The Advocate Issue June 15, 1993
HEAVY METAL HOMO
Faith No More's Roddy Bottum goes public about being gay in the homophobic world of metal music
By Lance Loud
To those who have remained blissfully ignorant of the ear-crunching brand of rock and roll know as heavy metal, Roddy Bottum probably sounds like the nom de plume of a graphic-sex novelist with a spanking fetish. In actuality he is the keyboardist of Faith No More, the MTV-generation group that Spin magazine named Band of the Year in 1990. Other high points in the band's career: The Real Thing, released in 1989, went platinum, and its single, "Epic", went to number 5 on the Billboard charts.
"One of the keys to what makes Faith No More unique is the way Roddy Bottum's keyboard works in the music," says Roy Trakin, editor of Hits, a national pop-rock magazine. "Most metal bands use the keyboard as a rythm instrument, but Bottum uses it to build a melody. He's all over the place: He'll play the theme from Nestle's chocolate in the middle of something, or the theme from Midnight Cowboy will pop up, or there will be cocktail-lounge-type tinkling segueing into funk techo in the space of a single song. There's a definite camp sensibility to what he's doing."
Adds Tom Sinclair, rock writer for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly: "The band isn't really like the other metal bands. They have elements of the thrash metal sound, but they are hardly limited to that. They're sort of like the thinking metal fan's band."
Last winter many of those fnas were forced to do some deep thinking about stereotypes and innate prejudices when the 28-year-old Bottum made the decision to go public about his homosexuality. "I'd like to say that I'm totally together about it," he says, "but it does kinda freak me out. From now on anytime my name will be brought up, my sexual preference will be one of the first things discussed. It's a way of categorizing people that seems kind of creepy to me. I mean, it shouldn't be like that, right? How many aspects of a personality are there? So many."
A name like Roddy Bottum would be pretty hard to bring off if you weren't
[Laughs] It's a good name, isn't it? It's actually Roswell Christopher Bottum III.
And are you?
No, a bottom?
[Laughs] Oh, well. I think role playing is very important in relationships.
Does role playing strenghen a relationship?
_Switching_ roles strengthens a relationship. Back and forth, taking turns.
Let's talk about how it got to be known that you're gay.
A woman from NME [New Musical Express, an English rock newspaper] was doing a big story on the band. She was also friends with the band we were touring with, L7, who I've known for years, and she asked them to ask me if I would be willing to discuss my sexuality in the press. I had no problem with that whatsoever and told the reporter to ask whatever she liked.
Were you happy with the story?
Not really. I thought my coming out was an important angle, and I don't mean that in an egocentric way. Kids who are into hard rock and who may be dealing with the possibility of being gay themselves don't see a lot of positive role models. But as it turned out, that was only a small part of the final article. The writer had a thing for our singer [Mike Patton], and that's who she ultimately focused on.
Do you think the writer felt that your coming out made you less of a
relevant subject for the audience she was writing to?
Maybe. But if that's the case, I'd certainly love to shatter that illusion. There's just as much homosexual infatuation in rock music as heterosexual, and it's about time that it's recognized.
Why didn't you bring up your homosexuality before?
I never thought it was that important. Since I went public I tend to see the prejudice that's being leveled against homosexuals. Before, I tended to think of it as a gossipy sort of a thing. Now I think of being openly gay as a political statement, something that in some small way furthers the gay rights movement.
How did your band handle the news?
My singer and I talk about our sexual exploits. When he joined the band, I said, "Listen, you know I'm gay, right?" And he said, "Yeah, I kinda figured." From there on out we would tell each other what we were up to.
What about the other band members?
We don't have that kind of rapport. And it never came up as an issue until the NME thing. Their attitude was "Do what you gotta do," but I think they felt it might have been better to talk about it with someone who would treat the subject a little more seriously.
When you came out to your parents, were they supportive?
They were really good about it. I thought it would depress them to no end, and I felt really protective of their feelings. My parents are very Catholic, and it had always been a very touchy subject. In the end, though, when I did finally tell them the news, they were realy good about it. [Pauses] Well, my mom took it a little hard. She cried. But my dad was very good, and he helped Mom get through it.
As a gay man in the predominantly heterosexual - and often homophobic -
world of heavy-metal rock, do you ever find it hard to take?
It's pretty difficult. I mean, if there is any crass, disgusting machoism in the music business, it comes from the heavy-metal side of things. As a band on the road, we're subjected to a lot of really ugly things. The whole groupie aspect is such a sexist throwback to a bygone era. It's pretty disgusting to have to be considered that type of band.
How was touring with Guns N' Roses?
Knowing their beliefs and the sexist, racist, homophobic things they've said in the press, I was kind of tickled by the fact that they were touring with us - a band with someone gay in it.
But talk about crass sexism - the actual experience was disgusting. We left every night after we played. The only time I ever talked to Axl [Rose, lead singer of Guns N' Roses] was the night our band had to stay after the Guns N' Roses set to get a tongue-lashing. We'd been talking shit in the press about Axl, and he got wind of it. He was really upset and talked to us for an hour. At the end of it, one of his people came in and wanted to show him something. We'd just been raked over the coals and felt obliged to go along.
We went into this trailer, which was filled with guys. It was dead silent. Everyone was looking at something going on in the back: Lying on a bench were these two really out-of-it women, stark naked. One was eating the other out, but it was anything but sexy. The girl who was being eaten out looked like she was dead. It was so creepy. All you could hear was the whir of the video camera. My lead singer started yelling, "Oh, my God! I cannot believe you people would do this!" Everyone just shushed us, and we all left immediately.
