Scott Free
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Scott Free

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band Rock Singer/Songwriter


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"Scott Free's 'The Pink Album'"

Chicago-based singer/songwriter Scott Free is an award-winning musician, whose achievements include being awarded the title of OUTmusician of the Year 2005. Mr. Free, however, is not solely a musician. A tireless crusader for GLBT rights, Free is a superior example of how art and activism can go hand and hand; no doubt, if you ask Mr. Free, they should go hand and hand! His music has spotlighted (often in a deservedly confrontational, hard-hitting way) many of the causes which have affected our community, most predominantly HIV/AIDS, the struggle for equality, and queer representation in the media. Like it's predecessor albums, "The Pink Album: A Pop Opera" boasts superior lyrics, instrumentation, and production values. The new album, however, is not solely Free's creative expressions; it's his sprawling, musical retelling of stories from the most intense years of GLBT history: good, the bad, and the ugly. One may wonder just how much of Scott Free's "The Pink Album" is autobiographical. As a writer who's familiar with Free's unique bio, I'd say the answer is: a lot of it. But indeed, Free has always had his finger on the pulse of our community... and so, many of the emotions conveyed in "The Pink Album"-- from loneliness and alienation ("Like A Girl" and "Alone"), to fear and anger ("GRID", "Act Up"), to sexual ecstasy ("Happy Again"), and more-- will strike a chord with the community at large, from Chicago to Saskatchewan and beyond. There's also a very palpable feeling of the time period which Free is representing. (For example, he makes a reference to the 1970's gay magazine "After Dark" in one song, "Alone"; and the chant of "Act Up, Fight Back!", so emblematic of the AIDS activism of the late '80's/early '90's, is the basis of another song.) Though "The Pink Album" features more moments of tragedy than comedy, Free's musical magnum opus has true moments of much-deserved pure joy (The invigorating "Equal", with dazzling musical touches alongside provocative lyrics, is a true love song for 2008 and beyond.); like the real-life history of our community, stellar highs have come alongside crippling lows. Although almost all of the 16 songs can stand on their own, "The Pink Album: A Pop Opera" must be listened to in its entirety, from start to finish, for maximum effect. Scott Free uses different moods and musical styles for each song; the album is a true mosaic. In addition, it would not be hard to envision Free's project as a live musical event (Ambitious producers out there, are you listening?!) So where do we start in reviewing Scott Free's latest project? Well, at the beginning, of course!

Almost every gay man or lesbian, before they may even know they are gay or lesbian, knows that as a child they were "different". In the album's first song, "Like A Girl", Free sings about being mercilessly teased, ostracized, and worse (being beaten up and kicked down a staircase) for acting "like a girl". The song in the same vein as Free's well-known "Another Day of Cruelty" on his previous album, which spotlighted the abuse of queer high school kids. It's an area where even the proudest of us wouldn't be bold enough to revisit. In the next track, "The Boy in the Last Pew", we get the first mention of the word "homosexual". Sadly, it's in the form of chastisement from the religious right, as Free recalls the all-too-familiar, tired banter of modern day religious persecution of gays, in part via a recreation of a Bible-thumping televangelist. The heavy, dark melody of this track is appropriate; Free actually creates what personal torment would sound like. If realizing you're queer is the first struggle, then dealing with the subsequent feelings of loneliness and isolation come next... and "Alone", the next track, goes there: "I'll live in some city, alone; Some small high-rise apartment. Strewn on the coffee table are wilting flowers, And copies of After Dark magazine; I'll be seen as the pampering uncle, Carrying presents at Christmastime; Nieces and nephews will fall in line, Till I go back home..." Again, Free superbly creates the music to match the emotions expressed in the lyrics. But the music gets upbeat-- frenetic, actually-- with "This Is Me", seemingly a song about the irreplaceable joy of the first same-sex sexual experience (Dare I say "first same-sex orgasm"?!) the song expertly conveys the simultaneous feelings of forbidden ecstasy and first-time anxiety. The (ahem...) climax comes when Free declares the song's title: "This is me!", which is clearly a turning point of the album. "Happy Again" is droning, somewhat alienating club-flavored music, which Free has said is the music which many gay men often identify with sex clubs and other venues where carnal desire takes over. Indeed, when Free asks "Will I ever be this happy a-gain?!", we wonder if he's singing about sex, drugs, or both. Under the smoke- and alcohol-blurred visions the song provokes, there's indeed an aura of freedom and escapism. For the high-energy "Mr. Right", Free adopts a neo-swing sound (Think Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot")."Free" is the album's pinnacle, the song on "The Pink Album" that best stands on its own. The deceptively simple lyrics ("They taunt me because I comfort you, They sneer at me because I smile at you; The laugh at me because I cry with you, They hate me because I love you...When will this be, all in history? When will we be free?...") feature guest female vocals courtesy of Carrie Lydon alongside Free's deadpan delivery, with accents of harmonica and violin. "Free" deserves to be an anthem of GLBT equality for the new generation.

