Coming Out Country
July 7, 2013 5:12 AM   Subscribe

Five days ago, young Chicago lounge musician Steve Grand released his first single with no agent, no label: All American Boy. Free download (and donations) here. Although his Facebook Page is only 6 days old, he is approaching 20,000 subscribers. He writes: I fought with who I was for most of my life. In every way a young person can fight with himself. But starting today... I'm laying it out there. I'm done playing it safe… This is the story I've been aching to tell… it is what I hold dearest to me. Steve Grand on Twitter.
posted by Short Attention Sp (40 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
That was cute. I wish him luck.
posted by jmccw at 5:47 AM on July 7, 2013

It makes me really, really sad that my first thought was "I hope he doesn't lose his piano gig because of this."

It was touching. It has the ache of "dangerous love" that even I can recognize as a straight lady. And it has the potential to be covered by women without any pronoun changing.

Plus? I got a chuckle about holding down my whiskey. It might be the best, most evocative "show don't tell" moment of songwriting for me this year.
posted by bilabial at 6:13 AM on July 7, 2013

Very cool. I wish him all sorts of success.
posted by hwestiii at 6:18 AM on July 7, 2013

I don't think he calls himself the first openly gay country singer (because he's not), but others certainly do and he doesn't correct them when he links to their piece on his facebook page.
posted by item at 6:20 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm more dumbfounded that this is what's considered country music today than I am at anything else about the song.
posted by dobbs at 6:30 AM on July 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

If commercial country-pop can embrace it, then anything can. I am heartened.
posted by solarion at 7:00 AM on July 7, 2013

Yeah, plenty of prior gay country stars, some whose sexuality was widely known in the industry even if they weren't out. (And some whose careers were ruined too.) And not sure what makes this country, really. But nice story. We live in exciting times for civil rights for sure.
posted by spitbull at 7:23 AM on July 7, 2013

dobbs, that exact sentiment has been expressed for at least 30 years, regarding one aspect of country music or another. Country music seems to attract a fairly conservative (read: not so into change) crowd compared, perhaps, to other music genres.
posted by bilabial at 8:03 AM on July 7, 2013

I'm more dumbfounded that this is what's considered country music today than I am at anything else about the song.

Country has been absorbing and recontextualizing other popular music forms since they first added Hawaiian guitar to the mix.

It is country. I know it's a popular thing to just dismiss the entirety of country pop that hits the charts nowadays, and it's fine not to personally like it, but by behaving as though it is somehow a suspect genre but you're just continuing the tradition of people who didn't like the jazz influence on country when Texas Swing became popular, didn't like the boogie woogie influence on honky tonk, didn't like the pop influence in Countrypolitan, and didn't like the AOR influence on Dolly Parton. And pop country may not be to your taste, but it really a genre of country music -- and is recognizably country, in its arrangements, in its subject matter, in its storytelling -- that has existed in some form or another for 50 years.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:36 AM on July 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

That's a great link, item. Here's some of the music from the link you mention:

"Lavender Cowboy", as sung by Vernon Dahlhart (more on the song from the Queer Music Heritage site).

"Back in the Closet Again" by Lavender Country (starts at 9:46, again from Queer Music Heritage)

The site also lists Doug Stevens and the Outband as being an example of openly gay-themed country music.

And I don't think we can ignore New Zealand's country music scene, which gave us the Topp Twins.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:49 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is great and I'm really happy for this guy.

But I am getting really irritated at this thing where the media is referring to him as the first openly gay country singer or Jason Collins as the first openly gay sports player. As is lesbians don't count.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:53 AM on July 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would echo trigger finger... especially as k.d. lang was the first (and for a long time the only) country star I could ever name, and a huge inspiration.
posted by jb at 9:05 AM on July 7, 2013

that said - he's a good musician and it's a great song that appeals to this alterno-folk-rockish fan; I hope he does well. (And the video is much better than Taylor Swift's).
posted by jb at 9:11 AM on July 7, 2013

does Melissa Etheridge count as "country"? (I find genre lines hard to parse).
posted by jb at 9:12 AM on July 7, 2013

a few things

a) all of the links i was going to post ahve been posted, ya'll are awesome.
b) sean mcannally, who is one of the most popular producers and writers in nashville right now, came out this year--he also wrote kacey musgraves follow yr arrow which does drop his first explicit reference. this and miranda lambert coming out in favour in "marriage equality" suggests that a kind of safe, bourgie gay identity might be emerging of lately.
c) this dude, hairless, genially handsome, almost sexless, will be getting the press, but it's a step, i wouldn't be suprised if he gets a major label effort, and it will last an album, and then bomb--because of that genrality.
d) country is in the middle of a major resettling about what masculinity means, and this might be part of that.
e) remember--that the producers, writers, label staff, even perhaps performers (but not jamey johnson, he's a homophobic prick) tend towards the whitbread middle of progressivism, but the audience is still really quite conserative, but that is also changing a bit--for people my generation and a bit younger, homosexuality, when wrapped up in marriage and the flag, when it is this sexless, when, like in the musgrave track above, it's about love, is quite safe.
f) god is he boring.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:26 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

does Melissa Etheridge count as "country"? (I find genre lines hard to parse).

