Ask the Flying Monkey! (December 07, 2009)

Have a question about gay male entertainment? Send it to! (Please include your city and state and/or country.)

A Note from the Flying Monkey: I recently wrote
how weird it is that, completely coincidentally, I often get a bunch of
questions all at the same time clustered around a central theme. Well, almost
every question I received this week had something to do with music. Check it

Q: Oh,
Great Flying Simian Even Smarter Than the Only Other Smart Monkey I Can Think
Of, Doctor Zaius: You might not have heard about it because it was very
hush-hush, but Adam Lambert kissed his keyboardist during a performance at the
American Music Awards. Supposedly, it wasn’t rehearsed, but done “in the
moment.” So what does the keyboardist think – and is he gay? – Martin, U.S. Virgin Islands

Adam Lambert plants one on keyboardist Tommy Ratliff

A: Hush-hush indeed, Martin!

According to Lambert, keyboardist Tommy
Ratliff is straight and single, and while it’s true that the actual kiss wasn’t
rehearsed, there was, even in rehearsal, an intimate moment where Lambert
grabbed him by the hair. It didn’t take a genius to see that a kiss was a
definitely possible during the spontaneity of the performance itself.

In any event, after the performance Ratliff tweeted, "Thanks SOO much
to everyone that watched!!!! Rock n Roll is a
prostitute…it should be tartted up.”

Which seems to me to preclude the possibility of a
sexual harassment suit any time soon.

Tommy Ratliff

Next page! Lady Gaga’s great ladies of the eighties influences.

Q: After Black Friday madness, I was listening to Lady Gaga’s
"Dance in the Dark.” There is a lot of 80s
influence in the song and it had a spoken piece in it. Throughout it, I was
thinking it resembles Madonna’s "Vogue.” Think this maybe what Lady Gaga
was going for? — Dan, Baltimore

A: Absolutely. Lady Gaga herself has openly
acknowledged Madonna as a major influence, and “Dark” – especially the spoken
riff where she cites Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Sylvia Plath,
Princess Diana and (who all died tragic deaths) – was widely interpreted by music critics to be an homage to
the Material Girl, especially “Vogue.”

And sure enough, the two singer-icons did both rise
from the streets and night clubs of New
York where they perfected their unique mix of
rock-pop music and urban fashion.

(Interestingly, Lady Gaga and Madonna appeared together
on the October 3rd episode of Saturday
Night Live
to parody their so-called “rivalry” – a sketch that completely
wasted a wonderful opportunity and prompts me to ask for the 50,000th
time: how the $#%* does this painfully unfunny show stay on the air year after frickin’
year? Despite the annual kabuki ritual where some entertainment hack writes the
obligatory article about how show “is back and is as fresh and funny as it was
in the 1970s!” SNL has been brain-dead
for decades. Just pull the frickin’ plug already.)

Anyway, Madonna and Lady Gaga comparisons are
legion (as are Gaga comparisons to her other major influences, Freddy Mercury
and David Bowie). But part of me thinks that an even better comparison might be
Cyndi Lauper (with whom Lady Gaga is currently sharing spokesmodel duties with
for the MAC AIDS Fund).

It’s not just that they both wear funny clothes
and outrageous hairstyles; it’s that they both do, or did, actual performance
art. (Plus, they both have songs about masturbation!)

Lady Gaga (left) and Cyndi Lauper

Yeah, sure, Madonna does a form of performance art
too, but she’s always been very careful to never get too far ahead of her
audience. Sure, it’s “shocking” to pretend to be a sex worker in a music video,
but is that really threatening to a young, rock audience? Maybe to their
parents, but then that’s kinda the point.

On the other hand, Cyndi Lauper, like Lady Gaga,
clearly marches to her own very off-beat drummer, the audience be damned. Think
about Lauper’s close associations in the 80s and 90s: Pee-wee Herman (another
performance artist who she strongly defended after his 1991 arrest for public
indecency) and WWF wrestlers (another kind of performance artist, although I
hope I’m not “destroying the illusion” by telling you that).

It’s one thing to wear a pointed bra on stage like
Madonna; it’s another thing to wear a Christmas tree as your wedding dress as
Lauper originally planned to do.

