Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Welcome back (your dreams were your ticket out....)
So... yeah, it's been hella long. Hi.
We are SO sorry, divine readers, for the delay in our postage. We were too busy doing things.
I (Lara), for one, went to the Hollywood Bowl to see a one Miss Liza May Minnelli. But take that as a tantalizing preview for a post-to-come. Because it was absolutely spectacular and deserves its own post.
But today, we are going to talk about something else. What...what's this I see? A house, with a picket fence...and a barn with a....wait, NO. IT'S SOMETHING ELSE. IT'S.....
Ah yes, My Judy Garland Life, by Susie Boyt!!!! The book that came out early this year, and that Lara spent $40 on so that she could get it from the UK before the US publishing date. We are going to be discussing this book today. Just call us your own Garland-obsessed, socially awkward version of Oprah's Book Club.
So here's the deal. Each of us has written a little review of the book from our own perspective. We have then answered questions posed in the book, some of which are rather silly. As it is late at night, I (Lara) didn't finish answering all the questions in the book, but I got the majority of them. Here, you will see our opinions of this boooook. HERE WE GO!!!
My view of the book
The very beginning of the book made me cry. It detailed exactly what my childhood was--I was a very sensitive, kind of lonely, quiet kid, who loved animals and felt a sort of deeper connection to the world. When she described what her love for Judy was, I identified with it immediately. It was precisely what I had been trying to tell people for years and could never find the words. I was so elated that I wasn't alone, that someone else in the world felt very much the way I do about Judy.
As I progressed further into the book, I discovered that there are a lot of things lacking in Susie Boyt's knowledge. She misquotes things a lot. She name-drops everywhere, but quotes incorrect facts and figures. She also uses rather elementary language, which is a bit of a turnoff. It's clear that she loves Judy, but there are some gaping holes that need fixing.
All in all, I think Susie Boyt's intentions were good, but she should have either done more research, or if she wanted this to be a memoir, use fewer quotations, because those of us who know what she's talking about REALLY know what she's talking about.
Another thing is, I don't really like it that Susie Boyt's view of Garland fans is so black and white: "good" fan, and "bad" fan. I have met SO MANY DIFFERENT kinds of fans--from the sort of "fanatical" fans that follow Liza and Lorna, to the really dedicated fans that try to learn everything there is to know, and to those people who have seen all her movies but know little to nothing about her personal life. It would not be right for me to say that any of these is better or worse than any other simply because their outlook and their way of approaching their feelings might be different from my own.
As for myself, if I were to classify myself into a category of fans (we'll talk about that word later), I would have to put myself into the dedicated category. I not only read, I STUDY. I learn EVERYTHING. I can tell you the dates on which every single scene in The Wizard of Oz was shot, I can tell you the exact date of the release of Easter Parade, and I can tell you on which day of the week Judy Garland was born. This is all due to a voracious appetite to learn everything there is to know about Judy--nothing is too trivial. I have figured that the reason I feel the need to learn so much is that, at the risk of sounding like an insane person, I feel that I am very, very lucky to have this connection with another soul across innumerable bounds. As Emily says, I do not see her as a performer, actress or singer--to me, when she is onscreen, she is like an old friend, or a relative--someone I am very familiar and comfortable with. Because I am able to relate to someone this closely, someone who I will never see in person but who I feel like I have known for a very long time, I feel the need to live up to a certain standard--if that makes any sense at all.
When I went to Grand Rapids for the Judy Garland Festival for the first time, I came across a Judy fan there who was deaf. In his entire life, he had never heard "Over the Rainbow," never heard the Carnegie Hall album, and never heard that marvelous speaking voice or famous laugh that we're all so fond of. Regardless, he felt an immense connection with this person, this person who was a singer he could not hear. He traveled all the way from New York City to be at the Judy Garland Festival. This, I think, speaks volumes about how Judy does not sing to your ears, but to your soul.
