Monday 28 April 2014

Frankie's in the House

A month ago one of the pioneers of modern popular music passed away. Frankie Knuckles, who died at the age of 59, is acknowledged as the founding father of House music. Whether its your kind of music or not it cannot be doubted that House music was a gay “creation” and influenced the music of many gay icons such as Madonna throughout the 1980s and early 90s.

Just after Christmas last year Channel 4 television in the UK produced a documentary called “Queer As Pop: For the Gay Scene to the Mainstream” which charted the development of pop music in the UK since the origins of disco. Frankie Knuckles was interviewed in that programme, where he talked about the origins of house music.

As a tribute to Frankie Knuckles here is a short transcript of part of “Queer As Pop” in which he featured which tells of the origin of house music. The transcript also includes contributions from other DJ/producers.

Narrator : The start of the 80s found ex-disco DJ Frankie Knuckles running the Warehouse Club in Chicago. It was making a new kind of music, music that would conquer all before it – house music.

Frankie Knuckles : House music was born in a black gay club in Chicago. It’s the first legitimate form of music to come along that has come out of the gay community.

Paul Oakenfold (DJ/producer) : The gay clubs were always where the best music was played.

FK : The music I was playing there was a continuation of what I was playing, you know, in New York City.

N : To fill the disco void he began editing on a reel-to-reel player and supplementing records with drum machines to create a new sound.

FK : I started refashioning and re-editing and, you know, using a rhythm-maker and all the rest of this different stuff just to make familiar songs sound just a little bit different.

Store keeper : Its reminiscent of the old disco. It’s the kind of music that is just simple music that’s exciting and gets people moving.

FK : And that’s all it took, just a little twist, you know. I can double this here, I can double that there, and stretch it out a little bit, and put a different intro on it and outro on it, that kind of stuff. And I’m just doing it basically to keep the crowd interested in coming.

N : The age of Chicago and house was dawning.

Mark Moore (DJ/producer) : We started getting these records from Detroit and Chicago. We didn’t particularly know what it was at that time, but it kind of fitted in what we were playing. And so we just mixed them in and gradually we realised “hang on, something’s going on in Chicago”.

Terry Farley : People in Chicago, you know, by and large, they weren’t musicians like they were in New York. You know, Marshall Jefferson was a postman who taught himself how to play a piano.

N : House music was making waves, but it was Marshall Jefferson’s anthem “Move Your Body” that gave that sound the name –
“Gotta have house, music, all night long,
With that house, music, you can’t go wrong”
- and the press wanted to know more.
[blogger’s note : There’s lots of evidence to suggest that the term “house music” dates back to 1982 at the earliest, 2 years before Jefferson’s song.]

FK : I had so many journalists coming at me all of a sudden out of nowhere wanting to talk to me.

SK : All these little people from Chicago just started making these records and it happened by itself, nobody had to hype it, it just happened. And that’s what’s good about it.

N : The phenomenon was now bigger here than in America, and gay underground acts had British chart success. There was a brilliantly camp performance of “Love Can’t Turn Around” by Daryl Pandy on “Top of the Pops”. And Ten City’s “That’s the Way Live Is” was a chart smash that marked just how far house music had evolved from its gay club origin.

PO : I knew it was the cutting edge of music. This is what I loved about the gay clubs, was that the energy and the fun, and they really got into it. And that’s what I wanted to capture, and share the wonder of that community with straight people who weren’t homophobic.

MM : It was only when these other clubs like Hacienda and Spectrum brought in this whole culture of jackin’, rave dancing, whatever you want to call it, that’s when it kicked off.

Friday 25 April 2014

Heritage Spotlight - Irish Queer Archive

My great-grandmother was from Dublin, and in the past five years or so I’ve been taking a keener interest in my Irish heritage. So it is gratifying to know that the Irish have just as much interest in their lgbt heritage.
Perhaps the only Irish connection to the lgbt community which most people can think of is Oscar Wide, or perhaps the comedian Graham Norton, or even the patriot Roger Casement, depending on how much importance you put on literature, entertainment or politics. Recent Irish history has often concentrated on what is referred to as the “Troubles”, and other contemporary elements in the community have received less notice, so any archive which deals with the Irish lgbt community on both sides of the border is a welcome addition.
The Irish Queer Archive was transferred to the National Library of Ireland in Dublin in 2008, giving the Irish state custody of a wealth of material gathered over many years by the volunteer organisation the National Lesbian and Gay Federation (NGLF).
The NLGF was formed in 1979. From its beginnings its members collected newspaper cuttings and reports, mainly of homophobic attacks which were invariably the only time the lgbt community was mentioned in the press. Like other organisation, including my own Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage, these cuttings formed the basis of a larger collection. Research undertaken by NLGF members uncovered many stories of lgbt life in Ireland, and if you’re curious but can’t get to the National Library in Dublin in person you can see reproductions of many newspaper cuttings and various other items on the Irish Queer Archive Facebook page.
One of the leading members of the National Lesbian and Gay Federation who was instrumental is establishing the Irish Queer Archive has a link to my year-long music theme (mentioned below). Tonie Walsh was one of Dublin’s early gay rights activists. In 1979 he was a leading force behind the establishment of Dublin’s first lgbt community centre called the Hirschfeld Centre, named after the German scientist and sexologist who set up a research institute in Germany in the 1890s.
In an unfortunate parallel in history, both the Hirschfeld Centre in Dublin and Hirschfeld’s institute in Germany were both burnt to the ground in attacks – the Dublin centre in 1987 in uncertain circumstances (probably homophobic) and the German centre by the Nazis in the 1930s.
Tonie Walsh went on to become President of the NLGF between 1984 and 1988, and co-founded Gay Community News, Ireland’s longest continuous running lgbt periodical.

