It happens even now — an attractive guy on the cover of an album gets me to buy it. I do like those times when the music accompanying the pretty face turns me into a fan. Here are a few.
Jason Isbell isn’t my usual type — that would be Law and Order: SVU‘s Mike Doyle or, uh, Edward Snowden — but I did a double take when I first saw the cover of Southeastern. First, it’s a striking photo. Second, Isbell is a handsome guy. He’s not Channing Tatum-photogenic, but that welcoming, earnest expression can’t help but draw attention.
What clinches the crush, though, is his Twitter feed. He’s a card and an excellent writer. He uses the 140 character cap to his advantage, imbuing the pretty face with a likable personality. All that on top of being a damn fine songwriter.
I’ll admit I’ve downloaded pictures of Tim McGraw stripped to the waist, but I draw the line at listening to his music. When Ty Herndon came out of the closet, I thought I would make the same distinction.
In reality, Herndon has a voice worth playing repeatedly, and his hit singles don’t induce the kind of cringe brought on by, say, Brad Paisley. (I’ve been subjected to Paisley. It was unpleasant.)
If Herndon booked a gig somewhere in Western Washington, I would go see him.
Oh, I’m pretty sure my messages to Steve Grand on Grindr would totally get ignored, were this unlikely scenario ever played out in real life. But my rock snobbery is no match to the charm he exudes.
Royal Wood showed up as a suggestion I might like on a recommendation engine, and I’m sure the context for this suggestion was music. My eyes thought differently.
The Advocate mentioned Sacha Sacket briefly in its 2005 music issue, and I dug his sound. It’s one of the few instances where the music grabbed me, and the nearly naked photos are just a bonus.
Shut up. I blame Rolling Stone. He did a photo spread for them without a shirt. What’s Left of Me is a musically ridiculous album, but I couldn’t help myself.
Tags: jason isbell, nick lachey, royal wood, sacha sacket, steve grand, ty herndon
Duran Duran looms pretty large over my life.
A lot of the earliest songs I wrote attempted to rip them off, an influence I made more blatant as my songwriting improved. A good percentage of my music collection consists of recordings by the band and various spin-off projects. As of this writing, I’ve seen them in concert five times in three different states: three times in Texas and one each New York and Washington.
In the early ’90s, I helped to administer Tiger List, one of the earliest fan communities on the Internet. They were partly responsible for the launch of my career as a web developer — one of the first sites I built was a FAQ about the band.
But the underlying drive behind all this fandom was the fact I developed some pretty hard crushes on Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor in the 7th grade.
That would have been around 1984, when MTV made it a requirement for rock stars to be photogenic. Although my household didn’t subscribe to cable, a number of broadcast options made music videos accessible. One of these shows introduced me to Duran Duran.
Oddly enough, the effect of “Rio” and “New Moon on Monday” wasn’t immediately revelatory — I remember thinking they were fun, but I was more interested in Eurythmics — but they planted seeds when I later encountered “Hungry Like the Wolf” playing on a VCR display at a department store.
That was the clincher.
“The Reflex” was rocketing up the charts as well, making the song inescapable on any number of family drives with the radio blasting. When I finally attached the name “Duran Duran” too all these separate encounters, I sought them out.
Back then, music magazines would publish lyrics to hit songs, and one of them featured a centerfold of Simon Le Bon. He had on his white shirt and dark pants — his attire in the video for “The Reflex” — and held a microphone to his mouth.
He cut a striking figure, and that’s when I felt something a bit more than just admiration.
My attraction to Simon transferred to Roger after acquiring The Book of Words, a fan souvenir book containing lyrics to the band’s songs up to “The Wild Boys”. Oh, and there were plenty of pictures of the band. My copy is quite ragged from having thumbed through it an uncountable number of times.
I didn’t actually attach the word “attraction” to what I felt at the time, but I could sense it would get me in trouble if I didn’t provide cover for it. So I bought the band’s albums, dubbed them to cassette, played them repeatedly on the family boombox and studied them. Yes, my earliest lessons in how to arrange music came from picking apart how Duran Duran songs were put together.
I became an advocate for Duran Duran’s music because I lived in a time when a pre-teen boy wasn’t allowed to express physical attraction to male pop idols. When classmates attacked that choice, I stuck to the artfulness of the music, the album covers, the videos as my defense, but I knew I could talk about who was cutest with the best of the female fans.
But what started out as a cover became a defining influence. Duran Duran taught me it was OK not to learn the blues progression. They encouraged me to find other artists with a sense for adventure, and they demonstrated that art and commerce aren’t mutually exclusive.
That era had any number of pop stars that could have been the catalyst for my sexual awakening — subsequent crushes include Sting, Huey Lewis, Robert Palmer and even Bruce Springsteen — but Duran Duran was the first, and they ended up being much more.
Tags: duran duran, gay influence
“How did you know you were gay?”
No one has really asked me this question, and from what I gather, I’m supposed to turn this question around and ask the (presumably heterosexual) asker, “How did you know you were straight?”
But my answer to the question would be pretty easy to track through the music I was listening to at the cusp of adolescence. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the I gravitated toward bands with handsome singers — your Simon Le Bons, your Huey Lewises, your Stings, your Bruce Springsteens.
