An Entertaining Bear Life:
an interview with Larry Flick
by Ron Suresha
Larry Flick is one of the most influential popular music journalists in the U.S., poised among the industry’s top taste-making voices. As senior talent editor at Billboard magazine, Larry oversees their pop/rock music coverage. He’s scored world exclusives and scoops with such superstars as Madonna, U2’s Bono, Alanis Morissette, Britney Spears, David Bowie, Metallica, and Cher. Larry’s expertise frequently highlights him as TV commentator on the music industry, offering insight on programs like “Access Hollywood,” “Entertainment Tonight,” VH1’s “Behind The Music,” and MTV’s “1515,” and as a guest on CNN and CNBC.
Larry’s byline has appeared in a wide array of publications that include Vibe, TV Guide, Advocate, Out, Genre, Request, Village Voice, Hit Parader, and Replay, covering everything from heavy metal and rap to new-age pop and grunge. He’s also regularly quoted in publications such as Time, People, and Entertainment Weekly.
Additionally, he helms “Continental Drift,” a biweekly column devoted to discovering unsigned bands and singers. During the three years that he’s presided over that column, he’s assisted dozens of in securing major-label contract, CD distribution deals, and song-publishing agreements. In particular, Larry has actively promoted many new gay and lesbian musicians to a mainstream audience.
On top of all that, Larry’s long-term involvement with the bear community in NY brought him to being a finalist for the International Mr. Bear 2002 title. In 2002, Larry and I got together online to talk bears.
Ron: First of all, Larry, when did you come out as a gay man?
Larry: I started to realize that I was gay when I was about 17 or so. That’s when I started “experimenting.” I came out of the closet when I was 21.
Ron: Where did you live then?
Larry: I was living with my parents and three sisters in the Bronx, which is where I was raised. I lived in the Bronx until I was 29.
Ron: Have you always been attracted primarily to bearish types? Describe your ideal mate.
Larry: I’ve always been attracted to hyper-masculine men. I wouldn’t necessarily call them all bears, though I suppose they all had the superficial elements of bears: facial hair, a few extra pounds, etc. When I first came out, I was mostly attracted to considerably older guys. In fact, Mike was the first guy I dated who was within five years of my age.
I spent a decent amount of my 30s in one relationship, and I’ve discovered since re-emerging as a single man that my tastes are somewhat different now. I now appreciate younger guys (and I guess that’s due to the fact that I attract them on a fairly steady basis!). I don’t know that I have an ideal “type” of man, beyond them being extremely masculine. However, I now also appreciate a butch guy who is in touch with his softer side. I’m not even remotely turned on by posuers. If you’re not natural and comfortable in your own skin, I’m not interested. That can include a very large man or a diminutive dude. It doesn’t really matter. I like being free to be in charge. But I also like saying, “You drive tonight.”
Ron: Wide-ranging tastes.
Larry: Well, I’m not the type of guy who is always the same way or in the same mood. I don’t believe in steadfast types any more than I believe in “strict” tops or bottoms.
Ron: How long have you identified as a bear, or as being bearish?
Larry: I’ve identified myself as a bear since I was 25, when I first discovered that there was such a subculture. I remember when I found that there was a place where I could be comfortable to be the man I am, without having to suck in my stomach or wear certain types of clothes. It was like being set free, in a sense.
Ron: How did that first happen?
Larry: I walked into the Spike bar in New York when I was 24 or 25, and I saw all of these amazingly hot men. They were all shapes and sizes and ages. That was incredible. It was the first night that I recall getting hit on because the guy thought I was hot, as opposed to being the object of someone’s freak fetish.
On the way home, I walked past a newsstand and saw one of the first issues of Bear magazine, and then an issue of Daddy magazine. It was like taking drugs. I was instantly addicted to the idea of there being a subculture of men who embraced guys who looked like me.
Ron: A happy coincidence, all on one night. How long have you worn your beard?
Larry: I’ve had some form of facial hair since I was about 17. I grew my first full-beard when I was a college freshman, at age 18.
Ron: Were you always a big guy?
Larry: It’s funny. I would say “yes” to that question. I always had a few extra pounds. But it’s interesting to look at pictures of myself when I was in high-school or college. I thought I was FAT. Looking back, I wasn’t very large at all. In fact, I’d kill to be as FAT now as I was in college!
Ron: It’s odd, sometimes, how our perception of our body changes over time. How has the bear phenomenon positively affected your self-image?
Larry: It has had an incredibly positive impact on my physical self-image. I don’t beat myself up because of my size. That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t note that I do see the pecking order that now exists within the community between muscle-bears, grizzlies, etc. I don’t fret too much about my size, but I see how things have changed within the community, and it’s not necessarily a positive thing.
Ron: These distinctions get confusing, even to those of us in the community.
Larry: I have mixed feelings about subdivisions. I’ll tease my friends who are physically smaller than I am about whether or not they’re “bears” or “cubs.” But it’s all in harmless fun. On a larger scale, I think the subdivisions are potentially harmful. I didn’t find out until I recently competed at IBR that my large tummy made me a “grizzly” and not a standard “bear” or “daddy.” It didn’t disturb me as much as it startled me. I’d never thought of myself that way. My personal definition of “grizzly” was different than most others’. It’s all cool, because I’m secure now in who I am and I’m delighted to be in either magazine. But it does make me pause and ask, “Does this now mean that I’m too big for regular bears?”
Ron: Does that disturb you somehow?
