Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Music Media Medicine Miloslovich Mylar Mitochondria...

Another example of my bizarre word-relating mind. I was thinking about music, and trying to think of a good title for a musing about music (well, there's a good title, Musical Musings), and came up with the above string of pointlessness. Who is Miloslovich, anyway? What is a mitochondria? How is it that I can remember and spell words when I don't know what they mean?

So I was reading over some posts here and there having to do with music and the enjoyment and/or collection thereof, and I became confused. I don't know who these people are talking about (...excuse me, I need to stop being lazy about my participles: "I know nothing about the musicians and musical pieces of whom or which these people wrote." Oh, never mind, I'll go back to my original statement). It made me feel woefully uninformed, uncultured, provincial even.

Now, I have never been or tried to be on the cutting edge of the music scene, so there's no reason I should have heard of these performers or performances. But I love music, I listen to it all day long, I don't like to be anywhere without music of some kind happening somewere, even when I sleep. But as much as I love music, my collection of CDs is negligible, my knowledge of music is scattershot, and my attendance at live musical performances almost nonexistent.

When I was a kid, I listened to the songs preferred by whoever was driving the car or operating the stereo (Mother preferred Folk/Hippie Rock, Daddy liked Country-Western, Mom (step-mother) loved Barry Manilow and anything that had been in the Pop Top-40 during the previous thirty years, my sister and stepsisters had a proclivity towards Osmonds and any boys featured in Tiger Beat); but while I had certain favorite songs ("Delta Dawn," "Disco Duck," I had an early fondness for alliteration), I never really judged or preferred any kind of music...I just listened to it.

When I got a little older, my fifth-grade teacher (Mr. Polton...classic Stonewall Clone, though I didn't know it at the time, with his porn-star mustache and knit silk ties in 1978...he was understandably my first male hero) turned me on to Classical music by playing Beethoven's Fifth and Ninth symphonies for the class and making us talk about how it made us feel; they made me feel supremely happy and peaceful. I immediately requested copies of my own from Santa Claus (and, much to my surprise, actually got them from said mythical icon, even though I was on record as not believing in him—Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra on the Deutsche Grammaphon label with it's super-classy yellow-framed titles). The next year, I got my first transistor radio for Christmas, and I promptly tuned it to KDFC, where it stayed until I lost the radio some years later. I am listening to that station right now, here in my office, as I type this ramble (Georg Friedrich Handel, or so the guy says).

My love affair with classical music never led me to want to know more about it or have any particular piece...I just wanted to listen to it. After a few years, favorite composers and styles started to emerge from the mess, such as a predilection for Baroque over Modern, chamber over orchestra, Romantic piano concertos, a distaste for too many violins in one place, an enjoyment of minor keys and bass strings...but in general I was perfectly satisfied with whatever they played, so long as it was old and beautiful. To this day, I have the most indiscriminate collection of classical music, "greatest hits" albums of Beethoven and Mozart, period compilations (Best of Baroque, Romantic Interlude, etc.), mostly on the super-cheap Naxos label, with performances from Eastern Bloc orchestras recorded during the Soviet regime. I figure so long as KDFC is around, I don't need to buy my own disks.

Well, eventually Puberty steamrollered right over me, and I got caught up in Popular Music for the first time in my life. This was the early-middle Eighties. The Eurythmics first grabbed my attention at this juncture with "Sweet Dreams"; then followed Duran Duran, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Katrina and the Waves, the Go-Gos, Bananarama, Spandau Ballet, Haircut 100, Sheila E, the B-52s, Human League, Prince, Wham!, Culture Club, et cetera...oh, yeah, and Madonna. I don't remember the order, or which song came out when, or even which songs I particularly liked (and I don't feel like trudging down Memory Lane, not even to simply look up links). But every time one of those songs comes on, I am instantly transported back to a time of acne and raging hormonal emotions, painful experiences and exciting adventures, tragic asymmetrical hairstyles and hard-ons that hurt, dreary schooldays and the life-or-death niceties of teen social life, whitebread dance-steps and sneaking beers during big parties, jellie-bracelets and topsiders, zebra stripes and skinny ties, Dynasty and American Bandstand...ah, my youth! It was a big hodgepodge mess, and I loved it!

But I never went to a concert (even at that age, I couldn't take loud noises or dense crowds). I owned perhaps five professionally-produced cassette tapes and a handful of pirated party tapes culled from my friends' LPs and 45s. Mostly I listened to the radio, twenty-four hours a day with the exception of being in school (we didn't have Walkmans back then, remember...I graduated high-school in '86), KITS Modern Rock 105 and some other stations I can't remember now. I've forgotten most of the 80s, really. And the 90s. I wasn't paying the slightest attention in the 70s...basically I'm a queen without a past...or more specifically, I have a past, but it's just a big ol' blur.

The Eighties started bleeding into the Nineties when I reached man's estate and started going to the gay bars and dance clubs. I remember loving the dance music of that period ("Groove is in the Heart", "Vogue", and "Power" are all I can remember now, as I was drinking quite a lot), but the popular music started going to hell...I started listening to Oldies stations on the radio...all the music of the 50s and 60s suddenly became quite fascinating to me, and I listened to it all the time, mostly at home I had reverted to Classical, since all I did at home was sleep.

