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Jobriath A.D. (Documentary Film Review)

For one summer 38 years ago, I picked apples on the family farm to earn money to buy albums. A bushel of apples roughly bought one album. Needless to say, this was an exciting way to earn money for a kid going on 12 years old, a kid hitting puberty excited to be going to a new school – junior high – in the fall.

Some of these albums now live in infamy and some live in obscurity. Among the infamous are the New York Dolls first two records, Iggy Pop and the Stooges Raw Power, David Bowie Diamond Dogs, and Sparks Kimono My House. The ones languishing in obscurity include White Witch Spiritual Greeting, Epitaph Outside the Law, Lucifer’s Friend’s 1st (including the Lucifer’s Friend theme song and ‘In the Time of Job when Mammoth was a Yippie’,) and Jobriath Creatures of the Night.

Most of these albums, I bought at a store that appeared as if by magic in downtown Bartlesville that summer – Larceny Whipsnake’s Music Parlour (Parlour was spelled with a ‘u’ to give it that Old England pizzazz). Sadly, this oasis was only there for four or five months. It later became Small World, an arcade and then it became nothing.

Larceny Whipsnake’s was in an old storefront with beat up wood floors and pealing plaster walls. Sandalwood incense perpetually burned in the mouth of the head of a porcelain clown next to the ramshackle cash register on the front desk. The owner – who I think was named Vance but I am not sure because I never asked him his name; I was too shy to ask – seemed to love every album in the store. Looking back though, he seemed especially gravitate towards those albums that never found an audience in the USA, records like Groundhogs Split, UFO Phenomenon, Budgie In for the Kill and the aforementioned White Witch Spiritual Greeting.

The Jobriath records were stocked but I never paid gave them much attention. They were never on the Now Playing nails that were perched over the turntable. Nevertheless, the covers to both records were intriguing. Walking up and down the rows of records, records placed from floor to ceiling on two by fours on nails, certain records always caught my eyes – Aladin Sane, Stranded, Here Come the Warm Jets, and Creatures of the Night.

Most of the time, I bought albums based on the cover art because that was the only way I had to judge the music inside. Sometimes Vance would recommend albums like White Witch or Groundhogs. Other times, I saw the bands on Midnight Special or Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert or I would read about them in Rock Scene Magazine. Rock Scene Magazine I discovered at Bill’s Thrifywise Grocery that same summer.

The Creatures of the Night cover intrigued me. Often, I picked it up and put it down. This seemingly effeminate space alien who had just landed in my hometown seemed to be a sign or some new promise. After all, I was in Oklahoma where sightings of cigar-shaped UFOs were not uncommon. Everyone seemed to have a UFO story. Jobriath perhaps was there to announce the arrival of said space aliens arriving in taffeta, glitter, platforms and lycra. He naturally had to be their ambassador. They were coming to earth at last.

The promise of the cover held the promise of an Aladin Sane. From the cover, I knew it would not bring the ragged assault of the Stooges or the Dolls. The presentation was formal and foreign and would be more sophisticated. There was something angelic but devilish about the cover, something was beckoning me. Finally, I bought the album Whenever I bought any record, the 25-minute ride out to my house in the county was torture. Riding shotgun in my mom’s VW baby blue Bug, I was always excited beyond belief to get home to hear my latest purchase. Would I discover another Dolls or Sparks or Stooges?

Curve by curve, hill by hill, the ride took forever. I prayed that we did not get behind a dumb dump truck. When we arrived home finally, I jumped out of the car and ran to my room and put the record on my cheap plastic stereo, the kind of stereo that was bought for $75 at Montgomery Wards. I waited for sheer bliss to come out of the speakers.

What I got was not what I expected. I would love to say that I loved it and was immediately swept away to another planet but I wasn’t. I would like to say that it was the best record I had ever heard but it wasn’t. In fact at one point a month or two later, Vance told me that if there was ever a record I did not really like I could bring it back. I brought back the Jobriath record.

Hence we have the Jobriath documentary now, which explains exactly what happened to Jobriath. It is a sad story. There are many sad stories in the music business. He had a ton of promotion behind him but that made no difference. That probably hurt more than helped him because he did not build up any kind of following. Some say that no one wanted such a flamboyant gay man as a pop star. Yes, those were different times. We are much more liberated now (I hope!) There are arguments why he did not become a superstar but if you listen to his two studio albums. It is fairly apparent.

With that being said a few years ago, I spent the whole summer looking for CDs by Jobriath and/or Atomic Rooster. I was thinking maybe I had not given Jo a fair shake in my youth. IN Shanghai at a flea market in a plumbing supply warehouse, I found a Jobriath retrospective. I was quite excited to find it. I took it home and put it on. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised; some of the songs with age were much better. But really what does all of this have to do with the documentary? That, I can’t tell you.
(Review by: Tyson Meade)