Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 3

Here's the latest in my series of blog entries featuring openly LGBTQ musicians. It's all about the sights and sounds of talented people fucking with the heteronormative cultural bias in some quietly breathtaking and flamboyantly splendid ways.

Samwell. This Greenville, South Carolina native became an overnight Internet celebrity in 2007 with a cheerful little tune called "What What (In the Butt)." It's about exactly what you think it's about. And if you're not one of the 52 million people, so far, that have seen the droll, low budget YouTube video, it's here.

Samwell (the stage name for Sam Norman)

So, what do you do after a phenomenon like "What What (In the Butt)?" Small movie roles, comedic sketch videos, a safer sex PSA and even an iPhone app called  Shaky Advice from Samwell that functions like a Magic 8 Ball and features him giving advice. It's hard out there for an Internet celebrity, so I was a little bit giddy when he released "Just Be Free" last spring. It's an unabashed dance floor anthem with a zippy video featuring Samwell as Malcom X, Jesus Christ, the Statue of Liberty and Madonna (I think). Even if you hate the song, visually speaking, 1:46 and 3:22 are subversively brilliant.

Jay Brannan. Born in Texas, this singer-songwriter appeared in Shortbus (2006), John Cameron Mitchell's film about a diverse group of New Yorkers looking for sexual satisfaction. It's a good movie that contains some of the most explicit sexual material to ever appear in a mainstream motion picture. Bonus: Jay Brannan has a song on the soundtrack ("Soda Shop").

Jay Brannan 

Since Shortbus, Brannan has released a couple of EPs/albums that wisely feature his gorgeous tenor voice supported by lo-fi arrangements. The style is raw, personal and intimate. Here's the video for "Can't Have it All," released in 2010.

Brannans's music is available on iTunes. You can check out his YouTube channel here, and his website here.

Diamond Rings. That's the stage name for self-taught Canadian indie/electronic/synthpop artist John O'Regan. He never talks about his sexuality, preferring to let people decide for themselves. He's unapologetic about his love for eye makeup, gender-bending outfits and playing lots of queer venues and festivals. In 2011, he told Canada's "Not that I'm unwilling to define myself, but I personally don't see it as being something that's necessary to do. It ultimately limits what I'm capable of doing as an artist and performer. I'm into just doing what I do and putting it out there and letting people figure it our for themselves." Some folks, naturally, will have a problem with that philosophy. Me? I think he's sublimely queer. And I bet he'd be fine with that.

Diamond Rings

I love quite a few of his songs, but "I'm Just Me" is probably my favorite. It captures the essence of '80s synthpop in the best possible way and makes you yearn for a dance floor. Also, it's entirely possible he's channeling the beloved, iconic diva Grace Jones. You decide. He'd want it that way.

The Diamond Rings website is here. His music is available on iTunes, too.

Carrie Brownstein. For eleven years, this Washington state native was the guitarist and vocalist for the '90s female rock/punk trio called Sleater-Kinney. Spin magazine declared her a lesbian at the age of 21. In 2006, the New York Times described her as "openly gay." In 2010, Brownstein decided to address her sexual identity in an interview with Portland, Oregon's Willamette Week just before the premiere of her sketch comedy series, Portlandia, on Independent Film Channel. "Only because it seems so culturally important to be able to say who you are: I definitely identify as bisexual. Every interesting person I've ever read about, sexuality's all over the map for them. It was never clearly defined. I've always just kind of existed in that world of openness. But right now, in terms of the political climate, and with the number of young gay suicides, and with Don't Ask Don't Tell not being repealed, and with so many politicians still be so aggressively against gay marriage, it is hard not to at least identify in a way that lets people know, 'It is okay whoever you are.'"

Carrie Brownstein
(Photo courtesty IFC/Christian Hornbecker)

Portlandia turned into a cult hit while Brownstein was simultaneously working on a new musical collaboration with former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. Guitarist Mary Timony and keyboardist Rebecca Cole joined them and the new band was christened Wild Flag. Their debut album dropped in the fall of 2011 and featured one the best garage rock singles of the year, in my humble opinion. Take a look at the video for "Romance."

Bob Mould. He was the front man for the popular Minneapolis-based hardcore '80s band Husker Du. When that band ended, he found '90s success with a power trio called Sugar. And when Spin magazine outed him in an early 1990s interview, he let it play out naturally, but remained pretty invisible within gay culture. Until... he played lead guitar in the house band for John Cameron Mitchell's 2001 film Hedwig and the Angry Inch... co-organized a benefit concert for Freedom to Marry, an organization devoted to marriage equality...  and started self-identifying as a bear -- even appearing in the 2010 documentary Bear Nation. His 2011 memoir (See a Little Light) is a great read and he co-hosts and DJs an annual musical event for bears called Blowoff. And he's a D-A-D-D-Y. Yup.

Bob Mould

In 2012, Bob Mould released a new album, Silver Age, containing a power-pop gem entitled "The Descent." And this video was one of my favorites of the year.

You can check out Bob Mould's website here.

Peace out,

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