Posts Tagged ‘Stoney End’

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In the summer of 2016, Barbra Streisand hit the road with her latest tour, The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic. In early June, I sat uncomfortably on the fence with a spike up my ass when it came to buying tickets. Her prices are nowhere near affordable for those of us hanging on to our careers in publishing; the venue was a two-hour drive (or nine, with Bay Area traffic); and as much as I loved both the young, fun, silly “Fanny Brice” Barbra and the ‘70s Barbra who went in for that hair perm every other day, the duets of her recent years never made it to the top of my playlists.

On June 12, 2016, an unimaginable thing happened in an Orlando nightclub. Actually I’d give anything to call it “unimaginable,” but of course we could imagine it; we’ve seen it too many times and hoped for too many years that our leaders will try something other than prayer to make us feel safe. With more shooting tragedies that we can count or name or cry over, this was the first time when I ran to the bathroom because I thought I was going to be sick. As I paced around the toilet unsure of my stomach’s plans for me that morning, ten words that someone had said to me years ago brought my pacing to a halt – if they didn’t do something after Newtown, they never will. For a moment I simply existed in my bathroom, mentally disassociated from the world and staring at a framed picture of Bert and Ernie that, for the first time, failed in its attempts to brighten up the place. On my phone were texts of love or loving thoughts, invitations to lunches and drinks, dinners and movie nights, all of which I declined. I’ve been there before, and I knew what could happen if I joined the hundreds who were drowning their grief and sorrows. When raw emotion drastically assumes power, no amount of alcohol will produce the desired intoxicating results. Even if I could drink a bar out of business, in that state, I knew that my body would refuse the embrace of a red wine hug or allow itself to be wrapped in the warm blanket of a good Manhattan – nope, no wine hugs and whiskey blankets that day, but like a phone bill, a hangover is much more reliable; no matter how much fun I had the night before, a hangover is guaranteed to show up and ruin the day.

I said no to drinks, no to dinner, and no to movie night, but sitting around the house and consuming all the news coming out of Orlando was not an option. I had just started volunteering at a cat café around the corner from my house, and although I hadn’t signed up for shift on that particular Sunday, I took a chance and popped in to see if I could help out that day. Half café, half cat shelter (with health codes well intact), KitTea was exactly where I needed to be that afternoon, and I spent about five hours cooped up with a mama and her three kittens who were still in acclamation, because the poor dears still needed to be fixed and were in desperate need of attention. The world outside throbbed with its news cycle, but in that tiny acclamation room it fell away for those few hours, and I left with maybe not a full smile, but perhaps half of a grin, which was the best that we all could do that day.

That evening, high on kitten love but low with a helpless sorrow, I struggled for balance. Even on our safest of days, life is short, and only one thing would restore harmony – I bought my Barbra tickets.

Okay, enough of the therapy session. Watch Gilda, and then we’ll talk some more.

Barbra walked out in a dazzling little black number and started the show with “The Way We Were.” Yes indeed, my friends, she started her show with that classic of a classic, knowing full well that, with those first few hums, she had us sitting in the palm of her impeccably manicured hand. Girlfriend is 74 years old, so if perhaps she didn’t hit every single note of “Evergreen” or hold it for ten minutes like she did 30 years ago, we all know that I was still buying a T-shirt before I left. At the top of my “she probably won’t sing it” wish list was the song “Woman in Love” which has a note that Barbra and I practice in the car to and from work at least three times a week. With all her classics, not to mention a new album on the way, it was such an undeniable long shot that I didn’t even recognize it when she started to sing the first few words. That night, she gave us all of ‘em – “Evergreen,” “Stoney End,” “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” “People,” “Children Will Listen,” “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and after a costume change to a lovely gray evening gown, she twirled, swirled, and totally nailed “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

You’ll allow me the bragging rights for a moment: After I see Dolly in a few weeks, my own Divas Live set list will be complete – Madonna sang “Like A Prayer” on two of the three tours that I’ve attended. I was about 14 years old when Mom took me to see Bette Midler sing “The Rose,” a night to remember. In Seattle, Cher performed “If I Could Turn Back Time” in the same outfit that she wore in the music video 25 years ago (not a single stitch has been altered; don’t even think such things!), and before Cher came on, Cyndi Lauper closed the opening act with “True Colors.” Perhaps my crowning achievement was sitting in the second row when Liza sang “Cabaret” and tried to hit the final note a second time after our first standing ovation. All dramatically different diva experiences, each performance comprised of magic from a different spell book, but on August 4, 2016, you could color me only one color, and that color was “Barbra.”

