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PAUL FLYNN’S GOOD AS YOU

Paul Flynn, Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride—30 Years of Gay Britain excerpt:

“On 10 August 1984 I turned into a teenager….one who, each Sunday, would write down the charts in a stolen lined schoolbook from St Paul’s, an all-boys Catholic high school in Manchester’s crumbling garden suburb Wythenshawe….

“I suppose it was just a temporal accident that the year I turned teenage two pivotal gay figureheads appeared on Top of the Pops and the front cover of Smash Hits. But to a mind spiralling with the possibility of what life had to offer outside a grey, rainy world that pivoted on Saturday afternoons spent leafing through the vinyl at Wythenshawe library’s record department, it felt exactly like magic.

“There was a point somewhere between the angry, sad falsetto of Jimmy Somerville and the mischievous sex of Holly Johnson that felt like a perfect distillation of a gay adult life. There were other figures seeming to support their contention in more clandestine terms, not yet ready to talk transparently about their differences. But the clues were all there….

“Amid songs of men’s pretence, desire, denial, corruption and complicity, ‘Smalltown Boy’ and ‘Relax’ rose straight to the top. Seeing first Holly Johnson batting a balloon back from his face and grinding his hips to ‘Relax’, then Jimmy Somerville’s engagingly shy shuffle to ‘Smalltown Boy’ did something direct to me. It stopped me feeling alone….

“These were men who talked about the details of gay life with candour….Within the loose narratives of both songs was everything I needed to shove me through the tricky terrain of pubescence in the often faltering knowledge that everything would probably turn out OK. That is how heroic meaningful pop music can be when it chimes at the right time with the right person….

“To my 12-year-old mind, Jimmy and Holly did not look queer at all….They didn’t seem punishable or there to be laughed at. Hitting the cranial hotspots scrambling at every identity issue in adolescence, they looked like the thing I least expected gay men to look like. They looked brave.

“Telling the truth is a hard business. One of them would likely not have been enough. If these songs, three listens in and glistening already like national anthems, had occupied my brain space in isolation, they might have represented an anchorless life raft….But good pop fortune meant Holly and Jimmy arrived as a twin attack. They opened a conversation others wilfully shied away from, delivering the next generation, my generation, the full and complete confidence to be as good as you.”

Paul Flynn, Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride—30 Years of Gay Britain (London: Ebury Press, 2017).

Jimmy Somerville (left) and friend. Photograph by Didier Lestrade.

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