Rob Halford Dissects Hiding Identity as a Gay Man + More While Discussing New Book ‘Confess
Judas Priest's Rob Halford has waited 69 years to tell the story of his life. Now, the Metal God's autobiography, Confess, is out, offering an unprecedented look at the singer's life from childhood through half a century of fronting one of metal's biggest and most influential bands — all while struggling to understand his identity as a gay man looking for true and honest love.
Fans will eagerly devour all the anecdotes about Judas Priest's history in the studio and on the road, but what is the most gripping about Confess is Halford's honest analyzation of trying to understand his sexual identity, which he heavily repressed in fear of destroying the band's career. As a teenager, Halford endured sexual abuse by elders in his community, one man being a friend of his father, as well as by leaders at after school activities.
These instances of abuse greatly obscured a young Halford's perception of what it meant to be a member of the gay community. What was begrudgingly accepted was that his sexual identity must remain hidden from the public while, lyrically, the Metal God lined certain Priest songs with references to gay culture and sexual desires.
After a series of unfulfilling relationships, Halford eventually met his current partner, Thomas, and finally found the genuine relationship he had spent his entire life looking for.
That's just a sliver of what else is chronicled within the pages of Confess and we dove deeper into these themes with Rob Halford, who spoke with Loudwire over the phone from his home in Phoenix, Arizona.
Repeatedly in Confess, you mention the need to stay in the closet as to not sink Judas Priest’s career if the world were to find out the band was fronted by a gay man. Lyrically though, you couldn’t help but practically make your declaration. How did you walk that line with a need to express your identity while simultaneously keeping it hidden?
I’ve always felt really cool about the fact that the guys in Priest were accepting of the song “Raw Deal.” It may have been that they didn’t know what I was talking about, but “Raw Deal” is just talking about the good times that can be had in Fire Island, New York. The reference is there.
When you’re in the closet, you’re protecting everybody but yourself and that’s the way it was for me for many, many years in Priest primarily because I love this band with every fiber of my being and I never wanted to do anything to harm or damage what we were about as a metal band.
That’s very normal for musicians to feel so enamored with the band and the people in the band that you love so much. But in this case the fear of rejection, in every essence including the fan base, was so important to be avoided. It was tremendously difficult.
I didn’t have an agenda behind writing the lyrics to “Raw Deal.” I’m pretty sure I wrote the lyrics in the studio when we were writing Sin After Sin where Roger Glover asked, “Are you reading the Bible?” and I said, “No, that’s my thesaurus — that’s where I get my words from.”
A lot of the words came in a spontaneous way. It’s a great song, “Raw Deal.” The fucking music is so cool and unusual, but somehow listening to the music my thought process went to that. It was a coming out song, and I’m sure gay followers at the time probably acknowledged that, but as far as the press and everywhere else it was valued, as it should be, as a really potent metal track.
Judas Priest, "Raw Deal"
Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s especially, retrospectively it appears that you were constantly sending signals to clue fans into your identity as a gay man. Were these sort of coded messages to the LGBTQ+ community to signal to them that someone from their community was up there? In the "Locked In" video, the rest of the band is essentially rescuing you from a den of women...
[laughs] I never really thought about that.
I have to say, for the most part, the lyrics on the Turbo album are subpar from my perspective now. I was literally at the end of my game. I was a full-on raging drunk and addict. It was all desperation. Things were really coming to the shit-pit time. I was really struggling throughout those lyrics. I was depleted. Everything was being masked by booze and drugs, but I got through it.
There’s some great songs on the Turbo album, but it’s not one of my proudest moments as a lyricist.
Judas Priest, "Locked In" Music Video
Do you think that perhaps more fans realized your identity as a gay man, but felt afraid to even broach the subject with even just friends because it could lead to accusations and ridicule?
Absolutely. You see that even now. Cruel things are said by people who have had cruel things happen to them. It still happens now — “No homo, bro.”
I would like to think that things have changed dramatically since I started in metal 50 years ago, and I know they have. We still have a long way to go to complete equality, chipping away at the wall of prejudice. As far as something like, “You can’t be a fan of Priest, they’ve got a fag singer,” yeah, that possibly still exists today. That certainly would’ve been the case through the ‘70s and ’80s and even the ‘90s.
Hindsight is a great thing, isn’t it? If it’s a great thing… it depends on the circumstances and the issues. What you said is one of the many reasons I stayed hidden for so long.
