Tuxedomoon: some queer connections


UK poster insert by Patrick Roques for Desire (1981).

Yes, more Tuxedomoon: there’s a lot to explore. It’s always a pleasure when something that you enjoy one medium connects to things that interest you elsewhere. From the outset Tuxedomoon have had more than their share of connections to gay culture—to writers especially—but it’s more of an ongoing conversation than any kind of proselytising concern. This post teases out those connections some of which I hadn’t spotted myself until I started delving deeper.

The Angels of Light: Not the Michael Gira group but an earlier band of musicians and performers in San Francisco in the early 1970s. The Angels of Light formed out of performance troupe The Cockettes following a split between those who wanted to charge admission for their shows, and those who wanted to keep things free to all. Among the troupe there was Steven Brown, soon to be a founding member of Tuxedomoon:

The group began as an offshoot of The Angels of Light, ‘a “family” of dedicated artists who sang, danced, painted and sewed for the Free Theater’, says Steve Brown. ‘I was lucky to be part of the Angels—I fell for a bearded transvestite in the show and moved in with him at the Angels’ commune. Gay or bi men and women who were themselves works of art, extravagant in dress and behaviour, disciples of Artaud and Wilde and Julian Beck [of the Living Theater] … we lived together in a big Victorian house … pooled all our disability cheques each month, ate communally … and used the rest of the funds to produce lavish theatrical productions—never charging a dime to the public. This is what theatre was meant to be: a Dionysian rite of lights and music and chaos and Eros.’

Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

(Special Treatment For The) Family Man (1979): A sombre commentary from the Scream With A View EP on the trial of Dan White, the assassin of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. White’s “special treatment” in court led to a conviction for manslaughter which in turn resulted in San Francisco’s White Night riots in May, 1979.

James Whale (1980): An instrumental on the first Tuxedomoon album, Half-Mute, all sinister electronics and tolling bells as befits a piece named after a director of horror films. Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is not only the best of the Universal horror series, it’s also commonly regarded as a subversive examination of marriage and the creation of life from a gay perspective. (Whale’s friends and partner disagreed, however.)


Cover art by Winston Tong.

Joeboy San Francisco (1981): The Joeboy name was lifted from a piece of San Francisco graffiti to become a name for Tuxedomoon’s DIY philosophy. It’s also a record label name, the name of an early single, and a side project of the group which in 1981 produced Joeboy In Rotterdam / Joeboy San Francisco. The SF side features a collage piece by Winston Tong based on The Wild Boys by William Burroughs, a key inspiration for the band which first surfaces here.

In one piece, the band cites its influences as: “burroughs, bowie, camus, cage, eno, moroder”. Can you say what you admired or drew on vis-à-vis these artists?

William S. Burroughs — ideas concerning use of media — tapes, projections, his radical anti-control politic in general as well as his outspoken gayness. Early on we duplicated on stage one of his early experiments projecting films of faces onto faces.

Simon Reynolds interview with Steven Brown

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Pink Narcissus: James Bidgood and Tuxedomoon


Pink Narcissus (2014) by Tuxedomoon. Design by Flavien Thieurmel.

I’ve never paid much attention to Record Store Day, despite promoting it here on a couple of occasions, and paid even less attention this year now that the event has turned into an opportunity for some of the larger labels to fleece the punters. Consequently, I missed any mention of a new release from Tuxedomoon which Crammed Discs put out as part of this year’s vinyl deluge. I’ve been listening to Tuxedomoon for years so any new release is worthy of attention, especially when their last studio album, Vapour Trails (2007) was a particularly good one, with the added bonus of packaging by Jonathan Barnbrook.


Hanging Off Bed, a still from Pink Narcissus, mid- to late 1960s.

The new album, Pink Narcissus, is a recording of the group’s live soundtrack performance for the film of the same name by James Bidgood, a luscious micro-budget, homoerotic labour-of-love filmed in the 1960s on 8mm in the cramped confines of Bidgood’s New York apartment. The original soundtrack comprises selections of romantic classical music by Mussorgsky and Prokofiev so the replacing of the score isn’t as much of an imposition as it can be when bands co-opt old films. I already liked Bidgood’s film a great deal so Tuxedomoon’s score is like a marriage made in heaven (and they once recorded their own version of In Heaven). Having watched the film synched to the new album I was impressed by how well the group matched the shifting moods. From their earliest releases Tuxedomoon’s music has tended towards the cinematic so you’d expect them to provide a sympathetic treatment; they’ve also recorded a few scores in the past, including one for their own ambitious film/stage performance, Ghost Sonata. But Pink Narcissus matches the scenes much more effectively than the classical selections, the group even work in a pause then a shift to a new style when Bidgood’s star boy, Bobby Kendall, puts a record on his wind-up gramophone. The only drawback in running the music with the film is that the album is 10 minutes short, possibly because of the limitations of the vinyl format. YouTube user bigniouxx has a few brief clips of the live performance at the L’Etrange Festival in Paris.


Blue Boy, a still from Pink Narcissus, mid- to late 1960s.

If the BFI ever reissues the film I hope they consider using the full Tuxedomoon score as an alternative soundtrack the way they did on the Peter de Rome porn films, some of which are scored by Stephen Thrower. Bidgood’s film is still available on DVD with a detailed booklet and a great interview with the director; the BFI also has it on their video-on-demand service. Despite its age and its campy glamour Pink Narcissus is still pretty pornographic in places, not as much as Peter de Rome’s films (or today’s porn, for that matter) but there’s enough wanking and erections to keep it off many TV networks. The album, housed in a great sleeve designed by Flavien Thieurmel, may be bought direct from Crammed Discs.

James Bidgood’s photography at ClampArt

Previously on { feuilleton }
William E. Jones on Fred Halsted
Flamboyant excess: the art of Steven Arnold
James Bidgood