Aug 12, 2013

Steve Lawrence: All the Sad Young Men

Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were mainstays of The Carol Burnett Show during the 1970s, appearing in 27 episodes.  He also appeared by himself on The Hollywood Palace, Ed Sullivan, Laugh-In, Here's Lucy, even Sanford and Son.

When I was a kid, I disapproved of adult music as a point of pride, so I avoided him whenever possible,  although I remember a gently anti-War song on Carol Burnett: Steve is recounting the horrors of War to his son (played by a teddy bear), who doesn't understand, and keeps asking eager questions like "Did you kill anyone?  Did you have any fun?"   Finally he says "Daddy, bring me some war," becoming a bona fide hawk (not likely for a kid during the Viet Nam era).

And "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men":

All the sad young men, sitting in the bars
Knowing neon nights, and missing all the stars

All the sad young men, drifting through the town
Drinking up the night, trying not to drown

All the sad young men, choking on their youth
Trying to be brave, running from the truth

I didn't know what "gay" meant yet, but I interpreted the song as a critique of gay men who were too stupid or scared to resist heterosexist brainwashing: they kowtowed to Big Brother, dutifully seeking out women to date and marry, and never experiencing real, true, meaningful same-sex romance.

(I may have been a little off in that interpretation: it's the title of a book of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Steve had the looks and the voice, but he never tried to make it as a teen idol.  Maybe he started a few years too early, in 1952, before the teen subculture really took off with Elvis and Ricky Nelson.  Or maybe his songs were too square even for the 1950s: "The Banana Boat Song," "Autumn Leaves," "Pretty Blue Eyes."   But he was on the Adult Contemporary Charts though the 1970s.

He acted in a few movies, playing a stay-at-home husband in the "women's lib" comedy Stand Up and Be Counted (1972), and as Maury Sline, manager to The Blues Brothers (1980).  

I haven't been able to discover if he is gay friendly in real life.  Men of that generation always keep silent.

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