Script for November 2007, QMH:
Salt N Pepa - Let's Talk About AIDS (1992)
If that song sounds familiar to you I'm not surprised. The original version of the song was called "Let's Talk About Sex," and was by the very successful hip hop trio Salt N Pepa, in 1991. A year later they released a version of it with a different focus. The chorus was the same but you may have noticed that they were now talking about AIDS. And that's what the music on this show will be talking about. This is Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and on this show I'm showcasing Songs About AIDS, and as the show will air on November 26th, it's just in time for World AIDS Day on December 1st.
Approaching a subject like Songs About AIDS is a little daunting, as I could easily do quite a few shows with the material I have in my collection, so narrowing them down was difficult. And also, generally on Queer Music Heritage you can assume unless I say so that the artist I'm playing is GLBT. That won't be the case here, as AIDS obviously affects everyone and artists from all over the spectrum have been moved to write about it. And I have many wonderful songs that, for language reasons, cannot be played during this show. But you can hear some of those as well, in the continuation of the show, available only on my site.
I'm logically starting with one of the earliest songs about AIDS. The song appeared in probably the first musical dealing with the subject, mounted by San Francisco's Theater Rhinoceros in September of 1984. It was called "The AIDS Show" and contributing songs were Karl Brown and Matthew McQueen who had already formed a group called Automatic Pilot. One of those songs was this one, "Safe Livin' In Dangerous Times."
Automatic Pilot - Safe Livin' In Dangerous Times (1984)
Automatic Pilot and "Safe Livin' In Dangerous Times."
Two of my early favorite gay artists were the duo Romanovsky & Phillips, and I loved how political many of their songs were. They had two excellent songs about AIDS, "No False Hope" and "Living With AIDS" and when I interviewed them in 2003 I found it interesting that Paul Phillips singled out these two songs when I asked him of what song by them he was the most proud.
Paul Phillips - comments (2003)
Most proud. Well certainly "No False Hope" is one. I think "Living With AIDS" is another one. And that's because I think "Living With AIDS" was one of the, was a song that was born out of a difficult time, that didn't trivialize the time, and didn't trivialize my own personal experience, and wasn't written for the wrong reasons. People were asking us, why haven't you written a song about AIDS? And frankly, just to write it because it's the hot topic didn't make sense, never have, never would to Ron and I. Again, you know, you can't force a song.
Romanovsky & Phillips - Living With AIDS (1988)
"Living With AIDS" by Romanovsky & Phillps from their "Emotional Rollercoaster" album from 1988. And not only were we as a culture living with AIDS, we were also in the words of Michael Callen, "Living in Wartime"
Flirtations - Living in Wartime (1992)
That was "Living in Wartime" from 1992. It appeared on the album "The Flirtations Live, Out on the Road," but was also on the 1988 solo album by Michael Callen, "Purple Heart." Now, I'm not shy about saying that Michael Callen was one of my favorite gay artists. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1982 and it's hard to believe he accomplished so much in the eleven years until his death in 1993, at age 38. He became a leading AIDS activist, and was one of the founders of the People With Aids Coalition, and through all his writing and speaking, he remained devoted to his music. He released his first album, "Purple Heart," in 1988, and that same year The Flirtations were formed. The group toured nationally and released two albums and appeared in the movie "Philadelphia."
Now many of you have heard him sing, but probably very few have heard him talk. I never had the pleasure of seeing him in person but I do have a recording of a speech he made before the National Conference on AIDS in 1988. I have the whole hour speech on my site for you to hear, but I'm using just a snippet from the beginning and end to introduce his version of the song "They Are Falling All Around Us."
Callen - excerpt from speech at National Conference on AIDS (1988)
Helping Michael out on that track was Holly Near and Cris Williamson, and it comes from a wonderful album called "Legacy," released after Michael's death. I consider it an essential album for any queer collection.
Many major artists have written or performed songs about AIDS, mostly for fundraising efforts, although some of these were a little lyrically vague about the connection, like this one.
