Published on May 3rd, 2013 | by Jessica Gibson
WRESCH DAWIDJAN: An Encore in Prime Time
With a face wreathed in silvery gray ringlets and sporting a Van Dyke mustache, the immediate impression one gets of Wresch Dawidjan is of a cherubic personality with a rakish flair—one eye patch away from a memorable character in an Anne Rice novel. He laughs often and speaks with a rich baritone that infuses warmth into his conversation.
His biography only adds to that initial impression. Born in Munich, Germany, Dawidjan moved with his family to Massachusetts when he was four years old. He doesn’t remember much about the trip except that he got lost on the ocean liner, causing a very frantic search by his panicked parents. He developed an early interest in music that led to his role as a bugler in a local drum and bugle corp, and then he joined the Navy as a young man, getting married shortly after his enlistment.
After seven years of marriage and soon after the birth of his daughter, Dawidjan and his wife were divorced. He had always been open about his bisexuality and met Gary soon after his divorce. The two men became lovers and companions over the next 37 years, but it was Dawidjan’s love of music that formed the basis of his life after marriage.
He and Gary had moved to North Carolina, with Gary teaching at a nearby college while Dawidjan got his degree from the University of North Carolina. “At that time, I wanted to be a travel agent,” he recalled, “and so I said, ‘I have to go to travel agent school.’ The travel agent school was located in Washington, D.C. I finished that up, and I became a travel agent. Well, guess what? I hated it!” Dawidjan was a travel agent for about six months while also working as a clerk in a record store.
“That was a really good part of my life…”
“I always really loved music, always paid attention to music, so I loved working in a record store,” he said. “I left the travel agency, and I became full-time at the music store, Discount Records in Washington, D.C. Eventually, I became buyer and then manager, and I worked at that for years. I was in control of the disco department. I had my own clientele coming all the time.” Dawidjan would make sample cassettes for his customers so they could hear the music before they bought it.
“They loved that!” he said. “I had this big clientele built up, and one day I decided, ‘What am I doing? Why don’t I open up my own store?’” After a few years, he opened Twelve Inches Dance Records on DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C. The business was so successful that he decided to open a second location in Baltimore.
Dawidjan thrived with his business for about eighteen years. The store was located in the bar district, and he would pipe music out onto the street for the partiers. He would receive “test pressings,” advance copies of albums about to be released, and would give them to the DJs, asking them to give the records a quick listen. The DJs would put them on, and Dawidjan came to love the fabulous feeling of having a crowd go wild with a record he introduced.
“That was a really good part of my life,” he said. “I was happy then. I enjoyed owning a record store. Then, everything changed. Napster happened, and the internet sort of took me out of business.” He still sells music on eBay, using the entity that undermined his brick and mortar establishment to stay in the game he loves so much.
After Twelve Inches Dance Records was shuttered and his relationship with Gary ended, Dawidjan came to Nashville to be closer to his daughter. That was when his encore began.
With a bit of money saved over from the business, he bought an apartment and car and started looking for groups and social clubs online. Having seen his former lover, Gary, automatically find a set of friends after becoming involved in a Prime Timers chapter soon after their breakup, Dawidjan knew the group could do the same for him in his new city.
“That’s what I like about Prime Timers,” he said of the organization for mature gay and bisexual men and their admirers. “It’s really good for people who are new in town, who don’t know too many people. It’s good for people who have been here for a long time, but are maybe homebodies, if they decide they want to get out and meet people and start doing things.”
Dawidjan tried to start a local Prime Timers chapter soon after arriving in Nashville but just couldn’t get it going. Then, about three years ago, he was at a potluck at OutCentral for mature men 55 years and older. He presented the idea to start a Prime Timers chapter, and several men there agreed. The stars had finally aligned, and within a week, a board was formed, selecting Dawidjan to be president.
He takes his duties seriously and works overtime making sure there is a steady and full calendar of activities each month so members can meet, socialize, and simply enjoy the company of other like-minded people. The group is very cognizant of the fact that most members are retired, so they try to keep the events low-cost or no-cost.
Three years into the chapter’s life, the Nashville Prime Timers are an active and supportive group for those gay and bisexual men who are finding that being mature and on Medicare doesn’t mean that life is over. Not yet. “The whole concept with the Prime Timers is to make friends,” Dawidjan said. “I’ve made some good friends, and I’m really happy about it. I want to give that opportunity to the other guys.”
For now, Dawidjan stays busy, serving on the board of the Ryan White Planning Council (in charge of distributing HIV funds to organizations in Tennessee) and as the president of the Greater Nashville chapter of Prime Timers. And that’s how he likes it.
“I’m 67 years old now,” he said. “You know, I think if you keep yourself going, you keep yourself active, you’re gonna be around awhile.”