Openly gay pop singer mixes spiritual, sexualby alexandra j. wall, staff writer
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As a 6-year-old, Ari Gold performed a Hebrew song at his brother's bar mitzvah. Who knew that it would launch his career?
Does he remember what he sang? Of course.
With only a little prompting, he sings a few lines over the phone. It begins with the word "Oorah."
Is it on his new CD? "The remix version only," he cracks.
Gold, now a twentysomething pop singer, will be celebrating the release of his second CD, "Space Under the Sun," in San Francisco with a number of appearances next week. "This album is a mix of late '80s, contemporary R&B, pop and mood, jazzy soul," said the resident of Manhattan's Lower East Side. He describes his sound as "smooth, soulful, jazzy and funky."
His PR agent has forgotten to warn him that this is an interview with a Jewish magazine, but he quickly catches on from the line of questioning.
"Cool," he says. "I love talking about the Jew stuff."
It was fortuitous that a guest at that now-famous bar mitzvah also happened to be putting on a Jewish children's song festival. Impressed by the young Gold's talent, he invited him to participate. Gold did, along with his two older brothers. They won first prize. From there, the festival engineer told him about an audition. He got the lead. He then got an agent and was regularly taken out of yeshiva to go to work.
"I call my parents 'show Jews,'" said Gold, who was born and raised in the Bronx. While they were both in education, "I think they both had a secret fascination with the glamour of show business."
Show business, though, was kind of a weird field for an Orthodox kid from the Bronx. "I don't think [my parents] had any sort of plan of putting me into show business, but I was a natural-born singer. I performed around the house constantly."
He would go on to record more than 400 jingles for television, and sing backup for Diana Ross.
He was also harboring a secret though. From a very young age, Gold says, he knew he was different from other kids.
"I liked to hang out with the girls, playing hopscotch and Barbies," he said. He also was into the arts, music and theater, none of which interested the other boys. "I've always been not afraid to be who I am, even if it's not an appropriate thing for a boy to be into," he said. "I didn't care that much."
Gold came out to his best friend at Yeshiva High School when he was 16. He came out to everyone else, including his family, two years later.
"It was a surprise, because I held a family meeting, and that was the first time anything like that had happened. But on the other hand, I had a shrine to Madonna in my room," that he admits probably didn't escape his parents' attention. "C'mon, they're not clueless. They're pretty sophisticated Orthodox Jews."
Gold described his parents' reaction as fairly accepting. But along with coming out, he stopped being observant.
"My mom was proud of me because she thought it
wasn't healthy for me to keep a secret like that, " he said of his coming out. "But when I stopped being religious, that was a lot more difficult for them."
Like so many gay Jews, Gold had trouble reconciling the two major components of his identity.
"Once I decided I didn't want to hide anymore, and be fully who I am, I realized that isn't allowed in this religion that I loved so much." Gold often observes the holidays with his family, and said he loves doing so, but he can no longer be observant.
"I feel very spiritual, and that spirituality is inexplicably tied to how I grew up, which is as a religious Jew," he said. He has learned a bit about other spiritual paths, and realizes "there's a lot more that Judaism has to offer than what they teach you in yeshiva. My most formative years were with Judaism, so that's where I go back to."
In his music, Gold is as out about his sexuality as he is about his Judaism. His new CD includes a song he wrote and produced called "Beshert," a concept he strongly believes in — not only when it comes to love, but in a general sense.
"I believe that things happen for a significant reason when they happen, and that has to do with my faith."
Gold voiced some frustration at the treatment he has received in the business because of his sexuality, claiming there just isn't much support for gay musicians. And despite the prevalence of queer characters on sitcoms and gay-themed programming, Gold said the music world apparently hasn't yet caught up.
While writing songs about relationships he's had with men — he belongs to the "write what you know" school — has perhaps limited his reach thus far, Gold hopes he'll be able to transcend being a gay artist.
"I fully believe my music is universal and anyone can appreciate and understand it," he said. "There are a lot of divas who gay men are able to worship, but there're not that many other gay men who gay men can look up to as role models. So if that's the role I'm taking on at this point, then I fully embrace that, because I'm gonna speak to whoever wants to listen."
And many who are listening are women, he said. "I'm down with the lesbians and I'm down with the straight girls, so I think it's only a matter of time. I'm just trying to be true and honest, and people relate to that no matter what your sexuality is."
As for the role model idea, Gold certainly offers a look some might want to replicate. On his Web site, http://www.arigold.com, are numerous photos of his gym-sculpted body, pinup-style.
"I describe my look as shtetl fabulous," he said. "I've been known to rock my tzitzit every once in awhile."
Ari Gold will perform 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the Triton Hotel, 342 Grant St., S.F.; opening reception at 5. Information: (415) 394-0500. Also at 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9 at Mecca, 2029 Market St., S.F.; 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11 at A Different Light Bookstore, 489 Castro St., S.F.; and Sunday, Oct. 12 at DNA Lounge, 342 11th St., S.F. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Ticket information: http://www.dnalounge.com.
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