Dionne Warwick & Friends - That's What Friends Are For (1985)
Of course that was just a bit of "That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder, which raised millions, with the proceeds going to AMFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Another successful effort was by the Red Hot Organization. They released a series of compilations through the 1990's, and while almost all of the songs had nothing to do with AIDS this track from their first release in 1990 was right on target.
Neneh Cherry - I've Got You Under My Skin (1990)
That was Neneh Cherry, from the 1990 benefit compilation "Red Hot + Blue, a Tribute to Cole Porter." On that album artists mostly just did cover versions of Porter's songs but Cherry definitely added AIDS politics to the mix.
Another 1990 release was a benefit album with several songs lyrically focused on the subject. It was called "Feeding the Flame: Songs by Men to End AIDS." And the men in question were a mix of gay and straight, mostly folk oriented and including a number of artists I quite like, like Peter Alsop. His song shows a very understanding straight viewpoint and an educational one as well.
Peter Alsop - Gotta Lotta Livin' to Do (1990)
Peter Alsop and "Gotta Lotta Livin' to Do" from "Feeding the Flame."
And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. And you can hear much more of my Songs About AIDS special there, totalling over three hours. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
Another fundraising event for AIDS was a tour called Heartstrings, and one of the most moving songs from that show was "Jonathan Wesley Oliver Jr." It's probably the best song about the Names Quilt and while it's been recorded many times, I prefer the original, by Lee Lessack.
Lee Lessack - Jonathan Wesley Oliver Jr (1995)
That track appeared on the various artists album "Love Worth Fighting For," which I consider one of the very best GLBT compilations. Also from that album comes a beautiful song by Janis Ian and here's some comments from her about it.
Janis Ian - comments (2001)
Well, I got involved in AIDS work back in '82, '83, before it had a name, and have done a lot of the first benefits, you know, the first pediatric benefit, the first one in New York, the first one in Nashville. It really disturbed me when I was writing that song how many people were using religion as an excuse for hatred, and saying things like "it's God's punishment on gay men." You know if that was true really then lesbians, who are the safest risk group really should have been punished as well. I can't imagine that God would hate gay men more than gay women. So it became an important song to me and I like the idea that when we see angels, you know, they're always depicted as these kind of happy figures...you put it on your lapel, and you feel a little protected. To me, to be that close to God would mean that you really saw into the hearts of men and I think there would be a lot of tears involved.
Janis Ian and "When Angels Cry." Another song I find quite interesting is by Gregory Gray. It's called "Three Minute Requiem" and is from his 1995 album with the amusing title "Euroflake in Silverlake."
Gregory Gray - Three Minute Requiem (1995)
Up next I'm going to pay tribute to a hit musical that had the theme of AIDS running all through it, and it was called "Rent." But I'm adding to its title song a parody of it, from the movie "Team America: World Police." It was from 2005 and the movie included a parody musical called "Lease." Rent, lease, get it? Here goes.
- Rent (1996)
Whew! "Everyone Has AIDS" from "Team America."
I've got time for two more songs and again I had such a difficult time narrowing down what could fit into a one hour show. There are so many aspects of the AIDS crisis I wanted to cover, the emotional areas of grief, anger, sympathy, and more political and social approaches. I didn't get the chance to include the contributions found in additional musicals, movies and by gay & lesbian choruses, and I even have some songs with humorous angles to them. Alas, you'll have to go to my website for the continuation of the show for all of that.
I'm squeezing into this show a song I quite admire by an artist friend of mine, Jay Spears. I like that it broaches an area that is very real but one I had not yet heard illustrated, that of dating someone who is HIV positive.
Jay Spears - Positive (2002)
Jay Spears and his song "Positive," from his 2002 album "Boy Howdy."
I'm down to the last song, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and you can hear this show anytime, along with seeing photos of the artists and recordings, at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and don't forget to come back on the fourth Monday of next month for my Queer Xmas Show.
