TThe rock’n’roll story of the 60s has been told countless times by the stars who sang the songs, spun the solos, or hit the drums. In the UK at the time, that more often meant straight white men, as it did in the US But the people who shaped and mentored those artists, the ones who led the stars of the classic rock era, they were, by a huge margin, gay men.
That intertwined community included Brian Epstein (who brought the Beatles into the world), Kit Lambert (who co-directed The Who), Simon Napier-Bell (the Yardbirds and a young Marc Bolan), Robert Stigwood (Cream, The Bee). Gees), Billy Gaff (Rod Stewart), Ken Pitt (David Bowie), Barry Krost (Cat Stevens), as well as Terry Stratton-Smith (who formed the visionary Charisma label for bands like Genesis). In fact, it was a gay man, Larry Parnes, who played early British rockers, from Tommy Steele to Billy Fury to Marty Wilde.
Similarly, in the US, you had key LGBTQ music players like Clive Davis on Columbia Records, Seymour Stein on Sire, David Geffen on Asylum, and Danny Fields who discovered proto-punk stars Iggy Pop and MC5. for Elektra.
A new book titled The Velvet Mafia: the Gay Men who Ran the Swinging Sixties aims to tell the British side of this story by focusing on several key players in the scene, including some of the aforementioned names along with groundbreaking producer Joe Meek and the director of the most powerful label in the UK at the time, Sir Joseph Lockwood. Author Darryl W Bullock said he broached the topic because he believes that “it is incredibly important for people to understand that LGBTQ people were not just a part of what created the rock culture we enjoy today, but were the driving force behind it. . It was the people who pushed things forward, “he said,” who were looking for the ‘next big thing’ to start a cultural revolution. “
At the same time, these wealthy, powerful and influential men faced the considerable consequences of being gay at a time when homosexual acts were still banned in the UK. They were subjected to arrest, blackmail and violence, along with general public defamation. “You could end up in prison if you take another man’s hand,” said Bullock. “We have a generation these days that have no experience with this kind of life.”
It’s no wonder that the story Bullock has told contains both tragedy and triumph. “These are real men living in a time when it was very difficult to be LGBTQ,” said Bullock. “They cannot be open.”
In fact, there were also some powerful gay women on the British rock scene at the time, including Vicki Wickham, who booked acts on the seminal television show Ready Steady Go and later directed Dusty Springfield and LaBelle. But Bullock said he focused on men because “that’s the way it was then. It’s a time when women were supposed to stay home and raise children. “
The man at the beginning of it all, Larry Parnes, had a complicated relationship with the stars he discovered. On the one hand, he devoted great attention to his creative and commercial upbringing. But he also exploited them economically and sometimes sexually. Parnes often tried to sleep with his stars even if they were minors. “Of course, guys like Larry [Parnes] and Brian [Epstein] and Robert Stigwood were trying it on, ”said Bullock. “They absolutely looked dubious.”
At the same time, when stars like a teenager Georgie Fame or Vince Eager decisively rejected Parnes’s advances “that was the end of the story,” said Bullock. “It was never mentioned again.”
It helped that Parnes’s main focus wasn’t sex but money. To that end, he took most of the stars’ earnings. “No matter how much Larry took from them [financially]They knew it was still worth it, ”said Bullock. “He gave them careers for life.”
Furthermore, the best managers gave the young musicians a confidence and understanding that they would never have had otherwise. Some even played crucial creative roles, such as Kit Lambert, who used his knowledge of the broader world of art and music to propel Pete Townshend to create his landmark rock opera Tommy.
The adoring attitude that managers often had towards their stars formed a unique and compelling dynamic. “Why would you become a pop star in the first place unless you wanted to be idolized?” Bullock said. “These managers wanted to do their best for you so that you could reach your full potential. That they were attracted to you too must have had a little chill. It also gave the stars a sense of control over the situation. It was almost like a sexual relationship without having sex. “
Bullock’s book does not delve into the deeper cultural and psychological issues involved in the relationships between these gay and straight men. Instead, it focuses on the story lines of managers’ lives. Still, it is clear to any student of the time that the nervous lives of gay men at the time fascinated the straight artists they worked with. The subcultural world they occupied represented a rebellious, “outsider” identity that far exceeded the transgressions expressed by rockers. In fact, many of the managers had a second “outsider” identity. They were not only gay, but also Jewish. “It must have been difficult to deal with issues related to her religious beliefs, as well as her sexual identity,” said Bullock. Brian [Epstein] because one fought with everything. “
To make matters worse, Epstein had a self-destructive streak, a trait that is described in dozens of previous Beatles-related books. In addition to his increasing drug use, Epstein was sexually attracted to the types of men who would likely do him the most harm. Much has been written in the past about cases where the men Epstein courted beat him or tried to blackmail him. Furthermore, “Brian was less than circumspect about the type of people he would allow into his house,” said Bullock. “When you’re making money, the media praises you and royalty woo you, you probably feel invincible.”
Somehow, managers like Epstein and others could cut themselves off from the everyday life of gay men at the time, throwing their own exclusive parties and circling in high circles where they could do whatever they wanted. But they had to practice discretion in public. Ironically, after the law against homosexual acts changed in Britain in 1967, decriminalizing it in certain circumstances and for those of a certain age, the harassment of LGBTQ people actually escalated. “It was felt beforehand that ‘queers’ weren’t so much in our faces,” said Bullock. “But after ’67, and with the formation of the Gay Liberation Front in 1970 in Britain and with gay people becoming more open, raids and pseudo-political attacks started to happen more.”
The consequences of that could be dire. After Joe Meek was arrested for having sex with another man in a public restroom, newspapers went to town with outrageous headlines that, according to Bullock, “set things in motion to kill him.”
The stories of various other men in this medium did not end well either. Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose in 1967, and Lambert, who descended into alcoholism in the late 1960s, died a decade later after being beaten by a drug dealer, resulting in a fatal brain hemorrhage. At the same time, the men of this demimonde fostered a sociological revolution that somehow opened the entire culture to the more acceptable view of sexuality that we have today. “The vibrant scene they helped create was hugely important in changing the taboos,” said Bullock. However, their stories tend to become clear. I want people to know their stories so that they are fully recognized for what they did. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism