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Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out

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Popular music's gay DNA is inarguable, from Elvis in eye shadow and Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' to The Velvet Underground's subversive rock'n'roll and Bowie's ambisexual alien Ziggy Stardust; from kd lang's female Elvis to Kurt Cobain in a dress; from Noughties lesbian icon Beth Ditto to Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' manifesto. But if collected essays and/or features hav Popular music's gay DNA is inarguable, from Elvis in eye shadow and Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' to The Velvet Underground's subversive rock'n'roll and Bowie's ambisexual alien Ziggy Stardust; from kd lang's female Elvis to Kurt Cobain in a dress; from Noughties lesbian icon Beth Ditto to Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' manifesto. But if collected essays and/or features have addressed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender singers, songwriters, musicians and songs, no book has yet comprehensively and authoritatively drawn together all the threads to explore this as an unfolding, historical narrative: to tell the story of how music 'came out', from the days when homosexuals were deeply in the closet, but the love that once dared not speak its name sings it, and on daytime radio to boot.This story will reveal which songs have coded messages about sexuality, and which proudly declared the truth, including examples of heterosexual songwriters and singers who chose to address same-sex issues, from Rod Stewart's 'The Killing Of Georgie' - the first UK number one with a gay theme - to Suede's 'Animal Nitrate'. The narrative will unfold against a backdrop of historic social and political shifts, as LGBT rights pushed for visibility and equality, from the closet of the Fifties to the struggle and setbacks of the Sixties, the liberation of the Seventies, the mainstream invasion and AIDS crisis of the Eighties, the advances of the Nineties and the more immersed scene of the Noughties. These artists have indeed changed the world as we know it. Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache is a story for a wide audience, not just the LGBT community but a broad spectrum of music lovers who are fascinated by these characters, events, stories and songs. It is also a very timely tale, given the prominence of same-sex issues such as marriage equality, alongside the retrogressive steps in places such as Russia and parts of Africa, where songs encapsulating the gay/lesbian experience mirror those of the Sixties, signifying how the journey from illegality and bigotry to freedom is still far from over.


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Popular music's gay DNA is inarguable, from Elvis in eye shadow and Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' to The Velvet Underground's subversive rock'n'roll and Bowie's ambisexual alien Ziggy Stardust; from kd lang's female Elvis to Kurt Cobain in a dress; from Noughties lesbian icon Beth Ditto to Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' manifesto. But if collected essays and/or features hav Popular music's gay DNA is inarguable, from Elvis in eye shadow and Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' to The Velvet Underground's subversive rock'n'roll and Bowie's ambisexual alien Ziggy Stardust; from kd lang's female Elvis to Kurt Cobain in a dress; from Noughties lesbian icon Beth Ditto to Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' manifesto. But if collected essays and/or features have addressed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender singers, songwriters, musicians and songs, no book has yet comprehensively and authoritatively drawn together all the threads to explore this as an unfolding, historical narrative: to tell the story of how music 'came out', from the days when homosexuals were deeply in the closet, but the love that once dared not speak its name sings it, and on daytime radio to boot.This story will reveal which songs have coded messages about sexuality, and which proudly declared the truth, including examples of heterosexual songwriters and singers who chose to address same-sex issues, from Rod Stewart's 'The Killing Of Georgie' - the first UK number one with a gay theme - to Suede's 'Animal Nitrate'. The narrative will unfold against a backdrop of historic social and political shifts, as LGBT rights pushed for visibility and equality, from the closet of the Fifties to the struggle and setbacks of the Sixties, the liberation of the Seventies, the mainstream invasion and AIDS crisis of the Eighties, the advances of the Nineties and the more immersed scene of the Noughties. These artists have indeed changed the world as we know it. Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache is a story for a wide audience, not just the LGBT community but a broad spectrum of music lovers who are fascinated by these characters, events, stories and songs. It is also a very timely tale, given the prominence of same-sex issues such as marriage equality, alongside the retrogressive steps in places such as Russia and parts of Africa, where songs encapsulating the gay/lesbian experience mirror those of the Sixties, signifying how the journey from illegality and bigotry to freedom is still far from over.