For the last song of this show I'm going to Dan Martin, one of the founders of the OUTmusic organization and whose talents I much respect. There were several songs I could have selected by him, but I picked one also found on the album "Love Worth Fighting For." He wrote the song with his partner Michael Biello, and for that compilation he got a gospel choir from Washington DC to join in. They are called Lavender Light, and when I interviewed Dan in 2002 he gave me these comments about the song.
Dan Martin comments (2002)
"Lay Your Burden Down" was written in the beginning of the AIDS crisis, at least in Michael's and my awareness. And it was really a search to express all of this pain, and do it in way that's hopeful. There was a real need from both of us to express something, create some kind of an anthem that was very positive. We were both going through kind of emotional healing places dealing with healing from people we had lost, and a time of life that seemed to be disappearing. And at the time we were also kind of hanging out and listening, hanging out with and listening to, Lavender Light, the gay and lesbian gospel group. And I think that wanting to do something that captured the spirit that we heard from them of a gospel feeling, was part of what was going on there also.
Here is Dan Martin, with the Lavender Light Gay & Lesbian Gospel Choir, singing "Lay Your Burden Down"
Dan Martin & Lavender Light Gay & Lesbian Choir - Lay Your Burden Down (1995)
Geof Morgan - High Risk (1987)
Welcome to Part 2 of Queer Music Heritage and my special show on Songs About AIDS. That first track was by Geof Morgan and is called "High Risk." It's from his 1987 album "Talk It Over." And you're right, you're not going to hear a lot of cheery songs on this show. But you already know that the artists moved to share their feelings about AIDS did so out of a serious and somber need to communicate. This next artist was one of the pioneering lesbian comedians of our culture, whose albums were normally filled with fun and clever lyrics. She's Lynn Lavner and she was moved in 1986 to write a song called "Such Fine Young Men." She told me about it during an interview in 2003.
Lynn Lavner comments (2003)
I think the song that has moved people the most is "Such Fine Young Men," which was I believe is the first song ever recorded on the subject of AIDS by any woman, straight or gay. And was a response of mine at the time to some early criticism of the people with the virus: you know, if they hadn't been this, that and the other terrible thing, well, they wouldn't have caught this. And it just made me so angry that I wanted to personalize it, so I sang about three friends who had died of it. [Yeah, that's a beautiful song] And I think that because that means so much to me maybe it was conveyed to the audience, and I think it struck a chord as we all suffered so terribly, directly or indirectly with the spread of the epidemic.
Lynn Lavner - Such Fine Young Men (1986)
Lynn Lavner, from her 1986 album "I'd Rather Be Cute." I wished I could have included that song on Part 1 of my show, but the lyrics would have required editing for broadcast radio and I just couldn't bring myself to tamper with them. It was the same for this next song. It comes from Steve Schalchlin's musical "The Last Sessions," and is about going to an AIDS support group. This version is not from the soundtrack as I wanted you to hear Steve's own interpretation of it. The song is called "The Group."
Steve Schalchlin - The Group (2000)
Steve Schalchlin and "The Group." Tom Wilson Weinberg has written many fine musicals that were full of politics and comments on society. In 1987 the musical "Ten Percent Revue" contained the spoken word and song piece "High Risk for Afraids."
Ten Percent Revue - High Risk for Afraids (1987)
I had the privilege of interviewing one of my heroes, Tom Robinson, in 2004, and I asked him to tell me about the inspiration for his song "Blood Brother."
Tom Robinson comments (2004)
When you write songs, most writers I know have a little black notebook, well, it could be any color, that they put fragments of ideas in, as they occur to them. The fragment that started "Blood Brother" was "walking with your brother, your sister, your mother, so well behaved," which didn't sound like anything, but it was a vision of a teenaged boy, who's just got like a bit too old to be dragged along by his mother on a shopping expedition, and kind of imprisoned by being told by his mother he's got to go down into town on a shopping expedition. And that was all contained in this idea of being so well-behaved, but the inner life is at total odds with the outer life, and this kind of outwardly conformist idea for this teenaged kid. So, I started trying to work out what this was, how this could be a song, what was this about. It didn't sound like a line from a song. As I started writing this whole story poured out, again just in prose over ten pages or something, about this boy. I just wrote down everything about him I could think of. He was red haired, that he was freckled, lived on a farm with his family, he was the youngest kid and again it didn't sound much like a song but I ended up with a whole story and then I managed to condense that into something I could sing. But there was much more detail in the original story then made it to the final song, but there are resonances of the original story in the song
The song's an award winner.
