Andy Bell | Gay Iconography

Gay Iconography: 'A Little Respect' For Erasure's Andy Bell

Andybell

The phrase "gay icon" gets tossed around a lot, but why is it that some figures amass more of a gay audience? Welcome to Gay Iconography, a feature where we present a proposed iconic figure or character and then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts. 

It can seem like people often lump gay icons into three distinct categories. You've got the standards long embraced by the gay community (though considered by some to be relics of a bygone time) -- those are your Lizas, your Judys, your Barbras; you've got figures that worked in advocacy in activism with the gay community (Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, Edie Windsor); you've got your LGBT artists and performers.

Erasure singer Andy Bell may be a little bit of all three.

As an openly gay pop star, Bell has broken down barriers since the 1980s. Along with his bandmate Vince Clarke, Erasure would become a fixture in gay clubs for more than a quarter of a century. Bell has also spoke candidly about being HIV-positive since 2004.

Bring your week to a close with some classic Erasure songs, and share your thoughts on Andy Bell, AFTER THE JUMP

 

Vince Clarke's previous bands, Depeche Mode and Yaz (also known as Yazoo), were dark and moody. When Erasure formed in 1985, Bell infused the music with a whole new energy. He explained the connection between dance music and the gay community: "It just goes along with being out and drinking and having a good time and hearing this stuff pumping in the background and just being able to parade up and down, dancing and showing off to your friends."

 

  

The band initially took off in the UK, scoring 24 consecutive Top 40 hits, beginning with their fourth single, "Sometimes," in 1986. They would garner three Top 20 hits in the United States, including "Chains of Love."

 

 

Words like "campy" and "flamboyant" are often used to describe Bell's stage persona. In a review back in 1992, Entertainment Weekly described Erasure as a "techno-pop duo that makes flamboyant gay sensibilities palatable (and marketable) to the Luke Perry posse … " It's not something Bell has ever shied away from. He once told Seventeen magazine, "I don't want to go out of my way to talk about it but I'm not going to pretend I'm not [gay]. I won't portray a heterosexual in videos and we're consciously doing lyrics that could apply to either sex. I want to be known as a good performer but it's important to me to take a stance. If you're doing music, you should use it for something and have substance. Being gay and open about it is my substance."

 

 

In 2004, Bell revealed he was HIV-positive with a posting on the band's website. Although he had known for about six years, he didn't begin speaking about it publicly until then. In an interview with MTV he said, "I wouldn't have come out about it 10 years ago, because then, there was this AIDS educational film on the TV all the time [that was] very scary — gravestones crashing down — and it kind of scared people into having safe sex. It made it look like a death sentence, in a way. I suppose once that was taken away, I don't feel like that anymore."

 

 

Erasure's music can still be heard in clubs today. The second episode of HBO's divisive new show Looking featured its lead, Patrick (Jonathan Groff), passionately singing along to the band's hit "A Little Respect" on a dance floor in San Francisco.

Do you have your own fond memories of dancing to Erasure? Tell us what you think of Andy Bell in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Oh, God, all the nutty, angry commenters are about to pounce.

    Before they get a chance, I just want to say I enjoy these articles very much. It breaks up the relentless headlines about homophobia (which are important, but can be upsetting).

    Posted by: Mikey | Jan 31, 2014 3:22:35 PM


  2. Erasure was just starting to get huge when I moved to S.F. in 1985. Huge, huge fan. Love the group, and music!

    Posted by: Tom | Jan 31, 2014 3:28:30 PM


  3. People will say what they like but I say yes to the icon status. Years back I saw Erasure as part of Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour and they were magnificent. I remember at the time saying to my friends "this is the gayest show in the world" and it was an amazing concert.

    Posted by: Taylor | Jan 31, 2014 3:35:38 PM


  4. Well you just got me over to you tube and listening to Chorus.

    Posted by: Lazycrockett | Jan 31, 2014 3:37:15 PM


  5. One of the BEST concerts (and nights) of my life. They rule!

    Posted by: Mark Anthony | Jan 31, 2014 3:45:28 PM


  6. Anyone who does an Abba Cover disc is a gay icon. Nuff Said.

    Posted by: Lazycrockett | Jan 31, 2014 3:53:33 PM


  7. While the musicians in this series are gay icons, and they're certainly very talented, they didn't really do much for gay music. Disco and techno is just that... but gay music speaks to gay people with gay lyrics.

    What would be interesting is to take a page from JD Doyle (or just give him a page here) and delve into some of the talented and lyrically honest (not just vague) singer-songwriters from the 1970s to today.

    Consider it your version of Forgotify. The Flirtations, Romanovsky & Phillips, Tom Robinson, Pansy Division ... the list is certainly more diverse than that as well, but those are my icons.

    Posted by: Randy | Jan 31, 2014 3:55:33 PM


  8. Incredible music, wonderful times, .....being gay back then was almost being in an exclusive tribe, we had the best music, the best dancers and the sexiest clothes.
    Andy Bell was/is brave, out there, energetic, and was the leader of the pack....I loved his songs.....and I almost had the vapours when he was waiting near me at Logan for a flight back to Europe.

    La recherche de temps perdu.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Jan 31, 2014 3:57:52 PM


  9. Andy is married to my boss.....He is one of the most genuine, gentle, and amazing persons that is within the business. He is a delight and a gem!!!!!

    Posted by: Billy | Jan 31, 2014 4:14:11 PM


  10. I've seen them in concert three times, and loved every one. Bell is amazing and certainly deserved of Icon status.

    Posted by: lankyguy | Jan 31, 2014 4:28:20 PM


  11. I loved meeting Andy and Vince on the True Colors tour. Erasure is definitely on my "coming out" list.

    Posted by: Oliver | Jan 31, 2014 4:31:39 PM


  12. I've been listening to Erasure all week. The Jonathan Groff character danced with freewheeling abandon to "A Little Respect" on this week's "Looking". Hearing that music was the only adrenaline charge I've gotten out of both episodes.

