Monday, July 26, 2010

Judy Henske is My New Favorite Person

Holy fucking crap.

As I am an obsessive researcher of things, and as I grew up with a very hip mother who totally schooled me on all things related to the 60's and 70's, especially things related to music and Woody Allen, I cannot believe that somehow, I had never heard of Judy Henske before today.

I am absolutely freaking out.
Ok, so I was googling around, trying to figure out which big band singer it was that sang this really amazing version I once heard of "My Melancholy Baby" and I see something in my results that says something about "Judy Henske, Queen of The Beatniks." Huh. How have I never heard of this woman, I wonder- you know, because I did totally go through that phase in 7th grade where I wanted to be a beatnik, and because despite the fact that I grew up and realized that I didn't actually like Jack Kerouac as much as I liked walking around with a copy of "On The Road" and looking cooler and smarter than the jerks at my school... I tend to enjoy a lot of music that was popular amongst the beats at that time, such as Odetta.

SO. I look her up. And holy crap. Holy crap. She is the best ever. Listen!

In addition to having pretty much one of the most kick ass voices I've ever heard, Judy is 6 feet tall, and was the inspiration (partly!) for the Annie Hall. At least in the way that Annie Hall was a singer and from Chippewa Falls. Apparently, Judy opened for Woody on some tour (she also used to open for Lenny Bruce), and they dated, and also one time they spent an entire day trying to move pages of the dictionary with their minds. She was in a movie called "Hootenanny Hoot" with Johnny Cash. She did not want to be a "dulcimer girl" or a "sparkly dress singer" and she wanted drums. She says hilarious things before all of her songs, and she used to stamp her foot so hard while singing that they had to put welcome mats on the floor by her to prevent the wood from chipping. She lived on a sloop! The reason Jack Nitzche, the Rolling Stones producer, christened her the "Queen of The Beatniks" was because you couldn't actually put a label on whatever it was that she was doing.
You must hear all of these things! She's supposed to be "folk" I suppose, but she sounds more like some amazing combination of like, blues and rock and punk and showtunes all at the same time.

There are only two pages of YouTube videos for her, but I suggest you listen to everything that's there, and also maybe download some stuff on ITunes, because it is in fact there. I do not understand how she is not the most famous person in the whole world. How is it possible for someone to be that entirely awesome to be someone I haven't heard of, when I so love things that are awesome? Why is there so little information on her! Why! She writes awesome, bad ass songs about bears eating people for godsakes! She's friends with Frank Zappa! And she was also on The Judy Garland Show!

Anyway. This is Judy Henske. She is ridiculously amazing and without question, my new favorite person ever.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Thing About Jezebel (The Movie, Not The Website... or the Person)

As a child, my love of Bette Davis sometimes verged on the histrionic and obsessive. There are times when I think that I didn't really even want to be an actress, as much as I wanted to be her. I'm probably the only kid who grew up in the 80's who partially took up smoking in order to be more like her. I suppose there are worse things an 8 year old could aspire to, like Miley Cyrus or whatever- Bette was tough, she was glamorous, and she was fearless.

One of the first Bette Davis movies I ever saw was Jezebel, for which she won an Academy Award in 1938. I assumed, upon seeing it, that I would understand it better as an adult, because at the time- though I was thrilled by it, as I was by anything Bette Davis did- I did not so much get what the hell was going on. As it turns out, I was wrong.

(Spoiler Alert! But again, probably for something you'll never get around to seeing.)

So, in the movie, Bette- every bit as much a Yankee as I am- plays a Southern Belle named Julie, and she's got this boyfriend, Henry Fonda, who is being kind of a douche to her. In order to get him back for said douchey-ness she wears a red dress to a dance.

I don't know, apparently antebellum Southerners had some weird red dress phobia, because I think she looks lovely. The same thing happened in Gone With The Wind when Scarlett made out with Ashley in the basement and Rhett made her go to a party in a red dress so everyone would see her for the giant awful whore that she was... or something. I didn't actually get that either. I should probably state that I also don't quite understand the bible thing where they hate Jezebel because she wears make-up? I mean, to this day even, where make-up is pretty much something that happens always, and often on the faces of religious people. Yet, they still haven't forgiven her for that ridiculous transgression. People are weird.

SO... she shows up at the dance with Henry Fonda, and predictably, everyone freaks the fuck out. But like, seriously? These are people in the freaking antebellum South- do they really have room to talk? Or to be offended by anything? I mean, these are people who owned human beings as slaves. It's like Jefferey Dahmer walking off in a huff because someone used the wrong fork.

Anyway, Henry Fonda continues to be a douche and despite the fact that Bette is all "Oh shit, maybe this was a bad idea, maybe I'll just go home and change", decides to teach her a lesson and make her parade around in the red dress and dance and such, because red dress wearing harlots must be appropriately humiliated. Ew. Henry Fonda is like, the worst boyfriend ever.

Then the whole town shuns Bette Davis for the red dress incident and Henry Fonda dumps her and moves to NY. She pines for him the whole time, and at no point does the film indicate that he might be overreacting just a little bit, or that he might be a little bit of a jerk. In fact, he's sort of portrayed as a stand-up guy, which I totally don't get. The old South was basically Opposite Land.

