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PLAYLIST: David Bowie Made Me Gay
Darryl W Bullock , September 6th, 2017 15:49

Ahead of the release of his new book, David Bowie Made Me Gay, Darryl W. Bullock takes us through a playlist featuring tracks essential to his experience within the LGBT community and that of others

I always have music playing while I work, and on any given day I could be listening to a mix of Almodovar soundtracks, Beatles outtakes and obscure outsider records. Writing David Bowie Made Me Gay gave me the opportunity to immerse myself not only in the work of the more obvious and open LGBT artists but also in a world of little known and seldom played music from the decades before decriminalisation. As well as writing about the journey that the LGBT community has made over the last century I also embarked on a journey of my own, discovering and (in some cases) becoming immersed in, the careers of artists I had previously ignored - some of which you can find below.

David Bowie – Starman

It was Bowie’s death, and my emotional reaction to it, that kicked this book in to life, and it was during this performance, at the moment that Bowie smiled straight in to the Top Of The Pops camera then draped his arm across Mick Ronson’s shoulder that many other lives began. For a generation of LGBT kids life would never be the same again. Just three months earlier he had revealed to the Melody Maker’s Michael Watts that ‘I’m gay and I always have been’, and there, on a Thursday night in the front room of more than half of the TV-owning homes in Britain, was the proof.

Billy Murray - Pretty Baby

One of the things I wanted to do with this book was bring pioneering musicians like Britain’s Fred Barnes and the New Orleans-born Tony Jackson back in to public consciousness. It’s scandalous that these people, who lived out and outrageously open gay lives are virtually forgotten these days. Sadly no recordings by Tony Jackson exist and neither do any complete lyrics to his original hit song – written, it is believed, for his boyfriend, a young white rent boy. Thanks to a short snatch of the song recorded by his contemporary Jelly Roll Morton we do know that in the original – written over 100 years ago – Jackson sang joyfully about the properties of his lover’s manhood. Billy Murray, a popular singer in the first few decades of the 20th Century, recorded his version in 1916.

'Ma' Rainey - Prove It On Me Blues

Recorded following a scandalous event where a semi-naked Ma Rainey was arrested leaving the scene of an orgy (legend has it she was bailed out by Bessie Smith), if evidence was ever needed of the different attitude towards LGBT people before the mid-1930s then ‘Prove It On Me Blues’ has to be it. Advertised with an illustration of Ma in male drag chatting up two chic young women while a cop looked on amazed, the song was an out and proud celebration of lesbianism, with Ma singing the famous line ‘went out last night with a crowd of my friends/They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don't like no men’.

Irving Kaufman - Masculine Women, Feminine Men

The 20s was a wild decade, with out LGBT performers making records, appearing on stage, in film and, of course, in cabaret in many of the Western World’s major cities. Drag was big business, even Brigham Morris Young, the son of the Mormon leader Brigham Young, performed in drag under the pseudonym Madam Pattirini, and the Pansy Craze grew out of a fondness for female impersonators and camp performers. Not everyone was quite so broad-minded: homosexuality was still against the law, after all, but songs with titles such as ‘Masculine Women, Feminine Men’ and ‘Let’s All Be Fairies’ were all the rage.

Homokord Orchester - Das Lila Lied

While writing the book I was constantly reminded that the history of the gay community didn’t begin in 1967 or 1969. The world’s first regular magazine aimed at gay readers, Der Eigene, was first published in Berlin in 1896, and before Hitler rose to power the city was at the centre of LGBT culture. ‘Das Lila Lied’ (‘The Lavender Song’), with its repeated refrain ‘We are just different from the others’, was probably the first song to directly reference and celebrate homosexuality. Several versions of ‘Das Lila Lied’ were recorded in 1921, the same year that Berlin hosted the First International Conference on Sexual Reform. The song’s lyricist, Kurt Schwabach, would later write the words for Germany’s Eurovision Song Contest entry in 1960.

