For Christmas in 1986, one of my best friends gave me a cassette titled Trouble in Paradise by some singing/songwriting duo I had never heard of. On the cover were two cute guys sitting on beach chairs, leaning into each other and holding hands, and wearing whimsical outfits that seemed a bit overdressed for a day at the beach. My friend knew I was heavily into jazz, so I had no idea what to make of this. But I appreciated his thoughtful gesture, so I figured I’d listen to it at least once out of courtesy to him. The next time I was out driving I pushed the cassette into my car’s stereo.
That day, my life changed. I am totally not exaggerating.
I moved to San Francisco, it seemed the place to be
But I’m not into disco and bars intimidate me
My only can of Crisco is where it’s ‘sposed to be
What kind of self-respecting faggot am I?
A smile crossed my face. Not only because the song was cute and clever, but because I felt “seen” – in a good way. When I heard the Crisco line I laughed out loud, while at the same time feeling a bit shocked that this sweet, innocent-sounding young man would sing such a thing. “Don’t own a single record by Barbra, Bette, or Judy.” As a jazz lover, I could totally relate!
But then… “Lost Emotions.” That song hit me right there. It was so poignant and beautiful. And like so many R&P songs, it spoke directly about what I was experiencing as a gay man in the 80s. I remember returning from a business trip around that time. My partner greeted me at the airport and handed me a Hershey’s Kiss. That was the only way he felt comfortable enough to give me a kiss in the middle of a busy airport.
By the time I reached the end of that cassette, I was hooked. I became a total fanboi. I ran out and purchased I Thought You’d Be Taller, and I bought Emotional Rollercoaster as soon as it came out. When you released your albums on CD, I rebought the first three and bought the rest as soon as they came out.
I could go on and on about all the songs I love and how they touched me in various ways, but I’ll sum it up by saying that your music became part of the soundtrack of my life. I could hardly believe there were two guys like me (actually, a lot more fabulous than me – and a lot more open) who were singing songs about my world. Your music was, and is, many things – humorous, romantic, emotional, consciousness-raising, inspiring – but most of all, affirming.
In 1989-1991, I was a co-host for a local public access TV show called “Gay Fairfax” (as in Fairfax County, Virginia). During that time, you performed at a hotel in Washington, DC and you were gracious enough to allow me to interview you after the show. As I recall, you had driven from a gig in Philadelphia earlier that day and you arrived in DC just in time for the evening gig. By the time the show was over, you were both mentally and physically exhausted. But you gave a great interview and demonstrated that you were just as nice in person as you appeared to be onstage and through your music.
In 2022, I found Paul on Facebook and sent him a friend request. He graciously accepted, even though he didn’t know me from Adam. After reading his behind-the-scenes stories about their career, I have an even greater appreciation for their body of work. Back in the 80s and 90s, I admired the courage it took to be so out and proud – not to mention using words like penis and asshole in your songs. Now, after reading Paul’s stories, I more fully appreciate the hard work, dedication, persistence, and sacrifice it took to get gigs, build a fan base, and self-release records.
Recently, I listened to my R&P CDs for the first time in many years. It felt like reuniting with an old friend I haven’t seen in years and picking up right where we left off. I still remembered most of the lyrics. Even though our community has come a long way since the 80s and 90s, many of those songs are still as relevant today as they were then. Others serve as musical snapshots of the struggles we have been through and the progress we have made. Most important, they are every bit as enjoyable today.
Thank you for the gift of your music – a gift that keeps on giving almost 40 years later. You changed my life and the lives of many thousands of others.
Fans are encouraged to add their memories via email to randpstories[at]gmail(dot)com