Monday, October 12, 2009

Stephen Gately

I wanted to say something about Stephen Gately of the 1990s Irish boyband Boyzone, who died this weekend at the age of 33. To do so, I first have to explain a few things to my American friends and family who will be thinking, “Who?” For starters, Stephen's the dark-haired one who sings first in the video above.

Boyzone was a very popular boyband in the 1990s, with several big hits in Britain and other countries, including New Zealand, but not the United States. Pop music in New Zealand is a mix of songs from Britain, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Interesting as I think that is, being a big fan of pop music, I’ve had problems over the years talking about songs or artists because folks back in the US often have no idea who I’m talking about.

I liked Boyzone, which was very popular here. Stephen was one of the two principal singers in the group, the other being Ronan Keating (other members were Shane Lynch,Keith Duffy and Mikey Graham). When the group broke up in 1999, Stephen was the first member of the group to launch a solo record, “New Beginning” (the video can be seen here). Ultimately, his record company dropped him, but he was successful in West End musicals in London. Last year, Boyzone released a mostly greatest hits album with some new material, and they planned a brand-new album for early 2010.

Stephen Gately was also openly gay. In 2006, Stephen married his partner, Andrew Cowles, in a British Civil Partnership. Interestingly, Sky News Australia and a few print news sources correctly identified Andrew as Stephen’s husband, but Sky News UK and all other broadcast reports I saw referred to him as Stephen’s “partner”.

I haven’t heard or read a bad thing about Stephen. He seemed sweet, and the celebrities who knew him confirmed that. It’s always a shame when someone talented dies young, especially when it’s someone we like. But Stephen was also a role model for young gay people who wanted a career as a performer. We don’t have enough role models, so losing one is hard.

The video above is “No Matter What”, probably Boyzone’s biggest hit. It was part of the concept album for the Andrew Lloyd Weber/Jim Stineman musical, “Whistle Down the Wind”. Their song was Britain’s Song of the Year in 1998, and went platinum. The video is from 'Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Royal Albert Hall Celebration' (the official video can be seen here).

There were apparently some gay people who were encouraged by this song, which might come a surprise to those familiar with the show, but one stanza in particular may provide a clue:

I can’t deny what I believe,
I can’t be what I’m not.
I know our love’s forever,
I know, no matter what.

It’s so sad for his husband, his friends and family, and his fans, too. Another one gone too soon.


Nik said...

You know, I have to admit I honestly didn't know who he was other than having vaguely heard of the band, but I have to say your tribute to him does him proud. Fine stuff.

Amy said...

That is a shame, a lot of entertainers are dying so young, Fame is not worth the price.
But I agree, great tribute.

liminalD said...

Ironically enough, the song is also popular with the blue-rinse brigade, because they're 'such nice boys.' My mother is a conservative fundie and reads those same lyrics you quote as a defense of one's religious beliefs, and she puts that particular song on whenever someone or something challenges her faith. I've heard it sung in church a number of times too.

Poor Stephen, he did rather a raw deal, didn't he? He seemed so nice, and it's terrible that he died so young.

Arthur Schenck said...

Nik: Thanks! Coming from you, that's high praise, indeed!

Amy: Thanks. If early reports prove to be true, he could've suffered the same fate even if he wasn't famous. But maybe it'll ease the pain of his husband, family and friends to know that millions of fans are mourning, too. If so, then maybe the fame is a good thing.

liminalD: I've always thought it was funny how the "blue rinse brigade" often adore a gay man because "he's a nice boy". Maybe that's how the phrase, "he's nice to his mother" became a code-phrase for saying someone's gay.

It doesn't surprise me that religious folks would adopt the song, since the show it's from, "Whistle Down the Wind" has HUGE religious themes. While I'd heard of the show (I like Jim Stineman's songs—he wrote most of Meatloaf's songs), I'd never heard anything from it. The first time I saw the official video, I thought of it as Stephen's coming-out song (he was only "rumoured" to be gay at that point). So, I think that's why I can see how it would resonate with some young gay people.

Patrick said...

The Lasting Tribute website has updated its memorial pages to include Stephen Gately.


It's a respectful memorial and somewhere to pay tribute to the band's and his family's fortitude at this difficult time.

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