the INCREDIBLE personal narrative of VENERATED guitarist BRIAN TRISTAN, a.k.a. KID CONGO POWERS, very much mirrors that of the UNIQUE and TRANSFORMATIVE power of ROCK AND ROLL itself. if anything, as a DEVOUT fan and ASTUTE devotee of music, the young native-born ANGELENO found a vehicle of ESCAPISM that recast his IDENTITY as a HOMOSEXUAL and second-generation son of MEXICAN immigrants. first it was through GLAM ROCK / GLITTER scene of the early 1970s in LOS ANGELES and then came the cultural title wave that was PUNK ROCK. whats COMPELLING about POWERS experience is that he was not a musician but a journalist during this period, writing for several fanzines and even starting the WEST COAST fan club, of which he served as president, for THE RAMONES of all things. his connection to PUNK ROCK was both an EMOTIONAL and INTELLECTUAL exercise,
it was only a chance meeting with UNKNOWN songwriter JEFFREY LEE PIERCE (himself president of the BLONDIE WEST COAST fan club) at a PERE UBU show that the seed of becoming a musician was planted. and it is that LIFE-CHANGING event that makes POWERS memoir SOME NEW KIND OF KICK (HACHETTE, 2022) such a UNIQUE, almost MYSTICAL, story. what drew people to his playing was not his playing technique, but his AURA. such was the case when POISON IVY and LUX INTERIOR from THE CRAMPS poached him from the PIERCE-led PUNK outfit THE GUN CLUB. there was a certain special alchemy at play that enabled POWERS to unconsciously blend in with his new cohorts without any words being spoken about that process. his ability to collaborate is seemingly MAGICAL. such was also the case when NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS took interest in his services. its an INTRIGUING dynamic to consider that for a musician with issues surrounding IDENTITY issues related to his SEXUALITY and RACE that were exacerbated by CHILDHOOD TRAUMA (the unsolved MURDER of a cousin at a young age) and years of serial ABUSE of narcotics, that for him his very calling card was his adept ability to be molded and reconfigured in new ARTISTIC contexts.
in essence he literally lost himself in the music. and the DRUGS.
i had a PERIPATETIC childhood being shuttled between CALIFORNIA, NIGERIA, KUWAIT and MASSACHUSETTS and feel a certain kinship in understanding the REPETITIVE EMOTIONAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL STRESS of constant readjustment to unknown surroundings and new social contexts, but this level of navigation described in SOME NEW KIND OF KICK is beyond me. and it was all so public being a touring musician and all. i cant imagine the INTESTINAL FORTITUDE it took to submerge your IDENTITY into that of the ARTISTIC ambitions of your cohorts. especially with regards to your SEXUALITY. at the end of the book he is at the funeral of former bandmate, who himself was a closeted HOMOSEXUAL. something POWERS only learns after his death. obviously it was a different era when the majority of the contents of this book take place, between mid-1970s and the mid-1990s.
there have been quite a few books published in recent years that have focused on the early LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene of the late 1970s and POWER's addition most definitely gives a palpable introduction to the DIVERSITY and INCLUSION at the heart of the scene, before the second-wave heathens transferred it into something more sonically BRUTAL, intellectually ENFEEBLED and aesthetically RIGID. i would definitely recommend this memoir along with other standouts like UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN by JOHN DOE of X (review linked HERE), VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY by ALICE BAG of THE BAGS(review linked HERE) and MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR by KEITH MORRIS of THE CIRCLE JERKS / BLACK FLAG / OFF! (review linked HERE) as worthy of consideration into further understanding this deeply FASCINATING scene.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
there is something identifiably AMERICAN about CANDY DARLING.
as a relatively new country, throughout our history there has always been this unique capacity to SELF-MAKE ourselves in some optimistically divined utopian vision of what we could and should be, unhampered by centuries of triumphs and mistakes. in essence we are collectively in the process of bringing a more perfect vision of ourselves to fruition. the SELF-MADE, projected figure of ANDY WARHOL superstar and cultural icon CANDY DARLING showcases that distinct TENSION that comes between LIVED FANTASY and LIVED REALITY.