As anyone who has lived through the '80's will testify, the emergence of HIV/AIDS in that decade was an incredibly emotional, tense time period for our community. With "GRID" ("Gay Related Immune Deficiency", the name originally given to the "new disease" which would later be known as AIDS...), Free adopts a post-"Rent" rock opera style that will make listeners gasp with its intensity. In less than three minutes, the song covers the whole range of emotions-- fear, anxiety, hysteria, and anger (mostly at the government's blatant failure to respond)-- that marked the early stages of the epidemic. It also throws in a seemingly endless chain of all the AIDS-related lexicon that the newspaper headlines screamed at us back then. While the AIDS song "Death Toll" has Free using a "simmer and seethe" vocal style to express the anger and frustration of the situation at large, the provocative "Better" is a more personal look at the epidemic, presumably one man's experience with the dark cloud of AIDS moving into his life: "All my hope it sweat out of my body, Along with my dreams; And what was the point of my life. Why was I here? What did it mean; And I can’t pretend anymore, And I know my time is now; How could this have been allowed?..." It's a reminder to all of us that while we look at the disease in terms of our community, we can't forget the individual faces of HIV.

"The Pink Album: A Pop Opera" is a passionate journey: a journey that will make some of us revisit and make others further explore our issues: coming out, society-induced homophobia, self-acceptance, the need for community awareness, the many faces of tragedy, and some very 2009 issues like gay parenting ("Two Great Dads"). It seems that by the end of the album, Mr. Free has created a unique kind of peace. The finale of the album is "My Generation". Before you ask, it's not a queered-up version of The Who song of the same name, but rather a reflective celebration of our pride... and its companion, our survival. It's summarized in the lyrics, "My generation, We fought for our loving; My generation, We built if from nothing..." Scott Free has created one of the most lovingly realistic album about the post-Stonewall gay male experience to date. Musically, the fine production values also assure "The Pink Album" to be one of the best records of 2008 altogether... providing the listener is as courageous as the artist in undertaking the journey.
- PM Magazine - Jed Ryan

"The Pink Album"

SCOTT FREE The Pink Album LEATHER/WESTERN Subtitled A Pop Opera, this versatile album by the Chicago songwriter puts a charming spin on the highs and lows of growing up--and older--as a fag. - The Advocate

"Telling Stories, Singing Stories: Scott Free"

Human beings love stories: soap operas, novels, gossip, sequences and “concept” CDs. Emily Dickinson begins a well-known poem with these words: “One need not be a chamber—to be Haunted--/ One need not be a house (#670).” What an adventure it can be to turn a story into art. This thought comes to mind as I listen to Scott Free’s The Pink Album, a narrative of growing up as a young gay man towards self-acceptance and the demand for cultural respect. The past refuses to be released from us.
Instead of couching these insights within political discourses, Scott tells us stories: being accused of throwing like a girl, of being God’s enemy, of expecting a lonely life without the theatricality of Parisian existentialism. There is mockery, danger and self-doubt in these stories/songs. In “Alone,” Scott confesses that he walks “the dark rows of darkened theaters” and that he loiters in stairways and corridors / until he goes back home.” He seeks a sexual partner, a love match, a friend who can share the burden of his “secret.” The voice is plaintive ala Piaf but with a muscularity to it, as demonstrated in “Meet Mister Right.” Here, Scott admits that “they gave me unconditional hate” but he is not about to accept being a victim as natural.
There are forces trying to shut this man down—from the church to his family—and Scott sings in the AIDS-inspired “Death Toll,” that each name he throws back at our collective enemies is a magic word: “he was a beautiful man / the day that he died.” Despite it all, we gay men, we marginalized women and people of color, we who are unloved because of weight or mixed-race backgrounds etc., we know that beauty has power. In “Side Effect,” Scott wails that there is talk about losing one’s memory. But The Pink Album won’t allow that to happen. This is a rock opera that is also half soap opera; it is the personal replacing the talking heads’ and politico-zombies’ versions of (imaginary) suburban reality; it is a well-produced CD that moves from ballads to dance music to mighty calls to prayer. I love the openness as it mixes with sound that weaves and weaves until we arrive at a new world; think The Wizard of Oz’s black-and-white Kansas yielding to the nation of the rainbow flag.
- Blood Lotus - Rane Arroyo - 2008

