Pretty Persuasive

Hey! That song there is about gay people!

One word choice Studer does have a problem with is the phrase "it sucks," as in "it's terrible." Because of its oral-sex etymology, "sucks," Studer asserts in his book while mentioning the buzzphrase "Disco Sucks," is a homophobic word. He is much more accepting of a similar term: "giving head." About Elton Montello's 1978 underground classic "Jet Boy Jet Girl," Studer writes, "A recurring line both propelled its gay popularity and doomed it to commercial radio limbo: 'He gives me head.'" That same line, ironically, never hindered a much earlier tune: Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," which includes the poorly rhymed couplet, "But she never lost her head/Even when she was giving head." From the book: "The truly amazing thing is that those lines didn't even get censored out when the song was played on the radio in the early Seventies, presumably because most radio programmers, deejays, and listeners back then didn't know what 'giving head' meant!"

Much has changed, and already Studer is considering a followup, if sales of this volume justify such an undertaking. Much was omitted from Rock on the Wild Side, and new music with gay themes continues to be issued. Since the end of last year, when his book went to press, Studer says, "Elton John and RuPaul released their duet of 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart.' Erasure has a new album out and I don't even have it yet. And Bruce Springsteen's 'Streets of Philadelphia' is his biggest hit since 'Dancing in the Dark.' I'm really grateful for performers like Springsteen doing things like that; it can only help. I mean, it was by no means a fantastic, great movie, a Gone with the Wind. It was a good movie, with a noble goal in mind, designed for mainstream audiences. If it were made for gays, it would be preaching to the converted. It's getting better, which is the best thing you can say. Little by little America is coming around."

And coming out. Studer recalls a telling anecdote about his own revelations back in his college days. He knew a young (hetero) couple. The male was somewhat homophobic to begin with. When Studer announced to his friends that he was gay, "she was very supportive, but he was still shaky. Once he realized that his friend was gay, and that I was still the same person he'd known, he came around. He was cured."

A final note about the book's title, a pun on Lou Reed's classic. In his review of that song, Studer brings up an interesting theory. "Does anybody know...if the use of 'wild side' to describe 'gay life' is somehow linked to Oscar Wilde? Considering that at one time Wilde was probably the best-known homosexual person -- that is, the person best-known to be homosexual -- in the whole world, was 'wild' ever used as a 'code word' of sorts to refer to homosexuality?"

Whatever the etymology of that, it is certainly refreshing to see homosexuality brought to the open. Studer flings wide plenty of doors to discussion of his theories, whether the reader prefers the tangential questions of semantics or the serious criticism that makes the book so compelling. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, "I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.

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