If you enjoyed the 30 seconds of a cappella singing during the party scene in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, don’t rush out and buy the soundtrack album. The group seen in the film is the Flirtations, and their campy, customized cover of ”Mister Sandman” — with revised lyrics that include ”Give him two legs like Greg Louganis/But make him public about his gayness” — is available only on their album Live: Out on the Road (Flirt Records).
While the all-gay vocal group may not share space on the Philadelphia CD with Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, head Flirt Jon Arterton says the group is getting mainstream attention. ”We’re attracting more and more straight and & ‘homosexually challenged’ people every day,” Arterton, 48, says. That includes director Demme, who saw one of the Flirtations’ posters while filming in Philly. ”I thought, ‘A gay a cappella group?”’ recalls Demme. ”’We gotta have ’em.”’
The fivesome — Arterton, Cliff Townsend, Aurelio Font, Jimmy Rutland, and Michael Callen (author of 1990’s best-selling Surviving AIDS) — formed in New York in 1988, but their big break didn’t come until 1991, when National Public Radio began playing their first album, The Flirtations. The network was swamped with would-be fans, who were directed to the only places you can find their albums: progressive and gay bookstores (and select Tower outlets). Later that year, on Donahue, the group serenaded the first televised gay wedding.
Being excluded from the soundtrack album was a disappointment (”We kept waiting, but they never asked,” says Arterton), but the Flirts have since faced a much graver loss: the AIDS-related death last December 27 of Callen. ”I wish he could have seen the film,” says Arterton, who notes that the group has no plans to replace its beloved soprano. ”He was such a media whore — it would have been very like him to dish it.”