For years, I found the word "fan" problematic. It does not begin to explain the enormity of the intense connection I feel with Judy Garland. I have come to accept it, because it just makes things easier and also because I feel that there is no other word to describe what I feel. Suffice it to say that there is something very, very special.
I'm not really sure where to begin with this. This is going to be more of a stream of consciousness because... I can't... well... heck.
Okay. So for starters: I am a huge Judy fan. Huge. I can't even explain it. But one thing about me as a Judy fan is that above all, I see her as a human. I don't put her on a pedestal and worship her, because I can't. I see Judy as Judy. Now, I'm sure when many of you see that, you're thinking I mean the “tragic,” “sad,” “pitiful”, etc. side of Judy that most people hear when they think of Judy. False. I see Judy for the hilarious, witty, vivacious person she was. When I first saw Judy, I was 2-years-old, and it was The Wizard of Oz (cliché, but – isn't that how it starts for everyone?), and Meet Me In St. Louis closely followed when I was around the same age. Of course, when I became a huge fan as time progressed, it was her talent that drew me in. I listened to her day in, day out (as I still do), watched her endlessly, and protected her name when people would say negative things about her. During this stage, I learned more and more about who she was as a person, and THAT was the clincher. Judy was a ridiculous clown, and would do almost anything for a laugh. She'd turn the most horrible stories into gut-busting anecdotes, and had the most amazing sense of humor about her. While I can't sing well or do anything Judy did even remotely half as well, I connected with her on that level. I've been the same brand of ridiculous since I could open my mouth, and the fact that this enormously talented woman had this side to her and wasn't a diva is what I respect her for most. At this point in my life, when I listen to or watch Judy, it's as normal as breathing air. I'm not the fan who sits there in awe of her every time she appears on screen, because she's so normal to me – like an old friend. That's not to say I'm not in awe of her talent – this woman has the ability to make me laugh and cry like no other, and she IS the world's greatest entertainer in my eyes. Anyway – by saying she's like an old friend, I feel like a crazed fan, but only another person in my shoes could understand what I mean, and I know that there are at least a handful out of the millions of Judy fans out there who know what I'm saying. I obviously never knew her personally, being born 20 years after her death, and I'm not claiming to know her. No one could possibly understand everything about Judy, and as Liza Minnelli said, you understood her best if you knew you didn't understand her.
Almost every single Judy fan has a different attitude towards her, and that's fine by me. Whether they see her in a bad light, a dim light, a light smothered in gold and diamonds, or how I see her, that's none of my worry, because I've realized there's no use in defending her or bringing her down to a more human level. The legend has already been set in stone by tabloids and poorly written biographies, as well as accounts of her being godlike and superhuman. I can't change that, and that's okay, because I'm comfortable knowing what I know and feeling what I feel.
This brings me to Susie Boyt's book. At best, this book was luke warm to me. I share Lara's feelings about the language and content of the book. I agree with some of the things Boyt says on some level, but to me, she is a clingy, sunny-side-up, "I'm going to pretend that never happened because MY Judy would never say or do those things because she is perfect"-fan. The phrase “hero-worship” is used over a dozen times, which turned me off. I know that a large majority of Judy fans would adore this book, but it left me with a strange feeling and reminded me of Wayne Martin (a Judy “fan” - aka leech – who recorded his telephone conversations with Judy, which are now on YouTube for the whole world to shake their heads at. He seemed to have gotten involved personally with Judy for his own pleasure). At one point, Boyt says that she had an impulse to take Liza's cigarette butts and half-eaten sandwich when she left the room during a meeting with her, and also says that she would have loved to watch Judy sleep for the distance of a chair. CREEPY. She analyzes what it must have been like to have been a caretaker or personal friend of Judy's - and marvels at the fact that someone who was "in charge" of taking care of Judy for less than 24 hours never even asked her to sing! Well, gee! That woman must have had some sort of common decency, huh? This same type of hero-worship is extremely reminiscent of the hangers-on that were in Judy's life in the 1960s - the people that used her and eventually aided in her decline because they were more interested in her talent and what THEY were getting out of their relationships with her, rather than the actual human being that sat before them.
