Why You Should Like… Jobriath

Written by Music, Why You Should Like...

Jobriath“I’m a true fairy,” Jobriath exclaimed, putting any debate over his true sexuality to rest, becoming rock music’s first openly gay superstar. It’s just that the superstar part never happened, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hype. When tales of major label hubris and marketing failure are told, Jobriath is often the first person name-checked. So why should you like Jobriath? The evidence, please:

Jobriath Was First: An in-your-face, outrageous gay rock star. The kind of glittery, truly outrageous glam star Bowie, Reed, and Pop only hinted at being. In the age of Mikas and Patrick Wolfs it’s not such a big deal, but when the year was 1973, America was having none of it. Back then, Elton was “bi” at best and Freddy was straight. While Jobriath forged his own distinct sound, fueled by ’30s and ’40s movie-queen and street-hustler imagery, he was derided as merely a cheap American Bowie clone. (Never mind that Jobriath was rocking the Pierrot clown hat and white makeup a full seven years before Bowie would do so in the “Ashes to Ashes” video.) Jobriath’s debut album was hyped up to the rafters, with a huge billboard in Times Square, ads in glossy mags, and an appearance on The Midnight Special. Trouble is, no one bit. It didn’t help that Elektra Records decided to work the tepid rock of “Take Me I’m Yours” and “I’maman” as singles, which only confused the public — here they were presented with this space-alien, androgynous image and it was paired with brash, showtune-influenced rock. One wonders what might have happened if the proto-disco rock of “World Without End” (download) had been chosen as a single instead, since it was slightly ahead of its time (Bowie would mine the same sound during his “plastic soul” period a few years later).

Jobriath the Defeated: Following Jobriath‘s resounding failure, a full-scale theatrical tour was scrapped and a second album from the same recording sessions, Creatures of the Street, was quietly released less than a year later. “Quiet” is the appropriate word, since Creatures sounds like an act of contrition from a bratty child who’s grown up to see the error of his ways. It’s also the much better of the two albums. It begins with a ballad, and with the exception of a bluegrass-style tune and a couple more tepid rockers, stays in this lower-key mode, emphasizing Jobriath’s credible musical theater background (he was in the original cast of Hair) to much better effect. The sci-fi angle rears its head again on “Ecubyan” (download), but where before it seemed forced and derivative, here it becomes a moody allegory in an elegy for something — love? freedom? success? — lost. Meanwhile, the fragment “What a Pretty” (download) is both campy and disturbing — you’re not quite sure what Jobriath is attempting to express, but you’re mesmerized enough to listen.

Thankfully, Jobriath could also get right to the point, as on “Gone Tomorrow” (download), a new/old-fashioned plea for love:

But if I hide I must confess
I really love my lonely loneliness
But nonetheless I couldn’t make it that way
I don’t believe in here today
Gone tomorrow

It’s on the short list for songs I want played at my funeral.

Jobriath the Defiant: After Creatures of the Street hit the cutout bins, Jobriath was dropped by Elektra and his management, but not before doing some demo sessions for an aborted third album. A few tracks have leaked over the years and show him moving even further into the rock/funk territory explored previously on “World Without End.” “Girl of the Night” (download), the best of these demos, touches again on the hookers, hustlers, and street life that captivated Jobriath — but before anyone got a chance to see where he was going next, the axe came down and Jobriath was forbidden to record while he remained under contract … for ten years.

That didn’t stop him from performing, though. Jobriath became “Cole Berlin” and played in piano bars in New York City for years, living at the top of the Chelsea Hotel in a pyramid-shaped apartment while working on a musical, Pop Star, that never came to fruition. Here’s a rare clip of “Cole Berlin” at home, performing an original work:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/3c5kMO-xs_M" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Despite bright hopes, heaps of talent, and sass to spare, “Jobriath” Bruce Wayne Campbell died of AIDS in 1983, alone in his suite at the Chelsea Hotel after a life filled with sex, drugs, booze, and missed opportunities. In 2004, fan Morrissey helped release a compilation called Lonely Planet Boy, culled from both Jobriath albums, plus a new song from the third album’s demos. Late last year, Rhino Records finally rereleased both full albums, bringing them into print for the first time since 1974, but only in Japan. Strangely, only one Jobriath song is available on iTunes in America. The sting remains.

His Crowning Moment: Without a doubt, “Heartbeat” (download), the opening song off Creatures and at first glance a love song in the most traditional sense until you notice the mysterious line, “Once I believed I saw you die.” Years later, it was covered by Def Leppard (download) on the Wal-Mart-exclusive version of Yeah!

For Fans Of: Queen, Elton John, Mika, and, yes, David Bowie.

Get Jobriath music at Amazon or on Jobriath