So picture this. The year: 1973. A lavish $200,000, three-night concert will take place at the Paris Opera. The show’s finale will feature Jobriath (pronounced Joe-breye-uth) dressed as King Kong climbing a mini Empire State Building that will magically turn into a giant spurting penis with a doorway to a piano. Are you still with me? Jobriath will eventually enter this doorway transformed from ape to Marlene Dietrich. Spectacular. Spectacular. And who is this Jobriath you say? He was the self-proclaimed “true fairy of
rock and roll,” the first openly gay rock star.
The lavish Paris production never happened and neither did stardom. By 1975, with the lack-lustre sales of two albums (Jobriath and Creatures Of The Street), a scaredy cat record company and major manager drama, Jobriath
announced his retirement from the music industry. Many considered him a third-class Bowie… a Ziggy wannabe. After repeated listening of this new compilation, Jobriath: Lonely Planet Boy (on fan Morrissey’s Attack Records), I would have to agree. But his cabaret, glam rock, disco tunes have their moments.
The first five tunes have Bowie all over them. The swagger and rock (Peter Frampton plays guitar) seem pompous and silly. They try too hard. Even the titles are “Thin White Duke” copycats. “Morning Star Ship.” “Space Clown.”
Please. Then track six wins me over completely. “Street Corner Love” starts with a lovely piano as steel drums join in and the song gets hip and sexy with a brilliant line sung with Jobriath’s lippy Jagger reading. “Give me love/ Love me like we never met.” On “Scumbag” things get quirky and country flavoured with delightful carefree results.
But I think the last two tracks (with The Jobriath Orchestra) are 100 percent Jobriath (well, they’re definitely not Bowie). When he does his tin pan alley/ cabaret styling, it’s all very gay and lovely. “Movie Queen” has him doing that “Winchester Cathedral,” nasal-1960s-doing-’20s-voice thang. But “Dietrich/ Fondyke” (a brief history of movie music) is the song you can take home to mom. It’s a list song where a female chorus (they sound like 30 chipper Margaret Dumonts) recites female movie star names (Dietrich, Garbo, Monroe, etc), the orchestra flies through and steals some of the thunder of “Rhapsody In Blue” and Jobriath just plays his piano and doesn’t sing a word.
From 1975 on, Jobriath was a lounge singer at The Covent Gardens in New York City. He called himself Cole Berlin. He sang old show tunes but would never play his old “hits.” In 1981 he was diagnosed with the AIDS. He died in 1983
at the age of 37.
On album, Toronto’s Reginald Gordon Vermue comes across as quiet, kind and fragile. Not at all the show off. Gentlemen Reg is his performance name and Darby And Joan is his new album (his third). It’s light, nonabrasive pop but the songs just seem to flutter by and don’t connect with me. His voice is nice enough but the album has a “how wimpily we roll along” non-energy. I want to turn the production upside down and shake it by its boots. It’s slightly precious.
“The Boyfriend Song” is the best thing here. It’s got a peppy spirit with the guitar; drums and piano kicking some much needed energy into the mix. Reg’s nervous desperate voice is perfect as he sings, “Soon it’s gonna come around/ It’s gonna sing the song you never wrote/ It will astound.”