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My Diva

65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them

Edited by Michael Montlack

Publication Year: 2009

From Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Midler, and Diana Ross to Queen Elizabeth I, Julia Child, and Princess Leia, these divas have been sister, alter ego, fairy godmother, or model for survival to gay men and the closeted boys they once were. And anyone—straight or gay, young or old, male or female—who ever needed a muse, or found one, will see their own longing mirrored here as well.
    These witty and poignant short essays explore reasons for diva-worship as diverse as the writers themselves. My Diva offers both depth and glamour as it pays tribute with joy, intelligence, and fierce, fierce love.
 
 
Finalist, Lambda Book Award for LGBT Anthology, Lambda Literary Foundation

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Contents

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pp. vii-xiv

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvi

I would like to acknowledge the following individuals and organizations for their generous support: Marilyn Nelson and Soul Mountain Retreat, Charles Flowers and Lambda Literary Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ucross Foundation, and Berkeley College. ...

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Introduction: Diva Complex

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pp. 3-10

... soon as I started telling people about this project, the response was almost always the same: “Why hasn’t this been done before?” The book just seemed to make sense on so many levels. Gay men and divas—like Gertrude and Alice, smoke and mirrors, Patsy and Edina. It was sure to be organic, not to mention fun, ...

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Sappho (630 BC): Love, I Implore You in Polyester Lapels

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pp. 11-14

... guess you grow up knowing the name Sappho. Maybe it’s got some vague associations in your mind with poetry and love and lesbians, and maybe not—it’s too long ago to remember for sure. But after college I learned ancient Greek and then I began a doctorate in classics, and in 1986 I took Professor Stern’s Greek poetry ...

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Queen Elizabeth I (1533): Heart of a King

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pp. 15-18

I had just told her that in the nine months since the sudden death of my close friend Darrel, I’d become so gloomy and morose that the only things I enjoyed were weight lifting and long-distance running. “Most depressed people sleep all day, binge on chocolate, or can’t get off the couch,” Jocelyn said. “You work out and run marathons? I love you, darling, you know that. But you’re a freak.” ...

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Virginia Woolf (1882): This Perpetual Revision of Thought

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pp. 19-23

... I write a sentence, erase it, then hesitate, hover above my thoughts about her, unsure where to begin, and begin again. To write about her directly seems impossible. To begin anywhere, to choose any one detail with which to introduce her biography, would give her away too cheaply, oversimplify her, though were I ...

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Margaret Dumont (1882): Duchess of Dignity

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pp. 24-27

... Dumont was called “the fifth Marx Brother” by Groucho, appearing in seven of their films. In each, she played the comic foil: a stately society matron who was a perfect target for the boys’ insults and jibes. Unlike some other divas, she was not a subject of adulation, but rather has become someone for whom I ...

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Bessie Smith (1892): Empty Bed Blues

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pp. 28-32

... gay men idolize divas who are always defiant, strong, and dominant. Ladies like Grace Jones or Mae West or Marlene Dietrich: we value them for their strength, for their uncompromising resistance to patriarchy and conservative morality. More often, however, the women who the gay community celebrates ...

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Claude Cahun (1894): Masks, Makeup, Meaning

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pp. 33-36

... her for the first time at a dressing table; it was set up for a lady’s toilette. The woman who owned this particular table was a friend of mine, and we were preparing for an evening out. I have long forgotten what our plans for the evening were; the force of my encounter has displaced all that. My friend left the room for ...

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Gracie Allen (1895): Comic Muse

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pp. 37-39

... grew up during the era when the movie studios built up their movie stars into gods and goddesses—but especially, for me, the goddesses, figures like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, and of course, Judy—a pantheon that dominated the fantasy lives of the whole ...

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Lotte Lenya (1898): Divine Weltschmerz

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pp. 40-42

... always gathered at Mary’s house because hers was biggest and her mother only came back to make dinner and her father was never home. The place resonated with defiance, for here her brother had done what to us appeared unimaginable: thrown his Princeton diploma in his parents’ faces, saying, This is what you wanted. ...

