Monday, May 13, 2013

THE MUSICAL ROAD TO GAY ACCEPTANCE (Part I)

To borrow from The Beatles, it’s been a long and winding road. The pursuit of true equality for LGBTQ members of society remains a work in progress. The final steps are within reach, but they may be the most challenging. I liken it to the last five pounds of a dietary plan to shed fifty. Things look good, but it’s still not the right fit.

Pop music provides the scrapbook for my life experiences. There have been many moments when I haven’t connected with people, but I’ve always jived to and with music. I’ve felt the sorrow of Janis Ian in “At Seventeen” and the loneliness of “All By Myself” (more the Eric Carmen version than Celine Dion’s). I’ve rejoiced in the buzz of Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real” and Madonna’s “Into the Groove”. It’s a rare occasion though when a pop song expressly captures the struggles that gay men have in finding genuine acceptance, understanding and love.

First gay song I ever heard? I was listening to AM radio in Hamilton, Ontario as a raspy voice mourned the gay bashing of his friend. It was 1977. How did the song hit the airwaves in an era when Randy Newman was making fun of “Short People” and the only “other love” society seemed to accept sprang from this song? (You really need to click on the link.)

Rod Stewart’s “The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)" captivated me. The ‘70s had several hit story songs—“The Night Chicago Died”, “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”, “Shannon”—but here was a more socially conscious song at a time when K.C. and the Sunshine Band repeatedly chanted “I’m Your Boogie Man”.

In these days of changing ways,
so called liberated days,
a story comes to mind of a friend of mine.

Georgie boy was gay I guess,
nothin' more or nothin' less,
the kindest guy I ever knew.

His mother's tears fell in vain
the afternoon George tried to explain
that he needed love like all the rest.

Pa said there must be a mistake.
How can my son not be straight
after all I've said and done for him?

Leavin' home on a Greyhound bus
cast out by the ones he loves,
A victim of these gay days it seems.

Georgie went to New York town
where he quickly settled down
and soon became the toast of the great white way.

Accepted by Manhattan's elite
in all the places that were chic,
No party was complete without George.

Along the boulevards he'd cruise
and all the old queens blew a fuse,
Everybody loved Georgie boy.

The last time I saw George alive
was in the summer of seventy-five;
he said he was in love, I said I'm pleased.

George attended the opening night
of another Broadway hype,
but split before the final curtain fell.

Deciding to take a shortcut home,
arm in arm they meant no wrong.
A gentle breeze blew down Fifth Avenue.

Out of a darkened side street came
a New Jersey gang with just one aim:
to roll some innocent passer-by.


There ensued a fearful fight;
screams rang out in the night.
Georgie's head hit a sidewalk cornerstone.

A leather kid, a switchblade knife,
He did not intend to take his life;
He just pushed his luck a little too far that night.

The sight of blood dispersed the gang;
A crowd gathered, the police came.
An ambulance screamed to a halt on Fifty-third and Third.

Georgie's life ended there,
but I ask who really cares?
George once said to me and I quote:

He said "Never wait or hesitate.
Get in kid, before it's too late.
You may never get another chance.
'Cos youth’s a mask, but it don't last.
Live it long and live it fast."
Georgie was a friend of mine.

Oh, Georgie, stay; don't go away.
Georgie, please stay.

You take our breath away.


Oh, Georgie, stay; don't go away.
Georgie, please stay.

You take our breath away.

 

Oh, Georgie, stay.

 

The fact that “Georgie” was penned and performed by one of the biggest rock stars of the time amazed me. Stewart could easily have continued singing about deflowering virgin girls (“Tonight’s the Night”) and ogling women’s bodies (“Hot Legs”). Rumors circulated about Rod Stewart’s sexuality, but he didn’t shy away from bringing a gay character to mainstream radio. (Remember, this was seven years before Elton John got married...to a woman.)

 I hadn’t figured out my sexuality at the age of twelve, but I knew the song was groundbreaking.  I’d begun to hear the “fag” remarks and, while the song provided validation, it also induced fear. Were gays that horrid? Might I be killed if I couldn’t keep my mannerisms in check? While the gaybashing tale provided a frightening image, the line that resonated most was “Georgie was a friend of mine.” It’s a genuine, heartfelt sentiment, a strong step forward. Indeed, because of “The Killing of Georgie”, I can forgive Mr. Stewart for butchering the American songbook over the last decade.

2 comments:

gaygroom said...

I remember my next door neighbour had that album and when I told him - as we listened to it in his car - I thought being gay was gross (I was nine), he kindly told me there was nothing wrong with it. I believe he had a sharp eye and was telling me I was okay.

Which of course, I was :)

Rural Gay said...

How wonderful that a song became a conversation starter! I am sure his words carried a greater impact years later, but it all began by listening to an album. Indeed, Rod Stewart's public statement that a gay man was a friend of his made an impact. It certainly lingered with me.