Replacing the National Anthem

Posted by Madam Bubby

 

The current national anthem of the United States is extremely difficult to sing. As someone who has done some professional singing and is now currently trying to rejuvenate his voice, trust me on this one.

It keeps plunging down into low notes or what some vocal pedagogues call chest register, which can drag the rest of the voice down, and at the end, one is supposed to sing a high note on an “ee” vowel, “land of the free.” Because of this difficulty, it even gets transposed down even lower, which means it ends up sounding like a growling monotone.

 

Star Spangled Banner sheet music

 

The composer, Francis Scott Key, was aiming for a heroic line that matched the bombastic lyrics, and he perhaps was thinking of situation like those that occur at baseball games where one listens to trained singer sing it.

Times have changed in that manner, and unfortunately we have been subjected to travesties like the dreadful yowling of Roseanne, or in the manner of many pop singers, adding to what is already difficult by adding vocal turns and coloratura and the like (perhaps to keep the voice flowing as it tries to surmount the line’s irregular see-sawing movement).

Vocally it’s problematic, but regarding the text, many have complained about the militaristic imagery, especially “rockets’ red glare/bombs bursting in air.”

 

Bombs bursting in air illustration

 

More significantly, given the social changes now occurring because of the Black Lives Matter movement, some activists say the United States should replace “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why? Its lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveholding lawyer who expressed white supremacist views.

Songs that some have suggested as replacing it have included “America the Beautiful,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “My Country ‘tis of Thee” “God Bless America,” and “Lift Up Every Voice and Sing.” John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Dolly Parton’s “Color Me America” are also on the list.

See this link for some performances of the some of the above songs.

I have in the past tended to move with the “America the Beautiful” replacement crowd. Why? It’s easy to sing, with a range, and more significantly, meter that matches many of the hymns people were used to singing in church. In fact, it’s got the same meter as “Auld Lange Syne,” the common meter, which means one can sing the lyrics and melody for each song interchangeably.

 

Common hymn meter

Common hymn meter - Source: https://poemshape.wordpress.com/category/guides/about-common-ballad-meter/

 

Now, some have noted the text by Katherine Lee Bates tends to read like a travelogue or landscape; it doesn’t really proclaim and develop an idea as much as describe a landscape, vast mountains and plains and “spacious skies” surrounded by “shining sea.” But that’s the part of the lyrics we usually sing. There’s much more!

In 1893, there’s the verse:

God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free


Which was then changed in 1904 to:

May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine


The 1893 verse actually sounds more radical, given the context of the previous lines, which refer to “liberating strife,” which could refer to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, “once or twice” events that liberated Americans from “selfish gain.” Ultimately, war is vain and degrades the human person to a number, an impersonal body, rather than as earlier in the verse, “a precious life.”

 

Katherine Lee Bates

Katherine Lee Bates - Source: https://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/cambridge-harvard/katharine-lee-bates/

 

In 1904, and in a later revision in 1911, one encounters stereotypical imagery of heroes sacrificing themselves for America and tying in more the Manifest Destiny idea. The result of the liberating strife veers between martyrdom and material prosperity; I am getting more than a hint of the Prosperity Gospel. Success, in whatever shape or form, means one is blessed by God.

Overall, this conversation ultimately ends up being a “tough call,” and as the LGBTQ Pride Flag has now undergone a transformation to include people of color, one wonders if the traditional staples need to be cast aside as we confront the injuries in the name of those American, using Bates’ word, “glory tales” that oppress rather than liberate, enclose rather than include.

 

2017 update of the Pride flagUpdate of the Pride flag with black & brown stripes introduced at 2017 Philadelphia Pride as an inclusionary revision highlighting people of color

 

2018 update of the Pride flag

2018 update of the Pride flag by artist Daniel Quasar that also includes the Trans Pride flag colors

 

Music moves flexibly in time; it’s not an immobile statue in physical space. As long as there is someone to sing a song, it will exist.

Ultimately, the act of singing itself is an act of vulnerability but also empowerment. Every time one sings, one re-creates, just as all are “crowned with good,” because they were created in the image of the Divine.