born in LONG ISLAND amongst the post-war newly built track houses and stifling suburban CONFORMITY of MASSAPEQUA, CANDY knew from an early age that she was different. watching a relatively recent documentary such as this reminds you instantaneously that the larger cultural discussion regarding SEX and GENDER identity has only become mainstream in recent years (about a decade after this film). the whole concept of not identifying with your assigned GENDER was completely taboo in 1950s AMERICA, where POLITICAL, ECONOMIC and RELIGIOUS CONFORMITY was practically a national value in and of itself. what makes BEAUTIFUL DARLING: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CANDY DARLING, ANDY WARHOL SUPERSTAR (CORINTH FILMS, 2009) such an intriguing documentary is how it showcases a specific downtown NYC arts scene in the 1960s where SEXUAL EXPRESSION was not only tolerated but celebrated. in some ways these WARHOL superstars (JACKIE CURTIS, HOLLY WOODLAWN and CANDY DARLING) along with the likes of LOU REED were the trailblazers that opened the door that we have been walking through as a culture for the past half century. its been in the past five years that mainstream magazines like PLAYBOY and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED have used TRANSGENDER models in their publications and actors such as ELLIOT PAGE and LAVERNE COX have brought their powerful presence to film and television screens. despite modern troglodyte conservatives that wish to drag us back to the stone age with their REGRESSIVE GENDER PRESCRIPTIONS prescriptions and bullshit self-serving, binary moral constructions, we very much live in a new world that takes into account that life is complicated. people are complicated. deal with it.
that being said its interesting to hear writer FRAN LEBOWITZ' opinion on CANDY and the seemingly SUPERFICIAL, PERFORMATIVE conception of FEMININITY she arguably brought to life. as a caucasian CISGENDER man i feel more than a little out of my depth speaking on this subject, but there does seem to be some light in how much of our GENDER is PERFORMATIVE through our ADOPTION and INTERNALIZATION of SOCIETAL CUES and CULTURAL PRESCRIPTIONS surrounding BODY IMAGE, PRESENTATION, VOCAL AFFECTATION and even POSTURE. the fact that CANDY grew up a severely abused child who took SOLACE and ultimately ESCAPISM in the 1950s cinema. her ideation of FEMININITY was informed by silver-screen starlets like MARILYN MONROE, JEAN HARLOW and especially KIM NOVAK. in many ways her INTERNALIZATION and eventual formation into becoming CANDY was performance of such that seeming coalesced into an IDENTITY. again, i am not denying her ability to self-identify as TRANSGENDER, but i do think that LEBOWITZ angle regarding the performative aspects of gender to be compelling if not food for thought.
ultimately for CANDY this was her LIVED EXPERIENCE and her LIVED REALITY, and she paid dearly for it. one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this documentary are the diary entries where she confesses to the DESPAIR and ISOLATION she felt about not being accepted by SOCIETY and not being able to partake in normal life rituals like being in a relationship, having a normal job and even visiting relatives. after her death her mother basically disowned her memory after remarrying.
for me BEAUTIFUL DARLING is just another reminder of how we need to treat each other with a sense of DIGNITY and genuine COMPASSION. very moving film. well worth checking out.
adolescence sucks for just about everyone. its an awkward time where you are experimenting and essentially defining an identity that will carry over into adult life.
i can't even imagine the difficulty in negotiating those same issues while coming out, especially in the 1990s when this memoir takes place. in my opinion HIGH SCHOOL (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2019) by CANADIAN INDIE ROCK duo TEGAN + SARA poignantly explores this emotionally-wrought minefield in an honest manner that makes this memoir a must-read for anyone gong through the same situation or seeks to empathize with such a journey.
i personally never went through this experience, but i have friends who did. especially when i attended high school in KUWAIT where anything HOMOSEXUAL-adjacent was literally a crime. in public there was always this front my friends had to uphold that seemed exhausting to me, CODED LANGUAGE and BEHAVIORAL TICKS manufactured in order to conceal their actual identity. this type of polari always fascinated and utterly horrified me despite the fact that it didnt directly affect me.
in the case of the TEGAN + SARA, their story is one of SELF-DISCOVERY and any concealing behavior they exhibited was largely to protect family, friends and the reputations of their partners. the word SHAME is never brought up once in the memoir (which is structured with alternating chapters by each sister that serve as insightful vignettes), and yet it seems to be a central theme. SARA especially is an advocate to the community, calling out her FAMILY, TEACHERS and such for their HYPOCRISY; yet she is closeted for most of high school.
it is through music that the sisters find a sense of agency and control over their own narrative. a sense of solace in that they can express themselves while still concealing in plan site their identity as members of the LGBTQ community.
given the potency of their frustrations, confusion and heartbreaks in not being able to be open about themselves (or even having a definition yet for their own sexual preferences) makes this the perfect book for teenagers be familiar with, irrespective of their own SEXUAL ORIENTATION. if anything it promotes empathy, compassion and understanding for the hidden experiences of others and makes you think twice when allowing someone to utilize hurtful language regarding a minority group because they dont appreciate PC culture (im looking right at you STATEN ISLAND, SACRAMENTO, NIGERIA, KUWAIT, MYANMAR, JAPAN, ALBANIA, VENEZUELA and all the other HOMOPHOBIC communities i've called home at one point or another).