During the 1990s Tonie stepped back from activism to concentrate on becoming a DJ and club promoter. He DJed at many of Dublin’s top clubs, and at the Alternative Miss Ireland contests. In 2006 he retired from DJing to concentrate on research and writing.

In 1997 Tonie began reorganising the NLGF archives and collection, which had grown from its beginnings into one of the largest archive collections in Dublin. The NLGF opened up an office where researchers could use the archives and Tonie and his colleagues created the bedrock of the Irish Queer Archive.

If I get chance to visit Dublin to dig deeper into my Dublin ancestry I’ll certainly take time to check out the Irish Queer Archive as well.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

The Food of Love

"If music be the food of love, play on". So wrote Shakespeare as the opening line of "Twelfth Night". On this St. George's Day, the day on which Shakespeare is said to have been both born (450 years ago today) and to have died, I bring you this story of how the music of Shakespeare brought two women together in love.
Helen Archibald Clarke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1860. She came from a musical family. He father Hugh became a professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania in 1875 and was an organist, composer and conductor. His father, a Scot who emigrated to Canada, studied at Edinburgh University and became a Doctor of Music.
Before the University of Pennsylvania admitted female students officially Helen enrolled as a special student, and two years later in 1883 earned a certificate in proficiency in music. Helen's other great passion was Shakespeare, and she began to research his plays and study how he used music in his writing.
Meanwhile, also in Philadelphia, another young woman had just taken up the reigns as editor of a new periodical produced by the Shakespeare Society of New York called "Shakespeariana", That woman was called Charlotte Endymion Porter. Nearly 4 years older than Helen Clarke, Charlotte graduated from Wells College, New York, and studied Shakespeare and French drama at the Sorbonne.
Charlotte was only 26 when she became editor of "Shakespeariana". One of the first articles she chose for publication was one by the 23-year-old Helen Clarke. It was her finished article on music in Shakespeare, and it brought the two women together for the first time. They were to spend over forty years together.
Charlotte resigned from her editorial post in 1887 and two years later she and Helen founded a new periodical called "Poet Lore". This was devoted to the study of Shakespeare and another writer in which the two women had a keen interest, Robert Browning. Between them Charlotte and Helen wrote the majority of articles and commentaries for their new publication, either by themselves or in collaboration. American poetical and literary societies took to "Poet Lore" in a big way and it became a huge success. In fact, it was so successful that it is still published to this day.
Included in "Poet Lore" were works and studies of other, mainly non-American, poets and writers who were often first introduced to the general American public through its pages. These included Ibsen, and such lgbt Nobel laureates as Selma Lagerlof and Bjornstjerne Bjornson. Helen and Charlotte moved production of "Poet Lore" from Philadelphia to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1891 after they were offered free office space in return for advertising in their periodical.
The couple lived in Massachusetts for the rest of their lives. They also bought a summer house in Penobscot Bay in Maine. Over the next 27 years the couple continued to edit "Poet Lore", although having sold the periodical in 1903 they were also free to work on other joint and separate projects. They wrote books on Shakespeare and Browning, and Helen also excercised her musical talents by writing cantatas and operettas for children and producing a book of songs.
Helen and Charlotte exchanged rings in a commitment ceremony in Boston, and it was at their Boston home that Helen died in 1926 at the age of 65. Charlotte lived on for a further 16 years, spending most of her time at their summer house in Maine, and she died at the age of 85 in 1942.
They left behind a legacy which stretches into our own time. They were founders of the American Music Society, and their "Poet Lore" is the longest-running poetry periodical in the USA. This was only possible because of their shared love of Shakespeare and an article on music.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Medal Quest - Out of Proportion?

The third Asia-Pacific Outgames begins in 20 days time in Darwin, Australia. It has always baffled me why Australia is such a major players in international sport. The country is one of the least densely populated areas in the world, yet people can name at least 2 famous Australian sportspeople. You can’t say that about the other areas of equal size and population density (Siberia and the Canadian Arctic).

The Pacific region has also produced quite a few of the world’s top lgbt athletes, some of whom have competed in the Outgames and Gay Games, and a lot of them are Olympians. There is a higher proportion of out professional lgbt athletes per capita from Australia than there is in any European country. Also a high proportion of them are gold medallists or champions.

