In 1985, while making the film of Wham! in China, director Lindsay Anderson sounded off on the subject of tolerance. “I loathe it,” he yelled, smashing his fist into his palm. “Tolerance is what you give noisy children - what you give a mother who can’t control her crying baby... To be tolerant is simply to be patronizing. For blacks and gays and Jews and every other minority, what’s needed is not tolerance. It’s indifference. Complete bloody indifference.”
If gays one day find themselves in Lindsay Anderson’s nirvana of complete indifference, the music business will take much of the credit. From the beginning, the backstage area of pop was a haven for gays - TV producers, set designers, clothes designers, stylists and especially managers. The artists, though, were not gay. In fact, gay culture had a more thrilling effect when it was instilled into non-gay artists. Straight kids met up with gay managers and found themselves liberated from the strictures of their dull families. Encouraged to be outrageous, they threw themselves into it with abandon. The Beatles’ girlie hairstyles and pretty clothes were the result of manager Brian Epstein making them respectable enough to introduce to his mother. Jimi Hendrix’s stage act of sexual intercourse with his guitar was suggested by Kit Lambert, the Who’s manager, who signed Jimmy to his record label, Track Records. And Mick Jagger’s androgenous movements and puckered lips flowed directly from his fascination with Andrew Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ (then) camp young manager.
Day to day life in the sixties music business was more about sex than music or business, and it provided us all with an endless stream of fine gossip. When Andrew Oldham heard ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’ by Jonathan King he imagined the singer as a blond Adonis. He engineered a meeting only to discover that Jonathan resembled a bespectacled toucan. Later, at diner he told songwriter Lionel Bart the meeting had been a waste of time.
"What was wrong with him?" Lionel asked.
"He wasn't fuckable," Andrew said bluntly.
"Not fuckable!!" Lionel exploded. “Well we can't waste our time with people like that, dear, can we!"
By the seventies, the influence of this backstage gay banter had become more visible out front. Marc Bolan dressed himself in women’s clothes from second-hand shops, David Bowie performed oral sex with his guitarist’s Stratocaster, and even the straightest of groups like Slade, Mott the Hopple, and Sweet, covered themselves in make-up and frilly clothes. This overt campness influenced virtually every pop and rock artist on the seventies music scene. It wasn’t just the dressing up either – it was the talk, the behaviour, the camp affectation. Stanley Booth, touring with the Stones at that time, said, “We got faggier by the day. You never saw a more limp-wristed bunch of sissies.”
With the music industry projecting such a strong homosexual ambience, a couple of stars chose it as a good moment to come out, each of them in very different ways. David Bowie, who was bisexual, went for the maximum publicity by announcing he was gay. Then Elton, who was gay, hedged his bets by saying he was bisexual. Others, who were neither of these things yet found their tastes outside the norm, took advantage of changing attitudes to become more open about their preferences. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page was no longer so secretive about his preference for partying with transvestites, nor was Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Journalist John Helstrom remembers him after a gig in Texas, picking up a glamorous blonde with big tits and asking her on the way back to the hotel, “Am I going to suck your cock or your cunt?”
This creeping acceptance of all things gay led us comfortably into the eighties, where right from the start of their careers a whole lot of artists proclaimed themselves openly ‘out’ - Steve Strange, Marc Almond, Boy George, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Erasure. And with them, as ever, was Elton, still blundering on wonderfully, throwing restraint to the wind, doing more good for the cause than anyone else.
It was his battle with the Sun in 1985 which finally did the trick. When he was accused of throwing cocaine parties and having sex with under-age rent-boys, the public at first found it sensational. But after several months, with Elton taking legal action and the papers full of it every day, the public found themselves bored to death with the words ‘rent boy’ and ‘gay’.
By the time Elton had got the Sun to settle with him, those two words had become so over-used that the public hardly noticed them any more. Ten years later, when George Michael was arrested for almost indulging himself with an LA cop, the tabloids sensed this change in public attitude.
“He was gorgeous,” George told Parkinson, trying to make us understand why he’d been tempted. And to some extent he succeeded. The tabloids avoided gratuitous gay bashing and even showed him some sympathy.
While on the subject of George Michael, many people have suggested he should have come out when he was still in Wham!, but that’s certainly not my opinion. The image of Wham! was the classic Hollywood image of male friendship - Starsky and Hutch, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - two straight guys whose friendship with each other transcends all other things. These leading roles had to be played as straight as a die, which was how George played his part in Wham!. It was just play-acting - he knew one day he would have to emerge and become his real self. But at that moment, the image expected of Wham! was a heterosexual one and that’s how he played it
The truth about pop is – the selling of pop stars has never been simply about good looks or sexiness or any other single thing either. It’s always been about selling a complete personality - an overall lifestyle – a composite of many things. Though in the past we didn’t talk about gay lifestyle, many of its elements where amongst the things that made sixties and seventies rock stars look attractive. They lived near the edge in all things, both in image and behavior. And the public got used to it and absorbed it into their own lives.
Today something extraordinary has happened. Everyone can live the rock’n’roll life. Everything rock stars always did – binge drinking, all night sex parties, trashing hotel rooms, overdosing - young people can do for themselves at the weekends. As a result, nobody cares anymore what rock and pop stars get up to?
Which goes for their sex lives too. Robbie Williams was probably the last pop star able to tease us with the ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he’ theme. His provocation has been silenced by Will Young’s brilliance in persuading the public that ‘gay is dull’.
So dull, perhaps, that even Lindsay Anderson, were he still around, might feel able to come out. The reason he never did, I’m sure, was simply that, being in the arts, he knew his homosexuality would be tolerated, which he couldn’t bear.
Now, though, we’re getting surprisingly close to the one thing that would have satisfied him.
Wonderful, liberating, empowering, indifference.
CLICK to return to MAIN PAGE