HIGH SCHOOL should be read by everyone. can't recommend it enough. it is the rare memoir that seems entirely current to issues at stake globally right now regarding human rights and the common dignity we all deserve. all identities should be celebrate and cherished and this memoir provides an insight into that personal journey of accepting yourself at a point of emotional and physical transition we all go through as adolescents.
for all its posturing, METAL is a pretty conservative genre. i remember going to OZZFEST more than 20 years ago in 1999 and first witnessing not just live METAL bands, but the crowds they drew. im not gonna lie, it was all pretty intimidating as a teenager. there was this bullshit macho culture that informed nearly every aspect of the concert experience from how the bands reacted with the crowd and the crowd to one another. to date my least favorite aspect of METAL in general is the whole misogynist "show us your tits" culture that thankfully is starting to die out. i remember when walking around the venue how uninviting this event must have felt towards 1) women 2) gay men and 3) all rational humans.
obviously the almighty ROB HALFORD of BRITISH NWOBHM legends JUDAS PRIEST is the most famous homosexual in METAL history (that we know of). his memoir CONFESS (HACHETTE, 2020) is his recounting of his journey from the ENGLISH BLACK COUNTRY to becoming the preeminent METAL GOD that he has been for more than five decades. arguably only BLACK SABBATH and METALLICA have been as institutionally well-regarded and celebrated in METAL as JUDAS PRIEST. which makes his coming out as a HOMOSEXUAL that much more courageous, especially given the widespread conservatism elements within the METAL community.
that journey is described in detail and centers around HALFORD feeling entrapped by his SEXUALITY for a good portion of his adult life. for me it is that sense of repression, claustrophobia and inability to fully express oneself for fear of retribution, both against oneself and those he cares about (i.e. family and his band), that serves as the crux of this memoir and makes it very unique. what is interesting is how once he outed himself during an MTV interview, his family and fans (for the most part) all stood by and accepted him. JUDAS PRIEST had known for years and were always a steadfast in their support of one another. perhaps my initial reservations about the METAL community back in 1999 were wrong, maybe not.
another aspect i really appreciated about this memoir was HALFORD's personal touch as a wrier, routinely utilizing BRUMMIE dialect and turns-of-phrase which gave the language a decidedly BLACK COUNTRY flavor. it is obvious 1) that he wrote this memoir and 2) his pride in his background as someone from the WEST MIDLANDS in ENGLAND, much like predecessors in BLACK SABBATH. oftentimes when artists utilize ghost writers the writing takes on a more formal tone that often doesn't gel with the public persona of the artist. the fact that HALFORD unapologetically gushes about decidedly un-METAL subjects like CILLA BLACK, MADONNA, QUEEN ELIZABETH II or even LADY GAGA makes this book feel all the more personal, which i enjoyed. the only downside to such was that certain episodes in his life were brought up and then summarily passed over quickly, as if there was a checklist of events to get through.
i understand that as a gay man, HALFORD wanted to stay away from wading too deep in cliches such as the misery and depth of pain associated with the gay community during the 1980s when conservative governments lead by RONALD REAGAN and MARGARET THATCHER largely ignored the AIDS epidemic. this topic of self-hatred brought on by an unempathetic culture surrounding LGBTQIA issues has been fodder for plays, films and tv shows for decades now. i also understand he didn't want to delve into politics, consistently mentioning that he wasnt political by nature. unfortunately his identity as a gay man made him political and not by choice. for me that was a missed opportunity. i would have loved to learn his feelings about such but i understand and respect his decision not to delve into that topic.
all in all this was a very enjoyable memoir from a singular artist with a unique background that hopefully moving forward will become less so. one can only hope that the METAL community, like all aspects of society, progresses towards a more inclusive and empathetic ideal. one where people dont care about one's ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity and so on.
honestly, when i hear ROB HALFORD sing, i just think of how brutal JUDAS PRIEST are and how badass they sound, like freight train of unadulterated METAL. in JUDAS PRIEST i hear the twin guitar onslaughts of SLAYER, LAMB OF GOD and early METALLICA as well as the gymnastic vocals of DEVIN TOWNSEND and PERRY FARRELL. his sexuality never really comes into view, although now undoubtedly i'll never hear "JAWBREAKER" the same way again. cant believe i didnt see that one in retrospect, ive definitely got another thing coming.