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Mad Scenes

Posted by Madam Bubby

 

Usually a “mad scene” specifically refers to a particular scene from an opera written by bel canto composers of the early 19th century, such as Donizetti and Bellini. A soprano, usually suffering from a romantic love crisis, goes insane, and expresses her insanity, paradoxically, in difficult, complicated coloratura passages that require great vocal control.

The most famous occurs in the opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Lucia, in love with the family enemy Edgardo, is forced to marry someone her brother chooses, Arturo. Lucia kills Arturo on her wedding night. I grew up hearing the gay icon Maria Callas singing this scene on record, and I was mesmerized that she was able to invest the scene with such drama and a dark, complex timbre. Here was no Snow White singing tra la la to the birds. But, interestingly enough, the opera does not end with the mad scene. Lucia dies offstage, and her lover, Edgardo, kills himself. He actually gets a kind of tenor mad scene. But it’s generally the ladies who go mad, which reflects quite blatantly the Victorian view that women, the weaker sex, were more prone to mental disturbance: potential hysterics.

 

Callas as Lucia

Callas as Lucia

 

The mad scene by the middle of the last century started moving to the end of movies, crystallizing to some extent in the grand dame guignol movies of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The end of Sunset Boulevard, the famous “I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille,” scene of Norma Desmond, deconstructs the mad scenes of operas, because she thinks she is playing the necrophiliac Salome. One even hears a bit of music from the Strauss opera as she descends the staircase (that prop usually occurs in Lucia mad scenes). In fact, by the time Strauss wrote his opera Salome, one could even say the female protagonists of many operas written by that time were mad for the entire opera (or most of the time).

 

Noma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard

Norma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard, Source: https://icsfilm.org/essays/the- devil-is-a-woman-sunset-boulevard-norma-desmond-and-actress-noir/

 

Thus, Baby Jane Hudson in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? dancing on the beach with ice cream cones and others of her ilk come out of a rich tradition. The director Robert Aldrich really seemed to build his grande dame guignol films toward a final mad scene for the female protagonist, though in his underrated Autumn Leaves shows a male, played by Cliff Robertson, going mad, and he gets several scenes, but the most terrifying one occurs at about midpoint.

But it is also a scene of horrifying domestic violence (he throws a typewriter at his wife, played by Joan Crawford, after slapping her around). Like Edgardo in Lucia, he accuses her of treachery, but she is innocent. In reality, his father slept with his now former wife (she a willing accomplice), and discovering them together precipitated his descent into what, based on the movie, is paranoid schizophrenia.

 

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson in Autumn Leaves

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson in Autumn Leaves, Source: http://graham-russell.blogspot.com/2018/10/reflections-on-autumn-leaves-1956.html

 

Aldrich created another mad scene in The Killing of Sister George, a groundbreaking LGBTQ movie on so many levels, not only for its filming a scene in an actual lesbian bar, but, for the fact that the protagonist, June Buckridge played by Beryl Reid (known as George because of the character she plays in a soap opera, Sister George, a jovial country nurse in an English village) is out and proud as a lesbian. Many critics today tend to place this move in the “self-hating” LGBTQ subgrenre. Yes, George is certainly not the most stable person. She yells a lot, drinks a lot, and certainly, which one could argue isn’t really a character flaw in some of the situations she encounters, shows no compunction about telling some persons off in not the most dainty language.

Her relationship with Alice does not strike one as being the healthiest by today’s standards. I remember watching the scene where George, always jealous, punishes Alice for a supposed flirting (with a man) by making her kneel before her and eat her cigar. For the mid 1960s, this scene was risqué, and I perceived that perhaps there was some element of BDSM play involved, but it also seems to be moving into the realm of emotional abuse. And it’s not Alice as the victim of the “bull dyke” George. Alice is blatantly egging her on, and by pretending to enjoy eating the cigar; yes, she does take back control of the dynamic, knowing she is hurting George by, as George both yells and cries, “ruining” it.

Thus, one can see the characters aren’t camp caricatures. The character George plays gets killed off in the series (hence the title), and the fate of her career and relationship gets wound up in the machinations of the cliched reptilian predatory lesbian, played by Coral Browne.

