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Amazing HIV+ Gay Men: Andy Bell

By Diane Anderson-...

Anyone who grew up in the 1980sand ’90s knows the music of Erasure, the chart-topping, award-winning two-man New Wave megaband started by Vince Clarke and Andy Bell nearly 30 years ago. In all they’ve sold 25 million albums and achieved more than 40 synth-fueled hit singles including “Oh L’Amour,” “A Little Respect,” “Blue Savannah,” “Star,” “Chains of Love,” and “Who Needs Love (Like That).” And through it all, musician Andy Bell has remained a powerful (and only slightly aging) sex symbol who happens to be HIV-positive. Erasure’s emotionally charged new album, The Violet Flame (their 16th studio album), is out September 23, and they have a tour planned across both the U.S. and Europe (which culminates with shows at New York’s Terminal 5 on December 30 and 31). Fans are already (virtually) lining up for tickets. Bell tells us seven things about inspiration, love, and HIV stigma — and what it meant to find love again with his partner, Stephen Ross.

The biggest difference between the band’s 1980s-era shows and the ones to expect on the Violet Flame tour:

I think the earlier shows had all the bells and whistles thrown in. These days we’re a lot calmer and it’s more about the emotional impact of the songs — and of course my flawless delivery!

After 30 years of Erasure, what keeps him inspired:

I think you just realize that what Vince and I have is something really unique and special, and our egos just don’t come into it anymore. We just really enjoy the craft of songwriting and performing, and all the rest is just nonsense.

When he came out as HIV-positive in 2004, the first thing he posted to his website was “Being HIV-positive does not mean that you have AIDS. My life expectancy should be the same as anyone else’s, so there’s no need to panic.”

On whether people panicked:

I don’t think people did panic, even though I’d been fretting about it a number of years before going public. I think for everybody who finds out they are positive, it takes a while to sink in and come to terms with it. But after a while, it makes you value your life and put things into perspective. I get such a thrill when I go into the clinic and see couples in their 60s; it makes me feel terrific, and I am so proud to be one of them.

On being highly visible and thus on the front lines of fighting the stigma against poz people:

I definitely have my ups and downs like anybody else, but generally I’m quite a positive person. It takes a hell of a lot to break a Taurean’s back. I guess we are all very fortunate to have been born at just the right time. I care about being a decent human being.

Whether any particular song on The Violet Flame speaks to the experience of someone living with HIV:

Not particularly, but I suppose because where I am in my life, it’s a reason to celebrate and it comes out in the music.

Whether the breathtaking new song “Smoke and Mirrors” was inspired by his late partner, Paul M. Hickey, who died in 2012:

It was inspired by Paul, but we were both such drama queens that I just wanted to lay everything bare on the table. He knows I was there through to the end and still am. It is such a tough experience to have gone through, but we’re all just one of billions and billions.

How finding love again affected the empowering sense of optimism on The Violet Flame:

[Erasure’s last album] Snow Globe [made after Paul died] was quite cathartic. I’d met Steve in the interim and he really helped me through the whole thing. I don’t know what I would have done without him, so The Violet Flame is a thank-you and is all about a new life cycle beginning. It’s all about hope, forgiveness, being given a new chance, and the world being your oyster. I feel so lucky and so blessed — it sounds really corny, but to have been loved even one time in your life is amazing, and to have a second chance is incredible.” 

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