Script for QMH, May 2003: Special R&P Show
Prince Charming Tango (1984)
Welcome to Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and I'm here on the 4th Monday of each month to bring you an hour devoted to our culture's music. Tonight's show is a very special one to me, because I get to honor two of my musical heroes, Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips. Of course collectively, they're known as Romanovsky and Phillips and I started the show with a little bit of one of my favorites of theirs, "The Prince Charming Tango," from their first album, from 1984. For almost two decades, they would become one of the most prolific acts of gay & lesbian music, releasing a total of eight albums. And these albums gave us over a hundred songs that, in a way, chronicle gay culture in the 80s and 90s. From 1983 to 1999 they toured extensively, bringing their musical perspective to clubs and colleges around the world.
Ron & Paul always refused to compromise, the lyrics of their songs are way out of the closet, and they used their unique musical talents to explore a variety of subjects, from relationships, discrimination, religion, AIDS, sodomy laws, gay parenting, and much more. And of course the gay community itself was not immune from their gentle ribbing, as they poked fun at its stereotypes and excesses. All of this was done with their perfect balance of wit, sensitivity, humor and charm, and a political passion all their own. They've given us the soundtrack of our lives.
Through a good part of their career they were lovers, and their relationship at times resembled the title of their third album, "Emotional Rollercoaster." These days Ron lives in Santa Fe and Paul's in Boston, so I did separate phone interviews with them. Paul's voice may be a little raspier than usual, because he's had laryngitis for a couple months, which being the talker that he is, must be hell. But he did a great job answering my questions. Oh, and since getting an interview with them is so special, this show will focus mostly on that. I wish I had time to play dozens of their songs, but it's just an hour show.
I asked them both who their musical
influences were, and I'll start off with Paul's answer
And now, Ron's turn
Now they were women's music, do you think that kind of led you to try to make a place for men's music, gay men's music?
Absolutely. Yeah, I had had the idea before, even before I got to San Francisco, because I wanted to be a songwriter and make my living making records and touring. And it had occurred to me because the gay movement was very important to me, that maybe somehow I could merge that. And I didn't see any other men doing it. I had heard of have you ever heard of an album called "Caravan Tonight" by Steven Grossman? [yes, I have many copies of it] Yeah, it's a great album and it was released, it was so far ahead of its time. I had heard that album and I was very excited by that. But when I got to the Bay Area I didn't really see anyone else doing it. And I think it was after I saw Holly Near for the first time that I started to look for other men who might be interested in creating music that spoke to our lives as gay men.
What happened at the same time is I met Paul, Paul Phillips. We just met and we began dating and it wasn't until about six months after that we'd been going out that we actually started singing together. He ended up being the one that I built the career with of course.
I couldn't resist asking how they
met, and Paul gets to tell it. I know you've told this story, you
guys told it in the This Way Out interview, but it's a great story,
about how you two met
Paul, could you tell us about how
you started performing together?
Okay, I want to get into the writing
process, how did you write together, did you do both words and music,
did Paul come in later and massage it, or what?
What was it he added, was it arrangement or flare or ?
Definitely arrangement, that's probably his strength. I was mostly, I am mostly self-taught as a musician. Paul had a lot more musical training, Paul was playing music and studying piano from the time he was a little kid. He was able to bring that knowledge to my sort of natural ability as a writer I guess you could say. He could tell what I was trying to do musically in a particular style and he would find ways to make it more in that style.
I was going to ask how you ended up writing in so many different styles.
I listened to lots of different kinds of music and I guess that's how I studied music. I listened to stuff and when I like it I want to write something similar, I want to imitate it. That's where most of my inspiration comes for the music. And lyrically the inspiration just comes from things I'm interested in, things that make me angry, things that I find funny, things that I think need to be said, other people's stories that I think need to be told.
Did people come up to you and say, why don't you write a song about such and such?
Oh, yeah, people suggested things, people wrote to us, and there were many suggestions that we used actually. The song "One Of The Enemy" from our "Be Political Not Polite" album was suggested by the person it was about. The person it was about was a gay teacher, and I just tried to tell his story. He actually gave me the title, he said, you know, when I'm in the classroom and when I can't talk anything about gay rights I feel like I have to pretend like I'm one of the enemy.
One of the Enemy
R 1:15 comments on song
And he felt like one of the enemy?
