I can only assume that Pietro Boselli is getting career advice from an older homosexual. Which makes me very jealous.
He may be a sporno star, but Pietro is far too young and far too cherubic to know who Jeff Stryker is, or the ridiculously butch way he used to talk on the classic gay porn videos he made in the1980s when testing the gag reflex and nose-breathing techniques of his on-screen colleagues.
Though Pietro’s obviously coached attempt to copy Jeff’s sleazy delivery is very sweet.
Either way the career advice Pietro’s getting seems designed to drive middle-aged homos like me into a tizzy.
All I can say is: it’s working.
But I’m hoping that Pietro isn’t actually hung like Jeff. I’d prefer to think the Bona of Verona has a neo-classically-sized – i.e. tastefully tiny – uncircumcised penis, instead of a cut cock the size of lubed dolphin.
“The Smiths are sooooooo depressing!” said every naff twat you knew in the Eighties – which was millions upon millions. But, annoying as it was, every time you heard that lazy dismissal it confirmed something deeply, almost sexually satisfying: that most people simply didn’t deserve to be Smiths fans.”
I wrote an essay for Rolling Stone celebrating the 30th anniversary of the demise of The Smiths, explaining why we’re really lucky that they split in 1987.
New Millenium George Michael refused to "go quietly" and "make it easy on himself." He was not what you might call a "good gay."
Mark Simpson on how George Michael was the missing, subversive gay link between Bowie and Beckham
(Rolling Stone, 28/12/2016)
Back in the early 1980s, I was one of those annoying ‘alternative’ teens who, when pressed, would admit they quite liked ‘Wham Rap!’, which extolled the freedoms of unemployment (‘I’m a soul boy! – I’m a dole boy!’), and acknowledged he was ‘really talented’, but essentially dismissed George Michael as ‘too commercial’. Which in the inverted snobbery of the era essentially meant ‘uncool’.
And also – you may find this rather difficult to believe – ‘too straight’.
Thanks to the massive influence of 1970s Bowie (who also checked out this year), the early 80s UK pop scene was queerer than Weimar Berlin on poppers. It was chock full of fabulously ‘freaky’ stars like Pete Burns of Dead or Alive (another victim of 2016), Boy George of Culture Club and Marc Almond of Soft Cell. None of them were particularly out at the time, but then, looking the way they did they probably didn’t need to be.
By dazzling-teethed contrast, the disco-dancing, bird-pulling, Mr Good Time persona Mr Michael presented – but which seems to have been based largely on his Wham partner Andrew Ridgeley – looked almost heterosexual.
Almost. OK, the leather jackets, the naked boy-flesh and the blow-dried hair appears très camp to us now, but that wasn’t necessarily the case at the time. George was officially very much for the ladies and the ladies were even more for him. But also, as his success grew, ‘loadsa’ straight boys wanted to be him.
After all, his (white) soul boy image was a tweaked, glammed-up, sexed-up, slightly Princess Di version of what many wedge-sporting, Lacoste-wearing working class London and Essex lads were styling themselves at the time. And he was mega rich and famous and getting his leg over.
In one of those peculiar postmodern ironies that made masculinity what it is today – flamingly metrosexual – George Michael’s ‘closetedness’ for two decades of pop stardom meant that straight women ended up expecting rather more from straight boys and straight boys ended up copying a gay version of themselves.
Michael’s multiplied image helped make ordinary male heterosexuality visually tartier, while his amplified lyrics helped make it more available emotionally. A straight female friend of mine told me that every single boyfriend she dumped in the 1980s sent her lyrics from ‘A Different Corner’.
George Michael was the missing, subversive – and actually gay – link between David Bowie and that other London pretty boy, David Beckham.
Even when a now-solo Michael ‘butched up’ for the rather more ‘traditionally-minded’ American market with his smash hit 1987 album Faith, the effect was… ambiguous. More so arguably, than the twinkiness of Wham! In the famous promo for the title single, he is wearing jeans, boots, a leather jacket and sunglasses in what looks like a homage to the previous year’s Hollywood fly boys hit Top Gun. But with a large crucifix earring and designer stubble (this accessorization of facial hair is something else ‘gay’ he helped popularise.)
He’s next to a 1950s jukebox like the one in the Top Gun bar, wiggling his butt apparently trying to invent twerking, while the camera zooms in on it relentlessly (the word ‘REVENGE’ hovering above on his leather jacket). Perhaps waiting for Maverick – or maybe Iceman.
