Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Incipient teen-age-boy-dom in the 3-year-old.

The other afternoon, driving home from errands, I switch the radio to a comedy spot that comes on every weekday at 5:20. Two guys are talking about the "Girls Gone Wild" videos, they're not funny, I switch the station.

The 3-year-old says, "I want to hear about the girls lifting up their shirts."

And: "Can we watch the video of the girls lifting up their shirts?"

We pull into our parking spot behind the house, off the alley, and our good friend J.G. has his old green sports car out of the garage for the yearly airing.

The 3-year-old says, "I want to ride in J.G.'s green car!"

* * * *

In an interesting post on continuities and discontinuities between Berlin and Gershwin, Jody Rosen mentions a parallel switch in pop singing style, from “the schmaltz-drenched Jewish belters of the 1910s and 20s (Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice)” to “middle-American crooners (Crosby, Astaire, Rudy Vallé, Russ Columbo, et al.) whose singing communicated post-ethnic ease and reserve.”

This quote illuminates at once my Streisand problem and Carl Wilson’s Celine Dion problem: Streisand and Celine are both schmaltz-drenched belters who lack post-ethnic ease and reserve. (Carl is writing a book about Celine.)

As it happens, I don’t have a problem with Streisand, and that’s my problem: as a fan of rock and blues and jazz and folk, I’m supposed to have a problem with her. I happen to love her excessive emotionality; though I will confess to having been surprised when one day around age 30 I realized I loved her music, having heard it all my life (Mom’s a big fan), and, as a good rocker etc., having effected not to like it.

I remember reading some jazz critic -- Martin Williams? Gary Giddins? (I don’t remember) -- comparing Judy Garland to Al Jolson. Judy was one of Streisand’s main influences (as Streisand is one of Celine’s); Jody’s insight puts it all into perspective.

I love Astaire and Vallee and Crosby too -- don’t get me wrong.

This pertains to the paper I proposed for last year’s EMP Pop Conference, which was on the theme of persona in popular music. My proposal was called, “Barbra Streisand as Bob Dylan’s Double.” Here it is:

Bob Dylan’s counter-assimilationist persona is a turning-point in the history of showbiz. His Beat-bohemian spin on the left-proletarian voices of Sandburg and Guthrie inspired musician-personas as varied as McGuinn’s detached hipster, Fogerty’s bayou everyman, Tom Waits’s Beatnik boozer street visionary, and Gillian Welch’s stoic mountain gal. The aggressively alienated punk stances of R. Hell, J. Rotten & Co. amplified Dylan’s refusal to assimilate while giving it a different look.

Even more original than Dylan’s fusion of bohemian Beat and lefty prole was his fusion of outsider and star. Before Dylan, stardom was about assimilation. Frederick Austerlitz, Frances Gumm, and others had enjoyed huge careers after adopting more Anglo or more glamorous names. In showbiz mythology, farm girls and street kids could end up Puttin’ on the Ritz through grit and moxie – and by adopting upper class manners. Dylan fronted as lower class than his actual upbringing.

Despite his path-breaking downwardly mobile persona, young Bob Zimmerman followed showbiz tradition by effacing his Jewish background, just as Moses Horwitz disappeared his Jewish surname and became Moe Howard. Barbra Streisand’s persona stands in contrast. Streisand could be Dylan’s double: 11 months his junior, equally precocious early success, equal longevity and iconicity, proudly showbiz where Dylan wasn’t, proudly Jewish where Dylan was ethnically ambiguous. In a post-rock world, we can see Streisand’s fusion of Jewishness and glamour as almost as bold and oddly more authentic than Dylan’s fusion of counter-assimilation and commerce: She really was Jewish and showbiz; Dylan only pretended not to be.

(In case you dont know, Frederick Austerlitz is Fred Astaire [Jodys comment about post-ethnicity is dead on]; Frances Gumm is Judy Garland; and Irving Berlin [ne Israel Baline] wrote “Puttin on the Ritz,” and Astaire introduced it. My proposal was not accepted.

The Streisand / Dylan connection continues down mythically to this day: During the 2004 Presidential campaign, liberal journalist and scholar Eric Alterman repeated a snarky comment someone made questioning Streisand
’s liberal bona fides, accusing her on no basis whatsoever of being a secret Republican out of economic self-interest, this despite the fact that Streisand has raised I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Democrats for more than 30 years. The contrast struck me: Dylan remains a liberal/progressive icon, at least among some, despite his vast wealth and his avowed apoliticism: not only does he not raise money for liberals, he makes fun of people who vote.)

Hey John,

Justin Hayford, the Reader critic who also moonlights as a cabaret singer, did a series a couple of years ago on "the lady crooners," in which he posited that history has overlooked great singers like Annette Hanshaw, who, in his view, actually knew how to use the microphone (versus the concert-hall belting) better than the guys. I haven't gotten around to digging up any Hanshaw records, but thought I'd pass this quick item along. Good morning!

Thanks for the tip -- I'll keep my eyes and ears peeled!
I've been real interested in the Dylan/Streisand connection. They're almost like opposing doppelgangers: close in age, similar background, getting started in the Village at the same time, same recording company (I think.) They even both have Oscars for best song. They must loath each other. Has she ever covered a Dylan song?
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?