Monday, August 04, 2014

"It was the best of times,..."

I’ve always taken little-boy delight in sharing things which give me great pleasure, in the hopeful if perhaps incorrect expectation that others will enjoy them, too.

But I note that as I grow older, it’s more and more difficult to directly share things and memories, simply because they are further and further removed from the world of the present, and more and more people are too young to be aware of them.

Yesterday, I was thinking of Jacques Brel and his music, and the delight I take from it. Brel was born in 1929 and died in 1978 of lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking. He was a strikingly handsome man, and his music ran from delightfully frivolous (“Madelaine”) to intense and disturbing (“Carousel”), but the messages in them were always powerful. For those who aren’t familiar with him, there are several clips on YouTube; but for perhaps one of the best overviews, I’d strongly recommend the recording Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. It’s worth the investment. (A clip from the stage version of one of my favorite of his songs, can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdSXpC8fbNA)

And from Jacques Brel, my mind moved on to thinking of how much of the world of my past—all the marvelously talented entertainers who were part of it—have all but gone from the public conscience: I started to make a list but had to stop because of the sheer number of them.

Let’s just take one small example: while I don’t think it’s quite true that a love of Broadway musicals is a requirement for being gay, I almost ache to remember the marvelous shows and performers I’ve been privileged to see, from Rosalind Russell in Wonderful Town, Ethel Merman in Gypsy, to Philip Anglim in The Elephant Man; Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Carol Lawrence and so many others who went on to become stars on their own, in New Faces of 1952; the delightful Boy Meets Boy, the first gay musical I ever saw (and saw four or five times); again, far too many to enumerate.

The experiences of having lived through the greatest war in the history of the planet, WWII, are totally lost on those who were not yet born at the time. Kate Smith and the songs of the war; president Franklin D. Roosevelt; the day to day experiences of the war itself…war bonds and ration stamps and the pervasive and frightening uncertainty of how it would all end…all now just grainy film footage and words in a textbook.

Radio programs from before the war until the advent of television, required a vital element not needed when watching TV…imagination. So much a part of an entire nation’s common and shared experience while sitting at home listening to the radio—soap operas, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Inner Sanctum, The Shadow, Jack Armstrong—are not only gone forever but almost impossible for those under 70 to fully comprehend.

Big band music—Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey; the war songs like “When the Lights Go On Again,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” and on and on and on—has all but vanished from today’s national memory

The patriotic music which bound us all together, to which we could not listen without a sense of pride in being Americans—“This is My Country,” “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is My Land—have all but been stilled by our startling plunge into national dysfunction and political bickering and mean-spiritedness.

I am of course fully aware that the things I remember and wish I could share with you were from an imperfect time. We tend, when looking back, to focus on the good, the things that pleased us, the things in which we could take pride, and we shove many of the very real and deeply serious problems—racism and homophobia among them—to one side, like shoving things under the bed when company comes over.

But that should and does not detract from the happiness and pleasure of those things we choose to remember fondly.

I truly wish it were possible for you and I to go back to share (and for me, to relive) these moments and experiences which meant so very much to me and made me whoever it is that I am.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I wish I could have seen Rosalind Russell, Ethel Merman, Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, and Carol Lawrence. That would have been something.

There are folks from back in the day I would like to have met at some point. William Powell and Myrna Loy come to mind. I actually just found a copy of her autobiography at John King Books in Detroit and picked it up.

The actors and singers of today can't really hold a candle to the ones of yesterday. And though I wasn't born during the time you were, perhaps with your help, I and others can see a bit of the past through your eyes.