Mar 19, 2021

Don't Cry Now: David and Andy Williams

Born in 1960, twins David and Andy Williams (the latter named after their famous crooner uncle) began their teen idol career performing on Uncle Andy's variety show -- true, no kids watched, but that's how the Osmonds got their start.

Two albums followed.; Meet David and Andy Williams (1973) and One More Time (1973).  They consisted mostly of covers of old r&b classics, like "Baby Love" (The Supremes), "Going Out of my Head" (Little Anthony & the Imperials), and "I Won't Last a Day Without You" (The Carpenters).  Their vocal range and expression rivaled anything that David Cassidy could do.

Unfortunately, I didn't know it at the time.  I didn't buy their albums -- no one I know did.  And their singles weren't playing on the radio.  "I Don't Know Why" did the best, hitting #37 in March 1973.  Maybe their music was just a little to mature for kid audiences, like Craig Huxley's a few years before.

I only knew them from the teen magazines, which were predictably ecstatic, published dozens of pictures of the duo -- not a lot of shirtless or swimsuit shots, usually in soft, fluffy sweaters, with captions that might or might not be suggestive: "Come snuggle with us!"; "Check us out, top to toe!"  But who wanted to see such slim, soft, fragile-looking boys with their shirts off?  They probably didn't have any muscles at all..

They thought their career would jump-start with a January 1974 guest shot on the wildly popular Partridge Family: they had a crush on Laurie Partridge, and sang "Say It Again."

It turned out to be their swan song.  After another album and a few more guest appearances, the duo vanished.

But not really.  They opened for Roy Orbison and Susan Vega, played back-up, toured with T-Bone Burnett's band, and studied music.  They shifted their emphasis from bubble gum pop to a gutsy, hard-driving country rock, and released new albums -- Two Stories, Harmony Hotel, The Williams Brothers.

 David recognized that he was gay in 1979, and their music began to reflect the anger of facing homophobic bigotry and injustice every day, as well as other themes that can resonate with gay and heterosexual fans:

"Secretly" reveals the heartache of not being able to tell anyone about your love.

"Don't Cry Now" is a tribute to friends who died of AIDS.

"People are People": we're all the same inside, regardless of "religion, sexuality, color, or nationality."

They don't look soft and fragile anymore.

Mar 17, 2021

Frankie Says Relax

March 1985: after several years of subtext songs, the radio was booming with plaints about heterosexual sex:  Madonna living in a "Material World," Phil Collins begging for "One More Night," Tina Turner rasping about being a stripper.  So I should have noticed that the lyrics to "Relax" could be construed as sexually suggestive -- after all, the song was banned in Britain for several months in 1984.

But my acceptance letter from the University of Southern California had just arrived, and I was eagerly planning my crosscountry move to West Hollywood.   The group was named Frankie Goes to Hollywood, so:

Make making it (in Hollywood) your intention.
Live those dreams, scheme those schemes.

Relax, don't do it (play it cool, don't get over-excited)
When you want to go to it ( Hollywood).

I added "Relax" to my list of songs about finding a "good place."

Years later, I saw the original music video (banned in the U.S. and the U.K.), in which Holly Johnson (one of the two gay members) goes to a underground club, hugs a leatherman, gets leered at by a woman, and tames a tiger, to the delight of a decadent Roman emperor.

Then he gets into a nightmarish fight with women, leathermen, and drag queens.

So I changed my interpretation: relax, don't get excited, and you can overcome your aggressive impulses, tame the tiger within.

Or else it's an orgy, and the song is about heterosexual sex, like everything else on the radio in 1985.

Why Everyone in West Hollywood Listened to Madonna

When I first moved to West Hollywood in 1985, Madonna was everywhere, part of the backdrop of everyday life, as universal and taken-for-granted as working out, drinking Perrier, and reading Frontiers magazine.

When a Norwegian con artist stole my boyfriend,  "Material Girl" was playing.

When Alan met my boyfriend Raul, we were listening to "Open Your Heart."

