The other day, in my old copy of The Book of Lists, I read something kind of interesting concerning a particular song by U2 which made me think about some of the really great confessionals that form part of my music collection. Among these are some familiar radio favourites, open secrets like the catchy single Take Your Mama by Scissor Sisters (found on Scissor Sisters, their 2004 debut album). This song takes the listener along on the camp-as-can-be glam disco journey as a young man and his friends show his mother a gay old time on the club scene. Other songs are hidden gems, like the electro-blues of Hideaway, from Erasure's 1987 album The Circus. This features the harrowing chorus:
Why don't you talk to me now?
Oh my mother
Do you still cry yourself to sleep?
Are you still proud of your little boy?
More questions than answers. In 1996, Pet Shop Boys released Bilingual, where the track Metamorphosis presents us with the oh-so-witty line 'What I wanted was to be a family man, but nature had some alternative plans'. The subject is treated with humour and melancholy in equal measure, you see. Everyone knows what George Michael implies when he says that he'd 'service the community' on Outside, released in 1998 on his Best Of collection, Ladies and Gentlemen. And it's obvious that most of these songs have been created by artists who are icons in the gay community. But what I'm getting at is that some songs are less obvious in exploring this theme, both in lyrical content and in who is behind the microphone.
Every straight man's favourite fag, Freddy Mercury, was possessed by the act of perfecting the multi-layered masterpiece Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen's remarkable 1975 album A Night at the Opera. The band had to keep overdubbing the operatic vocals until you could see right through the deteriorating master tape. Brian May once remarked that this ethereal piece of work seemed to literally disappear as they were making it. Opinions differ, of course, but in Bohemain Rhapsody Mercury comes to terms with his own homosexuality. It was during this time that Mercury gave up the straight and narrow for what his gay friends called 'the real life'. For 'Mama, just killed a man', read 'Mary, my old self is dead'. There is no more powerful account of a person's struggle with their own demons. In the end, there truly is 'no escape from reality', unless you are resigned that 'nothing really matters' to you anymore.
The most common interpretation of the lyrical content of One, taken from the 1991 U2 album Achtung Baby, is that it's about lovers who need to end a destructive relationship. According to The Book Of Lists, Bono Hewson 'discovered' that the song was actually about a boy with AIDS addressing his father. Anton Corbijn directed the video for the song, in which Bono is singing to his own father while wearing a black gown. Apparently, the sight of Bono singing in drag upset some management types, who were concerned that the video might imply that only gay people get AIDS. In fact, two other completely different videos were duly created, and these lend themselves more to the many other interpretations of the song. In true U2 style, some of the proceeds from the sale of the One single went to AIDS charities. The Book of Lists calls this song an astonishingly potent cry against a fear so powerful it could sever a father from his ailing son.
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
More questions again. Confessors waiting for a response. This time, will it be judgement or compassion?