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November 10, 2008 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Bruce Wayne "Jobriath" Campbell was mass-marketed [NSFW] to the American public as the first American glam rock singer (glam being a primarily British phenomenon) and the first openly gay rock performer. The publicity push and sexuality were too much for the American public, and his two albums seemed to sink without a trace. In recent years, a glam historian and pop singer named Stephen Paul Morrissey has helped to remaster his music and make it more readily available. Unfortunately, Morrissey's plans to have Jobriath open for him on his first solo tour were curtailed by his premature death from AIDS-related illnesses in 1983.

Jobriath's music sounds like a cross between Elton John and Hunky Dory-era Bowie. Like Bowie (and Klaus Nomi after him), he frequently portrayed himself as a space alien. In the wake of his albums' failures, he was unable to record new music (under the conditions of his contract with impresario Jerry Brandt). During that time he wrote the unproduced musical "Popstar" and performed as the lounge lizard Cole Berlin.

In addition to Morrissey, Jobriath counts among his fans groupie Pamela Des Barres and filmmaker Todd Haynes, who paid tribute to the fallen would-be star in his glam pastiche Velvet Goldmine.

Some recollections of the man from his half-brother.
posted by pxe2000 (37 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Morrissey was planning a solo tour in '83?
posted by applemeat at 6:20 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


OK. Campbell's first solo tour.
posted by applemeat at 6:21 AM on November 10, 2008


Dammit, that wasn't worded well.

Morrissey wanted Jobriath to open for him on the Viva Hate tour in 1989. Which Jobriath could not do.

Clearly I need another cup of coffee.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:23 AM on November 10, 2008


His championing of Jobriath is one reason I can't completely hate Morrissey. "Imaman," is a brilliant reconstruction of rock and roll mythology, and a killer rock and roll tune to boot.
posted by jonmc at 6:26 AM on November 10, 2008


From the Independent article:
Unable to live up to the preposterous hype, shunned for his sexuality, Jobriath became more dependent on drugs than ever. His glitter began to mingle with tears.
Stopped reading at that point.
posted by fingo at 6:26 AM on November 10, 2008


Was it really that he was gay, or was it the whole chainsaw-for-a-hand that scared people off?
posted by mannequito at 6:31 AM on November 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


There have been a few points in my life where I've read something quite good about Jobriath, so I break out my neglected Jobriath album, only to remember that I just don't like his music. The reviews/articles always make him sound right up my alley, but not so much to listen to. He's better on paper than on my turntable.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:38 AM on November 10, 2008


Really, slack? Cause, I really like some of his tunes, mythology aside. It is interesting that the firs commerically successful (if only moderately) gay rock singer, Tom Robinson, was a completely different kettle of fish both in terms of stance and sound. Dispensing with the showmanship, he presented an EveryRocker style (while making no bones whatsoever about being gay, and ditched the bombast for a basic Who/Kinks rock sound ("Up Against The Wall" and "2-4-6-8 Motorway" are excellent records.)
posted by jonmc at 6:47 AM on November 10, 2008


jonmc - Tom Robinson is great. The first two TRB albums are fantastic, and even his overly slick later records have some great moments. "2-4-6-8 Motorway" is a motherfucker of a song. But with Jobraith, every time I read something about him it makes me ask, "why don't I listen to this guy more?". And then I put it on and remember that he just doesn't do it for me.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:56 AM on November 10, 2008


Man, a Jobriath post AND a funk post on the front page? Is Metafilter granting wishes today?
posted by The Whelk at 6:57 AM on November 10, 2008


I've never heard of this guy before, but being able to call yourself Bruce Wayne AND Bruce Campbell is awesome.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 7:07 AM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I love Jobriath, and for the longest time, I just couldn't understand why he was never hugely popular in his day. And then I watched those videos.

I think I understand now. It's amazing, considering the Midnight Special was known for showcasing the heights of spaced-out 70's glitter, but I fear Jobriath's enthusiastic demonstration of his outfits' ultimately underwhelming outlandishness may perfectly embody the opposite of cool. There's too much of a drag-queen "Get a load of me!" attitude to really cross over.

(The keys to cool are, after all, apparent obliviousness and feigned indifference.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:20 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq: I sense the "get a load of me!" quality in general might have undermined his climb to the top. Bear in mind that he played few gigs as Jobriath prior to the release of his album, his first album had been heavily promoted in the mass media before the world got to know Jobriath and discover him for themselves, and he'd planned similarly huge shows in a continued attempt to make him appear as though he was a big deal. (A few of the articles mention the show he wanted to stage at the Paris Opera House on Christmas 1973.) The combination of mass media and the overeager aspects of his stage shows might have tipped the deck out of his favor.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:28 AM on November 10, 2008


At nearly the same time as Jobriath's debut -- maybe a few months later? -- a singer-songwriter named Steven Grossman released an album on Mercury called Caravan Tonight that was billed as the first-ever release by an openly gay performer. I remember buying it like contraband at the Oscar Wilde Bookshop on Christopher Street in NYC. I was really into singer-songwriter music at the time, and while Grossman's ultra-femmy voice kind of weirded me out, the lyrics did provide some consolation as I brooded in the closet in a New Jersey high school. (Why couldn't Jackson Browne have been the gay one? Hopefully Andy got to blow him while Jackson was schtupping Nico.)

