Today is Little Richard’s 80th Birthday! I can’t help but hope that Camille Paglia might be celebrating the occasion, with pinocalada and some old 78s. Because Good Golly Miss Molly! if the great ball of fire that is Little Richard isn’t a ‘sexual dissident’ I don’t know who is.
It has been well documented that along with Elvis and maybe even Gorgeous Liberace, Little Richard helped produce the strutting, preening, sequinned phenomenon of Glam Rock. But it’s not just skinny white boys that Richard has influenced. When a couple of years ago, I first encountered the amazing Janelle Monae, I wondered if he might have been her grandfather!
The echoes of Little Richard in Janelle Monae reflect the way that metrosexuality is not just a ‘feminine’ expression of masculinity. It is actually a breakdown of gender difference itself! And men’s increasing flamboyance is best understood in relation to women’s growing ‘active’ and sometimes quite ‘butch’ stance. There would be no Little Richard without Marlene Dietrich, no David Beckham without Suzi Quatro, no Morrissey without Elsie Tanner. Glam men are accompanied by and influenced by and reinforced by Punk Women.
Little Richard interests me for another reason. ‘Black Music’ for want of a better term has a reputation for being ‘macho’ and aggressive, an expression of ‘traditional’ (often meaning, especially in relation to hip hop, violent) masculinity. But thanks to pioneers such as Little Richard, there are some brilliant gender blurring R and B and Hip Hop bands and artists. Do I have to remind you of the narcissistic, sexually ambiguous, lame-clad Prince?
Or what about the retro, yet metro Outkast?
When I saw Ice T’s great documentary about this history and ‘literary’ culture of Rap Music, The Art Of Rap, I couldn’t help noticing how ‘self-loving’ a lot of the artists featured were, from their gold chains and nifty trainers to their colourful suits, coiffured hair and the way they courted the camera’s gaze.
There is another reason to open the babycham, metro lovers and gender benders. Because finally, in 2012, the pathologising term ‘gender identity disorder’ has been removed from the American ‘Bible’ of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Stastical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders. This news will hopefully please Juliet Jacques who has recently published her final column in her Guardian Transgender Journey series. Her writing has shown that far from being ‘weird’ or ‘sick’, trans people’s experiences, feelings and ideas can be representative of the human condition as a whole. I only hope that the DSM maintains this sensible streak and deletes narcissism from its statutes too. But the problem with narcissism is that it is not possible to separate it into a ‘separate gender’ (though I’d argue our attempts to do so with trans identities fail too). So if we admit that narcissism is not a problem, we are conceding that everyone, men and women and those who identify as neither, have a touch of the Little Richard about them.
And that is even to MetroAuntie, quite a scary thought!