ME is pretty much basic rock and roll.

What I've found is that country is about 15-20 years behind rock-pop, so anything you were listening to around 1993 could today be considered "country" as long as it was pretty mainstream for that time.
posted by hippybear at 10:42 AM on July 7, 2013

So, having finally watched the video... what impresses me is the moment after the kiss, and the distancing between the actors, and the subsequent distancing at the party... it's a giant acknowledging of the homophobia still present in mainstream american society, and the entire video ends up being a deep questioning of that.

I don't think the song is "all that" and I am not sure the artist is all that strong... But the video is deeply moving and has great things to say to any audience which is willing to watch it.

I hope this guy goes far. If he can break out of his pretty boy image and become something deeper, he has a long road ahead of him.
posted by hippybear at 10:50 AM on July 7, 2013

I thought the video had a really interesting story - a sort of anti-Taylor Swift story, because even if you think you'd be better for him, it doesn't mean he will like you back. I didn't think it was about homophobia per se but partly about the kind of wishful thinking we've all engaged and partly about the difficulty of being a sexual minority and having a harder time meeting people outside of a big centre.
posted by jb at 11:40 AM on July 7, 2013

the ending for me was so powerful, though - at the party, the straight guy initiated the friendly physical contact. as someone who likes girls and, in middle america, ended up liking my share of never gonna reciprocate straight girls, one of the most painful parts, even past being rejected, was that suddenly all the incidental touching of our friendship was gone - the couple of times it wasn't, the first friend hug i received after they found out i liked girls/i liked them was like a lightening bolt - painful still, but energizing - like it was ok that i wasn't straight and it was ok that they were and we could still be friends.

i'm a big country fan and i've liked some waves of pop country (as Bunny Ultramod points out, a continuous part of country is the pop fighting with traditional and that's been going on for as long as the genre). this isn't my exact cup of tea, but i do enjoy how explicit he is about what's going on. i echo the annoyance about ignoring the lesbians in reporting of what this is - and there have been plenty of unsigned queer country singers (but for the last decade or so we've been calling them alt-country or indie-country) - and according to bandcamp this is at least being distributed through WMG, so i wonder about how straight forward that unsigned thing is...but, i still like the whole package of this and i can see some of my family and friends understanding this story and empathizing with it.
posted by nadawi at 11:51 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Funny how folks are reading the ending differently. The vibe I got was that his buddy turned out to be pretty accepting after they got back to the party; buddy continues initiating that friendly "incidental touching" and at 4:18 Grand turns to leave, looking sad, and his buddy pulls him back for a bro hug and another playful shove.

Seems pretty positive, or at least as positive as an "I'm just not into you that way" can be.

I took the song to be pretty simply about the loneliness of watching the one you love want someone else, a classic country love situation broadened to include gay guys. It's nice, and overdue and he's gonna be very cute on The Ellen Show.
posted by mediareport at 12:00 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

mediareport - yeah, that was my take on it as well.
posted by nadawi at 12:02 PM on July 7, 2013

I guess I've been on the receiving end of that "playful shove" too many times to read it as positive. A broken heart is a broken heart, even if friendship results afterwards. It's that moment when you reach out toward something more (the kiss in the lake) and you are rejected which sticks with you for the rest of your life.
posted by hippybear at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

i've also been on the receiving end lots (as i mention). rejection sucks, especially if you think you've been reading the signs, but it's the best possible outcome from a one sided crush involving unaligned sexualities. the people who rejected me and then also rejected a continued friendship stick with me way more painfully. i guess it's different for everyone.
posted by nadawi at 12:08 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just saying I think Grand intended the after-kiss scenes to show the buddy was ok still being buddies, which is a nice, affirmative touch that still clearly leaves the main character broken-hearted.
posted by mediareport at 12:14 PM on July 7, 2013

My take as well. I was expecting his buddy to deck him after the kiss and it was a great surprise that homophobia was not in the plot. His buddy seemed to be gay friendly. Still heartbreaking, of course.
posted by kthanksbai at 12:17 PM on July 7, 2013

There's also a gay (though possibly bi) cowboy character on the show Nashville.
posted by drezdn at 1:02 PM on July 7, 2013

I think this signals that we're on the path to complete equality and are now allowed to be equal in soul-killing dullness to those in the mainstream.
posted by sonascope at 1:46 PM on July 7, 2013

sonascope, isn't this an example of those male gaze you were talking about?
posted by dhartung at 2:13 PM on July 7, 2013

I know—and what about the lesbians?
posted by sonascope at 2:34 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, you mean like Chely Wright, who last recorded an album in 2010 and came out shortly thereafter (being the first major country star to be public with their homosexuality) and whose only "hit" since then was with a dance mix of a song off that album?