"Gritty In Pink"

Queer musician Scott Free - performer at Bearapalooza in Detroit - gets personal on his latest opus
By Gregg Shapiro

Originally printed 9/10/2009 (Issue 1737 - Between The Lines News)

Over the course of his first three albums, queer musician Scott Free demonstrated his musical versatility, making our heads spin with forays into punk, modern rock and hip-hop. But nothing could have prepared us for his masterwork, "The Pink Album (A Pop Opera)."

Venturing into new and potentially risky territory, including cabaret and pure pop, Free emerges unscathed and all the better for it. "The Pink Album" is a virtual mini-musical history of gay culture - from childhood to adulthood and from the mid-20th century to the present, touching on themes that will surely resonate with many listeners. The music video for the song "Free" spent seven weeks on Logo's Click List, charting as high as number six.

Before his Sept. 19 performance as part of Bearapalooza at Diamond Jim's Saloon in Detroit, Free chatted with Between The Lines about gay culture, addressing the AIDS crisis through his music and why "The Pink Album" feels like his last album - ever.

Your new disc, "The Pink Album," is subtitled "a pop opera." Did the concept come first or did the songs come first?

The idea for the "concept" album grew out of the song "Like A Girl," which was literally written immediately after talking to an old friend about his horrible public school experience. Originally, the concept was just "growing up gay" songs, but I then extended it to living in the newly-formed gay community, through AIDS, and up to today. I decided to use the term "pop opera" because I wanted to make it clear this was not (an) autobiography - these are stories from many different sources.

In the liner notes for "The Pink Album," you make reference to being asked, during a radio interview, why you are so angry. Was it an LGBT radio program or a mainstream program?

It was an LGBT program, and I won't name names because it sounds like I'm being critical of them, and I happen to respect them greatly, but it was such a shock for me as an opening question. It is possible that it was generational - this person is much younger than I am, and was too young to feel the full impact of the AIDS crisis.

You address the religious persecution and oppression of LGBT people in the liner notes as well as in the song, "The Boy in the Last Pew." At this point in time, would you say that you have an affiliation with any religious community?

No, I'm not religious at all, although I do tell my husband that I think angels are out there looking over me - I've had too good of a life (laughs). The song "The Boy in The Last Pew" isn't any one particular person - it's a "growing up in church" experience that I've heard from many of my friends. If you are young and you've already figured out that you are gay, and here the church is telling you that you are evil and going to hell, you can't help but think of suicide. The church's "teachings" are the equivalent of child abuse.

Religion also comes up in "Mom Dad I," a song about coming out to parents. Do you think there will ever come a time when the sexuality of a child will not be an issue for a parent, whether or not they consider themselves to be religious?

"Mom Dad I" is one of the few songs on the CD that is totally me. I had planned and planned what I was going to say to my parents when I finally came out to them. And that was my biggest concern - what were their "church friends" going to think of them? Would they themselves think they had failed as parents? It horrified me. I actually have performed that song with my parents in the audience. And this is the first CD that I've given to my parents. My previous CDs always had raunchy punk songs on them, and I knew they couldn't handle that (laughs). My mother just says that "Mom Dad I" is a very sad song; my dad doesn't comment. It's been a very long process for them, but they couldn't be better now - my dad is a gay marriage advocate (laughs)!