Strange Fruit

Lesley Gore - You Don’t Own Me

Lesley Gore was just 17 when she hit the big time in 1963, the perfect age for the protagonist in her first million seller ‘It’s My Party’. Less than a year later she scored big with ‘You Don’t Own Me’, a fantastic proto-feminist disc that was denied the number one spot in the U.S. by the Beatles. Born Lesley Sue Goldstein in Brooklyn in 1946, she realised that she was a lesbian when she was in her 20s, and although there was no public announcement it wasn’t exactly a secret either. ‘I just never found it was necessary because I really never kept my life private,’ Lesley admitted. ‘Those who knew me, those who worked with me were well aware.’

Jackie Shane – Any Other Way

Jackie Shane is another of those artists I knew next to nothing about before I started writing the book. Jackie retired from the stage in 1971 but her career is about to be resurrected thanks to the Chicago-based Numero Group, who are issuing a double LP/2CD collection of her work in October. Jackie Shane is a pioneering transgender singer, born male but performing as a woman at a time when to do so was unthinkable. Shane’s almost-hit, ‘Any Other Way’ (‘tell her that I’m happy, tell her that I’m gay…’) and live album showcase the all-too-short career of one of the most riveting stage presences in soul music.

The Tornadoes - Do You Come Here Often

Joe Meek was the brilliant but troubled enfant terrible of British record production, responsible for some of the most innovative records of the 50s and early 60s. Yet his career went in to steep decline after he was caught importuning in a public toilet in Madras Place in 1963, between his Holloway Road studio and the appositely named Paradise Passage; his embarrassment over the resulting newspaper story ensured that he was never seen in public again without dark glasses. In 1967 Joe made the newspapers once more when he shot first his landlady and then himself, killing them both. One of the last records he worked on was ‘Do You Come Here Often’, by a new line up of his big act the Tornados, who had hit Number One on both sides of the Atlantic with ‘Telstar’. ‘Do You Come Here Often is notable for the use of polari, or gay slang, the first time that an omi polone had been so bold on a pop single.

Wendy Carlos – What’s New Pussycat?

Wendy Carlos is a true pioneer; her multi-million selling Moog albums helped popularise the use of the synthesiser, the groundbreaking classical crossover albums she created are wholly responsible for establishing an entirely new genre in music, and her 1972 instrumental album Sonic Seasonings set the stage for what would become known as Ambient and/or New Age music. She is also transgender, having been born Walter Carlos, the name under which she first found fame. Carlos’s influence permeates glam rock, disco, house and HI-NRG, and the electronica acts of today owe an enormous debt to her.

Smokey – Piss Slave

One of the many delightful consequences of writing a book like David Bowie Made Me Gay was the opportunity to talk to artists criminally ignored by the mainstream but who carved out their own careers regardless. Some of those people I now call friends. John ‘Smokey’ Condon is one of those, and many of his tales of Hollywood excess are unprintable, possibly libellous, but frequently hilarious. ‘Piss Slave’ features members of Rose Royce and a choir John described to me as ‘nine Jehovah’s Witnesses. Can you imagine standing in front of those dudes singing ‘Piss Slave’? It was hysterical!’ Smokey’s 70s recordings are now available on the Chapter Music collection How far Will You Go.

Alix Dobkin – Lesbian Code

The chapter on the women’s music movement was probably the hardest for me to write. Some of the interviewees on my ‘hit list’ were wary of talking to a middle aged white male Brit about their experiences, naturally suspicious of how I might twist their words, and no matter what I wrote, who I interviewed and how I tried to piece it all together it would not come. It was scrappy, disjointed and far too long. Then I had an epiphany: why not approach it as if I had been commissioned to write a feature article? Using my interview with Alix Dobkin as the frame, I built the rest of the ‘article’ around it, following her lead and using her personal story as the glue to hold everything in place. It seemed to work.

Lavender Country – Cryin’ these Cocksucking Tears

Now in his early 70s, Patrick Haggerty seems an unlikely musical trendsetter, yet Lavender Country was a truly groundbreaking release: the very first out-gay country album. k.d. lang may have hogged headlines when she came out as lesbian in 1992, but Lavender Country had started to plough that particular furrow a full 20 years earlier. The songs Patrick wrote for Lavender Country are filled with both humour and deep emotion, and are both a condemnation of the injustices perpetrated on the LGBT community and a proud celebration of gay identity.

