Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Donna Summer (& A Few Hundred Gay Men) Made Me Fabulous

 I have a thing for dead celebrities.  Not like a let-me-buy-a-map-and-drive-to-the-site-of-their-demise, thing or even a let-me-put-horrific-poems-and-cheap-flowers-on-their-graves thing.   No, my thing is more like a let-me-reminisce-about-their-importance-in-my-life-because-after-all-it-is-all-about- me, kind of thing.   Since I’ve recently entered old age, I find that upon receiving news of some twinkling star from my youth passing on to the nether realm, I am overcome with the need to step back to their hayday for a few moments.  Thank god for the interweb, I don’t know how old people reminisced before technology.  Anyhoo, recent weeks have been especially strong for me in the dead celebrity realm.  
        Richard Dawson, you taught me how to properly brace for goopy old man kisses before answering important questions.   This came in handy during my mid-20’s bartending career as well as while living in Turkey. 

       Robin Gibb – my favorite BeeGee.  Robin, you taught me that chest hair and falsetto were not always in agreement.   News of his death made me long for an adult-sized version of my pink satin jacket with the glittered roller-skate above the right pocket.  In honor of Robin, I spent a few hours on Spotify cueing up classic BeeGees, strolling down disco lane in my rainbow toe socks with hair so finely feathered that even Farrah contemplated a brief resurrection to join me.

       And lest we forget, Donna Summer.  Oh Donna.  I spent my youth longing for your ginormous nest of hair and that glittering dew-like finish you never left home without.  As a chubby young white kid in Middle America, I was enamored of you and your soulful tunes, but I did not begin to appreciate the full spectrum of your talents until I entered the world of gay men.  Even as I type the words ‘gay men’ I hear strains of “Love to Love You” busting through the crazy in my head.  Dear Donna, as the media has engaged in numerous retrospective tributes to you these past weeks, I have sashayed down memory lane (I think it is important to note here that this memory lane is made of plexiglass, sprinkled with glitter and has a mirror ball revolving above) tossing my hair and remembering when the phrase “She Works Hard For the Money” was my something I contemplated aspiring to rather than my everyday reality.  

      Every song in Donna’s greatest hits list has the uncanny power to take me back to various moments from my former life of fabulousness – when I was young, sassy and surrounded by some of the most marvelous men on the planet.  No, I was not a fag hag. I despise that term.  ‘Fag hag’ conjures images of angry women with buzz cuts and multiple piercings sipping Jack Daniels and sucking on Virginia Slims at the corner leather bar.  I am far too high maintenance to be a fag hag and the boys I spent my youth with are far too festive to be called fags.  We worked in professional theatre for godsake- costumes no less and thus we were more the types to be found sipping a Cosmo on a chaise lounge with vintage Cher thumping in the background.  No, I was not a fag hag but rather a Fairy Princess.  He’s a fairy, I’m a princess – it compliments both of us - way better than fag and hag. 

      Anyhoo, in my life as a Fairy Princess, I spent many a night in techno-filled gay bars all along the Northeast Corridor – thanks to my BFF and now The Midget’s Fairy Godfather, Uncle Johnny.  And no matter the age of its patrons, every bar, club or hotspot always managed to mix in a healthy amount of Donna Summer.  My love of Donna goes way beyond the pedestrian adoration of “Last Dance” when played at closing time.  No, my connection to Donna runs deep.  Whenever I hear the first few “Ahhhh’s” of “Love to Love You Baby,” I am instantly transported to a hot summer night in the mid- 90’s, at the The Monster  in the Village -  the soothing sounds of Donna,  blanketing the room while hotties in ass-hugging pants and nipple baring tops danced the night away with their arms waving in full-on homosexuality.   As I was embraced by a bar full of truly amazing men, it was clear that my life had done a full 360 from the small town Iowa I’d left behind a couple years prior and there was no going back.  Disco and many other things had all new meaning and I loved it.  