Spoiler alert: she loses her job and her lover; the Coral Browne character in a scene of underhanded viciousness at George’s farewell party at the television studio suggests she get a job playing the voice of a cow in an animated puppets series for children. A gut-wrenching scene occurs when Alice leaves her. Reid masterfully plays it as both horribly hurt and horribly angry together, the emotion much like that of another spurned operatic character, Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana (from the time of whole “mad operas”). Shortly thereafter, George enters the empty studio, smashes the camera equipment, and beings mooing like a cow. She is wordless. No romantic words, no ecstatic high notes like Lucia sings, no cameras for a Norma Desmond close-up.

 

Beryl Reid as George in The Killing of Sister George

Beryl Reid as George in The Killing of Sister George, Source: https://thelastdrivein.com/category/1960s/the-killing-of- sister-george-1960/

 

But, is she really mad? Does she really enter another reality like Lucia and Norma Desmond and Baby Jane? She’s not fantasizing about a marriage that never took place, and she’s not retreating into memories of a forever lost stardom. It seems she’s justifiably enraged, but also, given her indomitable character, understanding that she will do that job. She knows she has lost. She knows it’s degrading.

And like many LGBTQ persons, she knows who she is, and because she knows, she can choose, or at least to try and choose, what happens in her life. What’s sad is that she feels like she can only choose her losses. I just wonder if she’s really at the same level of victimization and its sister, in those cases, madness as the Romantic heroines of opera or the characters like Baby Jane who are both torturer and victim in grande dame guignol cinema.

Similarly. the complex dynamic where the madness, or appearance of madness exists perhaps to crystallize at the highest level of tension the torturer/victim binary, appears in a retro gay porn movie, Drive, directed by Jack Deveau (which Bijou carries on DVD and streaming). The mad Arachne plots to kidnap a scientist and eliminate everyone’s sex drive.

 

Christopher Rage as Arachne in Drive

Christopher Rage as Arachne in Drive

 

Arachne (Christopher Rage aka Mary Jim Sstunning) certainly camps it up as she attempts to set her diabolical plot in motion. But the movie unveils at the end how the one who desires to castrate is actually ferociously repressing her own sexuality. She is last seen in a dungeon with the men she had imprisoned. Secret agent Clark liberates the prisoners, and Arachne is left alone. But this whole mad porn opera contains a moment of somber lucidity. Arachne holds a glass bottle with a severed penis. She knows she is forever trapped in a cycle of endless desire like a spider in a web, consuming its mates but never satiated:

“I hunted at night until it wasn’t enough to hunt only at night, and then I hunted during the day too. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. My thoughts were only of hard bodies, rigid with the desire for me — beautiful men swollen with the need for me. They were all around me and I chose the ones who looked most eager.

“Until I saw a man who was so perfect, with a hunger in his eyes that reflected my own hunger — and I knew he was the one. I knew we could feed from each other, claw at each other with a need we didn’t care to understand.

“Drugged with desire for each other’s hot naked skin, tense muscles pushing — and then filling me with his need, white and hot. Crushing me with his strong arms, pressing down on me and into me, until I closed my eyes with the ecstasy and perfection of him, and I screamed for him — and I screamed for me. 

“And I opened my eyes and I was alone.

“And I vowed then that I would bring an end to it all. Man would have to search no more: Arachne would be the answer.”

She knows. She knows who she is, ultimately more frightening than the mad scene at the end, which usually ends in the liberation of death.

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LGBTQ History Is Everyone's History!

posted by Madame Bubby

The new Democratic governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, signed into law on Friday, August 9, 2019, a bill to ensure that the contributions of LGBTQ persons to human culture are taught in Illinois public schools.

According to a news release by CNN, House Rule 246 was introduced by Rep. Anna Moeller to amend the school code to add a more inclusive history curriculum.

"In public schools only, the teaching of history shall include a study of the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this State," the bill states.

The bill will go into effect in July 2020.
 

Pritzker signing LGBTQ history bill
Pritkzer signs LGBTQ history bill (Source: Freeport News Network)

This development is indeed good news, especially in the current social climate where certain adherents to branches of Evangelical Christianity (hello, Mike Pence) attempt to impose their views of gender and sexuality on the United States as a whole in theocratic fashion. In other words, they wish to regulate sexual and reproductive behavior based on their religious beliefs, often doing so by purveying false, unscientific information and conspiracy theories.

The “holy haters” might think this development is a similar type of imposition, but as usual, the analogy is false. A textbook ideally attempts to present information in an unbiased way and bases its content on authorized research by experts. A textbook ideally allows room, based on the content, to generate critical questions about the subject matter, these questions allowing for multiple perspectives based on evidence.

Thus, my concern is that this development will become, for many, ostensibly a religious issue and they will use the sadly predictable scapegoat mechanism accusation that children will be harmed by learning about LGBTQ persons and their contributions.

I think the issue is how we interpret history. It's not just that the contributions of already famous LGBTQ figures like Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, and Gertrude Stein are worthy of being remembered authentically, respecting the synergy of the art and the creator, but that the interpretation of history should open up the opportunity to hear voices that have been silenced and censored.
 

Colorized photo of Walt Whitman
Colorized photo of Walt Whitman (Source: Walt Whitman Initiative Organization)

Thus, who is telling the story is just as important as the story itself, but even more significantly, who is determining what is worthy of being told and how it is told.

It's sad that one has to make a law in the present to ensure the voices of the past are heard, and it's even more sad that there are those in the present who still feel so threatened by the very existence of LGBTQ history that they will resort to what they did in the past to LGBTQ people: denigrate them, silence them, erase them.

I applaud the new Democratic administration in Illinois for this move, but dead or alive, one's voice in history should not be a gift given to you by someone else: it is yours, and it rightly belongs to you.

Check out our blog, our contribution to hearing the voices of LGBTQ history, https://bijouworld.com/Gay-History/Categories/Listings/gay-history.html.

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Cruisin' at the Grocery Store

posted by Madame Bubby


Just came upon this old post from the Bilerico Report:

“Just about any grocery store is perfect for picking up a man. There's a reason why single women in the 70's and 80's swore by the produce section... Is he shopping for one?”

Now, this post was written in 2009, and obviously our shopping habits have changed. I know where I live, I see more Amazon delivery trucks, and I even saw a guy drop off Amazon Pantry frozen food at one particularly swanky apartment building near me.

But everyone except the super rich (including the President aka the vulgar boor) at some point still need to shop outside for food and other essentials.

Thus, can one still pick up someone else at the grocery store for sex, or even a date?

Now, regarding the produce section, I can see during “retro times” a guy asking a girl something about the inventory, because then, it was assumed most guys were pretty much inept at homemaking tasks, even the “confirmed bachelors.”

And then a single career gal who would be boyfriend (not necessarily husband) hunting (hello, Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl) would succor the lost soul among the zucchini, and lo and behold, exchanging phone numbers, yada yada, dinner at her place. (I think I have been watching too many 1960s romantic comedies.)
 

1970s grocery shopping couple

Yes, that scenario might have worked in an ideal fashion in the heterosexual world, but in the closeted gay world of that time? Perhaps. Maybe just a side glance, and then … Hopefully, a safe place with a minimal threat of arrest.

Now, many years later and after much social change, I guess, depending on where the grocery store is located, I'm sure cruising does occur. But it probably ends up being a Scruff/Grinder type. Hottie Leather is ten feet away. Where is that in the store? Thus, one would end up looking at the phone rather than sizing up the bare chested muscle jock next to you who is ready to start feeling up the cucumbers (the latter image is a fantasy, but I hope one that will become reality).
 

Hot muscle guy shirtless at grocery store

I had to go to the store near me last night, and it's in a heavily LGBTQ neighborhood, so I should be glad that guys can wear shirts like “Boys! Whoooo!” openly, but action was minimal. I've also noticed that especially on the weekends, gay men grocery shopping tends to be a couples activity. The married ones are there during the day stocking up on essentials and the young ones are there in the evening picking up more fun goodies for some event or outing.
 

Senior gay couple produce shopping
Photo Credit: Getty Images

I am starting to think I might enjoy better luck with the delivery guys (Amazon, Peapod, whatever). After all, an electrician ends up experiencing some very interesting food sex in an elevator with the “Brillo-headed” delivery guy in Jack Deveau's classic gay porn movie Rough Trades.
 

