Sunday, January 31, 2010

Viva La Diva!

You may or may not know this, but it is a fairly standard practice for white gay men of the United States to attach them- (our-) selves as fans to black women divas. This phenomenon is one that I will be exploring further in my academic work, but it is a recognized state of affairs in many white gay communities in this country, particularly those with an awareness of music and of history. Popular choices include Tina, Beyoncé, Mariah, Lena, Kathleen, Tyra, Whitney, Jessye, Jennifer, and Jennifer. This list is not exhaustive, of course. The politics of the whole phenomenon, as well as the politics of calling these women by their first names only, can be complicated. It's a subject I like to discuss with people when they're interested, but I don't feel like doing so right now. Instead, I want to share with you my own diva choices, one a standard and two rather un-.

FIrst, and most likely, is the immortal Ella. One of my first musical collections, obtained under somewhat shady circumstances, was the complete set of her Songbook recordings, and they remain a source of endless joy for me. Joy is the key word when describing Ella's music; she takes more pleasure in the act of singing than any other vocalist I know. Just listen to her sing anything on her Harold Arlen Songbook recording and you'll hear the sheer, unbridled joy that singing brings her, even when the song's subject is a sad one. As a singer, I aspire eternally, vainly, to approach her attitude and her peerless ability to convey real emotion.

Next, and less likely, is a woman known to most people my age (if she is known at all) simply as The Chief. Outside of ACME Crimenet, she was known as Lynne Thigpen, but my affectionate-first-name-basis name for her will remain, always, The Chief. Not Lynne. The Chief starred in some amazing musical failures on Broadway, from the now-a-regional-theater-standard Working (24 performances) to the thankfully-still-unknown But Never Jam Today (8 performances) before winning a featured actress Tony for a "straight" play at the age of 49. Five years later, she would be dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. The Chief's tragic demise, coupled with her struggles on stage and eventual triumphs on the small screen, make her a prime candidate for diva canonization. I could wax poetic about her for many, many paragraphs, but I will spare you the rhapsodies. For now. Just bear in mind that you don't know from divas until you've heard her valiantly, brilliantly try to rescue the all-gospel Alice in Wonderland that was But Never Jam Today from its well-deserved obscurity.

Third, final, and most bizarre, is Patricia J. Williams. She's not a singer. She's not a performer at all, in the most common sense of the word. Williams—she is too formidable for a first-name address—is a professor of law at Columbia University and a columnist for The Nation. Yes, the period at the end of that sentence is part of the magazine's name, and thus belongs in the link. I have read many Nation columnists over the last 10 years or so, and never have I found one who is so consistently (a) right about everything, (b) dizzyingly intelligent, (c) eloquent about getting her point across, and (d) interested in topics that I find fascinating. "Diary of a Mad Law Professor" is the best single page I read every month, and I read books for a living. Is this description hyperbolic? Yes. Is that part of the point of being a diva fan? Obviously. The whole reason I am writing this post is because I just found out this afternoon that she's coming to speak here next month, and I am so excited! I will blow off pretty much anything to find out if she's as compelling in person as she is on paper.

That just about does it for tonight's diva round up. The title of this post, for those who are sadly unaware, refers to this song by Israeli transgender pop singer Dana International. Now you are aware.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


No, that doesn't say Haiti. It says hiati, my plural of hiatus. Is it the real plural? I don't particularly care. The point is that I've taken several from this blog, and that several folks have expressed their desire that I cease and desist.

I am nothing if not accommodating.

The last month and a half has seen a lot of ups and downs for me, personally and politically. I am currently in a bit of an up, thanks to a much-needed Day of Alonement today. Yes, this will be the entry that keeps you guessing about typos. That wasn't one either; it really does say Alonement. After a morning spent with people doing things, I took the afternoon and evening off from interactions, spending them instead with Jon Stewart, Maxwell Smart, Buffy Summers, and Hannah Arendt. One of these people is not like the others; I'll leave it to y'all to decide who fits that bill.

Over the course of my blogging hiatus I have planned many posts that never came to fruition. Manifestos of various sorts, vicious indictments of behavior I consider inhuman and unacceptable, musings on the people one meets around this crazy city—all of these have been candidates for internet publication, but have been rejected as too much trouble or too specific to share in public. Instead of these, I have settled upon a somewhat rambling and extended act of navel-gazing, airing my dirty lintry in public, as it were.

The neologisms are coming thick and fast here, folks; watch out!

So, we begin. Last night I dreamt that an elderly white woman who was pushing a black baby in a stroller slapped my mother across the face for saying racist things about her baby. My primary emotion? Pleasure at how clearly my dream mom enunciated her (utterly unlikely) bigotry. I listened to "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" from Next to Normal tonight, and wept uncontrollably at the mother's line "I love you as much as I can."

Each passing day brings me closer to my next cross-country transplantation. Every day I'm happier that I'm going to end up in New York and sadder that I won't be in LA. At this particular point in my life, I can't imagine being 3,000 miles from either of those metropoleis (yes, that's the Greek plural. What of it?), but I know that's how geography works. I have expanded enormously here (not literally), and I am afraid of contracting to fit into a previously constructed idea of self when I go back east, but I miss desperately my east coast family.

My family is enormous. I was thinking today about weddings, and about the people who get invited to them. I have family from summercamp, high school, college, grad school, and various other places/times/milieux, and that's not counting my "real" family. Many of whom (everyone on my father's side?) are far less a part of my life than those who are "just friends." I could have a much bigger wedding than I would ever want to have, even if nobody else got to invite any guests. Assuming, of course, that I (A) want to get married and (B) am legally allowed to do so. I think it's worth it just to sample the possible cakes, so I'll probably keep working on accomplishing (B) for now.

I intended to keep going for quite some time, exposing various corners of my psyche to the harsh light of the internet, but I find that I would prefer to get a few hours of sleep. I will try to keep this up more regularly, for my own sake as well as for my beloved readers' various sakes, but if I fall off the wagon, just caulk it and float it across.