We still have a long way to go as far as the general public's understanding of sexuality (is concerned). Obviously, it's the suppression of education that makes this issue continue from generation to generation. Maybe around the time of the first openly-gay president of the United States, we will be over it!

"The Pink Album" contains songs, including "Like A Girl" and "Equal," that will be familiar to listeners who may have had the opportunity to hear you perform them live in acoustic guitar versions. But the big difference on "The Pink Album" is that the production and orchestration is on a whole different level, with an emphasis on piano and horns, for instance. What was it like to transform these songs for this disc?

"Equal" was the first song I recorded; I had finished it even before I had the idea for the pop opera. Luckily it fit right in (laughs). And production has been such an important part of my creative process; it's as important to me as the song itself. It took me a year and a half to record this CD. I'm an insane perfectionist, and although I still think it's not a perfect recording, I know that the reasons are more that I don't have those ten-thousand dollar compressors and the like in my studio; I just have basic equipment.

The songs "Alone," "Better" and "Two Great Dads" find you dabbling in cabaret, while the wordplay of "GRID," can only be described as Sondheim-esque.

There's no doubt, "GRID" is total Sondheim. I was well into the idea of pop opera when I wrote that song. And somehow "Alone" turned into French cabaret, which is so perfect for its lyric - a little over-dramatic (laughs)! "Alone" is also completely me; when I was about 15 years old, I had this concept of how my adult gay life would be - solitary, urban and promiscuous! But it was only until seeing the film "Celluloid Closet" years later that I understood where my ideas came from. It was the only way gays were portrayed in films of that period.

I had a hard time deciding whether to put "Better" on the CD or leave it off. A good friend tells me it's the saddest song that he's ever heard. It is hard to listen to. But I didn't want to address AIDS only from the political side. I had to personalize it. I was with my ex-lover the last two weeks of his life. I dedicated the CD to him. "Better" is a synopsis of the last conversations I had with him. In the song "Death Toll," he is the only true-named person; the rest of the names are changed or made up, although the stories are ones I was aware of at the time - dying on the Greyhound bus, throwing the body on the White House lawn. I do feel like I should have put a warning sticker on the CD - "contains honest language" (laughs).

I felt it was equally important to include songs about how far we've come, and how beautiful our lives can be. "Equal" is one of those songs, as is "Two Great Dads" - another "me" song (laughs)! I'm afraid I wouldn't be much of a gay parent; I'd be way too busy being a kid with my kid (laughs)! Whenever we are at my husband's family events, I spend all my time playing with the children. The big joke is that even though I'm white, and my husband is black, to them, I'm Uncle Scott and he is Uncle Scott's friend (laughs)!

"Death Toll," which has a roll-call quality that made me think of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" crossed with the reading of the names at a showing of the Names Project Quilt, is set to a dance-hall reggae beat. I was wondering, because of the ongoing homophobia and suggestion of anti-gay violence in reggae, if that was why you chose to set it in that musical framework.

The concept of the song from the beginning was a long list of names; I was trying to get across what it was like in the late 1980s - everyone you knew was dying. It was so horrifying that it's hard to believe it today. And yes, I immediately thought of the Jim Carroll song. So I went back and listened to that song, because I didn't want it to be too similar. It turns out that song used a standard blues riff, so basically I just made sure my song was as far away from that as possible - hence the modern world/dancehall beat.

Listening to "Act Up Fight Back" made me wonder why someone hadn't transformed these chants of protest and empowerment into an anthem, in the way that you did, sooner.

I was struggling for so long on how to include ACT UP in this album; they were too important to our history to leave them out. I was trying to personalize it, but as I was doing my "web research," I found a site that had put up recordings of ACT UP protests; I just took slogans from their entire history and strung them together. As I first started recording it, I knew I was on to something. I felt like I had invented the first literal protest song (laughs)! And yet, it's pure musical theater!

"The Pink Album" closes with "My Generation," which provides a sort of queer-eyed update to the classic Who song. In fact, the album as a whole, speaks with the voice of a generation, many of whom died too young and too soon. Was it your intention with this album, and with the three that preceded it, to be that voice?

