Gay Iconography: ‘A Little Respect’ For Erasure’s Andy Bell

 

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.

Comments

  1. Mikey says

    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).

  2. Taylor says

    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.

  3. Randy says

    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.

  4. JackFknTwist says

    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.

  5. will says

    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.

  6. tooboot says

    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.

  7. Hylas says

    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…

  8. says

    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)

  9. S. says

    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.]

  10. says

    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?

  11. Charles says

    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.

  12. Jersey says

    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.

  13. BillinSonoma says

    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 ??

  14. rob lubke says

    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.

  15. macguffin54 says

    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.)

  16. Skankinson says

    Was Jesus Christ a Gay Icon? Is he now? How about Matthew Shepherd? Tyler Clementi? How about King David and his BFFL Jonathan? How about Princess Diana? Prince Harry? Prince Edward? Grace Jones? Wing (the singer)? Juan Valdez? Betty Crocker? Aunt Jemima? Mr. Lee the launderer from the Calgon commercials? Cora from Maxwell House? Madge from Palmolive? Lassie? Comisario Rex? All gay icons.

    Just to be clear, any person (or animal), gay or straight, real or fictitious, who has ever been seen, live in person or on television,or who was even imagined briefly or hallucianted by another person, gay or straight, and which first party was either mildly enjoyed or memorable for any reason good or bad by said second party, is now eligible for Gay Icon status on Towleroad. The concept, as defined by Skankinson, is as meaningless as masturbating alone at midnight in a filthy public restroom.

  17. KJ says

    “I bought you roses bought you flowers I could worship you for hours…”

    Frankly take any of their songs and strip them down and I promise you there is more substance in the lyrics than some trivial dance disco song. ERASURE rules to this day!

  18. Dennis Velco says

    Absolutely Love Erasure and still listen to them today.

    Thanks for this article and your reporting. What you do is appreciated. 
     
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