Gilbert Leavitt Wing "Mr. Pride" Interview
thought it appropriate that our Special Pride Issue should also contain
the interview with who we call "Mr. Pride", Jon Gilbert
Leavitt. Jon's song "Pride"
has become a known standard at many Pride celebrations, and with good
reason. A consummate professional, who is known throughout our community
as not only a "great guy" but very supportive of other
Stonewall Society: Congratulations on your awards. What is it like to be OUTMUSIC's 'Songwriter of the Year', as well as a nominee for the 'Out Musician' of the year?
Jon Gilbert Leavitt: Thank you. It was a great honor to be
nominated, and then winning Songwriter of the Year was amazing. It felt really
good because it was a members' choice award, and the votes came from fellow
musicians, songwriters, performers and people in the media and that's very
special. What was also special was that it's the 1st OMA Awards, hopefully the
of many years of OMA's.
SWS: You have played in many venues; pop/rock, cabaret, country, blues, new age, and salsa. Do you have a favorite?
|JGL: I'll have to say pop/rock. I grew up listening to Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Squeeze, Joni Mitchell, and it's in my blood. Although I like Mozart, Mingus, a Broadway score or Tibetan chants equally depending on my mood, pop/rock is still my favorite. I guess it's obvious since I write pop/rock.|
SWS: I understand you have also written Gospel as well as in German,
what brought you to those areas?
JGL: Dispelling any myths of enlightenment, writing Gospel came solely as a career attempt. My uncle, who passed away years ago now, was an executive with Arista/Savoy Records, and produced and signed many well-known Gospel acts like Rev. James Cleveland, the Barrett Sisters, who I got the pleasure to meet. So for me, it was a shot at writing those songs to try to get an 'in' into the publishing world. It didn't work, but I guess it's for the best. The songs work as songs, but I don't think a Jewish boy from New Jersey could truly put his whole heart and soul into Gospel
music and have it sound believable. For the German songs, I went back to school and studied German, here in NY and in two university programs over there. I love the language and it works
really well with pop/rock music, but again, I feel more comfortable writing from the soul and my soul generally speaks English. It's doubly hard writing good lyrics in a language that's not your mother tongue, and I didn't want them to sound like some Europop from the '80s and '90s where people said 'the song is good, but whoever wrote those lyrics isn't a native English speaker.'
SWS: As an artist, songwriter, ASCAP member any thoughts you would like to share with us on the subject of internet file sharing?
JGL: This is a double-edged sword, but I'm really vocal on this one. The simple fact is that file
sharing, like Napster, is just cheating the artists. People think, the big labels have tons of money, so
what does it matter? But most of the big label artists are signed under contracts that are so binding, most of them have to pay back the labels. And it's the indie artists who suffer the most- they are the real innovators, they spend they're hard earned money, and they get back close to nothing, if anything. So for me file sharing is no different than shoving CD's in my coat in a record store and walking out.
SWS: The song "Pride", now also in two dance mixes, the OUTVOICE song of 2001 on their top 40 tracks chart, did you have a feeling it would turn into such a mega anthem?
|JGL: I hoped for it to
be, but it's still a small anthem, for it to be a mega anthem would mean
people would know of it inside and outside of the GLBT community, which is still one of my goals. Recently I did a national late night AM radio talk show where it was played, and it felt good that the listeners heard "Pride" at home and in cars and diners and offices and truck stops, 'so-called mainstream America.' Maybe they'll learn something.
SWS: What was the inspiration of "Pride"?
JGL: In the summer of '99 stories about the new millennium and history of the 20th century starting
popping up everywhere. The subject matter was the same- the big stories, the big names. Realistically I knew GLBT history wouldn't be mentioned, but at least the Stonewall Riots. I didn't even see that, so I thought what about us? Our history is not even mentioned in looking back at the 20th Century. So I sat down and started jotting down some names and events, and when I realized some of them led to rhyme, that's how "Pride" was born.
SWS: How has the acceptance of "Pride" effected your life?
JGL: It really has effected my life knowing that a 4+ minute song could actually make a difference. At the very least, driving the idea home that we've come a long way but still have a way to go. That's why I ended the song with the lyrics "Matthew Shepard, God bless you, what else can we look forward to?" It's sort of a little 'push' to the GLBT community that we shouldn't feel like we've reached our goal and sit back just because things were much tougher years ago.
SWS: You consider yourself a songwriter/musician over singer, why?
JGL: I love to sing and perform, but the best feeling for me is working on a song, finishing it and thinking that this musical message just came out of thin air. It's a great feeling. I also see myself in the role of songwriter, because seeing another artist with a knockout voice take a song and add their own style, shows that a song is a living, breathing entity and not just a finite object.
