“i’m a man” – jobriath (1973)


June is Pride month.  During this time, cities and communities around the country hold festivals and parades to commemorate the struggles and achievements within the LGBT community.  It is an occasion to celebrate love and freedom.  In recent years, major events have positively impacted and progressed the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender people including the elimination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriage be recognized as constitutional.

The fight for these freedoms has not been easy, but the people still soldier on to fight for their way to express themselves.  Religious and political groups find legal loopholes to undermine their efforts.  Terrorists and crazed gunmen murder innocent people living their lives freely and normally.  All manner of hate and greed manifested into confused people who only feel joy by taking it away from other people.  It all is incredibly sad, but the feeling doesn’t last.  These people are on their way out and their influence is shrinking as the majority of those who support the rights and freedoms of our LGBT brothers and sisters continues to grow.

Pride in Chicago extends over two weekends.  The first weekend kicks off with a two-day street festival along Halsted Street in the Boystown neighborhood.  Food and shop vendors, music, and other festivities line the street.  It is sweaty, loud, and chaotic.  However, it is spirited and the feeling of joy and community is intoxicating.  The next weekend on Sunday is the parade.  My favorite parade of the year, it is a two hour plus force of movement and color.  It is almost impossible not to have a good time.  People are dancing and hugging and waving signs of support.  And you even have candy thrown at you!  It is so great to see people of all different backgrounds get together to support love and unity; causes that are bigger than any of our individual selves.  However, it wasn’t always like that.

Jobriath is a name very few people know.  However, his impact on LGBT in music in pioneering primarily because he was the first openly gay rock star.  Born Bruce Wayne Campbell, Jobriath was destined for greatness.  Early on his musical career, he worked on stage productions of Hair.  During that time through the early 1970s, he was also working on demo tapes and crafting his own musical persona.  In 1972, Jerry Brandt signed on his Jobriath’s manager and secured a $500,000 recording contract; one of the biggest ever up to that point.  Before the release of his eponymous debut album in 1973, Jobriath’s face was plastered everywhere; on buses, full-page ads in Rolling Stone, and even a massive billboard in the middle of Times Square.

With that kind of marketing and publicity, Jobriath was to become the next big thing in music.  But the reason why he didn’t was because people could not accept him as feminine and openly gay.  The LGBT community during the late 1960s and early 1970s tried to find their footing after years of violence and threats to their community.  Many felt that the only way to not draw attention to themselves in the form of violence was to not contribute to the stereotypes they were associated with.  For men, the stereotype was that homosexuals were feminine, limp-wristed perverts who acted like woman instead of adhering to the masculine identity associated with men.  As a result, many gay men took on masculine features, dressed in masculine clothing, and projected a manly attitude and persona.  Jobriath was the antithesis to that identity and that didn’t sit well with the gay community.  They felt this person who looked feminine and vaguely human would continue to give their community a bad name.

This cultural backlash severely impacted Jobriath’s career.  Neither his debut album nor the 1974 follow-up Creatures on the Street sold well.  After the failure of those albums and problems from his manager, Jobriath went into seclusion.  After a few years, he changed his name to Cole Berlin and adopted a new look and performance persona.  As Berlin, he would play cabaret and piano music for local clubs.  He also tried to get back into acting which he hadn’t done since Hair.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t successful in either his music or acting.  He was often poor and would resort to prostituting himself.  Within a few years, Bruce Wayne Campbell died of AIDs in his apartment becoming one of the first famous musicians to have done so.  He was there for several days before he was discovered.

In recent years, Jobriath has become a cult musical icon.  A documentary released in 2014 has contributed to that and to tell his story.  What people find when they listen to him is glam rock in its early stages.  The track “I’m a Man” is one of Jobriath’s signature songs and pioneering glam rock track.  While his contemporaries like David Bowie or Marc Bolan were also making major strides in developing glam rock, Jobriath was crafting a unique voice.  His influence has grown over the years, sometimes in weird ways.  When Morrissey was touring to promote his 1992 album Your Arsenal, he wanted Jobriath to serve as the opening act unaware that he had been dead for a decade at that point.

I think it is a shame of how unknown Jobriath is today despite his contributions to the LGBT influence and identity in popular music.  Being the first openly gay rock artist in a time where being gay could get you killed is a heavy burden, but he did it.  Even though his cost him a lucrative career as a rock musician, he wasn’t going to hide his identity when others around him were doing so.  Now, we celebrate people and all the different identities that make up this great society of ours.  However, we mustn’t forget about the people who came before us and sacrificed so much just to be themselves.