Review published on June 19, 2017.
Darryl W. Bullock’s fascinating chronicle of LGBT artists and their impact over the last century may take the name of a world-famous icon for its title, but the majority of its principle characters are far less widely known; beginning with Tony Jackson, a New Orleans pianist born in the late 19th century and drawing attention to a whole host of under-appreciated artists, David Bowie Made Me Gay gives its reader plenty of inspiration to look up some previously unheard music.
There were a number of artists featured here with whose work I was aware of; as well as the Thin White Duke, luminaries like Freddie Mercury, Boy George, Pet Shop Boys and George Michael are discussed in terms of their music and sexuality. What I felt Bullock was more interested in, however, was the more obscure side of LGBT music, with the stories of so many engaging but relatively unknown musicians related throughout the book. These stories are set in context, with Bullock using their biographies as a means to highlight historic and continued homophobia – in the cases of many of the artists he introduces, this was just one of the issues they faced, with racism also playing its nefarious part. I was enthralled with Bullock’s sympathetic yet factual coverage of these fascinating individuals, from blues-singer Ma Rainey to British music hall star Fred Barnes, and the way in which the author creates a sense of a timeline from the first openly gay artists to today’s music industry was equally accomplished.
As well as a notable historical document, David Bowie Made Me Gay is a necessary and hard-hitting reminder that there is still progress to be made. The later chapters, dealing with modern artists like Elton John, Marc Almond and George Michael, make clear that it is not that long ago that LGBT people felt compelled to hide their sexuality in order to protect their career, and it’s clear that this is not a problem that has entirely evaporated. I was particularly interested in the chapter entitled ‘Lavender Country,’ which reveals the steps still to be taken in country music, where stereotypical gender roles and more traditional relationships continue to be the preference. Bullock cleverly sets his biographical narratives in context, and so the struggles and triumphs of his featured artists are juxtaposed with the Stonewall riots, the AIDS crisis and the assassination of Harvey Milk in San Francisco, as well as the legal developments in society’s acceptance of LGBT rights. It all adds up to a comprehensive and compelling work, in terms of its extensive discussion of music, history and, of course, a human struggle for tolerance, acceptance and respect.
Katy Goodwin-Bates 4/3
David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music by Darryl W. Bullock
Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd 9780715651926 hbk Sep 2017
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