Books Esquirita

Published on June 8th, 2015 | by Martin Aston


In the works – the Queer Pioneers of Popular Music And How They Changed The World

Finally, life after 4AD… a press annoucement from the Constable imprint of Little, Brown:

Monday 1st June, 2015


Andreas Campomar, publishing director at Constable (Little, Brown), has signed up Martin Aston for his book on the gay pioneers of popular music and how they helped change the world. Campomar bought World Rights from Matthew Hamilton at Aitken Alexander Associates.

Tearing Down The Walls Of Heartache: The Gay Pioneers of Popular Music And How They Changed The World (NB WORKING TITLE) will be published by Constable in autumn 2016.


‘All rock’n’roll is homosexual,’ Manic Street Preachers once claimed, and then stuck the phrase on a T-shirt. The band were likely overstating the case, but then you can’t beat a good slogan. Yet popular music’s multiple strands of gay DNA are inarguable, from blues legend Bessie Smith to the ‘Pansy craze’ roots of popular song, from the equally startling subversions of Little Richard’s startling ‘Tutti Frutti’ and The Velvet Underground, from Elvis in eye shadow to Bowie’s ambi-sexual alien Ziggy Stardust; from Frankie Says ‘Relax’ to house music godfather Frankie Knuckles; from Morrissey’s ‘fourth sex’ to Kurt Cobain in a dress; from kd lang’s female Elvis to Noughties icon Beth Ditto; from Valentino’s groundbreaking ‘I Was Born This Way’ on Motown to Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ almost forty years later.

But the story of the LGBTQ pioneers of Popular Music belongs perhaps even more to those neglected, hidden or even closeted in their day, whose creations allowed others to follow – the blues drag kings of the early twentieth century, the Fifties and Sixties pop and soul rebels, the first gay country music band, the first (self-proclaimed!) “gay superstar” years before Bowie, the earliest lesbian folk protest singer, punk rock’s gay roots on both sides of the Atlantic, all the way to the queering of the most traditionally homophobic of genres, hip hop. Not to mention that the most played single ever on Western radio is a man-to-man love song.

Personal testimonies from artists, music industry figures and cultural commentators will illuminate how the music industry operated on a level of both openness and deceit, and shifted from denying a voice for every group within the LGBT community to actively courting them. The narrative also unfolds against a backdrop of historic social and political shifts, as LGBT rights pushed for visibility and equality, through the Fifties closet, Sixties struggle, Seventies liberation, Eighties mainstream invasion and AIDS crisis, Nineties advances and Noughties immersion.

Says Aston, ‘I’ve long wondered why there hasn’t been a comprehensive unfolding history of the immeasurable and pioneering influence of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender singers, songwriters and musicians, and I’m thrilled to have the chance to write it. It’s an incredibly rich subject, brimming with characters, whether driven to reveal themselves, or provide more coded messages because of the laws and attitudes of their times. In words and images, these artists broke the mould and helped instigate political and social change. It’s also a very timely tale, given the current prominence of marriage equality, alongside retrogressive steps in Russia and Africa, where songs encapsulating the experience in a world of illegality and bigotry shows the story is far from over.’

‘Martin is the perfect writer to chart the chronological history of gay popular music, a subject which has been hitherto overlooked. His book will be ground-breaking in its ability to provide an unfolding historical narrative of how music came out of the closet, and helped instigate political and social change,’ says Campomar.

Martin Aston has written about popular music for over thirty years, contributing to, among others, MOJO, Q, Guardian, The Times, Attitude, Radio Times, Spin and BBC Music Online. He’s also covered TV, film and LGBT culture, and authored three books, most recently Facing The Other Way: The Story Of 4AD (HarperCollins imprint The Friday Project, 2013), voted a Book of the Year by NME, Times Literary Supplement, Spin, Daily Telegraph and Rough Trade Shops.

Praise for Facing the Other Way: The Story Of 4AD:

‘4AD get the lavish label history they deserve’ MOJO

‘The book is an exquisite reflection of 4AD itself – extravagant, atmospheric, and rich in texture and timbre’ Pitchfork

‘Facing The Other Way represents one of the greatest stories to emerge from rock and roll’s modern history’ Drowned in Sound

‘A fanatically scholarly account of the definitive art-pop label of the 1980s’ The Times Literary Supplement




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