The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 2014 inductees is a wildly eclectic, yet extremely popular gang of performers. Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, KISS, Linda Ronstadt, Hall and Oates, and Cat Stevens all join the Cleveland institution this year. While none of those performers is gay, they all have their moments of LGBT influence worthy of note. Here are our favorite gay (or pseudo-gay or gay-related) moments from this quintet of straight acts.
Nirvana: Smells Like a Sexually Confused Teen Spirit
Nirvana’s reign as ’90s grunge godfathers may have been short-lived due to Kurt Cobain’s suicide, but you’d have a viable reason to claim any of their albums as a personal favorite. I like Unplugged in New York because of its unforgettable Meat Puppets covers, but the band’s adrenalized debut Bleach (’88) has the awesome “About a Girl” and “Scoff,” Nevermind has everything from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to “Lithium,” and In Utero contains their greatest ballad “All Apologies” and produced their best video, the hallucinogenic and creepy “Heart-Shaped Box.”
It’s somehow easy to forget that Kurt Cobain was a hero to queer music fans of the early ’90s. His glum, articulate, and abrasive approach to lyrics and vocals owed more to Michael Stipe than John Lennon or Mick Jagger, and he even acknowledged that he spent his youth wondering if he was gay. In an interview with The Advocate, he opened up about the conundrum of his teenage sexuality.
“Yeah, absolutely. See, I’ve always wanted male friends that I could be real intimate with and talk about important things with and be as affectionate with that person as I would be with a girl. Throughout my life, I’ve always been really close with girls and made friends with girls. And I’ve always been a really sickly, feminine person anyhow, so I thought I was gay for a while because I didn’t find any of the girls in my high school attractive at all. They had really awful haircuts and fucked-up attitudes. So I thought I would try to be gay for a while, but I’m just more sexually attracted to women. But I’m really glad that I found a few gay friends, because it totally saved me from becoming a monk or something.”
Sigh. That guy could give an interview.
Linda Ronstadt: The High Priestess of Penzance
Linda Ronstadt was the highest-earning female rock star of the 1970s, and that’s why her well-known distaste for glamor and stardom is both surprising and kind of refreshing. But even more refreshing is her reflection on how she first learned about gayness, which she detailed in a 2009 PlanetOut interview.
“The ’50s and ’60s were extremely homophobic periods, even among the so-called ’enlightened’ cultures. I remember in the ’60s, we were all just discovering that there was racial discrimination, and trying to figure out what we could do about it, but the gay issues were just utterly left out of the conversation. Then in the ’70s, the gay issues started to emerge at some of those early rallies that I attended or participated in — like ’No Nukes’ — and I remember thinking, ’Well, what does this have to do with it?’ The labor issues would come up, civil rights issues would come up, and then the gay issue would come up, and I was like, ’huh?’ So it took me a little while to get it, and then I was like, ’Duh’ — and I got it. I mean I really got it. That was just before I started working on Broadway [for Pirates of Penzance] and then once I got there, I really got it.”
That performance in the 1981 Broadway revival of The Pirates of Penzance is incredibly fabulous and earned her a Tony nomination, and because it’s a Gilbert and Sullivan opera about dancing buccaneers, I’ve decided it’s her gayest moment.
KISS: Straight camp discovered by a gay man
Gene Simmons isn’t without his incendiary quotes — that whole ugly back-and-forth with Adam Lambert about how “open” he should be about his sexual orientation in 2009 was enough to warrant a few eye-rolls — but KISS should earn an iota of respect if only for finding a way to make camp a heterosexual superpower.
But all of KISS’ decadence, flashiness, and starchild spectacle is owed to a gay guy: the late Bill Aucoin, who discovered the band, was a gay marketing genius who insisted that each member of KISS have his own persona and style of maquillage. When you’re staging a megawatt act like KISS, there simply needs to be a gay guy at the reins to make sure the wildness all goes right. After managing the band until 1982, Aucoin worked with Billy Idol, Billy Squier, and a Minneapolis-based glam band called Flipp, whose guitarist Kii Arens said about Aucoin’s abilities, “Bill is there to say, ’Well, you know, you need to check what the wind is like if you’re gonna drop cereal from the helicopter, because those Froot Loops could fly up into the propellers.”
Cat Stevens: He probably (rightfully) thinks this song is about him.
Cat Stevens, a.k.a. Yusuf Islam, hasn’t exactly extended a peace train to the LGBT community. He has reportedly spoken against positive depictions of homosexuality in sex education classes, and if gay issues aren’t enough to rankle you, he apparently did support that Salman Rushdie fatwa, if Jon Stewart’s anecdote about meeting the onetime singer/songwriter after his “Rally to Restore Sanity” is to be believed. “We [Stevens and Stewart] get into a whole conversation, and it becomes very clear to me that he is straddling two worlds in a very difficult way,” said Stewart in a staged chat with Stephen Colbert in 2012. “It broke my heart a little bit… Because that to me is a deal-breaker. Death for free speech is a deal breaker.”
Though the Cat Stevens of yore is long gone, his impact on one of our most cherished singer/songwriters — a gay favorite if ever there was one — is apparent. Carly Simon wouldn’t admit it if she she wrote “You’re So Vain” about Stevens, but she’s very open about the fact that he inspired her wonderful anthem “Anticipation.” Simon penned the 1971 song about how excited she was to go on a date with Stevens, and because of that ebullience we have that gorgeous jam. And that damn ketchup commercial. But mostly just the Carly jam.
Peter Gabriel: Everybody hurts in the “Red Rain”
Any man who duets in a legendary way with Kate Bush likely deserves some gay kudos, but the Genesis gent who gave us multiple classic albums with two-letter names (ranked #1-3: So, Us, Up) somehow delivered a more touching anthem than “In Your Eyes” when he collaborated onstage with gay great Michael Stipe. Along with a braided-up Natalie Merchant, the two singer-songwriters performed a version of “Red Rain” that make So’s first track sound like it could’ve been either a Stipe or Merchant song first.
At this time I’d like to announce that the “Land of Confusion” video still scares the hell out of me. Now that that’s over, enjoy this wonderful performance.
Hall and Oates: I Can Go For These Amazing Photos (Can Do)
The superstars of ’80s blue-eyed soul gave us an astounding number of hits, and in a new interview with Rolling Stone, Daryl Hall talks about how shocked he is to receive the honor. According to him, it ranks with his past accolades from the American Music Awards and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and I assume he mentioned those two because Hall & Oates has never earned a single Grammy. That’s pretty bizarre. And induction into the Rock Hall hopefully heals what I’d consider very justified Grammy resentment.
When you’re a male R&B/pop duo of the ’80s, you spend a lot of time taking provocative pinup photos. Some of them have a gay component. Here are a few of my favorites.