Jobriath, by Jobriath (Elektra, 1973; Music on Vinyl, 2018)
June is Pride Month, so what better way to celebrate than to take a look at “rock’s truest fairy,” as Bruce Wayne Campbell christened himself back in 1973 as Jobriath, the first openly gay rock musician signed to a major label.
And when we say signed, we mean signed, to what was rumored to be one of the most lucrative recording contracts ever at the time (reportedly $500,000), and launched with a massive marketing campaign that included bus posters throughout New York City and a 41′ by 43′ billboard in Times Square.
And it all went thud. Despite positive reviews from the rock press and a choice appearance on The Midnight Special (introduced by a bemused Gladys Knight), Jobriath’s debut album (with assists from Peter Frampton and the London Symphony Orchestra) came and went without so much as sniffing The Billboard 200 album chart. America was okay with glam artists like Bowie and Bolan playing at acting fey, but embracing an openly gay musician proved a bridge too far for most in 1973.
He’d release a second album, Creatures of the Street, the following year to even less fanfare, and then called it a day, at least as Jobriath. Campbell, meanwhile, retired to a pyramid-topped apartment above the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, reinvented himself as a cabaret singer named Cole Berlin, and saw out his last days performing in clubs and servicing the occasional john. He died in 1983, one of AIDS’ first casualties.
Meantime, his legacy lives on, as he managed to influence a number of musicians, including Morrissey, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, Siouxsie Sioux, Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters and Will Sheff of Okkervil River. A full-length documentary about Campbell, Jobriath A.D., was released in 2012. He’s been sampled, covered, and songs written about him. And it’s hard to imagine the later theatricality of an album like Meat Loaf’s 1977 opus Bat Out of Hell without Jobriath acting as some sort of precedent for Msrs. Steinman and Aday.
Jo-curious? Mint copies of this 2018 RSD reissue can be had for under $50 shipped on Discogs. Very good copies of the original press can be had for about the same. Or you can just give a listen to it here.