At the beginning of Act II, Barbra paraded back out, and although I was hoping for her to begin with “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” (which, l learned only recently, is from the Sunset Boulevard musical, tripling my love for the tune!), she started with a little a speech about changing the world before she hit us with, “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination.” Not to be dramatic, but the light shining off of the 19,000 tears that ran down everyone’s cheeks was greater than any light show that the arena could have designed. I never look up set lists before I go to concerts, and since her new album hadn’t been released yet, the song “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (and I call it a film, NOT a movie!), truly came out of nowhere. We sang along through the tears as commanded, and the show continued with another set of both the old and the new. Through all the cloudy gray times, ongoing work frustrations, a new scratch on my car, and a very long wait on Netflix for A Star Is Born (1976), Barbra’s tour has been my mental happy place for weeks, and, if only for a second or two, who didn’t retreat to a mental happy place when Gene Wilder died last week?

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Thousands of words in hundreds of obituaries memorialized the magic of Mr. Wilder not only as Willy Wonka but also as a permanent resident of Mel Brooks’s universe. When I hear the name “Gene Wilder” I think first not of Willy Wonka but of another magician, the late comic Gilda Radner (if you didn’t watch the entire video above, scroll back up. I can wait). Admittedly I glamorize any Hollywood relationship and cannot imagine it as anything less than perfect: Bogie and Bacall; Hepburn and Tracy; Lucy and Desi; Brooks and Bancroft; Bert and Ernie . . . in my head, even the marriages that ended in divorce were flawless, and every moment of every day was filled with nothing but love and laughter. Biographies and memoirs try to tell me otherwise, but until I sit down with these couples and hear true stories of heartache directly from their lips, well, you can’t believe everything that you read. Hardly what Hollywood would consider a photogenic couple with enough material for a glossy coffee table book (um, but I would totally buy it), Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner each had so much magic in one little finger, that combining all 20 of those fingers in marriage should have allowed them more time together before Gilda’s cancer forced them to part ways.

With each and every news cycle more tragic, outrageous, or disgusting than the one that preceded it, I start to doubt Wonka’s message in “Pure Imagination” that if we want to change the world, there’s nothing to it. Sure, buddy! You live a secluded life in a candy factory, completely closed off from the world with its revolting spoiled children and their irresponsibly vile parents. Seriously, what kind of father says “Alright, sweetheart” when his daughter demands that he buy her a golden goose and pink macaroons and a million balloons and performing baboons and . . . hmmm, okay, I’m beginning to understand Wonka’s doctrine of seclusion. If you want to change the heinous world, simply leave it and create one of your own. At times I find this idea perfectly reasonable and very appealing for a moment, but even with a chocolate river, lickable wallpaper, and dozens of little orange men from Loompaland running around the factory, Willy Wonka’s existence is nothing if not lonely. His musical, magical, and memorable life can exist only in the pure imagination of his guests, so I’m starting to wonder what kind of fantasy life exists in the pure imagination of Willy Wonka?

I guess it depends on who’s singing. The sound of only a few lyrics brings together the forces of Barbra, Gene, and Gilda like a trio of superheroes, and it’s with their help that I can exist in the world that seems to go out of its way to terrify us these days.

Those three teaming up to change the world . . . can you imagine?

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I’ve been stuck in the 1970s lately. Your parents had that orange couch, too, didn’t they?

I have no one in particular to whom I direct my sporadic prayers, but I do believe in sending positive vibes wrapped with a pastel bow to Valerie Harper. The uncontrollable giggle fits given to me by dear, sweet Miss Morgenstern have certified Rhoda (1974–1978) as solid, runaway in my household. I went on a few dates with a flight attendant who once had Ms. Harper on a trip of his, and I was fully prepared to marry this man purely because he had been in her presence. If life’s first goal is to take a trip to Minneapolis to kiss the Mary Tyler Moore statue (on a clean spot), the second is to kick off my campaign to erect a Valerie Harper statue somewhere in Manhattan.