I think that's always been my goal - to be the voice of a generation, or at least a segment of a generation that has been completely ignored in popular music. I never had the exposure that a major label provides, which is obviously step number one in being the voice of a generation. But I'm OK with that. For many years now, my only goal has been to write the best songs I possibly can, the most honest songs that I possibly can. And I feel I've succeeded on this album - maybe for the very first time. I'm not saying that this is my final CD, but right now it feels like it, and if I never make another one, I feel like I've accomplished my goals. This was the CD that took a lifetime to make - the one that I believe I was meant to make.
- PrideSource/Between The Lines - Gregg Shapiro

"Free From The Closet"

Scott Free is dedicated to defying stereotypes. At 6 feet 5 inches and 235 pounds, Free has the physique of an imposing punk rocker, but he plays folk music. His message is angry and political, but it is also full of humor. And he happens to be gay.

Punning on the title of the cable TV series, Free is hosting the second annual "Queer Is Folk Festival" at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln. His goals are twofold.

"One, it's kind of just your basic presenting of a different image of gays and lesbians to the straight world, if you want to call it that," he says. "Certainly the forces out there like the Showtime soap opera 'Queer As Folk' continue to push the same old stereotypes. But the other purpose of what I'm doing is to try to push gay and lesbian musicians to express themselves more.

"In the area of creating music, gay people still kind of seem stuck in the closet. I don't know if it's that they still have this concept of doing it for the industry and getting the big hit single, but I don't think they're being as honest as they could be in the music that they make, so I'm trying to do that in the music that I present. In the gay community, there really isn't a concept of queer music. They love to go to the latest gay or lesbian film, but they don't really go to see or hear queer music.

"I mean, the Pet Shop Boys do a pretty good job of pushing the envelope, but most of them don't," Free continues. "Melissa Etheridge, her music is completely generic, and Elton John would be about the worst example, but he doesn't write his own lyrics, so you kind of have to let him off the hook in that regard. But they're not saying anything really about their lives, and that's the whole thing about coming out of the closet. It's about honesty, and saying, 'This is who I am.' " - Chicago Sun-Times - Jim DeRogatis

"Scott Free's 'Pink Album' colored by dark days in gay community"

When singer-songwriter Scott Free says that his latest effort took him a lifetime to write, it's no exaggeration.

Essentially a concept album, "The Pink Album (A Pop Opera)" (Leather Western) is about the struggles of coming of age as a gay male in the '80s and '90s, "Pink" is equal parts troubling, political, inspiring and touching.

"Initially it started as an album about coming to terms with [homosexuality] as a child," explains Free. "But then the project took on a life of its own. I really couldn't write about growing up gay without talking about something as big as [AIDS]."

Free, who lived just outside New York at the height of the late-'80s AIDS epidemic, recalls the feeling of hopelessness that plagued the community.

"It sounds cliche, but it really felt like there was a dark cloud over everything," he says. "You'd hear someone was sick, and two years later they'd be dead." Four songs on the album deal with this period: "Grid" and "Death Toll" explore the broad human cost of the virus; "Act Up Fight Back," a collection of protest cries, is the sound of a long-ignored community struggling desperately to be heard. But it is "Better," Free's simply worded, heartbreaking account of losing a onetime lover to the disease, that truly devastates.

"I almost didn't put that song on there," says the singer, who has now been happily married for three years (he wed in Canada). "It's probably the most difficult one on [the album] for me to listen to."

Truth be told, little here is an easy listen. "The Boy in the Last Pew," a tale of a Christian youth struggling with his innermost urges, ends with the teenager alone in a pew, intoning, "I don't deserve to live." "Like a Girl," inspired by a conversation Free had with a longtime friend, details the abuse of an effeminate child at the hands of his classmates. "Alone," every bit as solitary as its title suggests, has Free exploring the seedier side of life on the fringes.

Though the album is informed by many of Free's experiences, it isn't strictly autobiographical. While the singer and "The Boy in the Last Pew" have similar Christian upbringings, Free never connected with religion in a way that inspired that degree of self-loathing. Either way, these weightier issues will be miles from Free's mind when he performs his record release show this evening.

