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Gayphemera, I: Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras’ Catholic

The history and the culture that has built the present lifestyle of gay men is both deep and beautiful and very deserving of our digging through it. Gayphemera hopes to educate and explore the cultural players, performers, and projects that defined us then and now. In this installment, we explore Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras’ Catholic.

Patrick Cowley is a legendary producer who was big in the San Francisco disco scene in the late seventies into the eighties. He had a very high energy, pretty openly gay sound that yielded hits like andro sensation Slyvester’s “Do You Want To Funk?,” a fifteen minute long remix of Donna Summers’ “I Feel Love,” and his own hits like “Menergy.” His influence is still felt and he’s partly responsible to the eighties synth sound popularized by New Order and the Pet Shop Boys. He sadly died way too fucking young in 1982 from AIDS.

Cowley’s work is very important to reflect on on many, many levels and some of his most powerful work wasn’t released until decades after his death. One of these is his collaboration with Jorge Socarras of synth/New Wave act Indoor Life. The release was Catholic and has a large chapter in the queer encyclopedia.

The album s a gruff mashing of punk concepts interpreted through Cowley’s often busy dance slanted productions. He me Socarras created a volatile, intense atmosphere for the album that is rooted in the gay liberation efforts happening in San Francisco in the seventies. While Harvey Milk was crusading for change, Cowley and Socarras were at work in Cowley’s home studio, making their own radical work.

The music itself confronts the difficulties surrounding the LGBT experience. Buzzing “Robot Children” confronts the heteronormative idea of procreation and programming people unable to think for themselves. “I Never Fall In Love” is almost a fuck you to the world, reflecting the difficulties of sexual identity in a very specific time set to a fairly upbeat and basic queer punk way. Eartha Kitt is channeled for anti-closet one night stand song “I Am Your Tricks” and “You Laugh In My Face” is an open, airy, computerized mourning song addressing unrequited love.

There are many tragedies in this album. There is the tragedy of being gay in this time period and the tragedy of understandable self-loathing and even the tragedy of faith, which is lost and found in the album’s title. The biggest tragedy is that the album was didn’t get a release from Cowley’s label, Megaton, within his lifetime. Perhaps because of the outright sexual politics being addressed or that it is heavy musical experimentation that weaves in and out of genres: who knows.

The collaboration is legendary, a musical happening that almost seems like a gay fairy tale. It’s an important listen given the artists’ histories and time period it was produced and not released in. It’s not an easy listen, no, but it is a part of gay history that is required of you to listen to, to hear provide a peek at how gay voices coped with struggle through music in a time when music was so gay no one cared to call it that.

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