Aug 18, 2012

Leif Garrett



Even in the glam-rock 1970’s, when swishy postures were sexy and the androgynous became superstars, Leif was so absolutely girlish in every word and gesture, polarized so far into the feminine, that only the pronouns of “he” and “him” gave any indication that this person should be taken as male. And, in spite of a recurring role on Family as the “boyfriend” of aggressively masculine tomboy Buddy (Kristy McNichol), it was impossible to imagine Leif ever sleeping with a girl.  Even the teen magazines made quite a mystery of Leif’s romantic interests. One 1977 article, promising “99 Fax About Leif,” divulged only that he enjoyed playing Monopoly, he preferred being shirtless, and he had never told a girl “I love you.” Perhaps he had told a boy, as they lounged around the house shirtless, playing Monopoly?

Leif seemed conflicted about how epicene his public persona should be. At first he was adamantly, defiantly girlish, but when fans began complaining that parents wouldn’t allow his pinups because he looked too much like a girl, he adopted a new persona, sullen and inarticulate, and, he hoped, masculine. Instead he became androgynous, a Caravaggio youth, or the blond feminine Tadzio who leads Aschenbach to his doom in Death in Venice. The teen magazines did their part: an article in Tiger Beat announced that his first love was skateboarding “next to music and girls, of course,”  and another assured readers that “Leif is a He-Man,” detailing his enthusiasm for jogging, swimming, and horseback riding (still, nary a macho sport in the lot).


Leif released his first album, entitled Leif Garrett, in the fall of 1977, before he was old enough to drive a car; the cover shows him in a maroon shirt, again unbuttoned all the way down to his navel, revealing a smooth, firm, but undefined chest, shoulder-length blond hair, and a round androgynous face. The overt eroticism of the cover art belies the romantic innocence of the tracks, mostly covers of rock classics such as “Johnny B. Goode,” “California Girls,” and “Surfin’ USA.” Nevertheless, several tracks manage to avoid the “girl” filler, making Leif a possible successor to gay-friendly Shaun Cassidy

In Feel the Need, released during the summer of 1978, Leif rebels against both androgyny and feel-good country constraints; in a red blouse, wide-lapelled leather jacket, and grenadier-belt, with a full Farrah Faucett blow-dried hairdo, he could almost be a drag queen. Now the songs stray far from the heteronormative “Runaround Sue” to “I Was Made or Dancing” and “Without You,” which omit pronouns and girls’ names, suggesting that the pain of love could apply equally to boys and girls. Indeed, “Livin’ Without Your Love,” about walking through an empty house after his lover is gone, seems to favor the boy-reading. Leif sings:

Time is such a lonely friend, and the time on my hands is showin'
Nothin' is worse than finally knowin', and livin' without your love.

In real life, Leif apparently enjoys the company of women; he was married once, and was heartbroken when a long-term girlfriend died.  He has never made a public statement acknowledging his gay fans.