All this useless beauty

New gay music collections make fancy cultural straitjackets

This would, in fact, salvage the largely unrecognized but gargantuan influence of black women on white and black men, homo and hetero. God knows, there's nary a hetero male pop critic out there willing to admit, as Frank Sinatra has, that Sinatra wouldn't be here if it weren't for Billie Holiday. And when was the last time you read that Bessie Smith is the single most influential pop singer in 20th-century American music? She's a seminal interpreter who's as responsible for Robert Plant as Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston as Luther Vandross, Alanis Morrisette as Bon Scott.

In short, there are dots to be connected by any gay music collection that's serious about finding parallels between the ascendancy of black female artists and the mainstreaming of the so-called gay agenda. And they'll be felt in circles far removed from your favorite gay dive, although that place will always be instrumental in the proliferation of flavors that heteros end up listening to.

Worse than all the warmed-over club flotsam, something like "Free To Be" creates a pernicious ripple effect among the major labels toward gay consumers. As long as the big dogs believe that most homo buyers align their pocketbooks toward what the clubs play, they will spend their promotion dollars on only those artists whose narrow music is accompanied by a canned beat and a DJ's approval. Musicians like the rejected Extra Fancy, the precocious Pansy Division, and the buried Steven Kowalczyk will flounder because, unlike k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, and Elton John, they chose to come out as soon as they began to perform, not after they'd built a solid national fan base. Moreover, each has recorded music that doesn't translate easily to the dance floor.

The gay male community isn't the first to be insulted by stereotypical marketing--when was the last time you heard Maxi Priest or Me'Shell Ndegeocello played on black pop stations? By its very definition, capitalism encourages the greedy to prey on the stupid. Problem is, it's difficult to separate the straight and gay fans of an iconoclastic band like punk-popsters Pansy Division, who are promoted in neither gay nor straight periodicals. They provide an intense gay catharsis for legions of faithful homo fans, but won't be recognized by major labels who think they've already figured out what gay men want--rhythm without context.

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