On April 21st, Jobriath A.D., Kieran Turner’s incredible 2012 documentary on the life of glam rock casualty and gay icon Jobriath, will be released on DVD, paired with an LP’s worth of previously unreleased recordings. One of the cool bonuses on the DVD is a short film of a 1971 Jobriath studio session with a bunch of celebrities—before they were famous—and Dangerous Minds has scored an excerpt for your viewing pleasure. But first, some background for the uninitiated.
Jobriath Boone is a fascinating and tragic figure. His story is one that seems torn from the pages of a Hollywood screenplay. Jobriath’s 1973 debut LP (released by Elektra Records) was a showcase for an intriguing talent—one that mixed classical, pop, Broadway musicals, and good ol’ rock-n-roll—but it went virtually unheard. Jobriath was preceded by incredible hype, with much of the publicity focused on his homosexuality. Jobriath was actually the first rock performer to out himself (David Bowie and Lou Reed merely danced around the issue), but there was a backlash to the hard sell of this “true fairy,” with critics and the public soundly rejecting him. After a second record, 1974’s Creatures Of The Street, also bombed, Jobriath was dropped by Elektra and promptly vanished from the music scene. A few years later, he re-invented himself as the classy lounge singer Cole Berlin, performing in New York City piano bars; he took requests, but refused to play his old songs. Just as this new persona was gaining momentum, Jobriath was diagnosed HIV positive. He died of AIDS in 1983 at age 36, his body found in the pyramid-shaped apartment he resided in atop the Chelsea Hotel.
So, this is a sad saga, yes, a cautionary tale on the perils of fame and what can happen to those that break ground before the world is ready. But it’s also an account of a talented artist lost through the cracks of time that has been waiting to be told for decades. Kieran Turner does an incredible job of finally telling his story and does so in a definitive manner. Interviews with fans and many of the people who populated Jobriath’s personal and professional universe are interspersed with photos, footage, and even a few nicely done animated sequences, resulting in a compelling and well-rounded documentary that does his legend proud. And Jobriath is a legend—you may not know it yet, but you will after watching Jobriath A.D..
The demos and rehearsal tapes for his musical Popstar make up the contents of the previously unreleased LP. Though some elements of the musical were lost, it’s a gift to be able to hear any previously unreleased Jobriath tunes, and these recordings are the most intimate to emerge to date. It’s obvious that Popstar was based on his own brush with fame, and the re-writing of the facts was likely a form of therapy for Jobriath. Unfortunately, Popstar, like his later show, Sunday Brunch, wasn’t produced.
The 1971 session for a Jobriath song called “As The River Flows” took place the evening of August 24th at Electric Lady Studios in New York (with producer/engineer extraordinaire Eddie Kramer behind the board). In the film of the session, Jobriath can be seen directing a chorus of singers through the paces of the track. This chorus was largely comprised of Jobriath’s friends and cast mates in the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, including future disco queen Vicki Sue Robinson (“Turn The Beat Around”) and everyone’s soon-to-be favorite bartender, Issac, a/k/a Ted Lange from The Love Boat. But the biggest star on the horizon there that night was Richard Gere, who was brought along by Robinson. “As The River Flows” was placed on Jobriath’s 1972 demo tape, but the song remained unavailable to the general public until last year, when it was included as the title track of a compilation of Jobriath outtakes. Jobriath looks positively ecstatic in the film of the session, which, aside from a few brief segments in the documentary, hasn’t been seen since. Our preview of this charming short can be seen below.
Check out the Jobriath A.D. trailer and pre-order the DVD/LP set here, or get it on Amazon.
Usually when we get requests for Kickstarter, we have to say no because this entire blog would just be Kickstarter links, but Ann Magnuson’s “The Jobriath Medley: A Glam Rock Fairy Tale” project is different because they’ve actually already done most of the thing they want to raise money for, so you can just go online and buy it basically.
For years now, Ann has done a loving musical/spoken word tribute in her live cabaret shows to obscure 70s glam rocker Jobriath Boone (rock’s first out and out “fairy”) and recently she and longtime collaborator Kristian Hoffman have recorded it, with a small orchestra. The new project “combines good old-fashioned storytelling with extraordinarily pretty songs from Jobriath’s phantasmagoric catalogue. Think Mother Goose on LSD!”
