About the "Leather Anthem"
This may ruffle some feathers. Fine, as long as it gets us thinking about this

You can view the lyrics to "One Common Heartbeat"
(Lyrics by Gary Aldrich and Kevin Tyrrell, copyright 1998 by Gary Aldrich)
at http://www.LeatherSpace.com/special/anthem.htm

        Regarding the Leather Anthem, "One Common Heartbeat", which debuted at IML 1998 and is being trumpeted and hailed by columnists everywhere:

Short version: I disagree. I don't like it, I think it is divisive rather than unifying, and I question the rationale behind its creation.

This is difficult to put out in a public forum, especially since I know and greatly respect many of the people who worked hard and faithfully to put it together. They did so, as far as I can tell, in good faith, really hoping to create something inspirational and unique.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the result falls far short of the mark.

Musically, it's quite workmanlike. But it's a showpiece, not something that you might sing to yourself by way of inspiration. At IML, it debuted with 3 lead vocalists backed up by an entire choir and professional sound system, and as I listened, I heard the melody change keys at least twice! Not something for the common folk at all. (By way of comparison, while the "Star-Spangled Banner" is difficult to sing, it is at least all in the same key). I love to sing, but I could not imagine myself humming or singing this melody spontaneously. The tune is very commercial: one of my neighbors in the audience disparaged it as "Andrew Lloyd Webber -- and that's not a good thing", a second said it was "too heroic", and a third complained that it sounded "like an aria, not an anthem".

Now, there is nothing wrong with a spectacular, flashily produced debut -- but I think in a simple solo presentation all the composition's weaknesses would become woefully apparent. While I understand the issues of copyright, the very fact that only the creators and their team are permitted to perform this song until they can record and release it disturbs me -- this smacks of declaring it an anthem by fiat and protecting it from criticism or evolution rather than having it chosen by acclamation on the basis of its merits.

It's also both too short and too long. The individual stanzas are very short -- too short for any one of them to become a popular short version of the song (like the first verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner", or "Joy to the World"). Yet the entire song is 10 stanzas long (20 stanzas, depending on how it's typeset) -- too long for casual memorization.

The lyrics horrify me.

One of the things I most love about the Leather community is it's diversity -- the very fact that we can choose our roles as they fit, or choose to have no label at all. Yet this proposed anthem is nothing but labels and cliches! For a tribe fiercely dedicated to an individual's right to choose not to conform, how should one feel if none of the labels in the anthem fit?

This is supposed to be a song about our "common heartbeat". Instead I hear a list of little boxes -- a peculiar and particular set of labels for certain kinds of certain gay men's Leather relationships. It feels like a laundry list, or a Poetry class assignment: Write a composition in which you mention "Old Guard", "New Guard", "Master and Servant", "blood", and "fire". Be sure to include "Safe, Sane, Consensual", and references to family, tribe, and clan. If we're listing roles, what happened to garden variety Tops or bottoms? To Daddies? To boys? To puppies and ponies?

Add to this the fact all the personifications in the lyrics have male gender. That's right -- women are mentioned only in passing references to "sisters" in the refrains-- and then always coupled with "brothers". (There is an entire verse, on the other hand, about "our brother" and his place as "one man").
Rather than inspiring me to feel part of some great Leather tribe, as I listened to the lyrics I found myself becoming angrier and angrier that anyone might think these simple, shallow, institutional lyrics could possibly describe my community.

And finally, motivation. I think perhaps that by setting out to write an anthem first and looking for lyrics and advice second, this project was destined to turn out exactly as it has. An anthem should inspire -- but I think the inspiration must come first: A song or poem is inspired by some event or feeling, and captures the spirit of the moment. That captured spirit is what makes the lyrics inspirational, and that renewed inspiration is what makes a lyric become a true anthem.

This is why people who can't carry a tune in a bucket may still be found humming as best they can "The Star-Spangled Banner".
The image of a flag, and by extension, a nation, standing firm and strong through terrible trial, is still powerful long after the battle has ended.
-- Or "America the Beautiful", a paean to the natural beauty of a land.
-- Or "God Save the Queen", or "Joy to the World", or a favorite hymn, or even a Madonna tune -- if a lyric and melody speaks to you, you will keep coming back to that moment of captured spirit.

If an anthem is to seize the public's heart, its images must inspire, exhort, and celebrate. In "One Common Heartbeat", to quote a friend: "There's plenty of exhortation, there's plenty of yearning, but there really isn't much celebration." I couldn't have phrased it any better.

I think someone asked an individual, who then, by his call for input, created in effect a committee, to try to synthesize such an feeling. Without, however, that essential moment of inspiration around which to build the lyrics, the result is doomed to ring hollow. True anthems arise from individual's personal inspirations, and as the leather community grows and matures, our anthems will percolate up from our individual inspirations.

I see our Leather community as a diverse collection of individuals, families, and small tribes, starting to find their commonality in the midst of their diversity. I think in fact, that the Leather community does have a common heartbeat -- that is a powerful image. I just feel that "One Common Heartbeat", while an admirable effort, falls far short of expressing the spirit behind that image. And if we want an anthem, that 's just what it needs to do.

Kevin Roche

August 19, 1998

(With thanks to Andy for some only semi-solicited but very cogent input


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