If you’re coming late to the party, this is a 37-part series on the first two volumes of the Living In Oblivion collection, which are available pretty much nowhere.
Name an contemporary openly gay rock singer. Melissa Etheridge, right? But then who? It took me a minute to come up with Tegan and Sara, who have been open about their sexuality from the start. But I’m still racking my brain to come up with a guy other than Rufus Wainright. Outside of anyone in dance music, there’s…who? Rob Halford? I don’t think it’s quite proper to refer to Halford as a contemporary rocker, no offense to him or his leather chaps (same with Elton John though the chaps don’t really figure in there).
In point of fact, Robinson was hardly a rock star here. His albums languished in the bottom fourth of the Billboard Top 200 here, while his singles never charted. In the UK, he fared much better, with “2-4-6-8” ending up in the top 5, while the album from whence it came, Power In the Darkness, topped out at #4. This was largely due to The Tom Robinson Band being featured on the cover of NME a whopping eight times.
I imagine it was Robinson’s political outspokenness that earned him a lack of success here. Robinson not only sang “Glad To Be Gay” but he also spoke out against Britain’s conservative government, and helped form Rock Against Racism. Other song titles from Darkness include “Don’t Take No For An Answer,” “Better Decide Which Side You’re On” and “Up Against The Wall.” This was in 1978. “Shadow Dancin'” it ain’t.
So his lack of status made his outspokenness all the more daring, although it probably gave his A&R man fits.
Since then, Robinson got married – to a woman – and later began hosting a BBC Radio 6 show, which he continues to this day. He remains outspoken about GLBT issues, and hosts a site called Having It Both Ways. He holds a yearly party in Belgium (!!) for his European fans, offers several of his solo albums for free on his website, and archived many articles about him from NME and other sources, which I’ve spent the better part of the evening perusing. I’ve certainly entertained thoughts of hanging of with famous rock stars, and have done so occasionally. But this is the first time I ever thought it’d be nice if one hung out at my local pub so we could casually shoot the crap from time to time.
As for the song itself, I’m still not quite sure what it’s about. But I think Ted Leo probably heard it as a kid, bought Darkness and found it got him thinking.