The song eventually won a award, because at the end of the first draft it came to the line "open your eyes, here I am, I'm your blood brother." And suddenly I realized that wasn't the end of the song, that was the actual hook of the song and it gradually emerged that this was not a song about teenagers growing up. This was a song about bisexuality and a song more specifically about the specter of AIDS, and it's all very understated, although much clearer in the original story, and I think the resonances make it work. And again it's a song that means a lot to me personally.
Tom Robinson - Blood Brother (1990)
"Blood Brother" came from Tom Robinson's 1990 album "We Never Had It So Good." Here's another song where the AIDS references are subtle. In 1997 Australian artist David Campbell recorded a beautiful version of Tom Andersen's song "Yard Sale."
Campbell - Yard Sale (1997)
Following David Campbell was Kim Criswell, and a touching song from the musical "Elegies," from 1993. Up next is a country artist followed by an alt-country artist. First is Doug Stevens, one of our pioneers and he's an artist who did much to bring queer country music out of the closet. His song "HIV Blues" spoke directly about someone leaving their lover because one of them tested positive. It happened to Doug.
Doug Stevens comments (2005)
My partner at the time, he was my second partner this was in the late 80s, he and I both got tested for HIV, and he was negative and I was positive, and he left me because of it, and I went into a depression, and this was actually 1990, so there really wasn't a lot of hope for people with HIV back then. And, I got really depressed
Doug Stevens & the Outband - HIV Blues (1993)
"HIV Blues" is from 1993 and came from Doug's landmark album "Out in the Country." About the same time alt-country artist Mary Gauthier released her debut album "Dixie Kitchen" and her AIDS song is called "Goddamn HIV."
Mary Gauthier comments (2005)
I wrote that song. It was one of the first songs I've written. It's about a friend of mine. It's sort of a composite about several friends of mine who died of AIDS. One of my best buddies in Baton Rouge got sick. He was the first person that we all knew that had the virus, and it was '84, '85, something like that. And he's in there; trying to remember what he went through I wrote that, and then there were other friends who were sick but hadn't died yet, and they're in there. And I tried to write it, I tried to you know, it was before the movie "Philadelphia" but I was still thinking, how would Bruce Springsteen do this, and how would Woody Guthrie do this, how would the write this song, and that's who I was trying to channel when I wrote that. And so my thoughts were to write it in first person, like I'm the guy and you just have him walking on the train tracks at the end of the song, into the darkness
Mary Gauthier - Goddamn HIV (1992)
I've got two more country artists, this time straight ones, and the first is Rodney Crowell, and his album from 2001, "The Houston Kid," is excellent. It contained two songs that lyrically dealt with gay issues, and I'm sharing with you "Wandering Boy."
Crowell - Wandering Boy (2001)
Of course following Rodney Crowell was Reba McEntire and given the mentality of Nashville I think she was brave to record that song in 1994. It was called "She Thinks His Name Was John."
There's more to come, but I'm closing the second part of this show with Michael Callen. He had so many wonderful songs and this one is very fitting. He wrote it with Marsha Malamet and the lead vocals were recorded in 1986, but not released until after his death, on the "Legacy" album. Here's "The Healing Power of Love."
Michael Callen - The Healing Power of Love (1996)
Starting off Part 3 of the Queer Music Heritage Songs About AIDS special are the Kinsey Sicks.
Kinsey Sicks - AZT (1997)
From their 1997 debut album "Dragapella" and borrowing heavily from the Jackson Five comes the song "AZT." And from there I go to the duo Billie & Patti with their beautiful song "Until There Is a Cure."