When we ran into Fred and his Cute Young Thing during brunch at the French Quarter, "Live to Tell" was blaring from a car stopped at a red light on Santa Monica Boulevard.

During 300 Saturday nights at Mugi, "One Night in Bangkok" was always followed by "Papa Don't Preach"

When I was teaching  Gay 101 at Juvenile Hall,  three guys at a party started lip-synching to "Vogue."

But in the early 1990s, the Madonna fad started dying down.

In 1992, the book Sex bombed in West Hollywood.  I knew only one guy who actually bought a copy.

By 1993, record store commercials had people complaining "I'm bored with Madonna!", and all of the cars stopped at red lights on San Vicente were blaring "I'm too sexy for my shirt!" instead of "Bad Girl."

Madonna is still expressing herself, still recording songs and performing for millions of fans, but she is no longer an inevitable part of daily life in West Hollywood.

Nearly thirty years later, I wonder why Madonna became a gay diva.  Her songs had no gay subtexts: they were all about heterosexual women being touched for the very first time, living in a material world, picking up boys on the street, and asking "Come on, girls, do you believe in love?"

Maybe her hot male backup dancers, like Victor Lopez, Jull Weber (top photo), and Mihrab (left).  Many of them were gay, and worked out next to us at the Hollywood Spa.  They were family.

Maybe because she was a gay ally, outspoken in her support of LGBT people, a rarity in the 1980s.

Maybe because she was constantly offending 1980s conservatives with her frank lyrics and suggestive dance moves.  Gay people were constantly offending 1980s conservatives just by existing.  It was a match made in heaven.

See also: Mae West, Gay Diva of the 1930s and Let's Hear it for the Boy.

Mar 16, 2021

Wandavision: More Sitcom than Science Fiction

 For months, Netflix has been a wasteland, mostly a lot of  "dead girl in a small town" cop shows and "poor boy and rich girl fall in love" Korean melodramas.  So we have pulled the plug and switched to Disney Plus, which allows us to finally see what all the fuss is about with Wandavision.

The series has been showing up on my Twitter and Facebook feeds a lot: "The staggering surprise of the last episode!": "Wasn't the last episode the best thing you ever saw?"; "Fifteen top theories about the new Disney Plus hit!"  But what was it?  I figured the video blog of Wanda from Corner Gas.

I started watching with only minimal research, enough to determine that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are superheroes in the Marvel Universe who are dating or married to each other.  So, if she was dating The Incredible Hulk, would the show be called Wandahulk?

In the first two episodes, they seem to be the stars of an archetypal early 1960s black-and-white sitcom with a "my secret identity" premise: Vision is a robot, and Wanda has magical powers.  Plotlines are about what you'd expect from old sitcoms, although you'll have to grow up with them to get all the references.

Episode #1: The living room is from The Dick Van Dyke Show, and the kitchen from I Love Lucy.  Vision has a job at an amorphous company that doesn't produce or sell anything, like sitcom dads of the era.  There's a wacky next door neighbor.  The plot: Wanda thinks that the "special night" is their anniversary, but it's actually dinner with the boss and his wife.

Episode #2: The living-dining room, front yard, and opening credits are from Bewitched.  The plot: Wanda and Vision are set to perform at a talent show to benefit the local elementary school, but Vision is incapacitated by eating chewing gum (apparently he can't eat, although, as Isaac Asimov pointed out in I, Robot, food is a part of so many social occasions that any robot designed to interact with humans should have the capability).

Of course, Wandavision is not a complete clone of these shows.  The friends and neighbors are racially diverse without comment; for instance, Vision's coworker Norm is played by Asif Ali (below), and future episodes will feature Special Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park, left).  There were no black or Asian characters on early 1960s sitcoms, except for a very few episodes about them.  

There also seem to be more jokes about sex than appeared in the uptight sixties.    

And there  are occasional hints that something is wrong.  