Here is a list of the lgbt professional athletes of the Asia-Pacific region. I won’t include continental USA, though will include Hawai’i and other American Pacific islands. I had planned to list all the medals and championships each athlete has won, but the accumulated list runs into the hundreds and I don’t have room for them. This is testimony to the sheer excellence there is in the Asia-Pacific region in lgbt sport. Some athletes listed below were not Asia-Pacific-born but have become nationals of the countries.

Rather disappointingly, I’m restricted to just listing the name, country and sport of each athlete.

Alyson Annan   -   field hockey
Mianne Bagger   -   golf
Jason Ball   -   Australian rules football
Hayley Bateup   -   ironwoman
Wade Bennett   -   water skiing, athletics
Raelene Boyle   -   athletics
Belle Brockhoff   -   snowboard
Natalie Cook   -   beach volleyball
Casey Dellacqua   -   tennis
Freda DuFaur   -   mountaineering
Michelle Ferris   -   cycling
Mathew Helm   -   diving
Gus Johnston   -   field hockey
Daniel Kowalski   -   swimming
Hana Mandlikova   -   tennis
Matthew Mitcham   -   diving
Michelle Reeves   -   athletics
Ian Roberts   -   rugby league
Craig Rogerson   -   diving
Rennae Stubbs   -   tennis
Lisa-Marie Vizaniari   -   discus
Ji Wallace   -   trampoline
Sarah Walsh   -   soccer
Peter Wherrett   -   motor racing

Simon Latimer   -   diving
Paul O’Brien   -   equestrianism
Blake Skjellerup   -   speed skating
Blyth Tait   -   equestrianism
Peter Tayler   -   equestrianism
Louisa Wall   -   rugby union

Natasha Kai   -   soccer
Greg Louganis   -   diving (Samoan father)
Jaiyah Saelua   -   soccer
Esera Tualo   -   American football

Amini Fonua   -   swimming

Hiromasa Ando   -   speedboat racing

Parinya Charoenphol   -   Thai boxing

Thursday 17 April 2014

Jazz It Up

I would have thought that jazz music embraced homosexual performers as much as it does with black or female performers. After all, some of the greatest jazz performers from the golden age were lgbt – and black and/or female. And the whole point in jazz it to express yourself musically in a free form. What could be more ideal for an lgbt performer, living in a time when homosexuality was illegal or frowned upon, than to express his/her feelings and desires than by jazz?

Unfortunately, things aren’t quite that simple. Even well into the present century there’s still resistance to openly lgbt performers in the jazz world. Even the great Dizzie Gillespie once said, “I don’t even know a gay musician who’s a homosexual – not a real jazz musician”, as if to imply (just as in some sports) that “gay men can’t …” do jazz. With attitudes like that does jazz deserve our attention?

Fortunately, there are enough lgbt people and jazz performers who thinks it does, and they are, or have, helped to open many doors to other openly lgbt jazz performers in recent years. As with hip hop the road to acceptance is slow but clearly discernable.

To look at the lgbt heritage of jazz I’ll look at several lgbt performers who had a long-lasting influence and legacy. I should point out that I will concentrate on the Harlem Renaissance and it’s place in that heritage in more detail in October. So don’t be offended if I leave it out here.

Jazz developed out of the bars and brothels of New Orleans in the first decades of the 20th century. Many black American musicians were playing ragtime and blues, and among those was Tony Jackson (1882-1921). He exhibited an early talent for playing any tune of any musical genre from the age of 12. This talent made him a popular entertainer and soon he began to augment his playing with singing and composing, and dancing while he played.

Tony’s most famous song, “Pretty Baby”, composed before he left New Orleans for Chicago in 1912, was originally written about his then boyfriend. One of the greatest early jazz musicians of all, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, was one of the musicians who admired and watched Tony’s piano playing closely. Morton and several others have acknowledged Tony as an influence on their own style.

During the Great Era of jazz in the 1920s and 1930s another openly gay man was to influence the genre. Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) spent his entire career in the shadow of the great jazz performer Duke Ellington. As a composer Billy came up with some of the most famous tunes of his day, some of which are still familiar to us, and if you listen to recordings of Duke Ellington and his band you’re hearing an equal contribution from Duke and Billy. Billy was openly gay, something Duke always knew. In fact, Duke’s son Mercer Ellington has even suggested that the 2 musicians may even have “experimented” sexually together. Today, with more acceptance of homosexuality, and with Duke’s open acknowledgement of both Billy’s contribution and sexuality, perhaps they would have been given equal billing – the Ellington-Strayhorn Band? The video below shows Duke and Billy perform their most famous song.
Jazz, often considered to be music of a specific time and place, has evolved and developed. Early jazz became mainstream, and with the advent of rock’n’roll (a term inspired by one of Tony Jackson’s songs) lost much of it’s popularity. Bebop jazz developed following World War II. It seems to me that this was the point where jazz and homosexuality seemed to separate. Bebop was a more vigorous, robust and, if I can say it, macho style of music. It was certainly not the type of music the stereotype of a gay man of that era was thought to be capable of playing – the “sissy”, as he was often referred to. But play it they did, and they weren’t sissies.