Kristian Hoffman and I both bought the Jobriath albums when they first came out in the early 1880s. Uh, I mean early 1970s. Me as a baby glam rock hillbilly hippie back in West Virginia, Kristian in his suburban enclave in Santa Barbara – where he would sometimes appear along with his best friend Lance Loud on the first TV reality show, AN AMERICAN FAMILY. (FYI: Lance also appears as a character in a pivotal TRUE story told in our glam rock fairy tale!). Oh, and Morrissey also bought the Jobriath albums when he was also a teenage glam-rock-groupie-budding-music-critic-future-rock-star in Manchester England England! (That’s a HAIR reference, by the way. Did you know Jobriath played “Woof” in the original L.A. production? You will when you hear The Jobriath Medley!) Morrissey would later reissue select songs from Jobriath’s two solo albums on the CD “Lonely Planet Boy”. But when we created The Jobriath Medley in 1996 we were unaware of the Morrissey connection (until that Japanese import showed up with the photo of The Moz holding the original Jobriath LP under his arm. A culturally significant moment that was quickly integrated into the text performed at the next live performance of The Jobriath Medley.)
“Grandma, tell me more about the 70s…”
Don’t worry kids, you’ll learn all about that decade of debauchery when you hear The Jobriath Medley! But suffice it to say that back in the early 1970’s everyone was blow, blow, blowing away in platform shoes, glitter eye make up, downing Quaaludes and red wine while being insanely & dangerously promiscuous as we dressed up in glad rags we found in thrift stores so we could emulate the movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s that we watched on The Late Late Show on TV. We were making like Liza Minnelli in CABARET (“divine decadence darling!”) and all we wanted to do was live our lives like we were in a Ken Russell movie!
Jobriath, just like David Bowie and Marc Bolan and Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls among many others, was one of those flaming creatures in the glam rock 70s who didn’t care what other people thought about them. Maybe they really were spacemen from Mars or androgynous aliens or strangers in a strange land OR just glorified hippies dressed up like Christmas trees…
The Kickstarter page for “The Jobriath Medley” has a number of really great packages for any budget, from a digital download or CD all the way up to one of a kind paintings (Ann is quite expert in painting “fake Basquiats”—I mean to say that she’s fucking genius at it—and one of the packages offers a Basquiat-glam rock themed original artwork).
Dangeorus Minds readers will appreciate knowing that Sparks’ Russell Mael has contributed backing vocals to Ann and Kristian’s cover of Jobriath’s “I’maman.”
Kieran was kind enough to share Jobriath A.D. with us and, on many levels, I just loved it and think that a lot of Dangerous Minds readers will really love it, too. Narrated by Henry Rollins and featuring interviews with Marc Almond, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt, Ann Magnuson, Kristian Hoffman, Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters and Jobriath’s manager Jerry Brandt, Turner’s film seems set to perform the same task for Jobriath Boone, rock’s first out and proud “fairy” that Andrew Horn’s The Nomi Song doc did for the once similarly obscure Klaus Nomi.
I caught up with Kieran over email:
I was completely wowed by Jobriath A.D. My wife loved it too, and she absolutely hates Jobriath’s music, so that’s really saying something, as well. You won her over.
Kieran Turner Now THAT fascinates me. I had a conversation with a journalist in the UK and wondered what people who didn’t like Jobriath’s music would think of the film. For instance, if you go see this film not having heard anything before and you are exposed to the music and you’re sitting there scratching your head, is the rest of film just a complete wash? Would you just sit there with your arms folded and a sneer on your face every time someone popped up onscreen and offered up some praise? Or could a viewer appreciate the story and say- okay, I don’t like the music, but the guy broke ground, and this is an interesting cautionary tale and great period piece. I honestly didn’t know the answer to that question, and looking at it from my own perspective, I wasn’t sure I could, so how could I expect anyone else to? Because I know everyone isn’t going to like this music and I never expected that in a million years, nor can I fault anyone for it. So to hear that your wife, who doesn’t like Jobriath’s music, was able to take something away from the film and enjoy it- that thrills me to no end.
Jobriath, until the last few years, at least, was not an artist who it was “easy” to find out about. I discovered him myself, completely accidentally at the Sixth Ave Flea Market flipping through albums and going “What’s THIS?” How did you first hear about Jobriath?
You know, I had always heard about Jobriath, as I am a huge music freak and particularly obsessed with the 70s and gay history. I’m too young to have been around during Jobriath’s brief heyday, so I never got exposed to the music. And every time I read about him, he was always described as a joke, so I believed it, since I was unable to hear the music. I guess I stumbled upon the compilation Morrissey put out while I was online, took a chance and ordered it and was just blown away by the music and the talent. And after that, I was obsessed. I wanted to know everything. I was expecting to hear a 70s version of Pansy Division and what I got was a real artist.
