When it comes to musicians who were not appreciated in their own time, those of the 20th century have fared far better than their predecessors. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may be recognized today as one of the greatest composers who ever lived, but he died in abject poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave. And so it goes.
While it took hundreds of years for Mozart to get the credit he deserved, relatively current artists only have to wait a few decades after their deaths for recognition. This is the case with the musician known as Jobriath, who released two studio albums in the 1970s and was never heard from again.
Born Bruce Campbell (no, not the one from “The Evil Dead”) in 1946, Jobriath was gay, and he wasn’t coy about it the way other artists (excluding Sylvester) were at the time. Despite the fact that his homosexuality enjoyed significantly less acceptance than it would today, he was signed to a major label and given a big, expensive promotional push that saw his likeness on billboards and on the sides of buses.
David Geffen, who was then the president of Elektra Records, signed the artist to a two-album deal for a rumored half a million dollars, an exorbitant sum of money at the time for a new and untried artist. The self-titled debut was released in 1973, and despite the temptation to compare the music to that of David Bowie or Elton John, it was more of a mixture of Mick Jagger and musical theater. Jobriath appeared on “The Midnight Special” to promote the album, where he performed the song “Rock of Ages.”
The album, sadly, just didn’t sell. Six months after its release, his second and final album, “Creatures of the Street,” was released, made up entirely of songs that were recorded for the debut but weren’t used. Despite the fact that it’s basically an outtakes album, it’s actually better and more cohesive than the debut, and if the song “Scumbag” is any indication, it was also more interesting.
“Creatures of the Street” was released with no promotion and faded away quickly. Jobriath then announced his retirement from the music industry.
He worked as a cabaret singer after that, calling himself “Cole Berlin”. The new career didn’t last long. Jobriath died of AIDS in 1983, and for decades he was largely forgotten. But in 2004, longtime fan Morrissey released a compilation of the singer’s music called “Lonely Planet Boy,” which caused enough interest to see both of his albums reissued three years later.
Jobriath also had an unlikely fan in singer Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, whose cover of the song “Heartbeat” appeared on certain editions of their 2006 album, “Yeah.” A 2010 documentary about him, “Jobriath A.D.,” was made by filmmaker Kieran Turner.
Both official Jobriath albums and the “Jobriath A.D.” documentary are available on streaming services right at this moment, so now’s as good a time as any to give them a spin and discover this long-forgotten gem of an artist for yourself.