Jobriath: the Mojo article

The following article appeared in the November 1998 issue of Mojo Magazine (pp. 69-70), and is reproduced here in its entirety.


I'm Ready For My Close-Up

Glam rock was a movie in search of a soundtrack. Today, Velvet Goldmine is that movie, but 25 years ago the publicity machine roared into action to kick-start the strange yet true story of Jobriath.

By Rob Cochrane.

In late '73 you couldn't open a music magazine without seeing rock impresario Jerry Brandt barking up the qualities of what he claimed would be the year's hottest new star. "Presenting Jobriath in the way he must be presented means you have to break all the rules," he told Rolling Stone. "That requires the greatest promoter in the world. And I'm it. I'm selling sex and professionalism." And for a price tag of $500,000, he claimed, he'd found an eager buyer in Elektra, the label that had brought us The Doors, The Stooges and various lesser-selling rock weirdos. With Bowie busting out all over Britain and even stirring a sensation Stateside, the flamboyantly theatrical and shockingly unclosetted Jobriath would surely clean up in the biggest rock market in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

A year before, Jerry Brandt had sold his highly successful rock venue, the Electric Circus, and was looking for a new project. He happened to be in the office of Clive Davis as the Columbia President was auditioning tapes of hopeful talent. One in particular caught Brandt's ear; he was told it was by someone called Jobriath. What Davis rejected as "mad, unstructured and destructive to melody" - "That coming from the man who discovered Patti Smith and Barry Manilow," Jobriath later retorted; "so much for sanity and structure." - was to Brandt the sound of an untapped goldmine.

Within days Brandt had located Jobriath in California, "floating down in the gutter", as the singer later admitted. "I didn't eat, just drank beer all the time - with no money we hustled for booze. Jerry helped me get off the alcohol binge. He made me discover than schizophrenia isn't all that bad. It may be the lifestyle of the '70s."

Born Bruce Campbell in 1946, the reborn Jobriath Salisbury fronted a hippy rock band, Pidgeon, who released one album in America; from his days in the LA and New York productions of Hair, Jobriath had a history of drug and booze dependency, as well as periods of mental instability and occasional prostitution. "I went to an apartment that was unfurnished, a completely empty room," Brandt later recalled of their first meeting. "In walked this beautiful creature dressed in white. I said, Why don't you come out to Malibu and hang out? And that's where we fell in love, because he showed me some tricks I didn't know."

Eddie Kramer, producer of Jobriath's eponymous debut solo album, was famed for his work with Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. He remembers Jobriath as "a romantic soul, really. He wanted orchestrations like old film music, though he knew nothing about scoring. So he bought a book on orchestration and within a week he'd come up with scores of a haunting quality. These were recorded in Olympic Studios in London with a nine-foot grand piano and a 55-piece orchestra. He signed his scores Royal Sloan [after the American toilet makers]. That was his take on Elton John."

Today, the album's sound hovers somewhere between Hunky Dory and early Elton John, the vocals being decidedly Jaggeresque. Recorded at Electric Lady studios, with such heavy friends as Peter Frampton and Led Zep's John Paul Jones helping out at Kramer's behest, it was all paid for, of course, by Jac Holzman, the departing head of Elektra. "It was more as a favour to Jerry for letting us have Carly Simon than any real feeling I had for the music," confesses Holzman today. "We never signed anyone for more than an album at a time. It was more like $50,000 for the record and perhaps $30,000 for promotion. However, I made two errors of judgement in my days at Elektra, and Jobriath was one of them. It was an awful album. The music seemed secondary to everything else. It was all too much too soon and didn't suit the label. Not because of the gay angle, it was just lacking in any sense of reality. It's an embarrassment, something that's come back to haunt me."

Ah yes, the gay angle.

"I'm a true fairy!" the now renamed Jobriath Boone pouted in the press and, on the album's release in October '73, a media blitz ensued. Full-page ads were placed in Vogue, Penthouse, Rolling Stone and the New York Times, all reproducing the sleeve image of Jobriath as a discreetly nude statue creeping on smashed legs, and proclaiming "Jerry Brandt presents..." above the artist's name. The image dominated Times Square on a 41ft by 47ft billboard over the festive period and was also plastered across 250 New York buses.

Given that Jerry Brandt had announced to Music Week "Elvis, The Beatles, Jobriath", the reviews were remarkably positive. Cash Box declared it "one of the most interesting debut albums of the year," Rolling Stone asserted that Jobriath had "Talent to burn", while Record World described Jobriath as "a true Renaissance man who will gain a tremendous following". Esquire dissented: "the hype of the year". Jobriath and Jerry claimed they had booked places on board the first Pan Am flight to the moon, while the singer maintained he was from outer space. (In his book Rock On The Wild Side, Wayne Studer suggests that Jobriath seemed to have laboured under a "misguided attempt to diffuse gayness of its 'queerness' by couching it as something even queerer. That is, if you can accept the premise of rock star as extraterrestrial, you shouldn't have much trouble in accepting a rock star as a gay earthling.") Jobriath had yet to play a note live.

Brandt, however, promised an extravagant live debut at the Paris Opera House. "If you are thinking of coming to New York, Paris is the best place to come from. The production will cost $200,000 to execute," he enthused. A tour of all the major opera houses in Europe, including La Scala and Covent Garden, was being planned to follow. Jobriath informed an increasingly bemused press that the show would feature him dressed as "King Kong being projected upwards on a mini Empire State Building. This will turn into a giant spurting penis and I will have transformed into Marlene Dietrich."

