I should get tired of working a tedious, dead-end job just so that I can pay for recording studio time, or playing a gig to a room of three adoring fans. Still, I wake up every morning and work 9 to 5 at a job that I hate just so that I can continue to fund the music I love to make. It almost seems crazy, but it's like an addiction for me. Every song is just another fix, and I can't get enough. Throw in the fact that I'm a gay man trying to break into the mainstream music scene, and it makes it that much harder.
I am proud to see that there are many more LGBT musical acts out there these days. It is about time, but I have found that it is still hard to break the stigma and the perception of being a "gay" artist. Am I being too "gay," or am I not "gay" enough? What does that even mean? If I am too "gay," I will scare off the fans, and if I am not "gay" enough, the fans won't get it? When did it stop being about the music? I actually had an image consultant tell me that I was not being "gay" enough onstage and that he was having trouble "getting it." He needed me to be "more obvious." I understand that being gay is a part of who I am, but I didn't realize that I had to get a spray tan, wear a Speedo and grind on half-naked go-go boys. Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to that, but it seems like an extreme way to get my music's message across. Obviously, it pissed me off that in order to be taken seriously as a musician, I was expected to fit the gay stereotype. This has been a huge challenge for me. It has been hard to stay true to who I am as a person and as a musician. I have fought against giving in to the temptation to become a gay caricature, and believe me, I have thought about giving in. I could just throw on a ton of glitter and sing Kylie Minogue cover songs, but that would not make me happy. I know who I am. I am not going to fool anyone into thinking I'm straight (let's be serious here: I am as gay as Christmas), but I am not going to become a one-dimensional gay cartoon character, either.
I am a real person writing music about my life. I write music about the human condition. I do not write about being gay or straight. It's about being human. We all fall in love; we all have our hearts broken. That happiness and pain is the same whether you are LGBT or straight. We all get those butterflies in our stomachs when we first meet a future lover, and we all want to take a baseball bat to that ex-lover's new Jeep Cherokee when we find them in bed with our best friend. Not that I've been there or done that; it's just life -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- and it happens whether you are LGBT or straight. I hope my music transcends sexual orientation and reflects the human experience.
Being a gay artist also comes with some perks. The members of the LGBT community make the fiercest, most loyal fans that a gay boy from the suburbs of NYC could ever ask for! I sang my song "Dance Forever" at a popular Hell's Kitchen watering hole not too long ago and had a massive turnout of enthusiastic, screaming (and possibly drunk) fans. Where else but a gay bar can you come to perform a song by yourself and finish the show with three backup dancers with perfect choreography?
Music has always served as an emotional outlet. For me, being able to channel the experience of coming out of the closet into my music helped me find a commonality with both the LGBT community and the straight world I was transitioning out of. My song "Naked" was a song I wrote about the self-realization of finally admitting to being gay and looking at the world with a new clarity. It helped me say, "I am gay, and this is who I am going to be." Performing that song and having people from the LGBT and straight communities relate to it on many different levels really helped me transition into feeling safe in my skin. I was able to see music bridge a gap between people. Not everyone related to the song, given that it is a gay boy's "coming out" story, after all, but people were relating to the emotion and experience of the song on their own terms. It opened my eyes to the idea that we all have that "this is me" moment. This song was about my "coming out," but I realized that maybe we all have a "closet" we have to come out of at some point. For all of us, there comes a time when we need to look ourselves in the eye and stop hiding who we are.
My experiences as a gay artist have helped me become not only a confident gay man but a compassionate human being. Performing and writing has helped me reflect on being gay, and also on all the emotions and experiences of just being human. Ultimately, we are all the same underneath. We all feel the same emotions and feelings. Music is a bridge between the LGBT and straight worlds. It breaks down the walls between all worlds. Though I have had my struggles with finding the balance between having mainstream appeal and demonstrating the acceptable amount of "gay," I have ultimately decided to just be myself and let the music do the talking.
To hear John Wolff's music, click here.
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