Modern jazz has developed more styles. In this post-bebop era free jazz and avant-garde jazz has developed. Among the lgbt performers (of which there is also an increasing number of female musicians) is Cecil Taylor. Cecil is also one of a growing number of performers who admits that his sexuality is as much an influence on his music as his race, something which the first generation of jazz performers a century ago would recognise. Although Cecil is not widely known outside jazz circles he is considered to be among the top 5 most important jazz pianists of the post World War II era, ranking with more famous straight performers as Earl Hines and Thelonius Monk.

Although still seen largely as a 20th century musical form there are many jazz performers today. Many more are coming out as lgbt, but some say that a few in the jazz community still display some form of homophobia. As I said at the beginning of this article, for a musical genre known for its freedom and expressiveness, there seems to be some reluctance by the few to extend this to homosexuality.

Monday 14 April 2014

Musical Star Gayzing : A Lyrical Constellation

One of the most popular pieces of classical music is “Orpheus in the Underworld” by Jacques Offenbach. It contains one of the world’s most familiar tunes, though familiar in a different context. Here’s the tune in question, and I doubt if you’ll think of Greek mythology when you hear it.
The Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus is perfect for a musical composition. After all, Orpheus was the most celebrated mortal musician in Greek mythology. The queer angle, and Orpheus’s connection to the night sky, is hinted at in the title, but first let’s see where he got his musical talent from.

The most common version in the myths about of his birth makes his mother one of the 9 Muses, those sister goddesses who rule over the sciences and culture. Calliope was the Muse of epic poetry and supremely gifted in the art of singing. Orpheus inherited this talent and more. Even the animals and plants seemed to stop and listen to his singing, accompanying himself on the instrument we usually refer to today as the lyre.

The lyre had been invented by Hermes, the messenger god of the Greeks. Apollo, the god of music, fell in love with the instrument and offered to swap it for some supernatural cows! It was Apollo who taught Orpheus to play the lyre, recognising the boy’s talent, and have him one made of gold (perhaps having magical qualities “to soothe the savage beast”, as the saying goes). Presumably Orpheus carried this lyre with him for the rest of his life. There’s some local Greek myths about young Orpheus being one of Apollo’s many male lovers.

As Orpheus grew up his musical talent became widely known. When Jason was gathering his crew for the quest to find the Golden Fleece he was told that the only way he’d survive an encounter with the Sirens was if Orpheus was a crew member on the Argo. So Orpheus became an Argonaut.

It was on board the Argo that Orpheus met the love of his life. Not Eurydice, as you might have guessed, but Kalaïs, the winged mortal son of Boreas, god of the north wind. Kalaïs was also an Argonaut though he left the crew before the quest was over. Orpheus was heartbroken when he left, but he was to meet him again later in his life.

When the hero Odysseus encountered the Sirens he ordered his crew to fill their ears with wax so they couldn’t hear them singing. The Sirens had such beautiful voices that any ship’s crew sailing past the rocky coast where the Sirens lived would forget what they were doing and sail straight into the rocks. The sailors would then be at the mercy of the Sirens, who ate them. The Argonauts had Orpheus. His singing was sweeter and louder than the Sirens, so that when the Argo sailed past the Sirens they were silenced and the Argonauts escaped.

After leaving the Argo Orpheus met young Eurydice, the woman he chose as his wife. Tragedy struck soon after the wedding. Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died. Her soul descended to the Underworld and Orpheus was again heartbroken. His life with Eurydice had hardly begun and it had ended too soon. After praying to the gods for advice he decided to go down to the Underworld and ask Hades to let Eurydice return. Playing his golden lyre he charmed the 3-headed dog Cerberus into letting him pass into the Underworld where Hades, suitably impressed, agreed to let his wife go, as long as he didn’t turn to check that she was following him back to the surface. And the famous story ends as we know it does with Orpheus looking behind him too soon, and Eurydice descends back to the Underworld forever.

For the third time Orpheus wass inconsolable. So much so that he renounced the love of women and spent the rest of his life with a string of boy lovers, which was acceptable in Ancient Greece. Here, the winged Kalaïs re-entered his life. But Kalaïs was to be the cause of further tragedy.

During the spring festival dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and passion, a group of women who took the role of Dionysus’s attendants made a move on Orpheus. Full of wine and passion themselves the women had grown tired of Orpheus rejecting their sexual advances and his love for Kalaïs. As Orpheus was lying by a river bank singing of the joys of the love of boys, the women attacked his as one drunken mob and ripped his body to pieces. They flung his remains into the river, along with his beloved golden lyre, and returned to their feasting.

