Fur And Gold is obsessed with music, both old and new, and we are so happy to be hosting the Boston LGBT Film Festival afterparty following the May 11th screening of Kieran Turner’s new documentary, Jobriath A.D. The documentary chronicles the rise and fall of 70’s glam rock musician Jobriath, the first openly gay rock musician. Fur And Gold’s DJ Brent Covington had a few questions for the director.
Fur And Gold: Kieran, how did you first discover Jobriath? And, what about his story inspired you to explore it on film?
Kieran Turner: I had always heard about him, though I’m too young to have been around when he was in his heyday, as I’m a huge music fan, I’m obsessed with the ’70s and I’m very into GLBT history. But he was always portrayed as a joke or remembered as someone who was really the worst part of the wretched excess of the ’70s, but with no talent to back it up. The one thing I hadn’t heard was the music, so I believed it. About four years ago, I was on Amazon, shopping for some music, and a compilation CD of his music which Morrissey had released on his own label was recommended to me. It was a name I hadn’t heard in a while, so I decided to take a chance and buy it. After I listened to it, I thought- Holy shit, this guy is amazing! So I began really researching what happened to him and found his story to be fascinating, heartbreaking and incredibly compelling. If it didn’t actually happen, I would have thought it was too crazy to be true. I very quickly became obsessed with telling his story, and I wanted to tell it for several reasons.
It bothered me that he was the first openly gay rock star and pretty much no one knew that or gave him credit for it. He was the groundbreaker, he took the chance and he was crucified for it. It bothers me that the GLBT community is the only minority that doesn’t seem terribly interested in its cultural history. I don’t mean to make such a sweeping generalization, as obviously there are people who do want to learn about what went on before them, but from what I’ve found, those folks are few and far between and I worry we’re in danger of losing any record of our history, our achievements, mostly because it’s up to us to preserve it. History books aren’t going to do it. The mainstream community isn’t going to do it.
But enough soapboxing- If Jobriath hadn’t been talented, I am not sure I’d have pushed on to make the doc. I’m not sure there would have been enough of a reason to tell the story in film form. And as much as this is a story for the GLBT community, it’s also a story for people who love music and love to discover good music, be it from any era. And it’s also a story for anyone who puts themselves out there, takes a chance, be it in any field, who tries to share their passions with the world and were denied because of someone decided they weren’t worthy for any number of arbitrary reasons. We can all relate to that.
F&G: What other film or music projects have you worked on, and how was this project different?
KT: My first feature was a gay-themed romantic comedy called 24 Nights, which is about a twenty-something slacker who still believes in Santa Claus. It was released by TLA in 2001. In the fall of 2007, I was about four weeks away from casting my second feature when the money fell through and I had this…space…with nothing to do and Jobriath just sort of fell into my lap. But I had never thought of making a documentary, as much as I love watching them. I don’t really believe in divine intervention, I’m a very practical, logical person, but this was incredibly good timing. It was also great in that I was very disillusioned with the whole process of working with other producers in that I felt they didn’t have much of a stake in my work, they had other things going on and if my film got made, great, if it didn’t, they could just move on to one of a dozen other projects they had in development, so I parted ways with them very soon after. I realized that with this documentary, I would be in charge, I didn’t have to rely on the permission of anyone else, anyone else’s money (I paid for it mostly on my own) and since it was a memory doc (as opposed to a present day, unfolding story), I could take the time I needed to really research, shoot when I had funds and then re-group.
This is the second feature I’ve made that I’ve both directed and produced. After the first, I always said I’d never do it again, that it was too much work to not share the burden with someone, but I’ve changed my mind. No one is going to love your passion project the way you do. No one is going to bust their ass for it the way you do. So while I’m open to future collaboration, I now know that I can do this on my own and I don’t need anyone to help me do the heavy lifting.
F&G: I had never heard of Jobriath before reading about your documentary, but Fur And Gold’s other DJ, DJ Taffy, owns both of Jobriath’s albums. As you began to research for the film, did you encounter much familiarity with Jobriath from people in your own circles of friends?
KT: Nah, no one had ever heard of him. And throughout the four years of working on this, every time I would mention to someone what I was doing, they would always apologize that they had never heard of him. My response was always- Don’t apologize! That’s why I’m making the movie. What I did find that I thought was interesting was that people I knew were friends or acquainted with others who figured into Jobriath’s story. For instance, I was desperately searching for people to interview about Cole Berlin, and I found out how difficult that was because everyone was dead. Everyone. AIDS had just wiped out this amazing community of people. That’s a whole other story, but anyway, I got a friend request from someone on facebook and I didn’t look closely at his name, just his photo, and I thought it was an old friend of mine, so I accepted. We started chatting and I quickly realized I didn’t know this person, so I asked why he’d friended me. We had a mutual friend and he’d seen my posts on her wall, thought I was funny and wanted to be friends. So we began talking and I told him about Jobriath. It turned out he’d played piano at the same club as Cole Berlin (Jobriath’s alter ego) and knew him. So he’s actually in the film and we’re really good friends, to boot. And those kinds of things happened more than once.
