Jobriath - Biography



By Eric Brightwell

 

            Jobriath was one of the first mass-marketed and the first proudly and openly homosexual (aspiring) rock star. Rather than bring about stardom, the enormous hype about him resulted in a backlash before he played a note. Since his early death at 37, without the detriment of obnoxious promotion, Jobriath has been afforded a great deal more interest than he received in his poorly-handled and short career. Today, a new generation of less-eagerly-dismissive listeners have found a great deal to enjoy in his clever cosmic camp.

 

            The future Jobriath (Bruce Wayne Campbell) was born in the appropriately grandiose-sounding King of Prussia, Pennsylvania on December 14, 1946. His parents divorced when he was young and both of his parents remarried. Jobriath and his two full brothers stayed with their father. His father Jim was in the military and the family moved frequently and Bruce lived on army bases in Maine and Colorado. From a young age he displayed prodigious musical talent (favoring Sergei Prokofiev) and was drawn to the church, where he played organ. By 1962, he was displaying enough talent to have his talents on display for Eugene Ormandy, then the conductor of the Philadelphia orchestra. He favored the works of then won the Tri-State Piano Competition by playing a piece with the called "Diablo."  He also started referring to himself as “Job.”

 

            In 1964, in a sign that we wasn’t like the other guys, he started a trio with his ex-girlfriends Marty and Grace called "Moriah, Tess and Job," combining references to both the Bible and Lerner & Lowe’s Paint Your Wagon.   The trio played around Philadelphia and that fall Job enrolled at Temple University in addition to working at Philadelphia’s Wanamaker’s (in part drawn to the department store by its enormous pipe organ). After a semester, Job dropped out of school to focus on work and his group, who were offered a residency at the Main Point in nearby Bryn Mawr. His bandmates instead opted to go to school after a final performance at Valley Forge Army Hospital.

 

            By 1967 Job was adopting new aliases including Bruce Wayne - dropping his father’s family name - and then Bruce Salisbury - adopting his mother’s before settling on Jobriath Salisbury. In 1968, the young hippie moved to Los Angeles. He accompanied a friend to play piano at an audition for Hair at the Earl Carrol Theatre. When the regular pianist failed to show up, he impressed director Tom O’Horgan sufficiently to secure the part of Woof, a Mick Jagger-obsessed homosexual who struggles with religion, a part that seemingly could’ve been written for Jobriath. After its New York beginning, the Los Angeles premiere occurred at the Aquarius theatre. Hanging out with his fellow cast members Teda Bracci (future wife of Dusty Springfield) and Zenobia Conkerite, he began experiencing with various drugs. The west coast production of Hair wrapped up in 1969 and so Jobriath moved to New York where he appeared for a time in the Broadway cast. Accounts vary as to why he left the production, but he did and next formed the band Pidgeon with Bill Strong Smith, ex-Hair cast member Cheri Kohler Gage and Richard T. Marshall.

 

            In Pidgeon, Jobriath shared lead vocals with Gage, played guitar and keyboards, and co-wrote the material with Marshall, credited simply for “poetry.”  Producer/session singer Stan Farber got them a contract with Decca Records and arranged for them to rehearse for six months in a house before they entered the studio to record Pidgeon. Containing elements of baroque pop, folk-pop and quasi-progressive psychedelia, the results, although appealing, failed to find an audience after its 1969.  After the release of the non-album single, “Rubber Bricks/Prison Walls,” the band disbanded. Tiring of life as a hippie and following in his father’s footsteps, in 1970 he enlisted in the military. After quickly going AWOL, he was sent to Valley Forge Army Hospital and discharged. Upon release, he returned to Los Angeles.

 

            Jobriath next came under the wing of Jimi Hendrix’s former manager/scam-artist Mike Jeffrey, who managed him as he embarked upon a solo career. Living in an unfurnished apartment, he began working on demos, demos famously described by Columbia’s Clive Davis as “mad and unstructured and destructive to melody.” Years later Jobriath retorted “Clive Davis, who discovered Patti Smith and Barry Manilow said that. So much for sanity and structure.” Intrigued by this hostility, Carly Simon’s former manager, Jerry Brandt, immediately set up a meeting with Jobriath in December, 1972. Brandt flew to L.A. to meet Jobriath, then hustling to pay for his enormous alcohol problem. Describing him as a “beautiful creature,” Brandt invited Jobriath to his Malibu home where, in Brandt’s words, Jobriath showed him “some tricks I didn’t know.” Brandt took Jobriath off Jeffrey’s hands. In early 1973, Jobriath was signed to Elektra for the queenly sum of $500,000. Jobriath Salisbury, claiming spiritual descent, changed his name to Jobriath Boone, although it could also be seen as echoing David Jones’ renaming himself David Bowie. Jobriath moved back east and set about creating a backing band several years later, the members of which lived communally and rehearsed in a house in Lambertville, New Jersey. That band, The Creatures of the Street, was made up of Jim Gregory, Steve Love, Greg Diamond and Hayden Wayne.