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Gloria Swanson (1899): Sunset Boulevard

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pp. 43-46

... grew up during the era when the movie studios built up their movie stars into gods and goddesses—but especially, for me, the goddesses, figures like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, and of course, Judy—a pantheon that dominated the fantasy lives of the whole ...

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Marlene Dietrich (1901): Falling in Love Again

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pp. 47-50

... drawn to things German from an early age. My family had German heritage, but my real attraction was something more mired in the tragedy of World War II. The decadence and brilliance of the ’20s in Germany always held my interest. In the von Sternberg films with Marlene Dietrich, I got a taste of the deep, ...

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Joan Crawford (1905) versus Bette Davis (1908): “But ya AHHH, Blanche!”

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pp. 51-54

... think I have more questions about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, and their legendary feud (as over-dramatized now as it was then), than I have statements to make. Why have I always been drawn to them? Why are most (if not all?) gay men, sooner or later, attracted to them? Something in our blood, our DNA? Rare ...

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Lucille Ball (1911): Flaming Redhead

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pp. 55-58

... April 26, 1989, Lucy died. I was working as a coat-check clerk at the newly opened gay bar the Townhouse on 59th Street, just nine blocks away from where the Ricardos lived in the Mertz’s fictitious apartment building at 623 East 68th Street. ...

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Mahalia Jackson (1911): Divine One

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pp. 59-61

... Terkel describes that when he first heard Mahalia Jackson sing (a record store in Chicago happened to be playing her 1946 Apollo recording of “I’m Gonna Tell God All About It”), he was reminded of Enrico Caruso, for both of them continuously exceeded imagined limits of the human voice. The comparison is ...

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Julia Child (1912): Life’s Ingredients

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pp. 62-64

... has the habit of being highly selective. Fame assigns a set of familiar, beloved features that calcify into statues, leaving us with the beauty but also the smaller dimensions of the gallery. Julia Child has been served but also restricted by her adoring public, and she is forever fifty, unintimidated by cholesterol, ...

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Billie Holiday (1915): Lady Day

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pp. 65-68

... first time I heard Billie Holiday’s voice was during a dinner party at Edmund White’s apartment on West 13th Street in New York. This would have been in 1968, I think, roughly about two years into our friendship. In those days he liked to advocate for artists he’d discovered—the novels of Colette, Victoria De Los ...

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Edith Piaf (1915): A Share of Pain

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pp. 69-72

... mother owned a small collection of records to play on her deep-throated Black Box gramophone. We lived in a characterless modern villa near the mouth of a brown river that flowed into the Gulf of Guinea from the heart of darkness. Our large garden, although not really wild, made gestures toward exoticism: mango ...

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Evita Per

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pp. 73-75

... her iconic chignon in place, Evita beamed from a postcard taped just above the windshield inside the cabin of my uncle’s 1937 Chevrolet truck. I spent many hours under her gaze pretending I was driving through the Alps, possibly transporting Juan Perón’s Nazi treasure to a secure Swiss vault (or so legend has it.) Actually, ...

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Grace Paley (1922): O Stone! O Steel!

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pp. 76-79

... in the mid-’90s, Grace Paley and I gathered with lots of other people in a small square at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, on a flawless June day, just a few happy-looking clouds out over the river.We were there for the Bridge Walk that Poets’ House sponsors each year, a celebration of poetry and of New York City ...

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Ava Gardner (1922): Small-Town Girl

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pp. 80-84

... Gardner was from my hometown. Well, not exactly my hometown; it’s always hard to explain to anyone just where my hometown is. You have to really know rural North Carolina to have ever heard of Stancil’s Chapel or Shoeheel. So I generally have to start with a bigger city, like, “I’m from Raleigh.” If people ...

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Aurora de Albornoz (1926): T

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pp. 85-90

... first grade, when my central Texas public school teacher asked what I “wanted to be” when I grew up, about the only professional (not a preacher, teacher, or rancher) that I could conjure up was . . . a Lottie Moon missionary. That did not come from a fervent religiosity, but from the notion that missionaries traveled to foreign countries and took photographs of their travels. They ...

