Monday, February 23, 2009

One Legend, then Another, then a New One

Much impressed by American Conservatory Theater's production of Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins. Foster Jenkins was a 30s and 40s era socialite who fancied herself a soprano diva notwithstanding her near total lack of talent. Her fame grew through recitals to privileged audiences until she rented Carnegie Hall to her eternal fame and shame. She was evidently oblivious, and died without warning, while purchasing sheet music, only a few months later.

Judy Kaye is magnificent in the title role. The whole thing was riotously funny ... and poignant, and they played both to the hilt.

There is not a lot of room for rumination in this one, the more so given that the audience is obviously willing to laugh without reservation at a woman who really should be embarrassed. At the time, the audiences hid their ridicule sufficiently that she could and would carry on. We have no such compunction these days. It took me some time before I could watch the early auditions of American Idol without my finger on the channel changer. The really awful acts are obvious setups, but there is this stratum of people who truly think they can sing but they just plain cannot. They ask for it, they get it, and we get to watch. But it is agonizing to witness their humiliation, and even worse to see them rail against it. No matter how plainly the plain-spoken Simon spits it out, they just do not know that they are "awful."

No excuses for me here ... I am a big American idol fan and I will blog again this year about some of the highlights and lowlifes. But the terrible screeching of American Idol just does not compare to the symphonic monstrosity of Florence Foster Jenkins ... try this on for size:

The other performance in Souvenir was Donald Corren's rendering of the aptly named Cosmé McMoon, the Mexican-born and obviously gay man who was her long-time accompanist. The narration was introspective ... he wondered how it was that he ended up doing this thing. I somehow doubt the original Cosmé had any such reservations ... money is money to the starving artist. And society is society to the fag trying to find a niche. It's never easy, but it was particularly not easy for a gay man to make it in the New York of the 20s, 30s, 40s. I thought Corren was spectacular. And the closet he played was very After Dark which was very apropos, I suppose.

But I am an out-of-the-closet fightin' fag, and so ...

The Oscars and All That

Huzzah to Sean Penn who gets it, and talks the talk and walks the walk. Who will care about the skimpy charms of Slumdog Millionaire in a year or a month or a decade? But Milk cuts, makes history, renders for anyone to see something that must be seen and that the enemies of sight deny to sight. (Shame on Jonathan Rauch for his scandalous pandering to religious bigots. It has never been about assuaging bigotry ... they can keep their bigotry. We have no claim on it. But we deserve to live as any other person lives, and that is what Sean Penn understands, but Jonathan Rauch is willing to give up for a bag of fool's gold.)

I saw Cleve Jones on Rachel Maddow, and he was crystal clear about the nature of the task. He said that 1978 was not as much a memo as 1964 when the black movement understood that we can never get our freedom state by state or county by county. The bigots thrive in the states and the counties. We need a clear federal mandate that gay people are people. Period. That's it. Religious bigots are welcome to hide under whatever bridge they can find or whatever cave they can slither into. But they have no place in the civil rights of fellow human beings.

Did you hear that Obama?

Before I come back to Obama, I have to note that seeing Cleve was a little shocking. We all age. I knew Cleve in passing ... our paths crossed as he was moving on to a kind of entrepreneurial activism and I, a recent immigrant to San Francisco, remained a true believer in the hardy band of lovers who had created the gay movement in the 70s. I mean no slight by the term "entrepreneurial activism", the more so because ultimately Cleve managed to create the Quilt whose power needs to be witnessed to be understood. But I did not have that in me, and my true believerism eventually devolved into retirement and ultimately a career outside the movement. So it goes.

But Cleve back then was such a sweet puppy of a young man ... and now he is not. His voice is as clear as ever, and his understanding unbowed by compromise or cowardice. I admire him. I just wish we did not have to age.

So to Obama, who needs to get with the program ...

That said, what a speech:

Not much to add to all the press, but the non-State-of-the-Union was a masterpiece. How much joy to the rhetorician's heart is a President who rides the language like a surfer on the waves of the ocean of speech.

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