Queer Eye

Joel Gibb of the Hidden Cameras is out and proud

From Pete Townshend to Freddie Mercury to Bob Mould, there's been no shortage of gay rock stars. Yet their sexual orientation hasn't always made it into their lyrics. That raises the question: How can a song about emotional vulnerability truly resonate when singers can't even be honest about one of the most cardinal facets of their person? The Hidden Cameras sidestep the question altogether. Led by singer/guitarist Joel Gibb, the Toronto-based symphonic popsters forge joyous, upbeat music reminiscent of Belle & Sebastian or Magnetic Fields, but without the coy games about sexuality. Gibb's unrepentantly libidinous, unrepressed nature finds expression in songs lauding every aspect of gay culture, from things done in "a bathroom stall with a friend or a man with a hard-on" ("Smells Like Happiness") to finding a "splendor in the harshness of bum that consummation makes a grumble" ("Ban Marriage") to the joy of "a warm, wet yellow breeze" ("The Man that I Am with My Man").

"I could never imagine presenting myself to the public, playing shows for people and not coming to terms with my sexuality," Gibbs says from his London hotel, "so people make a big deal about it in my music. But in my personal perspective, it's not a big deal, it's just being true to yourself. The songwriting tradition I would rather be a part of would be more aligned with straight artists who sing about their ladies than ambiguous singers who sing about nothing, or they sing about things but they don't get to the heart of it, or are just pretending."

Gibb's lyrical wit and playfulness co-exist nicely with the band's buoyant melodies. But the tone of the new album, Mississauga, Goddam, is not all sunshine and rainbows. Without necessarily ratcheting back the homosexual hijinks, Gibb makes a thoughtful use of his suburban, Christian upbringing by infusing religion ("That's When the Ceremony Starts," "In the Union of Wine") with sexual innuendo ("I drank the wine that came from inside/The heart of his meat and the splurge of his sweet"). Inspiration for the title track, according to Gibb, was Nina Simone's bitter excoriation of Civil Rights-era racism "Mississippi Goddam."

"That's where I got the song idea from," Gibb explains. "Often I get inspired by songs, and then I write a song kind of in connection to it. Like Roy Harper wrote a song, 'Me and My Woman,' and then I wrote a song, 'The Man that I Am with My Man," but they're completely different songs. So Nina Simone writes about [Mississippi] in this really critical harsh way, so I did the same thing. Mississauga, it's really a young suburb and it has no culture, is hypocritical and very apolitical."

Couched in bounding, cheerful music, such sentiments take on added gravity, especially as they exist side by side with cheeky come-ons such as "I Want Another Enema." "It's not all about fun," he explains, "My lyrics are personal and they're not written to represent a huge group. They're written representing me, and there's a strong sense of something really personal hidden within, encoded within the whole package. As much as I like happy sounding music, I don't usually like music that's just happy. I don't think that happy music serves much of a function if it's just happy in a vacuum. There has to be a context. So hopefully for the Hidden Cameras, the words contextualize that and that's what makes it maybe so joyful."

And with those words, Gibb has to go, because he's been locked out of his hotel room without his pants on, and has a live radio hook-up in 10 minutes. Sounds like a song in the making.