Friday, January 27, 2006

Some visitors, especially Canadians, may remember singer/performance artist Meryn Cadell. Cadell had a top 40 hit in Canada in 1992 with a piece called "The Sweater." My mother mentioned today that she had heard something to the effect that Cadell had become a man. A bit of research soon indicated that was the case. Cadell, retired from the music biz, is now a professor of creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Reading about the now him got me thinking about transgendered musicians.

The most famous transgendered musician is probably Wendy Carlos. In 1968 the then Walter Carlos released Switched-On Bach, an album of Bach pieces recorded entirely on an early Moog modular synthesizer. The record became a platinum seller, and inspired a raft of imitators over the next few years, ranging from Japanese musician Isao Tomita's well regarded recordings to slapdash schlock.(A frightening example being "The Ballad of John and Yoko" from The Plastic Cow Goes Moooog. Well, I find it frightening.) But Carlos was already beginning the transition to be being female, and would undergo gender reassignment therapy in 1972, releasing her first album as Wendy Carlos, Switched-On Brandenburgs, in 1979. Not knowing the story behind the transition when I first started reading about electronic music in the early '80s this all proved rather confusing, and I'm sure there are people who were fans of her early work who today don't realise Walter and Wendy are the same person.

The firing of a transgendered musician resulted in controversy involving Canadian country band Prairie Oyster. Bohdan Hluszko was drummer for the band when he became Michelle Josef. She was fired from the band in 1997, and claimed that the firing was because the band was afraid of what effect a transgendered member would have on their popularity. Prairie Oyster claimed Josef was fired due to other legal complications unrelated to the gender change.

Then there's Neil Megson, better known to the world as Genesis P-Orridge, founding member of industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. A denizen of the fringier areas of art and music for nearly 35 years its not surprising that he's also gone to the fringes in his personal life as well. He now sports a pair of breasts and tends to dress like a woman, yet has retained his male genetalia and is married to his second wife, Lady Jaye. P-Orridge considers himself "pandrogenous," and has had other surgeries to make himself look more feminine. Rockers like David Bowie and Lou Reed played with the idea of androgeny in the early '70s, presumably as much for shock value as anything else(versus say Brian Eno, who did so in his early career as a way of broadening his creative horizons). But P-Orridge is actually putting his money where his mouth is.

As a straight male with no questions about his gender its hard for me to imagine what life is like for these people before and after their changes. But it surely takes courage to change yourself in such a profound way knowing that so many will neither understand or accept the changes.

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