Valentino – Born This Way

Three years before the Village People brought gay disco into the mainstream, Valentino’s ‘I Was Born This Way’ was being advertised as ‘the first gay disco single’. With its chorus ‘I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay’, the single was a hit in discos in the US and in Britain, but failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic and Charles Valentino Harris soon went back to his full-time career as a dancer and actor. Three years later Motown tried to revive the song, and it became a minor hit for gospel singer Carl Bean, now an ordained minister with his own LGBT church.

Tom Robinson – Glad to be Gay

To get personal for a minute ‘Glad to be Gay’ was my coming out song, specifically the version Tom Robinson performed solo at the Secret Policeman’s Ball fundraiser for Amnesty International in June 1979. That angry, venom-fuelled performance sparked the beginning of my gay life. Suddenly gay music meant more than disco, and that revelation ignited my imagination. After mentioning this in an earlier Quietus piece I was contacted by Martin Lewis, who produced the show and who was responsible for adding Tom to the line-up. Martin and Tom helped convince Amnesty to including gay rights in its definition of human rights… and all of us should be grateful to them for that.

Wayne County – Fuck Off

Jayne County has been part of the fabric of LGBT life in the United States since the late 1960s. Born Wayne Rogers in a small rural community in Georgia, Jayne took part in the Stonewall Riots, shared a home with various members of Andy Warhol’s factory, played at legendary punk haunts CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City and shared a management company, MainMan, with David Bowie. Fronting punk band Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, her third 45 release ‘Fuck Off’, catapulted Jayne to punk superstardom and cemented her position as the godmother of Queercore.

Boy George – No Clause 28

For many LGBT people in the UK the Thatcher years were an unwanted reminder of the way the community had been treated during the 40s and 50s. The twin threat of AIDS and Clause 28 drove many of us to hide our sexuality, and several teachers left the profession after they were banned from ‘promoting’ homosexuality. Introduced in to law in 1988 and repealed in Scotland in 2000, it would take another three years before the odious law was taken off the statute books in England and Wales. Perhaps unsurprisingly Boy George’s dance anthem ‘No Clause 28’ was a huge hit in LGBT clubs but barely scraped the charts in Britain.

The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy – Language of Violence

In a world where rap and hip hop acts including Eminem, Public Enemy and Brand Nubian were extolling the virtues of ‘fucking up a faggot’, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, formed by two former members of the hardcore band The Beatnigs, were one of the few acts that fought back, releasing the track ‘Language of Violence’ on their sole album, Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury. A tale of queer bashing and the potential recriminations, Michael Franti’s line ‘the power of words, don’t take it for granted’ has become a personal mantra.

Melissa Etheridge – Pulse

‘Pulse’ was written as a reaction to the mass shootings that took place at the LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June 2016, which left 49 people dead and 53 others wounded. The Pulse attack, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in United States history, recalled the 1999 attack on London’s Admiral Duncan, one of Soho’s longest-established gay pubs, where a nail bomb killed three people and wounded around 70. Both of these acts, and the violence meted out against LGBT people around the world are a stark reminder that attacks against our community are still happening.

John Grant – Glacier

What can you say about John Grant? His songs are at times almost Beatle-esque (listen to the piano on ‘I Hate This Town’ and tell me you don’t hear Paul McCartney; the drum fills on ‘Jesus Hates Faggots’ are pure Ringo Starr and his confessional lyrics are straight out of the John Lennon songbook) but he also weaves in influences from artists including Blancmange, Visage, the Pet Shop Boys, XTC, the Psychedelic Furs, Boy George and Abba. His songs tell in gloriously honest detail of his traumatic childhood, his fight with drink and drugs and the discovery that he is HIV positive, yet they are life-affirming, not depressing; angry and defiant yes, but ultimately a celebration of resilience. I saw him perform earlier this year and I have become something of an apostle for the cause; the man deserves to be a massive star and I can’t wait for his next album.

Darryl W. Bullock is the author of David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music, published on September 7 by Duckworth Overlook. The launch is being marked with a special ‘in conversation’ event at the British Library on September 8, featuring music from K Anderson and Drake Jensen. For more information, click here