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Great Moustaches in Rock: Orleans

March 10th, 2009 11 comments

I offer little new insight when I register that the 1970s was the acme of nightmare-inducing moustaches. Even James Brown got in on the act, managing in the process to look even more than ever like my sister-in-law’s former mother-in-law. After a long hiatus of Great Moustaches in Rock, we turn to the misadventures in hirsute stylings perpetrated by soft-rockers Orleans.

orleans-dancewithme

To our relief (or frustration, if you are looking for comedy), Orleans’ moustachoid period was mercifully brief. Soon the tough thrashing monsters of soft rock (well, in comparison to David Gates’ soggy Bread anyway) asserted their uncompromising masculinity with thatch all over their faces, doubtless taking the lead from the diminutive stud-muffin on the far left. Then division set in as two members realised the follicular folly of their comrades’ ways and…oh, say it isn’t so…shaved! Or were the apostates in fact new members? I know little about the group, but scanning their covers, Orleans seemed to gain and shed members as rapidly Zsa Zsa Gabor’s nuptial turn-over.

And so Orleans appeared on the cover which has established them as legends in every worst-covers-of-all-time catalogue, an incongruous presence amid fundamentalist Christians, doll-killing maniacs and other assorted representatives of the psychotic recording artiste community. In most such anthologies, Orleans are the only outfit that actually sold records. Still The One remains a staple of ’70s soft rock nostalgia, and that appeared on 1976’s notoriously sleeved Waking And Dreaming album.

orleans-topless

I don’t think it’s a bad cover at all. It is a bit odd, that much is true. But what we have here are five guys who clearly like each others’ company and are not self-conscious about exhibiting their closeness, the two chaps on the right especially. The reason why it is included in those amusing covers collections is not because some Orleans members have comedy fur on their heads, or because their torsos are nauseating, but because the photo looks “gay”. More cultured observers would invoke the terminology of “homoerotic”.

I think I’ve made the point before that the generalised use of that concept is homophobic. Of course, there is such a thing as homoerotism, but it cannot be applied indiscriminately. If one describes the Orleans cover as homoerotic, then one is ascribing all manner of meaning to a snapshot in time. Perhaps the chaps on the right are indeed gay. Perhaps they are heterosexual but not embarrassed to show affection towards other men. Perhaps they were horsing around. Perhaps comedy-beard dude in front is trying to move whispy-tache’s hand away. Certainly hairy dude in front seems to be puzzled at it all.

Whatever the context, the photo cannot be arbitrarily sexualised. And even if one does so, and even if some members of Orleans are gay, including it in funny-covers collections is an act of homophobia. Intentionally or not, it communicates that being gay, or giving rise to suspicions of homsexuality, is somehow hilarious, and that men who show affection for one another are likewise “hilariously” gay. That common prejudice and the resultant compulsion by most men to avoid demonstrations of affection towards other men lest they be thought of as being homosexual is such a great loss to humanity — and reinforces anti-gay sentiments.

Of course, faced with such perceptions, the cover was ill-advised. Frontman John Hall once explained that the topless pic was entirely unplanned. The photo shoot had been going for a while when the photographer suggested our friends take their shirts off (you can’t see it, but they still have their trousers on). Obediently, they did; a few pics were taken, and two minutes later the five put their shirts back on. And of all the photos taken at the session, the record company chose that one for the cover. At least Orleans are not forgotten — indeed, in some incarnation or other, they are still touring the nostalgia circuit.

Orleans – Dance With Me.mp3
Orleans – Still The One.mp3

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