Pretty Persuasive

Hey! That song there is about gay people!

Studer puts this aspect in perspective with a quip he cites in his book: "Is 'gay music' music that's attracted to music of the same sex?" Oscar Wilde cast the sentiment more broadly: "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." Studer's book is well written.

Which is not to say the writer didn't face his share of problems. The biggest was an internal debate about whether to include his own editorial voice, a dilemma exacerbated by the subject matter. "There were times early in the writing of the book, when I was trying to be very objective, leaving myself out of it, that I realized I couldn't get very far with it. Without the personal perspective I saw two possibilities: a) I won't be able to finish it, or b) it'll be boring as hell. I felt kind of funny about it, because I'm a relatively private person, and this is my first published book. Now I'm glad I did it."

Just as a mention in Studer's book doesn't mean the cited artist is gay, it also doesn't mean the cited material is gay-positive. (And just because it's gay-positive, Studer's comments reveal, doesn't always mean it's "good" musically.) Many of the inclusions are antigay tunes, things like Audio Two's "Whatcha Lookin' At," about which Studer states, "Why let logic get in the way of such a perfect rhyme [as "faggots" and "maggots"]. It's not easy to find another word that rhymes with 'faggots.' Take my advice, guys, it's much simpler to rhyme 'queers': beers, ears, gears, jeers, rears, tears -- and fears."

So far Studer's work has met with mostly favorable feedback. "There've been two local reviews that were very positive," the author says from his home in Minneapolis. "I also received a phone call from one of the performers. It was one I won't name, but I had given him a rather ambivalent review, and I got a call from the performer himself. He was pleased he was in the book along with the Beatles and Paul Simon. He was displeased by what I said. And a gay-activist writer in L.A. took me to task for writing about someone. That was an ad hominem attack, but I figure it's publicity just the same. If I'm going to dish it out, I have to take it. I criticize other people, so I have to accept criticism." (The entry in question is Pussy Tourette, a drag queen who often performs misogynist material, a tendency for which Studer takes him to task. "It was perfectly legitimate," the author says. "I criticize performers for saying negative things about gay people, so I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't criticize gays for doing that to other people."

Though Studer's criticisms are perfectly legitimate, they're also arguable, particularly in their gay-sensitivity. The author saves some of his harshest verbiage for Frank Zappa's "Bobby Brown," a blatantly offensive song about "homos," "dykes," "golden showers," "rape" -- and those are just the inoffensive parts. Many have long held that Zappa was making fun of hypocrisy and those who inhibit others' preferences. Studer, however, declares the tune to be "wretched," and "one of the most ignorant, repulsive songs in this book -- and considering the competition, that's saying a lot."

"That's an interesting case in point," the author comments. "Zappa was so wrapped up in satire, you often can't be too sure what he is satirizing directly and indirectly. To what extent is he satirizing? There are levels and layers of satire. And Randy Newman is even trickier than Zappa."

Besides, arguing is half the fun. "One of the marks of a great work is its ability to mean different things to different people," Studer offers. "T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare -- their work can be interpreted different ways. [Paul Simon's] 'Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard' doesn't have any one meaning. [Studer writes that the song points "in the direction of homosexuality," while adding that he might be "totally off base," and concluding that the song is "curious."] I do believe any art is collaborative between the artist and audience. It's not art if no one perceives it."

And then sometimes it's not art, at least not great art, no matter how many people perceive it. The 2 Live Crew are included for their 1989 song "S&M," which Studer decries subtly, writing that the song, which concerns a whips-and-chains orgy, is "unbridled disdain, frightening in its intensity, for the basic humanity of other

people." Says Studer on the phone: "I don't think that song can be taken seriously. It's so outrageous, which is just a device to sell records. But it's also disturbing in its implications. Yes, it is a sick-joke thing, and it's humorous, but what makes it funny? Something disturbing makes it funny."

The Crew's right to sing it, however, Studer would defend to the death. "The whole business of putting them on trial and arresting record sellers," begins the Wild Side's writer. "Well, I'd never suggest a boycott or banning, that's abhorrent. It's disgusting that people think music causes people to take certain actions. Desensitization is one thing, but music doesn't cause anyone to go out and do anything. To say it does is an irresponsible cop-out."

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