This might sound like the wisdom of hindsight, but some contemporary gay boys were picking up the queer vibrations. An American gay male friend who was living on a military base at the time remarked: “He was the first teen idol that felt “gay” to me even though he was always with sexy women in his videos. I didn’t even know what the gay clone look was, but he was sort of replicating it. The earring also seemed a signal – my dad said fags wore those, especially in the left ear.”
George’s phenomenal success in the US and the subconscious ‘down low’ queer signals he was broadcasting in plain sight came, remember, at the height of the Aids crisis and the foam-flecked reactionary backlash in the late 80s against ‘Satanic’ and ‘sick’ homosexuality.
Perhaps it was because of how he’d helped redefine heterosexuality for a generation, when he finally came out in 1998, toilet paper stuck to his shoe, a surprising number of straight people were still shocked – despite having been fairly explicit about his orientation in the lyrics and dedications of his songs for most of that decade.
Though of course there is another piquant irony to be had in the fact that this man whose career had originally been based on ‘masquerading’ as a heterosexual was finally outed in a public restroom by a plainclothes Beverly Hills Police Dept officer who (George claims) was masquerading as a gay man.
However, the way George handled that incident was so defiant and assured that he completely turned the tables on not just the Beverly Hills PD and the tabloid press, but also homophobia itself. He immediately told the world he was gay and refused to display any shame.
Instead, he released ‘Outside’, a jaunty single extolling the pleasures of outdoor sex for everyone, regardless of sexuality – along with a video that featured cross and same sex couples getting it on in hidden away outdoor places, while being recorded by a police helicopter. George in gay cop gear disco dances in a public restroom where the glitter balls descend from the air vents and the urinals revolve. In many ways, this was the absolute zenith of pop music as propaganda for pleasure and against shame.
What George achieved with ‘Outside’ was certainly than historic. That original pop star Oscar Wilde had been convicted of Gross Indecency a hundred years earlier and been completely destroyed by it. George had turned his own ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’ into an all-singing, all-dancing commercial and cultural triumph.
Now that he was out, New Millennium George still refused to ‘go quietly’ and ‘make it easy on himself’. He was not what you might call a ‘good gay’. He had a long term partner but was frank about the fact that their relationship was an open one – when most gay celebrity couples maintained a veneer of monogamous respectability.
He remained true to the dream (and nightmare) of masculine freedom that male homosexuality can symbolise. For all his faults and increasing foolishness, he refused to become that most absurd of things a ‘role model’. He insisted that he remained a sexual being – unlike most other celeb UK gays in the Noughties. ‘Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable,’ he told the Guardian in 2005. ‘And automatically my response to that is to say I’m a dirty filthy fucker and if you can’t deal with it, you can’t deal with it.’
The tabloids thought they knew how to ‘deal’ with it. In 2006 they sent a flash photographer to follow him to the famous gay cruising area of Hampstead Heath, a large park in north London – at 2am – and plaster the results all over the front page, along with oodles of hypocritical concern about his ‘sick’ and ‘sordid’ behaviour and warnings/incitements that he ‘could get his throat cut’.
His reported response to the photographer when ‘snapped’ was, however, pitch perfect: “Are you gay? No? Well fuck off then!”
Sexual jealousy of course was at the root of it all. The scandalously free availability of ‘no-strings’ sex is an aspect of the gay and bi male world that many straight men tend to be very interested in, one way or another – and had been at the root of much of the tabloid attacks on gay men at the height of the Aids panic. Gay men ‘deserved’ Aids because of their ‘unnatural’ sex lives and their promiscuity. For having, in other words, too much fun.
One famous tabloid editor and columnist from that era worked himself into a violent lather of indignation: ‘I can’t stand George Michael and every time he tries to laugh off another vile gay sex exploit I dislike him a little more… I’d like to give him a good kick in the balls. Unfortunately, he’d probably enjoy it.’
But these bitter voices were already beginning to recede into the past – thanks in part to the changes that Mr Michael had helped bring about by being the kind of ‘commercial’ pop star I disdained in my teens. And of course, nowadays straight people have Tinder. While in the UK at least, straight(ish) ‘dogging’ has pretty much replaced gay ‘cruising’.
His continued, unapologetic – ahem – pride in his not always exactly wise life-choices remains invigoratingly rare in an age of safe sleb spin and public apologies as grovelling as they are empty.
