“They had it wrong all along. It’s not pop that will eat itself. It’s ambition.”
A penchant for Bollywood beats and dance music.
A garish, flirtatious outsider whose exotic looks make his origins so difficult to pinpoint.
As London is burning and the pop/disco holocaust is playing out, Alekzandr has little else to fall back on other than his charm and wit in his pursuit of an interesting life. Even across the pond, the new generation of club kids seem to love him. But in an era when stars are made, not born, nobody is particularly interested in taking a chance on an outsider, particularly when his musical shortcomings are so obvious.
Still, ambition knows no bounds, and the arrival of the music video changes everything in the industry. Having already used everything else at his disposal, can he use it to ride the new wave into the hearts of the public?
And Alekzandr? He may well be a new romantic but he’s also a gay heart breaker. And being gay in the 20th century pop mainstream is just another -arbitrary- obstacle he has to overcome. Because the best pop stars make waves, not just music.
Alekzandr’s story is the story that so many of us share: the one where we try and reconcile our desires and ambitions with the world around us and the people in our lives…it’s just that his plays out against the backdrop so many of us grew up in and loved: 80s and 90s popular culture.
Evocative, romantic and brimming with pop cultural references, Vinyl Tiger captures and celebrates the changing zeitgeist of the 80s, 90s and 00s.
Thanks so much for having me on twomenarebetterthanone!
I think if there is one thing that inspired me to write Vinyl Tiger it was the idea of how cool it would’ve been to having one of the biggest pop stars in the world be out and proud as far back as the late 80s or early 90s.
That was kind of the starting point for the book. Along the way I started exploring and revisiting lots of the elements of 80s and 90s pop culture that so many people grew up with or are familiar with. I also wanted to see how Alekzandr, the main character, balanced his personal and sexual sides with his professional and creative side all against the background of pop music.
The road was a much harder back then for the GLBT community, and especially for someone like Alekzandr, who was already trying to prove that he wasn’t just a one hit wonder or the singing himbo everyone accused him of being. So in addition to everything else he also had to battle the whole ‘gay singer’ stigma. And at that point, as many of us have experienced, you just hope that he’s brave enough to come out and say ‘You know what? I am gay. Deal with it.’
Alekzandr was a new romantic but he was also a heart breaker. Right from the beginning of the novel you can see that he’s a wild flirt and a really sexual person, and the book explores that because that’s a major aspect of his personality. It’s also tied up in how he sees himself: he sees himself as being brave and foolish but as someone who also needs a protector. So a lot of the lovers he chooses are people he feels can protect him from everything going on around him and from his insecurities too.
In a way Alekzandr’s experiences are like a lot of people’s experiences in the GLBT community, but also beyond. Vinyl Tiger is a tribute to pop music but it’s also an exploration of how difficult it is sometimes to balance all the different parts of your desires and your dreams and still feel proud of what you’re doing and of what you’re accomplishing.
Excerpt from the “Burst” chapter
Back at the Sydney hotel he and Michael had dinner with a journalist from the Australian edition of Rolling Stone. Part of the interview had already been conducted during the day, while the continuation over dinner was focused on the new electronic direction pop was taking, edging back into the mainstream with the growing obsession with new wave and no wave music. The three of them then went to a small live music bar in the inner city to watch one of the fledgling synth bands of the period before Michael and the singer returned to the hotel.
He and Michael had originally met when Michael had signed him to the old label back in 1981. Back then, Michael’s interest in him wasn’t just musical, and when the singer had made that discovery after perhaps Michael’s fourth or fifth visit, he quickly weighed up the pros and cons. He found Michael attractive. He found his moppy, dark hair sexy, along with Michael’s almost Hebraic features and a manly physique that was more than serviceable. He’d known Michael wasn’t personally that into his music, but he was interested enough, and knew that having him onside would only amount to something positive.
That night after the fourth or fifth gig in New Jersey, Michael, already friendly with the singer, whom he had signed just days before, made his way to the dressing room; literally a converted supplies closet that still stank of acrid cleaning products. He knocked first, and entered only after being invited in.
The singer had scored a little coke earlier that evening, and was in the process of cutting it into two lines when he beckoned Michael over. Michael had looked him over, as the singer began to roll up the dollar bill. He had his long, bleached blonde hair in a makeshift pony tail at the top of his head, his favourite Star of David tank top sitting loosely over his olive torso, and the super tight black leggings and high top red trainers on, looking faintly poppy, faintly ridiculous, and definitely like a character. Even Michael noted how ridiculous he looked, even if he somehow managed to pull it off.
Michael snorted the first line, and then offered the bill to the singer, caressing his finger as he passed it over. The singer flashed his luminous brown eyes and a smile at Michael, and then inhaled the line in a long, elegant swoop.
He smiled sweetly and sat himself down on the dodgy armchair, made of that fire retardant material which is so itchy to sit on, the hallmark piece of student housing and second hand furniture markets that nobody touches until desperation sets in.
