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I could go on singing.

Ten years ago, when I turned 50, I recklessly decided celebrate by doing something I had always secretly wanted to do: sing--backed up by piano, bass, and drums--at a black-tie sit-down dinner in front of a few hundred of my closest friends. For weeks before the party, I rehearsed with some wonderful musical friends--first with pianist and musical director Nina Goldin, whom I had first met when she was playing for Holly Near, then with drummer Denise Fraser, who backs up Sandra Bernhard. My closest friends broke into a cold sweat just hearing what I was about to do, but I was ecstatic. Every time I rehearsed, I got happier. By the night of the show I thought I would pop. Fortunately, I have a pretty good voice, at least for those 1930s and '40s torchy-type songs sung by my heroes Ella and Frank and Billie. I sang for two hours, and my friends, amazingly, loved it. It ended up being such a life-changing experience that I decided to do it again a few months ago for my 60th.

This time, for act 1, I sang eight or nine songs to signify the lucky progression of my life ("God Bless the Child," "There Will Never Be Another You," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," etc.). For the second act I sang duets with people who had been singing with me throughout my life: my sister, a college friend who was a fellow camp counselor, the two women who started the California Women's Law Center with me, and, to represent the current chapter in my life, California state senator Martha Escutia, who sang "Imagine" with me. (Best friend Torie Osborn and Dobie Gillis himself, Dwayne Hickman, forbore singing and just talked.)

I give you this long prologue because I was struck with the realization, through this birthday concert, that music has always had a critical, central place in my life and, more important, I think, in the lives of a lot of people I know.

I'm not referring to passively listening to music or even dancing to it--I mean the experience of making music. As children, my sister and I would constantly sing in the car, sing along with the radio, act out musicals. In high school and in college, my friends and I sang, played guitars, wrote songs. Whenever we would gather, we sang.

I realized that making music--nonprofessional, personal music--is central to a great many family and friendship experiences, whether it's spontaneous singing along with the CD, worship, fist-in-the-air rally songs, silly birthday parties, or singing with the kids in the car. We make music of our own all the time.

Primarily we sing other people's music, not the music of the gay and lesbian community. But the women and men of our community have, in many ways, carved out ways of making music uniquely our own.

In the '70s, women's music hit the lesbian (and soon-to-be-lesbian) community like the downswoop of a roller coaster. We laughed and cried and screamed out loud. It was so familiar, so liberating, so pleasurable to sing at the top of our lungs. You couldn't hear this music on the radio. It was ours, and we sang it--at dances, at concerts, to each other, in bed and out. Just the first few notes of "The Rock Will Wear Away" would bring us to our feet like a roomful of thunder, lust, and just plain old heartaching happiness. And we would sing and sing and sing.

And it's still happening for lesbians, as they sing Indigo Girls or Ani DiFranco or 15 or 20 others. Oh, we're proud of Melissa and k.d. and Tracy, but how we love the music that is truly ours, that we sing because it is about our lives.

For gay men, it's been different but no less joyful. It may be a cliche that gay men love show tunes and opera, but couldn't that be because it's so often true? I know so many men who sing or play the piano and who love the drama of Broadway or Verdi, the acting out of the part, and the singing at the top of their voices--free, fully expressive, deeply dramatic, and so much fun. Gay men struggling to shed the gender strangulation of the straight-acting world sing because there is freedom in singing and it is a freedom not allowed to straight men, poor souls.

In this way, as in so many, we have the chance to lead the way. S'wonderful. S'marvelous.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:role of music in the gay and lesbian community
Author:Kuehl, Sheila
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 8, 2001
Words:752
Previous Article:Collected Poems.
Next Article:reader forum.
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