Today sees the 33rd anniversary of the death of Jobriath. He died at the age of 36 on 4 August 1983 of an AIDS related illness. He was the first openly gay pop star. And boy, in 1973 when his first album came out, did he suffer for it.
In 1972, amid doom-laden predictions of professional suicide, David Bowie came out as bisexual in an interview in Melody Maker, an influential UK music paper. His wife and infant son were kept in the background – maybe in reserve if it all went horribly wrong. Happy for modern music – from Madonna to Sam Smith – it didn’t.
It remains an incredibly brave thing to do; and Bowie got no easy ride. Despite a whole generation of alienated kids becoming space cadets to his Major Tom (a fan quote in the BBC documentary Cracked Actor) rural conservativism hampered radio plays and records sales outside cosmopolitan urban areas, especially in the US, where rock’n’roll was something for real men… not ‘faggots!’
In the year that saw the release of the Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups, Jobriath released his eponymous debut album – with one hell of a record cover.
The songs ricocheted between rock’n’roll and Busby Berkley whimsy – characterised by risqué intelligent lyrics covering everything from science fiction to silver screen movie queens, and made no secret of his sexuality.
The album opened with the blatantly S&M anthem, veering heavily toward the M: ‘Take me I’m Yours’ (‘You’re the master, come on faster, to your nature I’m obedient…’).
Rock and roll tracks include:
‘World without End’ (Hurt your lovers. Enslave your brothers. Laugh at the saints and fools. Remember how the King of Kings rode humbly on a mule.)
Rock of Ages (A Little Richard goes a long, long way).
‘Earthling’ (about a rather rude abduction by a rather randy alien)… ‘I want to examine you. Come on Earthling… pull ‘em down and let me see!’
In contrast are some beautiful piano ballads such as ‘Be Still’, ‘Space Clown’ and ‘Inside’. Then there is the poignant ‘I’maman’ with its haunting harpsichord and Doors like organ work: (I’maman. So I’m an elegant man… Clara bows and opens toes are what I am…)
The album was released amid media frenzy and gained positive reviews. Jobriath performed two songs on the popular Midnight Special TV show. These were re-shown on the BBC Old Grey Whistle Test. A European concert tour was planned but then cancelled, mired by spiralling costs and poor record sales.
A second album was released; with tracks garnered from the 1st album recording sessions. It too failed to chart. Jobriath was dropped by record company and manager – with whom he was having a relationship. Ongoing contractual obligations meant Jobriath could not move on.
In 1975 Jobriath announced his retirement and moved into a pyramid shaped apartment on top of the notorious Chelsea Hotel in New York – a place with such a celebrity roll call a phone book could not do it justice.
It was where Gore Vidal had a one night stand with Jack Kerouac; and Jack wrote ‘On the Road’. It was where William Burroughs lived, and Quentin Crisp; where Andy Warhol’s superstars hung out; and where Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen after a drug fuelled fight.
Jobriath made one last surprise appearance in a BBC documentary about the centenary of the Chelsea Hotel in 1982. He claimed living in a pyramid kept his mind sharp… as a razor?
Six months later he was dead. It was barely a week after his 10 year contract with his old manager finally expired.
I don’t know whether there is a life after death, but I do believe no one is truly gone until forgotten.
‘A star shot across the sky and smiled, then vanished in a tear’
‘You’ve got to be a hit to be a miss!’
Now there’s a thought.