Stories from Our Cherished Fans
Some 30 Years Later...
Through high school and into my early college years, I suffered under the delusion that those who embraced LGB (no T or Q in those days) were abnormal and even dangerous. Part of this, I suppose, was directly out of a Dutch Reformed high school experience where I learned hatred, never called by its real name, was a "Christian value".
There was also the adolescent machismo culture that characterized a town and high school that lacked any real diversity. Gay (and really all minority) jokes were commonplace, the related terms used as insults, and a judgment of "queer" from your peers to be avoided at all costs.
Probably 1986, maybe 1987, my work at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point landed me the nerve-wracking assignment of working sound and lights at a Gay People's Union event; Romanovsky & Phillips in the Encore Room. I remember thinking something to the effect of "better not grab my ass..." In the course of working with you guys, and then seeing the show, the scales fell from my eyes; hey! these gay people are really just, um, like ordinary people!
"Do we have any of our heterosexual friends in the audience tonight? [looking around room] Why are sound and light guys always straight?? Well, thanks for being here guys."
You were some of the easiest and kindest and most humble musicians I ever had the pleasure to work with. And nobody grabbed my ass! (Hey...what's wrong with my ass??)
A catalyst was needed to pull me from the dark ages-- you guys did it just by being you. I am happy to see the manner in which social attitudes among younger generations have evolved during my lifetime to where the view often is "yeah...why shouldn't you be allowed to love who you wanna love?"
One Romanovsky & Phillips show experience had no small impact on my personal evolution on the matter, and I haven't forgotten.
You guys are great--Thanks.
One of the things I did during my career in the music industry that I am most proud of is the promotion work that I did for Romanovsky & Phillips in 1994 & '95. Ron Romanovsky & Paul Phillips were true pioneers in their field - openly gay singer/songwriters at a time when most LGBT artists were choosing the relative safety of staying in the closet, long before it became "hip" to be "out." Their songs, and their live performances were powerful, funny and, perhaps most important, brutally and unapologetically honest.
I had a great time working with Ron & Paul and we became, and remain, good friends. I wrote the liner notes to their Brave Boys: The Best & More of Romanovsky & Phillips CD, which was truly an honor for me.
"To Myself" (at youTube) is a Paul Phillips composition, from R&P's second album, Trouble in Paradise (1986). Wow, 1986?! ??
Where to begin. In my 20s and men (some friends) dying of HIV complications due to Aids. Life looking sad and grim. Then onto the music scene come a couple who sang what I and others in the LGBTQ community could relate to.
But not just the LGBTQ community. In 1988 I took whatever they had out on cassette tape with me on a youth trip to Israel. While there my tour mates enjoyed them, as did some young kibbutz kids. Made for a great trip; no shunning me for being an out gay man.
I'm a bit of a showman myself, for 20+ years I've been with the Chicago GMC. Back track a few years to 1990 something; I wanted a song to sing solo. What better than R&P's "Guilt Trip"? Our Director thought I had balls just to think of trying it so she made sure we had a violinist who could play that part like on their recording. It got roaring applause.
Ok, now forward to 2004 or 5. The Chicago GMC has a "No talent talent show" on our retreats during Pride Concert prep. So, what of Paul and Ron can I sing this time? How about a G.W. Bush cover of "Don't Use Your Penis For A Brain". This one didn't just get applause, nope. Unbeknownst to me a bachelorette party of 12 joined us for fun; entering right on time for the song. It not only got applause, but the women each wanted a copy.
As I write this I think of "One Of The Enemy". A family I know started a Pride+ Parade in their town not far from mine. Both parents are teachers. A parent whose child is neither in their class or even their school wrote an unsigned letter demanding they stop teaching "harmful homosexual things" - we've come far but still have very far to go.
On February 20, 1993, I made a decision that would forever change my life. It was on that day, that I sat my mother down and confessed to her that I was gay. I did
this because I had fallen in love for the first time and the person whom I loved was another man. I was only 18 years old and in my last semester of high school when
I came out. This was remarkable for many reasons. First off I grew up in Springfield, Illinois which can either be considered a small city or large town depending
on how you looked at it. The population was around 105,000 at the time which meant that it was just large enough to have gay bars but not nearly large enough to
offer any kind of support services for gay youth. There was no Trevor Project. There was little in the way of internet access and though some online groups
existed they were extremely difficult to find. So for me to become an openly gay man at 18 was quite an accomplishment.
My first love burned hot and fast and burned out quickly, as first loves often do. I graduated and at the end of the summer packed my things and went off to study at Illinois State University (ISU) in Normal, Illinois. At ISU for the first time I could meet and socialize with other LGBT people. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) as it was know at the time helped me realize I was not alone. It was through this organization that I met a man named Ben. Ben was older than I, 25 years old to my 18. We were brought together because we were both dealing with extremely homophobic roommates. It was eventually decided that my homophobic roommate would move in with Ben's and Ben would move in with me.
Once Ben and I were roommates he took me under his wing and helped mentor a young gay man. He taught me that being gay was so much more than who you loved or who you took into you bed. He taught me about gay history, gay art, and gay music. It was through Ben that I was first introduced to the music of Romanovsky and Phillips.
Among Ben's belongings were three CD's. I Thought You'd Be Taller, Emotional Roller Coaster, and Trouble in Paradise. Through the music and lyrics of R&P I, for the first time, found my voice. Their more humourous songs such as "What Kind of Self Respecting Faggot am I?" and "Straightening Up the House" showed me the nuances of gay culture such as diva worship (Barbara, Bette, and Judy), Sunday brunches, and an obsession with Broadway. The perils one may face living and loving openly. And that being one did not have to subscribe to any way of living to be gay.
More importantly though were the songs such as "Homophobia", "Living in the Nuclear Age", "The Sodomy Song", "Living with AIDS", "On the Safe Side" and "The Woman Next Door" that wakened in me my activist tendencies. It showed me that as I stood on the shoulders of those who came before me it was my responsibility to continue to fight. Not just for myself and my own rights but for the rights of those who would come after me. I wore freedom rings every day. I had every LGBT symbol on my backpack and was a walking gay pride bulletin board. I joined Act-Up and Queer Nation and though there was little in the way of action to be taken in Normal, Illinois I did petition and lobby for human rights ordinances at the local and state level. I became, in the words that that first love that had burned out, a "crusading faggot".
I later came across Be Political Not Polite. As lovers came and went, songs like "Closing Chapter" and "Red Moon Over Boston" took on new significance. "Queers in the Closet", "Hymn", "Love is All it Takes" and of course "Be Political, Not Polite" further fueled my activist fire. A couple of years later I was browsing a gay bookstore and found Let's Flaunt It. I do not think I have ever made a faster purchase in my life.
The music of Romanovsky and Phillips is literally the soundtrack to my coming of age and becoming the fabulous gay man I am today. Their music instilled hope where despair had taken root. They showed me that I was able to be loved not IN SPITE of who I was but BECAUSE of who I was.
Theirs is a debt that I can never repay, though I do try. I have had, over the course of my life, the chance to mentor other young gay men and a few older men who did not come out until later in life. I have striven to teach them what Ben taught me. And without exception that has included introducing them to the music of Romanovsky and Phillips. They may in time share the magic of R&P with others and eventually, as was sung so eloquently, we will become a "Family of lovers, who survive a life of exile by caring for each other."
Fans are encouraged to add their memories via email to randpstories[at]gmail[dot]com
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