Yeah, he said that often there were kids in his class he was pretty sure that they were going to grow up to be gay, He already had a sense, and not only just them but for anybody he wasn't able to say anything positive about gay rights if the subject came up. And I felt like, I had a lot of compassion I did have and do have a lot of compassion for gay teachers because the issued of children being around gay teachers is such a charged issue. It freaks people out, people who aren't on our side. And I certainly couldn't say, well you just have to come out at all costs, risk losing your job because that isn't always the best way to handle the situation. So all I tried to do in that song was t tell his story, and with the hope that someday things will get better.
Back to the writing process, I also
wanted Paul's take on how they wrote together. In the songbook you
wrote: the question of who writes the songs was the most frequently
asked and most awkwardly answered
can you elaborate?
The first Romanovsky & Phillips
release was a little-known 8-song cassette, called "In The Outfield."
I asked Ron about it. How did the cassette "In The Outfield"
There were about three songs on that cassette that didn't appear again, that you didn't rerecord later. [Oh, on the cassette, yeah] "Tell the Children" was my favorite of those. ["Tell the Children," there was a song called "Mrs. Lockhart,"] and "Circle " something [Oh, "Circle Around the Sun" yeah, yeah, yeah, we didn't feel like they were the strongest ones. Yeah, we did rerecord all the other ones over]
Well, yes, that was a very amateur recording, but despite Ron disparaging the songs they did not re-record later, I think the song "Tell The Children" was pretty good, and since it's unlikely any of my listeners have heard it, let's take care of that now
Tell The Children
That was "Tell The Children" from their 1983 cassette release.
I next asked Ron to give me an overview
of the different albums. I'm going to go through the albums, looking
for like general comments about them, like about the production, what
was going on that might have influenced that album in your lives and
so forth. We heard about "In the Outfield," let's hear about
"I Thought You'd Be Taller."
And for "Trouble in Paradise"
you enlisted Teresa Trull.
Paul also had comments about Teresa
Trull as their producer. And then Teresa Trull came along
And, back to Ron. So, then you didn't
choose her on "Emotional Rollercoaster"
Oh, I think it did. So, that was '88, and there was a jump of three years to "Be Political, Not Polite," did it take more time, was it a change in philosophy or what was going on?
I think that we decided that we had three albums under our belts and we didn't need to rush, that we sort of had established ourselves, and that we could maybe rest on our laurels for a little bit before making another album. Although we never stopped touring, every year we went out and did road tours that were two or three months in the fall and then a couple months in the Spring, so we did keep very busy. We had moved here to Santa Fe, New Mexico, actually just before "Emotional Rollercoaster" came out, and it's really nice to be able to spend the winter here, the winters and the summers here and staying home. And "Be Political, Not Polite," each album that we made we kept feeling that we were getting closer to the sound that we wanted, to the compromise between having other instruments, but also keeping some of the feel of our live performances, just the two of us. I think on that album we really succeeded, and we finally got it right. John Bucchino, who a lot of people know of course as Holly Near's accompanist. He's a fantastic piano player and musician and songwriter. We had become friends with him years before that, so he knew our music very well. And John didn't want to muddy up our voices or out guitar playing with a lot of other instruments, so we were very much in agreement on that.
Okay, a year later, "Hopeful Romantic" and this was a solo one and what was going on there?
I think the reason I wanted to make a solo album was because there I had had a long of songs that I'd written that I didn't quite fit into our act on stage, and more than we could put on any of our duet albums, meaning that they were serious songs, they were love songs. Throughout our career I felt, I felt the pressure to write funny songs, which is really harder than writing something serious, and I wanted to rework some of those, and put them out there. I felt like there was maybe sort of a part of me and my songwriting that wasn't, that needed a vehicle that was separate than what I did from Romanovsky & Phillips, and I just wanted to put it out into the world. And I did choose Teresa Trull to do that album, because by that time I was okay with not being one of the studio musicians, just staying the songwriter and the singer and doing the album. I just really wanted the songs to be played as well as they could by good musicians. I guess I was trying to make something closer to a pop album.
