentally as I write this review, I found a recent article in the New York Times, a self-conscience judgment.

“The New York Times had a spotty record of covering the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s — and gay culture in general. Times staffers reflect on the paper’s past, and what we can learn from it today.” The New York Times, April 28, 2018.

Shilts makes few allusions to the press of the time, their passivity to cover more aggressively the first instances of the epidemic. That could have been a game changer. If the news were doing their job, perhaps, the Reagan Administration could have done more, perhaps Congress could have made the blood industry to stop cold from distributing “one more once of blood.”

“If AIDS is indeed sexually transmitted, why have there been so few cases?” If scientists were doing the math, they should have known that gays right groups were correct to ask this question. Shilts isn’t preoccupied with investigating the stats of gays affected with the immune syndrome.

I’m very critical of this book narrative, which focuses, it is more emphasizing that gays are the vehicle of the agent of AIDS, rather than shifting the blame to the blood transfusions.

By mid-1982, Dr. Edgar Engleman, Stanford’s immunologist for the blood bank, had already figured out, that the disease could be spread in blood transfusions as well, “By early 1983, three AIDS cases were lying in Stanford University Hospital wards; for all three, their only “risk behavior” was having a blood transfusion in San Francisco,” Shilts said.

This statement was a good “scientific clue,” that blood transfusion should have been halt until further investigation on the cause of the virus was found. Why keep pounding on the idea that AIDS is spread through “Bathhouses.”?

I can understand that Shitls being gay wanted to highlight the life of the gay community in those bathhouses, perhaps, Shilts, the intent was to normalize the idea that gays are human beings like every other individual in American society. At one point on the narration, Shilts relates the funeral of a gay victim of AIDS, where the mother of disease asked the lover out of the service. I only can try to analyze Shilts’s intentions by making gays’ sufferings to resonate with American society.

If Shilts meant to write the tragedy of the gay community from LA, Miami, and NY, he nailed the story, but to have written this 657-page book as a chronological recorder of the evolution of the disease in American gay’s communities, it just does not add up. By the time he wrote “And the Band Played on,” there was plenty of scientific evidence that AIDS was not an only gay disease.

Yes, I agree that he incorporated the political climate of those years and it played perfectly well with his stories of gays sentenced to death. Another scoring point for Shilts is his liberal and literal use of the “word anal.” He feels that is entitled to say what he enjoys as a gay man without having to explain further. Kudos to him on this.

Shilts missed the opportunity to expose the government coverup—an epidemic spreading like wildfire, and the federal government isn’t declaring an emergency, it isn’t allocating millions of dollars for research.  As a journalist and a gay person, Shilts missed the focal point of the spreading of AIDS.

Multi-Center AIDS Cohort Studies by 1982, had already guarantee grant money for research, no mention of that in Shilts’s book.

According to Shilts, The Department of Public Health still had not produced one piece of informational literature on AIDS, he said. But, public records show that the CDC has already published a press release advising the scientific community of the epidemic.

The CDC is the main actor in Shilts’s book, he mentioned the CDS 564 times all through the book, for a 567 pages book, the mentions are a little bit exaggerated. In all credit to the CDS, by June 1981, it has already published a press release, and by May of the same year the MMRW (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the CDC have already confirmed 5 cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) among previously healthy young men in Los Angeles (1). All of the men were described as “homosexuals”; two had died. Local clinicians and the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer stationed at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, prepared the report and submitted it for MMWR publication in early May 1981.

As an RN, I find the book to lack the scientific sources, to be considered a “breakthrough” literature on AIDS.

If you want to learn about the beginning of AIDS, Inventing the AIDS Virus by Peter H. Duesberg, professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, and a pioneer in retrovirus research. His book it is a great read with peer journal references to his studies and an outstanding credible researcher, which articles have appeared in several scientific journals.

Shilts’s The Band Played On, it is a good book, which brings the human side of gays and as a gay journalist, he dared to expose the hypocrisy in politics and the little care they have for the wellbeing of Americans.

AIDS took the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. In the beginning, the “Blood Industry,” which is a multi-billion dollar business refused to throw away their existing batches of blood in their banks.

Even if it was not thoroughly investigated, thousands of patients got infected through blood transfusions.

The blood industry is as guilty as the US government from the AIDS epidemic.

“And the Band Played on” by Randy Shilts (1987) explores thoroughly the beginning of AIDS in the US.

 

 

 

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