Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Gleeful Goodbye

I think one of the most important things to master in life is how to say goodbye. Saying it at the right time, in the right place, and sometimes to the right person is a true mark of maturity. 

Tonight we said goodbye of another sort. After six seasons and 121 episodes, Glee brought the curtain down for the final time. The following is a reflection on the show, its legacy, and what it taught us about music and ultimately about ourselves.

Glee debuted in 2009 after some big football game. It was then that my unrelenting fandom for all things Glee-related began. I watched every episode religiously. I bought the CDs (yes kids, actual CDs) every time they were released. And for a while there, no Christmas was complete without Glee’s holiday album.

In so doing, I kinda felt as though I was an honorary member of their club. I was a Gleek.

However, in recent years the show strayed from its original premise of following our high school students. Or rather, it split between its original cast now graduated and a new class of New Directioners. Ultimately, the show started to feel like two shows: one at McKinley with only half-interesting characters and one in New York City with characters that never got enough airtime. I tuned out right around this time…

But tonight, the original cast and I walked through those hallowed halls again for the last time. In a near-perfect 2-hour finale, we got to remember the glory days, celebrate the present, and glimpse at a bright and prosperous future.

I won’t ruin the episode for those who haven’t seen it yet by divulging details. Suffice it to say that everyone ends up doing, being, and having everything they ever wanted. That’s not to say that there weren’t a few flaws. I would’ve liked a resolution of sorts with Rachel’s mom (ahem, Idina Menzel). I would’ve liked more Quinn, and Puck, and Santana, and Asian #2. And frankly, where the hell was John Stamos?

All kidding aside, I think Glee has done for pop culture what very few shows have been able to do: it taught us something. Whether it was a new song, or an old song revisited, or the rare and wonderful gifts of acceptance and understanding— Glee helped our hearts soar.

Never being terribly cool myself, I often watched to see what music was hip. The rap, pop, and R&B of today was wonderfully captured by these kids. Merging plots with playlists helped me understand both better. I mean, who would I be today without knowing all the words to “Bust Your Windows”?

I think where the show succeeded best was in making old music relevant to this generation. Although I often joked that Ryan Murphy basically stole all the music in my iTunes library for his profit, I certainly must credit him with bringing the sounds of Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Queen, Barbra Streisand, and Broadway to the masses. I knew this show was transforming people when I heard my then 11-year old goddaughter singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade”. That was a good day.

What I’m saying here is that the magic of Glee was that it bridged the musical gap between generations. It repackaged good music and sold it to kids who, in my opinion, were starved for it.

Perhaps more important than the music was their message. From the pilot episode to its finale tonight, Glee exalted the values of acceptance and understanding. How could you not when your entire cast was a bunch of misfits? More than just the “gay thing” or the “black thing”, Glee showed us that almost everyone feels like an outsider… even the captain of the football team. Glee was never better than when it tackled those differences head on. (To that point, I would be remiss not to highlight Mike O’Malley’s performance as Kurt’s father. That is the father we all wish we had). Glee showed us that our differences make us stronger, make us originals, and for some, it makes them a star.

I cried a couple of times tonight watching this finale. Saying goodbye to shows is always difficult for me— no matter how timely the goodbye. And to be clear, I completely agree that this was the right time to end Glee. However that didn’t make the goodbye any easier. 

Tonight I saw genuine sadness in the eyes of everyone in that cast, especially when talking about Cory Monteith’s character. It’s a sadness that a nation of Gleeks shared. Personally speaking, I know that I will carry these characters and their music with me for decades to come. But when you think about it like that, this wasn’t a goodbye at all.


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