Boyt goes as far into her book to have a chapter about what she believes makes a good or bad fan. I can't really agree or disagree with what she said, because MY kind of fan wasn't included. Perhaps I'm a rare breed. Apparently, the best fans are the hero-worshipers, which... no comment. I agree with her on the fact that bad fans are the kind who are obsessed with her “tragedy” (I hate using that word connected with Judy even as an EXAMPLE. Turn off.) and who see her sorrow and sadness (oy) as their reasoning for loving her, but that should be more than obvious.
I can't very well say much much about this book, and I'm well aware that this is hardly a book review, but I WARNED you, didn't I? All in all, I wouldn't PERSONALLY recommend this as a good book, but I think it should be read by all Judy fans, just as a way to see how other fans view her. It was interesting. And tad train wreck-ish. But then again, aren't MOST books about Judy? While Boyt means well and is an extremely devoted fan, in my eyes, it sort of feeds that "legend" fire that began so many years ago. It makes it seem as though Judy can only be idolized or insulted. What's missing from this book is the fact that you are able to be a strong, devout fan WITHOUT sugarcoating or dwelling on the tragic (THERE'S THAT WORD AGAIN!) side of her. The fact that I'm such a big fan who knows the insides and outs, but could barely connect with any aspect of this book speaks volumes.
For those of you who want a proper read on Judy, I can only recommend Me and My Shadows by Lorna Luft (it isn't chock full of lies and gossip – Lorna only tells what she knows), Judy by Gerold Frank (the ONLY biography written about Judy approved by family and friends), and John Fricke's books - Judy Garland: World's Greatest Entertainer and Judy Garland: A Portrait in Art and Anecdote. I've read every book written on Judy, much to my dismay, and those are the only books that didn't leave a bad taste in my mouth.
And finally, here are the questions. In Boyt's chapter, Are You a Good Fan or a Bad Fan?, there are quite a few questions that she sent to almost 100 Judy fans world-wide. Most of these questions are a little strange, so we tried to answer the more normal ones to the best of our abilities (in truth, NONE of these are normal).
How would you describe Judy's brand of glamour?
L: "No glamour. No glamour at all." Sorry, I had to insert a Love Finds Andy Hardy quote in there somewhere. Well, I think that Judy had great natural beauty, but also this beauty was rather ahead of its time. Today, Judy would be put in films and touted as a very beautiful girl/woman, because nowadays there is a broader range of what is considered beautiful.
E: While I think Judy was naturally beautiful (yeah, she started off a little awkward, but WHO THE HELL DIDN'T?), I wouldn't tack the word "glamour" onto her. I don't mean this disrespectfully at all, because I WISH I looked like her, but along with the word "glamour," comes the attitude. To me, Judy was beautiful and approachable - not JUST a gorgeous face.
If Judy were alive today and in her 80s, which designers do you think should dress her?
L: Ok, I think that Judy needs really specific clothing, that only like, Edith Head can supply. And the Travilla gowns from Valley of the Dolls are good on her. So I say resurrect Edith Head and get Travilla pronto because they have some work to do.
E: I agree with Lara. But realistically? Chanel and Karl Lagerfield. This question makes no sense, and I'm really NOT sure why it was even formulated.
Have you ever hero-worshiped anyone else?
L: I....wouldn't call my Judy thing hero-worship. At all. I don't even really know what that MEANS in this context. I don't know what I would call it, but not that. And no, I've never hero-worshiped anyone.
E: The phrase "hero-worship" really weirds me out. I could never put my love for Judy into something so unrealistic and... clan-like. I don't hero worship anyone.
What attitude do you have to the parts of Judy that were difficult or less likeable?
L: I think those parts of Judy are part of her, so I love them too. Her imperfection is what makes her who she is.
