There was a time in the mid to late eighties when any of us who worked in the arts starting losing friends and colleagues at an alarming rate. HIV/AIDS was taking its initial deadly harvest, and in those early days the gay community, which was well-represented in the arts world, was being hit hardest.
Anyone with half an eye and a willingness to face reality knew that it was only a matter of time before the illness spread beyond the one community into the larger world. Controlling a sexually transmitted disease without being willing to talk about preventive measures like condoms and other means of safe sex is nigh on impossible.
The attitude of "it's only a gay disease we don't have to worry" pretty much guaranteed the spread of HIV/AIDS to its pandemic levels of today. Even as the eighties were drawing to a close, and more and more people from all walks of life were testing positive, little or nothing was being done to educate people in practical protection. You can lecture on abstinence and just saying no all you want, but it's not going to stop people from having sex or shooting up.
Red Hot + Blue, released in 1990, was the first major, high-profile attempt to raise public awareness of the dangers and the reality of HIV/AIDS. Popular musicians were paired with innovative directors to create unique interpretations of the songs of Cole Porter. A CD of the music was compiled and released, including a few extra artists who had not recorded a video, while the videos themselves were aired as a television special on ABC in the United States and Channel 4 in the United Kingdom.
Interspersed among the videos were public service announcements by the artists involved and other public figures that provided bald, simple educational statements: use a condom, don't share needles, and you can't get HIV/AIDS by holding hands, kissing, or drinking from the same water fountain.
Proceeds from the sale of the CD were directed toward HIV/AIDS research, with the disc selling over a million copies. Beside the money that was raised, the whole project was an ambitious attempt to try and increase people's sensitivity to the plight of those who were beset with the illness.
AIDS is a disease that knows no boundaries or borders. It rages on, transforming entire countries, even continents, into tragic zones of despair. Largely ignored by the media — and despite being almost entirely preventable — AIDS remains the worst medical and social crisis in human history… When I began doing press to promote Red Hot + Blue, everyone's favourite quote was that we are the only company in the world that wanted to go out of business. A decade and a half later we still do. (John Carlin co-creator and director of Red Hot + Blue)
Well, 15 years later, Shout Factory records has released a special two-disc package of the CD and, for the first time ever for sale, a DVD containing all the material from that original television show. All the original content has been retained, including the messages from people like Richard Gere and John Malkovich; the animations between clips; and the short comedy sketches with their barbed points.