It's so great to catch up with Sir Ari Gold, Billboard Top 10 award winning recording artist. I have been a fan of Ari's since the 1980s, when he was a child actor voicing characters on Jem and the Holograms and The Cabbage Patch Kids. It's been a real joy watching Ari's star rise. I always love interviewing Ari because he goes in deep, telling it like it is.
This time around, Ari & I discuss his new one-man show POP OUT, about becoming the first openly gay chart-topping pop singer-songwriter. In the 80’s, Ari Gold, a closeted orthodox Jewish boy from The Bronx, is discovered singing at his brother’s bar mitzvah…setting the stage for becoming America’s First Openly Gay Pop Star. From doing child voices for Cabbage Patch Kids and Jem and the Holograms to performing with Diana Ross and RuPaul, Ari's paradoxical, emotional, musical memoir tells a story of family & religion, sex & pop, and the search for a community of one’s own. When a community renders you invisible, there’s only one choice: POP OUT.
POP OUT will play for one night only on Sunday, September 17 at 7pm at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, in the basement of the West Bank Cafe). Click here for tickets!
1. Last time we spoke in 2012 you were premiering your one-man show Bashert at NYMF. Now, this September you are coming to the Laurie Beechman Theatre with POP OUT, a brand-new show about becoming the first openly gay chart-topping pop singer-songwriter. Did performing Bashert inspire POP OUT or were you working on POP OUT already? Bashert was autobiographical, as is POP OUT, and both traced my journey from being a child performer to being an openly gay pop singer. But POP OUT is way more personal and I discovered why I am telling this story right now. The show is really about community and the ways in which we both need community and yet are often injured most by our own communities that reject us-sometimes even the "community" that is our own families.
It took a long time and many rewrites to discover and it also took life happening. Someone I loved very much had to die in order for me to be able to write about the relationship. And I have David Drake to thank for getting the piece to this place, as well as a reading I did for New York Theater Workshop. What I didn’t anticipate was the turn of events in our government that make the show that much more relevant.
2. Like me, you grew up in the 80s. The acceptance of gays was very different back then than it is now. When did you first realize you were gay? How long after this discovery did you come out to your family? My awareness of my gayness was a process that started as soon as I can remember being alive. It mostly manifested in me liking things only girls were supposed to like and only became about sex and an attraction to men later on. I came out to to my family as soon as I was able to leave the confines of the orthodox Jewish community which was in college. I wrote an 18-page handwritten college ruled coming out letter with additional reading materials stapled to the back, handed them each a copy and read it to them outloud. I talk about it in the show.
3. As a gay man, navigating his way through the music world, how do you feel being closeted growing up affected your work or the choices you made along the way? When did you decide to come out in the music business? What happened that made you go, "Now is the time to tell the world?" Getting politicized in college at NYU, reading queer theory, my relationship with Jose Munoz, it all really helped solidify the kind of artist I wanted to be. I knew I had to be the kind of openly gay pop singer I didn’t have growing up. But I don’t think I grasped how many gay men who were older than me, who had survived AIDS, also needed to see a proud out young gay man. And then there were gays in the industry who I believe were too traumatized to appreciate and understand what I was doing—especially those in the music industry. They were scared that the world was still not ready. All I knew is that I was ready. The chutzpah of youth!
4. After you came out, what fell into place for you that you were hoping would? Came out of the closet or came out as an artist? The fact that the LOGO network debuted my video during the commercial breaks for the launch of their network definitely helped bring me to a larger audience. There’s nothing like TV and we didn’t have YouTube then! After I came out of the closet I was hoping I’d have hot sex with men and that has definitely happened!
5. If you were growing up today/just starting out in your career, what barriers/challenges that you faced, do you feel you would not have had to go through because of the world we live in? Well, now because of YouTube and social media, it would have been even easier to get my music out. But early internet did help me by having arigold.com in the 90’s and even myspace! Back in 2005 I worked with a book publisher to get my CD in a coffee table book so that I can get my music out in stores cause there wasn’t any other way except to buy a CD in a store. I also think with artists like Sam Smith, Adam Lambert and viral sensations like Steve Grand, and quite frankly because of the barriers that I worked so hard to break myself, we are more comfortable with the idea of an openly gay artist. Although we still have a huge lack of representation in music. Also, so many more people know that homophobia is wrong thanks to greater representation on TV and such. When I was doing my thing, there really was no one else doing it in the pop world and I still often don’t get the credit for that. It even used to say I was the first American openly gay artist to be out from the beginning of my career on Wikipedia and then someone took it down. It was a whole debate on whether it was true or not. I loved it. I also loved that no one could prove that it wasn’t true.