‘I don’t want any children; I don’t want responsibility,’ he told Time Out matter-of-factly in 2007. ‘I am gay, I smoke weed and I do exactly what I want in my life because of my talent’.
Michael’s earlier secrecy about his sexuality was criticised by many – including gay pop stars who didn’t come out until after their careers were effectively over. Perhaps he could, as some have insisted, combatted the transatlantic anti-gay tide by coming out in the 80s or early 90s. Or perhaps his career would merely have been ended, and with it much of his influence.
Whatever his reasons for staying in so long, and whatever the long term effects on his happiness, being ‘openly closeted’ for so long seems to have been key to not only making Michael a commercially-successful artist but also a surprisingly subversive one.
And perhaps it also lay behind his determination, once out, not to go back into the biggest closet of all. Respectability.
30-years ago today, the stars of Top Gun were taxiing the red carpet at the premiere in New York. The film, which features Tom Cruise’s ‘Maverick’ and Val Kilmer’s ‘Iceman’ wrestling in the air for Alpha male supremacy, was abou t to ‘go ballistic’ and smash multiple box office records. In doing so, the Tony Scott piloted blockbuster would make A-listers out of its two preening male stars, and become perhaps the definitive 80s film.
But it has also become a shared joke these days. The subject of Saturday Night Live skits and a host of YouTube parodies.
Though it really doesn’t need much parodying. Or editing. There’s a plot which sees Tom Cruise as ‘Maverick’ and Val Kilmer as ‘Iceman’ wrestling in the air for ‘top’ – with Kelly McGillis trying, vainly, to come between them.
Then there’s those lingering locker-room scenes, in which the sweaty jocks stand around wearing only towels and perfectly gelled hair, apparently waiting for the cheesy porno muzak to start.
And that ‘ambiguous’ dialogue: ‘Giving me a hard-on!’ whispers one flyboy to another, watching videos of dogfights. ‘Don’t tease me!’ replies his buddy. ‘I want butts! Give me butts!’ shouts an angry air traffic control officer. And the final reel consummation between Iceman and Maverick on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean, cheered on by the entire crew, after all that playing hard to get: ‘You can be my wingman any time!’ ‘Bullshit, you can be mine!’
And of course, the immortal volleyball scene, in which oiled guys in jean-shorts and shades flex and strut and jump to the sounds of ‘Playing with the Boys’.
All this plus Tom Cruise at his prettiest and poutiest, in leathers and on a motorbike. When not in his underwear.
So it’s difficult to believe it now, but when Top Gun was released in 1986, the vast majority of the people who flocked to see it did not think it ‘gay’. At all. They would likely have dropped their popcorn at the suggestion – and the movie wouldn’t have taken $177M internationally, making it one of the most successful movies of the decade. Instead Top Gun was seen as the story of airborne, aspirational male heterosexual virility. Nice-looking, worked-out male heterosexual virility.
Even nearly a decade on in 1994 when I wrote about the outrageous homoerotics of Top Gun in my book ‘Male Impersonators’, plenty of people still weren’t prepared to have Top Gun’s heterosexuality impugned. Later the same year the director Quentin Tarantino made a controversial cameo appearance in the movie ‘Sleep With Me’, arguing that Top Gun was about a gay man struggling with his homosexuality.
The journalist Toby Young, a Tarantino fanboy, was moved to write an essay in the Sunday Times defending his favourite movie’s heterosexuality from Simpson and Tarantino’s filthy calumnies. As I recall, his ‘clinching’ argument was that Top Gun couldn’t be a gay movie because he’d watched it twenty times – and he’s straight.
And in a queer way, he was right. Top Gun isn’t of course a gay movie. But it’s flagrantly not a very straight one either. Whatever the intentions of its makers, it’s basically ‘bi’ on afterburners. And this seems to be widely accepted now.
So how did attitudes towards Top Gun change so much? How did it’s virile heterosexuality so spectacularly ‘crash and burn’?
Well, partly because everyone is so much more knowing these days, or at least keen to seen to be. And we have tell-tale YouTube to collect all those ‘incriminating’ clips. It’s why we talk about ‘bromance’ now – instead of ‘innocent’ buddy movies. And partly it’s because Top Gun has come to be seen as the quintessential 80s movie – and the 80s are now seen as culturally ‘gay’. Or camp.
