Culture

Tammy Faye Never Understood What That Whole Gay Thing Was About

Portrait of Tammy Faye Baker (partial) by mosaic artist, © Jason Mecier. See more of his work at Jason Mecier.com

Whatever her motivation, there's no doubt that Tammy Faye liked us. Still, despite all of her proselytizing about the LGBT community, she seemed to have had little effect on the evangelical movement.

Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner weighed a scant 65 pounds when she died, yet her spirit and personality were as robust as ever. Days before her death, appearing on Larry King Live on 18 July, 2007, emaciated and ravaged by cancer yet still made up in true Tammy Faye splendor, speaking barely above a whisper, she reached out to the one community that accepted her into the fold when no one else would: "You know, when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that," she said -- and this is a sentiment echoed by her son Jay. After her fall from the inner circle of the televangelist conglomerate, Messner reached out to and was embraced by the American gay community, or she was embraced by the gay community due to her outlandish make-up and persona, and so she decided to go with the only ones who would invite her to the party.

The famed evangelist's relationship with the LGBT community has been the subject of numerous works, most notably the cult classic documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye. There's no doubting that she was more accepting of the LGBT community than most of her colleagues, being the first evangelist to feature an HIV-positive gay minister on TV. Later, she paired with the flaming Jim J. Bullock to co-host a talk show. Most importantly, she appeared frequently at Gay Pride events and other LGBT celebrations, and spoke openly about her love for the community, even if she never did quite understand what that whole gay thing was about.

Whatever her motivation, there's no doubt that Tammy Faye liked us. Still, despite all of her proselytizing about the LGBT community, she seemed to have had little effect on the evangelical movement. The New York Times reported in January of 2010 that three evangelists -- Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundidge -- flew to Uganda to speak, according to them, about the skills needed to parent children who are gay. During their various speeches to the crowd, they mentioned that “the gay movement is an evil institution”, going on to note that the goal of this evil institution is “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”

However, a simple internet search would have provided the ministers with enough evidence to show that the political climate in Uganda didn't support anti-gay rhetoric without propelling blood-frenzy anti-gay factions. Perhaps, though, despite their objections, an internet search might have convinced these ministers that this volatile place was in fact the perfect climate for their anti-gay rhetoric.

Lively, Schmierer, and Brunbridge are hardly the only evangelists to question the LGBT life. Pat Robertson's anti-gay remarks have frequently made the news, most notably when he noted that the tolerance of homosexuality, as well as other undesirable demographic groups, was responsible for the events of 9/11, and compared homosexuality to both Nazism and Satanism. Further, American evangelist Scott Holes found himself under arrest in Glasgow, Scotland, for homophobic speech after answering a question during a Q & A session.

In his defense, Holes maintains that he asked the local police about the new homosexuality discrimination law in the UK and was assured that he need not worry about dealing with the subject should it come up. His defenders are right in that the situation seemed like a set-up, but they overlooked that it was Hole's anti-gay rhetoric that landed him in trouble.

Tammy Faye's inability to convert many of her fellow TV preachers to her way of thinking about the LGBT community could easily be excused as a consequence of her new role as outsider, the disgraced woman cast from the fold. Still, her embrace of us raises questions concerning the effectiveness of other celebrities in defense of LGBT rights.

Dozens emerged during the recent fight over Proposition 8 in California, most opposed but a few in favor; is it possible their presence actually contributed to the final outcome of the election, and not in the way most people would expect? We can't help but bless those entertainers, athletes, politicians, and other celebrities who have welcomed LGBT persons into their legions of fans, and many have taken up the cause of securing our rights. Still, one could easily argue that the participation of big names has actually set the cause of gay rights back.

In the past 20-plus years, numerous celebrities have spoken out in favor of rights for LGBT individuals. Most notable is diva Cyndi Lauper, whose lesbian sister helped propel her into the fight. Two years ago, Lauper launched her True Colors tour, benefitting the Human Rights Campaign, and this past year, announced that she would work with Lady Gaga, Diva Heir Apparent, for Lipstick for Women, a campaign to help women with AIDS.

Also within the last year, Lauper has launched We Give A Damn.org, enlisting a variety of celebrities to help promote LGBT equality and bringing to light the inequities in current US laws. Still, Lauper's support is nothing new -- she's been speaking out on our behalf for almost 30 years, beginning in a time when gay rights wasn't even on the table for discussion.

Appearing in videos on We Give a Damn are Jason Mraz, Sharon and Kelly Osbourne, Meredith Baxter, Eric Roberts, Whoopi Goldberg, Wanda Sykes, and Elton John, to name just a few. Those who appear on the site are just a fraction of the celebrities who stand beside the gay community in its quest for equality. Most notably, Gaga has followed in Lauper's footsteps, proclaiming her avid support of her considerable gay fan base, rewriting the words of John Lennon's "Imagine" to honor Matthew Shephard for this year's HRC dinner.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have announced that they won't marry until all Americans have that same right, and Charlize Theron and ex Stuart Townsend made a similar pledge while together. Sean Penn spoke out in favor of gay marriage while accepting his Oscar for Milk, and Eminem, once labeled "homophobic", told the press recently he supports gay marriage. What's more, he plans to change the anti-gay lyrics of past songs for his upcoming tour.

Nowhere was celebrity support of gay rights more evident than during the 2008 debate over Proposition 8 in California. Among those who marched in opposition to the proposition, which would overturn the California Supreme Court's ruling allowing gay marriage, were James Franco and Drew Barrymore, and they were joined in their protests against the measure by Rose McGowen, Kathy Griffin and mother Maggie, Pink, Rob Reiner, and Christina Aguilera. Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw, as well as tabloid-fave and Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, gave big lumps of cash to the "No on 8" campaign.

Further, both of California's senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, opposed the act, as did Governor Schwarzenegger and President Obama. Hairspray composer Marc Shaiman and director Adam Shankman teamed on a virile video called "Proposition 8: The Musical", starring Jack Black and John C. Reilly. Millions of dollars were spent to defeat the measure, and both politic and entertainment's A-List signed on in the effort, yet Proposition 8 passed, and gay marriage became unconstitutional in California.

Kelly Osbourne, Luke Worrall, Perez Hilton, Sophia Bush, Shana Moakler, Emmy Rossum and Katerina Graham joined others at a protest rally to ‘Repeal Prop 8 in 2010′ in Los Angeles, California. INF photo found on Ecorazzi.com

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Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

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