Tom Goss: The singer-songwriter's musical mission

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Wednesday May 16, 2018
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With equal parts heartfelt intention and musical invention, Tom Goss writes and performs songs that are unapologetically gay-themed. From bedroom romances to elder families, kids suffering religious oppression, to a dance-worthy celebration of bear culture, Goss focuses his music and his accompanying millions-viewed videos with a purpose that only adds to their lyrical loveliness. He'll perform The Love Cub, his new show of selected songs from his seven albums, on May 19 in San Francisco at the Hotel Rex's intimate music venue, his first Bay Area show in four years.

"My new solo show incorporates a lot of storytelling, as well as singing and playing guitar and piano, and some video," said Goss in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "It's pretty heavily autobiographical, and speaks to my experiences as an artist and as a gay man, a man attracted to bears, and the ups and downs of my life."

Commenting on the popularity of his dance-worthy song and video "Bears," Goss said, "People write me from all over the world with pictures of it playing in bars. It's really great that the community has embraced it." Since then, Goss has become an invited performer to bear gatherings around the world.

Conversely, Goss, 37, is more known for softer folk-inspired ballads, and songs that directly take on serious themes, like his haunting 2015 cover of "Son of a Preacher Man," the John Hurley/Ronnie Wilkins song, made popular in 1968 by singer Dusty Springfield. The accompanying video dramatizes the love between two teenage boys, and religious hatred in a small town. On YouTube, thousands of viewers have shared their reactions and similar experiences.

"It was a real collaboration that started from a conversation with the director, Michael Serrato," said Goss, "and the common experience that many gay men and women had. We wanted to speak to it in an honest, powerful, and hopefully behavior-changing way. And that's important. We want to be telling stories, many of them buried and hidden in the closet. There is a lot of Micheal's experience in it, but also mine. We also wanted people who aren't in our community to see it and empathize with this experience."

The video seems more like a short film, and Goss said that the music actually shifted to accommodate the filmed action.
"The song was done after the video was shot in many ways," added Goss. "It was almost like film-scoring. We always set out to create content that powerful and impactful, and when you actually succeed, it's really rewarding."

From faith to family
Before his success as a musician, Goss' own life almost took a religious path. Born in Quincy, Illinois and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Goss graduated from the University of Central Missouri on a wrestling scholarship, with intentions of becoming a schoolteacher.

Of his time on the mat (from 119 weight class in high school, up to 141 by the end of his college years), Goss explained his surprisingly -to non-wrestlers- non-erotic experience.

"I definitely didn't have an attraction to women, but I turned that part of myself off. I was hanging out with so many earnest, Midwestern, beautiful men, getting naked with them, and at tournaments on the weekend, but I wasn't attracted to them, either."

His move to Washington, D.C. was intended for priesthood at a Roman Catholic seminary, but instead he left, came out as gay, and began playing in local small venues, while discovering his attraction to bears, "hairy, chubby men. My physical attraction was very different than what the world was telling me it should be."

Goss later met Mike Briggs, who became his boyfriend. The two men married in 2010.

Goss' first EP, Rise, soon became an online hit via Logo TV. His second release, the album Back to Love, included another solemn hit, "Lover," about the partner of a gay soldier killed in Afghanistan. Another military-themed song, "This is Who We Are," takes on the now-dismissed Don't Ask Don't Tell that effected LGBT military members.

Along with recording some terrific covers, Goss has also collaborated with other gay singer-songwriters, including Matt Alber, Gregory Douglass, Steve Grand, and model Max Emerson. He's also appeared in a few films.

Certainly, Goss has no problem showing off his body, and parts of his personal life, for fun. A master of social media, Goss remains earnest and endearing.

"I definitely create with intention," said Goss. "I'm not an artist because I want to be famous. I want to create substantive content, and change peoples' lives and make it a better place."

Aside from his domestic life, Goss said he's most comfortable performing.

"I really feel most at home and most alive when I perform live and with people. I love recording and making the music videos, but singing before an audience has a palpable feeling. And when I hear other people's stories, it inspires me."

In another song, the accompanying video for "More Than Temporary" includes a diverse array of older LGBT couples as a reflection of the hope a young gay man feels after his first date. Directed by Christopher Turner, husband of author Armistead Maupin, the video includes that famous couple, and some very familiar San Francisco locales.

"I also wrote that while I was in San Francisco in 2014," said Goss. "It's always been a cornerstone and mecca for our community, for people searching for a new family to embrace. All the couples in the video are real couples. I always want to represent the entire community, to tell my peoples' stories. My own community is more vibrant and diverse and colorful than any I've even seen, and I want to celebrate that."

Tom Goss performs Saturday, May 19, 8pm at Hotel Rex, $35-$60. Cocktails and small plates available. 562 Sutter St.