    Posted by: will | Jan 31, 2014 4:41:31 PM


  13. Yes, yes, yes! I saw two concerts of Erasure in Austin at the Coliseum at Auditorium Shores back in the 80's . I had the ABBA remixes and they were the soundtrack to my days here in Austin, driving in the hill country, going to Hippy Hollow for Splash Day, etc. Andy Bell is and always will be a gay icon.

    Posted by: tooboot | Jan 31, 2014 4:43:43 PM


  14. yeah, i like erasure..still listen to them to this day....but this "gay icon" thing is idiotic...it makes us sound like mindless tools that have to elevate others to feel good about ourselves...yuck...

    Posted by: Hylas | Jan 31, 2014 4:47:30 PM


  15. LOVE Andy and LOVE ERASURE!!!

    Posted by: Dr. Christopher Blackwell | Jan 31, 2014 5:14:52 PM


  16. Erasure was one of the first acts I saw live back in high school ("A Little Respect" tour, maybe). Even though this was the Bay Area, we were definitely not prepared for how flamboyant Andy was on stage. We were near the stage and some audience members started throwing things, not beer bottles as this was an all ages show, but like ice and spit balls. At one point between songs, he turned to the area where we were and said something like, "People are being mean to me." So, we went from being shocked to feeling very protective of him in the end.

    I always liked the art design of their early releases, especially those by Me Company (Wild!, Chorus and all the singles)

    Posted by: kirkyo | Jan 31, 2014 5:15:42 PM


  17. Finally, a gay icon I can get behind!
    I first heard Erasure on KROQ when I was in grad school in L.A. Since then their music has always been apart of my life. I still listen to those songs from the 80s. Jackfkntwist nailed it when he said "being gay back then was almost being in an exclusive tribe, we had the best music, the best dancers and the sexiest clothes." Now that we're mainstream, we've lost a bit of that tribal identity. But Erasure always brings it back to me. Love Erasure. Love Andy. [I saw them perform in Miami Beach in a small club. A disappointing concert, but it didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the music.]

    Posted by: S. | Jan 31, 2014 5:18:19 PM


  18. I adore Andy Bell. One of the biggest regrets of my life will always be not answering my phone when a buddy of mine called in the middle of the night to tell me he was hanging out with Andy at our favorite trashy dive bar! Why is life so precious and so cruel?

    Posted by: Brian Stroup | Jan 31, 2014 5:46:47 PM


  19. I am a born-again Erasure fan and I adore them but Andy Bell has the gayest face in the history of conspicuously gay men. It is the UR-gay face: he looks like a Roman Emperor ruling over an Empire of Pure Homosexuality. it should be carved into a mountain over San Francisco so we can worship it.

    Posted by: Charles | Jan 31, 2014 6:28:02 PM


  20. Erasure played in AC during Cyndi Lauper's first True Colors tour and I saw them there. There was the hottest straight guy dancing his ass off with his girlfriend in front of me mouthing all the words along with Andy Bell and loving it. He was so obviously there to see Erasure and it was just about the cutest thing I've ever seen. Just love an adorable straight guy who's into our gay music.

    Posted by: Jersey | Jan 31, 2014 6:55:48 PM


  21. In response to earlier posting from Randy, dismissing Erasure as 'techno and disco' with implied lack of contribution to 'gay lives'. Have you paid no attention ? Snap out of it! Yes their catalog certainly has a lot of songs related to love, heartache, and loss. But 'Chains of Love' is directly written to the crackdown of the Thatcher years in Britain. In 'A Little Respect': "what religion or reason, would drive a man to forsake his lover?". 'Hideway' is one of the great coming out takes of all time. All ofthese lyrics couldn't have any more relevance. Exactly how gay to you need them to be ??

    Posted by: BillinSonoma | Jan 31, 2014 7:26:07 PM


  22. Thinking back to the day and music from Erasure (and other bands, too) there was a lot in there that made a gay kid in rural Minnesota feel not quite so alone...even with a very supportive posse it was important. Now 50, married and living in the Twin Cities...it got better (a lot better!)...but it was a different world then and the music helped a lot.

    Posted by: rob lubke | Jan 31, 2014 7:32:34 PM


  23. Weekly gratuitous "The phrase "gay icon" gets tossed around a lot" column written by a hack...

    Posted by: Just Sayin' | Jan 31, 2014 8:25:38 PM


  24. I didn't realize Erasure was anything more than that one-hit-wonder band from the weird 'Always' kabuki video.

    Posted by: Knock | Jan 31, 2014 9:16:46 PM


  25. Yes, Erasure is more pop music than some other "gay" artists, but just dismissing them an mindless music is a mistake. Perhaps if you listened to their lyrics you would see that they, too, write songs that speak DIRECTLY to the gay community and the issues we have faced. And even if they were just cheesy pop songs, you are a fool if you think cheesy pop songs have no value in people's lives. They are the songs that make us smile and dance and feel alive. (And, frankly, the artists that the one commenter mentioned may have written songs that more directly addressed issues from a political standpoint, but who would want to listen to them? I tried to like Pansy Division, many times, but their lyrics are silly and the music difficult to listen to. These artists may have been more political, but if they didn't reach a wide-enough audience, does it matter what they said? I think artists like Erasure, who may have only periodically addressed political issues, but did more for visibility and acceptance, are as or more important to our struggle than any other artist.)

    Posted by: macguffin54 | Jan 31, 2014 10:39:54 PM


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