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Joan Sutherland (1926): Dame Joan and I

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pp. 91-93

... earliest acquaintance with Joan Sutherland occurred via recordings. In the ’60s, while the normal young people were participating in the youth revolution with its own music, I was discovering baroque music and growing enamored of the music of Handel. ...

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Eartha Kitt (1927): Purrrfectly Detached

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pp. 94-98

... good thing about Eartha Kitt is that most people I grew up with didn’t know her by her name. I’d have to say, “She was Catwoman on the Batman TV series. The third Catwoman. The black Catwoman.” They would nod in vague recognition and move on. ...

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Betty Berzon (1928): Dinners with the Diminutive Diva

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pp. 99-102

... afternoon while working as the director of the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library, I received a call: there was someone to see me. Having no appointments, I didn’t know what to expect. But soon there stood a lesbian version of Mutt and Jeff. The two women marched toward ...

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Jeanne Moreau (1928): Living Dangerously with Jeanne

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pp. 103-106

... up gay and poor was a double whammy. Having wanderlust from the age of twelve didn’t help either. For the first twenty-four years of my life, I couldn’t afford to leave the South, so foreign films became my passport to far-flung locales like Berlin, London, and Paris. ...

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Jennifer Paterson [“Two Fat Ladies”] (1928): Cocktails with Jennifer

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pp. 107-110

who thought I could afford to “put on a few pounds” introduced me to Jennifer Paterson in 1996 when she was starring as that cigarette-smoking, espadrille-wearing, motorcycle-driving matron of the hit British cooking show Two Fat Ladies. We never actually met, but for several years she rumbled across the UK— ...

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Audrey Hepburn (1929): Adoration and the Icon

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pp. 111-115

... poetic adoration of Audrey Hepburn, The Book of Faces (St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 2005), began as a distraction late one night. One minute beauty distracts, the next it lays waste to us all. Although I was supposed to be reading Plato’s Timaeus for a seminar, Charade was in my DVD player, and I would reward ...

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Ms. Kiki Durane (Depression Era): Her Sound and Fury

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pp. 116-118

... Durane is the more outgoing half of Kiki and Herb, the drag performance act that has been an underground, and increasingly aboveground, New York institution for the better part of a decade. I mean “better” in the primary sense of the word: Kiki and Herb have brightened my nights and given voice to a whole ...

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Elizabeth Taylor (1932): The

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pp. 119-124

... defy belief in most of her sixty-five films—haunting, tragic, yet divine. Maybe it was those marriages—eight in total—each one ending tragically, leaving La Liz turning to her public for sympathy. Or her battles with weight, begun when she gained thirty pounds to play Martha to Oscar-winning glory in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ...

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Anna Moffo (1932): Her Funeral

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pp. 125-130

On March 10, 2006, I heard Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa at the Metropolitan Opera. In the program I noticed a donor’s name: Noffo. Misprint? Someone named Noffo was giving money to the Met? Midnight: I came home to the news (an acquaintance’s email) that Anna Moffo, my favorite singer, my nucleus, had died. ...

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Nina Simone (1933): I Got It Bad for Bangles and Diamonds

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pp. 131-133

... up Filipino American meant piano lessons. It was like an old-school karaoke machine. My mom, a nurse by day and singer by night, gave me piano lessons so I could entertain all the Filipino dinner guests. Belting ballads such as “Memory” from Cats was as much a part of the gathering as a plate of pancit noodles ...

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Julie Andrews (1935): My First Maria

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pp. 134-138

My father is shaving my head. It is 1975 and I’m seated on a stool in the basement of our Wisconsin farmhouse, and I’m glad he can’t hear me crying over the buzz of the Oster clipper. It’s the first week of summer vacation, and just as he has done each summer since I was two, my father has given me and my brother matching ...