30 review for Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    What a missed opportunity. The interest of the topic (the history of LGBTQ issues in pop music) is obvious, and I was convinced when I checked the author details and saw that he’d written a Pulp book. Which I, often not that great with non-fiction authors’ names, presumed must be the similarly hefty one I read and loved a few years back. My first mistake: that was by Mark Sturdy. Aston’s was the slim one that looked like a bit of a clippings job, and with which I never bothered. Still, that was What a missed opportunity. The interest of the topic (the history of LGBTQ issues in pop music) is obvious, and I was convinced when I checked the author details and saw that he’d written a Pulp book. Which I, often not that great with non-fiction authors’ names, presumed must be the similarly hefty one I read and loved a few years back. My first mistake: that was by Mark Sturdy. Aston’s was the slim one that looked like a bit of a clippings job, and with which I never bothered. Still, that was a long time ago, so nothing by which to judge him, and having this as my new commute read yesterday seemed like a suitable, if small, act of defiance after the terrible news from across the pond. Sadly, it soon became clear that it wasn’t up to scratch. The introduction is dismissive, not without some justification, of previous books on the theme which have often been assemblages of articles rather than coherent works. This, Aston promises, will be different: a proper, structured history, following a through-line. Lovely idea, but sadly not one that’s followed. There are lots of footnotes to websites, which is fine (this is 2016, after all), but they’re often sites which look to have more agenda than authority, and I suspect some of their claims are being reproduced here without checking. Certainly there must have been some serious authorial and/or editorial failing, because over and over again a chapter will contain a claim directly contradicted by information earlier in the book. So a Jimmy Rogers B-side is “the earliest musical reference to bisexuality” and Bruz Fletcher’s 'Peter Lillie Daisy' has “the first transsexual character in song”, despite the opening chapter having quotations from ballads and folk songs such as ‘Highland Tinker’ and ‘The Strapping Lad’ which beat them both to it by untold decades*. So “the first gay or lesbian publication in the USA” makes its debut ten years after the country’s “first ‘gay lifestyle’ magazine” (very slightly varied claims, granted, but it seems a lot like a distinction without a difference). And it’s not a self-contradiction in the same way, but similar signs of either laziness or hurry come through when two hostesses are “singularly named” within four pages. It contributes to a general sense that this is less a real history than a succession of potted biographies laid end to end without even rudimentary cross-checking, and I simply can’t justify the effort of persevering with it as it reaches decades I know better which, while Aston may at least have living interviewees (some, like Anohni, people whose work I really like), won’t even have the distinction of giving me new (if not wholly trustworthy) information. Because I’ll say this much for the early chapters: they did at least inform me of the existence of a subtextually queer ditty called ‘Ida, the Wayward Sturgeon’. *Not to mention aggressively bi Ma Rainey lyrics in the intervening chapter, not to mention that it’s debatable whether the protagonist of 'Peter Lillie Daisy’ can be thus characterised anyway. They have the power to change sex and/or gender (the lyrics aren’t quoted at great enough length for me to be sure which). And for all that this would be a brilliant magical ability to have, simplifying it down to ‘transsexual’…well, it’s certainly a case you could make, but it could equally be considered pretty misleading. ‘Gender-fluid’ seems a much better fit, or of course our old catch-all friend ‘queer’.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hailey Bussan

    This was a huge missed oppertunity. This is just a list of artists, very few details, no context. I was expecting a descriptions and experiences and analysis of lyrics but rather it's just "this guy was gay, this woman was gay, yep all gay". This was a huge missed oppertunity. This is just a list of artists, very few details, no context. I was expecting a descriptions and experiences and analysis of lyrics but rather it's just "this guy was gay, this woman was gay, yep all gay".

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jo Coleman

    A pretty good beginners' guide to the history of gay and lesbian popular music, and an impressive attempt to cover the whole world from the 19th century onwards (though this did mean the book got a bit list-y at times). The stories about people and movements I'd never heard of (like the Pansy Craze of the 30s and the work of the excellent-sounding Archbishop Carl Bean) were rather more interesting than speculation over whether various sixties rock stars might have been bisexual. A pretty good beginners' guide to the history of gay and lesbian popular music, and an impressive attempt to cover the whole world from the 19th century onwards (though this did mean the book got a bit list-y at times). The stories about people and movements I'd never heard of (like the Pansy Craze of the 30s and the work of the excellent-sounding Archbishop Carl Bean) were rather more interesting than speculation over whether various sixties rock stars might have been bisexual.

  4. 5 out of 5

    TR Peterson

    I tried to get through this book and did enjoy being introduced to new artists. However Aston is utterly tone deaf to biphobia and throughout uses quotes that downplay, diminish and constantly call into question well known bisexual artists sexuality. He clearly believes bisexuality is merely some sort of “cover” for people who are either “really straight” and just using gayness for publicity or “really gay” and “colluding with the closet” in the words of Marc Almond who he quotes without further I tried to get through this book and did enjoy being introduced to new artists. However Aston is utterly tone deaf to biphobia and throughout uses quotes that downplay, diminish and constantly call into question well known bisexual artists sexuality. He clearly believes bisexuality is merely some sort of “cover” for people who are either “really straight” and just using gayness for publicity or “really gay” and “colluding with the closet” in the words of Marc Almond who he quotes without further comment. The book is filled with quotes like these. He continually spells out how many relationships bisexual artists had with each sex and then implies they are either gay or straight based on that (including Dusty Springfield!) He doesn’t do this with artists who he believes are strictly gay. I got to the chapter on the 80s before calling it quits. I just can’t keep reading a book that’s meant to be a history of LGBT music but is so out of touch with bi people. It’s a shame because the material was interesting - but I’m not going to keep reading a book that questions bi people’s existence on every other page. Martin, if you’re reading this, find some bi folks and have a chat to try and understand what bisexuality actually is - then maybe do a rewrite of this book leaving the biphobic crap out and I’ll give it another read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve Erickson