I never had any desire to make a documentary. In fact, I had been gearing up to make my 2nd feature film in 2007, and our funding fell through 4 weeks before casting was to begin in NYC and I had nothing going on, no job, I’d sublet my apartment, so I had this chunk of time and I just started researching. I took 14 months to really track down enough people, get enough information, lock the music up (which was crucial) and feel comfortable enough to know it was safe to start the cameras rolling, which we did in January, 2009. I shot on and off for 2 1/2 years, still researching, finding new people, new information, new materials the entire time, and then began editing last summer.
Where did you find the vast treasure trove of images and film footage that you uncovered for Jobriath A.D.?
All different places. Honestly, it was a bitch. And we were finding material up until January of this year. In fact, we had what we thought was a finished cut and then a photographer came out of the woodwork with some fantastic photos of which we nabbed a half dozen and put them in at the last minute. And the interview footage with Jobriath and Jerry Brandt was a complete accident. I had been told that the LA NBC affiliate had filmed Jobriath’s first night at The Troubadour in 1974 and did a simulcast, which I always found very suspicious. Why would a Big 3 network do that? It made no sense. That, coupled with the fact that the filmmakers who were doing a doc about Zolar X, who had opened for Jobriath at those shows, had done a thorough search for the footage and had come up with nothing led me to believe it was a myth. Anyway, my co-researcher found some footage at NBC that matched the time period of the Troubadour, but no one knew what it was, only that it was 30 min. So I paid to have it transfered and they sent over a quicktime. I was so nervous to watch it, I sent it to my editor and the two of us watched it over the phone together. Well, there was NO performance footage, just 10 minutes of rehearsal and then this AMAZING 20 minute sit down interview. I was near tears, I was so happy, because the dynamic between Jerry and Jobriath, which was just missing from the film up until that point, was so clear in this interview footage. You watch one tiny section of it and it sums up their relationship immediately.
Speaking as a longtime Jobriath fanatic—one of your interviewees, Ann Magnuson, told me about 20 years ago that I was probably the only straight guy in America who even knew who Jobriath was—the part about how all of his costumes and belongings were thrown away after he died was so heartbreaking, but now that your film exists, and is such a testament to this vibrant, talented supernova individual who once existed, more people will hear of Jobriath than ever did during his lifetime and that was very gratifying to contemplate. The film seems such a labor of love, what was the impetus behind the doc and how long did you work on it?
It was sort of three pronged, my reasons for wanting to make this. First, I thought it was hugely unfair that Jobriath was a pioneer of the gay community, the first openly gay rock star (and I mean OPEN and not the bullshit bisexual pose of Bowie, et al, who were just using it for shock and had wives and girlfriends to fall back on). And I get very tired of people throwing out other examples of artists they think were openly gay back then. Trust me, I did the research. In America, it was Jobriath, then Steven Grossman, who even fewer people had heard of. You had Long John Baldry, who was very fringe and really in the UK. But I don’t want to hear about Liberace, Little Richard, Elton John and all those others. It was Jobriath.
But I would not have made this film if the music wasn’t good. Really good. Because what’s the point? Then you ARE making a doc about Pansy Division who, all they have going for them is the gay gimmick. And I don’t mean to bash PD. I don’t know them, I don’t have anything really against them. I do find the music to be incredibly reductive and rather infantile, but I also know that people do enjoy it, I guess. I just feel like as a gay man, it doesn’t thrill me to have an openly gay band singing about sucking cock and cruising the local skater boys down at the park. But they do have a following, so they’re doing something right.
With Jobriath, I was just so thrilled that it wasn’t only a gimmick and that there was some major talent there. Of course, not everyone will like the music, but it’s silly to expect everyone to like something. I just thought there was a larger audience out there who wasn’t aware of him and who would get it.
And lastly, I felt like I could identify with Jobriath as someone who is creative and and often has to depend on the permission of others in order to share my creativity with the world, whether it be through funding or reviews or getting my foot in the door. How many of us really just want to share what we’re passionate about with the world, but because someone in power deems it unworthy, we’re pushed aside or have the door slammed in our face? That’s all Jobriath wanted to do, just put his gift out there to the world and the world said “Fuck you.” Before they ever heard the music. Because they didn’t like the image, because they didn’t like being told they should embrace something, because they weren’t the ones to discover it, because they were afraid of it—whatever the reason. And it destroyed him. And who can’t identify with that, with putting yourself on the line for something that you’re passionate about, only to be rejected? And that is why I think this is such a universal story. You don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to like the music, you just have to be human.
Often filmmakers are obliged to cut something out for running time’s sake. Anything juicy that we’ll have to wait for the DVD to see?
