Posted by: gdevi | February 29, 2012

Then He was She

Interesting article about the gay subculture of rock and roll, pop and rock music. The writer is only interested in male musicians, not the women. Thus no reference to Dusty Springfield, for instance. And his catalogue of male musicians is not that comprehensive either; no Lou Reed, for instance. A sort of narrow British focus, I would say. I don’t subscribe to all the points raised by the writer, but I do think that the early rock and pop groups, both in the UK and the US–especially the white rock and pop groups–projected a kind of androgynous persona. I wouldn’t call it a gay persona, but an androgynous persona.  The black rock and roll musicians–I am thinking of people like Chuck Berry– did not adopt this androgynous appeal, even when they wore the golden shirt; they projected a kind of hard, overt masculine appeal. (Well, except maybe Little Richard.) But the white rock groups–the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds–not Cream and not the Beatles–and later groups like Van Halen, Judas Priest etc for instance, most white heavy metal groups look androgynous–they all had a kind of toned-down-maleness-tending-towards-femaleness to them–self-love really–even though in their sexual orientation and sexual behavior they were heterosexual.  How much of this was marketing? And if so, why? And why, then?  It is a fascinating thing to think about, really.

I guess the only music genre that still projects a heavy traditional notion of masculinity that I have observed is jazz; all these big men in suits with their heavy heavy trumpets, saxophones, trombones, clarinets, tubas, cellos,  snare drums and the like. But jazz’s relation to sexuality is very different from rock’s relation to sexuality. Jazz musicians do not project any overt sexuality–jazz always sounds mystical to me; goes straight to your heart– jazz does not project any explicit sexuality the way rock music does, but you can tell that all jazz bands have a recognizable masculine ethos, a straight ethos, even the women do. Which is why I always wonder how men like Bill Evans or Chet Baker fared as jazz musicians. They don’t project this masculine ethos at all. They contain a sort of feminine softness and quietness in them.  It must be a challenge not to be so overtly masculine in the jazz music scene, because that seems to be the norm. Apparently Grappelli was openly gay and took his young men with him everywhere and nobody minded, but that was the exception rather than the norm, since the jazz music scene is reportedly rather homophobic. A few years ago I read an article in a jazz magazine–I forget the title now–that talked about Duke Ellington’s bisexuality–and his close partnership with Billy Strayhorn; apparently Ellington’s son confided to Strayhorn’s biographer that his father had experimented with Strayhorn. The article had a strange slant to it; somehow they didn’t mind Strayhorn’s homosexuality, but Ellington’s bisexuality was a no-no. How can the pianist who has women hanging off both ends of the piano be interested in men? I personally think that human sexuality is a continuum, really. I once read in a National Geographic or Nature or some such magazine that originally all human beings, our species, we were all originally women. Then over time, for the sake of evolution, some of us metamorphosed into the males of the species. But all of us are really women. (This article made me remember all these things that I had read and not remembered in a long time! Interesting.)

I agree with one thing the writer says here though; pop music and even rock music have become too sincere and earnest now–they don’t tickle our imagination the way Mick Jagger in his fur coat and pouty lips did. It has all become somehow “biographical” and like reality-tv or something, and not imaginatively flamboyant like the old bands. Maybe that was what the androgynous persona and the gay subculture gave these bands–a whole landscape to play in and explore. And boy, were they excellent and wonderful!

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