A name I’ve heard over time but had never actually listened to, musically. Jobriath (real name Bruce Campbell) was supposed to be a “star” when he signed a $500,000.00 dollar deal with Elektra Records in 1972. His name instead became synonymous as the “biggest bust in rock music”. I wasn’t sure why but in the last few years, his name resurfaced with a clearer picture of his story. A new documentary, “Jobriath A.D.” puts the pieces of the puzzle together.
It’s interesting in places – how Jobriath was the first truly openly gay rock performer to declare his sexuality, but that doesn’t really mean much in the overall story. Why, after much hype, money and machinery behind him, was he a flop? He had as his manager one of the biggest hucksters/hypemeisters of the day (Jerry Brandt) and worked with a top-notch producer (the legendary Eddie Kramer). Where did it all go wrong? Here’s my take:
1. The songs just weren’t very good.
2. There was nothing special about his voice – all too often sounding far too much like David Bowie, who was still very much “David Bowie” in his prime.
3. His grandiose pronouncements, such as “Elvis, The Beatles and Jobriath” irritated the rock writers, etc.
4. All the talk of stage spectaculars and then not having performed live probably didn’t help.
The short version of my view is that this was a lot of nothing. And people just weren’t interested. The music industry didn’t care; the rock writers didn’t care and most importantly, the record-buying public didn’t care. So Jobriath’s two Elektra albums came and went and sank without a trace. He turned his back on rock and became “Cole Berlin”, a cabaret singer, who sadly died of AIDS-related illnesses in August, 1983.
I’m not sure if this movie is attempting to place Jobriath in a position of importance or musical merit. The story, taken at face value, is an interesting one – it was the music and the presentation that wasn’t. But high marks for the research and work that went into the making of this film.