I didn’t connect the growing fascination I had for these pop idols with the orientation my sexuality would eventually align because the curriculum of my Catholic education was clear — I was fated to develop an attraction to women because any alternative would be unacceptable.
So I used music as a cover. Yes, I dug the songs, but they weren’t the only draw.
Exhibit A: Sting, “Love is the Seventh Wave”
The back cover of this single had Sting posing without a shirt, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. My household toed the homophobic line because my parents were devoutly Catholic and my brother and sisters weren’t old enough to come to their conclusions. So I would sneak peeks at this image surreptitiously, not exploring why I was so powerfully drawn to it.
Technically, my brother owned that 7-inch single, and he called dibs on Sting in our Sibling Rivalry Collection Race. My hormones would not be denied, and I wrestled Sting from his monopoly. I dubbed his Sting albums to cassette without his permission, and I played “Russians” at my first piano recital.
The Dream of the Blue Turtles and … Nothing Like the Sun are awesome albums in their own right, but I could count on the music press to include a few pictures of Sting stripped to the waist.
Exhibit B: Midnight Oil, Blue Sky Mining
I didn’t actually like Midnight Oil when a pair of friends subjected me to Diesel and Dust in the car as we drove around town. But I eventually adjusted to Peter Garrett’s warble, and the songcraft of the album won me over.
One of the friends who introduced me to Midnight Oil would be the first person with whom I’d fall in love. I remember one night dropping him off at his house after a night out and driving back, mumbling to myself that I loved him. I can’t remember another time when I felt both solace and burden in a single thought.
Blue Sky Mining followed Diesel and Dust two years later, by which time my feelings for my friend made senior year in high school a slog. I listened to the album day in and day out because I had to escape into something that linked me to him. And I could use my growing interest in college rock as another cover.
Exhibit C: R.E.M., “Country Feedback”
My friend went to the Mainland for college, and I stayed in Honolulu. During my first semester, I would play Out of Time by R.E.M. every morning, and the track that summed up my depression was “Country Feedback”. The track is slow and quiet, but Michael Stipe tosses out the phrase “fuck off” at the midpoint of the song with conviction. I was pissed off at having a broken heart but also sad by the implications of who broke it.
Exhibit D: Haruki Murakami, Hear the Wind Sing
No, Hear the Wind Sing is not an album. It’s a novel. A Haruki Murakami novel, to be exact.
But it was a novel that served as the basis for an electronic song I wrote hoping to convince a guy I had a crush on to sing it. He couldn’t find the time to do it.
It had been a year since I returned from New York City, and I still wasn’t ready to accept the obvious direction of my sexual orientation. So something like writing a song hoping to get a guy I liked to sing it was just a totally rational thing for someone in my state of mind to do.
It took another 13 years before I transposed it to my own range, recorded it and sang it myself with much assistance by pitch-correction software.
Exhibit E: Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
Emmylou Harris’ label directed its press efforts for her 1995 album Wrecking Ball to colleges and independent music outlets instead of country radio because it was her “weird album”. I snagged a promo of the album and fell in love with it.
The arrival of Wrecking Ball happened at the same time I wrote articles about National Coming Out Day, which resulted in my own. The two events are indelibly entwined. But I can’t think of a better album to serve as a soundtrack for that change.
It’s a dark, brooding album but also beautiful. I was still intimidated by the process of coming out, so I can’t say I look back on it as bright and joyous. I had a lot of work to do introspectively, and Wrecking Ball reflected that.
The album pretty much transformed Harris’ career, reaching a new audience as the old one moved on. It was certainly my pivot point as well.
Tags: emmylou harris, gay influence, midnight oil, murakami haruki, r.e.m., sting
Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, and this year marks the 20th anniversary of my own coming out. It’s not a coincidence. In fact, I set myself up for it.
I was features editor of my college newspaper in 1995 and taking a news writing class at the same time. My professors encouraged me to publish whatever I did for class in the paper. So I assigned myself a story about National Coming Out Day.
It was something of a personal dare.
Five years previous, I fell in love with my best friend in high school, a guy who couldn’t reciprocate. I was still nursing that broken heart when I went to New York City on an exchange program from 1992 to 1993.
A gay guy who was also participating in the program noticed my behavior, particularly toward a mutual straight friend, and explained to me what I was going through. I was not ready to listen to him.
So I pretty much lived in a haze when I returned from New York City to continue my studies in Honolulu. At that point, I pretty much assumed anyone for whom I felt a crush couldn’t possibly return my feelings. I made the same assumption about a guy in the music program who resembled my high school friend.
That brings us to the weeks before Oct. 11, 1995.
I asked a fellow music student if she could reach out to people who wouldn’t mind being interviewed for my article. One of the people who replied was that guy from the music program.
After the article went to press, I met up with him and told him my story. He pointed me to the counseling services on campus, and by the end of that year, I had told select members of my immediate family.
Twenty years on and … well, my dating life has been a total wash.
But I can’t imagine the last two decades carrying the psychic baggage of remaining in the closet. Even if my lifestyle doesn’t reflect how gay (white) men live today, I like having the option to participate. (Even though I’m not white.)
So I’ll be spending this next month commemorating this anniversary by writing about the music and musicians tied to this event and the history leading up to it. At the very least, my Duran Duran fandom will finally be explained.
Tags: gay influence