"I don't think I'll play anything off [the record] at Jackhammer," says Free as our conversation draws to a close. "It's a party atmosphere and it's a Friday night; I don't want to bring anybody down." - Chicago Tribune - Andy Downing

"Scott Free - They Call Me Mr. Free - Leather/Wester Records"

If you long to hear a bear growl after an extended hibernation, check out the latest from Scott Free. In his first CD in five years, the openly gay, Chicago-based rapper and singer-songwriter proves to be a master soapboxer, ranting audaciously over lo-fi Intellevision-style backbeats about everything from tired divas at Pride to golden showers.Free's at his bold best on "Ronald Reagan's Funeral", which finally gives voice to our collective sentiment about the late former president, and "When Queers Become Rock Stars", which takes a mighty stab at ambiguous icons who capitalize on our gay dollars with one foot firmly planted in the closet. - OUT Magazine - Ronni Radner


1984 - BEAT THE RAP - 4 song cassette release on Independence Records

1984 - Video to BEAT THE RAP - on rotation on Black Entertainment Television network (video directed by John Heyn)

1986 to 1989 - Producer on Chicago house records by Kajsa, Transient and B Free - Sunset Records & Subsonic Records

1987 - HIGHER by Transient charts on Euro-Dance Mix Top 100

1993 - Releases CAMPSONGS - 32 song double-cassette release on Independence Records

1997 - Releases GARBAGE MAN - 3 song vinyl 7" and cassette release on Leather/Western Records

1997 - Producer on 12" single of ZIPWEAR on Per Capita Records

1998 - Releases GETTING OFF - full-length CD on Leather/Western Records

1998 - Video to GARBAGE MAN - directed by Darren Clark nominated for VIDEO OF THE YEAR by GAY/LESBIAN AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS

1999 - Releases THE LIVING DEAD - full-length CD on Leather/Western Records

2000 - Receives four nominations for THE LIVING DEAD from GAY/LESBIAN AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS

2000 - Video to REJECTION - directed by Darren Clark nominated for VIDEO OF THE YEAR by GAY/LESBIAN AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS

2004 - Releases THEY CALL ME MR. FREE - full-length CD on Leather/Western Records

2005 - Receives OUTMUSICIAN OF THE YEAR and OUTSONG OF THE YEAR for ANOTHER DAY OF THE CRUELTYby the Outmusic organization



2008 - Releases THE PINK ALBUM (A POP OPERA) - full-length CD on Leather/Western Records

2008 - Releases video 'FREE' by SCOTT FREE AND HIS CLOSEST FRIENDS - directed by Roger Moore


2009 - THE PINK ALBUM (A POP OPERA) is the #1 ALBUM of 2009 at OUTVOICE

2009 - Releases video 'HAPPY AGAIN' directed by Kevin Evans

2009 - HAPPY AGAIN is in the TOP 10 VIDEOS OF 2009 on LOGO's THE CLICK LIST

2009 - Receives OUTMUSICIAN OF THE YEAR from the OUTMUSIC organization



Scott Free, the queer-rock singer/songwriter extraordinaire, is one of America's leading openly-gay male artists. His sometimes humorous, sometimes angry, always touching songs of queer life have gained him acclaim in both gay and straight media across the globe. He has twice been named Outmusician of the Year by the OUTMusic Awards, in 2005 and 2009. He also won Out Song of The Year in 2005 at the OMAs for his song ‘Another Day of The Cruelty’. His music video ‘Happy Again’ was in the Top10 Videos of 2009 on LOGOs ‘The Click List’. He has appeared on Black Entertainment Television, NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’, and Canada’s MuchMusic station. His CDs have received glowing reviews in The Advocate, OUT magazine, and numerous gay publications around the country. He was a featured artist in Unzipped magazine in 2005, and Bear Magazine in 2010. He received two Stonewall Society Pride in the Arts Awards in 2005 - Song of the Year and Producer of the Year - and was inducted into the Stonewall Society's GLBT Hall Of Fame in 2005. He won Outmusicin of the Year at the OMAs in 2009, and his latest album 'Pink Album (A Pop Opera)' was the #1 CD of 2009 at He hosts the annual 'ALT Q' (an LGBT music festival) at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, now in its tenth year. He is the host and curator of the bimonthly 'Homolatte' in Chicago, the longest running queer performance series in the country.