Rod Stewart: ‘I was surrounded by gay men in the 70s’

Forty years ago, Rod Stewart released The Killing of Georgie, a groundbreaking single about the murder of a gay man now tragically relevant again in the light of events in Orlando

Rod Stewart has long favored story songs, going back to 1971s classic Maggie May. But five years later, he spun a story about something far more serious and forward-thinking. Its subject couldnt be more horribly relevant, given this past weekends massacre in Orlando.

Forty years ago this Saturday (18 June), Stewart released The Killing of Georgie Parts I and II, the first major pop song to tell the tale of a gay man who died, in part, because of his sexual identity.

Far from solely a sad tale, Georgie also ranked as the first chart hit to present a gay man with not only empathy but admiration. Stewart even cast Georgie as a role model for how to live with confidence. Coincidentally, the songs 40th anniversary arrives during gay pride month.

A few hit songs addressing gay subjects had appeared before Stewarts track. In 1969, The Kinkss Lola featured a male narrator who fell in love with a drag queen. In the 1972 smash All the Young Dudes, written by David Bowie for Mott the Hoople, a guy vowed to chase some cat to bed, while that same year the colorful cast of Lou Reeds Walk on the Wild Side included a character (based on Joe Dallesandro) who has sex with other men for cash. Before Georgie, however, there had never been an earnest song portraying the hardship and joy of a gay persons life for a mass audience.


div class=”embed-video-wrapper” u-responsive-ratio u-responsive-ratio–hd”>

Stewart says that in 1976, he didnt intend to write a gay story per se. If someone said to me, Sit down and write a song about a gay man, it would have frightened the daylights out of me, he tells the Guardian. It would have seemed an almighty challenge.

Stewart says he wasnt even aware he was breaking ground at the time. I just love stories with a beginning, middle and end, he said. And this certainly has that.

It helped that the story was true. Georgies narrative follows a gay kid from a small town whos rejected by his parents, causing him to flee to New York City where he becomes the toast of the town. The tale ends tragically when, after leaving the theater one night, Georgie runs into a gang of New Jersey kids who target him for being gay and murder him.

Stewart says he cant remember the surname of the real Georgie. He was a far closer friend to his bandmate in the Faces, keyboardist Ian MacLagen (who died of a stroke in December 2014). I only knew him fleetingly, Stewart said. He would play songs for us and say Have you heard this? I remember him turning us on to Sam and Dave singing Night Time Is the Right Time. I can tell you, he was a hell of a good-looking guy.

The singer says he had a sympathy to Georgies story because I was surrounded by gay men at the time. I had a gay manager and a gay PR guy. Long John Baldry, who discovered me, was gay.

While the outlines of Georgies story, and his murder, are true, Stewart admits: I wasnt on the scene when it happened, so I embellished a bit.

He painted a relatively sympathetic portrait of the killers, making clear they didnt intend to kill Georgie. That was poetic license, Stewart said. I thought maybe they didnt mean to take his life. Maybe they just meant to do him over.

Stewart says his record company had no problem with the song, releasing it in 1976 as the second single from his album A Night on the Town, which had come out in June. At first, the BBC wouldnt play the song due to its subject matter. They likewise initially rejected the first single from the album Tonights the Night, due to its lyric Spread your wings/And let me come inside.

They thought that was shocking, Stewart says. Its certainly not nowadays. But it was as subtle as a Sherman tank.

Eventually, the BBC played both songs, helping Tonight get to No 5 in the UK; in the US, the song hit No 1. Georgie, its follow-up, got to No 2 in England and made the American Top 30.

Georgie stirred controversy among critics not for its subject matter but for the music in Part II, which sounds very much like the Beatles Dont Let Me Down. It does sound like it, Stewart admits. Nothing wrong with a good steal! Im sure if you look back to the 60s, youd find other songs with those three chords and that melody line.

Stewart enjoyed performing The Killing of Georgie. I used to camp it up something terrible when we played the song, he says. We used to have a lamp post come down onto the stage. Id lean on it and sing. Thanks to glam rock, campness was de rigueur at the time, even for ladies men like Stewart. I used to wear a lot of make-up in those days, he says. All the guys around me used to say: Ding-dong! Avon calling!

This superficial, glam-inspired acceptance of homosexuality prevalent in the era is reflected in the songs opening lines: In these days of changing ways/So-called liberated days/A story comes to mind of a friend of mine … However, unlike a lot of glam rockers, Stewart doesnt portray homosexuality as something exotic and other: Georgie boy was gay I guess/Nothin more or nothin less/The kindest guy I ever knew.

Though the death of Georgie conforms to an old stereotype of gay lives ending badly, the empathy in the song proved stirring to a generation of gay people starving for public portrayals of any kind. In a recent interview, Boy George recalled how his mother bought the record for him in 1976, when he was 15, putting it in his drawer in a brown paper bag. It was her way of saying, I kind of understand but I dont want to talk about it.

Other people have less ambivalent memories. Ive had gay people thank me for the song many, many times, Stewart said. Recently, the boyfriend of a big-time British Olympic champion came up to me and said he heard it when he was 17 and he said it gave him some identity and independence, which is wonderful.

Currently, Georgie is included in a special LGBT-related portion of a new exhibit covering rock and politics, which opened at the <a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland last month. The installation, inspired by the Republican national conventions impending arrival in the city, features the straw boater Stewart wore on the album cover of A Night on the Town. It shows Rod to be a dandy, which he was at the time, says the exhibits curator Craig Inciardi. We included the song because it was perhaps the first time a mainstream singer had written a song about somebody who died because of their sexual identity. (Right before the violence erupts in the story, the lyric has Georgie and an unnamed man walking arm in arm/they meant no wrong.)

In honor of the songs 40th anniversary, Stewart just put Georgie back in his live set for the first time in a decade. Its a favorite all over the world, he said. When we just start to play the intro, theres this wonderful sigh: Oh, theyre doing that one again.

Read more:

Comments are closed.

Copyright © EP4 Blog