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- Posted on Feb 29th 2008 5:00PM by James Sullivan
Born Bruce Wayne Campbell in 1946, Jobriath had his first taste of celebrity in the Los Angeles production of 'Hair,' followed by a short stint in a baroque pop band called Pidgeon. His first efforts at launching a solo career were fruitless; Clive Davis infamously judged his demo tape "mad and unstructured and destructive to melody." But such aggressive distaste piqued the interest of rock impresario Jerry Brandt, who discovered Carly Simon and ran the New York nightclub the Electric Circus. Classically trained and frankly theatrical, Jobriath quickly became the gay Elvis to Brandt's Colonel Tom. Brandt hyped his new client so successfully that he landed a whopping $500,000 advance from Elektra Records. "I made two errors of judgment," Elektra founder Jac Holzman would recall, "and signing Jobriath was one of them."
Upon the release of Jobriath's self-titled debut in 1973, however, Elektra embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign, spending thousands on ads and putting up a 50-foot billboard in Times Square. Bowie, Brandt clucked, was a mere Model A Ford compared to Jobriath's Lamborghini. Rolling Stone ran a rave review, and the singer landed a choice appearance on the network showcase 'The Midnight Special.'
But audiences weren't buying it. By Jobriath's second album, 'Creatures of the Street,' both his manager and his label had lost interest, and his band (including one former member of Stories, who had a No. 1 hit with 'Brother Louie' in 1973) sputtered through a sometimes hostile, often indifferent tour.
Jobriath hung on to his hopes for stardom as long as he could, auditioning for a role in the Al Pacino movie 'Dog Day Afternoon' and working on an autobiographical musical to be called 'Pop Star.' But his 10-year contract with Brandt apparently left him unable to record, and he retreated to his room in New York's infamous Chelsea Hotel, performing incognito, as Cole Berlin, in small-time cabarets. When he died in 1983 from AIDS-related illness, it reportedly took four days for neighbors to find the body.
In recent years, admiring fellow performers have helped keep this forgotten pioneer's flame alive; Morrissey, for instance, was instrumental in the release of Jobriath's first CD reissue in 2004. In another world, 'Pop Star' might have been 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' 20 years early. But Jobriath was marketed as an alien from out of this world, and audiences couldn't quite relate.