Thursday, May 03, 2012

Jobriath-Elvis! The Beatles! Jobriath?

I first heard of Jobriath a couple of years ago when I was checking out some of the more obscure 70’s glam artists while writing lyrics for Here Come The Intrepids.

His story was certainly interesting even if I assumed his music wouldn’t really be my kind of thing. Over the last few weeks though I've been hearing a lot about Jobriath off the back of a new documentary film on his life, Jobriath A.D. I've also given his albums a proper listen and realized that I missed out on some great music. 

Some background. In the early to mid 70’s, glam in the UK was huge. The US though generally didn't get it. The make up and dressing up all pointed to the possibility of actual real gay men playing rock ‘n’ roll, a notion that most of the US outside the major cities was no where near ready for.

Jobriath was a singer and actor who had spent time in a late 60s folk/psych band Pidgeon as well as the L.A production of the hippy musical Hair. After leaving Hair he recorded some demos that caught the attention of Carly Simons manager Jerry Brandt who somehow landed him a deal with Elektra Records. Not just any deal but a crazy for the time half a million dollar deal. Brandt was a showbiz wheeler dealer who believed that hyping Jobriath to the max was a sure fire way to launch him to stardom. It wasn’t, and despite the vast amounts spent on promoting Jobriaths 1973 debut album which included billboards on Times Square and Hollywood and a jaw dropping  appearance on NBCs nationally syndicated Midnight Special (Jobriaths first solo live performance!) the album didn’t sell. Jobriath and his band The Creatures toured and recorded a second album ‘Creatures of the Street’, which sank without trace, before being dropped by both Elektra and Brandt. Both albums are excellent so what went wrong?

Jobriath was openly gay at a time when even his glam contemporaries were only toying with notions of sexuality. Bowie, Bolan and co may have been happy for fans and critics alike to believe they might be bi or gay but no one in the rock scene of the time was openly out in the way Jobriath was. In interviews Brandt referred to him as "rock ‘n’ rolls only true fairy" and if Jobriath has been acknowledged at all since the mid seventies it’s as the first openly gay rock performer. It’s probably this mix of Jobriaths sexuality in a less enlightened time and place and the initial hype behind his launch on an unsuspecting US public that killed Jobriaths career. 

Back in the early 70s Jobriath was genuinely being touted as the next rock superstar and had the financial backing of label and management, as well as the music to back this up. It wasn’t to be. Disguarded by Brandt and all but written out of Elektra Records history as an expensive blot on the labels classic catalogue, Jobriath faded into almost total obscurity before dying of an Aids related illness in 1983. Apart from a 2004 Morrissey compiled compilation album, nothing much has been heard or written about on Jobriath. Hopefully Jobriath A.D will bring some attention to the two fine, overlooked albums he produced during his short pioneering shot at becoming Americas own glam hero.    

(Jobriaths albums are available to stream on Spotify here. His long out of print first recordings with Pidgeon are available to download via the ever excellent Time Has Told Me here. Apparently Jobriath recorded demos for a third unreleased album-if anyone has them and wants to point me in the direction of where I can hear them, contact me via my profile. Thanks.)