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dall'OBSERVER del 12 novembre 2006

When Elton met Jake

Elton John and the Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears discuss what it means to be a gay star, just what constitutes a gay sense of humour - and why everyone is welcome in their world.

Dateline: Elton John's house in the south of France, 21 August 2006

Jake Shears: So this issue of their magazine has a special gay theme. What do you think about that?

Elton John: What do I think about it?

JS: I honestly would not have done this ...

EJ: You wouldn't have an issue on gay music?

JS: I wouldn't want to have done this if it wasn't for doing it with you, but my question is: what do you think about the fact that gayness is an issue in the first place?

EJ: Well, it shouldn't be an issue. Nothing should be an issue when it comes to sexuality in the first place, but the fact that they are doing it is, I think, good. Music is now the one artform [where] people [feel] comfortable coming out, especially in Britain - not so much in America; you lead the way there. [With] Antony and the Johnsons, the Scissor Sisters and Rufus [Wainwright] you have three major talents that have come out and said: 'We're gay and we don't have a problem with it and nor should anybody else', which is fabulous. All three of those acts have made fabulous music, and they are all different from each other.

JS: Yes. But I feel like with Antony and Rufus - aside from the fact that they are homos - people will look back one day, at this time and at the music they are making, and realise that they are complete voices of this generation, regardless of their sexuality.

EJ: Absolutely - they are major voices and major talents. For me, Rufus is in kind of a Gershwin vein and Antony ... I don't know what kind of vein he's in but it's his own [laughs] and it's timeless music. If you write great songs with meaning and emotion, they will last for ever because songs are the key to everything. Songs will outlast the artist and they will go on for ever if they are good.

JS: I got the Antony record for my cousin, Jackie Sue, who is, like, a southern Baptist ... and it speaks to her. If you said: 'Well, here's this big, weird tranny at a piano singing songs about wanting to be a girl', she would think it probably wasn't for her, but in reality there is something there that even she can relate to.What was it like when you were starting out? When did you know you had homosexual tendencies?

EJ: Maybe at school, although when I was in my band, Bluesology, playing with Long John Baldry I didn't even realise he was gay and he's the gayest person I can think of right now. He was outrageous; flamboyant, camp, funny. I was sexually very immature - I didn't have sex until I was 23 and that was with a man. I made up for lost time after that in a hurry. I wish I could have had sex when I was, like, 14, 15 or 16 because that's such an exciting age to have sex.

JS: I came out when I was 15 and I was a very active teenager in that regard.

EJ: Well, I envy you. I grew up in the Fifties and early Sixties, which were still quite conservative, and I wasn't given any information about sex or anything like that; it just wasn't done, especially in Britain. I went out with girls at school because one had to. I didn't experiment with sex for quite a long time.

JS: When Little Richard and Liberace came out what when through your mind as a young person?

EJ: I didn't think of them as being gay as I didn't know anything about gayness or homosexuality. I just thought they were flamboyant and fabulous, and I loved both of them in different ways. There's an element of both of them in what I do. The piano is such an awkward instrument and both of those people made the piano look irrelevant because they were larger than life. When Little Richard used to stand up and play it was just fabulous, and Liberace had the candlesticks and the rings and the gift of the gab. The piano's is the most ungainly rock'n'roll instrument of all time but those two people transcended it, as did Jerry Lee Lewis. But those two were obviously gay. Now I look back on it and I was so naive.

JS: So was everybody who was watching them. With artists like Liberace and Little Richard their gayness, of course, influenced their aesthetic and their whole personality, but the sexuality wasn't an issue.

EJ: The sexuality was so obvious when I look back at Liberace. He looked much gayer [than Little Richard]. There's a lot of Liberace in me and as a gay artist as such, but I am an openly gay man. A lot of my audience is the same kind of audience that Liberace would have had and they didn't seem to give a shit. I think that's so great.

JS: As a band I think we've been really lucky in that respect. I think when it comes down to it people really couldn't care less in a lot of ways.

EJ: Especially as you broke first in Britain. I think if you're honest and open and go for it like with yourselves, Freddie Mercury and a whole slew of artists, then people love it. We have a society where every hit maker and TV presenter is gay. When I was young there was a radio show with Kenneth Williams [Round the Horne] - which was outrageous at the time - but people loved it. I don't think they realised how outrageous listening to it was but they loved listening to him. This was in the Fifties and early Sixties when presenters were so gay and so fabulous. Also, he spoke in Polari, which was hilarious because it was so camp, although I didn't realise he was being camp.