Larry: Internally, it doesn’t. I consider myself a bear. Period. If it makes someone else happier to classify me, then have at it. It would only disturb me if I suddenly became limited in my reach within the community because of that sub-classification. Also, if I may continue being very candid, it does make me wonder if I would be more highly regarded within the community if my tummy suddenly became small and my shoulders thicker and broader.
Ron: Well, Larry, what do you think?
Larry: Well, of course, I’d be more highly regarded. Because, let’s break it down, even within our community, which is supposed to promote self-love and brotherhood, the really big men are viewed as being out-of-control on some level. That’s neither fair nor true a perception. But it exists. All you have to do is attend a bear run for proof. There’s just as much segregation at IBR [International Bear Rendezvous] as there is at The White Party.
Ron: Well, it’s not likely we’ll all get into one big circle and sing “Kumbaya.”
Larry: Not even close. I’ve done contests, which have forced me to interact with everyone. There are sectors of men that will grimace when I walk up to them. It’s only after one of two things happen that their attitude will change: Either they’ll see that I’m a no-bullshit guy and that will crack their veneer. Or they’ll figure out that I work for a famous magazine and I’m on TV often. In either case, I let them know that I don’t have time for pecking orders. If they’re going to speak of the “bear brotherhood,” they’ll have to live it around me.
Ron: Gotta walk the walk.
Larry: It’s the New Yorker in me, I suppose. I don’t fear telling people that they’re acting like idiots. And there’s nothing better than seeing the facial expressions of some men when I ask for a hug after they’ve rejected my advances to sell them raffle tickets at a contest. They don’t know how to respond at first. But they always smile or laugh. Their “pose” is lessened, at least for a moment.
Ron: However your own body looks like, it hasn’t seemed to affect your professional status in the least, in regard to being on TV.
Larry: Correct, it hasn’t. People in my industry are entertained by my “bear” life. Would I get more TV if I were thin and clean-shaven? Maybe, but I don’t know. I get a lot of time on the air.
Ron: So they’re aware of the bear subculture?
Larry: People I deal with are aware. And they love it. I have artists and executives call me “big bear” all the time.
Ron: The music business certainly seems one in which musicians can express a broader range of looks – do you think it attracts bearish men in any particular way?
Larry: I think the music business attracts all kinds of gay men, bears included.
Ron: They really know how very involved you are with the bear community?
Larry: I tell them about it! For a while I had my Mr. NYC Bear trophy on my desk at work, and I have a bear flag on my cubicle wall.
Ron: Quite the ambassador.
Larry: Heh heh . . . The music industry has been a key factor in my community-service work for the bear world.
Ron: But that fits right in with your work, promoting different new musicians, causes . . .
Larry: Record companies and artists frequently sponsor events that I work. They donate product hand over fist for fundraisers. The people I deal with in the music industry love the idea of supporting what they view as being a “fresh” new part of the queer world.
Ron: Fresh to them, at least. Certainly you’ve come to represent gay music to the American public in media, in much the same way that Andrew Sullivan represents conservative gay political thinkers, or Camille Paglia represents gay academics.
Larry: That’s quite a complement. Thank you.
Ron: You’re welcome. You don’t think so?
Larry: I know that I’ve done my part. I remember 12 years ago, being the lone “out” guy in my little industry circle of gay men. I tried to write a column for Billboard about the rigors of being gay in the music biz back then. And not one of these producers, label execs, or artists would be interviewed. The column wound up being about feeling totally alone among gay people in the business.
Three years later, I attempted to write the same piece for Out magazine, and they all begged to be included. But that came after several years of being on the frontlines alone. My publisher was not terribly keen on me coming out the industry on the pages of Billboard, or chronicling the individual passing of each industry person of AIDS-related illness for 8 years. But I know it had an effect. And I am actually quite proud of that.
Ron: It sounds like a piece that had to be written.
Larry: Ironically, that coming-out column was probably my most poorly written piece. I was too emotional about it. But it had an effect. In the 12 years I’ve been at Billboard, I’ve never seen anything bring in so many letters to the editor.
Ron: Amazing. What are your intentions for the future?
Larry: I’d like to write about real people who are living extraordinary lives. All I have to do is prove that I can detail a non-music event as well as I can critique a song.
Ron: It’s hard to break out of a stylistic mold once you’ve created one.
Larry: This is true. And it’s even harder when people are asking you to write about music and you have a light bill to pay. But I’m committed to making it happen. It’s just going to take a little longer.
Ron: What other professional or personal ambitions would you like to achieve?
Larry: I started out as an actor. Now that I’m past the age of leading man, I’d love to get back onstage at some point. I’d love to do more focused, organized things that allow me to help other people, like motivational speaking or consciousness-raising groups. And, like everyone else, I’d love to find me a man who’s as smart and ethical as he is hot. And if all else fails, I’ll become a porn star.
Ron: Good luck with that! Anything else you’d like to add?
Larry: Just that if we’re supposed to subscribe to all of this talk about brotherhood among bears, let’s really live it. And everyone can make this work by doing one very simple thing. When you see a man standing alone in a bar or at a bear run or anywhere where bears congregate, walk up to him, smile, shake his hand, ask “How are you?” and wait for the answer. You’ll be shocked at the results. I’ve done it. And it’s been a remarkable experience, every time.
Ron: Sounds like good work easily accomplished.
Larry: The biggest results come from the smallest acts.
Ron: Larry, thanks for sharing your big bear heart with us.
Originally published in American Bear magazine, August 2002. Copyright © 2002 by Ron Jackson Suresha, all rights reserved.