Treading similar ground to Darryl W Bullock’s “David Bowie Made Me Gay” (2017) this was published first and is subtitled “How Music Came Out”. It’s an exhaustive study of LGBTQ+ music and musicians from the 1920s to the present day. Martin Aston, who was written books on Pulp and Bjork is a celebrated music journalist and has certainly carried out his research here. I chose to read it to give an alternative viewpoint to Bullock’s study and it does feel more global in its outlook as we move to the present day where you can sense Aston’s greater enthusiasm for the subject matter and an attempt not to leave anyone out which can make it feel, at times, sketchy.
Although in this work there are probably far more names and the scope is wider I did prefer the Bullock book which feels more of a celebration. There’s more of the author within that work right from the title onwards, Aston’s feels more objective throughout and makes little comment on the quality of the music- good or bad. Whereas I finished the first publication with a strong sense of wanting to discover some of these trail-blazing artists I finished this one with a sense of being overwhelmed and being bombarded with too many names. Also oddly, Aston’s title references a Northern Soul favourite by Johnny Johnson and The Bandwagon who have no part to play within the text. I’m sure there could have been more relevant song titles to use.
But, and as the more academic work, this has a significant part to play in the recording of LGBTQ+ history. Aston seems stronger on trans artists and in unearthing the obscure from a 50s lesbian Rockabilly Group the Roc-A-Jets who barely made it out of Baltimore, to 60s Brit-pop singer Polly Perkins, touted as a rival to the Dusty/Cilla/Sandie triumvirate but now best remembered for her role in ill-fated BBC soap El Dorado. I may be wrong but I don’t recall these artists getting as much focus in Bullock’s book and there are many others like this.
Thinking about the two books I considered which would be the one I would most likely read again for pleasure and the Bullock work has the edge. I think some kind of playlist suggestions or select discography from what really excited Aston or what he thought most significant would have made this seem more personal, especially as in this age of Spotify it would be so easy for readers to rediscover the obscure. This is, however, a valuable examination of the development of an important aspect of LGBTQ+ culture.
Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache was published by Constable in 2016.