JS: I think that gay people in some ways end up forming a very different sense of humour to straight people. We all go through similar things and it's a way of dealing with it ...

EJ: I think British humour is very cruel, and gay humour is very cruel. I think the two go hand-in-hand and that's why they mix so well in England. I think that's why you get so many gay comedians in England that are accepted so well because British humour is very cruel. I love it. It's my favourite kind of humour; if it isn't cruel and funny it doesn't really cut the cake for me. We have a history of that in Britain; of comedians - whether they are gay or straight - being very cruel.

JS: I think so; you can go and see a drag queen perform who has the worst jokes in the world but there is still something really ...

EJ: I love drag queens and I love going to see them perform because those people have got so much character and bravery. Such balls! I love people with balls.

JS: When you get someone like [US comedian] Justin Bond - who was doing things like burning American flags on stage - it's very dangerous and really brave. I look around this summer and the past couple of years and it seems to me that world politics have really changed the gay movement. We're on the verge of world war and there are such horrible things happening with religious clashes ....

EJ: I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people. Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays. But there are so many Christian people I know who are gay and love their religion ...

JS: My Mom's a Christian and she loves me; that whole side of my family is Christian and I have no problem with it. I just feel we need to stop worrying about pro-gay movements and start worrying about fundamentalist movements. It's not just about how gay people are treated - it's about how people are treated in general.

EJ: You suggested that yourselves, the Pet Shop Boys and myself should play a Gay Pride concert in Russia. I think that's a great idea 'cause in [former Soviet Bloc] countries such as Poland, Latvia and Russia there is a huge anti-gay movement and a lot of it is started by the church.

JS: Yeah, it's very important to do something like that because you've got the opportunity, being who you are. You can go into a place like [Russia] and at least put the point across that [we are] paying attention to what is going on right now and we're watching.

EJ: Exactly. I cannot stand any kind of racism or religious hatred; there's so much fucking negativity with people. They used to put gay people in a cupboard but now they're doing it to [certain] religious people. What we should be doing as musicians is trying to bring people together. Your idea for a 'Gay Pride' concert in Moscow would be a brilliant idea.

JS: That would be the first Gay Pride that the Scissors would have done, I'm sure.

EJ: I've never done a Gay Pride either - they've always asked me but I've never actually been here - I've always been away. I did the Euro Pride and I really enjoyed that but there's a time when you have to step up. I never stood up to the Aids thing because I was in a drug haze - even though my friends were dying left, right and centre - I wasn't on the front line and I should have been. Maybe we should, en masse, go to Moscow next year, if they'll have us. They might not want us!

JS: Then we'll go anyway.

EJ: We'll stand on the corner - even if little old ladies attack us!

JS: [Laughs] To play a specifically gay event for me is a backwards step. I don't want to play gay events because I don't want anybody coming to the show thinking that they're not part of the group.

EJ: It's like when gay clubs won't let women in and it's like, 'Come on, we're all supposed to be together.' I fucking hate it.

JS: I hate it if I'm at a party and see nothing but gay men - I don't want to be there. If your party doesn't have sexy, wonderful women at it then it's not a party.

EJ: We've been isolated for so long it's time [we became integrated].

JS: In Berlin there are lots of gay clubs with lots of gay men and sexy straight men and women. I find it much more sexy.

EJ: I just find it more human. We should all be together. I've got this really naive idea of what life should be like - it's an idealistic idea but it's completely integrated. We can't keep thinking of gay people as being ostracised; we can't keep thinking of Muslim people as being [ostracised] because of the fundamentalism that occurs in Islam. Muslim people have to do something about speaking up about it. We can't judge a book by its cover.
From my point of view I would ban religion completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it. I love the idea of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the beautiful stories about it, which I loved in Sunday school and I collected all the little stickers and put them in my book. But the reality is that organised religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate.
The world is near escalating to World War Three and where are the leaders of each religion? Why aren't they having a conclave; why aren't they coming together? I said this after 9/11 and people thought I was nuts: instead of more violence why isn't there a [meeting of religious leaders]. It's all got to be dialogue - that's the only way. Get everybody from each religion together and say 'Listen, this can't go on. Why do we have all this hatred?'
We are all God's people; we have to get along and the [religious leaders] have to lead the way. If they don't do it, who else is going to do it? They're not going to do it and it's left to musicians or to someone else to deal with it. It's like the peace movement in the Sixties - musicians got through [to people] by getting out there and doing peace concerts but we don't seem to do them any more. We seem to be doing fundraisers for Africa and everything like that but I think peace is really important. If John Lennon were alive today he'd be leading it with a vengeance.