E: I'm impartial. What's done is done - I'm not going to judge Judy for the "less likeable," things she did, just as I hope no one would do the same for me. She wasn't perfect. I'm not going to dwell on her imperfections, and I'm not going to pretend they didn't exist.
Does Judy have characteristics that you share?
L: Sometimes I talk like her, which weirds me out sometimes. I'll hear myself do the stutter, or trail my sentences off. It's bizarre. Also, we have similar eyes. And oddly similar mannerisms, undoubtedly because I've been exposed to her for so long. And also, that sense of humor. I find her SO amazingly funny, and it's a humor that is really unusual--kind of odd, and not everyone quite understands it. Judy had INTENSE brainpower--some people estimate her IQ to have been in the 160s or 170s, and I think her sense of humor really reflects her brilliance.
E: Well, as we all know, if you see or hear or know someone for quite a while, you pick up on their mannerisms and speech patterns, so - I've got the same thing going on as Lara does when it comes to the speaking and mannerisms. But without Judy's input on my characteristics, I've always had the same dark, wacky, ridiculous sense of humor that I understand she had. I like to turn the horrible into the hilarious. I get myself into a bit of trouble sometimes, because I'm already laughing at the horrible WHILE it's happening. I'm also quick to flair, as she was apparently, and I can be ridiculously loving and attach myself to certain folk. I also have HORRIBLE sleeping patterns, and... I can't see the cue cards.
Does your love of Judy affect any other aspects of your life, for example does it affect the way you treat other people or handle situations?
L: Yes, once when I was in like, 6th grade, a friend of mine who was over made some very benign comment about Judy, and I literally ran out of the house. I'm not that sensitive anymore, thank god. Now, I generally find things funny. My grandmother met Judy when she was a nurse at Cedars of Lebanon, and she used to tell me stories that disturbed me--like Judy throwing things at the nurses and cussing people out. Now, I hear those stories and take them as they are--"yes, Judy was like that, I'm not surprised," you understand. Recently, my grandmother told me that she was once cussed out by Judy, and I pressed for more details, knowing that this makes a hilarious story. If she had told me that when I was little, I would have gotten upset. I think it's really a matter of being confident enough in your attachment to this person to really see them as they are. Of course when I was little, I felt this attachment to her, but I was a little kid and was thin-skinned. Now, I have matured and have "grown into" this intense, fiery, complex soul that I am attached to, if that makes any sense at all.
E: I used to be protective of Judy - not really sensitive, or even terribly protective for that matter, but I used to have an attitude toward people who weren't too considerate. I've realized that what I say or do doesn't matter, and it's not even my business to correct what they think and believe. And as far as handling situations goes, she's made it seem a bit more acceptable - to me anyway - to laugh off as much as I possibly can and to just go wild for the sake of having a funny story. I'm now more apt to tell myself that if I'm having a bad day or experiencing something unpleasant, I should just cool it, because 9 times out of 10, it will become a HILARIOUS story within a short period of time. I've always had that attitude, but now it's even more so.
Why do you think Judy became a gay icon?
L: That's...a really hard question to answer. I've been asked this so many times. How does anyone become a gay icon? I mean look at godforsaken CHER. How on EARTH did that thing become a gay icon? No one knows. There are some clues with Judy--her father was gay, as were many of the closest people in her life, plus she was kind of a phoenix, no matter what hardship she came across, she always pushed through and bounced back. Charles Busch gives a good description of that in the A&E bio. But really...gay icons are a bit of a mystery.
E: I'm not really sure, as I'm not gay and can't personally speak on behalf of that. I agree with what Lara said, and I guess... the love for her in the gay community grew stronger through the passing on of whatever relationship they had with her to begin with?
So that's it, chickens! This was nothing short of EXHAUSTING. I (Emily), personally have to wake up in 3 1/2 hours, as it is 5:00am and have class in the morning (WHAT ARE MY SLEEP PATTERNS?), but we've detained all of you readers for far too long! Until next time!