Growing up as a straight Catholic in a Republican suburb made my support for gay marriage a pretty unpopular position. Now that the president has my back, I can hold my position with a little more confidence and pride knowing that our country’s leader is for what’s right and just.
Last summer, when gay marriage was declared legal in New York state, I compiled a mixtape commemorating the achievement. The day after President Obama’s official endorsement of the right, we are re-running that mix consisting of love songs of same-sex pronouns and forbidden gay love stories in celebration of his position, even if we feel he should have addressed it much earlier.
The Magnetic Fields – “I Have The Moon”
This mix could potentially be all Magnetic Fields songs. Stephin Merritt has never concealed his homosexuality but has stressed in interviews that he never writes songs from a personal point of view. The songs he has written that have been sung to a person of the same sex are often meant to blur the lines between gender. That being said, “I Have the Moon” was one of the first Magnetic Fields songs to really be singled out as a gay love song of eternal companionship. Whether he intends to or not, the last verse where he sings, “you have become like other men, but let me kiss you once again,” is the most candid Merritt has ever sounded.
That Dog – “He’s Kissing Christian”
That Dog scored a minor hit with their second album, “Totally Rushed Out!”‘s leading single, “He’s Kissing Christian” in 1995, but it wasn’t even enough to keep them in heavy rotation. The group had close ties with Weezer, the Rentals, and Beck; members of the band play on tracks of all three artists, while lead singer Anna Waronker’s brother Joey has also been well known for his drumwork on the lion’s share of Beck releases, as well as a spot in Nigel Godrich’s new band Ultraísta. Even with a bunch of famous friends, the band fell into Geffen’s obscure past and enjoy a small cult following. While their three albums remain out of print, “He’s Kissing Christian” still lives on in the YouTube world, as a command to finally “come out.”
The Smiths – “Hand in Glove”
The Smiths hit the ground running when they debuted with “Hand in Glove” in 1983. Never before had a pop song so unapologetically proclaimed love from one man to another, and on “Hand in Glove,” Johnny Marr and company back up Morrissey‘s belting with a track that plays like a middle finger to conformity. Although Moz resigns to defeat in its closing line, the line “the good life is out there somewhere, so stay on my arm you little charmer,” feels more relevant now than ever before.
Bloc Party – “I Still Remember”
An update on the forbidden love of “Hand in Glove,” “I Still Remember” was a powerful statement for Bloc Party, a band who’s singer, Kele Okereke, had matured largely since the band’s debut in 2005. “Silent Alarm”‘s followup, “A Weekend in the City” showed a more personal side to the singer, none more vulnerable than on the single “I Still Remember,” which chronicles the story of a schoolboy who falls in love with his best friend. Okereke has denied that the song is autobiographical but the best songs usually aren’t (or at least claimed to be).
Sufjan Stevens – “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!”
Sufjan Stevens turned out to be one of the ’00s’ great storytellers, most evident on his masterpiece, “Illinois.” On “Palisades,” Sufjan tells the story of two friends on a camping trip by Horseshoe Lake that reads like a rough draft of “Brokeback Mountain.” Much like “I Still Remember,” it’s an unresolved love story, with the friend ultimately running away in shame. If only Sufjan hadn’t given up on the 50 States Project, this story could have perhaps had a happy ending on his “New York” album.
Jill Sobule – “I Kissed a Girl”
Long before Katy Perry poisoned our ears with her hollow song of the same name, Jill Sobule scored an alt rock hit in 1995 with “I Kissed a Girl.” The song follows the story of two female friends that are unsatisfied with their current relationships with men. Although the song is about just one incident in which the two kissed, Sobule claims she “might do it again,” indicating that this may be the beginning of a new chapter in both their lives.
The Breeders – “Wicked Little Town (Hedwig Version)”
“Wicked Little Town” is the tender ballad that runs through the musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a satirical tale of how marriage inequality can truly destroy people – the title character undergoes a sex change operation to marry the man he loves, only to get it botched, rendering him with no genitalia at all. This version is sung by Hedwig in the play and film, which later follows with a version sung by Tommy Gnosis, Hedwig’s former lover who steals all her songs. This Breeders cover is from the excellent “Wig in a Box” compilation, which features a slew of renditions from the musical performed by Sleater-Kinney, Spoon, Frank Black and many more.
Broken Social Scene – “I’m Still Your Fag”
This song is more about a gay affair than a true proclamation of gay pride, but we like it anyway. From Broken Social Scene‘s landmark release, “You Forgot It In People,” “I’m Still Your Fag” is a sparse turn towards the end of the record, following all the grandiose layers of songs like “Almost Crimes” and “Lovers’ Spit” with a quiet, jazzy ballad.
Sixpence None the Richer – “There She Goes”
While I was not happy to hear one of my favorite songs turned into an adult contemporary single when Sixpence None the Richer covered The La’s’ “There She Goes” as a followup single to their monstrous hit, “Kiss Me,” I was delighted that singer Leigh Nash had the balls to not change the sex pronoun to “he.” My appreciation for that was twofold, in that I hate it when any artist does this because it cheapens the song and the performer (what exactly was Johnny Thunders afraid of when he covered “Great Big Kiss”?), but also that it opened the song to be a love song sung by a woman to a woman, which is a brave move in pop music (much like Cyndi Lauper’s resistance to tampering with “When U Were Mine.”) That is of course unless the song is actually about heroin.
Rufus Wainwright – “Peach Trees”
Rufus Wainwright has no qualms about his homosexuality, yet he never really cared for the idea of gay marriage until recently. Meeting his current partner Jörn Weisbrodt gave Wainwright a new perspective on things, “I wasn’t a huge gay marriage supporter before I met Jörn because I love the whole old-school promiscuous Oscar Wilde freak show of what ‘being gay’ once was. But since meeting Jörn that all changed.”
The Magnetic Fields – “Papa Was a Rodeo”
Well we couldn’t leave it at just one song. “Papa Was a Rodeo” stands as possibly the greatest song Stephin Merrit has written — an aching ballad about falling in love at a gay country bar. The catch is that the singer is part of a traveling entertainment revue, and is only in town for the night. Merritt’s resigned vocal delivery has a surprise turn in the end when it turns out the guy in the bar, Mike, is also a traveling performer. The two then go on to live happily ever after for 55 years. The song at face value is of course very funny, especially when thinking of the two wrestling gators, but as a metaphor for obtaining what was once forbidden is beautiful. For a country that is inching it’s way towards all marriage equality, it’s the perfect choice for the first dance at a wedding.