1. Wanda and Vision don't want to say where they came from, how long they've lived in Westview, or how long they've been married.  I wasn't sure if they were trying to avoid being outed as superheroes, or they really didn't know.  Maybe they can't remember anything before the "series" began, like the residents of Storybrook in Once Upon a Time.

2. At dinner, the boss starts choking on a piece of food, and his wife laughs and tells him to "Stop it" over and over.  An inappropriate affect.

3. People keep announcing that the talent show is a benefit "for the children," and everyone repeats "for the children" in a robotic drone.

4. In the second episode, red objects occasionally appear in the black-and-white world, and then suddenly everything switches to color.

5. Wanda asks a new acquaintance her name, and she doesn't know.

I would prefer more hints.  Most of each episode's dialogue, characterization, and plot so closely matches early 1960s sitcoms that I wanted to turn it off and watch a real episode of I Love Lucy or Bewitched.  I want more evidence this is not actually a 1960s sitcom, it's a science fiction series about superheroes trapped in a sitcom world.

Beefcake: No.

Heterosexism: Wanda and Vision are a standard loving heterosexual couple.

Gay Characters: None specified yet, although I understand that the characters are all superheroes, and one of them is gay in other media.

Will I Keep Watching:  Sure.  I want to see their take on The Brady Bunch in the 1970s and the hip sitcoms of the 1980s.

Happy Days

Happy Days (1974-84) was a Tuesday-night sitcom about three high school boys in the 1950s, twenty years before, who concocted all sorts of wild schemes in their quest to fondle girls’ breasts. I always wondered about the title -- why were the 1950s so darn happy?  Because breasts were plentiful?  Or because contemporary “problems,” such those pesky gay people, didn’t exist?

Transforming the police-state decade of the 1950s into a Paradise of horny heterosexuals made Happy Days a phenomenon: it fomented Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, board games, lunch boxes, action figures, and half a dozen spinoff series, including Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, and Joanie Loves Chachi. The central cast, though neither built nor handsome enough to warrant a “kick in the gut” attraction, was certainly cute: Richie (Ron Howard), an eternally befuddled redhead; brash and brazen Ralph (Donny Most), who sometimes displayed his ample assets in tight jeans or a swimsuit; and Potsie (Anson Williams), puckish with gleaming eyes and a surprisingly buffed physique that he rarely if ever displayed on screen.

As the show aged, more muscle was introduced: in 1977 cousin Chachi (Scott Baio), whose muscles grew episode by episode; and in 1982 the immensely hot Flip Phillips (Billy Warlock), whose trademark cut-off t-shirt caused traffic accidents as male drivers jerked their heads around for a better look. 


The fourth major cast member and stand-out star, the ducktailed, leather-jacket clad Fonzie ( Henry Winkler of Lords of Flatbush), was renowned for his incessant heterosexual practice (wholesome and laudable in the 1970s, like eating a balanced diet).  He collected a boxful of engagement rings bestowed by hopeful girls, and needed only snap his fingers to bring several new volunteers running.

Yet Fonzie does not embody heterosexual practice at all, in spite of the innumerable poodle-skirt clad girls whose breasts he fondles (after shouting “Geronimo!”). He is no Casanova or Don Juan. Girls may be a pleasant diversion, but same-sex relationships are essential to survival. We see his life – his real life – in the closing shots of each episode, as he sits on his motorcycle in the parking lot of Arnold’s Drive In, surrounded by his friends, Richie, Potsie, and Ralph.

Fonzie is an odd addition to Richie’s gang: several years older and living on his own, employed full-time, he seems more likely a peer of their parents. Indeed, an 30-ish man who spends all of his time with high school boys would raise considerable suspicion today. 

 In early episodes, Fonzie is indeed an outsider, a dark and somewhat dangerous commentator on events, certainly not a friend. But gradually he begins to introject himself into every aspect of their lives, especially Richie’s life: he dines with Richie’s family every night, moves into an apartment over their garage, and takes classes secretly so he can graduate from high school with his friend. 