When hair metal made its impact and gained mainstream notoriety, did the overwhelming acceptance of androgyny help the LGBTQ+ community or obscure it any way?
Things like that make things better, going back to David Bowie and even Kurt Cobain — fashion in music, particularly in metal and rock can have a profound effect. It tells a story, doesn’t it? That connectivity of someone looking and dressing that way. A fan will accept me and they project acceptance and tolerance and that’s beautiful. Without a doubt, anything of that nature is very powerful.
In the Turbo era, you detail your downward spiral with addiction and that the biggest change that overtook you is that you had become violent and were lashing out. How does somebody know when they are at rock bottom? You attempted suicide but continued drinking even after that incident and then the realization came when you were punching a wall and screaming.
Sometimes you have to be told. I’m a strong believer in intervention even though it can be pretty intense. I was told on many occasions. It’s a journey through Hell.
The expressions of violence were probably the most extreme manifestations of a cry for help. I’ve never been a violent person — it’s just not who I am. A lot of metalheads, we find our release for violence and expression in our music and at our shows when we’re in the pit together. But it was the person I was at that time.
Many of us have talked endlessly about this terrible thing (suicide), but reaching out and texting somebody, calling them or finding some channel of communication is vital. For the most part of my life, I didn’t have that.
We’ve lost so many beautiful people in rock ’n’ roll. It’s horrible losing people like that. All of us have that mentality of, “Maybe if I made a phone call or an effort…” Suicide affects everybody in one way or another. It’s so complex. One minute your best friend who doesn’t appear to have a care in the world is gone the next minute. Sometimes there aren’t any signals. It’s such a complexity.
Everybody is loved, whether you know it or not.
When you were in rehab, the rest of the band flew out to see you. In Confess you had noted that both you and the band weren’t ones to share feelings and the attitude was just to get on with it. How much did just their presence change your approach going into rehab?
It was a beautiful expression of love, wasn’t it? I was amazed when they came to my room and I was in a bed with an IV drip in my arm. It’s a total expression of love and support.
Bands are funny things, aren’t we? We are a family, but there are some emotions within bands that are never approached or talked about. Maybe it’s the alpha male thing — I don’t know what it is. Particularly for certain age demographics, I talk about it where I was born and raised, much like everyone at the time, the men were engrained to not talk about certain things. It doesn’t solve the issue, you just push it away but you can’t push things like that away.
But their visit was wonderful. It was the greatest thing that happened to me because I went back to the band clean and sober. I was able to understand and appreciate this beautiful thing I do as a musician in a much clearer way. I became a way more efficient professional music when I had structure in my life.
When you left Judas Priest — well, you didn’t actually leave the band! It was a big misunderstanding as we found out... You formed Fight, which you mentioned had some death metal-like elements. How cognizant of the underground metal movements were you at the time?
We’ve always been aware, the best we could before the Internet, of the things that were going on around us. The start of every decade in rock ’n’ roll, something really powerful happens and that was the case in the ‘90s.
To me, the ‘90s were the greatest time ever for heavy metal if you think about the bands and the records that were made. Think about those Top 5 to 10 albums that happened in the early ‘90s, it really set the direction for metal now in the 2000s and into the 2020s.
[My husband] Thomas was talking about this to me on our nightly walk how Suicide Silence brought out Max Cavalera to join them onstage to play “Roots Bloody Roots.” They said how influential the Roots record had been on them and that it was the catalyst for the band.
The ‘90s intrigued me and because of that miscommunication that led me to being away from Priest, yeah, I wanted to dive in and have fun with it. A lot of people reference War of Words as being a really powerful record.
Fight, "Into the Pit"
Do you feel in any way that being able to show fans your true, everyday self on social media, Instagram in particular, that it helped in to open up about yourself before beginning Confess?
My gut reaction is no. I’m able to do my 'Caturday' and my other stuff [on Instagram]. I think I understand the essence of the question, but I have to take this all back to two things in my life. Being clean and sober, I can’t lie anymore and I don’t need to lie anymore.
The way Ian Gittins (who did Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries book), the way he steered me through my life with all of these incredible questions in this 60-hour period, he was able to extricate this stuff. It was very easy to say everything, some of which didn’t go in the book for legal reasons.
I only get to do this once, so there’s no point of holding anything back.
Rob Halford, Confess
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