Oh yes, we cut out a LOT of material. Jobriath was in the running to play Al Pacino’s lover in Dog Day Afternoon. I found that quite interesting, but we just didn’t have time for it in the film, so there’s a section about that. There’s also a section about a musical he wrote which Joe Papp was developing called Popstar, which I have some material from. There’s also some interesting sort of heresay about him and Bowie in terms of a perceived rivalry. I investigated it fairly thoroughly and the reason I didn’t put it in the film was because I couldn’t come to a conclusion. For as many people who said there was an issue, I had just as many who said there wasn’t. It’s something worth examining and letting a viewer make up their own mind, but it didn’t fit in the film and it didn’t further the story. And there is certainly more about Jerry Brandt, more about the family. I also have a lot more interview material with the musicians in the film (Jake Shears, Joe Elliott, Marc Almond, et al) who I had to cut most of for time. This DVD will be packed with extras, I hope. We have the material, it’s just a matter of what sort of distribution deal we wind up getting. But if you like the movie, you’ll want the DVD.
Jobriath A.D. aside from reviving an interest in Jobriath, as both a musician/composer and also as someone who will ultimately be seen as an important and pioneering gay figure in the arts, also seems like it could provide one last big wave for Jerry Brandt to ride. Something like a Broadway musical, as he says in the film, is entirely plausible, don’t you think?
You know, who knows what will happen? Jobriath is a niche figure. I certainly don’t expect FunKo to go into production on a series of Jobriath bobble-head dolls, if you know what I mean. I think everyone involved with Jobriath needs to take it one step at a time. I mean, the music is back out of print, so let’s start there before we make lunchboxes. I’m being facetious, of course, but I think Velvet Goldmine has proven exactly what sort of a market there is out there for fictionalized glam rock.
This weekend for two nights (Sat/Sun) at the intimate Steve Allen Theater, Ann Magnuson and backing band, the Star Whackers From Mars (Kristian Hoffman, Jonathan Lea, Joe Berardi, Kristi Callanand, Miiko Watanabe, plus guest performer Michael Des Barres), will present a special evening of David Bowie songs in honor of the Thin White Duke’s 64th birthday (which is January 8).
La Magnuson told the LA Weekly: “I’m not impersonating Bowie so much as rekindling the ecstasy of a teenager who is singing and dancing along to those records in the basement of the house she grew up in back in West Virginia. I feel all the radiant joy those songs brought me then - with all the attendant hormones and unbridled excitement over the endless possibilities that lay ahead. In short, I feel what Bowie was bringing to the world- permission to step out of the black & white mundanity of a Kansas farm house and enter the wild, wonderful Technicolor world of Oz! And since Bowie isn’t performing at all anymore, someone has got to sing these songs live on stage!”
As another teenaged Bowie fanatic from the hills of West Virginia, I add a “+1” to what Ann says. The shows are nearly sold out, but standing room tickets will still be sold on the night of the performances. And so you know, a “little birdie” (okay, Ann via email this morning) told me that like the Spiders from Mars’s last stand at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, this will probably be her last show for quite some time—and she’ll be doing her “infamous” Jobriath medley (not performed since 1997)—so be warned. You snooze, you’re gonna lose, got that?
If you’ve never heard of Jobriath Boone, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Obscure even by “rock snob” standards, Jobriath was the first really openly gay rock star. David Bowie and Lou Reed flirted with bisexuality, nail polish and make-up, of course, but Jobriath was in his own words, “a true fairy.” He wasn’t just “out of the closet” he was out like a police siren with the volume turned up to eleven!
I’ve been a Jobriath freak for about 20 years, dating back to when I stumbled upon his first second LP at a New York City flea market. “What is THIS?” was my initial reaction to the cover, obviously influenced by the artwork for David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs.” [I’m wrong about this, see comments]. Clearly from the image on the cover, Jobriath was a 70s glitter rock wannabe. Make that perhaps a “neverwas,” for aside from a massive advertising campaign that saw his image on 250 New York buses and a 40 foot high poster in Times Square, two solid LPs (recorded with the likes of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Peter Frampton) and a memorable Midnight Special performance, Jobriath was a massive flop at the time.
Too gay for mid-America in 1974? For sure, but that hasn’t stopped Jobriath’s Broadway showtunes meets glam rock oeuvre from being rediscovered by fresh ears this decade. Championed by Morrissey, Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys and singer-actress Ann Magnuson (who once told me that I was “the only straight guy in the world who’s ever even HEARD of Jobriath” back in the early 90s), the tiny cult of Jobriath got a lot of new members when the CD complation Lonely Planet Boy was released in 2004. His life was also a major part of the inspiration for Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine although few people realize that fact (the “Maxwell Demon” album covers are direct homages to the original Jobriath records). Admittedly, his music isn’t for everyone—some people just HATE it—but for those of you who embraced the once equally obscure Klaus Nomi, you’ll probably love Jobriath.