20th Century Boys: Queer rock band reaches the light at end of ‘Tunnelvision’

Pioneering out rock band Boys’ Entrance is releasing a double album this month entitled “Tunnelvision.” The queer rock opera set in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic centers on openly gay rocker Tim and his tumultuous relationship with a closeted fan, Troy, which quickly spirals into a roller coaster of break-ups and make-ups, drugs, alien encounters and one of the men becoming a rent boy.

Written by the band’s lead singer, Tim Cain, the album convincingly mixes glam rock, new-wave, goth, industrial and pop styles across its sprawling 17 tracks, echoing the feel of artists ranging from David Bowie and Peter Gabriel to Duran Duran and The Velvet Underground — all the while coming across as refreshingly original and raw, especially appreciated in these days of over-manicured and polished pop songs.

Cain said the writing and conceptualization of what he considers his magnum opus has taken more than a decade.

“It took over 10 years to create this and it was always going to be called ‘Tunnelvision,’” he said. “For some reason I always had that title in my mind but I didn’t start off the idea of creating a rock opera. I did create a concept album that was based around the idea of sexual obsession. It was loosely based on those things and one day I was listening to those tracks and realized that there was a dialogue that started off with the song ‘The 13th Step,’ which has two characters in it, Tim and Troy. Then I realized that the other songs that were part of the group of songs could be conveyed as different characters. I started rewriting it and what we ended up with is a Boys’ Entrance album that is in the first person by me.”

Cain added the album is not supposed to be seen as being about his life.

“There are elements of it that are certainly autobiographical but it’s fictionalized,” he said. “I’ll just say it that way.”

Cain started Boys’ Entrance more than 25 years ago in Chicago. The band now features his husband, bass player and multi-instrumentalist Bill Ramsey, as well as lead guitarist Jaybo Key and drummer John Spinelli.

Cain said that while times have changed for openly gay musicians since groups like Boys’ Entrance and Pansy Division emerged, there haven’t been many gay rockers to come out in their wake.

“We started in 1991 along with Pansy Division,” he said. “We both celebrated our 25th anniversaries last year. In that time period, there weren’t and still [are] not that many gay rock bands. More than anything, there have been lesbian rock bands but [Boys’ Entrance] and Pansy Division have been the only two that I can point to. Maybe the Scissor Sisters but even then I’m not sure about that; their focus wasn’t necessarily on writing gay music for gay people, which is where we started out. For a while I thought, because of gay marriage, we wouldn’t be relevant anymore. Now it seems we’re more relevant than ever because of the resistance to Trump and his administration. We have to be very vigilant and know that just because you receive rights at some point in your history, these things should not be taken for granted.” 

Cain has since relocated the band from the Windy City to Central Florida. When asked how the laidback and conservative state of Florida compares to the hip, rock-friendly metropolis of Chicago, his answer was surprising.

“I loved Chicago but I actually find it easier in Florida,” Cain said. “We’ve had more success since we’ve moved to Florida. It seems to be counter-intuitive because I thought the redneck culture and more conservative culture of Florida wouldn’t take kindly to the band but we’ve been rated in the top-10 bands of Central Florida for three years now. Because Chicago was a bigger market, it was harder to get those sort of ratings. But it’s been great down here.”

Speaking of queer rock operas, Cain isn’t worried about “Tunnelvision” being compared to another globally famous and revered story about an out rock singer in a stormy, strained and somewhat doomed relationship (i.e., “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”).

“That’s the most prominent one that would come to mind,” he said. “I think it’s equal part [The Who’s] ‘Tommy’ as well as ‘Hedwig,’ I suppose.”

Like “Hedwig,” Boys’ Entrance plans to take “Tunnelvision: The Musical” to the stage for a limited run this summer as a theatrical show in which performers other than the bandmembers will play the parts of the main characters.

“In June we’re going to debut it in St. Petersburg [Fla.], the actual rock opera,” Cain said. “That involved a manuscript as well as the songs. It’s entirely different. It’s going to be sung by actors. Boys’ Entrance are going to be the backing band for the performances. It’s going to be very theatrical. The song ‘The Body Snatchers,’ for instance, is about aliens. It’s a metaphor, but aliens come down and inhabit the bodies of the characters. It’s an AIDS metaphor and we’re going to have aliens on stage and they come down out of a tree as the song suggests. So it’s going to be very dramatic and fun.”

Cain added he’s interested in experiencing his songs being performed by someone other than himself.   

“I’m very psyched to see it,” he said. “I have an image of what it’s going to be like in my mind. To actually hear the actors singing it and juxtaposing the dialogues within the music, I’m just excited to see how it’s all going to be live on stage.”

“Tunnelvision” is available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify now. Physical copies of the CD can be purchased at www.cdbaby.com/boysentrance5. For more information on Boys’ Entrance, visit www.boysentrance.com.


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