Transcript - unabridged
(Queensland Pride Magazine’s Editor Iain Clacher re-edited this as a cover story
feature for their February 2006 edition).
(Total edited interview 22 minutes):
JF: Hello Jimmy, it’s John Frame here. How are
JS: I’m fine thank you very much.
JF: Thank you for giving us this time because I
know that you’re a very busy man.
JS: That’s no problem. That’s cool, I’m not
too busy this evening. I knew I was doing this – I’ve just been doing my
dishes. I’m serious actually (washing up sounds are clearly audible).
JF: That’s alright – OK, well, Jimmy Somerville welcome to Queer Radio
on 4ZZZ in Brisbane
and to This Way Out the international lesbian and gay radio magazine.
JS: Thank You.
JF: It’s good to hear that you’re coming back to Australia.
JS: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it – it’s
going to be fun. It’s been a good few years, so it’ll be fun to be down under
JF: Because you have appeared at the Mardi Gras Dance Party at least once…
JS: I’ve done that once yeah, and then the
last time I was there was for the opening of the Gay Games. That was good fun –
that was a really great evening.
JF: Of course that featured Australian artists
such as Paul Capsis as well. Of particular interest
for this is that it’s a gala show –
it’s not Jimmy Somerville doing a twenty minute set…
JS: No – it’s almost like a kind of gay revue
– with various people on, it’s kind of fun. I know it’s called a gala but I
keep thinking of it as more like an old time revue, so it’s more like it’s
entertainment and I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna
JF: The host will be Bob Downe – are you a good friend of Mark
JS: I’m not a good friend, but I do know him.
I would know him well enough to feel comfortable in his company and chat with
him and hang out with him. He’s cool.
JF: Because for yourself you’re one of, if not
THE, most famous openly gay musician in the world, Bob Downe
could be one of the most famous gay
characters, certainly in Australia, but he is well known in the UK…
JS: Yeah – he is known here. He’s got a good following
here. I think he works really hard in
getting himself around here and getting known.
JF: I spoke with Mark a few years ago and he said
that he thought it was really strange that his character Bob Downe was assumed to be gay, and yet when he started to
speak as a gay man himself he found it really
hard for people to take him seriously, he had to actually tell media “I am
also a gay man”.
JS: Yeah, I think that’s the trouble, if ever
you do characters, and especially if you do comedy, the media and public do get
confused with your character and real life. The best example for that is soap
operas. So many people really believe in
the character of the soap opera, and when they see these people in the street
or in real life they actually think that this person has, kind of like, buried
their grandmother in the patio or something – and it’s like “No, I’m just
acting in my character”.
JF: In that respect Jake Gyllenhaal from Brokeback Mountain, who plays Jack
Twist, made a fine statement that, while he hasn’t ever found a man sexually
attractive, he wouldn’t be scared if he found it was happening…
JS: I’m so excited about that movie coming
out. I’ve read the book and I think it’s such a great story. It’s just so
fantastic, I can’t wait.
JF: Do you think that it matters that the film has
a straight director and two straight
JS: Not at all – I just think as long as it’s
well acted and as long as they put their heart and soul into it and they
believe in these characters, and they actually believe in what they’re doing,
then I think that’s all that matters really. Because in the end it’s like if
there was two gay actors that might have been ideal for the part and could have
played the part well, then fair enough – but if those guys weren’t around then
you just work with the best, or you work with what you think is good. I just
think that’s fine by me.
JF: In terms of the persona that you present on
stage, I heard an interview with Antony Hegarty from
Antony & The Johnsons and Antony said that when he did his first big show
in London, when the Johnsons became popular, he felt really very self-conscious
– because here he was, this big gay character on stage - and he didn’t know if
the audience trusted that he could be that and be accepted. But for yourself, have you ever felt that you had to be
anything less than all of who you are on stage?
JS: If anything it’s so difficult for me to
present on stage who I am – because
especially, from the very beginning, of how I’ve looked and my size and,
especially in the very early days, my
boyishness – my boyish face and boyish stature and stuff. It was very difficult for me to get over to
people that under my t-shirt there wasn’t a pair of wings as some kind of
little angel, you know? It was very
difficult to put that across. It was almost as if people would read things
about me, and then they would look at me and say “Yeah, but he probably doesn’t
do that. He’s so sweet” – that kind of thing, so it’s really difficult. If
anything I’m just the opposite – I’m trying constantly to show people that I
really I am a whore – look, I really am.
JF: Most of your music is about love, but it deals
with the realities of love – as in love found and lost and struggle.
JF: I would imagine that you would have a whole
swag of songs that would be ideal if you were the guest vocalist at a gay civil union. Have you been asked to do this in the UK yet?
JS: No. Actually just before you called I was
watching the news, because the first one was in Ireland
yesterday and then the first one was in Scotland today. It’s an historic
moment and a great thing, but for me it’s just a frustrating thing because I
really don’t want to be aping heterosexuality. I don’t want gays and lesbians
to be saying “look, we should be allowed to get married as well”, because I
just don’t think, in the twenty first century, that marriage really should be
something that we’re trying to hold on to. As with heterosexuals AND gays and
lesbians, I just think we should be moving towards unions that are
partnerships, but really getting away from marriage and the whole connection to
the church and the state etc.
