Let’s Remember Buzzcocks Frontman Pete Shelley as the Proud Bisexual Punk He Was
Everyone cuff your pants this weekend and thrash out a little bisexual rage. Pete Shelley — guitarist, singer and songwriter for the seminal punk band Buzzcocks — passed away at the age of 63 on Thursday, Dec. 6. The band’s management confirmed his passing in Estonia, from an apparent heart attack, as reported by the BBC.
Buzzcocks formed back in 1976, making a name for themselves in the thriving Manchester music scene. The band strummed out three thundering, sardonic albums, Another Music in a Different Kitchen (1978), Love Bites (1978) and A Different Kind of Tension (1979), plus one of the best greatest hits compilations in existence, Singles Going Steady (1979).
Soon after news broke, tributes came pouring in from fellow bandmates and British punk contemporaries, including members of the Sex Pistols and Joy Division, plus members of the many bands Buzzcocks came to influence, like Green Day, R.E.M., Pixies, Pearl Jam and Franz Ferdinand.
And while Pete Shelley’s influences on punk, pop-punk and emo music are undeniable, his lyrics were also fearlessly (and lustfully) queer. Buzzcocks songs spoke directly to the world’s desolate, depressed and horny lost souls. Shelley himself was openly bisexual, an important fact that certain news outlets are quick to omit.
Buzzcocks’ biggest single, “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” bemoans a guttural feeling all queer people have lived through. Just the song’s opening verse alone hits hard with that bitter despair: “You disturb my natural emotions / You make me feel I’m dirt / And I’m hurt / And if I start a commotion / I’ll only end up losin’ you / And that’s worse.” Simple yet raw — a common theme in Buzzcocks songs.
Even Pete Shelley’s more open-ended love songs remained queer in the sense that almost every single track was genderless, swapping out “he” and “she” with “you” and “I.” In an interview with Pitchfork, Shelley commented on his lyrics, saying, “The object of my attention could be either. I can always say this one is about you, even if I wrote it about someone else.”
And while there were several other bisexual contemporaries around the Buzzcocks, including Pete Townsend of The Who, Dave Davies of the Kinks and David Bowie, none were as unabashedly queer as Pete Shelley. In a 1978 interview, he said, “I have boyfriends. I have girlfriends. And if you can relate to people as people, you realize sex doesn’t matter.”
Though Buzzcocks disbanded in 1981, Shelley continued to have a successful solo career, during which he produced his most queer song to-date, “Homosapien,” with lyrics like “I’m the cruiser / You’re the loser / Me and you sir / Homosapien too. / Homosuperior / In my interior.” The last two lines got the song banned from the BBC — talk about queer punk.
So to any media outlets refusing to mention Pete Shelley’s unabashed bisexuality, in the time-honored tradition of punk, we say, “piss off.”