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David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music

Of course this title caught my eye when I saw it on the library's New Books shelf.

It's not only a tribute to the late Ziggy Stardust, but a history of LGBT music throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, from jazz and blues to disco to country to punk rock to hip hop.  It's mostly U.S. and U.K. artists, but sprinkled throughout are stories of singers and bands from other parts of the world.  It's a blend of music industry history and social and political history, and author Darryl W. Bullock often sprinkles in his own opinions of the artists and movements he discusses.

My only criticism is that it's also sprinkled with proofreading errors, but the fascinating stories and information kept my attention anyway.

Some interesting facts I hadn't known before:

  • Brigham Morris Young, the son of the Mormon leader Brigham Young, was a well-known "female impersonator," performing as "Madam Pattirini" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Berlin was practically an LGBT "Mecca" in the late 19th century, well-known as "the centre of European gay culture."  
  • Polari was a secret language born from the underground gay movement that had been around for years in Britain, but really took off in the McCarthy era, used in gay pubs, in the theater world, and among sailors from the 30s to the early 70s.
  • The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, although it had been an important and welcoming venue for lesbians and feminists for the past 40 years, decided to shut down three years ago rather than accept transgender performers and audience members.  Ironically, they had opened the festival every year since 1986 with trans singer Max Feldman's "Amazon" (written before he transitioned).

And here are some notable artists and songs mentioned in the book:

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey was known as The Mother of The Blues, "the first nationally recognised star of the blues era."  "Prove it On Me Blues" was her most clearly and outrageously lesbian-themed song (well, outrageous for that time, anyway).

Patrick Haggerty's Lavender Country was the first openly gay country album, released in 1973 and added into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.  Note:  the video below contains some explicit language.

Max Feldman recorded "Angry Atthis," the first openly lesbian single, in 1972, "Atthis" being a reference to the Greek poet Sappho's lover.

Of course I have to include a Bowie song!  The "Ashes to Ashes" video features some of the Blitz Kids, young artists who would hang out at the Blitz club -- known for its mix of punk, glam rock, and electronica -- in Covent Garden, London in the late 70s and 80s.

And finally, Kenyan rapper Art Attack and singer Noti Flow released a controversial video in 2016 for their song, "Same Love," a commentary on the treatment of LGBT people in Kenya and a celebration of same-sex love.  The video was quickly condemned by the Kenyan Film Classification Board because it features several same-sex couples kissing and having sex.

Trigger Warning:  the video also shows a few scenes of a young gay man committing suicide.

David Bowie Made Me Gay is a fascinating book, and one I highly recommend.


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