 In “Richie Almost Dies” (January 1978), as Richie lies in a coma, it is Fonzie, not his parents or a girlfriend, who refuses to leave his bedside. When Fonzie advises Richie against stealing an incriminating photograph in “Richie Gets Framed” (December 1978), his subliminal desire almost reaches the surface:

As my old grandma told me, two wrongs don’t make a right. [Pause.] Honey. [Pause.] And if you do this, you’ll never be able to look at that cherubim face [squeezes Richie’s cheeks] in the mirror again.

The stand-alone “Honey,” separated by a pause from its surrounding sentences, incites audience laughter because its speaker is indeterminate: we are not quite sure if Fonzie is still quoting his grandmother or himself referring to Richie as “Honey.” His facial expression, dark and almost alarmed, does not indicate embarrassment at using an affectionate term (and of course he could have made his point without it), but instead suggests an awareness that he is in uncharted and dangerous territory, perilously close to recognizing Richie an object of his own affection.

In “Mork Returns” (March 1979), the alien Mork (Robin Williams) arrives to conduct research on Earth life during the 1950s.  He hears not of incessant breast-fondling at Inspiration Point, the overt theme of Happy Days, but instead about the relationship between Richie and Fonzie: it is volatile, sometimes they fight, but they always make up. As Mork leaves to make his report, we hear “Isn’t it Romantic” playing in the background. The juxtaposition of a presumably homosocial friendship and a song presumably lauding heterosexual romance is stunning.

Mar 15, 2021

Vicenzo: From Drama to Comedy, from Angelic Robot to Klutz in Just One Hour

 I plugged in to Vicenzo on Netflix due to the novelty of seeing an Italian-Korean person (there are less than 5,000 Korean immigrants in Italy). 

Scene 1: I am spellbound.   Vincenzo (Soon Jong Kee) is more than just attractive; he is angelic, like a vision that makes you stop and stare, even after seeing cute guys every day of your life.  

He displays no emotion, adding to his otherworldly quality, as he takes a chauffeured car to a vast mansion  at the Grecco Vinyards in Italy.  He informs Emilio, the gluttonous mafioso in charge, that his recently deceased adopted father's last order was for him to take over the vinyard.   

Emilio refuses,  calls him racial slurs, and ejects him, so Vincenzo, still displaying no emotion, flicks a cigarette.  He has arranged for a cropduster to spray the vinyard with a powder that bursts into flame.  

Is he a robot or an alien?  I wonder.  I check to see if this is science fiction.  No, it's a crime drama.  Who is this otherworldly, angelic sociopath?

Scene 2: Vicenzo returns to a magnificent Italian villa, pays respects to his deceased father in his coffin, and then argues with Paolo, his adopted brother, now his boss.  Burning down the entire vinyard?  "It was Father's last order," he says.

Scene 3:  Night.  Some gunmen break into the villa to get revenge, but Vincenzo is one step ahead of them: his bed is empty.  He rushes from the bathroom, guns ablaze, and kills them.  Still not expressing any emotion.  He's a porcelain doll.  A very violent porcelain doll. 

Meanwhile, Paolo comes home in his fancy sportscar, tosses the keys to the valet -- and the car explodes! Vicenzo calls to tell him that he is leaving Italy forever.   "Do not try to find me, or I will kill you."   On the airplane to Korea, Vicenzo looks at a list of properties at Geunga Plaza, which is set to be destroyed "due to corporate tyranny."

All of the Mafia stuff is over.  We're starting a new story, with Vicenzo as a completely different person.

Scene 1: 
Delivery guy Seon-ho unloading boxes.  A girl tries to give him a birthday cake, but he rejects her, so she delivers some plot expositon: "You uncovered illegal practices at Babel Pharmaceuticals, and now they're out for blood!  I'm the only one who cares about you.  As you know, my name is Hong Cha-Young, I'm a major character."  Why do people on tv always get told things they already know?  

The birthday cake turns out to contain thousands of won notes. She's bribing him to recant his testimony!