For instance, despite his apparently entirely heterosexual personal life, Simon Cowell is seen as screamingly ‘gay’ – culturally. And his whole personal style, the hair, the white t-shirts, the leather jackets, the Ray Bans is Top Gun. (Even his business model is Top Gun – the karaoke, and the struggle to ‘be the best’.)
All that said, the erotic ambiguity of Top Gun – which is what really powers it – is in the spectacular collision between the mostly sublimated homoerotics of traditional Hollywood war and buddy movies with the glossy ‘gayness’ and emergent male vanity and individualism of 1980s advertising. It’s somehow both innocent and explicit all at once. A proto-metro war movie.
In 1985, the year before TG was released, a new UK TV ad campaign for tired jeans brand Levis featuring Nick Kamen stripping in a launderette had caused a sensation – sending Levis sales into the stratosphere. Like Top Gun, the ad was set in a mythical 1940s, but with a 1950s soundtrack. Although we’re all familiar with it now, jaded even, back then the male body was just beginning to be sold to the mainstream – very often taking its cues from gay porn, because that was really the only reference point for the sexualized male body.
The late Tony Scott, like his older brother Ridley, had learned his craft in the UK ad business – and their father was a career soldier. Hence the glamorous, fetishizing presentation of the young men in the movie, alongside the more traditional homoerotic-homosocial banter that we now find so hilarious. Those infamous locker-room scenes were the Launderette ad all over again – only gayer.
What TG succeeded in doing was making the then new, consumerist, non-traditional male vanity of the 1980s look traditional and patriotic – and the military an attractive, sexy proposition for a new generation of young men with different expectations to their fathers’. Hence the loan to the film-makers by the USN of the USS Enterprise. (Reportedly USN recruiting went through the roof after the film’s release.)
After all, some years earlier the USN had loaned The Village People a destroyer to record the promo of their single ‘In The Navy’. Back then, most people who bought their records didn’t think The Village People were gay either. They just thought them fun archetypes of hetero American machismo.
As the 80s boy racer dreamboat the Peugeot 205 GTI turns 30 Mark Simpson remembers stroking its stick-shift
In the world of car porn there is no other conjugation that raises the punter’s pulse more than that one – evoking as it does fuel injection, tight handling, firm suspension, snug interiors and accommodating rears.
And amongst hot hatches, the Peugeot 205 GTI is the ultimate car porn star. This year the French stunner, launched back in 1984, when the miners were on strike and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were in the charts, turned an ancient and decrepit 30, but is still widely regarded as the hottest hatchback ever.
It’s certainly my favourite car ever. I owned one in the early 90s, round about the time they stopped production in 1994, and I still dream moistly about it in a way I don’t about, say, my old Golf Mk 1 GTI, even though I suspect the Golf was a rather better made car.
I had a 1.9, 205, introduced a couple of years after the 1.6. It simply had to be a 1.9. Not because it had a few more HP than the 1.6 (126 compared to 105), or because it did 0-60 in 8 seconds (instead of 8.7), or because it had disc brakes all round instead of just at the front. And certainly not because it had more torque. But because of that ‘9’ on the badge. Who wants an average 6 when you can have a whopping 9? Especially when you’re still in your twenties, as I was at the time.
Apart from the badge, there were other key visual signifiers of your ownership of more cubic centimetres: the alloy wheels were fatter, and you had sexy half leather seats, vs cloth. I became practised at spotting these giveaways from a distance, before I could get a good look at the badge on the side. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Peugeot 205 size queen, constantly dismissing 1.6ers as unworthy of my interest.
In fact, being so lightweight – or what safety engineers now would call ‘horrifyingly flimsy’ – either 205 GTI was a joy to drive, even though neither had power steering (drivers back then were expected to have shoulders when it came to parking). It would take bends with an alacrity and eagerness that was positively arousing. Admittedly the pedals were rather too close together, particularly if you had size ‘9’ feet – but you just had to be careful to operate them delicately with pointy toes.
It was a great car for belting around a city like London before ‘traffic calming’ measures were introduced, speed humps installed every few feet, and rat-runs closed off, turning London’s roads into railways for cars. In addition to being great for engaging the ‘safety power’ and nipping around ‘obstructions’, the 205 GTI would leave most cars standing at the lights, watching your sexy arse disappear into the distance.
