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August 21st, 2014

Jobriath A.D. ***

 

To me, the history of awesome top-40 rock music begins in 1971.

 

Marc Bolan went on Britian’s Tops of the Pops wearing a shiny silver blouse with purple pockets. His band T. Rex played their first #1 song – “Hot Love.” And the glam rock phenomenon was born.

 

The Beatles had just broken up, and with them went the whole 60s music movement. Late 60s rock had become too serious, too artsy, and too self-important.

 

Glam rock was the perfect antidote. Glam was fun, sexy, and apolitical.

 

A slew of terrific T. Rex imitators like Mott The Hoople, Slade, Gary Glitter, and David Bowie sprung up and took the UK music scene by storm. British kids couldn’t get enough.

 

As popular as it was in the UK, glam rock never caught on in America. And neither did Jobriath.

 

This documentary introduced me to the surprising, sad true story of Jobriath: a groundbreaking artist in the US glam rock movement.

 

The film begins in 1973. Young Bruce Campbell (now known only by his stage name Jobriath) had moved to New York City to star in the musical “Hair” on Broadway. He was good-looking, charismatic, and an excellent pianist. He definitely caught the attention of agent/promoter Jerry Brandt.

 

Strangely, the movie paints Jerry Brandt as an exploitive music-biz vampire, even though it seems like Jerry did everything he possibly could to make Jobriath a star. Jerry paid to produce the singer’s two albums. He paid for a huge Jobriath billboard on Times Square and hundreds of ads on the side of NYC busses. Jerry used his connections to book Jobriath on the influential TV show Midnight Special.

 

Nothing worked.

 

Documentarian Kieran Turner gives two bogus reasons why Jobriath never became a household name or landed in the billboard hot 100.

 

First, Kieran Turner argues that Jobriath was over-hyped. That doesn’t make any sense.

 

Hype is not a bad thing. Thanks to media hype, I was aware of Katy Perry and her big blue eyes long before I heard her voice. But did all the shameless hype stop me from downloading “I Kissed A Girl?” Heck no, it’s a great song.

 

Kieran Turner also argues that Jobriath’s career fizzled because he was one of the first openly gay rockers. “Asking me if I am homosexual is like asking James Brown whether he is black,” Jobriath memorably said in an interview.

 

That was certainly brash, but I doubt very much that an anti-gay backlash kept him out of the top 40.

 

Fellow New York rocker (and unabashed bisexual) Lou Reed had just released “Walk on the Wildside.” Did the frank and graphic lyrics about transvestites and street hustlers keep it from becoming a mainstream hit? Heck no, it’s a great song.

 

Jobriath had no great songs. If he did, Kieran Turner certainly would have played them in this documentary. “Jobriath A.D.” is an interesting story about a dynamic entertainer. And it is also interesting to watch as the desperate documentarian blames everyone but Jobriath himself for his abject commercial failure.

 

Sadly, Jobriath isn’t here to finish the story. He died of AIDS in 1983.

 

He left behind a legacy of flamboyance, bravery, and gay pride that was ahead of his time. And two albums of lousy glam rock songs.

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