For the record, the song that I listened to about ten times the morning after Election Day to get over the passage of Proposition 8 -- weeping with joy for Obama, weeping with anguish for my marriage -- was the Morrissey and the Smiths' How Soon is Now, one of the greatest songs evar, with tons of gay resonance in the meltdown siren apocalypse of Johnny Marr's guitars.
posted by digaman at 7:33 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I forgot to add this sad postscript: I met Grossman on a bus here in SF in the late '80s. He had been nearly forgotten by that time, was touched that I remembered his record, and was recuperating from a vicious beating by gay-bashers. He died of AIDS not long after that. He was a sweet guy.
posted by digaman at 7:36 AM on November 10, 2008




So what I'm taking away from all this is that being named "Bruce Campbell" pretty much makes you awesome no matter what kind of show biz you go into.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:41 AM on November 10, 2008


I sense the "get a load of me!" quality in general might have undermined his climb to the top.

That kinda sunk T-Rex in the US, too, I'm told.
posted by jonmc at 7:43 AM on November 10, 2008


Here is some gossipy stuff about Def Leppard doing a Jobriath cover.
posted by pracowity at 7:43 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can't convince me that Marc Bolan of T-Rex never had sex with a man. But yes, he just sang about mystic Martian girls and seagull women and whatnot, though I loved T-Rex too.
posted by digaman at 7:47 AM on November 10, 2008


Hate to be a stickler, but isn't Morrissey's middle name Patrick? I only bring this up because my middle name is Patrick, and that makes me kinda like Morrissey. Don't take that away from me. Paul Morrissey is the film director-- a still from his film Flesh graces the Smiths S/T album cover.
posted by activitystory at 7:49 AM on November 10, 2008


More on Jobriath. Funny quote: "Brandt contacted all the record labels asking a cool million for the rights to sign his incipient star. When he asked producer Richard Perry to work his magic, Brandt was told that 'if Jobriath is where music is going, I want out.'"
posted by digaman at 7:51 AM on November 10, 2008


I loove me my Glam. Most of it is as good as the best Punk and chop wise , often way better. (Like the Sweet)

So... another gender swashbuckler under ground rock star championed by Morrisey : Jayne County.

(Who usta be Wayne Ciounty)

Also ... Ginger Coyote

(not as famous)
posted by celerystick at 7:58 AM on November 10, 2008


Considering the artist that launched Richard Perry, that quote is really funny.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:00 AM on November 10, 2008


So... another gender swashbuckler under ground rock star championed by Morrisey : Jayne County.

Who once busted the collarbone of my main man Handsome Dick Manitoba, but they've since reconciled.
posted by jonmc at 8:02 AM on November 10, 2008


pxe, thanks for that link. The things one learns reading Wikipedia: "Living out of the Olcott Hotel in New York city, the duo began to revive the once-famous icon. Tiny Tim released his cult hit, 'Santa Claus Has Got the AIDS This Year,' and joined the Alan C. Hill circus."
posted by digaman at 8:09 AM on November 10, 2008


Proof.
posted by jonmc at 8:11 AM on November 10, 2008


Jobriath was booked that Christmas to perform at the Paris Opera House, where he was to perform one of the most audacious rock stunts of a decade addicted to rock stunts. Dressed as King Kong, he would climb a replica of the Empire State Building, only for the skyscraper to turn into a gigantic spurting penis that would ejaculate Jobriath on to a piano. He would land gracefully, slough off his King Kong costume and emerge as Marlene Dietrich.

Huh.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:05 AM on November 10, 2008


His championing of Jobriath is one reason I can't completely hate Morrissey.

jon, Morrissey also started fan clubs for both The New York Dolls and The Cramps long before these were known bands in the UK. Something else to consider.

I just wish he'd stop making crappy records for awhile. Since Maladjusted, it's been pretty hard to defend the guy.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:25 AM on November 10, 2008


I've never heard of this guy before, but being able to call yourself Bruce Wayne AND Bruce Campbell is awesome.

Or Wayne Campbell, for that matter.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:41 AM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


jon, Morrissey also started fan clubs for both The New York Dolls and The Cramps long before these were known bands in the UK. Something else to consider

and he's also a huge rockabilly fan, I'm told. If he didn't make records that I hated, I'd probably like the guy. Ironic isn't it?
posted by jonmc at 9:49 AM on November 10, 2008


He's better on paper than on my turntable.

bit like Jandek, really.
posted by mippy at 10:04 AM on November 10, 2008


Excellent post! Thank you.
posted by serazin at 2:21 PM on November 10, 2008


Without makeup he looks kinda like young Stevie Winwood. Which is awesome.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2008


pracowcity: Jonathan Poletti -- the guy who wrote that Rocktober article -- had been working on a hatchet-job biography of Jobriath in the late 1990s, and had apparently conned several Jobriath fans out of copies of his records and memorabilia. Champion Studios' Jobriath page has some harsh words for Poletti that might be worth reading.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:58 PM on November 10, 2008


The slinky suit is pretty cool. Otherwise, it's McGlitter, Vulcan ears notwithstanding. Still worth it for Gladys Knight's WTF expression, though.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:32 AM on November 11, 2008


PS: OK, just watched the Cole Berlin "Sunday Brunch" video, and it's great.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:41 AM on November 11, 2008


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