Because of her new show with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda edged her way up towards the top of my queue, and along came Klute (1971) a few weeks ago. Although I’ve always liked Jane Fonda, I’m not planning to hang a framed picture of her any time soon, unless Lily and Dolly happen to be standing there with her, throwing dead bodies into the trunk of a car. That, I would hang proudly on any wall. As she’s never been one of my favorite actors, pangs of guilt never kept me awake at night over neglecting Ms. Fonda’s Oscar-winning performances (oh, it’s happened over others), but it was time. Except during a few scenes and monologues with her analyst that I found crept up on mesmerizing, my mind drifted without losing track of the story. Not the best; not the worst; but oh, the colors of the 70s; the clothes; the furniture; the hairstyles; the nonexistent body fat percentages . . . and of course; the movies. I thought Klute would have soothed the decade craving that plagued me, but it wasn’t enough. The color of my mood ring still matched nothing in my wardrobe.

I’ve been on countless dance floors in my day, but one I’ll never forget is the 1970s party given by one of the dirty ol’ co-ops back in college. I still reminisce with a good friend about the boisterous shenanigans that went on that evening, all without the druggie drugs of the honored decade. A pinch of vodka, perhaps, flowed through our veins, but we didn’t need much else. It’s fitting that this same friend and I bonded over the Tales of the City series 14 years later, as we walked together to our first Cher concert. When I’m bummed out on modern life in San Francisco and search for mementos of the fun that was once and still may be out there, I return to Tales. When I need the television equivalent of comfort food, I return to Tales. Perhaps not as light of a comfort food meal is the 30s of the 70s I find in Cabaret (1972). Respectful hats off, yes, to Ms. Fonda and her hair trendsetting prostitute in Klute, but she ain’t no Sally Bowles. When the world of film and television places the 1970s in another decade, it still feels like the 70s to me – the best and worst aspects are exaggerated for any period piece, and what can be more fun than a 70s soundtrack created in the 90s? Having read all of the Tales of the City books, some twice, often I turn to that delightful 1993 miniseries starring everyone’s favorite person on the planet, Olympia Dukakis. Not to mention the actor who plays the character of Michael Tolliver, my book husband, is a super-duper cutiepants whom I’ve never seen again. He’s ideal, my friends . . . the perfect onscreen one-night stand. Michael dutifully cleans his apartment while Bette Midler’s flawless version of “Am I Blue?” plays in the background. I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I feel love!

I’m convinced that this tidal craving all comes back to Soap (1977–1981). The television show emerged early in life as my primary happy place, defining not only experiences of love, family, and belonging through our nightly gatherings over Oreo ice cream, but also it set the standard that I still use to determine whether or not entertainment may be considered “quality.” Precious to many are those protected moments of childhood, a time when family surrounded us, and we had much more future than we had past. We knew everything that we needed to know, and we knew nothing of what we didn’t know yet. Soap was the family bible, and at that age, I had only one gash on my heart when a character died in season two. The 1970s of Soap bring back to the surface a time when no one had rejected me, no company had turned me down for a job, no nightclub made me feel like I wasn’t listed on the correct clipboard, and I was frightened of nothing. I could take to a ski slope brimming with confidence and absolutely no fear, knowing full well that the snow would catch and cushion and rock and soothe and love me if I fell.

The 1970s and their renditions, enhanced throughout my workday with a bit of “Stoney End” Barbra, sewed themselves together this week, forming a comfort quilt of dreadfully horrible colors, but comforting just the same. It involves some industrious searching to find the perfect combination of fabrics and Rhoda headscarves, but those quilts that eventually we sew for ourselves provide as much comfort as knowing that somewhere, out there in this confusing, overwhelming, frightening, sometimes lonely modern world stands a statue of Mary Tyler Moore with a clean spot waiting to be kissed. And just when we’re about to surrender and call off the search, remember the dance floors of days past and then throw an impromptu party in the kitchen. Mine looks something like this: