Glam rock singer Jobriath still a mystery 35 years after his death

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Most people know that it is impossible to be aware of all examples of popular culture, regardless of how ardent a fan a person is. This is particularly true when a person has been born after a music genre has experienced its heyday. As a result, for those born after the glory days of glam rock, but who are fans of the genre anyway, the name Jobriath probably does not sound familiar.

Aug. 4, 2018 marked the 35th anniversary of Jobriath’s death in 1983. The singer died after his almost meteoric rise promised so much to so many, including Jobriath himself, but ultimately there was no follow through. The glam rocker faded into obscurity then died before more than a select few could even start to understand who he was.

Who is Jobriath?

Born Bruce Campbell, Jobriath was among other things a military deserter, a musical genius, and considered by many to be the American David Bowie. Aesthetically pleasing to many, Jobriath starred in a West Coast production of “Hair” for years. He played “Woof.” When the production moved east, so did Jobriath. After he was no longer starring in the tribal rock musical, Jobriath continued to write songs and formed a band. Eventually, he caught the attention of Jerry Brandt.

Jobriath, Brandt and the fame machine

A documentary from 2012 chronicles Jobriath’s and Brandt’s partnership. Each seemed to have the idea that they would be like Elvis and the Colonel. However, for those who knew the pair, and discussed them in the film (titled “Jobriath A.D.”), the consensus seems to be that Brandt overdid the publicity – – there was a photo of the singer on the side of a bus in New York City, in addition to his image on a Times Square billboard.

Jobriath is also reportedly the first openly gay singer who was signed with a major label. Even his record deal is the source of rumor and speculation. On some websites, the amount of the singer’s advance is reported to be $500,000. Others state $300,000. The truth is closer to one-tenth of those amounts.

In short, there was a great deal of hype that surrounded Jobriath. When it was clear that his rock ‘n’ roll dreams as promised by Brandt, were never coming true, Jobriath reinvented himself as Cole Berlin. With grounding in standards and classical music, he was able to make a living as a pianist and singer in a small club, singing songs from the 1920s.

There was also a dark side to Jobriath. It apparently was no secret that the singer would work as a prostitute during lean times. The singer died of an AIDS-related illness, seated at his piano, at age 36.

Jobriath, a seldom heard voice in glam rock

But what about the singer’s rock music? There is no question of Jobriath’s glamorous image. His music actually ranged from folk rock to harder-edged rock. One of his best songs is a tune called “I’maman” (I’m a man). It is full of swagger and a strong rock ‘n’ roll beat. Even so, Jobriath’s genius shone through when he sat at a piano. His notebooks and sheet music from his teen years show the acumen he had for classical music. In “Jobriath A.D.,” people who knew him speculate that Jobriath could have had a lucrative career on Broadway.

In a career that spanned 10 years, and resulted in five albums, Jobriath crafted a legacy that still isn’t fully understood. What audiences do have is the body of work that shows a slightly different approach to glam rock, and is evidence of a genius misunderstood.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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