Jobriath should have been one of the biggest starts of ’70s glam rock: He landed a stunning $500,000 record deal. He shared a manager with Carly Simon. David Geffen had big plans to make him the American David Bowie.
Oh — and he was openly gay at a time when almost no one in music was. That may explain why the hype around him quickly disintegrated, a tragic tale we discuss on the new “Shoot This Now” podcast. You can listen on Apple or right here.
Every week on “Shoot This Now,” we talk about stories Hollywood should adapt for film or TV. The story of Jobriath is one of the best we’ve ever come across.
Jobriath, born Bruce Wayne Campbell in 1946, had the kind of winding, suitcase-and-a-dream journey to stardom that a producer on a celebrity biopic would only dream about.
Drafted into the army and AWOL within months, Jobriath assumed his moniker while haunting the streets of Los Angeles, where he scored a role in a production of “Hair” mounted on Sunset Boulevard.
Jobriath was nabbed by military police and committed to a psych hospital for six months, where he would dream up the loud and otherworldly rock altar ego that caught the attention of Davis — who most notable shepherded Whitney Houston to the very height of global pop stardom.
What makes Jobriath so compelling is not only that he was an out-gay man receiving the full support and adoration of his corporate owners — it’s how spectacularly his well-funded arrival to music failed.
At a time when David Bowie and Elton John and Freddie Mercury titillated with gender-bending, or by hiding queerness in plain sight, the promotional machine behind Jobriath was staggering: a three-night stint at the Paris Opera house, full-page ad buyouts in glossy magazines like Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, and a saturated outdoor advertising campaign.
Yet the album sold so little it didn’t even rate on Billboard’s biweekly charts.
How could such a monumental force come and go so quickly, and what conspired to keep Jobriath from ushering in an LGBT rights movement from within the powerful American recording industry?
His story ends tragically, but his influence lives on in musicians from Morrissey to, perhaps surprisingly, Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott. Lyndsey Parker’s recent piece about Elliott inspired our latest episode.