On to "Brave Boys"
"Brave Boys." The album of course is a what do you call it, an anthology, a compilation album of mostly, of material from our previous records [but some re-recordings] Yeah we did some re-recordings, we did some updated versions of some of the songs, like "Don't Use Your Penis For A Brain," with updated lyrics, and
Okay the next all new material was "Let's Flaunt It," in '95
Yeah, we had talked about doing a live album for many years because we felt that our live performance was really special, and the interaction we have with our fans. We wanted to capture that on a record, and we finally felt that we were ready to do it, cause we felt that our performance was polished enough musically as well as the patter in between the songs. We were playing at this great little cabaret in Cathedral City. We used to play there a couple times a year, do like a weekend. So we scheduled these shows and we thought, you know, it was kind of a last minute decision, why don't we just record these shows. And so, that's what we did. I think it does capture our stage performance pretty well.
R&P ID, using "Give Me A Homosexual"
I thank Ron & Paul for humoring me in recording that show ID, especially since they recorded it separately and I had to put their parts together with the magic of editing. I'm using this little break to remind you to be sure to listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Sunday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude. Also, I invite you to check out my website, at www.queermusicheritage.com where you can view the playlist, and you can also listen to the show anytime. And this month I've gone to extra lengths to try to make my tribute to Ron & Paul really special. There's a complete discography page, and a song list page, and lots of extras. I hope you check it out.
Paul, which album sold the most, any
You sang about homophobia, as an act
did you also experience it
And then when we finally got the album out, we had printed up a little postcard to send to our mailing list, which was about 10,000 names, and we depended really heavily on our mailing list and mail order sales to keep our business going. And the mail disappeared. We took it to the Post Office; it had been posted and and it never got out to our fans. So people didn't know about that album, and then we went on the road and thought that everybody had gotten information about the album and nobody knew about it. So that was pretty hard to recover as a small business. We never really found out for sure what happened but it seemed pretty obvious that there was homophobia involved. It has a picture of the cover, which of course has both of us naked behind an accordion and a guitar. I mean, it's actually just funny; it's not really risqué when you compare to what else is out there. But somebody didn't like it.
That leads nicely in my asking about
your song called "Homophobia"
Okay, I'd like to ask about two more
songs, Paul, please tell me about "The Prince Charming Tango"
We heard a bit of "Prince Charming
Tango" at the start of the show. How about the song "What
Kind of Self Respecting Faggot Am I?"
P: But the problem is, Ron didn't even know half of the stuff that as a gay man he was supposed to know. So, step in Paul, the big queen who is pretty much the epitome of the stereotyped fag, and I just kept having to give him more and more ideas I think at the beginning
R: He knew his way around the gay community a lot more than I did. That was one of our best collaborations, I think.
What Kind of Self-Respecting Faggot Am I? (1986)
And it was just really hard each time we broke up because it was really hard for any new boyfriends that either one of us had, because [because you were together all the time] because we were together all the time. You know, we spent time together but we also just emotionally were very connected. And also you know the creative process I think is so intimate. When it's going well you know it has a feeling that's similar to me, similar to being in love. And so that was very confusing. And it took me a lot of years to sort that out, my feelings for Paul, my feeling for our career, my feelings for my music and creativity. It was really hard and we were very young. But we came through it all, and in fact the last few years before Paul left Santa Fe, we were actually living next door to each other, two separate apartments but next door to each other. And we both had other boyfriends and we finally kind of worked through it. And so I'm glad that we did and today we're still very, very close. We talk on the phone all the time.
How did the shift in your relationship affect your creativity? Harder, easier, more inspirational?
Ah, that's a good question. Well, as I was already saying, it made it more confusing because whenever we would get back together and do writing it kind of felt like old times, like we were together again and it was very hard. It was very hard to find the line between our personal relationship and our professional one. Probably because there really wasn't one. That's why it was so hard for us to break up. We just didn't know where one thing ended and the other started. I think that's probably pretty normal for couples who work together.
Being in a public relationship added stress?
It definitely added stress because a lot of our fans were disappointed that we broke up cause they didn't want to see it. We had become role models [the dreaded role models] the dreaded role models. Not exactly inadvertently, we, we knew what was happening and we tried to accept the job but it's hard. We had to lives, too. And sometimes people would come up to us and say things like "I'm so sorry that you broke up, I would have preferred that you broke up the act and stayed together personally," and just made us feel terrible. [That's a no-win thing] Yeah, kind of. And there were times when we just really didn't want to be together. In some ways I think it made our comedy a little sharper, especially in some of the songs about breaking up, and songs like "Guilt Trip" sort of took on a new meaning.
So, did some of your songs come true?