JS: My Mom gets so upset at me when I say stuff in the press about anything political and it drives me crazy because I say to my Mom: 'I can't be on the side of any sort of war and I'm not going to be.' I am against the war and I am very vocal about it.

EJ: I am totally against the war but violence is part of mankind and it's going to happen, but as musicians I think we've got to step up and say 'come on'.

JS: How did Vietnam affect you when you were starting out?

EJ: When I first when to America it was going on and I remember playing Kent State University about six weeks after the students were killed there [in 1970] and it was a really strange feeling - really odd. I came at the end of it really and my career started right at the end as Nixon was withdrawing the troops. The first track on our new album is called 'Postcards from Richard Nixon'.
People don't seem to protest in the streets any more, they are always blogging on the internet. They seem to do their protesting online, and that's not good [enough]. You have got to get out there and be seen and be vocal, and you've got to do it time and time again. People have become apathetic. There was a big march in London when Britain decided to join the war against Iraq and Tony Blair is on record as saying 'The people who march today will have blood on their hands.' That's returned to bite him in the ass.
We cannot solve everybody's fucking problems in the West. What we've done [in Iraq] has sped up an inevitable civil war after Saddam Hussein left power. I don't know the solution. I just know that all we can do as musicians - whether gay or straight - is to come together and promote peace. We have been promoting [anti-poverty] but when you do a concert sometimes they forget about their emotions: that's the power of music and sport - they are the two things that can do that.

JS: I think that's a political act. To facilitate that is a political act. We just played in Serbia with the Pet Shop Boys a few weeks ago and the feeling was wild - we were playing for people who felt like they were coming out of a period of being oppressed. It was electric. These were people who weren't taking any of the moment for granted, and you could feel that in the air. It was so exciting. At one point we climbed up to this tower where Jeff Mills was DJing and we looked out on this empty moat full of what looked like 100,000 people and the joy that you felt vibrating off this crowd was like nothing else. It was so inspiring.

EJ: Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.

JS: We played a show in Ireland last summer and I had the weirdest experience: this mother, father and son came backstage ...

EJ: ...and you fucked all of them .... (laughs)

JS: No I didn't ...

EJ: (Continues laughing - a bit too much!)

JS: No I didn't - [the son] was 18.

EJ: He was legal ...

JS: They were asking for my autograph and my boyfriend, Chris, was there and at one point - I can't remember what we were talking about exactly - I mentioned my boyfriend and they got very indignant and said: 'Not in front of our son.' I said: 'You're talking to a gay person here and you're backstage at my concert. It's not an issue and if you have a problem with it you really shouldn't be here.' I looked at the son straight in the face and said: 'Homosexuality isn't a crime.'

EJ: What did they do?

JS: I smiled at them and the mother apologised. It totally caught me off-guard but I found it so alarming that I actually looked at the kid and said: 'Your father is not right.' It was such a weird moment.

EJ: You are very brave; I probably wouldn't have had the balls to do that. People come to me and I'm a bit like the Queen Mother. I never get those problems. I don't know what it is with me; people treat me very reverently. It was the same when Dave [Furnish] and I had our civil union - I was expecting the odd flour bomb and there wasn't.
Dave and I as a couple seem to be the acceptable face of gayness, and that's great. I've got to use that power to try and do what I can - or we have - to try to make the situations in Russia and Poland [better]. I'm off to Poland in two weeks to say something there because the situation is not good. If I'm on the board of Amnesty International I can't just sit back and say nothing. It's not a gay issue; it's a human rights issue.
I'm going to fight for them, whether I do it silently behind the scenes or vocally so that I get locked up. I can't just sit back; it's not in my nature any more. I'm nearly 60 years old, after all. I can't sit back and blindly ignore it, and I won't.