Yeah, sure, everyone loves Lady Gaga now. But
that’s the way it worked for Edward Scissorhands too: everyone in the
neighborhood just loves his novelty for
a little while. But then something goes wrong, and suddenly people are all
torches and pitchforks, trapping poor Edward in Vincent Price’s medieval castle
on the outskirts of town.

Or relegating Cyndi Lauper to oldies concerts and
Thanksgiving Day parades. Same diff.

It’ll be a shame when that happens to Lady Gaga, as
I suspect it soon will, because she seems like the real deal, IMHO.

Next page! A rundown on female to male covers.

Q: Do you know
any songs sung originally by female artists that were covered by gay or
straight male artists? I can think of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” by Cake
(I like this version more than the original), Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” by Marilyn
Manson, and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” by New Found Glory. — GGP

A: A number of female artists – Tori Amos, Liz
Phair, Sally Timms – have interpreted “male” songs from a female perspective, changing
the song’s intent entirely, but you’re right: fewer men have done it with
women’s songs.

Welcome to America, 2009.

Still, songs like “My Heart Will Go On” are so
generic that it doesn’t really matter who sings them. Other songs aren’t really
gender-specific, like Marilyn Manson’s cover of the Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams
(Are Made of This)” or the Counting Crow’s version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big
Yellow Taxi.”

But female-to-male songs can sometimes get very interesting,
at least when the male singer leaves the pronouns intact, or when the song
seems to come from a strong feminine sensibility, like “I Will Survive.”

Other examples? Lyle Lovett didn’t change a word
for his version of the Tammy Wynette anthem “Stand By Your Man,” which doesn’t necessarily
mean it’s “gay,” but either way, it does change the song’s meaning pretty
dramatically. And REM’s Michael Stipe did a version of Lulu’s “To Sir With
Love” (with Natalie Merchant) that has a gay boy in love with his male teacher.

Many gay choruses have taken show tunes and other
songs written to be sung by a woman to a man and sung them as if to other men. And
in 2007, Rufus Wainwright, of course, famously recreated Judy Garland’s 1962
concert at Carnegie Hall, singing all of the diva’s signature songs (including
“The Man That Got Away”).

And don’t forget Broadway Backwards,
the GLBT fundraiser now in its fourth year that is all about having the guys
sing the girls’ parts and vice versa.

Finally, Judas Priest has an interesting cover of
Joan Baez’s sensitive folk song “Diamonds and Rust” that pretty effectively subverts
their heavy metal image.

Next page! How gay friendly is Hikaru Utada, and what’s in the Monkey’s iPod these days?

Q: I
thoroughly enjoy the music of Hikaru Utada, who, unfortunately, has never done
very well on the American music charts. Do you have any idea if she is
gay-friendly/supports gay rights? – Dylan,

A: Utada is, of course, one of the top-selling
artists in Japan. That’s probably why I wasn’t able to contact her directly, so
I’m reaching a bit on this answer. Still, she did write and record “Prisoner of
Love,” the theme for the Japanese program “Last Friends,” which includes a
lesbian character.

Then there’s the lyric to her 2009 song, “On and

Honeys if you’re gay
Burn it up like a gay parade
Honeys if you’re straight
Pump it up, take it all the way
Intoxicated, emancipated, unapologetic
Is what I am today

Finally – and this is really reaching, but I hope you’ll be impressed – there’s the fact
that her song “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence – F.Y.I.” samples music from the
1982 David Bowie movie Merry Christmas,
Mr. Lawrence
, which deals with homophobia and homo-eroticism.

I always hate to say definitively that a star is
pro-gay when I haven’t had some kind of direct interaction with them, but I’d
bet that Utada is cool.

Hikaru Utada

Q: Listen
to any good music lately? – Melissa,
Toluca Lake, CA

A: Indeed I have!

A year or so ago, I interviewed an indie Australian musician named Brett Every. I was impressed by the fact
that his songs were “openly gay” – not merely using ambiguous pronouns, but
specifying genders and also dealing with very specific gay themes like coming
out and gay teen loneliness. But I was even more impressed by the music itself,
which I thought was wonderful.

A couple of weeks ago, Brett sent me his latest
CD, fairy godmother’s gone to vegas,
and it’s even better than his first.

