Thursday, 31 March 2016

Tom Robinson part 2

In 1979, Tom Robinson Band broke up and Tom became involved in solo projects: he wrote songs with Elton John and toured small venues, playing mainly gay-themed songs. His concert at the Collegiate Theatre, London, in June 1979 was recorded. It was released in 1982 as Cabaret 79. It was reissued in 1997 as Cabaret 79: Glad To Be Gay, with the addition of a few more recent live recordings. This is the album that will take up our time today.

"So, a bit of history. 1979 was a cusp year for gay people in the UK: the liberation movement that had started with the Stonewall Riots in America in 1969 - and Gay Liberation Front in Britain soon after - had snowballed to the extent that it had built up its own momentum without having actually achieved any significant reforms. By 1979 our paper, Gay News, was selling 25,000 copies a fortnight; we were shortly to have our very own (and wonderful) ITV magazine series, Gay Life; and Greater London Arts had given £1,000 for a gay arts festival." (from Peter Scott - Presland).

The album begins with Pub Hassle, a funny music hall piece written by Barbara Norden, concerning a redneck homophobe trying to pick up a lesbian in a pub.

Truce is a very touching song: it brings up the historical truce that occurred, without orders from above, between French and German soldiers fighting in the trenches of the Great War, in order to celebrate Xmas 1914 in peace. It then compares it to a hypothetical truce, between LGBTQI people and homophobes. Here's how it ends:

There's a couple of days when the bashers of gays
Who oppress, arrest and charge us
All leave us alone to return back home
For a truce...
With our mothers and our fathers

But the very next day it's back to the fray
And setting our homes in order
Bashing Lesbian mothers
And underage lovers
Disowning gay sons and daughters

Well it's quaint to pretend
We could all live as friends
With the Christmas angels calling
But the dream turns sour
In a matter of hours
And they make it all up in the morning


There is a slightly different version of Glad To Be Gay in the 1982 LP, updating some of the song's facts. Then, in the 1997 CD reissue there is this version, along with an even newer one, called Glad To Be Gay '97. In the latter he touches on the heat that he received from the gay purists, when he married a woman, even though he was perfectly clear in his interviews: "I won't even call myself bisexual: I'm a gay man who happens to be in love with a woman."

Also on the CD version is a newer song concerning the AIDS plague, Last Rites by Carlton Edwards, performed in 1987 at Glasgow University. Its conclusion:

Man could not have been created without flaws
Sure we expected to lose a few wars
Yes I know that I'm crying
Well I'm shit scared of dying
When we ourselves opened the door

And yes I really mind the pain
My strength for loneliness is getting lower
It may never rain - for personally
The search seems to be...
Getting slower.

There were also two interesting cover versions in Cabaret 79: a song by Canadian Lewis Furey (who will be introduced the day after tomorrow). It's a sort of gay version of Dylan's Just Like A Woman. Sort of... Here's the last verse and chorus:

Twenty lovers in a week
You can get 'em
Sure you can
There's lot's of geeks
And every mother one of them
Wants to get lucky
Or maybe you need
More than one man
Probably a legion
Every one a fan
I'm trying to find it in me
To hope you're happy

So when you go
I feel you oughta know
You're closing a door
Behind you
And when we meet again
Promise not to pretend
We lost anything
Of value

Then, there's the reappropriation of Noel Coward's Mad About The Boy. Ever since Dinah Washington's excellent and very successful version, the song had been given the heterosexual stamp of approval. But Noel Coward (if you don't know who he is, do look him up), was as gay as they come and the song is too. Tom camps it up and the end result is outrageously entertaining. Here are the last verses and chorus:

Mad about the boy
I know it's stupid but I'm
Mad about the boy
He has a gay appeal that makes me feel
There may be something
Sad about the boy

Walking down the street
His eyes look out at me
From people that I meet
I know that quite sincerely
Housman really wrote
"The Shropshire Lad" about the boy

I'm hardly sentimental
Love isn't so sublime
I have to pay my rental
And I can't afford to waste much time

How I should enjoy -
For him to treat me
As a plaything or a toy
I'd give my all to him
And crawl to him
So help me God I'm
Mad about the boy

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Tom Robinson part 1

Tom Robinson, one of his songs in particular, gave me the fighting spirit necessary to come out and to get involved in gay activism. He's the guy we'll be dealing with for the next 3 days.

Tom (born in Cambridge/1950) to middle class parents, realised that he was gay at the age of 13, when he fell in love with another boy at school. Being gay would still be illegal for 4 more years. At 16 he attempted suicide and he was institutionalized for the next 6 years. He then went to London, where he became involved in the emerging gay scene and embraced the politics of gay liberation, which linked gay rights to the wider issues of social justice.