Well, if it had happened, we'd have heard about it.

Elektra put the Paris shows back to February and then scrapped them on the grounds of expense. Jim Gregory, a member of Jobriath's backing band, The Creatures, remembers seeing "this amazing sound-stage, all slopes and neck-breaking angles. It was being built out in New Jersey by the same people who make the floats for the Macy's Day Parade. It was almost completed when the money ran out." The band did appear on The Midnight Special, a major television show of the time, the middle-aged audience bussed in for the evening politely clapping the band in their brightly-coloured body stockings, their lead singer dressed in a hooped costume suggesting a zero-gravity beekeeper.

Jobriath was not happy. "After the filming of our segment there was a surprise birthday party for Jerry," recalls keyboardist Hayden Wayne. "Now remember, Jerry loves to be considered in the upper circles, nice clothing, etc. Jobriath picks up the cake and smashes it right into Jerry's face. I was shocked at the audacity of the act, Jerry kept very cool and laughed it off while trying to towel out the icing that was in his hair."

In Britain The Old Grey Whistle Test ran a brief segment of The Midnight Special footage and Jobriath was written off as a mere Bowie copyist. Of the album, the NME sneered it was "the fag-end of glam rock". Sounds was even more damning. Instead of the Paris Opera or the new promise of a residency at Century City's Schubert Theater, Jobriath's live debut came in the summer of 1974 with two sold-out shows at New York's Bottom Line, capacity 400. One reviewer shrewdly observed Jobriath was more like "a slightly decadent Tab Hunter playing a Beverly Hills niterie than a rock'n'roll phenomenon", and that his "melodramatic tone seemed out of proportion to his surroundings, like a grand opera staged on a flat-bed trailer".

A mere six months after the release of the debut came Creatures Of The Street, a rapid follow-up by any standards. There was no massive advertising campaign. What should have been an exercise in consolidation had become an exercise in damage limitation. Reviews were generally dismissive and Rolling Stone didn't even deign to write about it. Jobriath had become increasingly erratic and his drug and booze consumption spiralled. Hayden Wayne once "saw him so stoned he was literally moving in a blur". It was under these circumstances that Jobriath And The Creatures undertook their first and only tour of the States. "It should all have been part of a very big Jerry Brandt ŕ la Mike Todd attempt to get us noticed," Wayne continues, "but Jerry made one serious mistake, if not others. During the David Bowie peek-a-boo androgyny period he pushed Jobriath as the 'True Fairy Of Rock'n'Roll'. The damage from that alone prevented us from performing in certain cities because of fear that the band would get physically harmed. As it was, we were booed off the stage at the Nassau Coliseum for 'being faggots' - and that's New York!"

"As the band toured we'd book into a studio for a few days and record some tracks," Jim Gregory recalls. "This worked well as the songs were more finely honed from being performed on the road." Just as it seemed Jobriath might live down the hype and release a record to silence his detractors, disaster struck. Brandt abandoned the group halfway through the tour, Jobriath apparently having accused him of sinking the second album's advance into a club venture, the Erotic Circus. Elektra, keen to be rid of an expensive and embarrassing flop, dropped them from the label. But someone forgot to cancel the tour, the hotels and the venues. "The farcical situation ensued where we, a managerless band without a label, were continuing to tour whilst charging everything to Elektra who thought they'd disowned us," Hayden Wayne vouchsafes. "Our final gig as Tuscaloosa University resulted in five encores, a screaming ovation and the fire brigade being called because the raucous behavior triggered off the alarms. We were starting to attract a following but it was too late. The band imploded."

In a final act of imperiousness, Jobriath announced his retirement from the music business, and retreated to his pyramid-shaped triplex on the roof of New York's Chelsea Hotel. Nobody much cared. In his only interview after the bubble burst, he blamed everything on Jerry: "Mr B.T. Barnum Brandt was so busy getting his name on posters and buses, he neglected to get me on tour or my album played." Intent on resuming his acting career, Jobriath auditioned for the part of Al Pacino's sex-change candidate boyfriend in Dog Day Afternoon, but to no avail. Under the moniker of Cole Berlin he performed at a restaurant called The Covent Gardens.

Jerry Brandt, meanwhile, wasted no time in finding fresh schemes, though he never managed another artist again. He virtually created the trend for designer jeans in the mid-'70s, selling French imports for $65 a time when the home-produced items went for $12. He also opened two of the most successful rock venues of the '80s, the Ritz and the Palladium. Brandt was even successful selling pizza by the metre and is presently working on a Rock And Fame Wax Museum in New York. It is unlikely that Jobriath will be represented - "he was an alcoholic asshole" is one of the few things a curiously tight-lipped Brandt will say today about the protégé he once described as "a leader, as a force, as a manipulator of beauty and art".

As for the former force, he continued to write songs, but no comeback ever materialised. He succumbed to AIDS in July 1983.

In 1992 Morrissey attempted to secure Jobriath as the support act for the Your Arsenal tour; needless to say, he proved unavailable. But with the release of Velvet Goldmine, interest in Jobriath is growing, and Blueprint Records are organising the release of his work on CD. There are even two Jobriath websites on the internet.

"Your manager has to have you interests at heart, not the creation of a platform to gesticulate his own ego and power of influence," sighs Hayden Wayne of Jerry Brandt. "Some of the music is very haunting. If Jobriath had come out, excuse the pun, let's say during The Village People's success in the late '70s, he could have very well become a major star.

"Timing is everything."

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