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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gay Thursday: Chris Isaak Redux

In June of 1993, Chris Isaak performed at the newly revitalized TLA on South Street in Philadelphia. Tower Records just down the street was the focal point for his venture and the employees, especially the young females, were, all of them, titillated at the proximity of the heart throb.

Chris Isaak embodies the ideal of the strong, sensitive and handsome man who seems somewhat sincere, to coin a musical phrase, let alone he can sing and write songs. Perhaps in an attempt to cut through all the excitement the sales representative from WEA, the company distributing Isaak's label, announced that he was gay. Perhaps it was someone simply embellishing a persistent rumour, although there was insistence on visual evidence.

Be that as it may, it may have diluted the female excitement, or not as the case may be, but the possibility that someone of the sex symbol status of Chris Isaak might be gay, put simply and equivocally, fanned the flames.

Mr. Isaak, ever the accessible and gracious rock star, held a meet and greet following the concert; he was selling one of his best albums, San Francisco Days. The best surprise at that reception was that Chris mentioned that his mother was Italian. Of course, he wasn't about to announce that he loved men. The fact that Mediterranean blood coursed through his veins was enough for some attendees to place him on a higher pedestal, although the flames continued to burn. He suddenly became more interesting because he was suddenly more ethnic. Soon the phrasing of Dean Martin became more evident in a reevaluation of his style. Well, maybe. But, immediately the proximity of his music's emotions made more sense. Of course, he was Italian! It's been evident all along. How great for his Italian American fans to find out he was one of them. By the way, Bruce Springsteen's mother is Italian.

Anyway, many times the idea that a major sex god might be gay is just a lot of wishing and hoping. Still the revelation would be a liberating one for those who live their day to day lives both in and out of the proverbial closet. There is absolutely no bona fide evidence of Mr. Isaak's proclivities, unless one happened to speak to the WEA sales rep back then. Still just the idea that might spring forth from one's fantasies is eternally hopeful. It is much more than having one's fantasies come to life, althought that's not half bad. It has much more to do with validation of who and what a person is and having that validation come from the public arena. It also has to do with who does it. No one blinked when K.D. Lang came out and no one would have if Ellen hadn't had a hit TV show. Theoretically if Michael Jordan or somebody like him came out as gay, just imagine ...

There are those who hope that Mr. Isaak is gay. There are those who hope that so many of his contemporaries are, just because it validates their own realities. For that same reason many gay people will insist on and repeat stories of the sexual activities of the well known whether or not those stories are verified. Sometimes even when the stories are verifiable people choose not to believe. It is still very much a dirty secret if not a dirty joke. It's okay to drag Brad, Jennifer, Angelina, Ben and whoever else gets involved in the hetero-go-round through the public consciousness ... still, a sad love story between a fictional Jack and Ennis is a very big deal.

His early influences were Sanford Clark and Johnny Burnette, exemplars of fictional unrequited love. He is known for sweetly sad songs both lyrically and melodically -- how thoroughly appropriate would his participation have been in the sweet sadness of the love story between Ennis and Jack. Putting their genders aside, it is pretty much what Chris Isaak has written and sung about for the last 23 years or so.

This was originally written in 2006 following Brokeback Mountain's success and musing on how great Chris Issak's might have been included in the Soundtrack. Anyway, today as we are on the verge of the 39th anniversary of Stonewall, it is also Mr. Isaak's 52nd birthday. Two anniversaries in one. June is busting out all over.

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