“Do you have time to hang around for a bit?” the singer had asked.
“I have another gig at 1 tonight that I’m going to see. Do you wanna come with me?”
“Are you going alone?”
“No, I’m with the guys. They’re watching the band outside. They all thought you were great tonight by the way.”
“I’m not interested in what they thought,” he said coquettishly. “Why don’t you come and sit over here then, if you’re not in a rush, and tell me what you thought of me.”
Michael had felt the energy surging throughout his body as he looked down at the singer. Well, he was really more a dancer, or maybe more an art pop performer back then. Hell, he didn’t really know what to think of him, even now, but he had every faith that signing him had been a good move on his part.
“I’m not sure that’s such a great idea. I mean, I don’t think I’d be capable of just sitting there and having a conversation with you.”
“Well,” the singer said, spreading his legs a little, “I’m pretty sure then that we don’t have anything else left to talk about now that the deal is done anyway. But if you unzip those jeans right now, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to give you something to think about for a while.”
A broad smile lit up Michael’s face at that moment that night, and he quickly, hurriedly unbuckled, and tore his pants down to his knees, striding across to the singer who made good on his offer.
After that initial tryst, they never really resumed anything along those lines. It seemed to be a partly coke infused moment, partly cynical opportunism on both their parts and partly like the natural conclusion of a month long period of flirtation. But now, in Sydney, in Michael’s hotel room, the opportunity was representing itself. Once again, there was a little bit of coke on offer that the journalist had scored at the Newtown venue, and each was at a loose end of sorts, pulsating with that kind of live energy that only a good orgasm can successfully make use of.
That night in Sydney when the singer lined the bench top with two reasonably generous lines of coke, Michael’s mind and groin both began to race. It was a balmy Sydney night, so he took off his jacket, shoes, and his pants before the singer called him over for the first line. As Michael snorted the line, the singer stripped completely naked. He sat himself on Michael’s lap and as he felt his manager’s member spring into solid form, he snorted the line, turned his head and began kissing him. He dropped to his knees and fellated him, just as he had on that late night all those years before, but this time, Michael had other ideas. He led him over to the bed and spent the next half hour in a variety of positions with him until they were both spent.
The following morning over breakfast in Michael’s room, they spoke candidly about what’d happened the night before, and agreed that for the moment, they wouldn’t take things between them too seriously, not on that level anyway. Not at this stage.
Michael flew out that day, Alekz after another week back in Melbourne. Once they were both back in New York, the two intermittently got together whenever they could. In Michael’s car, in Alekz’s apartment, in dressing rooms and Michael’s office. Michael’s secretary had been on the phone outside the office one time whilst Michael aggressively had his way with the singer. Another time Alekz’s girlfriend Thena was in the Korean downstairs whilst he gave Michael a blowjob on the kitchen counter before Michael casually took the stairwell down to the street.
It was easy and complicated. The strings were already attached, but neither wanted a full blown commitment from the other. Michael loved the singer, but he saw it as the same kind of love that tended to evaporate when exposed to routine, to surety, to commitment. He didn’t want to make something more of it than it was and ruin its essence in the process. The way that water distorts things when you look through it, even though you think it can only make things clearer.
The sex the singer enjoyed with Michael; rough, often rushed but intimate; met his needs in ways that that with Thena never could or would. He could lavish the word love on Michael for a million reasons, not only for his burly, hirsute physique, or for his innate sweetness, but also because he viewed him as his own protector. But at, that point, he wasn’t in love with him, so it wasn’t hard to distinguish his other relationships from that with Michael. They were having fun together, but they also had to work together and to know when to draw the line.
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Dave had offered one lucky reader the chance to win an eBook copy of Vinyl Tiger. Just leave a comment on this blog post, with your email address, and a random commenter will be drawn on 16th December.
So what sort of comments do we want? Tell us about your favourite music of the ’80s and ’90s.
About the Author
DAVE DI VITO
Melbourne born Dave Di Vito writes about popular culture and the arts in all their forms.
Having originally trained as a teacher and visual artist, Dave was soon struck by wanderlust, which led to extended stints in London, Kyoto and Rome. In between jaunts, and much like a boomerang, he often returned to Melbourne, where he managed to graduate with First Class honours at La Trobe University with a major in Art History.
After working in some of Melbourne’s contemporary art galleries, Dave earned a Masters in Art Curatorship. He then opened his own artspace, Immersion Therapy, whose exhibition program spotlighted artists whose work explored Australian and Asian intercultural relations.
With over a decade of experience in the Arts and Education fields, Dave has since worked as an arts correspondent in Rome, and now works as a translator and teacher in the south of Italy. Since 2010 Dave has run and written the Paperlesstiger blog, which takes an often humorous look at the arts, music and popular culture.
The author of Vinyl Tiger, Dave currently splits his commitments between his native Australia and Lecce in the south of Italy, doing his best to keep his wanderlust at bay.
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