The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame‘s list of 2014 inductees is a wildly eclectic, yet extremely popular gang of performers. Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, KISS, Linda Ronstadt, Hall and Oates, and Cat Stevens all join the Cleveland institution this year. While none of those performers is gay, they all have their moments of LGBT influence worthy of note. Here are our favorite gay (or pseudo-gay or gay-related) moments from this quintet of straight acts.
Nirvana: Smells Like a Sexually Confused Teen Spirit
Nirvana’s reign as ’90s grunge godfathers may have been short-lived due to Kurt Cobain‘s suicide, but you’d have a viable reason to claim any of their albums as a personal favorite. I like Unplugged in New York because of its unforgettable Meat Puppets covers, but the band’s adrenalized debut Bleach (’88) has the awesome “About a Girl” and “Scoff,” Nevermind has everything from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to “Lithium,” and In Utero contains their greatest ballad “All Apologies” and produced their best video, the hallucinogenic and creepy “Heart-Shaped Box.”
It’s somehow easy to forget that Kurt Cobain was a hero to queer music fans of the early ’90s. His glum, articulate, and abrasive approach to lyrics and vocals owed more to Michael Stipe than John Lennon or Mick Jagger, and he even acknowledged that he spent his youth wondering if he was gay. In an interview with The Advocate, he opened up about the conundrum of his teenage sexuality.
“Yeah, absolutely. See, I’ve always wanted male friends that I could be real intimate with and talk about important things with and be as affectionate with that person as I would be with a girl. Throughout my life, I’ve always been really close with girls and made friends with girls. And I’ve always been a really sickly, feminine person anyhow, so I thought I was gay for a while because I didn’t find any of the girls in my high school attractive at all. They had really awful haircuts and fucked-up attitudes. So I thought I would try to be gay for a while, but I’m just more sexually attracted to women. But I’m really glad that I found a few gay friends, because it totally saved me from becoming a monk or something.”
Sigh. That guy could give an interview.
Linda Ronstadt: The High Priestess of Penzance
Linda Ronstadt was the highest-earning female rock star of the 1970s, and that’s why her well-known distaste for glamor and stardom is both surprising and kind of refreshing. But even more refreshing is her reflection on how she first learned about gayness, which she detailed in a 2009 PlanetOut interview.
“The ’50s and ’60s were extremely homophobic periods, even among the so-called ‘enlightened’ cultures. I remember in the ’60s, we were all just discovering that there was racial discrimination, and trying to figure out what we could do about it, but the gay issues were just utterly left out of the conversation. Then in the ’70s, the gay issues started to emerge at some of those early rallies that I attended or participated in — like ‘No Nukes’ — and I remember thinking, ‘Well, what does this have to do with it?’ The labor issues would come up, civil rights issues would come up, and then the gay issue would come up, and I was like, ‘huh?’ So it took me a little while to get it, and then I was like, ‘Duh’ — and I got it. I mean I really got it. That was just before I started working on Broadway [for Pirates of Penzance] and then once I got there, I really got it.”
That performance in the 1981 Broadway revival of The Pirates of Penzance is incredibly fabulous and earned her a Tony nomination, and because it’s a Gilbert and Sullivan opera about dancing buccaneers, I’ve decided it’s her gayest moment.