Ann Magnuson, "The Jobriath Medley"
(photo by Austin Young, make-up by Travis Pates)
Fran Lebovitz's Interview Magazine column, "I Cover the Waterfront," could describe the unique career of actress and chanteuse, Ann Magnuson. A key figure in the early '80s New York City's seminal downtown scene, Magnuson presented the now-infamous neo-Dada cabaret space Club 57 while performing regularly in downtown theaters, galleries and clubs including the The Mudd Club, Danceteria, The Pyramid Club and CBGB. Eventually, Hollywood came calling, and Magnuson left for the Coast. Despite a series of high-profile film and television roles, Magnuson never forgot her performance art roots and (collaborating with former Mumps frontsman, Kristian Hoffman) performs "Bowie Cabaret & The Jobriath Medley" in Los Angeles at Redcat on July 20 at 8 p.m. during OUTFest 2012.
Following the live show, there will be a screening of Jobriath A.D., Kieran Turner's documentary film about the sadly forgotten, yet massively talented glam rocker, Jobriath. The glam invention of Bruce Wayne Campbell, Jobriath was a preternaturally talented American Folk and actor. He was the first openly gay rock musician to be signed to a major record label, and one of the first internationally famous musicians to die of AIDS.
Turner's documentary features interviews with everyone from Magnuson to Jayne County and Scissors Sister front man, Jake Shears. The narrative traces Jobriath's rise from his birth in King of Prussia, Pa., where, as a child music prodigy, he was introduced to Eugene Ormandy, to going AWOL from the military in the mid-60s, cast as Woof, the gay teenager, in the Los Angeles production of Hair. Caught by the military police, Campbell spent six months in a military psyche hospital, suffered a nervous breakdown and began writing the songs that lead to his later reemergence as "Jobriath."
Signed in 1972 to Elektra by Jerry Brandt, Carly Simon's former manager, Jobriath's two record deal was launched by David Geffen with an enormous marketing campaign and media blitz including full-length posters on over 250 New York City buses and a huge, 41' by 43' billboard in Times Square. The album sleeve design by noted photographer Shig Ikeda, which featured a nude Jobriath, made to resemble an ancient Roman statue. During the release album's release, Jobriath declared himself, "rock's truest fairy," a tag that did little to help the album which sold poorly.
A second album, Creatures of the Street, followed, but despite the contributions of Peter Frampton, John Paul Jones (of Led Zeppelin,) and costumes by Stephen Sprouse, and despite Jobriath's dogged efforts to tour, it was a commercial failure. Retreating to the pyramid topped rooftop apartment at the Chelsea Hotel, Jobriath hustled intermittently, eventually reinventing himself, the last time as "Cole Berlin," a cabaret singer, until his death from AIDS on Aug. 3, 1983.
Since the mid-90s, Magnuson and Hoffman have worked on various incarnations of "The Jobriath Medley," and last month, launched a crowd source funding campaign for "The Jobriath Medley," a project described as, "A lushly-orchestrated epic medley featuring psychedelic spoken-word and the phantasmagoric pretty songs of glam rock fairy Jobriath!"
Below, I describe Jobriath's relevance in the O.W.S. 2012, and "camp" -- following, in the podcast interview, I ask Magnuson about what it's like kissing your teen idol (David Bowie) and then being murdered by him.
Jobriath, 2012: "Bowie Cabaret & The Jobriath Medley" is a total Trojan Horse. They think they're going to a David Bowie show and then we bring in Jobriath. And the audience thinks I've made him up; they don't think Jobriath was real. People are crying at the end of the story. Who has not been broken by the world?
Jobriath, Then: If he had just played little clubs, he would have grown a following. I wouldn't have had him in a unitard. He wasn't really allowed to be uniquely himself. This kind of whole space age, Bowie thing. But a lot of people were kind of doing that sort of thing. I mean, look at funkadelic. But then it was the '70s, as we say in the medley, "We were living our lives like we were in a Ken Russell movie. Or a page of a Capezio ad ripped from an issue of After Dark magazine."
Jobriath, Now: Basically, they said, 'Here's the next big thing, and if you're not the next big thing, you're nothing.' It's that all or nothing mentality that's really taken over the culture. It's the 1%. Either you go to Vegas and you put it on red and it comes up black. Fuck you, out in the gutter, bye, might as well kill yourself. Oh, I didn't get to be in the 1%. Does that mean I'm completely worthless, as an artist and a human being? No. But that is the mentality.
Jobriath & the 1%: Everyone wants to be the Romanovs. If I'm a Romanov, yeah, I don't want to think about you out there, I'm going to get my secret police to make sure you don't anywhere near me. I mean, it's like, are we living in America? I remember, wait a minute? It's the elimination of the middle class.
Jobriath, & the 70's: Because I was a teenager in the '70s, all that stuff that was labeled as "gay" seemed really smart and fun, and cool. Gay people weren't pariahs, they were the cool people. They were more of the incrowd. So Bowie -- whatever he is -- if he was pretending to be gay, it was because it was more interesting.
Jobriath, Queer: If somebody's gay or not gay, it's irrelevant. I love Jobriath's really cleaver word play. Just as a writer or person who enjoys poetry and lyrics, there's some fantastic lines. Like, "A Little Richard goes a long, long way." It's just beautiful stuff that speaks to your soul, not your genitals. That's what is the unifying, great quality of great art: it transcends our differences.
Jobriath & Camp: But you know the stuff that the gay culture is supposed to be, quote unquote gay, is stuff my dad likes. He likes Judy Garland. He is the least camp guy in the world. I think the world camp is totally irrelevant, worthless. I think that word belongs in the era of pejorative terminology. It's kind of way to dismiss something. You're telling me that all the kids who enjoy watching Dorothy leave Kansas black and white farmhouse and go into Munchkinland are camp? This is about imagination and beauty and joyfulness.
Below, check out my podcast with Ann Magnuson and hear more about "The Jobriath Medley," kissing David Bowie while playing his victim in the classic vampire film The Hunger, agenting Jodie Foster in Panic Room and seducing River Phoenix in A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon. VARIETY recently said of her tour-de-force dramatic performance as a home-shopping-club TV hostess having a nervous breakdown in Brian Pera's Woman's Picture, "Fassbinder meets Sirk.. .Miriam is a showcase for Ann Magnuson (at the top of her game)."