Thursday, December 14, 2017

Born Today in 1946: First Out Rock Star Jobriath

Bruce Wayne Campbell was born today, December 14, in 1946. He was more widely known by his stage name Jobriath. He was an rock musician and actor. He was the first openly gay rock musician to be signed to a major record label, and one of the first internationally famous musicians to die of AIDS.

A native of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and raised in Houston, Texas, he showed talent for playing the piano and was once introduced to Eugene Ormandy as a child prodigy. Drafted into the military in the mid-1960s, he went AWOL within months. Renaming himself Jobriath Salisbury, he relocated to Los Angeles. When he arrived to play piano for a friend's audition for the musical Hair, he also secured the role of Woof, an implicitly gay teenager. He appeared in the West Coast production at the Aquarius Theater on Sunset Boulevard. 

He left the production in 1969 to form the folk-rock band Pidgeon, which was signed to Decca Records. They released the single "Rubber Bricks" and a self-titled album before disbanding. 

At this time he was traced by the military police and arrested, spending nearly 6 months in a military psychiatric hospital after suffering a breakdown. During this period he began writing the songs that would lead to his next musical incarnation.

In mid-December 1972 Jerry Brandt, Carly Simon's former manager, overheard a demo tape being played by Clive Davis at Columbia Records. Davis rejected the tape as "mad, unstructured and destructive to melody," but Brandt was quick to step in. Jobriath later remarked "that coming from a man who discovered both Patti Smith and Barry much for sanity and structure!" 

Brandt located Jobriath in California, where he was living in an unfurnished apartment and working as a prostitute. Brandt: "In walked this beautiful creature dressed in white. I said, Why don't you come out to Malibu and hang out?" This became a feature of the mythology used to promote Jobriath, and helps to explain the acrimony that followed the dissolution of their professional and personal relationship.

Brandt signed Jobriath, now calling himself Jobriath Boone, to Elektra Records for a reported $500,000, in what was allegedly the most lucrative recording contract of its time. The label's president David Geffen signed Jobriath for a two-album deal. A huge marketing campaign and media blitz ensued, including full-page advertisements in Vogue, Penthouse, and Rolling Stone magazines, full-length posters on over 250 New York City buses and a huge 41’ by 43’ billboard in Times Square. All featured the forthcoming debut album sleeve design by noted photographer Shig Ikeda, which featured a nude Jobriath, made to resemble an ancient Roman statue. 

Plans were announced for a lavish three night live debut at the Paris Opera that December, at a cost of $200,000 and a subsequent tour of European opera houses. Jobriath informed the press that the show would feature him dressed as "King Kong being projected upwards on a mini Empire State Building. This will turn into a giant spurting penis and I will have transformed into Marlene Dietrich." Elektra, concerned about spiraling production costs, postponed the Paris Opera shows until February, later canceling them due to expense.

Amidst this barrage of promotion, the debut album Jobriath was released, garnering mostly positive reviews. Rolling Stone stated that Jobriath had "talent to burn," Cashbox called it "truly one of the most interesting albums of the year," and Record World hailed it as "brilliantly incisive", referring to Jobriath as "a true Renaissance man who will gain a tremendous following."

During this period, Brandt continued making extravagant statements such as "Elvis, the Beatles, and Jobriath" and declaring that both he and Jobriath had booked flights on Pan American's first passenger flight to the moon. Meanwhile, Jobriath declared himself "rock's truest fairy," a comment that did little to increase his popularity at the time but has since confirmed his status as the first openly gay rock singer to be signed to a major record label.

Jobriath's debut public performance was made on television, when Brandt secured him an appearance on the popular show The Midnight Special. The costumes were designed by Jobriath and the choreography was by Joyce Trisler, of the Joffrey Ballet. Two songs were performed: "I'maman" and "Rock of Ages," the latter substituting for "Take Me I'm Yours" which was pulled after the producer objected to its overtly sado-masochistic theme. The long-awaited live performance finally came in the summer of 1974 with two sold-out shows at New York's The Bottom Line club. Sales for the album however, were poor and it failed to secure a chart placing.

Six months after the release of the debut album, Creatures of the Street was released. Compiled from the extensive sessions for its predecessor, it was launched without any fanfare or media promotion and failed commercially. A US tour followed, during which recordings took place at local studios for a projected third album. Both Brandt and Elektra abandoned Jobriath midway, but despite this the band completed the tour, continuing to bill Elektra for expenses. A final show, at the University of Alabama, ended in five encores and the fire department being summoned when the excited audience set off the alarm.

In January 1975, Jobriath announced his retirement from the music industry and moved into a pyramid topped rooftop apartment at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. He attempted to resume his acting career and unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Al Pacino's lover in the film Dog Day Afternoon. Calling himself "Cole Berlin" (a play on both Cole Porter and Irving Berlin), he worked as a cabaret singer at a restaurant called The Covent Gardens, as well as clubs and cabarets, augmenting his income with occasional prostitution.

By the time his 10-year contract with Brandt was finally up, Jobriath was sick with AIDS. He began to feel ill in late 1981 but still managed to contribute to the Chelsea Hotel's 100th birthday celebrations in November 1982. On August 4, 1983, one week after the end of his original 10-year contract with Jerry Brandt expired, Jobriath died, becoming one of the first famous musicians to die of the disease.

In November 2004, long-time fan Morrissey oversaw Jobriath's first CD re-issue, a compilation called Lonely Planet Boy. Morrissey had previously attempted to secure Jobriath as a support act for the tour in support of his Your Arsenal album, having been unaware that the singer had died some years previously.

Both Jobriath's original studio albums were officially reissued on CD in Japan in late 2007, remastered and issued in mini-vinyl replica sleeves. They were released in the U.S. in standard jewel-box packaging in 2008 by Collectors' Choice Music.

Filmmaker Kieran Turner (24 Nights) has created a feature documentary about the late singer called "Jobriath A.D."

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