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Tina Turner (1939): Tina and I

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pp. 139-142

I first saw Tina Turner in action on one or the other—in black and white, not color. In those days, it would’ve been the Ike and Tina Turner Review, not “Tina Turner” or simply “Tina.” That would happen years later. I don’t have a clue about which of her songs I saw her perform that first time—a fast number, I’m sure, the type for which she’s ...

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Karen Black (1939): Diva of the Deranged

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pp. 143-146

... Karen Black a diva? Well, she plays one in Nashville (1975): B-list country-and-western star Connie White. Buried under miles of blonde wig and a sequined orange organza gown that defies all description, Connie ascends the stage at Opryland to sing—if that’s the word—such showstoppers as “Memphis” and ...

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Raquel Welch (1940): As My Mother

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pp. 147-151

... Welch is posing in a white space-jumpsuit zippered down to her cleavage; she must be my mother prancing around the movie screen like a panicky cat trapped inside a body (Fantastic Voyage, 1966). When your mother is beautiful, there are her breasts snug and big as those on Raquel Welch. It can be confusing ...

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Julie Christie (1941): The Cocteau Girl

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pp. 152-154

... super-astute film critic Pauline Kael once described Julie Christie as having “the profile of a Cocteau drawing—tawdry-classical.” Bull’s-eye! As a Francophile teen in love with Cocteau’s sleight-of-hand films and sensuous drawings, Kael’s savvy description deepened my fascination with Christie, the androgynous, ...

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Helen Reddy (1941): Before Anarchy

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pp. 155-159

... I contain multitudes, I will admit the following: before I became addicted to the Sex Pistols and the Clash, I listened to a lot of Helen Reddy. Maybe “listened” is not the best word—more like “idolized” Helen Reddy or “obsessed over” Helen Reddy. It may not sound like an act of subversion as transgressive as blasting ...

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Wonder Woman (1941): Exploring the Amazon

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pp. 160-166

... Lynda Carter when she became Miss America, so it wasn’t her exactly. Standing next to that fawning troll, that singing ham, Bert Parks, she was too gorgeous, too perfect, the living embodiment of buxom, with a perfect smile I had learned by then to distrust. ...

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Diana Ross (1944): How to Reign Supreme

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pp. 167-171

I climb from lap to lap, begging for sips of beer, whiskey, and wine until cigarette smoke is thick enough to blind me, and I run to my room. But my father won’t have it. Everybody here is here to party. This is his house. “Tenderness” is playing, and he’s as drunk as he ...

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Roc

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pp. 172-175

... day Roc

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Bette Midler (1945): First Loves

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pp. 176-179

... tend not to believe me when I tell them this, but I haven’t always associated Bette Midler with gay men, gay liberation, or even gay men who happen to have been show-tune queens living in New York City during the 1960s and ’70s. I did, however, discover Bette in a gay community—a young, emerging community ...

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Jessye Norman (1945): Als Ob Ich S

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pp. 180-182

... as if a tether that had always been there, convinced of independence, suddenly conceded to the demands of its source. I was in the eighth grade and had just returned from my first trip to Boston. Mom was waiting, late that Sunday night, with the rest of the parents at school for our charter bus to ...

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Liza Minnelli (1946): Everybody Loves a Winner

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pp. 183-187

... summer I was fourteen, I stayed in and watched Cabaret on video loan from the local library. Over and over again, I watched. It was my summer of close reading. On the first viewing, I fell in love. On the second viewing, I realized that I needed to study this. On the third viewing, I noticed that the film gradually conceals the ...

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Cher (1946): History (1987–2000)

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pp. 188-192

Cher has written a book, and she’s doing a signing at Tower Records on Newbury Street in Boston. Drag queens, gay men, kids, teenagers, fans from the sixties. The line is zigzagging down the sidewalk. Cher will sign two items. I have the book and the Believe CD; the line inches forward and two hours later, it’s my turn. ...

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Laura Nyro (1947): All She Asked of Living

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pp. 193-196

... 1968 there was a record store on 85th Street and Broadway in New York where my twin brother Kevin and I would go every other Saturday to search through the new releases. For us, this was a rite of passage—one of those intimacies in which we could feel something about the world (in this case, what there was in ...