Billie & Patti - Until There Is a Cure (2003)
From Billie & Patti, from their 2003 album "Love and Other Four Letter Words." And another song right on target is from 2000 by Mark & Dean. From their album "Man of My Dreams" comes the song "Is It Over Yet?"
Mark & Dean - Is It Over Yet? (2000)
Regular listeners know I love to bring out obscurities and this song has got to be the winner in that category for this month's show. It was released in 1990 by Andrew Mellen and only came out on a cassette single. The title uses just letters and the plus sign. Here's "R U +"
Mellen - RU+ (1990)
As Andrew Mellen's song "RU+" was an angry song, I brought back Doug Stevens to remind us about the civil disobediance and direct action group Act Up. The letters stood for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. And Doug's song "Act Up" was from his "Out in the Country" album.
You know, there were quite a number of punk songs that dealt with AIDS, and an excellent example is by Chicago artist Scott Free. His 1997 song "AIDS Dementia" let's you know where it stands.
Scott Free - AIDS Dementia (1997)
From his album "Getting Off" that was Scott Free. And one of the oddest songs on this show is by Dan Bern.
Bern - Cure for AIDS (1998)
Dan Bern's song "Cure for AIDS" was from his 1998 album "Fifty Eggs." And of course following Dan was Bruce Springsteen, with "Streets of Philadelphia." And the movie "Philadelphia" brought lots of attention to the crisis. I would never have thought I'd be playing Bruce Springsteen on Queer Music Heritage, but then this is a special show. It allows me to include a group with the interesting name of Down Low. Now, this term has come to signify mostly black men who have sex with other men without necessarily identifying as "gay" in the traditional sense. They become exposed to HIV and then bring it home to their wives and girlfriends, and of couse HIV should not be kept in the closet. In 1998 the duo Down Low produced a striking song with a powerful message, speaking in the first person as the virus itself.
Down Low - HIV (1998)
The song "HIV" by Down Low.
One of my favorite artists is Mark Weigle. Every album he puts out is just excellent, and he's had a number of songs dealing with AIDS. I'm going to share with you two of them, starting off with his first album, "The Truth Is," and the song "If It Wasn't Love"
Weigle - If It Wasn't Love (1998)
That last song, called "I Remember" came from Mark's 2002 album "Out of the Loop."
Keith Christopher was an actor, singer and activist who died in 1998. His only album, "Naked Truth," was completed after his death. He was a friend of Michael Callen's and in 1987 Michael asked him to sing backups for him at the March on Washington. It was there that Keith first saw the Names Project Memorial Quilt, and that experience led to his song "Pieces of Lives.'
Christopher - Piece of Lives (1998)
After Keith Christopher's "Pieces of Lives" you heard another Names Quilt related song, "Common Threads," by Austin artist Kirt Kempter, from 1996. I love this next song. It's by the Williams Brothers, who happen to be the nephews of Andy Williams. From their 1993 album "Harmony Hotel" is the beautiful song "Don't Look Now."
Williams Brothers - Don't Look Now (1993)
Again, "Don't Look Now" by the Williams Brothers. And I can't overlook the contributions of gay choruses over the years. One that stands out is Positive Voices, formed in 1994 as a musical outlet for HIV+ people and at the same time making music of hope and faith. They released two albums under the umbrella of the MCC Church in Dallas. I'm using a track from their 1997 album "Until It's Over" to close out this special on Songs About AIDS. Researching this music was quite a project and there were so many other wonderful songs I wish I could have included. I literally had a stack of CDs a foot high with other songs I was considering, but three plus hours will have to do. This is JD Doyle and I thank you for listening to Queer Music Heritage. From the chorus Positive Voices is their song "Greater Than AIDS."
Positive Voices - Greater Than AIDS (1997)
Jackson Myars (center) was the founder and director of Positive Voices, a choir of HIV-positive men associated with The Cathedral of Hope, Metropolitan Community Church in Dallas, Texas. The ensemble toured in the Southwest, made two CD recordings and received a nomination for a 1997 GLAMA (Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards) in the choral music category. Jackson Myars died of AIDS in Dallas at the age of 38 on May 28, 2002.