Being gay in rock has always been one strike against you. Do you think
As far as the kids in the audience go, I honestly don't think it really affects them the way it used to. The majority of kids these days are out to prove they really are open-minded and willing to accept people for what they are. They want to prove they're not shocked by anything. Of course, there are homophobic hatemongers, fag bashers, and all that, but those are the minority, not the majority.
Do you think there's any connection between one's creativity and one's
In a real subtle way, yeah. Our guitar player is the most macho, heterosexual figure in our band, and it reflects in his playing. To combat that, to reach the balence that gets the sound we strive for, a feminine side has to come into what we're doing. Can that be constured as homosexual? Probably. But it's really important as far as the yin and the yang goes to combat the male bombast with the feminine and humorous side.
When you first realized you were gay, who did you fantasize about?
Superman. He was a big ideal to me as a boy - strong, handsome, bullet-proof - all good qualities to look for in a mate. When I was a teenager, I really looked up to Freddie Mercury. He was pretty cool.
Did you listen to any Pete Townshend records during that time, maybe
"Rough Boys" over and over again?
He's bisexual. It would have only mixed me up. [Laughs]
If you could out anyone, who would it be and why?
George Michael. He's pretty creepy. I respect and admire his work, but I wish that he would either say he wasn't gay or just come out and make a big show of it. His coy act is getting a little tired.
Who are the gay role models in rock and roll?
Boy George. I respect him. If King Missile gets more sucessful, Chris Xefos would be a really powerful role model. Bob Mould of Sugar is good. And Gary Floyd, the singer of Sister Double Happiness, is really a good person for kids just coming out to look up to.
And how do you think you rate in the role-model department?
I hope that if I'm considered a gay role model, it will be to show kids that sexuality is only one part of their lives, not everything. And I hope they will learn not to be tormented by what other people think.
Did you talk to your friends Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love about going
public with your sexuality?
I talked to Courtney about it back when the NME thing first came up.
What advice did she give you?
None. She only talks about herself, her life, you know. When I told her that NME was going to put me being gay in their article on the band, her basic response was "Well that's nice, but Kurt's gonna be on the cover of The Advocate."
Kurt is one of my very best friends. But as for his Advocate interview, he can talk about his homosexuality or bisexuality or whatever as much as he wants 'cause he's so publicly married. It doesn't make much difference. But he's a good inspiration. Just the fact that he was on the cover of the magazine was a very powerful statement.
Which rock stars have you slept with?
Well, I slept with Courtney. Courtney and I used to go out.
How was it?
I didn't marry her.
Which rock stars would you like to sleep with?
Kurt Cobain, of course.
Do you believe in monogamy?
Oh, yeah, pretty much. I've been going with the same guy for ten years. He works in video production, making videos for software companies - demonstrational videos. We're really different from each other, different enough so that it makes the relationship constantly interesting. He's a really challenging person - and very difficult to get along with. But I think the more difficult a person is to get along with, the easier the relationship's gonna be.
How involved in the gay community are you?
Well, I'll go to bars and hang out, but I'm not involved with the whole Queer Nation sort of thing. But I want to say this on the record: As far as my band goes, we'd be more than open to participate in fundraising efforts for gay rights or for something that benefits [people trying to end] the AIDS crisis.
The video for your cover of "Easy," the Commodores song, features some
very raunchy drag queens. Was that your idea?
It was kind of everyone's. When we first started talking about doing the video, we were toying around with doing a low-budget realistic perspective of the band. Someone - not in the band - thought it might be nice to get shots of us hanging around in the hotel room with girls.
My mom saw the video and told me she couldn't believe that we had used real girls. When I told her that they were really drag queens, she was shocked.
Have you ever worn women's clothes?
Yeah, sure. I have no qualms about that whatsoever. Growing up, me and my neighbors used to put on little fashion shows by rummaging through my mother's wardrobe and getting dressed up. And then even in the band, we used to get dressed up in drag once in a while, just for kicks.
And what about today?
Well, sometimes if women's clothing is lying around, I won't hesitate to try it on. I mean, I live in San Francisco. We have a pretty open-minded city here. And in the world of heavy-metal rock, what guy isn't in drag? It might not be classic drag, but it's drag all the same.
Do you think your gayness will affect your band's audience - either
positively or negatively?
Faith No More has made a career out of confusing people. I think it's going to test people in a real positive way. It's a challenge to our listeners: This band you've been into that has never been associated with anything remotely gay or androgynous now has a connection to homosexuality. I think it will be a real test for kids.
On your records the entire band is credited for each song. Have you done
any of the words for the music yourself?
In the past I've done lyrics for a song or two on each record. On our last record I did the lyrics for the homoerotic song, "Be Aggressive."
What's it about?
Swallowing. [Laughs] It was a pretty fun thing to write, knowing that Mike was going to have to put himself on the line and go up onstage and sing these vocals.
"We Care A Lot" was one of your biggest hits so far. What do you care
I care a lot about justice. I care a lot about equality. I care a lot about annihilating prejudices, and I care a lot about confusing people, about making sure people don't feel safe or complacent.
Why are you doing this interview with The Advocate?
I'm hoping The Advocate's readership includes young aspiring gay kids who will see me in the magazine and think, Look, he's a part of this so-called macho rock band and he's a fag - but it's OK! That would be great.
Will your fans be shocked by your appearing in the largest gay and
lesbian magazine in America?
Some of the greatest rock was considered shocking when it first came out. And if people are shocked by the news that there are gay people in rock and roll - that's it's not just this straight man's game - good. That type of shock would make me very happy.
Thanks to Laura Quinn.