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Stevie Nicks (1948): “And Wouldn’t You Love to Love Her?”

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pp. 197-202

Picture it: 1982. Long Island. Just another one of the aluminum-sided split-levels in the town’s sprawling line of them. A twelve-year- old boy sits on the family room sofa. Faintly aware of the MTV playing (that still-new phenomenon that seems to be always on in any kid’s home). Until he is awakened from his after-school ...

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Jessica Lange (1949): Isn’t It a Laugh?

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pp. 203-207

... laugh. Unmistakable. Natural no matter what god-awful shade her hair had been dyed or how poorly she lip-synced when she played Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams. Though drawn through the years to drama, and with an acting style praised by Pauline Kael for its physicality more than Meryl Streep’s prowess at accents ...

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Patti LuPone (1949): Patti’s Turn, In the Key of Diva

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pp. 208-213

... March 27, 2008: opening night for the newest Broadway revival of Gypsy, arguably the greatest musical ever. Here I sit, dead center, front row/front mezzanine of the St. James Theater. Lauren Bacall is sitting directly below me in the orchestra! The atmosphere is electrifying. The show was to start at 6:45, but it’s almost 7:10. ...

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Wendy Waldman (1950): Seeds and Orphans

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pp. 214-217

... played Wendy Waldman for you for the first time, I wouldn’t be wounded if you didn’t get her right away. I wouldn’t pick a fight if you made a crack about “’70s California Singer- Songwriters” and heard only the indulgences of the genre: the earnestness, the sunny harmonies. You might say, “Where’s the irony?” and I might say back, “What irony?” And I’d be just as ...

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Cyndi Lauper (1953): The Sadness in Her Rasp

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pp. 218-221

... out about Cyndi Lauper because my aerobics instructor included a few of Lauper’s hits (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “She Bop”) on our workout tapes in the mid-1980s. At that point my husband and I had been together for about five years, and I was no longer clubbing nor keeping up with popular music, so I ...

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Rickie Lee Jones (1954): The Duchess of Coolsville

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pp. 222-224

... I’d ever read a book of poems, before I’d ever listened to an opera all the way through, I’d already come to understand what a “diva” meant even though I knew no Italian. Born in the United States, I was a child of immigrant parents from mainland China and grew up in the somewhat affluent suburbs of South ...

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Annie Lennox (1954): Desire, Despair, Desire

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pp. 225-228

... it’s a sort of fogeyism, but I find so much contemporary pop music boring. Lyrically, radio-oriented pop has always been a little lacking in heft, so it’s not that. I know it’s supposed to be disposable: I’m not looking for truth or universality, really. Part of my distaste is the over-reliance of wailing melismas and show-offy ...

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Siouxsie Sioux (1957): Black Eyeliner and Dark Dreams

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pp. 229-233

... I was standing impatiently among the crowd of malcontents at Irving Plaza in New York City waiting for Siouxsie Sioux to appear, I realized that I had been doing the exact same thing twenty years ago, almost to the date, in St. Petersburg, Florida, at Jannus Landing. ...

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Auntie Mame (1958): “I’m Going to Open Doors for You, Doors You Never Even Dreamed Existed”

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pp. 234-238

... Dennis made me long to be an orphan. I was already in my twenties when I discovered her—dark hair in a bouffant, bracelets jangling on dramatically gesturing wrists as she floated in an orange dress across my TV screen—and immediately I envied her young nephew, Patrick, who had been entrusted to ...

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Kate Bush (1958): The Invisible Diva

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pp. 239-242

saw Kate Bush perform on Saturday Night Live in late 1978; I was fifteen. My mother had died that spring, and I had been removed from New York City, where I grew up, to an aunt’s house in Macon, Georgia, where my mother’s family lived. I could barely stay awake for Bush’s appearance (it was far past ...

