Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Song Remains The Same

I've spent the better part of the last week pondering the notion of Gay Music.

There are so many possibilities, so many sensibilities that makes it almost impossible for me to quantify music into such a category. Do artists of the 40's and 50's like Chris Connor and Billy Strayhorn qualify? Would the work of the Velvet Underground be somehow considered gay?How about 70's singer/songwriters like Steven Grossman and Michael Cohen? Was Glam gay? Is dance music other than Disco gay? What about Laura Nyro? Or Blowoff?

Or is it just that so-called thumpa-thumpa music, with or without vocals, that qualifies as Gay Music? The collected canons of Kylie, Madge & Donna?

I simply am not qualified to answer this.

Tim has bartended every Sunday for very nearly ten years at one of our local bars. Perhaps you know it. He has a regular job that he works at diligently five to six days a week. This bar gig started out as a just a way for him to earn a little extra beer money. At one point he was working every other Friday night and every Sunday, but we were younger then. If you're there, you've probably seen me. Yes, I'm that big guy by the jukebox. Always have been. Tim and I have seen people come and go. We've seen crowds assemble to overflowing, and ebb to a point where it's just me, him and the bar backs. We've been a popular hangout, and then, not so much. We've stuck it out through 5 different management teams, each with very different ideas of how to run the joint. The point is, the joint seems to run itself. I'm not sure why people come and hang on Sundays, but they do.

Years ago, we would listen to the same old and crusty dance mixes gleaned from the piles of sticky cassettes stashed under the bar. The jukebox was not turned on, and when it was, contained many of the selection were remnants of the days when one could two-step upstairs one night a week.

In our travels, I'd listen to the music at bars like the SF Eagle or the Lone Star and ask Tim why we didn't have many bars in New York that played a mixture of dance, rock and obscurities and classics. Tim likened the idea of playing that sort of thing to a house party on your dorm floor. You know, great loud music and a bunch of sexy guys getting drunk. I know...the Boiler Room and the Phoenix did start doing just that, but these were rooms filled with actual college kids, and we weren't looking for that.

I asked the manager if it was possible to add some CD's to the jukebox, and he said: "Sure, give me a list!". Which I did. Because I'm that sort of person. Read about it here. The first list added Radiohead, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music and Prince to the mix. There were to be new lists every couple of months, and I took great pleasure in spending my five bucks to hear a more varied mix of music. Many, many people liked it. A few did not. I remember clearly having a currently popular DJ come up to me as I was feeding the machine and say: "So, you're the one who plays the music we hate!" I had to admit that I was.

Management changed. The jukebox was removed. Management changed. A new jukebox showed up, and I was asked once again for programming suggestions. I made lists. The jukebox died. I got a call, simply asking me to bring a pile of CD's from home. I did. Management changed. I was asked to make a few CD's for the bar. I wound up making 15 or so. Many people liked them. A few did not. A new digital jukebox with an on-line library was installed. One could select just about any genre of music. I'd walk into the bar on a bright Sunday afternoon to a sad round of tunes by Willie Nelson, or a selection from the Josh Groban catalog. Management would beg me to please commandeer the jukebox and play something upbeat. I know how to do that, and was obliging. Since then, I've dropped a few dollars in every Sunday and played some drinking songs for the two hour window that everyone seems to show for these days.

Within the ofttimes difficult constraints of what is actually available, I've managed to find things to play. I've played songs that remind Tim of his college days. I've played songs that call back the years Robert and I got high in our Living Room with our big Koss headphones listening to the latest British import synth bands. I play songs that make Joe sing, and I try not to play songs that make him sad. I play songs that Damian and I laugh (or cry) about. I play songs that remind me of a dear friend who used to stand beside me every week and has since moved away. I miss him. I play songs that cause Tim to look up from his work and smile at me. I play songs that Aaron can rock out to! I play songs we can sing all together, or I can dance in place to. Many, many people like it. A few do not.

Last week, I was approached by someone I hadn't seen at the bar in quite some time. He looked over the jukebox while I talked with his partner. He came back to us angry and red-faced.

"What gives you the right to program the jukebox like that?", he asked.

I put my arm around his shoulder and gave him my usual line: "I'm just trying to avoid a Madonnathon".

Furious, he asked me his question again, as he shoved me off him. I straightened up and told him that when his boyfriend was the bartender, he could play what he wanted. I know, it was a dumb thing to say, and I sincerely regretted it.

"We're gay men. Why should we have to listen to this shit?"

It was then that I started pondering the concept of gay music.

He continued.

"You're the reason everyone left this bar and went to the Eagle!"

I looked around the currently packed room, and gave some thought to the that perhaps the three floors, the cheaper drinks, the proximity of all those hot men and a roof-deck might have had something to do with that decision on their part, but decided not to say anything.

"I put money in that jukebox, and I won't hear it for hours! I'm leaving and it's because of you, and your shitty music!".

He stormed out as I turned and walked away.

I have to say that I was floored, and filled with doubt. Perhaps, I thought, I should stop. I'd surely save a shit load of money. Some friends saw the change in my demeanor and inquired as to what was going on. They were supportive, but still. I told Tim, who said "Screw it!".

A bit later, the gentleman's four selections finally played. Three of them were tunes I'd played earlier in the evening and the fourth was from Madonna's Erotica album.