SWS: What is your wish of achievement for GLBT art with regard to the total art community?
|JGL: My long-term wish is total acceptance to the point of nonchalance. For example, can you imagine a day when a bunch of teenage boys seeing their favorite heavy metal band, and knowing the lead singer is gay, having no issues over it? Or watching a same-sex kiss in a music video and it's not preceded by 'adult subject matter' or something like that? For the short-term wish, it's that the industry people won't make an issue over sexuality, and realize that if the music is good, it doesn't matter who they sleep with; it's not going to affect record sales or tour sponsorships.|
SWS: What do you feel is the strongest issue for the GLBT community
pertaining to the infrastructure of our community?
JGL: I think it's learning about our diversities and differences. Just because we're gay doesn't mean we have the same outlook on everything; it's like saying just because you have blue eyes means you think the same way. We have to learn to move forward together, but it's not one a one-lane road to follow. The horizon's a big place, and whatever way we get there, as long as we help and not hurt each other, is OK.
SWS: Is being an "Out" performer/artist had any effect on your career?
JGL: Definitely, and in a very positive way. First, it gives me the freedom to write from the heart instead of writing lyrics that lie. If I write a love song, I'm going to use the pronoun 'he,' and the growing numbers of out performers and artists are paving the way to a time when that can happen without any backlash or fear. If you can't be honest with your music, you can't be honest with yourself. The other effect is a feeling of community; there is a sense of camaraderie among musicians anyway, but the GLBT music community is even more of a support group. It's like a
team of diverse people coming together and supporting one another.
SWS: What advice would you give to young performers just getting started?
JGL: I think Casey Kasem says it best with his line 'keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the stars.' I'd tell young artists If you want to pursue a life in music, plant your roots first: work on your music and keep working at it, learn about the business of music, get out there and play, get involved in music groups and get feedback from people you trust.. Keeping the dream alive is essential, but going into music with the single goal of just getting rich and famous will usually backfire. The most important thing: if you really want something, you'll get it, so be careful with what you want. The lifestyle, the ups and downs and the insecurity about tomorrow isn't geared to everybody.
SWS: If you could give just one message to the GLBT community through music, what would that message be?
JGL: Be open to diversity. There's still the myth that gay men's music is club mixes and gay women's music is acoustic folk. Our music family creates every type of music there is, and if gay venues supported that more, I think people would get the message. They'll never know how good it is until they hear it. Not to single anyone out, but there aren't enough pride committees out there willing to book an out performer to headline an event, but will book a straight female dance artist and promote her to death. Or the local gay bar magazines will devote pages to a review of the latest diva's new CD, but totally ignore the ten other new CDs by indie out artists being released at the same time.
SWS: What is your most memorable moment as a songwriter/musician/performer?
JGL: There are many, but the ones that stick out that are really special are the one-to-one moments: when people tell me a song really touched them, or they cried or they were motivated to do something. Once I surfed into a college student's web site listing all the songs that made a difference in his life, and "Pride" was on it. That's what it's all about. Of course I can't forget the first time I heard myself played on the radio, and that was an amazing feeling.
SWS: Several movies, books, and plays have been based on the subject, is it really more difficult for an entertainer to maintain a relationship?
JGL: I think so, especially if your other half is not in the business. It's not easy being married to a
musician and no matter how many times we deny it, we are self-consumed. It's the artist in us, and not to be confused with ego, it's just the way we operate. I've been with my partner for 15 years, and it's had its moments of disagreement when I had to go out to play or rehearse or attend a music conference or go out of town. The key is compromise, but that's easier said than done sometimes.
SWS: Is there one overall influence which has brought you to this point in your life, or more like a collage of people, places, and times?
JGL: Definitely a collage of everything, and every day is a new picture to add to it. I can't even start to pinpoint!
SWS: The topic is all yours now Jon, is there a special project, subject, passion you would like to
tell us about?
JGL: Right now some of my songs have been or are in the process of being released by other artists, and it's great to hear what they've done. Another thing is my online group of stations: I've set up 11 stations under the name "Radio Stonewall" on the mp3.com site, with over 400 GLBT and supportive artists. Through them, not only have I gotten to know many musicians all over the world,
and it's wonderful how much talent and passion there is out there. Last fall it even came to life as 'Radio Stonewall Live,' a benefit for God's Love We Deliver, a NY-based organization that supplied nutritional needs for homebound people with HIV/AIDS. We had 11 bands/artists and comics perform at a NY club, the place was packed, and we raised a lot of money for the cause. We even got a big mention in NY's second largest newspaper. I'm also involved in Outmusic, which is an international organization supporting and promoting out GLBT artists, as well as general music organizations, like ASCAP and the NY Circle of Songwriters.
I want to thank the Stonewall Society and Codi Pendance for all your hard work and support of our community!
You are most welcome Jon! We will be bringing more reviews of Jon's music to Equal Pride in the future, but don't wait, check it out at his site!!! Also be sure to add Jon's RADIO STONEWALL ! to your Internet radio listening bookmarks!
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