He formed the Tom Robinson Band, which was highly political. In 1977 they released the single 2-4-6-8 Motorway, which alludes to a gay pick-up between a hitch-hiker and a truck driver (Little young Lady Stardust hitching a ride). It went Top 5.

In February 1978, the band released the live EP Rising Free. The main track was Glad To Be Gay. A song originally written for the London gay Pride Parade of 1976. This was the song that I mentioned in the beginning: a sarcastic anthem of protest and empowerment: the first verse begins with "The British Police are the best in the world" and then goes on to list cases of police brutality. The second verse deals with the double standard found in the press: "Pictures of naked young women are fun... There's no nudes in Gay News our one magazine, but they still find excuses to call it obscene."

The third verse deals with bullying: "You don't have to mince or make bitchy remarks to get beaten unconscious and left in the dark." Finally the fourth and final verse deals with our own apathy and our closeted self-hatred: "Lie to your workmates, lie to your folks, put down the queens and tell anti-queer jokes. Gay Lib's ridiculous, join their laughter, 'The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?'"

The song, although banned by the BBC, made the Top 20 and has since become a seminal song of the genre. Over the course of his solo career, Tom Robinson has performed the song with its lyrics updated to reflect current events. There have been ten versions officially released.

This version was recorded in Manchester, 1977: 

Another great version:

This EP also includes my favorite bromantic song, Martin.

This version is from 1979:

Their first LP, Power In The Darkness (May 1978), was a kickass political dynamite. It included Long Hot Summer, a song about Stonewall:

The title track is a manifesto, which begins with the liberal pov and ends with the pov of the extreme right. A Brechtian writing style, also used in Glad To Be Gay, that brings the message home much more effectively.

Finally for today, a song from TRB Two, the band's second album from 1979. The album is as political as the first. Black Angel dealt with a white guy who falls in love with a black guy. The song appropriately came with a fake-gospel chorus. Here it is:

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Elton Motello

Elton Motello was a British Punk Rock band founded by Alan Ward in the mid 70s.

Alan had connections in Belgium and there he recorded the backing track for Jet Boy, Jet Girl, using session musicians. The band then recorded the vocals over the backing track and released the single, which was revolutionary then, in 1977. It's about a 15-year-old boy's sexual relationship with an older man, who then rejects him for a girl. The song uses the boy's pov: he is a wild thing, think Mickey in the first couple of seasons of Shameless. Their meeting: "We made it on a ballroom blitz, I took his arm and kissed his lips. He looked at me with such a smile my face turned red, we booked a room into the Ritz." and then he triumphantly proclaims: "He gives me head".

He then elaborates: "And though I'm only just fifteen, I like to kick, I like to scream and even if I have a kick or two in bed, when I'm with him it's just a dream." However: "The other day, what a surprise, I saw him with some other guys. God he was dressed up with a girl around his neck, I could have cried with both my eyes."

He then projects himself in the future: "And if or when I make it through, or if my brain is stuck on glue and when the world tries to forget all that I've said, I'll still remember you."

The single was a minor hit in Australia, because a "harmless" part of the chorus was used on a TV ad. It didn't do much anywhere else.

It seems that its shock value hasn't decreased with time. In 1989, the American FCC fined a radio station $10,000 for playing the song. You, however, get to hear it.

The same backing track was used, with different lyrics, for the song Ça Plane Pour Moi. It is credited to Belgian Plastic Bertrand, although the record's producer claims that he himself performed the vocals. This version became a big hit all over the world, hitting #1 in France and Switzerland, #2 in Australia and the Netherlands, #4 in Ireland, #6 in Germany, #7 in Belgium and #8 in the UK. It even made #47 in the US Hot 100.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Statistics & Thanks

Dear Friends,

This blog has been now working for 15 days. I've been flabbergasted by your interest and I want to thank you all. A special mention to The Briefs in TBL for Snicks' shoutouts, as well as great blogs,, and Also to my friends who sang my praises in FB. Most of all, a great thank you to all of you who are reading this blog.

Since I'm a statistically minded person and since google blogger provides that particular service, here are some statistics of the nationalities of the people that have visited this blog. So far, the United States is the leader, with 1168 visits, followed by Greece with 546 visits. After that, four countries that are close together: the United Kingdom (81), Germany (74), Canada (68) and Ireland (50). Cyprus (16), France (13), Russia (11) and Australia (10) complete the Top 10. Then there are many countries with under 10 visits. I will try to remember them all: Panama, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Cameroon, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, Cambodia, Turkey, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Austria. If anyone who's visited from another country from the above, please say so in the comments, so that I can correct this.

Once again, thanks everybody and have a great week!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Jamie Marks Is Dead (2014)

Before making this, Carter Smith, who began his career in fashion photography, had made a series of interesting shorts (including Bugcrush) and a rather disappointing horror film, The Ruins. Jamie Marks Is Dead was a definite step forward.

