To mark LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari asked its contributors to recall a song that had an impact on their own stories
‘Überlin’ – R.E.M.
by Clark Rockerfeller & Symonne Torpy
Is it really all about saving a horse and riding a cowboy? Is it about turning back time, spinning around and taking the train to a Kiki? It’s sequins and stirrups and power women dripping with sex and snapping their chaps and pointing a vajazzle gun. Or maybe it’s k.d. lang over a glass of mellow vino. I’d held Clark Rockerfeller’s hand as he emerged from prison, straight through the closet into my very own gay social experiment. And at first, I was thinking in clichés.
If you haven’t yet read me, I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. Clark is my pseudonym, pseudo-personality and conduit into the gay world. My approach to my alias was facile because I craved dramatic adventure and excitement. It’s a common, voracious thirst, symptomatic of coming out – everything seems a bit new and a bit revelationary, and you reek of liberation. I wished to exploit Clark, and in return, he threw me a dash of poignant pathos, love, lust and humanity. Romping together through the Grindr world (an easy place to facelessly begin) was about discovery, but as I became comfortable with the furniture, I realised that it’s really just another place to float in the mundane.
Our song is R.E.M.’s ‘Überlin’.
The lyrics begin by stapling us to ourselves, “Hey now, take your pills and hey now, make your breakfast. Hey now, comb your hair and off to work”. It’s a little sad, as we log on to Grindr at 8pm every weeknight to see the same ten men within a 200m radius. Loading.
But then we’re rising again, as Clark and I find gloriousness in what we’d only previously lived through romance novel adjectives; “engorged”, “enflamed” and “flooding”, brought to life in photographs distributed liberally across the Grindr line. It’s surreal. It’s dildos and penises and snail-trail fantasy. “I am flying on a star into a meteor tonight. I am flying on a star, star, star.”
And then the perils of real love found in a face-to-face meeting ground us. Days pass. We get up and “take the U-bahn”, and equilibrium arrives.
For years, the lead singer and lyricist of R.E.M., Michael Stipe, was dogged by questions about his sexuality. Self-described as “an equal opportunity lech” he favours the term “queer”, which is “more inclusive of the grey areas”. As queer writers, we both dwell in a delicate space, despising elements of a restrictive vernacular, but also wildly celebrating the malleable and expression-full tool with which we work.
‘Überlin’ doesn’t slit its wrists over monochrome realities or homogeneous mindsets. Its kinetic melody and vibrant film clip bring a genius Christopher-Walken-via-Fat-Boy-Slim lightness to our song. “I know, I know, I know that this is changing. We walk the streets to feel the ground I’m chasing: ÜBerlin”. We dance together. Like Berliners might.
And we delight in the graffito-tagged walls of the contemporary industrial centre. And we delight in the taste of lamp-posts and garage doors and racing-stripes down the side of worn track pants.
The real* Clark Rockerfeller, from whom I so greedily borrow a name, is a German national, and through us now pulses this strange attachment to the culture of our song. Together we embody the portmanteau ‘Überlin’, created by Michael Stipe, a man who refused to be sexually branded, by R.E.M., a band that wailed us though the cum-storm of our liberation.
*term used loosely, as I appropriate from the famous fraud and alleged killer “Clark Rockerfeller” known himself under several pseudonyms (born Christian Gerhartsreiter, then Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, Charles Smith, Chip Smith).