Monday, March 21, 2011

The Terror of the High C's: A Small Treasury of Musical Delusions, Part 2

In the words of the Countess LuAnn, money can't buy you class. In this day and age, it can, however, buy you a singing voice- or at least, a weird robotic approximation of one!

We are lucky, of course, to have been blessed with such artists as Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, that Heidi person, The Countess and of course Kim from Real Housewives of Atlanta. Without the magic of autotune, this may have never been possible. Can you imagine a world where the only people who sang professionally were those born with the ability? That seems pretty unfair, right? However, one courageous crazy rich lady struck out on her own.

Florence Foster Jenkins

Unlike the ladies I mentioned above, FloFo was actually kind of a cool lady and I actually admire her quite a bit. As a people, ladies named Florence tend to be pretty bad ass. Flo Ballard (my favorite Supreme), Florence Griffith Joyner, Florence Nightingale, Florence and the Machine... Anyway, FFJ dreamed her whole life of becoming a singer. She begged her super rich daddy to send her abroad to study music, but he refused (not sure whether this was due to patriarchal grossness or the fact that he realized that she weren't too good at it). So, instead of doing that, she eloped with a doctor who was also totally lame and wouldn't let Flo sing! After about 7 years she kicked him to the curb and started making her own way, working as a pianist and shacking up with an actor! Hot!

St. Clair Bayfield! Flo's actor guy. This is the biggest picture I could find of him. On another note, how awesome would it be to have your first name be "St." something or another? Super awesome, probably. I bet you could get away with a lot that way. St. Clair comes from St. Clare of Assissi, who was the patron saint of eye diseases, laundry, needleworkings and television. Neat!

So, anyway, Flo's rich dad died, leaving her a shit ton of money. Naturally, she used this money to jump start her singing career! So, she founded The Verdi Club so that she could host society type events all the time at which she would sing terribly for hours and hours and change costumes with every song. Said costumes often involved tinsel and wings and flowers and she made most of them herself!

But that wasn't enough for Flo, she wanted to bring her music to ALL people, not just fancy society people. So, put she out some records!

Rejoice! This is Flo's rendition of Mozart's "Queen of the Night"- which is, by the way, a notoriously hard piece to sing, even if you are super awesome at the singing. I mean, god love her, it's just horrendous. The redeeming value to her performances is that she really was totally fucking sincere, totally without artiface. She loved music, she loved wearing costumes, she loved singing. So she did it. This, of course, is how it is supposed to sound:

Ok, so Florence obviously knew that some people were making fun of her. But instead of letting that get her down, she responded with the way many mothers accused of dressing too sexy appearing on the Maury show often do- by basically accusing the audience of being haters who are just jealous. Awesome. The people around her usually supported this delusion because she was a nice lady and they liked her too much to burst her bubble. But at the end of the day, despite her bravado, Flo had this to say about her musical career; "People may say I can't sing, but no one can say that I didn't sing."

As someone who really can sing and does not (except for the occasional karaoke adventure and general silliness)- I have to admit, I actually am kind of jealous of someone who has that much chutzpah. Whenever I do sing in front of people, I feel like it needs to be so mindblowingly awesome that it, in some small way, makes up for everything else that might be wrong with me, which usually results in my throat closing up and me feeling like I want to die. It's kind of pathetic, actually.

But I digress! There were many other awesome things about Ms. Jenkins. For one, her accompanist's name was Cosme McMoon! Also, one time she was in a taxicab accident, and afterwards discovered that it caused her to be able to sing even higher than before, so instead of suing the cab company, she sent the driver a fancy box of cigars.

After many years of performing for just her friends, FFJ finally capitulated to public demand... and performed at Carnegie Hall! The performances were a smash hit, selling out well in advance! Sadly, a month later, she passed away at the age of 76 in the home she shared with her actor boyfriend. Her life was kind of an inspiration, I think. At least to me. It would be nice if we all had the kind of brass balls she did to just go ahead and do what we want and just not give a shit. So now you know all about Florence Foster Jenkins, and you can talk about her at cocktail parties!