MONDAY February 5 2018
“I ALWAYS look well when I’m near death,” says Greta Garbo in “Camille.”
Over the past two weeks—down with a fairly significant flu–I’ve thought quite a bit about Miss G. and her most famously tragic role. Oh, not that I’ve been near death, or look well. And no matter how poorly I’ve felt, I certainly have better posture than Garbo, who even in her rare “happy” roles, seems about to suffer a fatal collapse.
But I had to think of somebody while I lay, quite unglamorously, on an over-stuffed couch—pillows, throws, books, magazines, a notepad, tissues, Vicks VapoRub, ChapStick, multivitamins, a good moisturizer, several remote controls, my iPod (I know it’s kind of out of favor, but I still use it because of its wonderfully compact size.) I don’t like being tended to or fussed over when I’m sick, so I isolate myself. I emerge briefly and swiftly, to grab a cracker or an antibiotic. (I have regained the figure of my boyhood. Alas, a pale, thin 65-year-old face hovers above my wasp waist.)
At some point, when I was at my most feverish, I actually managed to dispose of the Christmas tree, an increasing fire hazard. But much of the rest of the holiday decorations remain. Depending on my mood, I think it either looks like the Russian Tea Room or Mrs. Havisham’s digs.
Of course, I also feel guilty that I’m not contributing here, although neither Mr. David Patrick Columbia or Mr. Jeffrey Hirsch have stood over me with a whip. Hmmm, maybe if they had…
I am writing this column on Thursday February 1st. I already know that attempting to write on Friday, the 2nd would have been a foolish endeavor. That day I had to leave Hoboken at 10.30 a.m. to get to Manhattan’s Majestic Theater and Liz Smith’s memorial, where they said the doors would open at 11:15. Blessedly, I was not called upon to speak. But I gave instructions to save a standing position for me in the back, in case a massive coughing jag overtook me while a significant personage was onstage saying something funny or moving, and I had to leave my seat. (“Oh, it’s Denis, making a scene. He probably wanted to be up there speaking. Honestly!”)
On Wednesday, I will, hopefully, let you know a bit about this event.
I HAVE not been totally oblivious to the wonderful world outside my memorabilia-cluttered room. My use of the remote control and my powers of attention have been erratic/sporadic/fever-based. But I still caught a few things.
I tried to watch all of the Grammys, but I kept switching back to PBS and “The Story of the Jews,” which was marvelous and moving.
What did I get out of the Grammys? Lady Gaga and Pink can really sing, and I didn’t mind at all that Gaga was dressed as a dying swan and Pink looked like she just rolled up from a pleasant afternoon with the family. (I also appreciated Pink staying put. Singing upside down, forty feet in the air is impressive, but she doesn’t need a gimmick.) I love the way Nick Jonas’ ears stick out. I didn’t catch a word of what Kendrick Lamar was singing in the opening number. But it looked mighty impressive and I got the theme, based on the powerful visual. I was wretchedly uninterested in various celebrities—and good grief, Hillary Clinton!—reading from the “Fire and Fury” book. I do not understand the reason for James Corden existing—either as host of the Grammys or having his own late-night talk show. (And my goodness, there’s nothing wrong with being zaftig, but get a suit that fits.)
But, of course the high point (for me) was Patti LuPone’s yodeling on “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” LuPone just can’t get over that Madonna made the movie of “Evita.” And she’s made that endlessly clear over the decades. I like LuPone a lot as an actress—she is truly excellent. Her singing is an acquired taste. I have not acquired it. Madonna’s acting—in starring roles–generally makes me want to rush into the screen and take her away before anybody notices. Her singing voice, on the other hand—is an absolutely perfect pop instrument, flexible, urgent and romantic. She did the score of “Evita” proud. But I had to hand it to LuPone. You could almost see the caption running endlessly across the screen as she performed, “This is what you missed! A pox on you, Andrew Lloyd Webber!”
I did not watch the president’s State of the Union Address. Why bother? It is instantly deconstructed and re-played with various numbing, tunnel-vision, partisan opinions. Anyway, watching obviously crazy people disturbs me. (No, I don’t mean Trump. I mean Mike Pence. His adoring gazes at the president lead me to believe Mrs. Pence should take a page from her hubby’s playbook and not allow Mike to ever be alone with 45.)
I have almost blocked out the daily accusations, allegations, ruinations and fantastic hypocrisies that have emerged from the MeToo and TimesUp movements. The genuinely concerned and good people at the heart of these organizations might do well to go to online comments sections as each new story of harassment emerges. Initially the ordinary folk on conservative sites were all aboard, as so many in “liberal, perverted” show biz fell. But even there the mood has changed to eye-rolling indifference and from an unfortunate amount of women, a kind of “Oh, enough already…are all men monsters, should we just all become lesbians?!” This is a potentially fatal mindset, affecting the genuine victims of abuse, harassment and unequal treatment. (The ones who don’t give press conferences, appear on “Ellen” or have the time to tweet endlessly—you know, real people.)
As for Jimmy Kimmel, he can cry all he wants about his sick child, rage about health care and other matters political, but my sympathies for him dried up when he booked Miss Stormy Daniels, former adult film performer and rumored one-time playmate of the president. (I wish only blessings and good health for Kimmel’s son, however.)
I don’t care if any president is unfaithful to his wife. My goodness, John F. Kennedy, so beloved, so tragic, so “if only he’d lived” was a monster of infidelity. But I think he was more or less on the side of the angels, in terms of what he wanted for this country. Ditto Bill Clinton, although his 1994 crime bill wasn’t exactly benevolent. At least he eventually admitted that he’d only made a bad situation worse.
I want my president to have a heart, soul and brain. I don’t want him (or her, hopefully, someday!) to be merely a tool for their party or an empty shell of ego. If there is straying from the martial bed—so long as it’s consensual in nature—I don’t care. And neither should you, Mr. or Miss Perfect.
FINALLY, I got in some reading—Tina Brown’s “The Vanity Fair Diaries” and “Avedon: Something Personal” by Norma Stevens (Avedon’s longtime studio director) and M.L. Aaronson.
I think trying to take in these two books, one after another, was too a la mode, too deluxe macaroni and cheese, too five-alarm chili, too double-fudge brownies, too tequila on the rocks. All delicious, but potentially vomit-inducing consumed at the same time. Names, names, names, bitching, bitching, bitching. Lots of Avedon was a genius but so fucked up and not always that nice. From Tina, lots of I’m a genius and everybody else is so fucked up and not always that nice.
This is not accurate, really. I realize I was reading books too similar, and also in a weakened state, to fully appreciate either. (And Tina is an excellent, saber-toothed writer—hard on herself, too, when she feels she must be.)
But the endless machinations of the fashion and photography worlds and those of magazine publishing—which intersects with seamless, plump, egomania —ground me down. There is a lot of vastly entertaining gossip-passing-as-history or vice versa, and when I am feeling more deluxe and superficial, I’ll have another go at these tales of privilege, power and petulance.
I did read one extremely satisfying book, Will Friedwald’s “The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums.” I will tell more on this, anon.