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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

MORE MUSIC: JOHNNY, WE HARDLY KNEW YE

More and more often, the hectoring, demanding voices that deliver the evening news turn us off. Wolf Blitzer was once a fairly responsible on-air journalist. Now he’s a ringmaster, a carnival barker. The same holds true for the crew on MSNBC. Chris, Keith and Rachel—there’s plenty of talent to go around, but deploying it night after night in a ceaseless news cycle turns everything into white noise. As for Fox, the only reason to watch Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly is to prep yourself for a colonoscopy.

So, before and during dinner Barbara and I often put on some music. One night, we were listening to tunes Johnny Mathis had recorded over fifty years ago. The quality of his voice and the orchestrations were remarkable to us, a comfort that brought solace. We needed some, after news of a horrible natural disaster (the earthquake in Haiti), and two that were man-made: a male pinup elected to the U.S. Senate, and a stake driven by the five conservative members of the Supreme Court through the heart of honest elections, when they turned the election process into a strictly retail transaction.

--Listen to him. So beautiful. I bet you hate it.
--I don’t. Mathis is pitch-perfect. A great pop singer. He started out wanting to be a jazz singer, but came to see there was no money in it.
--As a girl, I just loved him.
--Did you have a poodle skirt?
--A poodle skirt, circle pins. Penny loafers.
--Just like Olivia Newton John in “Grease.” Before she undergoes her transformation.
--We all loved Johnny Mathis. My friends and I listened to early rock. We thought of Johnny’s music as older, more sophisticated. By the end of high school we were all addicted.
--If you think about it, it’s a sad story.
--How so?
--I mean Johnny Mathis and private life. Everybody these days knows he’s gay. And plays a lot of golf. I read somewhere he’s a scratch player, or better. He’s gay, and a great golfer. These days, those two details are about equally weighted for most people. Back in the Fifties and Sixties, you stayed in the closet if you wanted a career in show business.
--That’s true. Remember Rock Hudson? Here was this masculine icon, still trying at the very end of his life to convince people the illness he was dying of wasn’t AIDS.
--Exactly. Mathis singing all those love songs to teenage girls, and also being listened to by a coterie of male friends, waiting for the next double entendre.
--On the other hand, it might be a kind of payback for his gay friends. Knowing “Chances are” is really about Johnny and his boyfriend.
--Could be. But I think it must have been mostly humiliating for him. Always perceived by his adoring fans as something he wasn’t. Maybe channeling the anger explains how he became a golfer good enough to play with the pros.
--I see what you mean. He could never have come out back then. After he did, how could he go on stage in his tux, in front of thousands of girls in poodle skirts and penny loafers?
--It’s a day for finding something to feel good about, don’t you think? Well, we have an African American president, and almost had a woman.
--And the next Johnny Mathis won’t have to live a lie.
--No he won't. At least not that one.

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