Thursday, May 7, 2015

What Is Real? I Don't Know

Rock Island, May 1978

When I was a kid, my church had no problem with classical music, but my parents hated "that longhair stuff," so there was none in the house.  My first exposure to Bach, Berlioz, Beethoven, and Mozart came through a series of Young People's Concerts (1958-72) which appeared occasionally on Sunday afternoons, hosted by famous composer Leonard Bernstein.

Later, when I joined the school orchestra, I learned more about Leonard Bernstein.

I saw his gay symbolism-heavy musicals, On the Town (1949), starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, and West Side Story (1961), starring gay actor George Chakiris and assorted high-stepping hunks.

And his Symphony #3, Kaddish, named after the Jewish prayer for the dead.

He appeared on tv, conducting Gershwin in 1974, Mahler in 1975, and Beethoven in 1982.

No one ever mentioned that he was gay.  His works revealed nothing, except maybe the Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp, and Percussion, after Plato's Symposium (1954).  The Symposium contains Plato's famous defense of same-sex love.

In the spring of my senior year in high school, shortly before the senior prom,  Aaron, the rabbi's son who was gay (but didn't know it yet), invited me to a performance of Bernstein's Mass, a musical theater piece based on the Latin Mass.  He talked about how odd it was for a Jewish person to write something so Catholic.

Then  I realized that Bernstein was mirroring the oppressive chant of "what girl do you like...what girl...what girl":

What  I say -- I don't feel.
What I feel -- I can't show.
What I show -- isn't real.
What is real?  Oh Lord, I don't know.

Later, in my room, with the theme song to Husbands, Wives, and Lovers playing in the background, I wrote a poem in my journal (excuse the high school angst)



We live in masks
Our faces hard and cold, our voices monotone
And if we see a thing of beauty, a red pill is prescribed
And if we dare to fall in love, the verdict is insanity
So we continue
Shuffling on to houses and wives
And the suicide rate continues to climb

 Two months later, during the famous summer of 1978 I would see Grease, and hear Frankie Valli sing:

We stop the fight right now, we got to be who we are.

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