 

            Elektra had enough faith in Jobriath to spend over $80,000 recording his eponymous debut, some of which involved a 55-piece orchestra at London’s Olympic Studios.  Roughly half the budget was on promotion with ads in non-music magazines like Vogue, Penthouse and The New York Times.  In New York City, a 41 x 43 foot billboard of Jobriath’s face stared down at the crowds in Times Square from the west corner of Broadway and 47th.  The album cover, Jobriath depicted as a nude, crumbling statue with Nijinsky-inspired make-up, graced 250 busses. It was likewise promoted in London. Brandt handled most of the hype. After suggestions that Jobriath was a cut-rate Bowie clone, Brandt claimed “Jobriath is as different from Bowie as a Lamborghini is from a Model A Ford. On another occasion he described Jobriath as "a leader, as a force, as a manipulator of beauty and art.” In Music Week he more modestly stated "It’s Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, and now Jobriath." They're both cars, it's just a question of taste, style, elegance and beauty." “Jobriath is a combination of Dietrich, Marceau, Nureyev, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Nijinsky, Bernhardt, an astronaut, the best of Jagger, Bowie, Dylan with the glamour of Garbo. He is a singer, dancer, woman, man.”

 

            Despite Brant’s obnoxious hyperbole, most reviews were highly favorable, including Rolling Stone, CashBox and Record World when Jobriath (1973-Elektra) was released in October.  Esquire’s pronouncement of it merely as “hype of the year” was actually one of the few dissenting views. Produced by Eddie Kramer and featuring John Paul Jones and Peter Frampton, Jobriath should’ve sold for those connections alone. The music was an ambitious, poppy and witty mix, populated by spacemen and pierrots and ranging from the 1930s-ish “Movie Queen” to the sublimely dramatic glam of “Space Clown.”  “Blow Away” is probably the greatest ballad of all time about oral sex and the passage of time. Unfortunately, despite (or perhaps in spite) of all it had going for it, it sold poorly everywhere.

 

            Jobriath had still yet to perform in public, Brandt miscalculatedly thinking that his doing all the talking and the lack of promotion would pique interest in his project. Brandt promised his live debut would be three nights that December at the Paris Opera house, at a production cost of $200,000. It was to be followed by a tour of the continent’s major opera houses. Reportedly, the shows would feature Jobriath dressed as King Kong, scaling a model of the Empire State Building which would rotate to reveal an enormous spurting phallus. Meanwhile, above the phallus, Jobriath was to have transformed into Marlene Dietrich as he approached a suspended grand piano. Construction was begun for the set pieces on a soundstage in New Jersey by Macy’s Day Parade float makers (Design Associates of New Jersey) and was nearly completed when Elektra postponed the shows until February, 1974 before cancelling them altogether.

 

            On March 8th, they appeared on The Midnight Special, from a performance taped in January where Jobriath, dressed in Stephen Sprouse outfit, shared a bill with the more down to earth Gordon Lightfoot and Richie Havens. Originally, the band had chosen the S&M-themed “Take Me I’m Yours” which was rejected by the show’s producer and replace my the more generic, Elton John-ish “Rock of Ages” followed by his statement of purpose, “I’maman.” After taping was finished, a birthday party was held for Brandt. Although the full nature of Jobriath’s and Brandt’s relationship isn’t entirely known, when Brandt swanned in with heiress (and probable benefactor) Peggy Nestor on his arm, Jobriath smashed the cake in Brandt’s face. A bit of the Midnight Special footage was run on The Old Grey Whistle Test in the UK. After the album’s release, the reviews were generally more negative, including Sounds and NME, who declared Jobriath “the fag-end of glam rock.” Melody Maker was less notably less hostile.

 

            Instead of an opera house, Jobriath and the Creatures of the Street’s live debut came with two sold-out shows at New York’s Bottom Line, playing to modest crowds of 400 on July 24th and 25th. Their next show was at the Nassau Coliseum, where they shared billing with Rufus. There, a hostile audience booed, taunted them as “faggots” and threw garbage before the band ran off-stage. With glam fading and the debut selling poorly, nonetheless Elektra cobbled together a follow-up drawn from the same sessions as had produced the first record. Creatures of the Street (1974-Elektra) was released just six months after the debut and, comprised as it was of rejects from the debut, was less beholden to commercial considerations and also more varied including the sublimely ridiculous “Deitrich/Fondyke (a brief history of movie music)” and “What a Pretty,” the cod-country “Scumbag” and straightforward gems like “Heartbeat,” “Street Corner Love” and “Gone Tomorrow.” Whereas the debut had been hyped to high heaven, the silence surrounding the follow-up was deafening.   