      “Hot Stuff” never fails to takes me back to a questionable leather bar in Philly with a few grad school cohorts.   “This Time I Know It’s For Real” sends me right back to a cool summer week spent on Fire Island – me and 8 fab fairies high above the bay on a rooftop deck sipping appletinis and gossiping about who had felt up Anderson Cooper on the dance floor (spoiler alert – it certainly wasn’t me.)  “Heaven Knows” and I’m at Stonewall in ‘98.  “On the Radio” and I’m back signing into a hairbrush with my gay bestie in his 1st New York apartment.  I could go on and on through fabulous gay nightspots and the raunchy fun that was had over the years with Donna providing the soundtrack, but without a doubt, the number one Donna Summer backed memory I have would be set to the tune of “Bad Girls.”  

NYC Gay Pride Parade 1999 – A fabulous glittered float fluttered down Bleeker street and atop was a stunning drag queen lip syncing her heart out – flanked by a bevy of hot hunks in leather thongs and motorcycle boots. 
Beep beep….ahhhh toot toot…
ahhhhh beep beep….ahhhh toot toot
Bad girls.
Talkin’ bout them sad girls. 
Bad girls.  Talkin’ ‘bout bad bad girls.” 
Three men next to me (clad in sailor uniforms of course) had me in hysterical tears of laughter as each exclaimed, “There my baby daddy!”  Best. Parade. Ever. 


Those were my formidable years.  Those were the years in which I became fabulous – a fabulous that has lasted through expatriation, motherhood AND a brief return to the Midwest.  Now that is fabulous.  Without those years in the world of gay men what would have happened to me?  Would I know the power of kitten heels?  Would I be clear about the rule “Always remove one accessory before leaving home for optimum balance?”  Would I have ever read all volumes of Tales of the City – 4 times?   How would I have learned about my fav show –Absolutely Fabulous?  Would I love leopard as I do now?  Most importantly, would I fully understand the true importance of Wonder Woman in our universe?  I fear not. 

       Donna, I bid you farewell for now, but know that every time I hear the disco strains of MacArthur Park, I will toss my arms out wide and dissolve in to a full-on Wonder Woman spin, just the way the boys in the clubs taught me to do.  “Someone left the cake out in the rain…”

-For my bestie Johnny- without you I'd never know....

Sunday, June 3, 2012

America - Welcome to Eurovision!

     Six years ago, a newly relocated  newlywed in a new country, my husband made great strides to introduce me to any part of his culture he felt might appeal to me to help me  assimilate to my new life as a Turk.  He tried everything from signing me up for the Yabanci Esi Klub, (The Foreign Spouse Club) to enrolling me in Turkish classes so I could actually communicate with my in-laws.  He schooled me in how to order my Turk kahvesi and lovingly explained that while everywhere else it is a gyro, in Turkey it is döner.  Though all of the Turk’s efforts were appreciated, I wasn’t feeling the connection.  I was an overeducated, career minded, sassy broad in a world full of domestic divas.  My shoes were too sensible, my make-up too muted and my cooking skills not even close to par. About 6 months into our stay, he finally had the good sense to introduce me to The Eurovision Song Contest – a television extravaganza watched by millions, filled with copious jazz hands, wind-blown hair extensions, and sparkly ragwear that would make Stevie Nicks turn green with envy.  Disco meets Eurotrash.  My heart was won.  These were my people.
Believe it or not, this is Ireland

 Since my virgin voyage on the Eurovision trainwreck, I have become one of its biggest fans.  I was so hooked that upon returning to the US, I suggested we schedule our yearly visit to his family to coincide with the contest and when that didn’t work, I bought the Turk a subscription to DigiTurk (Turkish cable TV) for his May birthday so that I would be able to catch the late May Eurovision contest live without having to wait until the performances posted on YouTube.  This year as I geared up to watch the semi-finals, I realized that it was time.  Europe, there are things you need to share with your redneck cousins over here in the States.  Secrets have their place - like German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s sexual preference or Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi's love for teen pole dancers – but this spectacle that is Eurovision is too fab to keep under wraps any longer.  America – I introduce you to Eurovision!

