Martin Aston, author of Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out, sat down to discuss the book tracing the evolution of gay music from the 1920s to today with BBC’s World Service Newshour. Take a listen below.
Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache is not only the first book to tell the story of how music “came out” but to the first to shed light on these hidden pioneers alongside their famous counterparts.
The podcast gives a snapshot of what to expect in the book highlighting artists spanning decades on decades. Breaking Down the Walls is packed with 400 pages covering artists such as Helen Kane, Gene Malin, Frances Faye, and more. Starting in the Roaring 20s, Helen Kane, the woman behind the Betty Boop character, spoke more in code with her song ‘He’s So Unusual.’ That was the norm then in a way to not defy the social and political conservatism of that time. Fast forwarding to the modern era, the music is more blunt.
Martin Aston’s ambitious and comprehensive narrative unfolds over a hundred years, against a backdrop of social and political shifts, as gay liberation transmuted into LGBTQ rights, pushing for visibility and equality, from 1920s liberalism through to the closet of postwar years, the eventual breakthroughs of the ’60s, the permissive ’70s, the mainstream invasion and AIDS crisis of the ’80s, and the advances of the ’90s and noughties.
Aston also documents the retrogressive steps in Russia and parts of Africa, where songs bravely encapsulating the LGBTQ experience signify how the journey from illegality and bigotry to freedom is far from over.
Martin Aston has written about popular music for over 30 years. He has contributed to numerous publications, including MOJO, Q, Guardian, the Times (London), Attitude, Radio Times, Spin, and BBC Music, covering TV, film, and LGBT culture.