Orpheus’s severed head, so the myth goes, was still singing as it drifted down the river. It came to rest on the shores of the islands of Lesbos, where the inhabitants placed it in a sacred cave and listened to it prophesying for many years.

The golden lyre was found by Apollo and in remembrance of Orpheus and his music placed it in the night sky as the constellation Lyra.

As for Kalaïs, he lived on for a few more years until, as one myth says, his own past caught up with him. While on the Argo Kalaïs had persuaded fellow Argonaut and great lover of boys Heracles to remain ashore searching for his lover Hylas while the Argo sailed on. Hylas was never found, and Heracles never returned to the Argo. In revenge Heracles killed Kalaïs.

Friday 11 April 2014

Remembrance : Heroes of Sherwood

I’m going to be a bit parochial in today’s Remembrance article and look at some of the lgbt war heroes from, or associated with, Nottinghamshire.

Famous war heroes include Lord Byron, who joined the Greek independence movement in 1823 and died the following year, and Lawrence of Arabia, who was stationed at RAF Cranwell just over the county border and visited Nottingham and Newark regularly on his Nottingham-built Brough motorbike.

I’ll start my look at less well-known war heroes in the Medieval period and 2 of my personal heroes – Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe. They me and fought in the wars against France in the 1300s and eventually became a couple. Unlike thousands of other soldiers, who were killed in the wards, William and John survived to become trusted friends of the king. I’ve mentioned this couple several times on my blog with regard to their residing at Nottingham Castle, their place in the origin of Robin Hood, and in their Medieval same-sex union.

Moving nearer to our own time we reach the 19th century and Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton (1840-1870). He, too, has been mentioned before, here and here. Lord Arthur was a Midshipman with the Naval Brigade and served during the Indian Mutiny of 1858 on board HMS Shannon and at the Relief of Lucknow. He wasn’t cut out for the military life. He was considered something of a “mummy’s boy” and his father suspected Arthur “too friendly” with boys for his own good. However, Arthur served with distinction. At Lucknow he was badly injured and was invalided out of the brigade. It seems he suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder for some time, perhaps exacerbated by a tropical disease. He seemed to return to health and normality after living in Paris for a while and meeting Ernest Boulton. The stress of the war may have contributed to Arthur’s presumed suicide a week before his 30th birthday.

A Nottinghamshire war hero saw active service in the Middle East. Capt. Myles Hildyard (1914-2005) came from an old county family who lived at Flintham Hall. He studied to be a lawyer like his father, a County Court judge, but the start of World War II thrust him into the footsteps of his grandfather, an army general. Myles was commissioned into the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), one of the last cavalry regiments to use horses in battle. In 1941 the Rangers were posted to Crete.

During the Nazi invasion of the island the UK troops were forced to evacuate under fire. The Rangers were left behind and became prisoners of war. Myles escaped and walked bare-foot to a port undiscovered. He paid a Cretan boat-owner to row him to Turkey. It took many days, hopping from island to island, dodging the Nazi patrol boats. Myles was awarded the Military Cross for his escape. He was then commissioned into Military Intelligence in Egypt and fought in the battles of Maretti and Enfidaville. For this work he received an MBE. Myles helped to plan and take part in the D-Day landings in 1942, helping to liberate Bayeux. On V-E Day Myles was in hospital – not injured but visiting his partner, an officer in the hussars who had been wounded. In his many letters and diaries are references to him taking his partner to military dances, a measure of the acceptance same-sex couples had in the British forces before the 1950s.

One war hero connects the Nottinghamshire militia to Noël Coward. Philip Streatfeild (1879-1915) was an officer in the Sherwood Foresters, an artillery regiment based in Nottingham. Philip was originally an artist and may have first met the teenage Noël Coward at his studio in London (Noel’s mother is said to have been the studio cleaner). Philip soon became infatuated with the boy and whisked him away on a painting trip to Cornwall. World War I broke out soon afterwards and Philip enlisted into the Sherwood Foresters. Apparently he took Noël to some of his regimental clubs where the young boy was “adopted” as the unofficial regimental mascot! Philip and the Sherwood Forester were sent to the French trenches. Like so many soldiers it wasn’t the fighting that killed Philip. It was disease which flourished in the dank trenches. Philip contracted tuberculosis and died in a trench hospital in June 1915.

There are several other lgbt war heroes I could have included today, but I’ll leave them for another time when I can give them more space.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Out Of Their Trees : Lance Bass

Perhaps today’s subject should feature in a “Star Gayzing” article. Former boyband member Lance Bass has made no secret of the fact that he wants to be an astronaut. This has been life’s ambition since he was 9 years old when his father and grandfather took him to visit his uncle who lived near Cape Canaveral. There Lance witnessed the first Space Shuttle launch which inspired him to study engineering in the hope that he would become a NASA shuttle crew member.

There’s no spacemen in Lance’s ancestry and it’s a bit complicated, especially his father’s line, so to make things easier for myself I’ll leave his mother’s ancestry for another time.

