Michael Callen was an artist who swooned and swanned to be heard, his songs bursting forth to express pleasure and humor and the longing for a more connected life. His insistence on being heard as an activist saved millions of lives, as this biography reminds us. That Callen’s whole story — and particularly the story of the music that inspired so many as Callen and so many others became warriors in the fight to illuminate the costs of HIV-AIDS — has not been told in this way before is an injustice, one that Jones corrects with exactitude, insight and love.

~ Ann Powers, NPR music critic

As we all struggle with the Corona Virus Pandemic, we need to remember the marginalized community of gay men who suffered through the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. Michael Callen’s voice — his music, poetry, and vocality — helped thousands immeasurably as they faced not support but scorn along with their afflictions. In this moving book, Matthew J. Jones traces the personal and artistic development of a queer kid from the Midwest as he came to terms with his own sexuality, engaged with other activists, and eventually composed “Love Don’t Need a Reason,” which became an anthem for the AIDS movement. We need to remember….

~ Susan McClary, Fynette H. Kulas Professor of Music, Case Western Reserve University

Love Don't Need a Reason: The Life & Music of Michael Callen

From a stage erected in front of the US Capitol, on April 25, 1993, Michael Callen surveyed the throng: an estimated one million people stretched across the National Mall in the largest public demonstration of queer political solidarity in history. “What a sight,” he told the crowd, his earnest Midwestern twang reverberating through loudspeakers. “You’re a sight for sore eyes. Being gay is the greatest gift I have ever been given, and I don’t care who knows about it.” He then launched into a gorgeous rendition of “Love Don’t Need a Reason,” the AIDS anthem he composed with Marsha Malamet and the late Peter Allen. As Callen finished singing, people stood cheering and flashing the familiar American Sign Language symbol for “I Love You.” For they knew the song’s sentiment rang true for Callen, who had recently announced his retirement from music and activism after a living for more than a decade with what was then called “full-blown AIDS.” After the March on Washington, Callen returned to his recently adopted West Coast home, Los Angeles. In the ensuing months, his health rapidly declined, and on 27 December 1993, Callen died of AIDS-related pulmonary Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Love Don’t Need a Reason focuses on Callen’s most important and lasting legacy: his music. A witness to the overlooked last years of Gay Liberation and a major figure in the early years of the AIDS crisis, Michael Callen chronicled these experiences in song. A community organizer, activist, author, and architect of the AIDS self-empowerment movement, he literally changed the way we have sex in an epidemic when he co-authored one of the first safe-sex guides in 1983. A gifted singer, songwriter, and performer, he also made gay music for gay people and used music to educate and empower people with AIDS. Listening again to his music allows us to hear the shifting dynamics of American families, changing notions of masculinity, gay migration to urban areas, the sexual politics of Gay Liberation, and HIV/AIDS activism. Using extensive archival materials and newly-conducted oral history interviews with Callen’s friends, family, and fellow musicians, Matthew J. Jones reintroduces Callen to the history of LGBTQIA+ music and places Callen’s music at the center of his important activist work.

7 thoughts on “Love Don’t Need a Reason: The Life & Music of Michael Callen

  • I am so excited about this fantastic new book about Michael Callen’s life and music! I read it in manuscript and it is amazing! Bravo Matthew J. Jones!

  • Looking forward to this.. I was so fortunate to get to see Michael perform in Washington DC in 1992.. he sang love dont need a reason at the quilt display..

  • I recall seeing footage of Michael’s 1993 Washington DC performance here on the news in Australia at the time. His music swept the world, and so did his activism. Thank you for helping to keep his love alive.

  • Congratulations! I have been playing Michael’s music on the radio and online for 30 years – can’t wait to read your book

  • I can’t wait for this book. I grew up with Michael. He’s always in my heart. I’ll never forget his loving nature and compassion. I still remember conversations we had in the 70’s/80’s.

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