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Music and AIDS  
 
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A number of musical works in various genres have responded directly or indirectly to the AIDS crisis. Many musical works that refer to AIDS are about emotions, thus focusing on expressions of grief, anger, or sympathy, rather than on the personal and social consequences of the disease (as in novels, film, or drama) or on political confrontation (as in many works of visual art).

As a result, music about AIDS sometimes seems less specific than work in other media. Nevertheless, music of all kinds has registered the enormous impact of AIDS.

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The earliest works appeared around the same time as the first AIDS plays, including punk songs by Karl Brown and Matthew McQueen for San Francisco's collaborative The AIDS Show ("Safe Livin' in Dangerous Times" and "Rimmin' at the Baths," September 1984).

The first commercially distributed music appeared soon after: Frank Zappa's "Thing-Fish" (November 1984), a satire of Broadway where abusive racial and sexual stereotypes people a demented tale of government conspiracy.

Much music about AIDS was written for fundraising purposes. An early and typical success was the vaguely sympathetic "That's What Friends Are For" by Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager (1985).

The benefit compilation Red, Hot + Blue (1990), in which contemporary pop artists cover Cole Porter songs, led to the foundation of the Red Hot Organization, which has since produced numerous CD and video anthologies. Notable Red Hot productions include the alternative rock collection No Alternative (1993), the sophisticated jazz/rap Stolen Moments (1994), and the hip-hop collection America Is Dying Slowly (1996).

Some major popular vocalists have made a point of performing songs about AIDS (usually one each), including Prince ("Sign o' the Times," 1987), James Taylor ("Never Die Young," 1988), Lou Reed ("Halloween Parade," 1989), Linda Ronstadt ("Goodbye My Friend," 1989), Elton John ("The Last Song," 1992), Madonna ("In This Life," 1992), Reba McEntire ("She Thinks His Name Was John," 1994), Tori Amos ("Not the Red Baron," 1996), Patti Smith ("Death Singing," 1997), and Janet Jackson ("Together Again," 1998).

Most of these are written as though by a survivor remembering a friend or by an "outsider" developing sympathy for PWAs. Popular groups sometimes take a more complex approach, including the radical remix of "All You Need Is Love" by The JAMS (1987) or U2's eerie "One" (1992).

Some gay popular artists have not only specifically referred to AIDS but have also explored the resultant emotional and social climate, especially Michael Callen and the Flirtations, Marc Almond, Jimmy Somerville, the Communards, and the Pet Shop Boys. The last group is known for songs that present their ironic, oblique view of 1990s gay life, including the discomforts of safe sex.

The most successful musicals that highlight AIDS have been William Finn's Falsettoland (1990) and Jonathan Larson's innovative Rent (1996), both of which engage gay characters with survivors at various stages of acceptance.

Other stage works, mostly in a soft-rock style, include Brian Gari's A Hard Time to be Single (1991), John Greyson's sloppy but amusing Zero Patience (1994), Stephen Dolginoff's Most Men Are (1995), James Mellon's An Unfinished Song (1995), Cindy O'Connor's family study All That He Was (1996), The Last Session by Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin (1996), and Elegies by Janet Hood and Bill Russell (1996).

Some films about AIDS have notable music. For example, the soundtrack for Philadelphia (1993) included new songs by Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. Bobby McFerrin created a vocal score for the AIDS Quilt documentary Common Threads (1989), and Carter Burwell wrote an orchestral soundtrack for And The Band Played On (1993).

The classical music community has produced a number of works, many of them neo-romantic in style. The most important of these are John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 (1990) and the ongoing AIDS Song Quilt (begun in 1992), created by baritone William Parker (1943-1993), which consists of a series of AIDS poem settings by composers including William Bolcom, Libby Larsen, and Ned Rorem. Younger composers such as Chris DeBlasio and Robert Maggio have made reputations partially on the basis of successful chamber works about AIDS.

Gay and lesbian choruses have performed many apposite works since early in the crisis, including reinterpretations of older songs. New cantatas written for them include Hidden Legacies by Roger Bourland and John Hall (1992) and Naked Man by Robert Seeley (1996).

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U2 in concert in Brussels, Belgium in 2005. U2 is one of many bands that have made a point of performing songs about AIDS. Photograph by Bertrand Perron.
  
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