The Bass family can be traced back several hundred years. It’s not certain when they arrived in America but the earliest record of them is in Georgia. They moved to North Carolina in about 1820. Wilson Bennett Bass established a 100 acre farm near Andalusia in Covington County, Alabama. His son, however, Bennett Bridges Bass, was forced out of the farm during the American Civil War.

The Bass family were Union sympathisers. The Governor of Alabama ordered a crackdown on Confederate deserters and Union sympathisers and the Bass moved down to Florida (too far away from Cape Canaveral for me to claim Lance has any ancestral links to the place other than his uncle!).

On 15th March 1864 the Confederates attempted to arrest the Covington County state representative who was trying to escape behind Union lines. The Bass family knew him and were helping him to escape by boat. The Confederates ambushed them and sank the boat, capturing the representative’s son in the process. The representative escaped, but 3 members of the Bass family were killed, 2 of Bennett’s sons and his brother.

After the war the family returned to Andalusia, Alabama. Bennett Bass is Lance’s 3x-great-grandfather.

The Bass family intermarried with several other Alabama dynasties. So much so that, in fact, that it becomes confusing. If we look at Lance’s father James and his 8 great-grandparents, we find that 4 of them are members of the same family, the Gunters, and 2 are from the Hutto family.

The Gunters sound like they may be German in origin but they’re actually Anglo-Welsh. They do have German blood though. In 1710 three ships of German immigrants sailed across the Atlantic. The ships got blown off course on the way and it took a week to get back on track. As soon as they reached America they were attacked by French pirates. Among these German immigrants was 6-year-old Georg Kuntz and his family. They survived the attack though many didn’t. The Kunz family made their way from their landing point in Virginia to a settlement in North Carolina. Tragedy was to follow Georg and his family.

Less than a year after the 13-week voyage landed, after being blown off course and being attacked by pirates, the village was attacked by the Tuscarora Native Americans on whose land they had settled. Georg’s family were massacred. He was the only survivor. The Tuscarora held him captive for 6 months before releasing him under the wardship of one Jacob Mueller.

Several decades later in 1771 Georg’s daughter married John Gunter. Through intermarriage Lance has 6 lines of descent from this couple. It was probably John Gunter’s great-grandfather, also called John, who emigrated to America in the 1640s.

Another family who are Lance’s ancestors through the Gunter family are the Kirklands. There are several places on the internet which claim the Kirkland’s are descended from Native Americans – from the sister of Pocahontas, no less. So far I haven’t been able to verify this, and mention it as an intriguing possibility. Perhaps I’ll have verified this line of descent by the time I write about Lance’s maternal ancestry.

Back to the Gunters who, as I said earlier, were Anglo-Welsh. The later generations lived in Berkshire, but earlier ones lived in Wales. It is said that they are descended from one of William the Conqueror’s Norman barons. Indeed they are, but not one called Gunter.

Lance’s direct ancestor Charles Gunter (1562-c.1645) married Anne Turville. The Turville’s certainly have Norman blood (and are ancestors of ice dancer Jane Torvill). Through the Turville’s Lance Bass has several lines of descent from English noble families descended from Norman barons, and inherits royal DNA from King Edward I of England, a descendant of William the Conqueror.

We’ll end where we started with Lance Bass’s desire to be an astronaut. Because we can trace his ancestry so far back, and specifically to English royalty, there are many thousands of famous people we know are related to him. Some of these relatives are astronauts and the most appropriate one to mention first is the only known lgbt astronaut, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Other astronauts who share Lance’s and Sally’s royal blood are the first American man in space, Alan B. Shepherd, and Senator John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Charles Conrad, Virgil Grissom, Christa McAuliffe, Brewster Shaw and possibly (if I can verify them) Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Medal Quest : Going For A Gong

In 125 days time thousands of athletes will converge on Cleveland and Akron for the Gay Games, each of them hoping to go back home with a gong. If you haven’t heard that term before, a “gong” is a slang name for a medal, which gives me enough of a reason to introduce music into my Medal Quest series!

Most of the competitors at the Gay Games and Outgames are amateur athletes. They have other jobs and other lives outside sport and some of these are musicians. Here are some music makers who have gone home from the Gay Games with a “gong”.

Mark Chatfield (1953-1998)
Gay Games IV, New York 1994 – swimming: 6 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
Mark is one of that select group of Gay Games athletes who are Olympians. He came 4th in the 100m breaststroke final at the 1972 Munich Olympics, breaking the Olympic record in the heats. He took a break from competitive swimming for a few years and returned in 1980 to compete in US Masters competitions. In 1994 he was one of 5 Olympians to appear at the New York Gay Games (the others being Greg Louganis, Mark Leduc, Bruce Hayes and Peter Prijdekker). By this time Mark was a successful musician. He’d been a member of the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra since the ‘80s, and singer and composer in residence at St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s church in Encino. In 1993 Mark co-founded a small chamber ensemble called Musica Angelica. He also founded and performed in a quartet called La Chanterelle and a trio called Trio Galanterie. Mark died of lymphoma in 1998.

Kaia Wilson
Gay Games VIII, Cologne 2010 – table tennis: 1 gold, 1 bronze
As mentioned last month in my article “Grrrl Power” Kaia Wilson is a pioneer of the Riot Grrrl music movement and queercore punk. She was a founding member of the band Team Dresch, which is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest of the queercore Grrrl bands. In 1995 Kaia recorded her first solo album and then formed the band The Butchies, a much less queercore punk band. In 2010 Kaia combined a tour of Germany with Amy Ray’s punk band and a newly rediscovered passion for table tennis by entering the Gay Games in Cologne. You can read all about her gold-medal-winning performance in this diary she wrote for “Curve” magazine.

Jacques Snyman (b.1973)
Gay Games VII, Chicago 2006 – track and field athletics: 4 gold
Well, where do I start? South African Jacques has both sport and music in his DNA – his grandfather Johannes Viljoen competed for South Africa in the 1928 Olympics, and his grandmother was an opera singer. Jacques himself was a keen rugby player, and when he was living in the UK he played with the King’s Cross Steelers. Returning to South Africa Jacques found himself being chosen to compete in Mr Gay South Africa in 2009, and as a nude model for various porn sites! But it is his voice which now dominates his career. He is a countertenor, one of the highest male registers. He is becoming more and more well known, not surprising considering what he does in this video below! (Topical family history info : from my initial research it appears that Jacques may be related to both Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp, and to a later Mr Gay South Africa).
Angela “Bucky” Motter (b.1965)
Gay Games VII, Chicago 2006 – bodybuilding: 1 silver
“Transgenderbender: that’s the word my friend uses to describe herself. I think that term fits me well” writes Bucky on his website. He started song-writing at the age of 10 and went on to earn Bachelor degrees in classical guitar and music performance. He began recording in the ‘90s with jazz and soul, and opened concerts for B B King, Indigo Girls and Manhattan Transfer, among others. His competitive bodybuilding career began in 2005, though it has been a lifelong passion. Hopefully, Bucky will be competing in Cleveland later this year.

Stephen Perkins (b.1947)
Gay Games VII, Chicago 2006 – bodybuilding: 1 silver
Graphic designer and certified nutritionist Stephen began his musical life as a drummer in his high school marching band. From there he went into the band of the North American Aerospace Defence Command in 1969. On leaving the army Stephen studied graphic design and became art director on a Los Angeles news magazine. A miraculous recovery from AIDS Related Dementia in 1999 led Stephen to pursue a healthier lifestyle and he launched a website for HIV+ bodybuilders called The Muscle Kitchen in 2005. He medalled in all 3 of his first bodybuilding contests, one of which was the Chicago Gay Games.

Just by chance, Angela Motter and Stephen Perkins both appear in a YouTube video about bodybuilding which was posted on the Federation of Gay Games website 2 days ago (it wasn’t planned that way, honest!). The video also points out the relevance of music in bodybuilding routines.

Friday 4 April 2014

A Queer Handle on Handel

When I was about 8 and my younger brother was about 7 we sang in our village Methodist chapel’s short production of Handel’s “Messiah”. My Dad was a life-long member of the choir and my Grandad used to be it’s secretary, so its likely they “persuaded” us.

Handel was never one of the composers I ever thought of as being gay, not until relatively recently. Preparing for this year’s music theme I was surprised at how many famous classical composers like Handel could be considered “queer” in their sexuality.

The case for Handel’s sexuality is persuasive, but I’m still undecided. Like a lot of historical characters George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) never mentioned or referred to any sexual desires in his lifetime. Most of the current theories revolve around what he didn’t say and more on where he went. Only “straight” people in history could flaunt their sexuality as any homosexual activity was illegal for centuries.

Questions about his sexuality were apparently raised during his own lifetime, or so a later story goes. It may be just apocryphal, but it is said that when Handel was living in England he was asked by King George II about his “love of women”. Handel replied that he didn’t have time for anything else but music.

As is often the case with other people, biographers were once a bit wary to delve into Handel’s sexuality, mainly because of the lack of any evidence or the biographer didn’t think it was important, or even refused to accept the possibility. Many of Handel’s biographers came up with their own reasons why the composer wasn’t gay. These range from asexuality (reasonable theory), which is the lack of any romantic or sexual interest in anyone of either sex, to pious and almost saintly status as appropriate to a composer of religious music. Those biographers who suggested the latter seemed to ignore Handel’s well-documented liking for drink, food and bawdy humour among the homo-social circles in which he often moved.

We can draw some parallels here with Richard Wagner. You could say that both Wagner and Handel have experienced posthumous attempts to homosexualise them. As I mentioned in a previous article, I don’t believe these attempts to have much validity in the case of Wagner, but with Handel it may be different.

