Denver musicians weigh in on Pride, being openly gay artists in 2012 and Freddie Mercury
Ian Cooke has captivated audiences around the globe; from his hipster-afro days hypnotizing small Denver crowds with the mystical "Vassoon" to the massive audiences he now draws in somber concert halls, performing tracks from his second album., Fortitude, Cooke remains a soft-spoken, warm personality -- easy to meet, yet difficult to pin down. Having toured Australia and performed at the 2008 Toronto PrideFest (one of the biggest in the world), Cooke has a seasoned view of what it's like to be gay in the music industry. He recently took the time to sit down with us and discuss gender pronouns, Freddy Mercury and following a DJ on a festival lineup.
Westword: Do journalists often ask about your sexuality?
Ian Cooke: Not really. Sometimes it comes up if I'm asked who or what a particular song is about. I don't aim to make songs about being gay, but it's bound to be implied once in a while.
In the past your lyrics have been neutral on the issue of gender -- yet with your latest album you've ventured into using gender pronouns like "he." What brought about the change?
I feel like I used up enough of the tricks of getting around specifying gender in my first album -- saying "you and me" or "this and that," or naming characters things like "the owner and the origin." Part of the change came from wanting to break away from speaking first person so much. I guess I'm also less concerned with trying to write words that everyone can relate to, so newer lyrics are less vague or metaphoric.
Do you ever feel that because you're gay people expect you to be into or perform a certain genre of music?
Sometimes people suggest covers they'd like to hear me do. The most recent one was Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?" I'm certainly influenced by some musicals and disco and gay-ish things like these, but I don't feel like anyone expects to hear anything specific from me.
Were there ever any "out" musicians that inspired you at a young age?
I guess it's debatable whether Freddie Mercury was out or not, but I remember thinking he was a badass early on. Wayne's World introduced me to Queen, and I've loved them ever since. Shortly after Rufus Wainwright released his debut album, I caught wind of it, and, after one listen, he was immediately added to my list of musical heroes. But, for the record, I didn't put it together that he was gay until later.
Is a musician's sexuality relevant to him or herself as an artist?
I don't believe so. I feel like I would be using the same musical ideas if I were straight. I guess one's sexuality can be used as a gimmick though, as Gay Pimp does, for example.
So many musicians have flirted with the "gay image" -- like David Bowie or Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes -- while really being straight. Do you feel that this is offensive?
Nope, they're just adopting a style, and I think it's flattering.
So many musicians in the past remained closeted -- like Dave Davies, Liberace, Ricky Martin -- while today that doesn't seem to be the case. How do you feel the music industry has changed toward being "out."
There are and always have been copious amounts of gay people making music. It's something a lot of us just tend to do. A lot of us that do are really good at it, and I think that has been acknowledged on a national, almost worldwide level, so it doesn't need to be covered up anymore. Why has it taken so long?! I also feel that there's an obvious correlation between gay rights and outness in pop culture. They're evolving hand in hand.
Are you ever frustrated with the media focusing too much on your sexuality?
No. I'm happy to be a gay representative. I'm not trying to sell records with the fact that I'm a homo, but I think the more chances I have to say I am and that it isn't a big deal, the better.
What was it like playing the 2008 Toronto PrideFest? How do you celebrate Pride?
2008 Toronto PrideFest was one of the best gigs of my career to date. It was a little rough playing after a DJ who got everyone in dance mode with a bunch of Madonna and Michael Jackson, but It's not every day you get to play for a few thousand people. Not everyone was into it, but several were, and we sold a lot of CDs. The entertainment coordinators also paid very well. I wanna go back!
I usually go to the parade, walk around Civic Center Park, then bar hop. This year I'll be in Washington D.C. for a Tour de Fat gig. I'm sad I'll miss Denver Pride, but one must spread one's music and pay the bills.