“It’s like when any of us step out of that closet and we set ourselves free there is a tremendous feeling of elation”.
Barry Church-Woods with supporting material from SDGLN.com
I don’t know much about Judas Priest. I’m not really a fan of heavy metal. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that the heaviest metal in my CD collection is a guitar mix of Madonna’s American Life.
My memories of Judas Priest are not really of them. They are more accurately described as experiences about them.
I remember a skit by Sandra Bernhard where she portrays teenage boys listening to them while screaming “fuck that Jew man!” I remember hearing that their music was making young people commit suicide and all about the trial to prove it. I didn’t believe it, perhaps Shania could make happen, but not them. I just couldn’t believe it. In the same way I didn’t believe famous bigots like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson talk about how they were devil worshipers.
A couple of days ago, I got an email from a reader who suggested Rob Halford as a subject for LGBTicons. The name rang a bell though I couldn’t quite place him. A quick google search sparked the memory of my intern sending me photos of him while proclaiming that he thought I’d be into men ‘like’ him.
Questioning why someone I’d known for two weeks would have any idea about my taste in men I quickly realised just how young and sheltered said intern was and that the ‘like’ he referred to, was men that are ‘gay’ and not men that are ‘butch leather daddies that look like they might want to wear me like a puppet’.
Still, that’s twice he’s come into my life in a matter of weeks and as such, it’s about time to delve deeper into who he is and why he should be considered an LGBTicon.
A little bit of research and a lot of online trawling finds that very few vocalists in the world of heavy metal have been as influential and as EPIC as Rob Halford. Yes, EPIC! With his legendary band Judas Priest, Halford produced almost 20 albums. His voice is unparalleled in his field with a range of four octaves (that’s just one less than famous dog whistle Mariah Carey!)
The mind-blowing front man with considerable stage magnetism has been going strong for 30 years. Halford, a longtime San Diego resident, has been openly gay for the past 14 years. Here, he talks about how things have changed since coming out:
“Well, musically they have not changed at all. On a personal level it has changed dramatically. It’s like when any of us step out of that closet and we set ourselves free there is a tremendous feeling of elation. You can be who you are without having to hide, without having to lie, and it makes you stronger, and more complete as a person. That’s the main thing that I was able to experience when I made the announcement, and from that point on my life, my personal life which has always been kind of a public life anyway was finally revealed, and it was a great lot of pressure lifting off of my back. It really was the best thing to do. It is the best thing for any of us to do if we find that we are able to step out and be who we are without having to be something that we are not”.
Here, he talks to the SDGLN.com
When you came out, you were working on music with your band at the time called Two. You had been working with Trent Reznor. I heard in an interview where someone stated that it was easier for you to come out in the industrial music scene as people were more accepting. Did you find it easier to come out in the industrial music scene as opposed to the metal scene?
“Well, that is an interesting question. I don’t personally think that the location that I was at musically would have made any great difference. I think that what I was probably trying to say was that because I was away from the main band that was filling my life, Judas Priest, because I was always protecting Judas Priest, protecting the music, protecting the fans, protecting everybody except myself. I wasn’t able to say and do the things that I wanted to do until I was away and having these other musical adventures. So, I guess regardless of where I was musically at that time. The fact that I said and did what I did on that day wasn’t really much of an issue musically. But, anyway I think it is fair to say that I would have been probably more difficult. I probably would have not made the announcement had I been in Judas Priest at that time. Second, because as I said when you become protective of everybody else, you don’t protect your own needs. So, things happen in life for a reason, and that was the case with my coming out at that time.
There are areas of music that are more compassionate, more tolerant, more open, more accepting and more aware. What I think I have done is destroy the myth that heavy metal bands don’t have that capacity. It’s a different world now. Heavy metal now is a completely different world compared to heavy metal in 1980. The gay and lesbian world is very different now as it was in 1980. We have all grown to some extent. There is still a long way to go. There are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed, but I think slowly but surely our lives are getting better”.
Do you feel that your heterosexual fans received you well when you came out?
“The vast majority of them did, yes. Those that didn’t were the ones that have difficulty accepting people’s sexual orientation in general. I think I made some people confront issues they were not ready to deal with perhaps”.
Now some fans that completely idolized you had to come to terms with their metal role model and idol was a gay man. How do you feel this affected them?
“I think that it kind of demystifies this issue of masculinity. To say that if you are masculine you can’t be gay is ridiculous. Again, I can’t really say. That is a question you would have to ask my fans that felt this way. But, the vast majority of them were completely accepting of me, and it was tremendously powerful”.
Do you feel like the gay community received you well? Do you feel like you gained a larger fan base for Judas Priest, Halford, and the projects that you were working on?
“No, it didn’t change a bit. I am sure I picked up some gay fans due to my coming out. As far as anything changing dramatically, things stayed as they were”.