Society’s attitude to homosexual behaviour is different in the three eras of Handel’s time, Wagner’s time, and our own, so we must be careful not to put too much of today’s meanings into historical behaviour. Just remember that in the past homosexual love and homosexual sex were not treated the same. Love was okay, sex wasn’t (except in marriage).

More recent biographers have not ignored the possibility that Handel may have loved men more than women. They give several reasons why they think so. Firstly, biographers point out that during most of his life Handel’s social life, by and large, was lived in many fashionable high-class musical circles where there were a lot of aristocratic patrons who could be described as closeted homosexuals. While Handel lived in Rome the city was often referred to as the “City of Sodom”. Though socialising with a wealthy patron, regardless of their sexuality, was a good idea for any artistic talent looking for an income.

Another piece of circumstantial evidence biographers mention is Handel’s music from this early period. It contains many short pieces called chamber cantatas. They weren’t written for large theatre audiences or orchestras but for more intimate surroundings often consisting of a group of men and “gay” patrons. Handel never published many of these cantatas. They followed the fashion of the period for “pastoral” music which often celebrated same-sex relationships. The title of a recent biography by musicologist Ellen T. Harris was called “Handel as Orpheus” and brings another comparison between himself and the Greek musical hero Orpheus who, after the death and loss of his wife Eurydice, turned his love exclusively to men.

When Handel settled in England he continued to associate with men who led “gay” lifestyles as is Rome. In the 1730s, however, there was a crackdown on the underground gay subculture in London, in particular the so-called “Molly Houses” where men could meet, socialise and have sex with other men. Handel rewrote some of his overtly sexual lyrics to prevent them from being used against him.

As with many people we’ll never know for sure about Handel’s sexuality. What can be said is that his early music was influenced by the continental subculture of same-sex circles, and they helped to shape a recognisable musical style that reached a pinnacle in works such as “Music for the Royal Fireworks” and “Messiah”.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Queer Achievement : International Children's Literature Day

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
To celebrate today’s International Children’s Literature Day I’m looking at the coat of arms of the creator of one of the world’s most popular fictional characters, Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie.

First of all I’ll say a few words about why I think Barrie should be included in the lgbt community, something which has been debated in literary circles for quite some time. Some recent commentators have gone so far as to label Barrie a paedophile. While I think this is a wild accusation to make it is clear that Barrie did find the company of boys far more comfortable than that of girls or women. There’s no evidence he ever had sex with boys, or any overtly erotic desires for them, but his close friendship with the Llewellyn-Davies boys (the role models for the “lost boys” of the Peter Pan story) was more than paternalistic. Many decades later one of the boys admitted that “Uncle Jim”, as they called him, was in love with his brother Michael. Tragically, Michael died in what is believed to have been a suicide pact with his own boyfriend when he was 21.

To me J. M. Barrie seems to have been asexual with a romantic interest in male youths. It is this queerness which makes me place him in this blog. Had he lived in our time, when accusations of child abuse are being made against anyone who so much as touches a child’s shoulder, he may well have been accused of paedophilia, even though there’s no evidence he had any sexual interest in them.

Now, the coat of arms. As with most of the previous arms I’ve covered there’s a pun on Barrie’s name in the design. The shield is divided into bars. In heraldry this is called barry (= Barrie). The book in the crest is an obvious reference to his writing career. The reeds, however, are less obvious.

This coat of arms was granted to Barrie by the College of Arms in 1919 and the “rationale”, the explanation behind the design, is not publicly available so I’ll make an educated guess. Reeds were used in ancient times to make pipes – the sort Pan would play. Are the reeds a reference to Peter Pan? I’m not sure about the reason for the lion either. I don’t think it has anything to do with England because Barrie was Scottish.

A couple of elements in the design signify J. M. Barrie received a knighthood. The first is the helmet. Knights show helmets with the visor open. If you look at some of my previous paintings you’ll see the visor closed. The helmet is shown facing front, it doesn’t have to be, it could face left. In the way I’ve shown here the open book can be displayed properly.

The second knightly element is the badge on the left below the shield. In 1913 Barrie was created a baronet, a hereditary knighthood, the second most senior knighthood in the UK (only one had been created since 1963 – Denis Thatcher). The badge is the official insignia of a baronet. Interestingly, Barrie turned down a knighthood, that of Knight Bachelor, in 1909 (Knight Bachelor is the lowest of the dozen ranks of British knighthood available at the time).

The badge on the right is that of the Order of Merit. This order confers no title on its holder though ranks in the middle of the top 5 knighthoods. The Order was created by King Edward VII in 1902 and is given to very few people who have made a significant contribution to society, mainly in the arts. Barrie became a member of the Order of Merit in 1922. One of the first members appointed by Edward VII in 1902 was Florence Nightingale, and one of the most recent is David Hockney.

The motto is in French and translates as “Love of Goodness”.

I didn’t think it was appropriate to put a rainbow backing to the motto scroll (one of the few areas where artistic license is allowed) considering what I said above about Barrie’s queerness. Instead I’ve chosen the colours of the asexual community and the Asexual Pride flag.