A '70s tale of tragic mis-steps
JOBRIATH A.D. (2002)
Written, produced and directed by Kieran Turner
Weird times we live in, to paraphrase John Waters. We've gone from people rebelling against rules, to becoming fanatical lil' rule-mongers, themselves. That's some crazy shit, and you gotta wonder what's up with all that.
Probably the most moving film I've seen since "Beautiful Darling", the also poignant Candy Darling story, is "Jobriath A.D." You might know he was one of the first openly gay, glam, wouldbe seventies rock stars, who was first discovered whilst singing in the Broadway play, "Hair". In the hippie dippy era, he made a baroque pop album with a band called Pidgeon. He was drafted by the army, went AWOL, and did time in a military psychiatric facility. He came from a tragically broken family and his mom never fully accepted him, because of his sexual identity which caused him acute pain. He was a really sweet, upbeat, positive force as a young person, a painter/singer/composer/piano playing prodigy but the cruel music industry weasels around him kinda turned him more cynical and sad, almost overnight.
He was living in an unfurnished squat in L.A. as a male hustler when it seemed he was rescued by a huckster manager famous for nightclubs in NY named Jerry Brandt-Brandt overhyped Jobriath as the next Elvis, Beatles, and Bowie all rolled into one. He appeared on oversized billboards in Times Square, in splashy magazine advertisements and on the sides of buses in major cities. He had a cool live band actually, called the Creatures, with some kooky costumes by Stephen Sprouse.
With all the makings of a fabulous rockstar, it's a huge tragedy that a few simple missteps, bad haircuts, and whacky "Lost In Space" costumes seemed to derail the whole not quite ready for primetime operation. One problem was the still homophobic attitudes of ‘70s USA, another was a critical backlash against the managerial shameless promotional hype.
He recorded his debut LP at Electric Lady and was slickly overproduced by Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer. It was just too lushly over the top, strings and choirs and overindulgent layers of extra icing. Elektra had a bunch of guest stars on the record, but in spite of all his creatively ambitious pop opera aspirations, it was just too freakin' over the top orchestrated, and in the Bowie/Elton era, no one was there to tell him that "Space Clown", with the ultra-affected Anthony Newley vocalism, was just kinda corny. His performance on "Midnight Special" was also a wretching debacle, just too hokey, low budget, mime-like. Bad mime, bad ballet tights, bad makeup and hair, honestly. "I'maman" was just not in league with songs by Bolan and Bowie from the same era, or even Slade or the Sweet. That was not the hit Jac Holzman was hoping for.
It is all a damned shame, because he could really sing and play and write, but some of his theatrical ideas were just too campy. Even though androgynous, makeup wearing, glam bands like T. Rex, the Cuddly Toys, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and the NY Dolls would all find an audience, Jobriath and his management decided to turn his sexual preference into a big marketing campaign and that totally backfired. Freddy Mercury did not even go on TV and advertise himself as a "True Fairy" in the early ‘70s. The gay underground press did not even "Advocate" for him because they were mostly swept up into this hypermasculine, cartoon machismo, back then. All urban cowboy leather bars and mustaches, butcher-than-thou Village People, apeman muscle-flexing.
Even in the NYC gay community, he was considered too Liberace. Jayne County liked him, though! Morrissey and Marc Almond have said they were inspired by him since they were kids, Joe Elliot from Def Leppard, who covered a Jobriath song is present in the film, singing his praises. It's a harrowingly sad story, mostly because the trailblazing kid started off with so much idealism, inspiration, optimism and high energy, his sleazy huckster manager really did seem to believe in him, but when their plans to perform a big Broadway style play in Paris fizzled out when the albums did not sell, Jobriath blamed the manager. Jerry did seem to have somehow socked away a substantial amount of money to open a nightclub with, hot on the heels of the failed Jobriath campaigns.
Jobriath's band, the Creatures, heartbreakingly broke up in spite of playing some shows at universities where the kids went gaga for 'em, screaming for many encores, he moved home with his mom for awhile, she kicked him out, he fell back into prostitution.
The producer of "Hair", I believe is who intervened and helped him get resettled into a pyramid apartment facing the Empire State Building, atop of the Chelsea Hotel. He did piano bar cabaret for a number of years as a mustached charmer Cole Berlin and continued turning tricks for rent money. He struggled to find acting jobs and tried writing plays, continued reinventing new personas that he performed under at various nightclubs where he had a cult following, but would never again play the old glam rock Jobriath songs. He sadly died of AIDS in 1983.
Morrissey wanted to take him on tour in the Mick Ronson produced "Your Arsenal" era and was crestfallen to learn he was already dead. Morrissey's cover of Jobriath's song, "Morning Starship" appears on his LP, "California Son". The performance artists, Ann Magnuson also covered Jobriath's songs. Heartbreaking story. Must-see!