“Hey Hey Guy” (Ken Laszlo)

Primo Italo disco from 1984, and easily mistaken for an early Pet Shop Boys trax, unless you are listening to the long version with the spoken word introduction and interlude. The scenario involves gay “love for hire,” arranged over the telephone, with a whiff of both the anonymous and “dangerous.” One suspects that none of those involved here—Laszlo, Marco Torre, and Gianni Corianni—is proficient in English, but this can’t explain why the phone conversation sounds like two spies using secret code. Neither side seems to be responding to the other: “Oh dear, you have a phone,” says the rent boy (which is truly odd since he seems to be making the call). The French trick replies, “Yeah, hey guy, tell me about your menicure” (some neologism for a male manicure, and trimming what exactly?). You won’t get your answer here. And on and on, the oblique non-sequiturs never stop: “It is the true.” “Don’t fool out, it’s dangerous.” “Everything is same as all.” If you don’t understand this conversation—it’s hinting tone without clear referents–then perhaps you don’t belong. Delinking from the realm of the straight and straightforward.

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“We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (Queen)

In his review of Queen’s Jazz (1979), Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh famously wrote that the two-year-old anthem “We Will Rock You” “is a marching order: you will not rock us, we will rock you.” “Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band,” separating out “who is superior and who is inferior.” (Marsh’s straight-faced critique predates Pete Wylie’s more tongue-in-cheek approach toward “rockism” by two years). As others have pointed out, however, this trax and its linked partner, “We are the Champions,” are just as easily read as barely-coded gay insurgency. The timing is certainly right: in England in 1977, workplace rights for gays and lesbians were on the agenda for the first time at the annual Trade Union Congress, and the International Gay Association was founded in 1978. Both trax evoke the comic book ad figure of the ninety-eight pound weakling having sand kicked in his face. (The Rocky Horror Show’s “I Can Make You a Man,” from 1973, covers similar territory.) “We Will Rock You” comes with a promise of being “rocked” by the sound of an arena’s stomping and clapping, and perhaps being turned into a piece of granite. From now on, according to the song, you will be hard—hinting at the rise of the muscled, mustachioed Castro clone, and prefiguring Freddie Mercury’s adoption of the look in 1980. Today, the emergence of the figure of the clone is frequently criticized as foreclosing a more diverse, queer seventies community. On the other hand, there’s no doubt a practical side to the practice, since the clone was less vulnerable than the queen on the street. “We Are the Champions” continues the basic theme, but with the added barb that got under Marsh’s skin: “no time for losers.” So are Queen on the verge of genocide? Perhaps it all depends on the status of “we’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end.” If you’re in a fight as part of a community, then of course there’s “no time for losers.” You have to stand up and pick a side, and if you can’t do that you should just go home. If fighting and its necessities are fascistic, then we’re all fascists. Every community and every state is grounded in an unprecedented act of original violence, in “us” and “them,” in risk and sacrifice. And every older community would like to bury this knowledge, and imagine that only the latest dust-ups are existential threats.


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“Any Other Way” (Jackie Shane)

Jackie Shane had three strikes against him as he entered the sixties music business: he was queer, cross-dressing, and Canadian. Here, the singer’s friend has been sent to find him by his ex-girlfriend, in order to suss out how he’s doing since she dumped him (she’d love to know he’s miserable and repentant). Even his erstwhile friends are laughing at him behind his back. And Jackie actually is on the verge of tears, but not for her. “Tell her that I’m gay,” he suggests, and here he’s right on the line between “carefree” and “homosexual” (how you heard it, in 1963, depended upon whether you had queer ears). “Tell her I wouldn’t have it any other way,” however, is the key construction here. The implication that boy-girl love/sex is an “other way” subtly and slyly seeks to overturn the logic of the primary and secondary, the normal and the pathological. Yes, he’s out, but this is “it.”


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“Strange Things Happening Every Day” (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)

True! First, this electric guitar blues and its solo qualify as strange for 1944 (and prescient in rock’n’roll retrospection). On another level, “strange things,” closely read in Sister Tharpe’s lyrics, are ongoing conversions to “Jesus” from the realm of liardom. But “strange things” refers to the Bible, too, where, “Thine eyes shall behold strange things, And thy heart shall utter perverse things” under the influence of wine (Proverbs 23:33; ASV [1901]). And what strange things are these? The King James Version narrows matters to “strange women”: foreign concubines, prostitutes, adulterers. Perhaps Tharpe takes wine and women and song to heart at the seeming border between the secular and the sacred. Indeed, the border itself is at stake in the very idea of the “strange” more broadly considered as the foreign, alien, different, external, extreme, exceptional, queer, rare, uncommon, singular, and surprising. Advocating a posture of lubricated wonder and welcoming toward the other.


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