Need to Know: Kristian Hoffman
By Courtney Nichols
Put in his name in YouTube. He was one of the finalists on America's Got Talent. He is a very extravagantly attired person who performs in a powered wig. He has a trained opera voice, like Klaus Nomi, and is wonderfully charismatic. I met him because he wanted to meet me on Facebook because of the Mumps song catalog and we were lucky enough to work together on a few songs. Now that he is so popular because of America's Got Talent, I don't know what the future holds. He is still a good friend of mine. Moving through life, I continued to meet people like Klaus Nomi or Ann Magnuson or the Cramps. That sense of cult is fabulous to me. I have a family in every city I go to. They are all wonderfully gracious and I am blessed. No, I want a hit record. As my backer said, 'Music, you always hope people will listen to it.' I don't make a record thinking that my friends are going to like it like a birthday cake. I make a record with the intent that it will be the best record ever made! I am very ambitious. Whether I succeed or not is a different story.
With your most recent album, is your fanbase still comprised of older fans or are you attracting a younger crowd, too?
I don't really know. I would say the critical response is fantastic. I have gotten loads of over-the-top reviews that say it's a masterpiece, which I agree with personally. The negative reviews have actually been revealing because the negative reviews say it's too long, which is ridiculous because in the '70s you didn't say Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John was too long. You would say that I, as the audience, get to luxuriate in more music that I can digest in one sitting. That would be a plus, not a negative. But most of them say it's too orchestrated or the lyrics are too precious. I even had a review saying the record is too pretty. Three or four of the negative reviews I have gotten mentioned that only the rock songs are good. The other one said only the ballads are good. I feel like it is a matter of perspective from the listener. Overall, the response has been positive. I don't know what "audience" means in this age of download. It's not a community you can rely on where you can go on the street and someone says, 'Hey! I loved your latest!' It's a community that is out there in the mystery of the Ethernet. An independent album is slow in flowering and you have to nurture it, so I didn't expect to release the album and sell 100,000 copies in the first week. I'm hoping it's an ongoing process of it reaching people. I hope you are part of that!
Through your decades of musical experience, how have you seen the gay community flourish?
I have always been an outsider in music, so I am an outsider in gay music. For instance, as much as I love Lady Gaga as an icon, I think her music is the most boring music I have ever heard in my life. Don't take that personally Lady Gaga! I still want you to endorse me! I don't care about an electro-Euro-disco beat that goes on for 20 minutes and one phrase is repeated. I don't respond to that. I never felt part of a gay music scene. In that same sense, I never felt part of a gay scene because we were punk rockers so we didn't like clones. We thought they subscribed to label fashion and Studio 54 and the cocaine aesthetic -- all the stuff we felt alienated by. Even when Prop. 8 was passed in California, we cannot forget that there was even a ballot trying to legislate gay marriage. That this even existed was such an extreme leap forward from when I was a child and my mother would say she went to a gay party and since she was raised in the '20s that meant she went to a party where people were happy! It didn't even occur to me that people had to hide in darkened street corners and meet in secret places and never admit to friends who they really were. Who knew the president would now have to take a stand on whether or not to stop "don't ask, don't tell"? There have been incredible and historic leaps forward. Coming out doesn't mean you're going to be mugged. In high school, people say, 'You're gay!' -- but it didn't mean you were. They would wait and beat you up. I know this still happens in rural communities and surely some urban communities as well, but now these people have gay support groups. The word 'gay' is in the national vocabulary. It's radically different. I do identify as a gay pioneer somewhat. When Lance Loud and I were in the Mumps, he was in the show This American Family. It was coined the first reality TV series and it caused a national sensation. They were on the cover of Newsweek and they were labeled superficial, middle-class climbers. Their working background never made it onto the screen. In the mythos of this show, Lance became the first gay person on screen. If you revisit the show you notice he never comes out. I have said this many times before, but we didn't dress like gay people. We dressed like rock stars. Lance came out on Dick Cavett right afterward. He was a national icon for a gay person who was articulate, charismatic, and unafraid. Over the course of our lives so many people have come up to Lance and said, 'You gave me the opportunity to come out to my parents.' Other people came out to him, like Ann Magnuson whom I still work with, said, 'Lance, I believed in you so much. You are the reason I moved to New York and believed I could become an artist.' In the middle of that, we never thought the Mumps was a gay band. We thought Mumps was a great band. I didn't think I was a gay songwriter. I thought I was a great songwriter. I didn't want to be ghettoized by being gay. I'm happy to be out and be political about being gay, but I would dare you to compare my songwriting chops to Elvis Costello or anyone who doesn't have to deal with that question. It's a two-edged sword. Am I songwriter? Or am I songwriter that's gay? I am a political person, so I fight for gay rights. It was pejorative to be gay. I am fighting against that.
It's hard in the media because the moment you come out, you are no longer a musician. Then, all you are is gay.
Exactly! I do think I write from a gay perspective. I compare myself to the McGarrigle Sisters, who write pristine, very minimalist songs with acoustic guitars and searing voices. I don't think of my love songs as any less touching than their love songs because I happen to be gay. When I think about love, I don't think about a hot guy from the Frontiers classified. When I think about love, I think about heartache, and community, and hoping to intertwine in some long-lasting way. On the other hand, I am gay and I am ready to be out and gay. Also, I am willing to accept some gay dollar because I was out there as a pioneer. The physical and philosophical act of being out and not being in is a stance we took every early. In punk, I was living with my boyfriend. Punk was not gay-friendly, especially when it got codified into that Orange County stuff with all those people yelling about hating things and sporting mohawks and leather. We were not that kind of punk. To live openly with my boyfriend and still be accepted into bands like the Contortions or to tour with Lydia Lunch was a political statement in itself.
Did you ever feel threatened by the punk community because of your sexuality?
If you went to an Echo and the Bunnymen concert -- who I love -- you would notice that the whole audience is New Jersey "bridge and tunnel" people. That is not saying anything bad about them, but they are predominantly jocks and as a gay person that is threatening. You don't know what will happen. We had a lot of self-regard and hubris and we thought we were it, and history has proved correctly that we were it. There have been hundreds of books written about that time period, which has convinced me that I wasn't delusional. We were living in a fantastic time with a bunch of fantastic artists whose work lasts until today. Even Mumps, who I thought we marginalized during our time, have had two large retrospectives of our music released. There is appreciation for what we did. In the moment it was sometimes scary because it wasn't as evolved as now. When I was in the Mumps and I was going around New York, there was this club that Ann Magnuson started called Club 57. They had this little club called the Ladies Auxiliary Club where all the girls of the East Village would get together and make folders of eligible bachelors. Before they met me they thought I was a hot, eligible bachelor. I guess I wasn't as out as I thought I was, but they found out soon enough. There were arenas were it was very welcoming. There were other arenas where it was threatening and you didn't know what was going to happen. In my life in New York I have been mugged twice and some people called me faggot -- this happened in L.A., too. In the confines of the punk world, the only time I was threatened was when were playing in San Francisco at the Mabuhay and we were going to a party at the Avengers house after the show and some hippie who had long hair and looked like a member of the Grateful Dead chased me down the street yelling "punk" and stabbed me! What a weird thing to have happen! So the only time I was ever harassed in the confines of the music was for being a punk.
And from a hippie!
In San Francisco! Fortunately he hit a rib.