As a group of English New Wavers once put it, "It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it." In Pop music, monetary success and flash-in-the-pan stardom is easy. Becoming an influence, not just on other artists but on an entire era, has far more lasting rewards that can’t be measured in dollars.
Very few can make a claim to being an influence in the music galaxy, to being a “musician’s musician.” One undisputed example of this is the band Sparks.
Born and raised in California and originally performing under the name Half Nelson, Russell and Ron Mael knew they would spend their lives in music. An early and beneficial encounter with legendary producer Todd Rundgren focused their sound and gave them the best kind of start to their careers.
Russell handles the vocals, Ron plays the keys and wears the mustache. Despite the vibrant '70s California music scene, the brothers would have to go to Europe to hit their stride, a move that would land them in a bristling stew of Punk, Electronica, New Wave, Post-Punk, and Classical influences.
Through the ensuing decades, using a number of backing musicians, the duo adopted a steady, workmanlike approach to their creativity while remaining consistently inconsistent in the styles of music they created. Having managed to avoid the hedonistic traps and self-destructive pitfalls that doom so many other bands on their journey, Sparks have kept their focus squarely on their music, and that has carried them through over 40 years of collaboration.
Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation
Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland
"If you can't be yourself, what's the point of being anything at all?"
You know it's a sign of progress when the sight of another corporate logo splashed in rainbow colors as recognition of Pride month causes one's eyes to roll. In what should be an appreciative acknowledgement of the LGBTQ+ movement, these symbolic messages of love and unity are often seen as a half-assed gimmick meant to make a profit.
As soon as July 1st rolls around, that message is quickly disregarded and it's back to business as usual. While that may be so, it's a huge step forward considering the hostile culture from sixty years ago.
Pride might not have been a thing back then, but Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams didn’t seem to need it. Two of America's greatest writers, they were both openly gay. One was a novelist who dabbled in plays, the other was a playwright who dabbled in novels. Both were raised in the ever-oppressive South where tensions ran high with their ever-repressive fathers. Their greatest works adapted into (somewhat great) films, with characters who were complex, desperate, and flawed. It was only natural that both men would develop a friendship, now documented in Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation.
Pride Month was very different last year, and it has changed dramatically since the festivities of 2019. (This year’s Chicago Pride Parade is scheduled for October 3.) No one would have imagined that 2020’s Pride Month would consist of protests and marches for Black Lives Matter, protesting police brutality and calling for the defunding and abolishment of police departments around the world.
And Pride is different for each person. It is either a celebration of being proud of who are you or a continuation to call out the discrimination of various groups--particularly trans, double minorities, leather/kink communities--who are often left out of the parade in favor of the traditional (*cough* white cis Ken dolls *cough*) type of gays corporate America is comfortable slapping on their ads and merch.
We had a march for that reason in the formerly-named Boystown neighborhood as various leaders of the drag community confronted the white cis-male establishment that dominates the city’s primary LGBTQ+ commerical center.
This short list of Pride songs focuses on black artists from all genres, eras and locations, including a few local artists who make this queer Chicagoan proud that they are from his hometown. However you celebrate this season, I hope you seek out these and other queer-identifying artists and add them to your music collection.
Taylor Bennett “Be Yourself” (featuring Mr. Hudson)
From the EP Be Yourself (2018, Tay Bennett Entertainment)
Coming out of his older brother’s shadow to become a successful musician (and Instagram thirst-trap) in his own right, Taylor Bennett came into his own with the 2018 single, “Be Yourself”, where he came out as bisexual in the song.
More importantly, Bennett is fully showing off his confident rap delivery and lyrical prowess (“I knew since birth I was certain that I was sent with a purpose/While you competin' with crabs in a bucket I'm in the ocean”) while saying to the naysayers who question him (“And n---s still call me f----t, but b---h my sh-t lookin' fabulous”) to get out of the way. His confidence continues on his next album The American Reject and subsequent work. (See his performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.)