I just wonder why it is that many, many people can be so supportive and encouraging to me, but all it takes is one negative comment to send me into a tailspin.

Then I think, maybe next week, I'll play "Heroin".


Blogger Joseph said...

I don't go out to the bars much these days, but I was under the impression that the new fangled juke boxes had a way for you to pay more and move your selections to the front of the line. I'm just wondering if the drama queen took that stick out of his ass after he left?

9:54 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

LOL Heroin now that's a very gay song LOL. But I'd imagine it got to you so much because of the way it was handled (by the other guy). I mean, how does one not have a flippant response back to someone starting out on the attack? Unless you're Gandhi or something!

11:36 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I think that the battle for the jukebox probably happens in all bars, not just gay ones. There's always going to be some schmuck who doesn't like the musical selection. Not much you can do about it. I don't go to the bars much, but I must say it does get tiring listening to stereotypical "gay music" all the time. I'm sure that If I ever heard Radiohead at a gay joint I'd think - "Well isn't this a nice change?".

1:06 PM  
Blogger southbeachbum said...

Why does it take one person to make you doubt yourself? It's called being human!!! Glad to see you posting again.

Funny coincidence. I was just listening to Rock'n'Roll Animal last weekend as seen here. And I've been reading Turn the Beat Around the last couple of weeks.




5:22 PM  
Anonymous poof said...

Would "gay music" be music for gay men AND lesbians? Or just gay men with "lesbian music" being for lesbians? Then that would leave the questions of "bisexual" and "transgendered" music.

I'm disinclined to believe in a genre called "gay music". I'm more inclined to think of "gay music" as a virtual genre rather than an actual genre. It's music listened to gay men as well as music made by gay men. As a result you find you have music that is at least partially obscured as gay like the music of the Velvet Underground (a group that had a "leader" who is/was gay or bisexual but was otherwise not gay).

In more recent years we've had more overtly "gay music" with groups like the Pet Shop Boys and Erasure. Nothing about this music makes it gay except the sensibilities of the men creating the music and the men listening to it. I find myself wondering how many straight men or lesbians listen to these groups. I'm inclined to think you're more likely to find straight woman who like it. But it is for the most part for and by gay men.

As far as rock in general in the gay environment I've had pretty much the same experiences. I've had gay men (who seem to limit their lives to the gay community as much as possible) say they hate rock. I've never felt that way. I came out in the summer of '77. Rock had been a constant in my life for years at that point. I saw no reason to segregate myself musically than any other way. I had no interest in living in a ghetto. What's the point of gay liberation if you're only going to restrict yourself.

Rock is no more straight than it is black. Rock is a genre that defies those sorts of limitations and I think that's what's so attractive about it.

I, too, have had people complain about my selections played on the jukebox. But that's come from people who think they own the jukebox. They don't. I have to listen to their selections more than they have to listen to mine. They seem to play more and are at the bar more (these days I'm rarely in a bar). It's just the usual human nonsense.

I remember freaking out the bartender by playing "Walk on Gilded Splinters" by Dr. John. I live that song. We left shortly after that. Before one of the other songs I played came on. I don't know what happened when "Sister Ray" started. Perhaps 30 seconds of meltdown before it was turned off. But what a glorious 30 seconds that must have been. New fields were introduced to a new crop... Sometimes you have push it out there and let people reject it. Even if most reject it, there's always one or two who stop in their tracks and discover something they didn't know about. And like it.

The others can go fuck themselves.

10:43 AM  
Blogger p.alan said...

I know. All it takes is for one nasty queen to spoil all the fun. I would recoil in much the same manner as you.

Geez, where are people's manners?

As far as there being a 'gay' music... well, I think the genre would be far too wide to be interpreted well. Some obviously is... and some can be on a more personal interpretation.

5:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact I was at the Dugout two weeks ago and i was rocking to Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Stooges, and old school shit and I was in heaven. Then I looked over and it was you and your posse. I was going to say hello, but then a guy grabbed me and told me we were going on a cruise and that my ticket was on him! I love NY!!

John in Arlington

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Charles said...

Mark, it was great meeting you at Blowoff and thanks for the postings since I talked with you. Hell, thanks for the posts before I talked to you.

You are great, you write incredibly well and you chose any damn song you want!

7:31 AM  
Anonymous chrome said...

Please tell me it was Lucky (the Radiohead selection).

Please, go ahead and play Heroin.

Please come to my town and work some magic on the jukebox I have to put up with.

And btw, don't you dare even consider that it could possibly be anything other than a good thing -- regardless of the doubt planted by some uptight idiots. They prob were better off in some other more fey bar anyway.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous chrome said...

Please tell me it was Lucky (the Radiohead selection).

Please, go ahead and play Heroin.

Please come to my town and work some magic on the jukebox I have to put up with.

And btw, don't you dare even consider that it could possibly be anything other than a good thing -- regardless of the doubt planted by some uptight idiots. They prob were better off in some other more fey bar anyway.

11:25 AM  
Blogger circleinasquare said...

Your company and juke box selections are eagerly anticipated highlights of my NYC visits.

12:18 AM  
Blogger john said...

Next time I visit New York I'll know where to go on a Sunday evening. I'll give you dollar bills for the jukebox to play as much Velvet Underground as you like.

12:25 AM  

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