 

            In the spring of 1975, the band embarked on a short but exhausting and stressful tour, beginning with a performance at the Troubadour. On the road, they indulged in angel dust, booze, meth, weed, coke and groupies – one member was arrested in Tennessee. Somehow, through the fog,  the band occasionally booked time in various studios and recorded new tracks including “New York, New York,” “Girl of the Night,” “Weightless Love,” “You Little So and So” “Molière’s Misanthrope” “Jobriath’s Symphony” “No Need to Cry,” “The Actor Loves Himself,” “Lullaby” and “Oh Lord, I’m Bored (Good Fight).” Halfway through the tour, Jobriath accused Brandt over the phone of sinking Creatures of the Streets’ advance in his next venture, the Erotic Circus. Brandt ended their relationship, they never saw one another again and Brandt never managed another musician. Elektra followed suit by dropping them. Nonetheless, the band toured on manager and label-less, still charging their expenses to the label. Perhaps surprisingly, at their final show at Alabama’s Tuscaloosa University on Sept 20th, they played five encores before the fire department ended their performance.  Even as the band finally appeared to be living up to the height, it was agreed that it was too little too late and the members went their separate ways after Jobriath announced his retirement from music and his intention to resume acting.

 

            The members of the Creatures of the Street went on the various things. Gregg Diamond wrote Andrea True’s disco hit, “More, More, More,” formed Diamond Touch Productions. He wrote “Hot Butterfly” for Bionic Boogie and brought fellow Creatures Jim Gregory and Steve Love to TK Records where they played on his Starcruiser album. He died of gastrointestinal bleeding in 1999. Steve Love worked as a session musician with many artists. Hayden Wayne had recorded as a solo artist and at one point accompanied Nell Carter.

 

            With no acting work coming his way, Jobriath moved to the Chelsea Hotel, ultimately taking up residence in the rooftop pyramid residence that had been Sarah Bernhardt’s residence. Meanwhile, he resumed hustling as well as performing ‘30s pop and cabaret as Cole Berlin in a restaurant, The Covenant Gardens. As Cole Berlin, he appeared in a Nigel Finch documentary for the BBC’s Arena series about the residents of the Chelsea Hotel where he played a slightly demented Noel Coward-esque original, “Sunday Bruch.” It was supposedly the theme from a play he was working on about a tourist who comes to New York who is eaten alive. Still under a ten year contract, he still couldn’t, however, record his own material. Instead, Cole Berlin would play anything from “Stardust” to the theme from Star Wars… anything except “Feelings.”

 

            In January, 1979, Omega One magazine featured an article, “Schizophrenia: The Two Faces of Jobriath.” When asked about Jobriath over the phone, Berlin claimed, “Jobriath committed suicide in a drug, alcohol and publicity overdose.” When interviewer Charles Hershberg came to Jobriath’s home, he was introduced instead to several new alter egos. Cole Berlin and Joby Johnson talked about themselves only in the third person. When asked again about Jobriath, Johnson replied, “Her? Do I have to talk about her?” and later suggested, “They used a mannequin’s ass for the poster, and it wasn’t as round as Jobriath’s. That’s probably why Jobriath didn’t make it.” To prove his point, he posed for photographer John Michael Cox Jr. in a series of nudes. After re-emerging once again with a new personality, Mr. Broadway told Hershberg about his new musical, Pop Star, about “hype …and America.”

 

            In 1981, Campbell began suffering from recurring bouts of illness and lost a lot of weight. He turned to a macrobiotic diet and meditation but his illness continued. Frail, he nonetheless performed for the Chelsea Hotel’s 100 year anniversary in November, 1982. Campbell grew more reclusive and ultimately a hotel manager called the police after receiving no response. On August 3rd 1983, the police broke into his apartment and estimated he’d been dead for four days, another statistical first, the first AIDs casualty at The Chelsea.

 

            By the 1980s, Jobriath’s growing cult included big names singers including Gary Numan, Gavin Friday, Joe Elliot, Mark Stewart, Neil Tennant, Morrissey and Siouxsie Sioux. His long out-of-print records became collector’s items. In 1992, unaware of his passing, Morrissey attempted to secure Jobriath as an opener for his tour promoting the heavily glam-influence Your Arsenal. In 1998’s Velvet Goldmine, an ill-fated glam rocker, Maxwell Demon, releases an album that looks very much like Jobriath. In 2004, Morrissey oversaw a Jobriath compilation, Lonely Planet Boy (Sanctuary), a well-chosen collection (largely eschewing his more run-of-the-mill rockers) which included “I Love a Good Fight” (aka “Good Lord, I’m Bored (Good Fight)”). In 2007, both Jobriath albums were remastered and re-issued on CD by Collector’s Choice. Obscure band, Balcony, wrote a single, “Jobriath.” Perhaps nothing suggests how far we’ve come more than the fact that Def Leppard covered Jobriath’s “Heartbeat” for a Wal-mart exclusive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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