And the Band Played On is a chronicle of the first years of the AIDS epidemic starting with the first recorded cases in the late 1970’s. It was published in 1985 and was written by Randy Shilts who was a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. Though it only covers the first few years of the AIDS crisis, I think it’s an incredibly important record of how federal, state and local governments, scientists and businesses failed to act to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who have died from AIDS-related illnesses in the United States.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my school hosted viewing of the HBO movie based on this book. While at that time, I had never met anyone who was gay (at least that I knew of), I have a very distinct memory of being horrified that so many people were allowed to suffer and die because others felt they were less than because they were gay. It was the first time I can remember being struck by how unthinkable it was to me to treat someone differently because of who they innately were inside.
It’s taken me over 20 years to finally read the book on which the movie was based, and those same feelings returned, along with such sadness that in hindsight, so much suffering and death could have been prevented. That there were plenty of warnings of the horrors to come from the doctors and researchers closest to frontlines of AIDS which were either ignored for political, monetary or bigoted reasons amplified my frustration while reading.
Randy Shilts himself died from AIDS-related complications in 1994. He wrote his book to expose how indifference to a so-called “gay disease” and political infighting led to thousands and thousands falling ill. I believe there are lessons to be learned from the story he wrote so that we can learn from our past mistakes, and hopefully keep such a preventable epidemic from happening again.
Interested in reading And the Band Played On? Click the link below: