Home Music Straight and narrow: how pop lost its gay edge

Straight and narrow: how pop lost its gay edge

From The Guardian:

From the blues to the Beatles, from the Who to Nirvana, the biggest acts in pop have been hugely shaped by gay culture. Why has that spirit now disappeared?

Beatles' manager Brian Epstein

Nicky Wire laughs. “I’m not sure where we got the slogan from,” he says, of the T-shirt the Manic Street Preachers produced in 1993 bearing the striking legend: “All rock’n’roll is homosexual.” Wire, the band’s bass-player and lyricist, goes on. “I’m sure it’s slightly nicked. I remember Richey [Edwards, the band’s late guitarist] talking about self-love being such an essential part of rock’n’roll. That seemed to be his twist. It fitted into a lot of what we believed in: narcissism, nihilism, self-love, self-delusion. All those things made for thrilling rock’n’roll.”

To the artist Jeremy Deller, the slogan was “just the most offensive, brilliant thing you could put on a T-shirt regardless of whether it was true”. Deller has borrowed it for the title of a discussion that takes place tonight as part of his new show, Joy in People, at London’s Hayward gallery. “It’s as much about pop’s ability to provoke as it is about homosexuality in rock and pop,” he says, although you could argue that those two things are linked.

As the critic Jon Savage points out, even rock’n’roll’s very roots, the blues, contained a weird gay subculture. The genre was home to songs such as George Hannah’s Freakish Man Blues, Luis Russell’s The New Call of the Freaks, and Kokomo Arnold’s Sissy Man Blues. “I woke up this morning with my pork grindin’ business in my hand,” offers Arnold, adding, “Lord, if you can’t send me no woman, please send me some sissy man.”

In Britain, rock’s relationship with gay culture really began with the rise of the gay rock manager: first Larry Parnes, with his “stable of stars” (Billy Fury, Tommy Steele, Georgie Fame, Marty Wilde) then Brian Epstein (the Beatles), Simon Napier-Bell (the Yardbirds), Kit Lambert (the Who). Napier-Bell, who started out as a musician and went on to be Wham!’s manager, explains the job’s attraction: “At a time when being gay was illegal, and the only way to live as an out gay man was to work in the theatre or as a hairdresser, pop management offered a new opportunity. So a lot of gays started to dabble in it.”

And then there were the managers who, while not necessarily gay themselves, simply saw the promotional value of playing the gay card, encouraging campness and flamboyance in their charges: Andrew Loog Oldham, who was fascinated with gay culture, is credited with encouraging such qualities in the Stones. Ken Pitt did a similar thing with David Bowie, introducing the singer to the work of the Velvet Underground and the dancer Lindsay Kemp, whose troupe Bowie ended up joining.

Continue to read the rest of the story on The Guardian