Being a legendary metal front man, when most people thing of metal and rock music they think, “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” How did this expectation or stereotype play out for you as a gay man?
“I had the drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll, but I was not having the sex. That is how it worked out for me. (laughs)”
Did you feel like you had any pressure, from groupies coming around, and did other men in the bands wonder why you weren’t hooking up?
“Everybody in the band knew I was a gay man, and everybody in my crew knew I was a gay man, and those were the people that I associated with on a working level. So, those questions never really arose”.
Now it seems to me that your rock ‘n’ roll style is very reminiscent of the leather community. Can you shed some light on that?
“Yeah, that is the irony, if you want to call it ironic, that there is a portion of the gay and lesbian community that lives that type of lifestyle, and I never was. I never was into that leather lifestyle. I just chose that kind of look because heavy metal for many, many years didn’t really have the visual connections and their power connected to the music. So, I just kind of experimented and felt that particular image was more sensible and worked. So, that is something that is only an assumption. So, what I am trying to say is first that is the irony, and it is also a little bit disrespectful to look at somebody like that and there is an assumption that “oh they must be gay.” Personally I think it is disrespectful, not from you, but from people who are stating it that way. I think that that is all about stereotyping. And what we try to do consistently in the gay community is break away the stereotypical imagery of how we are perceived to be by straight culture. So it’s kind of an irony tinged with stereotypical assumption. But there I was you know, and suddenly some straight people were saying, “We should have got that all along, because look at what he’s dressed like.” I think that is very insulting and very narrow-minded. But that is all just part of the equation, of who I am and what I do”.
I can see that because the whole development of the musical persona, take Alice Cooper, Ozzy or Marilyn Manson, they all have some kind of look to them, and it may not mean that they are any particular sexual orientation or anything like that, but this just might be how they express themselves from an artistic point of view.
“Exactly, and again you know that is just the public talk of persona that you have no control over. The only way you can control it is confront the comments”.
You mentioned that your “Made of Metal” album is your most personal release in your solo career. Why do you feel that way?
“It is just that I think it is important to have messages that talk about things that are important to you on a personal level, moral, and the observations that you make, and things that you see or experience in life. And I think that there is an opportunity for me in my solo career to do those things that would not be right to do in another place. So, when I talk about my sobriety and when I talk about my belief in things that are important to me, it’s something that I have never really done to a great extent until this moment. So, it has been a really interesting time and opportunity to go into that area for the first time”.
From a spiritual perspective, sober living perspective and from life experience, that is the kind of stuff that this album will get into. Are there any songs on the new album that you hold particularly dear to you?
“Every one of them. They are like my kids. (laughs) Every one of them is important to me. Even the kinds of fun and adventure songs like the “Matador” are very important to me because I am testing my boundaries as a musician. I am testing my ability as a writer, musically and as a lyricist, so every one of them is important to me”.
I noticed that you won the Grammy. Congratulations! How was that for you, because this was the fifth time that you were nominated and you won! Was it just exhilarating and exciting to win the Grammy?
“It was exciting to be there and on TV. I firstly, never dreamed that I would get one. It was exciting to be there live to receive it. Grammy’s are a very important, prestigious event, and to get something like that is a wonderful achievement. It is very inspiring and motivational. It makes you feel good for what you have been able to achieve. But, it is also something that you share with a lot of other people, especially your fans. So, it is a very remarkable night. I will always cherish that moment”.
Another thing I noticed is that you introduced Adam Lambert at the GLAAD Media Awards. Was that interesting for you to be there with other well-known artists who have come out as gay like yourself?
“It was fantastic. It really was fantastic. I think Adam is a sensational singer and performer and entertainer. He’s got a long, long life ahead of him in show business. It was a great feeling. We don’t know each other, but we know a little bit about each other as far as what we feel we have tried to do within the gay community. So, it was like on the red carpet, the old god meeting the new god. The paparazzi went completely crazy. We couldn’t see each other because of the flashbulbs going off. Again, it was very, very important. It was another spectacular night with a lot of meaning attached to it for me”.
Now there are other musicians that have come out, Elton John, George Michael, Adam Lambert. There is also a female metal singer, I don’t know if you have heard of her, of the band Otep. Her name is Otep Shamaya, and she is a lesbian metal singer.
“Yes, yes I am aware. I think it’s great. I think it is wonderful. Those of us that are gay and lesbian, bisexual and want the rest of the world to know are stepping forward and it means a lot. It really does. Yes, I have heard Otep; her music it is very unusual and original”.
What do you have to say to help inspire other artists that are gay and are unsure about coming out and how it may affect their lives and careers?
“To not be afraid. To try to have the strength and courage to step forward and let the world know who you are, because it is very self-empowering, and you will get a stronger and clearer vision of who you are and what you trying to be and do in the music world”.