An encyclopedic look at the lives of formative Western LGBT musicians and performers.
From the acclaimed British biographer of Florence Foster Jenkins (2016, etc.) comes a sweeping overview of LGBT musicians from both sides of the Atlantic who have had a pivotal influence on recorded music. Bullock argues that while the “LGBT community has spent over 100 years pioneering musical genres and producing some of the most lasting and important records of all time…far too many LGBT musicians have seen their stories ‘straight-washed’ or completely brushed under the carpet.” Turning the spotlight on modern creators of popular music, the author presents the struggles and triumphs of gifted artists who paved the way in the realms of pop, punk rock, folk, and disco, noting how “LGBT people were there as jazz gestated” and “in the maternity ward during the birth of the blues.” Fans looking for ribald details from the lives of gay pop idols like Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Boy George, and Dusty Springfield won’t be disappointed, but it is Bullock’s bringing to light more hidden stories, like those of Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey, or jazz pianist Tony Jackson, and his close historical examination of queer performative movements that make the book compelling. The author calls as much attention to the private lives of these gifted, often closeted musicians, like Little Richard—the song “Tutti Frutti” originally described anal sex between men—as to their impact on their genre and later artists like David Bowie. Particularly powerful is the story of Wendy Carlos, a path-breaking inventor of the synthesizer and collaborator on the soundtracks of A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, whose work not only introduced the disco sound, but, with Bob Moog, helped make the equipment affordable. Born in 1939, Carlos underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1972 and found the public reaction to her revelation in the late 1970s to be “amazingly tolerant.”
Well-researched and brimming with intrigue, Bullock’s comprehensive study not only makes the work of scores of musicians sing anew; it also demonstrates how the pendulum of acceptance can swing from era to era.