Big Gay Heart video appraisal

From Queer in Your Ear issue 48 - 1995

  Like many of you, in May I became an eager cinematic beaver for a week and supported the camera-wielding members of our diverse transgenderist, bisexualist, lesbiana and gay communities by attending the Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival of Toronto. I had to put up with standing in line alongside people I don't particularly like, sitting in the same stuffy cinema with them, and suffering through filmic excess in the name of art.

Don't get me wrong, kids. A handful of films attained a felicitous mixture of smarts, sass, and sentiment. But the fact is that, at the level of cohesiveness, directorial vision and technical acumen, many of the crappiest music videos available on TV beat the tutus off even the highest-budget queer films at the festival. (It doesn't please me to say so, but I call 'em as I see 'em.) There was, in fact, an overlap betwen those worlds: Jeremy Podeswa's video for Change of Heart's "Herstory," in which a certain amour fou between male prisoners is stymied when one of them escapes, made it into the Festival as a last-minute add. It was fine, really, in a Genet/Poison-esque way; it also boasted far superior production values (far less film grain, at least) than the overrated Eclipse. Still, I'd like to ask yet again that directors get their bands out of their videos entirely – think soundtrack, not marketing vehicle. (In "Herstory," Change of Heart actually performs in the jail compound alongside oblivious prisoners!)

Anyway, there I was nursing my film-'n'-video letdown the way others nurse hangovers when, one afternoon near the end of the Festival, my woman's intuition told me to turn on MuchMusic. Lo and behold, there was the rarely-seen Lemonheads video "Big Gay Heart." The song can be found on Come On, Feel the Lemonheads (1993), released after the troupe's one-hit-wonder success with "It's a Shame About Ray" and after Evan Dando got his goldi-locks cut. The video shows the band playing their song in an ordinary bar with a far-from-ordinary audience of numerous dyke couples, a few fag couples, and heterosexualists. We follow two story threads:

• Young lad in plaid shirt over white T-shirt enters the bar and walks over to his friend, who's playing pinball with his buddies. (Our lad is cute and boasts a cool haircut, unlike his geeky friend – surely a conscious detail.) A touch on the arm that lingers slightly too long gets a shake and a dirty-look double-take from the pinball boy. Our lad heads to the john and leans on the wall in the vestibule, figuring he really fucked up this time. The pinball boy comes by and kind of thwacks our lad a bit, obviously demanding, "What the hell were you doing back there?" Our lad takes the boy's head in his hands, kind of kisses him on the cheek, and, pushing through an obvious fog of emotion, confesses his love<slash>infatuation.
The conversation doesn't take long; in two more shots we see our lad imploring the pinball boy and holding his hands, and finally, just as the pinball boy is about to walk away forever and rejoin his buddies as if nothing ever happened, our lad gives him a wet, almost-tearful kiss on the forehead. Now all alone – again – our lad pulls himself together slowly (it takes years, after all), wiping his nose on his hand and sniffling a little.
Gay kids get to have their hearts broken by straight jerks in all-male restrooms. What a world. This depiction was so true-to-life it brought tears to the eyes to Miss Jaded 30-Year-Old here.

• A guy playing pool – maybe 19, tall, in overalls and with sideburns – keeps gazing longingly at these extremely blond dyke girls in bright clothes as they slow-dance and smooch. It's a study in ambiguity: The boy looks gay, so he could be thinking, "Why can't I be like them?" Or he could have a crush on one of the girls (more plausible: she looks at him and smiles in a half-superior way a couple of times). And, exactly as in real life, he just stands there the whole while and can't get up the gumption to do anything.

The moral of the story? A major-label music videoclip manages to be more emotionally evocative than nearly all the films I saw at the festival. Just imagine the odds: The Lemonheads had to talk the label into producing a video for a gay song and get the finished vid past label nabobs and broadcaster screening committees. Still, they did it, and "Big Gay Heart" trenchantly mines the protofag experience. Cred, it would seem, need not come solely from the street. Edmund White said that a role of gay fiction is to cause the reader to nod his head and think "yes" in recognition. This puny little music video passes that test brilliantly – while a few dozen indie films could not.

It took me by surprise. But art is supposed to surprise. I'll keep watching gay films, of course, but when I want a truly émouvant trip down memory lane I'll replay a little three-minute video and marvel at the power and complexity of "simple" pop music.


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