Some thoughts on the progress we have (and have not) made as queer folk, at least here in North America, measured by the Romanovsky & Phillips music catalog. This post is inspired by my listening to the R&P album Let’s Flaunt It (Live In Concert) recorded in 1995.
Of course regular readers know that I really like the music of R&P. And by “like” I refer to having seen them live multiple times in concert in Toronto in the late ’80s and early ’90s, owning all their available albums, operating the Official R&P Merchandise Shop and Official R&P Facebook page under license and redesigning the Official R&P Website and Music Store for Ron. Oh and publishing 1 Out Of 10 Therapists: The Poetry of Romanovsky & Phillips Lyrics to mark the 30th anniversary of their first public (musical) performance. Just another dedicated fanboy.
Some song lyrics are dated- reflecting changes in law, politics or broader society. Note that I don’t accept the premise that Folk Music (with or without gay-specific lyrics) is out-dated. It is not the most popular form of music in dance clubs or ‘top 40’ radio stations. But it continues to be a vibrant form of expression. It also reflects (not always immediately) changes in the culture that surrounds it.
With something like 50 songs on the still-available R&P titles, and dozens more on Ron’s solo albums, there are really only a few to discuss. There are definitely some lyrics that are the product of their time; The Answering Machine Song [from Trouble In Paradise, 1986] refers to a piece of technology many young folk know only as a relic of their grandparents’ time, or found in movies from last century. Of course, ‘telephone tag’ is still around, now as ‘text message tag’ when trying to get plans set in place.
References in The Telephone Company Loves Me [from Hopeful Romantic, 1992] to ‘calling collect’ and long distance charges seem anachronistic to folks with Free Calling across the USA, Canada and Mexico. And whatever happened to MCI? However, Ron’s desire to have “a phone inside your briefcase” so he “can always reach you, no matter where you are” has pretty much come to pass for most of us. The percentage of North Americans who can afford a cell phone, don’t spend most of their time outside any major carriers’ service areas, but don’t have one is shrinking.
Perhaps of greater import are the songs that reference political or legal situations that have seen great improvement.
In August of 1982 Michael Hardwick of Atlanta GA was arrested and convicted for having consensual sex with another man. Four years later the Supreme Court ruled that gay sex was not protected under the US Constitution [Bowers v. Hardwick]. Which led to Ron writing:
“Who would have thought that the courts would uphold
An archaic law that’s a hundred years old?”
The Sodomy Song [from Emotional Rollercoaster, 1988]
In 2003 the Supremes reversed their decision and announced that gay sex (at least in some forms) was indeed Constitutional [Lawrence v. Texas]. A few months later the State of Massachusetts began recognizing full marriage equality following a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling.
Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell gets a stanza in When Heterosexism Strikes:
Until a witch hunt of McCarthy style
Demanded he be put on trial
[from Be Political, Not Polite, 1991]
As well as the title track from Brave Boys:
“You brave boys
Brave boys continue the fight
You are brave boys, every one.“
[Brave Boys (The Best & More of Romanovsky & Phillips), 1991]
In Ron’s 2008 solo album Turn Up The Fun! he took on marriage equality with The Sanctity of Marriage. In 2010 he produced a music video for it. Although a few states had joined Massachusetts, there was still resistance to nation-wide recognition of that basic right. Full marriage equality across the entire United States is recognized as a constitutional right June 26, 2015 [Obergefell v. Hodges]. The humour (sarcasm?) of Ron’s song and video are still enjoyable; in a ‘we see your hypocrisy’ kind of way.
This is a good place to take a break; I will write another post to discuss other R&P songs that hint at broader cultural changes over the past few decades.
Brave Boys © 1991, Romanovsky & Porter – other quoted lyrics are © Ron Romanovsky or © Romanovsky & Phillips, Published by Bodacious Music (ASCAP), Distributed by Fresh Fruit Records, and used by permission.
As per FTC Guidelines, please note that should you make a purchase after following links in this post (other than music bought directly from Ron) I will earn a small commission.