It was remarkably practical too. Despite the fact that from the outside it looked like the proverbial rocket-powered roller-skate, a road-legal single-seater with the driver crouched over the sports steering wheel, head almost sticking out of the sliding sun roof, inside it was surprisingly spacious. People with legs could even sit in the back. If you owned a Peugeot GTI you could actually have friends, or a family.
If, that is, you had any time for anything that didn’t involve zooming around with a big stupid grin on your face.
But if I’m honest none of these were the real reasons I possessed one. It was the 205 GTi’s scorching looks that bowled me over. It was a very, very sexy piece of 1980s styling – quite possibly the definitive one. A kind of supermini American Gigolo with black and red bumper car trim. The wheels were exactly where they should be, in the corners, and it had a very sexual shapeliness to it. I even loved the two-tone plasticky interiors that everyone mocks now. (Though admittedly most of the plastic bits did break off.)
I had a red one, but I wanted a white one, and black one, and a blue one, and slate grey one as well. I thought they were all good enough to eat.
Scourge of The Eton Rifles Paul Weller was sending out quite a statement to his die hard Jam fans in this video for his 1983 Style Council single ‘Long Hot Summer’, shot on the River Cam in Cambridge. Acting the big posh pooftah in a punt.
Like almost everyone in the UK in the early 80s the young Modfather had fallen madly in love with the beautifully-shot 1981 ITV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – much like today’s Downton Abbey, but with believable, interesting aristos, a script, and an actual point.
Sometimes a pole is just a pole. But not this time.
Oh, and a seductive homoerotic storyline in which two young hetero men fall for one another surrounded by the Baroque splendour of Castle Howard, North Yorkshire. Charles Ryder’s long hot summer with the decadent Sebastian Flyte opened up a whole new realm of sensation for a generation emerging from the concrete rubble of 1970s Britain. Even for the son of a taxi driver and a cleaner from Woking like Weller.
I sometimes wonder, considering the bathetic comparison between Brideshead and Downton, and the general, glorious queerness of early 80s pop culture, whether the notion of ‘progress’ is just a illusion we cling to make the diminishing returns of life more bearable. (And by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’ of course.) Though much less technically sophisticated, Weller’s Brideshead tribute video ‘Long Hot Summer’ video knocks LMFAO’s ‘Sexy and I Know It’ into a banana hammock.
Rather wonderfully, wanking seems to be the focus of this promo, along with the attendant narcissism and homoeroticism of Paul’s display of topless, oiled-up self-pleasuring for the camera – lying on his back for most of the video whilst his fully-clothed chum labours behind him. Thirty years on, and after all the slutty, spornographic advertising campaigns of the last decade, Paul’s petulant passivity in this video is still jaw-dropping.
Understandably, Style Council keyboardist Mick Talbot is driven to playing with his pole and gnawing passing willow trees in frustration. Fortunately for him relief is at hand – a little later pretty Paul allows himself to be spit-roasted in his punt by the drummer and the guitarist.
Whether lolling on his back, fingers travelling down his flat abdomen, or dancing barefoot, Weller’s whippet thin body reminds us of what British young men looked like before Ronald McDonald and Mens Health redesigned them.
Or maybe I’m just falling prey to the intoxicating nostalgia for a better, more golden time that permeated Brideshead.
In case anyone thinks the above reading was just the product of my overheated imagination, it seems there was a ‘hardcore’ version of the ‘Long Hot Summer’ homo promo – in which Mick and Paul lie on the picnic blanket with their heads together, fondling each other’s hair and ears.
This version was only aired once on Top of the Pops before the offending scene was cut, though it’s not clear whether it was because of pressure from the BBC or outraged blokey fans. Unfortunately I can’t find the original, uncut filth online. Does anyone have a copy?
Because the 80s is the decade that actually ended the 20th Century – the 90s was just an after-party clean-up operation – it’s also the decade that never came to an end itself. In fact, the 80s is the decade that just won’t die.
Economy in (‘Big Bang’) recession. Tories in power. Cuts on the table. Riots on the streets. Royal weddings on the telly. The Falklands becoming a fighting issue. And my mother complaining about Morrissey: ‘I see that chap you like so much has been in the papers again. Ridiculous man! And he still can’t sing!’
As Madonna might put it, it’s all a bit reductive.
In fact everyone has been enjoying moaning about Morrissey lately – just like the good old days. In case you somehow missed it, at a performance in Argentina last week, his band appeared in t-shirts printed with the charming message ‘WE HATE WILLIAM AND KATE’ (remember 80s protest t-shirts?).
