Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jobriath • A Rock 'N' Roll Fairy Tale

Jobriath • Jobriath
The cover of his first album, the eponymous 'Jobriath'.

Back in the early 1970s, Glam Rock was taking over much of the scene, with David Bowie donning his Ziggy Stardust drag, Freddie Mercury doing his own brazen thing, and Marc Bolan of T.Rex was about the prettiest boy you'd ever see. But there was also David Johansen and the New York Dolls, as well as Lou Reed, both wearing outlandish costumes and makeup. But they were not the only Americans doing it. There was also a young man who knew he was the real deal. Philadelphia native Bruce Wayne Campbell had dreams of being a famous rock star, only there was one problem. Bruce was gay, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the world was a long way from accepting that news. But then the Glam movement spread from Europe to the United States, with Bowie bringing Ziggy Stardust over, and the long-haired rockers putting on extra makeup. Androgyny was the new buzz work, for it made much of the fans more comfortable than calling it drag. But it gave an opportunity to a young gay man, one who was struggling to make a living while he was chasing his dreams. Soon, Bruce Wayne Campbell didn't exist. He was now Jobriath, the new name in Rock music.

Jobriath • Creatures of the Street
The cover of his second album, 'Creatures of the Street'.

There has been a bit of buzz about him lately, for a new documentary has appeared called 'Jobriath A.D.', using old footage and new interviews to speak to the life of Jobriath, to get beyond the hype about one of the most talked about Rock Superstars who never came to be. Check out the trailer for the movie.

Now, I had no idea who Jobriath was at the time, despite growing up just 90 minutes south of Philadelphia. I learned more about his a decade later, when I was living in New York City, and heard about this Glam boy whose star extinguished before having a real chance to shine. I actually have his albums in my iTunes collection. Long before Jobriath was discovered, he was a piano progeny, and continued to study music. By his teens, he was interested in making rock music, and was in a band, Pidgeon, that released an album just before they disbanded. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested by military police, for he was drafted earlier, and had gone AWOL before the band started. In custody, it is said he had a breakdown, and spent nearly six months in psychiatric care. It was at this time he started writing new material, songs that would be the centerpiece of his career. Music manager Jerry Brandt found a young man working as a prostitute to pay his bills in California. The manager thought he could use this story to make the talented musician the next big thing in rock music, the next David Bowie. Soon Jobriath was recording his music, and there were billboards in Times Square, and press everywhere wanting to talk to him. He didn't hide the fact he was gay, or that he turned tricks to earn a living. He looked ethereal and beautiful, with outlandish costumes. In 1973, the eponymous debut was released on Elektra Records. This marked a milestone, as he was the first ever out gay to release a studio album. The album included his own music, like the pointed "I'm A Man".

The entertainment industry lined up to check him out, and most thought he was remarkable and talented. There was only one problem - the audience didn't seem to feel the same way. Well, it's not they thought he wasn't talented, they just never came to hear him. When they heard he was gay, they were done. It is hard being the first, to blaze a trail that was yet untread. Here is a second song off the debut. This is Jobriath singing "Rock Of Ages".

Brandt and the label were not ready to give up, and the following year there was a second album, 'Creatures of the Street'. Once again, they thought his back story of the prostitute who left the life for his art would sell. Unfortunately, it did not. While Bowie was selling out shows as his androgynous Ziggy Stardust, no one was buying tickets for Jobriath shows. While the New York Dolls played Punk in drag to large crowds, it was not the case for Jobriath. Not even an appearance on The Midnight Special could save him. Enjoy this video of his song "Scumbag", off 'Creatures of the Street'.

Shortly after the release of the second album, Jobriath was released by Elektra and not picked up by another label. Jobriath completed the planned tour, and had some support at some college shows. But the disheartened singer announced his retirement from the music business. He moved into a room at the Chelsea Hotel, and would pay his bills working as a cabaret singer using the name Cole Berlin, a nod to songwriters Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, whose music he was singing. When that wasn't enough to pay the bills, he would return to the world's oldest profession. At the start o the 1980s, he began to get ill, the first signs of AIDS. On August 3, 1983, Bruce Wayne Campbell dies from the complications of AIDS, the first big name to do so. He was 36 years old. This was one week following the 10th anniversary of his signing up with Brandt. And it would be a very long time before another American would come out of the closet while they still had a career in music. Well, I am still kinda waiting...



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