[18 June 2009]
In 1981, five gay men in Los Angeles suffered from an unknown disease that the press labeled GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention referred to as the “4H Disease” because it seemed to target Haitians, hemophiliacs, homosexuals and heroin users.
By May 3, 1986, the disease had long since become known as AIDS, but was still the subject of much controversy and even more misconceptions. It would be another year before Ronald Reagan would even publicly acknowledge the disease (even though by May 31, 1987, more than 20,000 Americans had died from AIDS).
It’s interesting that a pop-rock group from England would decide to release a single pointedly attacking the anti-gay hatred fueled by the disease, but even more intriguing that the song became a major hit.
“Digging Your Scene” by the Blow Monkeys was a luxurious mixture of pop, soul and jazz. With Neville Henry’s saxophone making love to Robert Howard’s smooth vocals, the song spent five months on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, eventually peaking at #19. Even now, it’s almost impossible to listen to the song without wanting to immediately hear it again.
But underneath its polished surface lies a pain rarely heard on mainstream radio. “I just got your message, baby,” the song begins, “So sad to see you fade away. What in the world is this feeling, catch a breath and leave me reeling? It’ll get you in the end. It’s God’s revenge.”
The song’s narrator makes no attempt to hide his orientation. “Every day I walk alone and pray that God won’t see me. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s wrong,” he sings, before admitting, “I’m like a boy among men, I’d like a permanent friend, I’d like to think that I was just myself again.”
The chorus sums up the anti-gay sentiment of the time by simply saying, “Tell me why is it I’m digging your scene? I know I’ll die, baby.”
Although the Blow Monkeys had 11 more singles reach the UK Singles Chart and even had a song (“You Don’t Own Me”) featured on the hugely successful Dirty Dancing soundtrack, “Digging Your Scene” was their only track to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
Still, it’s nice to know that even now, when gays are still denied basic rights that others take for granted and religious organizations actively lobby Congress to keep anti-gay discrimination legal, there was a time in the middle of the bright and shiny ‘80s when a pop band wasn’t afraid to challenge the hateful rhetoric of the day with a song that still remains genuine ear candy.