'We were all walking on thin ice.'

Renée Williams & the Ice Around Us
Story & Recording by John Hanning

In 1981, I was going to school in Memphis.  I started listening to music by the B-52’s, Blondie, The Go-Go’s and Joan Jett.  It was as if my disco ball was slowly being shattered.

On weekends, I would go George’s Disco.  Here were drag shows, and my favorite drag queen was Renée Williams.  The DJ would announce her name and the lights of the club were turned off.  In the darkness, someone would lay a sheet of clear mylar on the stage floor.  Yoko Ono’s Walking on Thin Ice would begin to play and the disco ball would be lit by a single spot light.

Renee would walk out onto the stage — slowly pick up the mylar and eventually fall to the floor under the mylar.  It was like she was drowning as she fell through the ice.  As she rolled around the floor, wrapping herself in the mylar, she extended her arms gesturing for help.

It was around this time I heard of a “gay cancer” that was spreading in New York.  A friend told me not to do poppers while having sex.  Renée was featured in the documentary What Sex Am I (1985) – subsequently dying of AIDS.

We were all walking on thin ice.