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When it comes to metal memoirs, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford’s aptly titled and long-awaited Confess: The Autobiography certainly has enough sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll to satisfy voracious readers of, say, Motley Crüe’s The Dirt or Keith Richards’s Life. But a great deal of sorrow also permeates the just-released page-turner. Halford didn’t come out publicly as gay until he was 47 years old, and he had been advised by Priest’s management, in what he ruefully describes as an “intervention,” to keep his sexuality a secret. That meant that the higher the band’s profile skyrocketed in the 1980s, the deeper he was pushed into the closet. Halford tells Yahoo Entertainment that this was, understandably, an extremely troubled period of his life.
“Pleasuring yourself only goes so far, doesn't it?” Halford, now age 69, quips, recalling countless lonely nights on tour while his straight metal peers were openly enjoying the spoils of fame and the affections of female admirers. “I mean, we're humans, and human beings are designed to love each other in a physical, intimate way — which means physically being with each other. I couldn't do that. I wasn't able to do that. And so where everybody else was sowing their oats, if that's the right correct expression to use, I was back in the hotel room with a hot cup of cocoa, watching David Letterman or whoever.”
Despite the stern warning from Judas Priest’s handlers to be discreet, Halford did try to drop hints about his sexuality in his some of his lyrics — although he says “there wasn't even a flinch” and he “wasn’t even questioned” when his bandmates heard “Raw Deal” (with its mentions of Fire Island and “love with no laws”), or “Jawbreaker,” which he only later realized could be interpreted as an ode to oral sex. “I don't know if I actually was, like, waving a rainbow flag and going, ‘Hello, I'm gay!’” he shrugs. “But it was such a mixed-up time for me as a musician, internally still dealing with my identity. And I wanted to make sense of it in my work.”
To this day, Halford insists that his S&M leatherman image wasn’t a calculated attempt to tip off fans about his homosexuality — but he did once try to get that messaging across by wearing color-coded handkerchiefs onstage. “I do recall a particular tour, and suddenly with my Bob Damron [gay travel] guide, I’d figured out all these little codes — you know, red means this and blue means that and black means that. And I just thought, ‘I’ll stick [different-colored bandanas] on my shin-guards!’ My leather, studded shin-guards. It was more of a fashion statement — everyone should learn to accessorize! But, I knew what I was doing.” Unfortunately, the ploy it didn’t work. “It never worked, any time!” he chuckles wryly. “Which is why I had to resort to some of those really dangerous and poignant excavations that we talk about in the book.”
And that brings us to what Halford calls his “George Michael moment.” The “Breaking the Law” singer’s arrest for public indecency in a Venice Beach public restroom took place in 1992, six years before pop star Michael was nabbed for a similar indiscretion in a Beverly Hills men’s room. But unlike Michael, Halford managed to keep his entrapment incident out of the tabloids, and therefore his career wasn’t derailed by scandal — thanks to some sympathetic metalhead cops.
“This thing that we call ‘cottaging’ in the U.K., which is called ‘cruising’ over here — some gay men choose to do this thing where you go to a bathroom and you try and have a little bit of fun with another guy,” Halford explains. “I was living in Marina Del Rey at the time, and for my daily exercise, I’d get on my bicycle and go all the way up to Malibu and back — with a stop! Hey you've got to laugh, because if you don't laugh...
“So I stop and I go in there and it's quite busy, and I'm sitting down on the loo, as we call it. And this really hot guy comes in. He's across from me and he's washing his hands in a mirror, like a steel mirror, and he's looking at me and kind of nodding and winking. And I'm, ‘Ooh, hello, hello, hello! Over here!’ And then he turns around and he looks at me, and I look at him. And he kind of acknowledges me, and I acknowledge him. And then the next minute, he pulls out his badge and says, ‘You're under arrest for indecent behavior!’”
Halford recalls being chained to a bench with a few other offenders and carted off on a long, nerve-racking van ride to the police station, thinking to himself (as he writes in Confess), “This is it! I’ve f***ed up! It’s going to be in the papers! I’ve lost everything!” But then, once he was at the station, one rocker policeman recognized him.
“This guy pulls my baseball cap off and he goes, ‘Rob? What are you doing here?’ I'm like, ‘I did something dumb.’ He says, “Come with me.’ So internally I'm thinking, ‘Oh great, I'm free!’ No. They put me in a cell by myself. And then for the next hour, every cop in the police department came by the little glass window [and flashed the devil horns]. I didn't get off with it. I paid a fine, which I should have. I was put on probation, which I should have. I pleaded guilty, which I should have. And the police were really, really cool… they very, very, very, very courteously kept that out of the press. But it's something I have to talk about, simply because, as I said before, it's poignant. It's kind of sad that I had to go to such extreme, dangerous measures to get some kind of intimate physical contact.”
Halford did occasionally meet male lovers at his gigs, including one at 1985’s Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, a man named Brad who became his serious boyfriend. But that relationship, like several others detailed in Confess, was doomed and tragic (Brad actually died by suicide in 1986) — because Halford had an unfortunate, self-sabotaging pattern of dating men who were actually heterosexual. “I think I was trying to protect myself,” he muses. “That was, from my perspective, essentially the same place that I was in, because these were literally straight men and they were having an affair with another man. … But I think in my instances with straight men, they always seemed to happen at a show… essentially a fan or someone that I met in some connection to the metal world.”
Halford finally met the gay man of his dreams, an ex-Marine named Thomas, through a personal pen-pals ad, and the two have been happily partnered for 25 years. Halford has also been sober for 34 years. In Confess, he says if Judas Priest were just starting out now and he was 21 years old, he would be out of the closet from day one. But he knows that wasn’t possible in Priest’s heyday.
“I can only reflect as a gay man, at that time, seeing what was going on around us. I'll just take one prime example: the horrible AIDS epidemic that was hitting so many of our beautiful friends,” Halford says somberly. “When you take something that is just so potent and you mix it in with other things, the confusion and the spinning and the pushback starts — ‘I might catch AIDS,’ that kind of stupidity. As much as we look upon the ‘80s as the big change, to some extent, it wasn't. There were still tremendous barriers put up for people like myself.”
As for any advice he has for people who want to come out, particularly older people who have been closeted their whole lives, Halford says, “I can only share my experiences, and they were tough. When I was growing up, gay men were being thrown in jail in England and left there for years. It is a lot easier to some extent for younger people, but they still have their challenges and difficulties to come to with their identity. It's a big thing, you know, because you're born and raised in predominantly a straight world. We're a minority, as much as there are minorities in the world, and most minorities get kicked around like a football. It's absurd. I've never understood that that humanity can be that way. But we are, and it never seems to end if you're a minority. You're going to get kicked around like a football. So you have to fight, fight, fight for your rights, for equality. That's the kind of message I try and send out to anyone that's waiting for the moment to step forward and just say, ‘Hey, this is who I am.’”
Watch Rob Halford’s full, extended Yahoo Entertainment interview below, in which he discusses his sobriety, the spiritual epiphany he experienced during a psychic reading shortly after his boyfriend’s death, meeting his hero Quentin Crisp, the possibility of Confess being turned into a biopic… and whether or not he’s ever going to be a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
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