(Poster of Jobriath a.d. courtesy of Google Images.)
Elvis, The Beatles, and Jobriath
I consider myself to be sophisticated when it comes to music particularly that of my generation--the 1960s and 1970s. That I had never heard the lovely and idiosyncratic music of Jobriath, the first openly gay artist signed to a major record label, blows my mind particularly when he was given the most lavish promotional send-off in the history of rock and roll.
How could I have missed him--a unique and shimmering glam-rock act who worked with such greats as Led Zepplin's John Paul Jones and Peter Frampton? I first heard his music a few months ago when my cousin told me about Jobriath a.d., a new film in which he had invested and that was produced by Kiernan Turner (24 Hours). Its U. S. premier was last night in Orlando at the Florida Film Festival.
A devoted fag hag, I fell in love with Jobriath, his music, and his sad story--truly a fractured fairy tale.
A Child Prodigy
Born Bryce Wayne Campbell in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, he was a child prodigy on the piano. During the height of the Vietnam War, the young man was drafted into the army but soon went AWOL changing his name to Jobriath Salisbury and he moved to Los Angeles. There he played the piano for a production of Hair and auditioned unsuccessfully for movie roles. Before long the MP tracked him down and he spent six months in a military psychiatric hospital after suffering from a nervous breakdown. That time was not wasted because while he was a patient he wrote the songs that he would perform as Jobriath.
Little Dreamer and His Mother
"Mad, unstructured, and destructive to melody"
After his release, Jobriath sent demos to the various recording companies in Los Angeles. While producer Clive Davis was listening to a copy, Jerry Brandt who discovered Patti Smith and Barry Manilow was taken by the artist that Davis rejected proclaiming him to be "mad, unstructured, and destructive to melody."
Brandt disagreed and tracked him down. He found Jobriath living in a squalid apartment working as a prostitute. The man was astounded by Jobriath's striking physical appearance: "In walked this beautiful creature dressed in white. I said, Why don't you come out to Malibu and hang out?" That was the beginning of their ten year tempestuous relationship.
(Photo of Jobriath's album courtesty of Google Images.)
The Most Lucrative Recording Contract of its Time
Brandt negotiated a contract for the newly named Jobriath Boone with David Geffen's Elektra Records for $500,000, and at the time it was the highest recording contract ever.
Soon Jobriath's face was everywhere. There were full page advertisements in major magazines, full length posters of him on 250 New York City buses and a gigantic billboard on Times Square. He was depicted nude as a broken classical Roman statue. His double album that was self-titled was released to wildly enthusiastic reviews. According to Rolling Stone, he had "talent to burn." "Truly one of the most interesting albums of the year, " proclaimed Cashbox. Record World called his album "brilliantly incisive" by a "true Renaissance man who will gain a tremendous following."
I'm a Man
I want everyone who is interested in Jobriath to see the movie and so I will just summarize the end of his sad tale. Wild impossible dreams, creative differences, jealousy, and charges in the press of copying David Bowie's style plagued the man whose temper was a problem, too. The fact that he proudly put forth his homosexuality at a time when it was a subject rarely discussed didn't help his popularity either but it firmly established him as the first openly gay rock star.
aka Cole Berlin
After his ten year contract with Elektra was through, Jobriath was all but abandoned by the industry and morphed yet again into another incarnation. This time he was Cole Berlin, New York City lounge singer. Jobriath had always admired old movies and music and so his name was a combination of two musical idols, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.
Cole Berlin died of AIDS at the age of 37, a forgotten man. No one who knew him as Cole Berlin would ever guess that the handsome singer of American standards was once the astounding Jobriath. To me, he was ahead of his time. Yes, I can see how his act could be seen as similar to Bowie's but there was plenty of room for an openly gay artist like Jobriath in the music world as evidenced by the group Queen.
With the release of his story, Jobriath a.d., I am hopeful that there will be a resurgence in the appreciation of his music and that his time has come and that it is now.