You could say that, some of them sort of came true. Yeah, yeah. Cause sometimes when I write a song in fact it's not completely what I'm going through. It's what I feel a little bit or what I imagine I might feel in this situation. So, they're not always autobiographical certainly. Sometimes they become autobiographical.
When did you two stop performing together?
Our last concert was in 1999, June, it was in Montana. We knew our career was winding down. We weren't really trying to book ourselves anymore. But we didn't know it was our last concert at the time, but that's what it was.
And, currently are you in a relationship?
I'm seeing somebody. [Just dating?] Ah, yeah, just dating, I live alone and I have come to the conclusion that that's the best situation for me, at least right now. And I'm pretty happy. There's a lot less drama in that department in my life than there used to be, and that's good
And Paul got a chance with the exact
same question. I know my listeners would be interested in your personal
relationship, first you were lovers, then you weren't, on again, off
again, could you kind of take us through that?
How did the shifts in your relationship affect your creative life?
I think it only enhanced it, every time. It was a challenge to go on stage with your ex-boyfriend standing next to you sometimes. I know that we got some support for our relationship from our audience members. I mean, probably one of the most difficult times was after we had broken up and we continued to tour. For the first few months we didn't tell anybody when we were on stage that we weren't lovers. And we pretty much went on with the act as it was. And then we started talking about it on stage. When we first started telling people, I mean, there was this audible communal sigh from the audience every time we would start talking about it. And it was scary because it felt like it was a real downer, and we didn't want that to happen, but because they had been privy to that all along, we thought it was only fair for them to be privy to it when it had dissolved.
There are times when I felt like we got a lot of support for our relationship on stage, but there were a lot of times when certainly in the gay community, and certainly in that period of time, there was not a lot of support for relationships in general. I mean, I'll be honest with you, there were plenty of people from our audiences who had no issues with going to bed with either one of us, if that were to happen, and it did. So, you know, on the one hand you could say the audience really supported our relationship, but on the other hand there were plenty of individual audience members who didn't necessarily support the relationship.
And where are you now? You're in Boston, right? How did you get there?
Yes, I'm in Boston, Massachusetts, actually I'm in Somerville, Massachusetts, which is two cities away from Boston, but how did I get here? I flew [I don't mean that]. I think it was probably on some subconscious level somewhat of a reaction to the change in my own life. You know, the fact that suddenly I didn't have a career, and I was kind of bored, and working restaurant jobs and working at a casino, and all that kind of stuff, you know, just, I don't know. [What's your job now?] I'm still bored, no, I work at Trader Joe's, do you have Trader Joe's? No, not in Texas, we're not there yet. Trader Joe's is a unique grocery store, and I'm the manager of it here, in Boston. [Are you in a relationship?] No ..what, are you crazy? No, I've had my relationship. The reality is, when Ron and I broke up, after seven years being together, it's not like we walked away from each other, we stayed right next to each other the whole time. Ron to date has been my one hugely significant relationship, and I can't imagine having any other relationship affect my life in that way. It doesn't mean that I'm not open to love, or to having a new relationship, of course I am. But, is it something I'm searching for? No. Is it something I want? Sometimes. But, is it something I need to make me fully happy? No, because I still have my friendship with Ron. He's my family, always will be.
Well, you're probably wondering what
a French version of "Da Doo Ron Ron,"
has to do with these interviews, well, stay tuned, all will be revealed
Ron's latest album project is probably
going to surprise a lot of people, because it's so, so different from
what they might expect. It's an album of French music, sung in French,
with Ron playing the accordion. Tell me about the new album.
Well, um, I am doing something very different now, I play the accordion and I play mostly French music and this all happened kind of gradually over the last eight years. I started learning the accordion in 1995, just cause it was a thing I had always wanted to do, right around the time that our career was winding down. And I totally fell in love with the instrument. At first I just wanted to learn it, cause I thought it would be fun to do in the act as kind of a joke. Because in this country the accordion is mostly associated with polka music. Well, anyway, I ended up falling in love with French music when I started hearing recordings of French music from the 40s and Musee waltzes, and it ended up that that's what I've been doing to make my living for the last few years. I do a lot of private parties and I play in galleries and I play in restaurants occasionally.
Are you doing performing to support the album?