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Jamie Lee Curtis (1958): When the Artist Met His Muse

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pp. 243-247

... forewarned: I am a Jamie Lee Curtis fan. A big one. The biggest. And while I stake claim to being a fan like no other, please don’t rush to assumptions. My lifelong obsession with the preeminent scream queen of ’80s horror films is not of the creepy Kathy-Bates-stalking-James-Caan-in-Misery variety; it’s more of ...

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Sade (1959): The Other Material Girl

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pp. 248-251

Nothing sums up Sade like the first line from the single that made her a star, 1985’s “Smooth Operator.” I was fifteen when I saw the international pop chanteuse in the video for the first time. There she was on the screen in a sleek white backless evening gown with a silky jet-black ponytail draped ...

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Taylor Dayne (1962): “Tell It to My Heart”

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pp. 252-254

And (no offense) why would she need bodyguards anymore? Taylor of the famous Barry White cover song and the soul-inflected, freestyle groove—pop diva of, what was it, the late ’80s, early ’90s? Bona fide crossover star, first white girl to appropriate black musical phrasing: “saying goodbye is never an easy thing” becomes ...

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Endora [“Bewitched”] (1964): Afternoons as Endora

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pp. 255-257

... boy who hated being a boy. I couldn’t catch a football or throw a baseball. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was nine years old and never played outside with those boorish boys next door— Randy and Ricky. Instead, I made Pillsbury Dough cookies and latch-hook rugs, drew flowers in my notebooks, and proudly displayed ...

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Bj

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pp. 258-261

was at a London airport. She was isolated within a thick circle of paparazzi and news crew cameras. Rigidly she stood, with her head slightly bowed. Her expression? Pensive. I mean, for all intents and purposes, she was the proverbial cornered animal. Now, most of those assembled were savvy enough to give Ms. Gu

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Kristin Hersh (1966): “Is Sticky Ever Blue?”

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pp. 262-266

... the kind of question Kristin Hersh is always asking: provocative, evocative, unanswerable and answering itself, delivered in a half snarl, half coo. I’ve learned as much about the possibilities of language from her lyrics as from almost any poem; she’s been coming up with such sophisticated and bizarre questions, and no shortage of answers, since she was a teenager. Her logic is internal ...

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C

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pp. 267-270

Well, Céline’s response could be: “Because I drove all night,” or, “I’m all by myself,” or, simply, “Heh, I was born that way.” Céline Dion has a Quebec face. A small-town-girl-turned-great face with no big breasts, big attitude, or big drug habit. And, as the joke suggests, she isn’t the most beautiful pop star either. Céline ...

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Parker Posey (1968): A Pocket Full of Posey

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pp. 271-275

... that guy who prefers chic to elegant whenever I rate my favorite Project Runway couture du jour. I mean, I might not be that guy in a tuxedo shirt and skinny black jeans, but I do pay some attention to what I wear and am a bit of a label whore (in that “pair it with those yard-sale corduroys” sort of way). I also must confess ...

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Margaret Cho (1968): How to Break Every Oriental Stereotype in the Book

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pp. 276-280

The full details of those torturous years evade me now, but seared into my experience is Danny Fitzpatrick calling me (INSERT any “Oriental” slur HERE) wherever and whenever he pleased—in class, the halls, gym, and once even in front of a teacher who only laughed. Name-calling, threats, and punching ...

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Mary J. Blige (1971): I Take Shallowness Seriously

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pp. 281-284

... enough, I rarely use the word “diva.” It’s just a personal quirk, but to me the word is clichéd, a little too sugary, because I always hear it used with a sense of sheer reverence, obsequiousness. Generally speaking, I want none of that. The word “diva,” as once defined by Wikipedia, can be applied to great female opera ...

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Princess Leia (1977): Leia’s Kiss

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pp. 285-288

... Star Wars came to movie screens in 1977, I was only four years old. Even so, I found myself immersed in and obsessed with a story that would affect me in profound—and yet subtly felt, slowly realized—ways for a long, long time. Star Wars held for me, among other things, the first woman-hero who captivated my imagination. My memory of her begins ...

Contributors

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pp. 289-304


E-ISBN-13: 9780299231231
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299231200

Publication Year: 2009