Celery up the ass in Rough Trades elevator food sex scene
Elevator food sex scene from Rough Trades (1977)

I wouldn't want a celery stick up my ass like in that movie. I'll take the man and what's in his boxers, not what's in the boxes.

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Chicago Pride Parade 2019: The Drama

posted by Madame Bubby

I was there. It was humid and crowded, and luckily I was standing near some hot shirtless guys with cute asses. Nothing terribly exciting or, to be honest, much different from previous years, even if it was celebrating 50 years since Stonewall.
 

Chicago Pride Parade balloons
Photo Credit: Time Out Chicago

I left early to cool down in a friend's apartment, and soon the floodgates opened. Literally. Severe thunderstorms moved in, accompanied by torrential rains. To obtain updates, I was following CWB Chicago on Twitter as the drama was occurring. Attendees were ordered by the police to first shelter in place, and then evacuate. Ultimately, the parade was, to use the unfortunate language of the police, “terminated.” In the 49 years of its existence, as far as I know, this parade was never rained on. Never.

Luckily, my friend and I were ensconced on the couch watching the delayed broadcast of the parade during the monsoon.

We waited until the sun had emerged, about 4:30 p.m, to emerge ourselves to check out the situation.

I already knew from the updates that this unprecedented event causes situations of violence, and, according to a witnesses, overall “weirdness.”

For example, a local Walgreens and CVS wanted to lock their doors because of the onslaught of persons fleeing the rain. In the parking lot of the Walgreens, persons were jumping on cars (this behavior has happened before at events), but in the case, the crowd was larger and overall more violent.
 

Jumping on cars, Chicago Pride Parade
Photo Credit: CWB Chicago

Police said two people were arrested in separate incidents for slapping police horses after the parade had stopped. For example, acccording to CWB Chicago, Wagdi Elgosbi, 28, approached a police horse in the 3200 bock of North Clark around 5:20 p.m. and asked the officer riding it if he could pet the animal. When the officer denied his request, Elgosbi slapped the horse in its face, police said in an arrest report. (Unacceptable!)

And, something both violent and, to be truthful, weird occurred at Chicago Comics (complete story available here). A woman burst into the store, begging for someone to call the police. A gang of twenty plus teenagers burst in, vanadalizing the store, and they sprayed the woman with pepper spray. The group fled when they heard the sirens. The police arrived, and the woman was taken away in an ambulance.
 

Mess in Chicago Comics
Photo Credit: Chicago Comics Facebook Page

Now, just listing incidents in this fashion doesn't really prove much specifically. Violence has occurred in the wake of this event before (and tends to occur at public celebrations, no matter who puts them on), but the above behavior appear to be more noteworthy, whatever that means.

And certainly noteworthy was the twerking trend occurring this year. Any object could be “twerked,” according to this compilation.

I realize for some time there's been much controversy, mostly racially-charged, around claims about groups of teenagers not from the local area creating problems in the Boystown area.

I also think one could gain a more accurate and perhaps even inspiring context for this situation by recounting what happened to my friend and I after we left the apartment.

In a quest for food, we stopped at a casual joint called Windy City Gyros. The place was full of openly gay teenagers, racially diverse. Yes, openly gay, girls holding hands, one guy with his arm draped around the shoulder of another guy. This was a place where they could be open, safe. I can't imagine that behavior occurring when I was in high school in the 1970s, anywhere.
 

 

Windy City Gyros interior
Photo Credit: TripAdvisor.com

And, I do understand the serious issues with police presence at such events, especially at an event which commemorates a movement that began as a protest against the police, but a couple police guys casually went into the place to sit down and eat. Imagine how different this situation might have been in the 1970s and 1980s. During that period, the police might have been there because the owners would be calling them about the deviants.

The boundary between celebration and violence, and self-expression and psychological disturbance, is fluid, especially at events whose purpose and history, however that history may be subsumed or diluted, is a stand against repressive hierarchies.

I decry the violence that occurred in a place previous generations built to be safe and open (including for twerking) for the future: LGBTQ youth.

Perhaps, 50 years after Stonewall, we need to realize that it's not justice or rights in the abstract we need to work for, but with persons in all their moment by moment, often messy, complexity.

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