6. While you hid your sexuality growing up, did you feel you had to hide or play down the fact you were an Orthodox Jew as well? How did being so religious come into play, like, did you sacrifice your religion to work on Shabbat or one of the Jewish holidays? As a kid my parents turned down a lot of work that took place on Shabbat. I remember my Mom taking me on the subway during a holiday for a job, I think it was Sukkoth, and it felt very rebellious and sinful. You can say I received some mixed messages regarding the importance of religion over show business. I did take my Yarmulke off for jobs and tucked in my tzitzit. I was also considered too ethnic to be on camera which you’ll learn about in the show from my actual parents.
7. You've had quite a ride on your journey in pop music. As a kid you were doing child voices for The Cabbage Patch Kids and Jem and the Holograms to performing with Diana Ross & RuPaul. Everything we do in life leads us to where we are, but do you feel there was one thing in particular on your journey that if it did not happen, you would not be where you are? Well I think I’d be a lot further in my career had HBO not stolen my brand with the show Entourage! But I am where I am not because I've ever had a big break or I’ve doing something that made the zeitgeist. It's because I keep working, making music, telling my story and putting it out there and allow it to touch whoever its meant to. It’s what I was put here on earth to do. I’m lucky enough to know that.
8. Now that you are an adult, how do religion and sexuality come into play in your professional life? How do you navigate this business differently than before? I am not religious anymore. That doesn’t mean I don’t have reverence for many of its traditions and rituals. And I also have reverence for breaking the traditional and subverting a ritual. Like wearing teffelin naked in "My Favorite Religion."
9. I'm in the midst of my writing my own one-man show all about my dating life. I feel that show will help release my demons/ghosts of my past relationships. What do you feel writing this show released for you? I realized that I cannot contain my story only in the form of a long form pop record - a form I still love despite a singles driven that’s been going on way too long! Writing and performing this show is Madonna "Blond Amebition level "cathartic" for me every time. I learn so much.
10. What would Ari Gold today tell Ari Gold of yesterday? Yesterday as in Monday? Yesterday as in my 30’s? My 20’s? My teens? My childhood? I’d probably tell them all to forgive myself for the shame and guilt I felt about stuff that was never my fault.
11. I have a new segment in my interviews called "I Can See Clearly Now" where I like to clear up misconceptions about people. What do you feel is the biggest misconception out there about you that you would like to shoot down here and now? I was doing a phone interview and this journalist asked me the same question. And then she said, "You know like people who think you’re stuck up." OK, then, I guess people say that! I've read some nasty comments online that I know I shouldn’t read too. But I know how much feedback I get for being a good kind hearted person especially from the people I care most about, so I know what they say about me can’t be true. I’m an Aquarius, so we can be a bit hard to read. RuPaul always says I couldn’t hurt a fly. I hope that’s a compliment!
12. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Kindness and appreciation toward my apparent imperfections.
Award Winning Billboard Top 10 Recording Artist SIR ARI GOLD was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in the Bronx with his brothers Elon and Steven. His show-business career started at age six when he recorded a CBS Children’s Record Pot Belly Bear: Songs & Stories and made his national TV debut on the Joe Franklin Show. He went on to sing on over 400 TV jingles including voices for characters on Jem and the Holograms, Cabbage Patch Kids, and singing with Diana Ross on her Swept Away album. Ari also recorded many Jewish children’s music like 613 Torah Avenue and Uncle Moishe. He released his eponymous debut album in 2000, receiving critical attention from Billboard, Hits and Vibe for being the first openly gay pop singer who was out in his music from the beginning of his career. He’s toured Europe, Canada and in over 50 cities across the US alongside Chaka Khan, Debbie Harry, and Cyndi Lauper. Ari holds a "Visionary Award" from the LGBT Academy Of Recording Arts and he was Knighted by the Imperial Court Of New York. "Make My Body Rock" from his fourth studio album Between the Spirit & the Flesh debuted at #1 on Logo making him the artist with the most #1’s since the networks launch in 2005. His Billboard Top 10 and #1 Sirius/XM Radio dance hit, "Where The Music Takes You" was voted Logo’s #1 Video of the Year and is the Grand Prize Winner (in all genres) of the 12th Annual USA Songwriting Competition. "I’m All About You" co-written with hitmaker Desmond Child and released by Universal Records saw Ari perform on the legendary Top Of The Pops and gave him another Top 10 hit. Ari’s coffee table book and remix CD, released in 25 countries, includes contributions by Boy George and RuPaul. Ari is an Independent Music Award Winner (Best R&B Song, "Love Wasn’t Built In a Day" featuring Dave Koz), a 2x Outmusic Award Winner, one of the 25 People That Make Us Proud by Metro Source, one of Genre’s Men We Love, and Out Magazine's Out100 Most Influential.