Song Of The Day 6/23/2015: Jobriath – “Street Corner Love”

Pride Week: Jobriath didn’t mince words, ambitions, costume ideas – hell, he probably didn’t even mince garlic. The native Philadelphian burst onto the rock scene in 1973 declaring himself “The True Fairy of Rock and Roll.” Having seen David Bowie use his sexual ambiguity to revitalize America’s space program, Jobriath seized his moment to become glam rock’s cornerstone, its absolute reference point. But he didn’t check the “All of the above” box to make him more palatable to the guys in marketing: Jobriath was 100% gay, probably rock’s first such out musician. He also let the cosmos direct at least some of his energies, which isn't always the smoothest way to go since the cosmos has no fixed address.

Jobriath’s impresario was Jerry Brandt, a showman himself when it came to record and radio promotion. Sensing something consummately spectacular in his client, he proclaimed “I’m selling sex and professionalism!” Mr. Brandt was not above tipping his proverbial hand, obviously. The bravado and singleness of vision got Jobriath signed to Elektra Records, a move that label’s legendary co-founder Jac Holzman once called one of only two mistakes he ever made. I don't know what the other one was. I like to think it's him signing off on Jim Morrison's hotel bills.

Under the belief that Bowie’s success meant a golden new day for the mainstream’s acceptance of homosexuality, Jobriath hit the floor running with Brandt as his flagman. Unfortunately Jobriath and Brandt might have overestimated their potential audience. The root of the problem might have been their timing in ratio to their visions of grandeur. Jobriath’s artist development went through an accelerated ballooning that used up a lot of Brandt’s money.

Outlandishness was certainly the order of the day, so it might have been the artistic conceit that audiences didn’t get. His performance on the NBC late might show Midnight Special showed him in a get-up resembling a revamped Michelin Man costume, which he cast off to show him in a ballet outfit. In that clip Gladys Knight obviously has no idea what to make of it all. Visualizing a massive opera house tour, Jobriath promised a stage show in which he would be “dressed as King Kong being projected upwards on a mini Empire State Building. This will then turn into a giant penis and I will have transformed into Marlene Dietrich.” Boy oh boy, might your mileage vary.

“Everyone hated Jobriath,” non-stop erotic cabaret star Marc Almond once wrote, “even and especially gay people.” Jobriath was less culpable on record, though, and the sad swagger of “Street Corner Love” is especially appealing. After Brandt lost interest Jobriath left the scene. He took on the pseudonym “Cole Berlin” and played a more stripped-down cabaret set, until he became one of the first celebrities to succumb to AIDS-related causes in 1983. There’s a little Jobriath renaissance in effect, helped by a film documentary called Jobriath A.D. that featured testimonials from Almond, Holzman, Ann Magnuson, Jayne County, and interestingly, Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott. He was also reportedly the inspiration behind Todd Haynes' cult movie Velvet Goldmine. Well, it couldn't be about just anyone, could it?
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