Really, watch the documentary Wish Me Away. It's heartbreaking.
posted by hippybear at 2:49 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have to wonder if my generation is the last that'll be always finding ourselves in subtext and little gestures. Just as I knew that Laurel and Hardy were a couple, and Laverne and Shirley, and Jack and Rochester, and Ernie and Bert were all just like me, Patsy singing "Walkin' After Midnight" is singing a song that feels like a narrative of my own queer life. My pa never runned off and I didn't grow up in a rickety ol' shack, and I damn sure didn't have a kickass velvet catsuit as I was dancing in front of our giant black and white TV, but when Bobbie Gentry was singing about being fancy, it was a song about me.

In the olden days, you were gay in camp and context, seeking out semiotics and little cues to invite yourself into the songs, and the straightforward story songs you find in classical country music offered a lot of perfect hooks into that world of adopted daydreams. It's infinitely and definitely better that we're not veiled anymore, and not concealed, but I have to hope that the cost isn't our immortal poetry. I think a lot of the reputation queer folk have had for being artists and storytellers has been fueled by the necessity of double and triple entendre, and I wonder where that goes, once the need goes.

It's nostalgia for life in wartime, I know, and those weren't good times, and yet—
posted by sonascope at 3:13 PM on July 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Ernie and Bert are brothers sharing a bedroom, who have vastly different interests but who have to find a way to coexist. They sleep in separate beds, but they share a room. It's obvious if you spend any time thinking about it.

I get that it's a cultural meme that they are homosexual partners, but the evidence does not bear it out. The idea that they are brothers who have to share a bedroom because of limited living space in their NYC apartment makes much more sense.

That said, I do love the latest New Yorker cover.
posted by hippybear at 3:47 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

i do tend to agree that bert and ernie are platonic, but they aren't brothers - they're friends. here is ernie meeting bart's twin brother bert for the first time.
posted by nadawi at 5:15 PM on July 7, 2013

although, i do think that people who see a subtext there aren't wrong so much as they are seeing something other than the intent. i still think that the song "teenage dirtbag" is the most beautiful teen lesbian song, even if it's a band of guys singing about a woman. the intent only matters so much when it comes to interpreting art, be it paintings or music or children's programing.
posted by nadawi at 5:19 PM on July 7, 2013

gah, strike that and reverse it - ernie meeting bert's brother bart...
posted by nadawi at 5:22 PM on July 7, 2013

I've heard the argument that Ernie and Bert are [clearly, obviously, overtly, officially, name your own flavor of plausible deniability] not romantically connected, but the author is dead. The fact is, for me, the way their relationship functions is exactly the way my best romantic relationships have functioned. They bicker, they support, they disagree, they love and reinforce. That's the good thing about art—the author's intent is really not that important.

I'm well aware that CTW bowed to pressure and the almighty dollar and issued a panicked denial in response to pressure from the radical evangelical right, but still, when I was a kid, I saw two males together and happy and in a relationship that was distinct from what most media couples had. At the same time, I have a brother, and my close relationship with my brother bears zero relationship to what's portrayed there. Shared a room with my brother, and it wasn't anything like that. Had a lot of friends with brothers, too, and none of them resembled Ernie & Bert, either. Ask my sister-in-law and she'll tell you that my kid brother and I are like twins, with similar speech patterns, similar obsessions, and similar interests, not like the sort of odd couple that you see when you see Ernie & Bert, which is a lot closer to what you get when a relationship is formed from affinity and not from familial coincidence.

The thing is, I don't think that Henson and Oz sat down in '67 and said "hey, let's make a gay couple for children's television," but in art, intention and what actually ends up on the screen can be far removed, and you can carefully articulate the party line all you want and I just don't buy it and don't have to buy it. In my history, it's not a "meme," because for me, it came from my direct experience of the program as a kid and the reflection at the time that my parents had a very similar relationship to what Ernie & Bert have, and the reason it's a meme now is because I'm not unique in seeing things the way I did. I'm glad nonetheless that seeing a couple there made it okay for me to come out rather than to try to force the mainstream's lockstep conclusion on myself.

I'll happily point folks in the direction of Alexander Doty's (.) compelling collection of work on the subject, Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Popular Culture, which articulates the notion of a queer reading better than I can.

Two friends can be like Ernie & Bert, and two brothers can be like Ernie & Bert, and two lovers can, too, and if it gives you comfort to cleave to the official line, then more power to you.

For me, those dudes, and the others I mentioned, are a lot more real to me than the stilted, stunted pairings that our freshly "liberated" sexual culture are trying to sell us as the signs and symbols of our lives. For now, though, I'll keep the ones I knew long before anyone tried to correct me.
posted by sonascope at 6:22 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

reading interview round ups with him - apparently his parents forced him into straight therapy for 5 years. which, ugh. i feel constantly lucky that when my mormon parents suspected that my sexuality wasn't a straight arrow that they just worried over it instead of trying to intervene.

i hope he keeps telling his stories.
posted by nadawi at 10:27 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

have you been sitting here thinking "huh, i wonder what he'd look like in underwear beefcake shots..." wonder no longer! (mnsfw, naturally)
posted by nadawi at 3:50 PM on July 9, 2013

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