Perhaps worried this might be overlooked back home, the former Smiths front-man also offered this bouquet to his Argentine fans about those bitterly contested, sparsely-populated rocks in the South Atlantic: ‘Everybody knows they belong to you’.
The Times, Mirror, Telegraph, Sun and Mail all dutifully denounced Morrissey’s big mouth. The Guardian for its part ran an earnest discussion between two music critics titled: ‘Is Morrissey a national treasure?’ (The answer seemed to be ‘yes – but a very naughty one.’)
Not bad for a 52-year-old crooner currently without a record contract. But then, just like that other 80s diva keen on hairspray and frilly-collared blouses, we’ll never entirely be rid of him.
The British experience of the 80s is forever dominated by two very difficult personalities. Both from the north, both unafraid to speak their mind, and both possessing a gender all of their own.
And while one was a working-class militant vegetarian anarchist Sandie Shaw fan with a flair for homoerotic imagery, and the other a bossy petit bourgeois social Darwinist and devotee of General Pinochet who famously outlawed the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, both of them were radicals on a revenge trip.
But if Margaret Thatcher owned the 80s, Steven Patrick Morrissey stole its youth. Or at least, the youth that didn’t want to be a part of Thatcher’s 80s. The Smiths were not just an‘alternative’ band: they were the alternative that Maggie said didn’t exist.
In fact, The Smiths were reviled by almost everyone at the time – Fleet Street, the BBC (they were effectively banned from daytime Radio 1), the record business (they were signed to a teeny-weeny Indie label), and indeed most of the record buying public (their singles struggled to even get into the top 20).
But they have become the heart of a decade that didn’t have one. They are now the band that everyone liked – two or three decades after the event.
Including, most famously, David Cameron, who used The Smiths and Morrissey as a Tory re-branding and detoxifying tool at least as important as those melting glaciers he went to gawp at. Declaring The Smiths his favourite group not long after gaining the leadership of the ‘Nasty Party’, he was even pictured, if memory serves me right, with a copy of Morrissey’s 2005 album Ringleader of the Tormentors on his desk.
But Morrissey, whatever you may think of him, isn’t a man to be assimilated lightly. Especially by a Chipping Norton Tory.
When, in 2010, his estranged former Smiths collaborator Johnny Marr tweeted that he ‘forbade’ David Cameron from liking the Smiths, animal rights activist Morrissey endorsed him, adding:
‘David Cameron hunts and shoots and kills stags – apparently for pleasure. It was not for such people that either Meat Is Murder or The Queen Is Dead were recorded; in fact, they were made as a reaction against such violence.’
No-one can be genuinely surprised that someone who called an album The Queen is Dead is fiercely anti-Royalist. No-one can be shocked that the man who sang ‘Irish Blood English Heart’ is no fan of the remnants of the British Empire. And let’s not forget his famous 1984 quip: ‘The sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Margaret Thatcher escaped unscathed’, or the track ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ for his 1988 album Viva Hate.
Unless, that is, they hoped that Morrissey had mellowed with age and become some sort of singing Stephen Fry with a quiff. Morrissey’s views haven’t changed. Morrissey hasn’t changed. He still hasn’t grown up. He’s still an adolescent curmudgeon, an otherworldly prophet from Stretford – he’s just older and thicker around the middle, and with a bit more cash to spend. He did, after all, promise us again and again that he wouldn’t change, couldn’t change.
It’s we, his fans, who have changed. If we’re embarrassed by his antics it may be because we’ve finally become the people we used to hate.
by Mark Simpson (Independent on Sunday, May 5, 2002)
Thanks largely to a new crowd-pleasing musical, the crowd-panicking Mr Bowery’s name is forever linked in the public mind with Taboo, the fin-de-siecle drugs, sex, and dressing-up club in Leicester Square he captained in the 1980s – the decade in which the 20th century and possibly Western civilisation actually ended. I however, will always associate him with a club called The Asylum, Heaven’s “alternative” night, where I often used to glimpse – in teenage terror – his enormous, corseted frame gliding and fluttering past like a hand-sewn battleship, Copydex-spattered head glowing under the UV light, lime-green nylon ruffs bouncing, black-lipsticked mouth pouting.
