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Ned Raggett

Ned Raggett can’t believe his good fortune at being able to walk to work each weekday in San Francisco instead of needing to take a bus. When not pondering his library duties and bemusing others with a tendency to explain Tolkien minutiae in detail -- usually unprompted -- he writes for places like NPR, Bandcamp, the Quietus, KQED Arts and more besides. He can all too easily be found on Twitter and Facebook.

"A Matter of Gender: The Fluid Life of Billy Mackenzie"
“Personal taste is a matter of gender.” So sang Scotland’s Billy Mackenzie on 1980’s The Affectionate Punch, the first album by his band the Associates. Lyrically addressed to a ‘Marguerite,’ the song could seem to simply be a bit of glib camp, nothing more. But the deeper waters of identity and sexuality suggested surfaced throughout his artistic life, only ending with his tragic suicide in 1997.

Mackenzie had a knack for hiding in plain sight as well as hiding in private, resisting any absolute categorization in favor of an eternal state of play. Whether in his lyrics, his famed Top of the Pops performances, cover art or any other form of presentation to the world, he countered heterodoxy and fixed identity with individual insouciance; away from the public gaze, he cautiously but thoroughly separated his core emotional and physical life even from much of his deeply loyal circle of family and friends. Ultimately -- and perhaps, as he saw it, happily -- most of his secrets passed with him.

This presentation serves as an introduction to Mackenzie’s wider life and work, seen partially through the lens of author Tom Doyle’s definitive biography of Mackenzie and associated reminiscences, but also through the perspective of how gender and identity has been perceived and reinterpreted in the twenty years since his passing. It seems impossible to impose great or exact claims on Mackenzie for matters -- of gender and otherwise -- he chose to address in his own fashion. Yet in studying what he said, sung and signalled, the value of the shaded boundaries he loved can be appreciated all the more.