Friday, June 05, 2009

The Modern Homosexual's Guide To Barbra Streisand Vol. 1 - The 1960s

I was invited to a dinner party recently, which was held by a lovely couple in their 60s. I had a great time chatting with the EOGs (Extremely Old Gays) about musicals, showtunes and Liza's upcoming Australian tour. As the night wore on, a slightly inebriated gentleman with a rather large nose put a fruit bowl on his head and burst into an impromptu rendition of "Hello Dolly" - which went down a storm with everyone except my friend who sat there with a blank look on his face. He wasn't being rude. He just didn't get the Streisand reference at all. When I explained it, he just said "who gives a shit about that old bag anyway?" Well, I was completely outraged. Call me a stereotype if you will but I think there should be a law requiring all gays to own at least one Babsi "Best Of"! Barbra Streisand is not only one of the greatest vocalists of all time, she's also one of our most enduring gay icons. Like her or lump her, it's hard to deny that Barbra is a part of our gay cultural heritage.

The thing is, I totally understand why younger gays find Barbra such a monumental bore. I would feel exactly the same if the only exposure I'd had to her music was dirge like "A Love Like Ours" and mind numbing collaborations with Celine Dion and Bryan Adams. Happily, there's so much more to Babs than boring ballads and dire duets. In her halcyon days, Barbra changed image more frequently than Madonna and experimented with every genre I can think of apart from death metal and rap. My favourite period is the 1970s when she dabbled in disco, soul, pop, soft rock, folk and classical music. I was going to focus on that decade to highlight her versatility but I wanted to give a brief overview of Barbra's career from the very beginning. However, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the 1960s because most of her output from that decade simply doesn't connect with modern pop fans. I just know that sentence sent some aging tranny into cardiac arrest but as much as I personally love it, something like "Je m'appelle Barbra" is about as relevant to people who grew up listening to Britney and Christina as "The Best Of Bing Crosby". There are, however, more than enough highlights from the swinging 60s that resonate with gays of all ages.

Barbra started her career singing in nightclubs way back in 1960, making her the original Queen of clubs - sorry, Dannii! The struggling 18 year old gained enough notoriety to be invited to perform on a plethora of television shows and made a name for herself interpreting classics like "A Sleepin' Bee", "Nobody's Heart (Belongs To Me)" and "Moon River". The diva's first big break came in the 1962 Broadway production "I Can Get It For You Wholesale", where she played the hapless secretary Miss Marmelstein. That role led to a contract with Columbia Records and they released her debut album in 1963. As magnificent as her early recordings are (I particularly love "The Second Barbra Streisand Album"), I can't see them winning over too many new fans. This kind of music simply isn't made anymore. However, one performance from this era that everyone needs to see is Babsi's appearance on The Judy Garland Show. Talk about a clash of the titans! Imagine Kylie & Madonna - if they had really good voices - sitting down to chat and belt out a few of their favourite tunes. Their medley of "Get Happy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again" (below) is pure bliss and required viewing for everyone.

The next essential career milestone for Barbra was winning the role of Fanny Brice in the Broadway musical "Funny Girl", which ran for more than 1000 shows from March 1964. Babs reprised her character in the film adaptation and won an Academy Award for her scintillating portrayal in 1969. The movie is an absolute treat and very highly recommended. I've almost worn out my DVD! The title track is glorious, "People" never loses its shine but the undisputed highlight for me is "Don't Rain On My Parade", which has become part of popular culture and the subject of many a drag act. 1964 also saw the release of what could be described as Barbra's first pop album. "People" is very easy listening by today's standard but fans of beautifully performed ballads that haven't been overproduced to the point of being ridiculous should dig this out of their mother's record collection.

The rest of the 1960s was filled with television specials (check out the amazing "My Name Is Barbra" and the trippy "Colour Me Barbra") and movies - most notably the camp classic "Hello Dolly" and the Vincente Minnelli directed "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever". Both are considered sub par by critics. Even Barbra has expressed her distaste for "Hello Dolly" but I find it utterly joyous (particularly if you watch it after smoking a bong), While "On A Clear Day" is one of the most beautifully staged musicals I've ever seen. The score is lovely and the costumes are divine. Sure the storyline is complete rubbish but you can't have everything! By the close of the decade, Barbra was already Hollywood royalty but by the end of the 1970s she would be an icon. Stay tuned for that next week.

Now this shit is GAY!

16 comments:

Paul said...

uh, i like Tell Him, the one she did with Celine Dion...

tommie said...

I love your gay icon posts!

I must, however, admit that I'm not the most experienced in Babs besides Woman In Love. Will check more of her stuff out now though. xoxo

Robpop said...

Fucking lov babs...

Jay said...

I find her boring to the extreme and don't get the fascination with the snozzelbinten at all...

However, she is better than the insipid Judy Garland and the coma inducing Lizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzza

Jeroen said...

I like the Dion duet too, Paul! Let's start a support group.

dishy said...

HA HA HA - I just heard TELL HIM on my iPod the other day and was thinking "this is a gorgeous fucking song" !!!!

D'luv said...

Great writeup, Mike! I went through a small Barbra phase in summer '93 after watching The Way We Were. I bought a cassette of her greatest hits (one of the many, I'm sure), and really liked "Evergreen."

Parker said...

I love her, and I love you more for writing this

Chris_Sydney said...

I LOVE me some Barbra! Her sixties stuff is okay, but I can't wait until you touch on such outrageously brilliant albums as 'Stoney End', 'Superman', 'Wet', 'Guilty' and her trash pop nadir 'Emotion'!


x

Anonymous said...

I don't get why she's associated with gay people.

WE_NEED said...

Are you 45+? Are you gay? Do you live in or around London? DO YOU LOVE BARBRA STREISAND? If this sounds like you and you have a friend who fits this description too we would love to hear from you...
We want to speak to Barbra Streisand fans to see what it is exactly that is soooo great about her.
We will be paying you for your efforts! Can't be bad.
If you're interested please email weneedtoknow989@gmail.com with your name, age, location and why you are a Barbra Streisand fan and any interesting trivia you know about her.

Anonymous said...

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http://littlekiwilovesbauhaus.blogspot.com/2011/04/dont-fear-barbra-streisand.html

Marcus André said...

Where's the part 4????

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my-life-on-parade.tumblr.com said...

I grew up with Barbra Streisand. I remember the first time I saw her on the Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1960's. My mother said she was too kooky and mud ugly, but to me she was gorgeous and magical. Back then I was an insecure young gay boy who felt like the world was against me. I was insecure about my looks and afraid to be myself as it would mean rejection from my family and peers. I didn't fit in and I worried that I would never find someone to love me. Streisand was my idol in those days. She was someone who transformed herself from a ugly ducking into an exotic and beautiful swan, and she was an outsider who became successful playing by her own rules, and she had an amazing voice and sang songs about wanting to be loved and she found love. All these things inspired me, helped me to believe in myself, that I too could be attractive, that I too could play by my own rules, that I too could find love. Young gay people might not understand why my generation liked Barbra because it was another time and place, but she is someone who broke down so many walls for people like me, and I will always love her for that.