Scene 2: Cha-Young with a briefcase, waiting for a klutzy guy  to show up on a scooter.  As they rush toward the courthouse, she tells him that his name is  Jiang Jun-Woo (below), and he's her klutzy intern.  

They argue in the lawsuit case against Babel Pharmaceuticals, and demolish the defense.

Later, the heavily humiliated defense attorney sits in the park, criticizing himself.  Cha-Young shows up to criticize his hairstyle and smell.  He helpfully informs her that she is his daughter, gone over to the Dark Side!  "How could you be so proud of destroying the powerless?"  SHe pretends to be worried about his health, and asks him to settle out of court.  He refuses.

Scene 3: A new character, the stunningly angelic Vicenzo, at the airport.  A limo driver tells him that his charge cancelled, so he can drive him into town.  On the way, a radio news report helpfully tells us that robbers are pretending to be limo drivers, drugging their clients, and stealing their stuff.   Vicente drinks some of the water that the driver provides, and passes out.  

You'd expect the guy who planned intricate schemes back in Italy to be more careful.  Wait -- new character.

Meanwhile, Cha-Young and her intern go back to the office to get congratulated on their great job winning for Babel Pharmaceuticals.  The boss gives her a bonus, which she pretends moves her emotionally.

Vincenzo wakes up in a deserted field near the airport, the thieves going through his stuff.  I expect him to kill them, like he did the gunmen back in Italy, but don't forget, he's got a whole new personality.  They beat him up.  He awakens in the field hours later.  

Scene 4: They left him a 50,000 won note (about $40), which he uses to take a bus to Geumga Plaza.  

Flashback to five years ago, when Vincenzo tells his father's business associate about a safe way to hide his gold: buy an old building, install a shop in one of its lots, and build a secret room in the basement to hide the gold.  Use a biometric security system, so only you can open the lock.   Gee, do you think he did that at Geumga Plaza?

Scene 5: In the present: Mr. Cho, the building manager, tells Vicenzo that his apartment is ready, with all the stuff he sent over from Italy.  Babel Corporation has bought up most of the apartments and shops to presure them into selling the building.  Scruffy Guy eavesdrops.

Switch to Scruffy Guy telling some lawyers, including Cha-Young's father, that someone has rented an apartment in the building: "he looked like a handsome movie villain."

Switch to Mr. Cho giving Vincenzo a tour of the remaining shops: a crazy girl playing the piano in the dark; a glaring, aggressive dry cleaner; an Italian restaurant with a glaring, aggressive chef; a screaming guy in a dance studio; a mother beating up her teenage son

Vicenzo wants to see the secret room.  The business over it went bankrupt, and now there's a Buddhist temple in its place.  A monk is meditating directly over the gold.

Scene 6: Vicenzo takes a shower, but the water is either too cold or too hot  (beefcake shot).

Later, he reads a deposition about his birth mother being transferred to Hanju Prison, and flashes back to her murder trial. "But it was self defense.  He was sexually harassing me!"

Hong Cha-Young's Dad will be her new lawyer.    Wait - he does corporate law and criminal law? Maybe in Korea they don't specialize.

Scene 7: A new character, a middle aged women, is acting crazy, dancing at the laundromat.  Two teeangers film her, and she yells at them and threatens to call the police.  

Scene 8: Vicenzo meets with the head of the Babel Development Team.  He won't sell; he's going to demolish the building, build a new one, and give the old tenants their leases back.  Babel guy threatens him. 

Beefcake: Shower scene.

Other Sights: Not after they get to Korea.

Gay Characters
:  Nothing specified.  I fast-forwarded through a few episodes.  Girls keep throwing themselves at Vincenzo, but he is oblivious.  In Episode 8, he holds hands with and hugs a guy, but he might be just pretending to be gay for a scam.

Premise Changes  From drama to comedy, from unstopable killing machine to klutz, from Mafia empire to real estate permits.

Will I Keep Watching:  Depends on whether Vicenzo stays a boring klutz or goes back to the angelic robot.  
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...