Some of the songs, like “Close” and “The Night in
Not Long Enough,” are immediately catchy and infectious, and should, by all
rights, be getting regular airplay on more outlets than they’re getting. But
other songs, like “The Fire That Was Never Lit,” are more ambitious – and downright
brilliant in their perfect melding of understated, evocative lyrics with a
haunting, but ultimately cathartic tune.

And yes, Brett is back with his proudly openly gay
self, not just in “The Fire That Was Never Lit” (which is about a love for a
man who isn’t, or is choosing not to be, gay), but also in “Mr. Smith” (about a
defiant teenager taking on the unaccepting father of his boyfriend) and “Prince
Charming” (another infectious tune about the real-life Prince Charming who is
standing right before someone who has been rejected, even though that person
stupidly refuses to see).

I’ve written before how we’re inundated with media
here at – a daily dump of books, movies, CDs, and TV screeners
that we do our best to sort through and give our opinion about. Truthfully,
much of it isn’t even worth a review, much less a rave.

Brett Every’s fairy
godmother’s gone to vegas
is in a different category entirely. It’s a
brilliant piece of a work by truly unique singer-songwriter. I said it before,
but I’ll say it again: if there’s any justice in the world, we’ll be hearing a
lot more from Brett. And I’ll be able to say, “You heard him here first.”

Check out the new CD here or here

Next page! Out gay men and their possibly closeted dads.

Q: Oh wise
and great primate in the sky, I am in need of your all knowing brain! I
have long wondered about my father’s sexuality. I have wondered about all the
traits he possesses that are typically thought of as "gay" (love of
decorating, a passion for The Golden Girls that can only be described as sick,
slightly effeminate gestures). Are there any studies concerning men of the
generation before mine (I’m 21, he’s 50) who stayed closeted, got married, and
had kids? More specifically that have openly gay kids? I understand it’s a
tough line of thought since most of them would probably still be closeted. I
was also wondering if you or any other AfterElton readers had similar
questions about your family. – Logan,

A: Oh, Logan! You blew it! Every other question
this week had to do with music! You didn’t even toss me a bone by mentioning
some gay song or singer your dad likes!

Please get your mind-reading skills checked, ASAP.

As to your question … well, it’s complicated.

Sure, we all can tell stories about people we know
that are exactly as you describe your own family. They make for good stories,
but it’s all anecdotal and tells us nothing real. Whether or not gayness runs
in families, there are always going to be some families with a lot of gay
individuals through just sheer random chance.

So what do
we know that’s real? Well, there are a zillion studies about the sexual
orientations of the children raised by gay parents (which are no more, or
possibly only slightly more, likely to be gay than the children raised by
heterosexuals). But there are no studies that I know of about the (possibly)
closeted parents of openly gay kids.

Still, homosexuality almost certainly has some
genetic component, at least for some people. After all, identical twins share
exactly the same genes, and they’re much more likely to both be gay than
fraternal twins, who are only as genetically similar as any two brothers
(although they share the same prenatal and early environment).

But from these same twin studies, we also know
that there’s more to homosexuality than just genes – not all identical twins
are both gay, after all. In other words, environment always plays some role
(but this still doesn’t mean there’s any element of “choice” in sexual
orientation – people don’t choose their environment, especially their prenatal
one, any more than they choose their genes!).

So: homosexuality definitely runs in families. But
here’s the thing: other research indicates that the gene may reside in the
mother’s “X” chromosome, meaning the gay gene is stronger on the maternal side
than the paternal one.

Confusing all this, of course, is what you hint
at, Logan: how do you measure “gayness”? By self-reporting? Sure, that’s one
way, but is it “accurate” in a society that still has such a stigma around
homosexuality? Those twin studies I mentioned above? In at least one of them, a
significant number of the “straight” brothers happened to be priests – which
suggests to me that maybe they were just gay and in denial.

Other researchers have determined “gayness” by
measuring actual gay arousal – by measuring penis reaction to erotic gay
imagery – but there are problem with this approach too, not to the least of
which is the fact that plenty of subjects won’t submit to that, biasing the

Whew! Like I said, this is all very complicated.
And I haven’t mentioned the fact that gayness may run in families for reasons
entirely unrelated to genetics!

So in the end, all we’re left with is the stories
we tell each other about the families we know. Anyone got any good ones?

Have a question about gay male entertainment? Send it to! (Please include your city and state and/or country.)