You see, just like most of the people who now claim they were there every week, I never went to Taboo. This was partly because I knew I’d get turned away as I didn’t wear astro-turf or cellophane, and partly because I knew that there was nothing I’d want to pull there. But mostly because I was scared. Like the majority of the punters at The Asylum, I was doing my best to look alternative and individual, but not at the cost of looking unshaggable. Like Mark Lamarr and Mark Kermode, I tried, vainly, to say it with a quiff.
One of the fascinating, frightening things about Mr Bowery on the other hand – in addition to the fact that you could fit three or four Matt Lucases inside him – was that he quite clearly didn’t give a f***. He was going to make you look at him and he didn’t care if the looks he got were admiring or just appalled. It simply wasn’t your call – he would take your looks how he wanted. Unlike most of us who hung around that nightclub back then thinking ourselves the bee’s knees, he really was, but he didn’t seem to be interested in what kept the customer satisfied – something which made his famous week’s “residence” in a Tokyo department store window in 1988 even funnier.
The 1980s, you may remember, was the decade of the High Street when we were constantly being told by our prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, that there was “no alternative” – although, confusingly, every club had an “alternative” night. Nowadays of course “alternative” is just a TV/TS internet chatroom, and whatever post- punk aesthetic energies it represented have been assimilated by fashion and magazine culture – but back then it could stand for a sincere and reckless rejection of normality and mainstream values, or at least a kind of decadence on the dole.
Leigh Bowery was one of the last and the most gorgeously talented decadents. He was born in 1961 in a town in Australia called Sunshine (no, really, it’s actually called that.) After leaving school he studied Fashion Design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology for a year. He then ran away to London where he became part of the Blitz scene and, inevitably, appeared in David Bowie’s kooky ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video. Unlike many of the other “alternative” weirdos he appeared alongside, however, this was not the apogee of his career. He was the subject of his own 30-minute documentary in 1985, worked with Michael Clark at the height of his powers and posed for Lucian Freud. He also pursued a performance art career that should have drawn a line under performance art, famously “giving birth” with lashings of offal, or having an enema on stage and spraying lucky audience members with the results.
However, as these astonishing pictures collected in Leigh Bowery Lookstaken by the photographer Fergus Greer between 1988 and 1994, the year of Bowery’s early but perhaps timely death, testify, this Australian bugger was witty and playful in a way which you had forgotten could be so intense, sharp and alarming. Since the 1980s “wittiness” and “playfulness” have been employed to sell all sorts of banal and toothless things to us… including rubbish musicals about the 1980s. Bowery was more than performance art – some of his best work is better than much of contemporary art. He managed to combine conceptual art with a sense of humour (something that most “real” conceptual art, with more than one eye on the collector’s chequebook, cannot afford). His work was also truly and vividly ephemeral in a way that conceptual art these days increasingly goes out of its way merely to simulate. Oddly, for all its alleged unpopularity and difficulty, modern art is now sitting behind the department store window – but without the irony.
Bowery employs surreal spotted patterns and bizarre sartorial geometry, such as lacey spherical ruffs where his head should be, and asymmetrical clothing to break up the shape, form and outline of what we take to be human, rendering the familiar unfamiliar again – forcing you to realise how little you know the human body, and perhaps how little you want to. There’s a genuine queerness to these pictures, in the meaning of the word which obtained before the 1990s spoilt it. Bowery was an original “in-betweeny” – awkwardly positioning himself between fibre and skin, convention and improvisation, art and craft, male and female, humanity and commodity.
He even turns his own ample flesh into a kind of fabric, marshalling it with corsets and leggings that leave you wondering what’s surface and what’s structure, what’s inside and what’s out. As you might expect in a lad who liked dressing up, there’s more than a hint of a parody of monstrous femininity in his work: fake vaginas appear regularly. But with those pouting lips (on his face) it feels as if “sexiness” is being parodied more than femininity – his creations often resemble Dali doodling his ideal inflatable doll.
Looking, sometimes between your fingers, at these exhilaratingly bold, ‘ballsy’ images, in a culture which is now completely aestheticised and lip-glossed to death, you’re reminded with a jolt of when aestheticism was still a rebellious, satirical strategy. What’s more, Bowery was never a “success”; he never launched his own label or got his own chat show. His death from Aids in 1994 saved him from that at least.
As these pictures testify, Bowery prophesied, embodied and savagely deconstructed celebrity culture all in one outfit. In a particularly piquant photo, his head, styled charmingly as a turd, emerges, blinking, from a toilet seat around his neck.
