Volume 33, Number 3

Charlie Murphy’s Gay Spirit

It wasn’t great poetry, but it was the salve I needed in a tough time. In 1984, I walked into the local feminist bookstore looking for folk music recordings. What I found instead was Catch the Fire, an LP by Charlie Murphy. I’d never heard of him, but the title of the first track astonished me. I bought the album without having heard it, my hand shaking as I opened my wallet to pay the sales clerk. Back home—the record spinning on my turntable, tone arm lowered carefully to the black vinyl––I heard the energetic guitar, drums and bass of rock music, Charlie’s voice a bit unsteady at the opening of the first verse… when we were born they tried to cover our eyes… they tried to tell us all what to see….we are discovering this did not work… for we are born to be free. Then the let’s-get-down-to-business chorus, whose announcement was so exhilarating, so strongly voiced, so long desired… it’s a gay spirit singing in our hearts… leading us through these troubled times… it’s a gay spirit moving round this land… calling us to a time of open love. In those first days when my closet door was opening, when I was discovering how little I knew about love and sex and dating, when the world was coming under the thunderhead of HIV, Charlie’s voice was often in my ear… cajoling… celebrating… celebrating like a modern Walt Whitman.

—Brian Dean Powers