It was during this period when I discovered Movie Musicals. The house where I was living had cable, and American Movie Classics was a new station just getting started, with Musicals and Women's Films as their mainstay. I started watching every and any musical that came on TV, loving every minute of them all. Then I discovered an AM radio station that played that music, the Standards of the 40s through 60s; "Magic 61" they called it (previously known as a Top-40 station, 610 KFRC). Now this was music I could get behind: tuneful, happy, well-enunciated, easy to remember but not painful or discordant in any way. Like the frivolous bubblegum music of the 80s, these Golden Age Standards were nothing but happiness and fun, not admitting the darkness of the world (a darkness that was fast becoming the norm in popular music, which was just then entering the Grunge Era...I weathered the screaming ascendancy of Heavy Metal, Gangsta Rap, and Acid Rock on a cooling wave of Frank Sinatra and Eydie Gorme).

When I started doing drag, I became quite thoroughly immersed in Big Band music. Ella Fitzgerald was my first and greatest icon, soon followed by Billie Holliday, Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Helen Merrill, and so on. Judy Garland and Liza Minelli, of course, and Julie Andrews, too, as I hadn't yet learned to make the distinctions between Jazz, Big Band, and Showtunes. This was music that really spoke to my soul...unlike all the Eighties music, I remember the words and music to almost every song I've ever heard from these ladies. It sticks to me. All I bought in this era was Ella Fitzgerald tapes (I still didn't have a CD player) and fairly jazzy musical scores like Kiss Me Kate, Cabaret, Victor/Victoria, etc.

Thus passed the first half of the Nineties.

In 1995, my life changed quite a lot, I quit drinking and graduated from Community College to State University and everything was topsy-turvy; one day I was sitting at a friend's house watching VH1 and found a song that spoke to me in a way contemporary music had not spoken in a long time: Joan Osborne's "One of Us." Though just a silly pop song, I was at that time deeply involved in finding a spiritual path, and the question "What if God was one of us?" was rather profound and helped me over a lot of my "God Isssssues" (Anne Rice's vampire novel, Memnoch the Devil, was also helpful...I was pretty desperate). Anyway, I started listening to the radio again, and discovered that Popular Music had moved past the angry, discordant hoop-dee-doo of the early 90s and had become, for lack of a better word, Lite. It was quiet and slightly sad, full of angst but not anxious, aimed at the insecure and the weary with the message that it was all going to be OK. Still, I didn't actually buy any music, I just listened to it quite passively on the radio.

Then I discovered opera. I was in University and Recovery all at once; my sponsor was a bit of an opera queen, and so was my favorite it seemed the most logical next step. I bought the Maria Callas La Divina series, and enjoyed the hell out of it. Those arias crept right past my intellect and caught at my heart...the voices pulled my soul right up into the upper scales (if you'll pardon an unpardonably corny metaphor). Then I bought all the other Callas recordings I could get. Then it was all about Madama Butterfly (love the Mirella Freni version), and the old favorite Lakmé (which I learned about from The Hunger, one of my favorite movies), then I had to have La Bohème, and then it was Don Giovanni and Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Tosca and La Traviata, not to mention Die Zauberflöte.

For some reason, Opera started getting really popular again at this time (around 96 or 97), so there was a lot out there to see and to hear. I bought my CD player with my second student loan check, and then spent as much money as I could on CDs right then and there. While I was at it, I started getting Ella Fitzgerald (she'd just died, so the selection was amazing) to replace all my worn out tape cassettes. Then it was soundtracks, mostly from not-too-old movie-musicals but also from B'way and older stuff. The Soundtrack, Opera, and Vocals sections of the record stores were my magnet; I bought a lot, quite indiscriminately, whenever I had any money.

But eventually opera defeated me by its sheer scope. Like with Classical, there's just so damned much of it! And with soundtracks, it's the same thing. I never had a plan, a discography, a theme, never even a real committment to learning about or collecting music...just my shopping addiction getting started. I think if I added up all of my CDs, I still have fewer than a hundred. About half of them are cheap crap that I bought because they were on sale and I wasn't willing to try new things at full price. I've got almost all of Ella Fitzgerald's stereo studio recordings (mono recordings and live concerts don't interest me much); a fair sampling of Maria Callas' work, but mostly compilations; five complete operas and seven or eight collections; I've got the soundtracks to most of the major queen-oriented films of the last ten years, and now some more Broadway musicals since I've started running out of drag material. Not much else of interest.

When it comes to concerts, I simply never ever go to any. The only professional-type concerts I've ever attended were the Osmonds in 1979 (entirely against my will, it must be noted), Yma Sumac in 1997 (she was oooooold, but thrilling), and Bette Midler in 2000 (I have only one word: Epiphany). I went to a few small club concerts when I was living with a pair of demented sisters who suddenly decided that they liked local bands, particularly those with cute bass-players. Loved the cute boys, hated their god-awful racket and ear-ringing amps. And that's all. I've never been to the opera or the symphony. Ballets, I've seen The Nutcracker and The Merry Widow. The only B-way musical I've ever seen live was Cats...and it sucked even more than the score would suggest. I've seen plenty of school productions of musicals (Anything Goes and like that), even a student opera (Acis and Galatea if you can believe it), but I don't count those...I was only there to support my friends.

So while I dearly love music, particularly stagey music like Opera, Big Band, and Showtunes, I don't really participate much in music; though music is part of every waking and sleeping moment of my life, I don't expend a lot of effort learning about it or even thinking about it. It's a puzzle to me. I mean, is it just my native passivity, or is this a fairly common attitude towards music? Am I feeling "less-than" just because I find myself surrounded lately by music mavens? Or am I really just not as into music as I think I am or should be? Would I get more out of music if I concentrated on a proper and coherent collection? Any thoughts?

On your way to the Comment button, feast your eyes on this:

Brrr...aren't you cold, honey?

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