The story: In a wintry small town, the body of a teenager named Jamie Marks (Noah Silver) is found by the river. Adam (Cameron Monaghan), the star of his cross-country team, becomes fascinated with Jamie - a boy nobody really knew or interacted with, except occasionally to bully him. When Jamie's ghost begins to appear both to Adam and Gracie (Morgan Saylor), the classmate who discovered the body, Adam is caught between two worlds. He has a budding romance with Gracie, but he also feels a deep connection to Jamie, who brings him closer to the world of the undead. The film also contains solid supporting work by Liv Tyler and Judy Greer.

The review: "Watching you run, feels like reading a poem", Jamie's ghost tells Adam. Watching this movie, I would add, is like listening to your favorite adaggio, sweet yet sorrowful. The ghosts are roaming around this small Northern US town, but people don't see them, except for the sensitive ones - teenagers Gracie and Adam. Yet Gracie chooses to look the other way, while Adam embraces them, sincerely trying to help, even when this puts his life in danger. He does indeed help, finally uttering the magic word, whispered to Jamie's lips, that allows his spirit to finally rest.  All the while, it exposes the ugliness and underlying violence in this phenomenally picturesque small town. Beautifully lensed in somber winter colors, expertly carried by Cameron Monaghan's presence/performance, this is more of a coming of age tale. Yet this is a bit of a coming out story too... even if it is post mortem.

Grade: 8/10

The trailer:

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Elton John part 3

We only have today to cover Elton John's career from 1976 till now, so we'll speed through it and probably miss a few songs. In that case, you can complete the list in the comments.

In an interview in "Rolling Stone" in 1976, Elton came out as bisexual. Now he felt free to express himself as he chose.

Elton's Song was written in the period when he worked without Taupin. The lyrics were by fellow out English musician Tom Robinson. (They had also written Sartorial Eloquence together). It's a beautiful ballad, dealing with the love of a gay schoolboy for another boy. "But I would give my life for a single night beside you" is the closing line, so typical of the intensity, to the point of hyperbole, of young love.

The video made for the song, a gay-themed short film directed by Russell Mulcahy (Queer as Folk, Teen Wolf), caused a big controversy, inspiring such tabloid headlines as "Elton's gay video shocker". It was never shown on television. The song itself was banned in several countries, for promoting homosexual values. Ha!

Here is the video in question:

His best album in the 80s was "Too Low For Zero" (1983) and my favorite song from this album is a beautiful romantic ballad, called One More Arrow, about a young man gone too soon. Allow me to give you the complete lyrics, for they are lovely:

He said: I want to grow up
And look like Robert Mitchum
And I hope that when I'm gone
There'll be some say that I miss him.
He must have been romantic
He must have sensed adventure
And I feel the steel of his strong will
In the frame around his picture

And he's one more arrow flying through the air
One more arrow landing in a shady spot somewhere
Where the days and nights blend into one
And he can always feel the sun
Through the soft brown earth that holds him
Forever always young

He could have been a boxer
But the fight game seemed so dirty
We argued once he knocked me down
And he cried when he thought he'd hurt me
Strictly from the old school
He was quiet about his pain
And if one in ten could be that brave
I would never hate again

Nikita (1985), is about the singer's infatuation with a border guard "with eyes that looked like ice on fire" in an Iron Curtain country, most probably Russia. Everybody and Khrushchev knows that Nikita is a male name, mostly found in Russia and in Greece. But Ken Russell, the Oscar-nominated director who was directing the video, wanted to make it about a male/female relationship, so the soldier became a blond woman. Elton, not wanting to have the Elton's Song video problems once again, acquiesced to the decision, et voila, the song was a big hit all over the world. Luc Besson was inspired from the video to name his female assassin Nikita in the film of the same name, which had a US remake and a TV series and soon everybody were naming their daughters Nikita. Sometime in the future we need to talk about cultural appropriation, otherwise known as straightwashing. Throughout my research, I came across it quite frequently.

Last, but certainly not least, is The Last Song (1992), a very touching song, about an estranged father coming to terms with the sexuality of his gay son, who is dying of an AIDS-related illness. The money generated from the single went to Elton's AIDS foundation. The vdeo was directed by Gus Van Sant.

The lyrics by Bernie Taupin are beautiful:

Yesterday you came to lift me up
As light as straw and brittle as a bird
Today I weigh less than a shadow on the wall
Just one more whisper of a voice unheard

Tomorrow leave the windows open
As fear grows please hold me in your arms
Won't you help me if you can to shake this anger
I need your gentle hands to keep me calm

`Cause I never thought I'd lose
I only thought I'd win
I never dreamed I'd feel
This fire beneath my skin
I can't believe you love me
I never thought you'd come
I guess I misjudged love
Between a father and his son

Things we never said come together
The hidden truth no longer haunting me
Tonight we touched on the things that were never spoken
That kind of understanding sets me free