Since his death, of course, celebrity culture has backed up and overflowed everywhere, forcing us to wade through shits much less talented than Mr Bowery.
Books by Mark Simpson
The Psychopathology of Everyday Driving
A biography of the metrosexual. By his dad.
End of Gays?
Banning gay propaganda can backfire. Spectacularly.
“All Saints should be presumed guilty until proved innocent.”
The book that changed the way the world looks at men
It's a Queer World
A warped look at a fin de siecle world of pop culture where nothing is quite as straight or gay as it seems.
This book will change the way you think about sex. It may even put you off it altogether.
Male Lib is Nothing to Be Scared Of
Notes on Hipsterism
While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. […]
Sixth Form Boys Will Hug Boys
Why masculinity isn't 'in crisis'.
Invasion of the Driverless Cars
Mark Simpson on the headless horsemen of the coming ‘carpocalypse’
Pride & Prejudice
I think the time has come to share a secret about my past I’ve kept hidden for far too long.…
‘Love Island’ – ITV’s Primetime Spornotopia
Mark Simpson undresses the gayest straight dating show on telly
Cristiano Ronaldo’s talent & prettiness are intolerable.
Hairdresser Cars on Fire
Feeling envious or threatened by someone else’s motor? Unable to afford it? Resentful of the pleasure and joy it clearly brings them? Allergic to bold style, design, and nice colours? Never fear! […]
Get Hur! How Gay Subtexts Became Ancient History
We don’t really do subtexts in the see-through, digital 21st Century. Sextexts, definitely. Subtweets, possibly. Subtexts, not so much. Who has the time? Who can even be bothered with having a subconscious? Subtexts are so analogue. […]
Inside Spornosexual Pride
Mark Simpson goes to BodyPower, the UK’s biggest fitness expo, & tries not to stare too hard. Even though staring is…
Stripping Down the Male Body
Disability charity Scope have been airing a cheeky ad this summer designed to encourage people to donate clothes. It’s a…
Union Street Blues: Plymouth’s Last ‘Run Ashore’?
Mark Simpson goes in search of a drunken sailor in Devon's historic, salty Naval port. […]
1983: The Last Summer of Synth-Pop
From the gender-bending antics of Eurythmics and Culture Club to the propulsive synthpop of Depeche Mode, New Order, and the…
I’d F*ck Me: Mirror Man-Love
Top Gun Turns Thirty – How Did It Get So Gay?
Mark Simpson on the (self) sexualisation of today’s male body & why straight young men crave gay adulation
How young men fell out of love with the motor car
Captain Kirk’s Bulging Trousers
The pointed queerness of the original Shatner/Nimoy Star Trek series – & the PC limpness of all the spin-offs.…
From Metrosexual to Spornosexual – Two Decades of Male Deliciousness
‘Metrodaddy’ Mark Simpson on the evolution of male vanity
The Rise & Fall of Monosexuality
Ten Iconic Car Ads
Ten unforgettable car ads that transcended both cars and advertising and came to symbolise an age
You & Your iPhone: The Perfect Relationship?
Imagine the perfect relationship. Imagine a relationship so perfect that it will be the only one you need. Or have.
The Swishy Villainy & Psychodrama of Skyfall
Mark Simpson fondles the pecs and thighs of James Bond’s latest ‘outing’
Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp
The Naked Civil Servant is the best and funniest TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a scientific fact.
How The Prostate Came Out of the Closet
Pietro Boselli – Spornosexual Philosopher
Mark Simpson sits at the feet of ‘The Bona of Verona’
Keyless Entry & Male Versatility
“I call him lollipop” The sexualisation of the male body probes new, perfectly-rounded depths
‘Bare Thrills’ Strips Masculinity Down To Its Skidmarks
Maybe I suffer from what Freud described as man’s tendency to devalue what he desires, but I find anything touched by TV…
The crusade against ‘fapping’ is eerily reminiscent of the anti-masturbation movements of the 19th century says Mark Simpson (Originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph 29 April, 2016) Those annoying porn ‘pop-ups’ are impossible to avoid these days. Especially when browsing serious newspapers. PORN HORROR! headlines zoom repeatedly into our sightlines, warning us that pornography is ‘addictive’ (despite an inconvenient lack of evidence), ‘ruins relationships’ and ‘rewires men’s brains’, turning them into sex zombie automatons. Whether or not it’s addictive for people who watch it, porn […]