Rob Halford’s Raw Deal
Rob Halford apparently came out in an MTV interview in 1998. In VH1’s Behind The Music on Judas Priest, he stated that he wasn’t comfortable coming out until that point, and that hiding his homosexuality caused him to suffer from depression that he medicated with alcohol and drugs. Between modern society’s general prejudice toward homosexuality, the metal scene’s attitudes about gender and sexuality, and the unjustified ‘gay-plague/GRID’ scares in the ’80s, I totally understand why he waited to come out until ’98, well after he’d left Priest behind.
The problem is, regardless of what Rob Halford says, I think he actually came out in 1977 in a Judas Priest song. It’s called “Raw Deal” and it’s on the Sin After Sin album. Based on the song, I don’t understand why anybody was surprised he was gay when he finally did come out in ’98.
The first time I listened to Sin After Sin, I already knew that Rob Halford was gay and was under the vague assumption that he’d actually come out sometime in the early ’90s. I was therefore surprised when I heard the following lyrics in “Raw Deal”:
“All eyes hit me as I walked into the bar
And seeing other guys were fooling with the denim dudes
A couple cards played rough stuff, New York, Fire Island”
“The mirror on the wall was collecting and reflecting
All the heavy bodies ducking, stealing eager for some action
The scene screwed me up, I saw some contact
then the big boys saw me and knew that”
Look, my gaydar’s not very well-tuned, but I knew exactly what Halford was talking about: he was in a gay club, doing what people of all sexual orientations and preference do during a night out on the town. Another key point here is the ‘Fire Island’ reference. Since the ’60s, Fire Island has been a famous gay summer resort and community. Every year, since 1977, there’s been a 4th of July celebratory drag queen parade commemorating a 1976 drag queen protest in the community.
It’s not like Fire Island is some kind of secret gay meeting place. If people listened to the song back in the day and understood that reference, I’m not sure how they didn’t wonder why a supposedly straight man was singing about walking into a gay club where dudes were “fooling with each other” and “making contact”. Maybe Fire Island really wasn’t well-known back in the day; I have no idea because I was born in the ’80s. I know we have some old-timers in the IO commentariat, and I’d like to hear their take on this whole situation. Between “Raw Deal”, Halford’s on-stage clothing choices, and “Jawbreaker”, did anybody think he was gay before 1998? Was everybody really that shocked when he came out?
I’m not done yet with “Raw Deal”, however. I’m going to take this a step further. Let’s review the rest of the lyrics.
“I was barely holding on to this crying bawdy symphony
I guess I dream in pictures, not colors
The true free expression I demand is human rights
I gave my life, I am immortal
I’m going, no loss
Nightmare, just a bunch of goddamn, rotten, streaming raw deal”
To me, that sounds like a gay rights song. A heavy metal gay rights song in 1977. Also, the song’s a killer track. It’s a crying shame that the only Priest song anybody seems to care about from Sin After Sin is “Starbreaker”, because “The Sinner”, “Raw Deal”, and especially “Dissident Aggressor” are far better and heavier.
Is the lack of attention toward “Raw Deal” partially in response to the references to Halford’s homosexuality? As metalheads, we’re used to society shunning us. We hide our taste in music on first dates so as not to freak the girl or boy out. We hide our CDs, shirts, and tattoos at work so that we can fit in with the mainstream professional world. We congregate in obscure, hole-in-the-wall clubs and special internet sites to indulge in our musical preference. Some straight metalheads may not want to admit it, but we understand more about gay culture than we care to admit.
If I ever snag an interview for Invisible Oranges, I want it to be Halford, because I want to know exactly what he was talking about in “Raw Deal”. Ultimately, if Halford insists he didn’t come out until 1998, I suppose we have to take him at his word. I can’t help wondering though if he’s telling us the straight truth on this one.
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Judas Priest – “Raw Deal”
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