    It may be a paradox to say that a 600-page book isn't comprehensive enough, but BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE tries to cover the entire history of music made by LGBTQ people in popular genres and winds up informative bur shallow. One learns about obscure artists like the glam-punk band Handbag and openly gay singer/songwriter Steven Grossman, who was more or less making a male equivalent to the "womyn's music" of Olivia Records but without any commercial success. Martin Aston also throws It may be a paradox to say that a 600-page book isn't comprehensive enough, but BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS OF HEARTACHE tries to cover the entire history of music made by LGBTQ people in popular genres and winds up informative bur shallow. One learns about obscure artists like the glam-punk band Handbag and openly gay singer/songwriter Steven Grossman, who was more or less making a male equivalent to the "womyn's music" of Olivia Records but without any commercial success. Martin Aston also throws in a long list of lesbian Brazilian singers, including tropicalia great Gal Costa, without saying a word about their music, much less how their sexuality influenced it. He runs down suggestive quotes from R.E.M. lyrics - such as the implication of bisexual attraction in "Pretty Persuasion" - but doesn't see queerness in any less literal context. (For example, Michael Stipe's early tendency to mumble his lyrics could be seen either as a symptom of his closeted desire or a liberating refusal to be pinned down.) And Aston has a suspicious of bisexuality - which he calls a "halfway house" - that's all too familiar in gay men of his (and my) generation and millennials are thankfully rejecting. There are also significant changes in LGBTQ music history which happened just as the book went to press, such as the rise of Brockhampton's popularity and the increasingly open queerness of some of Odd Future's members changing the landscape of hip-hop and R&B. It's worth reading, but it could've used another draft. I wonder if Handbag's album is available on Spotify!

  6. 5 out of 5

    ElwYckE

    This massive and massively enjoyable book looks and reads to me like a giant labour of love on behalf of the author Martin Aston. He is evidently passionate about his subject matter and this book is full of music you'll either know very well or music you'll likely want to go and find out about. I certainly did. It's a shame that a sampler CD or download of music from each different era and genre hasn't been made available in conjunction with this incredible book. A wealth of artists and songs are w This massive and massively enjoyable book looks and reads to me like a giant labour of love on behalf of the author Martin Aston. He is evidently passionate about his subject matter and this book is full of music you'll either know very well or music you'll likely want to go and find out about. I certainly did. It's a shame that a sampler CD or download of music from each different era and genre hasn't been made available in conjunction with this incredible book. A wealth of artists and songs are waiting here to be discovered.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kurt Reighley

    One of the most important pop culture surveys I've ever read. I've been seeking out and writing about LGBTQ musicians for almost 30 years, and Aston turned me on to all manner of artists I'd never listened to before. The amount of information here astonished me, and Aston condenses it all into a compelling narrative that manages to cover a century's worth of music without losing momentum. One of the most important pop culture surveys I've ever read. I've been seeking out and writing about LGBTQ musicians for almost 30 years, and Aston turned me on to all manner of artists I'd never listened to before. The amount of information here astonished me, and Aston condenses it all into a compelling narrative that manages to cover a century's worth of music without losing momentum.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mick Meyers

    A comprehensive and well researched book,plenty to think about next time I hear some of the songs again.i only lost interest when it reached the eighties after which I lost touch with music and got into the curmudgeonly idea that that's not music it's just noise,plenty of other books to follow up on as the bibliography is page by page.well done the author. A comprehensive and well researched book,plenty to think about next time I hear some of the songs again.i only lost interest when it reached the eighties after which I lost touch with music and got into the curmudgeonly idea that that's not music it's just noise,plenty of other books to follow up on as the bibliography is page by page.well done the author.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dick

    I didn't know a lot about this subject so this book felt quite comprehensive to me and I learned a lot from it. However it was a little bit of a " this happened then this happened" rather than shaping a narrative or following an argument. I didn't know a lot about this subject so this book felt quite comprehensive to me and I learned a lot from it. However it was a little bit of a " this happened then this happened" rather than shaping a narrative or following an argument.

  10. 4 out of 5

    L.

    Poorly written, sloppily researched, totally unsubstantiated stuff passed off as fact.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alex Cornetto

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alice

  13. 5 out of 5

    Guido Sanchez

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ricky

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Lewis

  17. 5 out of 5

    David Allardice

  18. 4 out of 5

    Martin

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rachael Norman

  20. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  21. 5 out of 5

    Briony

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alberto V. V.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

  24. 4 out of 5

    R.j. Ward

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erlijn Koningen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott Freeman

  27. 4 out of 5

    Victor

  28. 5 out of 5

    attuhs

  29. 5 out of 5

    Phil

  30. 4 out of 5

    Darren

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