Anyway, one day he comes back, and Bette Davis is all "Oh my god, I am so unbelievably sorry for having worn the wrong dress! I've changed my ways! I'm sorry!"- which makes me feel embarrassed for her, because really, how can wearing the wrong dress to a stupid party be that big of an offense for anyone that they should have to beg for forgiveness? But Henry Fonda is like, "Oh, sorry Bette Davis, too little, too late. I have a new wife and she isn't a red dress wearing hussy like you are." He introduces the girl and she's pretty lame and uninteresting. No big surprise, really.

At some point Bette gets all "Well, screw you, Henry Fonda" and asks one of her suitors to challenge him to a duel, and somehow he ends up fighting Henry Fonda's brother instead, and then the suitor dies in the duel. Then people really hate Bette Davis, because she used her magical red dress wearing lady bewitchin' magic to make him do it. And yeah, that part was pretty shitty, but I think people had duels pretty much all the time back then, and it's not like she held a gun to anyone's head or anything.

Then there's an outbreak of yellow fever, even though that was actually a thing that happened way later than when this movie was taking place, and Henry Fonda gets it, and he has to go to the special island for people with yellow fever. For whatever reason-- even though at no point do we ever see Henry Fonda being anything but a jerk to her-- Bette Davis is still insanely in love with him. I guess we're supposed to assume that he was actually way amazingly great before the red dress incident. Because she loves him so much, she volunteers to go out to the special camp and take care of him. His wife tries to act for a second like she wants to go, but you know she doesn't, because she's kind of a wimp, really, and is afraid of all the scary poor people that will be over there on Yellow Fever Island. And that is pretty much the end, and it is probably safe to assume they both die.

The moral of the story is that people in the Old South were way the hell fucked up, and that Bette Davis was punk rock. I think.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The The Thing About Billy Tipton

Once upon a time there was a bandleader named Billy Tipton. He played piano and saxamaphone and recorded albums and was generally a success at that.Not a big success, but a reasonable one. He played with Sinatra and Duke Ellington, which is pretty bad ass. As one is wont to assume about jazz musicians of that day, and musicians in general, he got a lot of ass and was married a bunch of times. One chick described him as the best lover she ever had.

But..... Billy had a secret. In his pants. And, um, his shirt.

Billy Tipton was born female, born into this world as Dorothy Tipton. See, back then, people weren't so hep to female jazz musicians. Her school wouldn't let her play in the school band on account on the whole having a vagina thing. Jerks. I can relate. I did not make it into my high school vocal jazz choir, apparently because my I didn't sing through my nose and my voice was too deep. You know, for jazz. The sort of music in which everyone sings in soprano, duh. Remind me, someday, to do my impression of the WonderBread Jazz Choir's interpretation of "I've Got Rhythm" for you. It's special.

I digress. After Dorothy graduated, she figured it would be easier to have a serious jazz career if she dressed as a man. So... she did. She binded her breasts, chopped off her hair, put on a suit, changed her name to Billy and set out on her way. At first she only dressed as a man for shows, but soon began living as one full time. Because Billy was so secretive about this aspect of his life, it's impossible to know if he was a transgendered person or if she was just a lesbian with a passion for jazz, doing it the only way he knew how. Sadly, it wasn't altogether uncommon in those days for women wanting more success in life to attempt to pass as men. I'm not going to speculate.

He began having affairs with women, telling them that he'd been in a terrible accident in which her genetalia had been maimed and her ribs broken (to explain the bandages keeping the boobs in). He even got married and had three kids (adopted), who all say he was an amazing father and a great boy scout troop leader.

Now, back in the golden era of wacky talk shows (I miss you, Jenny Jones. I truly do.), this was a pretty common trope. Usually more in the "Guess what, husband? I used to be a man!" vein of things. And like, with those, maybe you could sort of see how they might not catch on- because at the very least they'd had surgery or hormones or something. But Billie Tipton never had surgery or hormones. I don't mean to brag, but I am fairly sure that I would have been swift enough to catch on to something like that. I mean, what kind of accident would you be in where only your junk and chest area are affected? How can you be married to someone forever and never see them naked? Even if the lights are off, you'd think at one point you'd peak. You'd get curious. You would have to get curious. You would have to "accidentally" barge in on them in the bathroom or something.

Anyway, the story goes that no one found out about Billy's secret until the day he died, and that his ex-wife (he got divorced) was shocked and tried to have him cremated so no one would find out. But people did find out and it was a giant tabloid scandal, as such things are wont to be. The sad thing is that, part of the reason he died was that he refused to see a doctor due to fear of being outed.

It's sad, though. I mean, even when I was in elementary school it seemed like musical instruments were gendered. I don't remember too many girls playing saxaphone, or too many boys playing the flute. To boot, it's not like society is that much more accepting of transgendered persons these days either. I don't personally know how I could cope with that big of a secret without going totally insane, but I have a big mouth and am way too excited to tell people things that should technically be my deep dark secrets (they're more interesting than what I did at work that day). However Billy coped with that shit, it's pretty safe to say that dude had one bad ass life.