Czechoslovakia.  Not surprising.
For you newbies, here’s a rundown.  Eurovision is a song competition which has been happening in late May since 1956. (I know, something this wonderfuly over-the-top trashy has been happening for this long and no one told us?  I used to think we invented trashy, you know with the advent of Walmart and all, but clearly I was mistaken.) The rules are simple – every country in Europe -and now most of the former Yugoslavia as well as the former USSR and a whole ton of other countries you have to search out on a  map using a magnifying glass and are in no way close to Europe- get to send one representative to the competition which best represents their countries current musical trend.  They may sing in English or in their native tongue, they only have 3 minutes and in addition to the artist, there may be no more than 5 additional performers on stage.   
Standard Turkey-hot chicks with midriff

The Turks, generally send one singer with 5 scantily belly dancers while the Norwegians opt for a trio of musicians with a few back-up girls in flowing polyester gowns.  Accurate representation indeed.  There are semi-finals and finals and the winners are all determined by a complex and confusing phone-in voting system (I’m never quite sure how the points are awarded but in my defense, I’ve never caught the show in English.) – countries cannot vote for themselves  but the voting usually goes along political lines –ie – Turks never vote for Greeks and Armenia never votes for Turkey.

 The best way to explain Eurovision it to note that in 1974, the big winner was ABBA and that is where they got their start.  It’s also important to note that in the 38 years since, no Eurovision winner has ever hit that big again.  While according to my sister-in-law, Girl Turk, it was once something that everyone awaited.  The Eurovision Song Contest literally glued entire countries to the television.  In recent years it seems to have become more of a cult thing.  It remains big with people like me who dig the spectacle and novelty of it all.  It is  huge with people like Girl Turk who grew up with it, and it’s a massive hit with the European gay population.  The lesbians signed on as big fans after the 2007 win by a Serbian lesbian sporting a Kate Plus 8 hairdo, backed up by 5 hot babes singing a Serbian love song.

Ukraine in drag - FABULOUS!
The winning country hosts the contest the next year.  For my inaugural run from the comfort of our Archie and Edith armchairs in my in-law’s apartment, we traveled to Finland.  With the eyes of a toddler, I watched for the first time as Finland’s Ryan Seacrest and his ample bosomed counterpart guided us through quality performances by a Ukrainian drag queen, a Danish transsexual, a sexually ambiguous Greek,  Frenchmen in fuchsia satin and angel wings and so much more.  An audience of thousands waving flags of all nations cheered and jeered as our smooth-toned spokesman offered countering commentary in Turkish.  As sequins, shimmies and environmentally unconscious amounts of smoke filled the screen, I watched with my mouth agape.  Why did the Greek song sound just like Turkey's?  Who knew Ukraine had their own megastar bred from the genes of Elton John and Lady Gaga?  Couldn't the Frenchmen have been a bit less stereo-typical? 

Belarus's 2008 Hoff
Beyond the tack and pageantry, there are several other moments of awesomeness that make Eurovision so grand.  The ridiculously thick accents that fill every song sang in English by artist who have no idea what they are saying.  The moments of political activism –like the ska song preformed by team Israel about the threat of nuclear annihilation.  The cross-dressing – and who doesn’t love cross-dressing?  The fact that every year Belarus manages to send a different David Hasselhoff look-a-like. (Who knew Belarus learned how to clone the Hoff?)  The fact that every year one or two countries attempt to gain the folksy vote by updating a traditional folksong- this year Russia sent 5 grannies in babushkas and morphed their folk song into a catchy dance tune by the end.  And the fact that reguardless of how horrible one believes their country’s choice of participant may be, by contest time we are all piling on the bandwagon and cheering our entrant on to the highest degree. 
Russian Techo-babes

So lovers of all things tacky, fans of drag, admirers of glitz and glamour – I compel you – run, don’t walk – to and bone up on this hidden jem, for next year we are heading to Sweden and those Swedes are always good for a freak show.

Greece - no comment.