Well, I really, I decided to make this an album of this music that I'm doing now really just to have something to sell at my gigs, cause I hadn't done a recording for a while and I wanted to. It's very different, because a lot of times I'm playing in the background, not really I've done a few concerts but most of the time I'm doing background music. And this actually has been a wonderful thing for me because I was really tired, after doing Romanovsky & Phillips for so many years. And to be able to make a living at music and not having to worry about ticket sales or write press releases or do the booking or any of that stuff, has really been wonderful. It's a lot less stressful. So, yeah, I made that record last year just to make a recording of what I'm doing now. I mean I've gotten a lot of nice compliments on it, people really like it. I haven't really tried to promote it nationally, that really wasn't my intention, and it's very different from what I used to do before, so the career that I had before hasn't even really been helpful in terms of promoting this cause it's just a whole other audience.
What's the name of the CD and what does it mean?
The CD is called "Je M'Appelle Dadou," and Dadou is my French nickname. It was given to me by some French people a few years ago when I went and spent a couple of months in the south of France. And I had taken my accordion and I had played a lot for the people that I met there and it was just wonderful, cause they were so delighted to meet an American that knew French music, and I was just delighted that they were opening their homes to me and letting me speak my bad French with them and I had a great time. And they were asking me about my name one night, and I said, you know cause Ron doesn't sound very French no matter how you say it, right? And then somebody said, "Is it like the song 'da doo ron ron,'" cause they all know that song. There's actually a French version of that song that's pretty funny. And I said, "yeah, yeah, that's it." And somebody else said, "Oh, that's great, we'll call you Dadou, we'll call you Dadou." And that became my French nickname and in fact a lot of my friends today know me as Dadou, not as Ron. So, I just had to call the album, "Je M'Appelle Dadou."
About two thirds of the album is instrumental, pieces that I wrote for the accordion, which I'd never done before. So, there's some really nice pieces that I'm very proud of that I think are very musical and kind of whimsical and fun to listen to. And then there are some old French songs by some well-known French composers and there's one song that I actually wrote the lyrics to in French myself. In English the translation is "Desert Rain," and it's a love song, but that's the first song I had every written in French, so that was very special. It's an album that's light, it's fun, it's very musical. [Listening to it I can sure imagine sitting in some French café, drinking wine, and it's raining.] That's the idea, that's the idea.
I want to go back now for some overview questions, and I wish I had time to play all the songs that Ron & Paul mention in their answers.
Which songs in performances
seem to have been the most popular over the years?
And, Paul, what to you think?
Okay, pick three songs you're the
most proud of.
Paul's turn, of what song have you
recorded are you the most proud?
Living With AIDS (1988)
What has been your most controversial
When I did these phone interviews,
it happened that I talked to Ron first, so I had the opportunity to
ask him this question about Paul. Okay, this might be kind of different.
Given that it's kind of unusual to be interviewing you separately,
it gives me an opportunity to ask, is there any particular question
or questions I should ask Paul?
You've heard me talk many times on this show about the organization Outmusic. On June 1st in New York City the third annual Outmusic Awards will be held, and last year they began the custom of giving out the Outmusic Heritage Award, and award initiated to honor those artists who have had a profound influence on the history of our music culture. The first honoree, I thought very logically, was Alix Dobkin. And this year the award will go to Ron & Paul, which is why I've timed this special tribute show to air just a few days before the event. I asked the reaction to being given the award.
How do you feel about being given
the Outmusic Heritage Award?
How do you feel about getting the
Outmusic Heritage Award?
For what do you think R&P will
Several artists have told me that you two made it feel safe for getting out there and being out musicians
Who said that? [Suede, for one. Jamie Anderson] That's really sweet to hear.
Well, I've about run out of time, but I've got more one R&P song for you to hear, but before we do, I want to thank you all for tuning into the show, and I want to give a huge thanks to Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips for granting me such extensive interviews. If you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. And please check out my website. It's, logically enough, at www.queermusicheritage.com. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston, and I'll be back on the fourth Monday of next month with another installment of Queer Music Heritage.
As a footnote, I got four hours of interview, so editing that down to what would fit on this show was agonizing. There is so much that's just fascinating. There's so much that I could not include that I really wanted to share, so I've got much longer versions of each of their interviews available for listening on my website.
For the closing song tonight I'm going to use an introduction by Ron & Paul from their concert album, "Let's Flaunt It," which should give you just a taste of their live monologues, and I think it's the perfect introduction for a song that is especially topical considering the Texas case currently before the Supreme Court. After the intro, they'll sing "The Sodomy Song"
For Sodomy (1995)