Jan 10, 2015

Rod and Al Stewart: Coming Out in the Year of the Cat

  Over thirty years ago, I was struggling to "figure it out" in the Year of the Cat, and my quest was illustrated by the songs of Rod/Al Stewart.  I couldn't turn on the radio without hearing his wheezy, gravelly voice wailing out a ballad with a story attached.  And the stories were always about coming out.  I didn't find out until researching this post that they were two different people.   It's still hard to tell them apart.  Both British, born in 1945, both with that androgynous 1970s look.  When you do a google image search, you get more shirtless and swimsuit clad photos of Rod.      For Al, all you get are a lot of photos that the search engine insists are him, but aren't.  Like this one.  Al's songs were easier to find a gay subtext in.  "On the Border": About a revolution in your mind..  "Time Passages": The years are slipping by, and you're not finding it.  "Year of the Cat": In a Latin American country, you meet a girl whose dress is running in the rain.  She brings you to a hidden door. You go inside, spend the night, and realize that you've lost your ticket, so you're going to stay awhile.     I guess it's supposed to be about a romantic interlude, but I found it rather sinister.  The girl is using some kind of black magic to keep you trapped in a heterosexual prison.   "Broadway Hotel" You told the man in the Broadway Hotel Nothing was stranger than being yourself And he replied, with a tear in his eye  Love was a rollaway.  You tried finding love everywhere, and then you met the man in the Broadway hotel.      Most of Rod's songs were aggressively about girls! girls! girls!  So it took a little tweaking to make them about being gay.  "Tonight's the Night." You draw the shades, pour the wine, and prepare to have sex with a virgin girl, because "tonight's the night."  But drop the "girl," and you're preparing to have sex with a man.  "You're in my Heart": You're an essay in glamour -- please pardon the grammar, but you're every schoolboy's dream.  Ok, well, I'm pretty sure that Shaun Cassidy was every schoolboy's dream.       "I Was Only Joking": Rod and his friends were Valentinos, and broke some hearts, without specifying who those hearts belonged to.  And one that never got air time -- at least, I never heard it, was about a gay guy.  "The Killing of Georgie": His friend George was killed in a homophobic hate crime.  It actually uses the word "gay," a rarity in 1977.   See also: Subtext Songs of the 1980s; The Eagles; and Kissing Boys to the BeeGees.