In more Judy-related news: Robert Leleux of the NYT writes about something I'm all-too familiar with. That's to say, the pain and suffering Judy fans go through at the hands young kids who don't know a lick about her:
Last Saturday I invited my friend Brodie, a 30ish gay man like myself, to a preview performance of End of the Rainbow, Peter Quilter’s play about the final days of Judy Garland. In the course of that invitation, I asked him if he was a Judy fan, and he said, “No, but she was good in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ ”
That’s the kind of answer I might expect from Tim Tebow, but being a good sport, Brodie accompanied me anyway.
I weep for my people.
I’m only half-kidding. I have this theory that because of the holocaust that was the AIDS epidemic and its annihilation of the previous generation of gay men, the faith of our fathers risks extinction. Today, Judyism, like Yiddish, is little more than a vague cultural memory.
Not for me. But then I grew up in a bubble of fabulousness, raised by a brilliant team of big-haired Texas ladies to whom Judy was a kind of patron saint, and who were, for all intents and purposes, gay guys themselves. Judy at Carnegie Hall was the soundtrack of my childhood. As any fan can tell you, it’s Garland at her swaggering best: glamorous, triumphant and almost superhumanly resilient. It goes without saying that such resilience held enormous appeal for gay men. The tale might be apocryphal, but there’s good reason some people still believe that Garland’s death brought on the Stonewall uprising, which began the day after her funeral.
This Indomitable Judy, however, is not the subject of End of the Rainbow, which is, more or less, a gay version of The Passion of the Christ. In Rainbow we watch a spooky, sparrow-thin Garland die a slow, drug-addled death while puking, wheezing and staggering about the stage in her slip. Summer Stock, it ain’t. It’s also not, at least to my way of thinking, any way to treat an idol. But then, and I never thought I’d be asking this, is Judy Garland still a gay idol?
“Not to me, she isn’t,” Brodie said, after the show. “I mean, I know she used to be important to gay guys, but I don’t see what she has to do with being gay anymore, except she did sort of remind me of Whitney and Lindsay and Britney. You know, train wrecks. The whole play was like that YouTube video where Britney goes after that car with her umbrella. Some gay guys do seem to like that kind of thing.”
If you can stomach where this is going, continue reading:
I asked, “Did your mother ever listen to Judy albums around the house?”
“She liked ’80s hair bands. Poison, Aerosmith, Journey. But I bet my great-grandmother listened to her.”
I asked, “Is this a dagger I see before me?”
“Personally I like Joni Mitchell,” he continued. “She’s real. Not so dramatic. Down to earth.”
Who wants down to earth, I wanted badly to respond, when you can be transported over the rainbow? Instead I asked Brodie if he’d ever heard gay guys refer to themselves as “Friends of Dorothy?”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because gay men once identified, very powerfully, with Judy Garland: her wit, gravitas, glamour.”
It’s a concept that Brodie seems to find embarrassing. “I guess I’m just not interested in glamour,” he said. “I’m interested in artists who can tell me about real life.”
Given that perhaps the common denominator of virtually every gay idol — Garland, Callas, Piaf — was her ability to transcend reality, this comment struck me as significant. That such ladies have, to an extent, gone out of style suggests how very much real life has changed for gay men of my generation.
Not that I’m Judyism’s last adherent by a long shot. I remind Brodie of this and ask whether he even believes it’s important to preserve our cultural traditions. “For instance,” I said, “the way Rufus Wainwright recreated Judy’s Carnegie Hall concert.” But this seems to occur to him as stagnation.
“If that’s what he wants to do, great,” Brodie said. “It’s just not my idea of being gay. Today gay can be anything.”
This is, I suppose, what progress sounds like, though for some reason I find it vaguely depressing. Near the inevitable end of End of the Rainbow, a bleary, bloodshot Garland says wishfully, “Immortality might just make up for everything.” That’s the new millennium for you, Judy, I feel like telling her. Immortality just isn’t what it used to be.