F&G: How do you feel the music industry and music-buying public would react to an artist like Jobriath if he emerged on the scene today? Do you see any current artists who remind you of Jobriath?
KT: I don’t know that Jobriath would have ever found a place on the charts in any era with his own music. But so what? The music industry today is barely hanging on by a thread. What I do think is that because of the internet and social media outlets, Jobriath would have been given much more of a chance to find an audience and to develop a cult following and I think he could have carved out some sort of success. I also think that had he not died so young, he would have found a home on Broadway as a composer.
I would have to say that the closest person we have today to Jobriath would be Rufus Wainwright. Rufus has that very different kind of amazing singing voice that Jobriath had, however different they sound from each other. They both have an appreciation for complicated lyrics and structure and chords. Their music is sophisticated and theatrical and they’re both very dandy-ish. There are some things about John Grant that remind me of Jobriath, also. They have a different style, but they both take huge chances with lyrics and some of John’s songs are so beautiful, they make me cry and I felt that way the first time I heard some of Jobriath’s songs like Be Still and Gone Tomorrow. Interesting to note that both of these musicians are openly gay.
F&G: There is a very poignant quote in the film, something like “Jobriath was a groundbreaker and sometimes all they get to do is break ground.” Do you feel that Jobriath broke ground for future queer musicians such as Morrissey, Pet Shop Boys, Marc Almond and Scissor Sisters, etc.?
KT: I do feel that way, but I know there are those who roll their eyes at that claim, simply because he’s been so forgotten. I also think it’s important to realize that after Jobriath (in 1973, mind you), there wasn’t one mainstream US musician to come out at the beginning of their career until Adam Lambert in 2009. You either had people like Rufus or Jake Shears who were out at the beginning, but are not mainstream. As much as they have strong fan bases, they aren’t at the top of any charts, they aren’t selling records and being played on US radio. Or you have people like Ricky Martin or Lance Bass who are coming out because their careers are in decline and they have a book to sell. And we venerate these people, give them magazine covers, listen to them spin a bunch of lies how they never denied they were gay (which drives me nuts- hello, we have the internet, shall I bring up a dozen examples?) and we forget about the people who actually did take chances at the beginning of their careers. Even the people you mentioned above (with the exception of Jake Shears and his band) took a while to admit they were gay, skirted the issue…Elton John didn’t come out until 1993. Melissa Etheridge took two successful albums to come out, as did kd lang. Boy George was even demurring it and was outed as a heroin addict before coming out as a gay man.
And everyone always says- well, what about Liberace, what about Little Richard, Sylvester, Freddie Mercury, etc. There’s a difference between one’s sexuality being an open secret and actually coming out and saying “I’m gay.” Everyone knew Clay Aiken was gay. But until he actually came out and said it, a large portion of his fans refused to believe it. And that’s the big difference.
My feeling is that it’s a very personal decision and everyone has to do it when it’s right for them. And those who are still in the closet, I don’t judge them and I don’t think they owe us a thing. What bothers me is that the ones who do it as a publicity stunt or are trying to grasp onto some sort of waning fame after denying it for so many years, are the ones who get the most attention. Ricky Martin gets a GLAAD award. Where’s Jobriath’s award? Where’s Rufus’ award, Jake’s award? Marc Almond… It’s the gay press and the gay media’s fault as much as anything. Being open isn’t sexy. Coming out with a big ol’ PR driven sob story is. And I’ve sort of gotten off track from your original question. I apologize, but this is a hot button issue for me. Yes, I personally think Jobriath did break the ground and test the waters, probably in the opposite direction. I get the feeling that musicians saw what happened to him and probably went deeper into the closet. But he gave the public their first taste.
F&G: In terms of his failure in the industry at the time, do you feel it was the hype created by his manager and label or his sexual orientation that doomed his rock career?
KT: I don’t think you can point to one single factor and blame Jobriath’s failure on it. I think it was a perfect storm of all these things, the overhype, the mis-management by Jerry Brandt (however well-intentioned it was), his open sexuality, the fact that his music wasn’t pop-radio friendly, and that he was ahead of his time. All of these things came together and just ruined him.
F&G: On a more personal note, who are some of your favorite recording artists (be they queer, straight, old or new)?
KT: Hmm, I really grew up a 70s California rock kind of kid, so Fleetwood Mac, Carly Simon, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones. I think I owned the entire artist roster from Elektra-Asylum before I was a teenager. I also love brit-pop; Squeeze, Style Council, Tears For Fears, etc.
Currently, I’m really loving Gotye, Keane, huge fan of Teddy Thompson, Paloma Faith. I still love Jamiroquai. I miss Tahiti 80 and wish they’d do something new. There’s a great L.A. band called The Canyons that my pal Alisan fronts. They put out an album last year that was just amazing, but it sort of flew under the radar. I think she’s got the best voice in music right now and they ought to be huge.
But really, I love to find great music, be it from any era. Music fills me and it’s kept me going my whole life. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
For more information on the Boston screening of Jobriath A.D., please visit http://bostonlgbtfilmfest.org/program/jobriath-ad