I was talking to two guys I know who’ve
been together for twenty years, and Dieter says “I love this guy, but that’s
between me and him. I don’t want to run around celebrating it in such a way.
It’s between us”.
So I think people have different
opinions about it, and mine is very much that I don’t want it, but civil
partnership rights are so important because it should be the same rights and it
should be the same recognition. Everything that you build together and have
together should be automatically passed on to your partner, that’s how it’s
going to be. And if you enter into that partnership and it becomes legal and
binding, that’s really important – but just drop this wedding nonsense. There
JF: In the liner notes for your most recent album
“Home Again” which came out November 2004 you make the little comment, after
thanking a few people, “Oh – and thank
god I’m an atheist!” That doesn’t mean that you’re not a spiritual person
though does it?
JS: No - I’m kind of
annoyed now that I put “atheist”, because in some sense that’s me saying that I
actually don’t believe in something that, kind of, exists – I should have found
some other expression. But in a sense I’m not a spiritual person, because in a
sense again it’s like trying to find other words to express it, and other
meanings and so, in the end, I’m just a believer. I’m just a believer in people
– I’m just a believer in emotions.
I’m such a believer in
people that if someone was to, kind of like bash me over the head, and then
came back and bashed me over the head again – I would still believe that there
is something good in that person, and that the person is good, deep down. So I
really do believe in people. I just think that if you do stop believing, and if you stop having some kind of passion
and compassion, then you just may as well give up.
JF: Mark Trevorrow earlier this year said that now
that he’s moving towards fifty…
JS: I’m going to be
45 in June, so I’m not far off it.
JF: OK – but Mark says that he feels that he’s
going through some sort of an evolution – he feels it happening. Are you still the same person you were when
you were sixteen?
JS: Oh definitely
not. I’m not such an idealist as I was - and in some senses I know that I
wasted so much energy into being an idealist when I was younger. So I don’t
waste my energy on that any more, but I just put a lot of my energies into just
kind of believing and just being positive, and still having my principles.
JF: Now going back to
potentially you at age sixteen, would
you, for example, have been the sort of young man who would have been likely to
have engaged in anal intercourse, if that was on offer at age sixteen?
JS: God! At age
sixteen? By the time I was fifteen I’d realised at
the bus station that if I actually sucked men off I could get five pounds -
which meant I could go and buy two albums. So by that time I was running a
business really - I was building my record collection at that point. So yeah,
at sixteen there was no tricks I didn’t know, that’s for sure.
JF: The first Bronski
Beat album was “Age Of Consent” and in Queensland
we’re the only state in Australia
that has an age of consent that’s higher
for anal intercourse than for any other sexual activity. It’s eighteen
instead of sixteen for everything else. Do
you see any sense in that?
JS: No, it’s crazy
really isn’t it? You just know that in some senses that these laws are really
influenced by religion – in Biblical terms – that’s where most of these laws
come from. It’s the same in certain states in the United States as well, that
kind of thing – it’s just so influenced for Biblical reasons - and again it’s
got no place in the twenty first century.
But that definitely is an
uphill kind of battle, because those people, again, they are Real Believers and
they believe in what they believe in, and so you really do have a battle on
JF: As far as videos go, there was a fine VHS
collection of Bronski Beat, Communards, Jimmy
Somerville early stuff, but “Smalltown Boy” was a ground breaking video. We saw a
German made series of documentaries on Sex & Pop and in that you are
talking, perhaps in response to Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters saying what a
great video that was - how significant it was.
because in that time in the eighties pop bands were making very kind of
pompous, overblown and very expensive pop videos – and it was all about
affluence. The early eighties was a time of just being a bit kind of flash
really – and in the end this song couldn’t be anything else but a narrative and
it had to tell a story, and in some senses it was great because it turned out
to be such a universal kind of story in the video also. Because there is a part
in the swimming pool where I’m looking at the guy, because I’m just so kind of
like - I could be cruising him, but I could also just be idolising
him - that kind of thing. So it could be taken whichever way, but in some sense
it was so obviously gay because we were OPENLY gay, but I think the success of
the song and of the video was that it was just so universal.
JF: Of course there have been a number of excellent videos for your own solo work
in recent years – is there a chance that they will ever be made available to
JS: I’m not really
sure – it’s really difficult. But there was one video that was made by this guy
called Bart Fischer. He was doing film studies at a University in Los Angeles and he was
the first one to use a pop video for his final film – and he done a video of a
song called “Here I Am” and it’s a really great video. It’s a very passionate
video – it’s really cool. He won an award for it recently too.
