Sunday, January 15, 2017

Small Town Boy

There comes a time when you realize that your youth, no matter how far back on the calendar, is officially ancient history. For me, it was when I received the news that Carrie Fisher had passed, but even closer to my heart, it was when I heard that Larry Steinbachek, keyboardist with pioneering synth-pop trio Bronski Beat, died at the age of 56.

Never heard of Bronski Beat? Yeah, it's truly a generational thing. Bronski Beat was a band starting in the 1980's British synthpop scene. Never heard of synthpop? Yeah. It was just one of the most distinctive subgenres of new wave. A sound heavily influenced by David Bowie.  During this generation, a trio achieved success with their distinctive sound and lead singer, particularly with the 1984 No. 3 in the UK chart hit "Smalltown Boy." They made a video for "Smalltown Boy" and it was late at night when a twelve-year-old me, watched it for the first time. It was a message in a bottle washing up on the shores of my deserted island.

All members of the group were openly gay, their songs reflected this. It was pop music with a commentary on gay-related issues. In a generation of subversive and double entendre messages, Bronski Beat was clear in message.

Pushed around and kicked around, always a lonely boy
You were the one that they'd talk about around town as they put you down
And as hard as they would try they'd hurt to make you cry
But you never cried to them, just to your soul
In 1984 I was twelve. I had already come to terms with being gay. What I could not comprehend, nor functionally comply with was how to operate on a rural ranch outside of a small town in the middle of nowhere. Within a dysfunctional family with Mormon ideal. I was failing to cope. Then, late at night, as I sat crying, the Bronski Beat video came on television.  It was a bolt from the blue. I could. I had to wait, but I would get out. I would have the life I wanted. The life I needed. Thank you Larry Steinbachek, rest in peace. You saved my life.


John said...

I remember the video coming on TV and initially being embarrassed to watch it because watching was a sign of guilt in my mind. But yeah...Bronski Beat was an amazing beacon of hope for a teenager who didn't have any clue how he was going to be gay and okay.

Fearsome Beard said...

Wow. I couldn't imagine how that song would have affected this lonely 12 year old. Mind blowing.
I was 20 when that song came out, I was out, had a lover already and danced to it every time I heard it at the disco. I bought the CD and blasted it at my house. I cried every time I heard it yet felt liberated. It was powerful at the time and it's powerful today. Thank you for posting this.

Blobby said...

It remains a great song. Like Fearsome I was 20 (or so) and was always drawn to it. Brandon Flowers, of the Killers, used samples of it in his song, "I Can Change".....and it fits in very well.