#WIN: Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out

Simon Blish

“All rock’n’roll is homosexual,” Manic Street Preachers once claimed, and stuck it on a T-shirt.

The band might have provocatively overstated the case, but you can’t beat a good slogan. Still, popular music’s queer DNA is inarguable, from Elvis in eye shadow to k.d. lang’s female Elvis; from the far-reaching influence of Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’, The Velvet Underground and Bowie’s bisexual alien Ziggy Stardust; Kurt Cobain in a dress to lesbian icon and couture model Beth Ditto and 21st century trans ‘future feminist’ Anohni.

Yet most of the first performers to defy the social and political conservatism of their time, were typically the least visible, such as the 50s’ lesbian rockabilly trio and the 60s’ gay soul renegade; the gay country music band and the real gay glam and punk bands; the first queer rappers and trans rockers.

Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache is not only the first book to tell the story of how music ‘came out’, but to shed light on these hidden pioneers alongside their famous counterparts. Author Martin Aston’s ambitious and comprehensive narrative unfolds over one hundred years, against a backdrop of social and political shifts, as gay liberation transmuted into LGBTQ rights and pushed for visibility and equality, from 1920s liberalism through to the closet of post-war years, the eventual breakthroughs of the 60s, the permissive 70s, the mainstream invasion and AIDS crisis of the 80s, and the advances of the 90s and 00s. Aston also documents the retrogressive steps in Russia and parts of Africa, where songs bravely encapsulating the LGBTQ experience signify how the journey from illegality and bigotry to freedom is far from over.

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The author Martin Aston has written about popular music for over thirty years. He has contributed to numerous publications, including MOJO, Q, Guardian, The Times, Attitude, Radio Times, Spin and BBC Music, and has also covered TV, film and LGBTQ culture. He is the author of three books: Pulp (1995), Björkgraphy (1996) and, most recently, Facing the Other Way: The Story Of 4AD. Compiled from 120 new interviews, it was voted a ‘Book of the Year’ in 2013 by NME, Times Literary Supplement, Spin, Daily Telegraph and Rough Trade Shops. He lives in Nunhead, south London.

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About Simon Blish

Writing, drawing, editing - Simon loves it all.