JF: Your most recent album “Home Again” – when I listened through to it I thought that, for
me, immediately “It’s So Good” was a
stand-out song. I just loved the way it sounded, the whole feel of it, but it
was great to see that Paul Mac was
the co-writer and producer…
JS: Yeah, that was
fun. We spent a few days in Sydney,
just hanging out and it was really cool and just kind of writing this track. It
was really great. It was good fun.
JF: Are you
happy with this whole album – because with the previous one you even had
trouble getting one of the singles played on radio?
JS: Oh, with this
album it’s just been a nightmare – BMG Germany picked it up and the single
didn’t do well and so, the usual record company thing, they just kind of like
dropped it. So that was it, there wasn’t going to be any more work done on it,
there wasn’t going to be any more promotion on it. So in a sense the album’s
just disappeared really – it’s just died.
Well you have to take these
things with a pinch of salt really, ‘cause there’s
just nothing you can do – it’s like one person against a major label, it’s just
“forget it”. So you just have to pick yourself up and dust yourself down, so to
JF: But can
you make a living then by “word of
mouth”, by having a strong personal fan base?
JS: Kind of, but a
great thing is that I do a lot of work in Germany and Europe and do lots of
club stuff and lots of festivals – and, in summer, lots of radio festivals over
Europe. It’s great because people book it. I’ve been relying on that – that’s
been my income for about the last ten or twelve years and its incredible
because the promoters originally booked, of course, thinking “well this is just
going to be Jimmy Somerville – a bit of retro stuff”, but suddenly they realise when they hear me singing live, it’s like “of
course this man has grown and his voice has grown” and then they book us again
for the next one.
I’ve just done all the radio
shows in Germany and some in
this year and most of the festivals have asked us back next year, so it’s kinda cool. I’m very lucky in that respect because a lot of
my contemporaries have just disappeared and really have nothing to rely on, in
people giving back what you’ve given them in the past though. Like the promoter of these shows in Sydney and
Melbourne in February and March next year, Colin Tate. He writes that “Jimmy gave his music to me as a lone
country boy, and it was a way of accepting my own sexuality”. So it’s great
then that he can help produce a spectacular show that gives you the featuring
that you have always deserved.
JS: It’s great –
just how it’s gonna be run. Just to be singing with
the choir, and they’re going to organise an acoustic
band for me. There’s going to be about thirty five minutes of short acoustic
songs. Some songs are from the albums - like “For A Friend” and “By Your Side”
and also “Selfish Days” from “Home Again”.
And then also I’m gonna do a few kind of “old favourites”
– things like “This Guy’s In Love With You” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do
With Myself”, those kind of things. Old standards that are usually always sung
by women - so by me singing them it just turns the whole element of the lust
song around. So I’m really looking forward to that – and it’s just great that
there’s going to be an acoustic set.
JF: A final question: Since the last time I spoke
with you, which was in February ’98, we’ve had people like Elton John properly
come out to the world, George Michael sort of got exposed to the world, but
more importantly we’ve had some young men from boy bands come out and
actually pre-empt the press and say “I’m gay, I’m happy and in fact I’m in
JS: Sadly, sadly
most of the young ones from the boy bands didn’t really pre-empt the press.
Basically what had to happen was the press were saying “You know what, if you
don’t do it – we’ll do it. So how do you want to do it? Do you want to do it
and come out and be proud? Or do you want us to just print one of those mucky
stories in the paper?”
So in some sense they had to
do it, and in some senses the journalists and the press by doing that, I just
think it’s kind of like a twisted politics in there. It’s almost like saying
“Don’t play these games with the public – you either are or you’re not. Get on
with it.” And I kinda like that in a kind of twisted
Because in the end it is
just “Don’t play games with the public”. You know, they couldn’t give a fuck -
just as long as you’re possibly entertaining them and you’re good at what you
do. Then, you know, they will just let you get on with it really.
In the end it’s to yourself
as well - because it just messes your own mind and you just end up being a very
fucked up and unhappy person - and may STILL be a fucked up and unhappy person
when you come out, but at least you know you’ve got the option and you know,
maybe, what the difference will be.
JF: Jimmy Somerville, it’s been a pleasure talking
to you. This has been John Frame on behalf of Queer Radio on Four Triple Zed in
Brisbane and on behalf of This Way Out, the
international lesbian and gay radio magazine in Los Angeles. Now, you have a safe trip and a
great tour – we look forward to seeing you.
JS: I shall do –
thank you very much.
JF: So that’s all OK with you Jimmy?
JS: Cool, yeah
JF: And once again thanks for all your time – have
a great day.
JS: No problem, cool
- well actually it’s half past ten in the evening for me now, so I’m going to
have a cup of tea and then bed.
JF: Have a nice lie down.
JS: Have a nice day
JF: Sweet dreams, bye bye.
John Frame email@example.com
presenter (for the majority of 1994 to 2009) of Queer Radio www.queerradio.org
on community radio 4ZZZ fm102.1 Brisbane, Australia
Ph: +61 733 501 562 / +61 409 501 561
Post: 82 Main Avenue, Wavell Heights 4012, QLD, Australia.
----"There is no substitute for
Updated 3rd August