Overlooked No More: Jobriath, Openly Gay Glam Rocker in the ’70s

This article is a part of Overlooked, a sequence of obituaries about exceptional folks whose deaths, starting in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

On March eight, 1974, American TV viewers received their first glimpse of the American glam rocker Jobriath on the well-liked NBC music program “The Midnight Special.” Jobriath, who was launched by the singer Gladys Knight as “the act of tomorrow,” made a putting debut, carrying a futuristic silver-gray, hoop-shaped costume and singing a baroque-sounding quantity titled “I’maman.”

For his second music, the electrifying “Rock of Ages,” he wore a tightfitting, one-piece purplish swimsuit and a big, bubble helmet that, with the contact of his fingers, broke aside into petals that surrounded his head. His area alien persona and theatrical rock music drew comparisons to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character, and his swaggering sound was likened to that of Mick Jagger. Onstage he moved like a ballet dancer.

“We were so excited,” the actress Ann Magnuson, then a young person, stated in a telephone interview. “‘Oh, did you see that helmet?’ You would talk about that in school the next day.”

But Billy Cross, who performed the guitar alongside Jobriath, remembered the efficiency, and the viewers, in a different way. “It was horrible,” he stated in a telephone interview. “They hated us, and that wasn’t fun.”

Such was the difficult existence of Jobriath, who is mostly considered the first overtly homosexual rock star. His picture got here with dangers: He launched simply two albums, and each have been poorly acquired by an viewers that was largely unwilling to just accept his effeminate persona. His short-lived profession grew to become a footnote to rock ’n’ roll historical past, and he finally died alone, his physique found by the police a while later.

Jobriath acting on NBC’s “The Midnight Special” in 1974. He emerged onstage in a futuristic silver-gray, hoop-shaped costume.Credit…Gary Null/NBC, through Getty ImagesFor his second quantity on “The Midnight Special,” Jobriath wore a tight-fitting one-piece purplish swimsuit.Credit…Gary Null/NBC, through Getty Images

He was born Bruce Wayne Campbell on Dec. 14, 1946, in Pennsylvania (accounts differ on exactly the place), the second of three kids of James and Marion (Salisbury) Campbell. His father got here from a navy background, and his mom was a homemaker who later labored as an insurance coverage secretary. (The full identify he used, Jobriath Salisbury, was “an amalgam of his teenage obsession with religion and his mother’s maiden name,” Robert Cochrane wrote in the liner notes of a 2004 Jobriath compilation.)

Bruce Campbell was a musical prodigy who might sight-read any composition at the piano, stated Peter Batchelder, who met him in 1964 after they have been music college students at Temple University.

“He could play pretty much the whole first movement of the Prokofiev second piano concerto,” he stated by telephone. “He could handle musical data like nobody I ever met before or since.”

Finding Temple’s music programs elementary, Bruce dropped out after one semester and joined the navy. “He wanted to impress his father,” stated his half brother, Willie Fogle. “Of course he hated it, so he ran away.”

Relocating to California underneath the identify of Jobriath Salisbury, he agreed to play the piano accompaniment for a pal who was auditioning for the 1968 Los Angeles manufacturing of “Hair.” The musical’s director, seeing Jobriath as a very good match for a manufacturing celebrating the counterculture, gave him a job. .

“We were all dumbfounded,” stated Oatis Stephens, a pal who additionally acted in “Hair.” “It was like, ‘Why aren’t you playing concerts with the Philharmonic?’”

Jobriath later joined the New York City firm of “Hair” however was fired, by his account, for upstaging the different actors. He then discovered himself misplaced and binging on alcohol. “I was floating down in the gutter,” he advised Interview journal in 1973.

He was rescued, nonetheless, by the music entrepreneur and membership proprietor Jerry Brandt, who heard a demo tape that Jobriath had despatched to CBS Records. Brandt requested to turn out to be his supervisor.

“He could write, he could sing, he could dance,” Brandt stated in the 2012 documentary “Jobriath A.D.” “I bought it. I mean, he seduced me, period.” (Brandt died in January.)

At Brandt’s course, Jobriath remodeled himself from a 1960s hippie to a glittering rock star, and in interviews he took goal at musicians like Bowie and Marc Bolan, the frontman for the band T. Rex, whose personas solely hinted at sexual ambiguity.

“I’m a true fairy,” he would say. He advised NBC Los Angeles: “There’s a lot of people running around, putting makeup on and stuff, just because it’s chic. I just want to say that I’m no pretender.”

Brandt introduced Jobriath to the consideration of Elektra Records, which signed him for a reported $500,000, an enormous sum at the time for an unknown musician, equal to virtually $three million immediately. (In Mick Houghton’s 2011 e book “Becoming Elektra,” Jac Holzman, the label’s founder, stated that the precise determine was nearer to $50,000.)

Jobriath in May 1983 when he carried out as a cabaret musician. He was discovered lifeless that summer time, from AIDS, in his room at the Chelsea Hotel.Credit…Hopkins, NYC, through the Bruce Campbell property

Jobriath’s debut album, titled merely “Jobriath” and launched in October 1973, was a mixture of glam rock, cabaret and funk, all given subtle preparations at the Electric Lady recording studios in Manhattan. His lyrics might be risqué (“I’d do anything for you or to you,” he sang in “Take Me I’m Yours”), tender (“I know the child that I am has hurt you/And I was a woman when I made you cry,” in “Be Still”) or witty (“With you on my arm Betty Grable lost her charm,” in “Movie Queen”).

“The material just impressed me by its complexity, sensitivity, breadth and quirkiness,” Eddie Kramer, who co-produced the report with Jobriath, stated in a telephone interview. “He was a genius.”

Before the album was launched, Brandt mounted a heavy promotional marketing campaign, together with full-page ads in Rolling Stone and Vogue, posters on the sides of buses and a big billboard in Times Square depicting Jobriath as a nude statue. Coinciding with the album’s launch, Jobriath had deliberate to make his dwell efficiency debut with three reveals at the Paris Opera House, the place he would emerge in a King Kong costume climbing a mini reproduction of the Empire State Building. The manufacturing price was estimated at an exorbitant $200,000.

The advert marketing campaign is one purpose Jobriath is taken into account to at the present time to have been amongst the music business’s most overhyped acts.

With the homosexual liberation motion rising in the early 1970s, Brandt assumed that Jobriath can be readily embraced. “The kids will emulate Jobriath,” he advised Rolling Stone in 1973, “because he cares about his body, his mind, his responsibility to the public as a leader, as a force, as a manipulator of beauty and art.”

The album earned some constructive critiques, together with one from Rolling Stone, which stated it “exhibits honest, personal magnetism and talent to burn.” Other publications have been extra blended. In his overview for The New York Times, Henry Edwards made the inevitable comparability to Bowie. “Jobriath, too, writes about ‘space clowns,’ ‘earthlings’ and ‘morning starships,’” he wrote. “The results can only be described as dismal.”

Sales of the album have been poor, and the Paris Opera House reveals have been scrapped.

“When it started out,” stated Cross, Jobriath’s guitarist, “it was all about the music. After Jerry Brandt got involved, it was all about the career. Then after that started to take hold, it was all about Jobriath’s sexuality. America was not ready for that.”

Jobriath put out a second album, “Creatures of the Street,” in 1974 and launched into a nationwide tour, solely to come across homophobic slurs throughout a efficiency at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. By the subsequent yr, even after his look on “The Midnight Special,” Elektra had dropped Jobriath from its roster, and he and Brandt had parted methods.

“He didn’t sell any records,” Brandt stated in “Jobriath A.D.,” the documentary movie. “What gets a record company going is the smell of money. And there was no money. He didn’t generate 50 cents.”

From the late 1970s onward, Jobriath carried out pop requirements as a cabaret musician, calling himself Cole Berlin, and lived at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. In a 1979 interview, he spoke of his former alter ego in the previous tense: “Jobriath committed suicide in a drug, alcohol and publicity overdose.”

He was discovered lifeless at the Chelsea Hotel in the summer time of 1983. He was 36. AIDS, which had reached epidemic dimensions by then, was given as the trigger.

In the many years since his dying, Jobriath’s music has been reissued, and numerous musicians have expressed admiration for him, together with Morrissey, Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott.

Jobriath’s impression on L.G.B.T.Q. music historical past additionally went by means of a reappraisal. “He was a sexual hero,” the British singer Marc Almond wrote in The Guardian in 2012. “For all the derision and marginalization he faced, Jobriath did touch lives.”

Today, those that knew Jobriath in his varied guises — classical music wunderkind, glam rocker, interpreter of the Great American Songbook — keep in mind his expertise. “Whether he was composing epic symphonic music of searing intensity (and orchestrating it at 16) or brazenly appropriating the Rolling Stones’s idiom,” Batchelder, his former classmate, stated in an e-mail, “there was always beauty in his work.”