Rob Halford of Judas Priest explains to Yahoo Entertainment how he struggled with coming out as gay, if any of his song titles were coy signals about his sexual orientation, and the terror (and humor) of his own George Michael-esque incident. The Judas Priest frontman recalls when he got caught by police for "cruising" in a bathroom. "It's kind of sad that I had to go to such extreme, dangerous measures to get some kind of intimate physical contact," he said. He also shared advice to other people who are thinking of coming out later in their lives. "Once you've burst out of the closet and made peace with yourself ... and you find out who the people that really love you are," he said.
LYNDSEY PARKER: A lot of people have been wanting you to write your memoirs for ages. So of course there are many fun moments in the book. There's plenty of sex, drugs, and rock and roll for people who want that. But something that permeated the book that really stuck with me when I read it, there's a lot of sadness and frustration in the book about the fact that you were in the closet for so long.
I know in the book you say that if Judas Priest was starting now and you were a 21-year-old man, you would have been out from day one. If you had been out from day one, or had come out in the '80s, in retrospect, do you think it would have hurt the band?
ROB HALFORD: 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, gay and straight. But you know, when you take something like that, that is just so potent and you mix it in with other things, and the confusion and the spinning and the pushback starts-- I'm not going to his show, I might catch AIDS. That kind of stupidity. As much as we look upon the '80s as, like, the big change to some extent, there were still tremendous barriers put up for people like myself.
LYNDSEY PARKER: But when I was reading about some of the songs in "Confess", I'm like, oh, you know, like, "Raw Deal", "Beyond the Realms of Death", "Jawbreaker." [INAUDIBLE] figure that one out. "Eat me alive", "Turbo Lover". OK. There was a pattern there. I'm curious, were you trying to test the waters and see what would happen if maybe you dropped these hints?
ROB HALFORD: The only one that was kind of an overt statement in all of those lyrics to me, personally, was "Raw Deal" where I talk about going to Fire Island in New York. And a couple of cults played rough stuff, New York, Fire Island. And then that end phrase of the song where I'm singing, love knoweth no laws. That was the only one that really sent out, is he-- why is he singing about Fire Island in New York? That's like a gay haven for men.
The "Jawbreaker" thing was always kind of, like-- I was going to say, like, tongue in cheek, which would make it even worse.
LYNDSEY PARKER: [LAUGHS]
ROB HALFORD: But-- [LAUGHS]
LYNDSEY PARKER: Sorry.
ROB HALFORD: It-- it was. It was only after I finished written-- writing those lyrics, deadly as a-- deadly as a viper. You know, and spitting things and stuff. I thought, oh, this is going to be a big [BLEEP], you know?
LYNDSEY PARKER: [LAUGHS]
ROB HALFORD: But that was afterwards. That was way afterwards. I don't know if I actually was waving a red flag and going, hello, I'm gay. And that-- because you don't understand that, I'm feeling a little bit blah. It was such a mixed up time for me as a musician internally, still dealing with identity and to make sense of it in my work.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Well you weren't waving the rainbow flag necessarily, but I was interested to find out that on stage you were doing the bandanna thing. But obviously that was very well known in the gay community what certain colors meant. So yeah, you were taking some risks.
ROB HALFORD: I do you recall a particular tour, and I'd suddenly-- with my Bob Damron guide-- and figured out all these little codes. And red means this and blue means that and black means that. And I just thought, oh, I'd stick them on my shin guards. My leather, studded shin guards. It was more of a fashion statement. [LAUGHS] Accessories. Everyone should learn to accessorize.
LYNDSEY PARKER: I agree.
ROB HALFORD: I was just accessorizing. But I knew what I was doing.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Did It ever work?
ROB HALFORD: Never worked any time ever. Which is why I had to resort to some of those really dangerous and poignant escapades that we talk about in the book.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Yeah, I definitely want to ask you about one. The one that you call-- I-- you know, I was really supposed to read about-- what you call your George Michael moment.
ROB HALFORD: This thing that we called cottaging in the UK is called cruising over here. And 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 that's there for the same reason as you. And, I think this is the incident we're talking about that happened to me on Venice Beach.
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 at bathrooms. You've got to laugh, because if you don't laugh-- whatever.
So I stopped and I go in there. 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-- and it's like a-- a mirror. It's like a steel mirror. And he's looking at me and kind of nodding and winking and I'm, oh. Hello. Hello. I'm over here in this-- this business.
And then he turns around and he looks at me and I look at him and he kind of, you know, 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, whatever, ever.
So many things go through your mind when something like that happens. They took me and put me in a little room that was behind the bathrooms at Venice Beach. And there was already like five or six guys in there. We all sat there for a couple of three hours chained to the bench. And then they took us in a van to some police station-- I still don't know where it was. It was miles away. We seemed to drive forever.
Got to the police station and I was still chained to the bench. We were all chained to-- chained to the bench. And then this-- I see these feet walk pass me and this guy pulls my baseball cap off and he goes, Rob. I go, yes? He goes, what are you doing here? I'm like, done something-- done something really dumb and stupid. 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-- in the police department came by the little glass window and went, ah, Priest. Ah. [LAUGHS]
LYNDSEY PARKER: [LAUGHS]
ROB HALFORD: I didn't get off-- 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 pled guilty, which I should have. And the police were really, really cool. Because, you know, you get the TMZ at the time calling all the police departments like, do you got any stuff, you know? And they-- they very, very-- very, very courteously kept it out of the press.
It's something I have to talk about, simply because-- like I just said, Lyndsey-- you know, 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. Pleasuring yourself only goes so far, doesn't it? I mean, you know, we're humans. We're-- human beings are designed to love each other in a physical, intimate way, which means physically being with each other.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Mm hmm.
ROB HALFORD: And I couldn't do that. I wasn't-- I wasn't able to do that. So, yeah. I mean, you know, where everybody else was sowing their oats-- if that's the-- the right-- correct expression to use, I was back in the hotel room with my cup of cocoa watching David Letterman or whoever. [LAUGHS]