George Gershwin had it all – nearly. I remember falling in love with Rhapsody in Blue in my teens – the Stanly Black recording & the opening wail of sax/clarinet/oboe – I’ve never nailed that instrument down but it grabbed me then the astonishing piano. A piece of writing that merged jazz and classical – a divide that Gershwin straddled & chafed under at the same time.In my collection I have several versions of the Rhapsody, including the piano roll he ‘recorded’ himself. Porgy & Bess in a couple of jazz takes: Laine & Charles; Armstrong & Fitzgerald; Davis, Henderson. The range of music he created is expansive & seemingly endless. Broadway shows, operas & concertos. Many of his pieces are jazz standards. Even Janis Joplin did a scorching take on Summertime.The various versions run the gamut from uninspired lounge to Brain Wilson worship. The melodies stand up. Gershwin created true warhorses that can withstand big band or punk rock thrashing and keep coming back for fresh takes.I’ve read a couple of biographies, seen the white-washed Hollywood fantasy based on his life. It pushed one to read between the lines as he is represented as nearly sexless or such a troubled genius that he was unable to develop a relationship with a woman. No hints that he was, possibly, bi or queer.
Some say his sexuality was an open secret – as with many Hollywood stars – unspoken was safe – especially at time when being queer was a criminal offence. A climate of fear created many closets. There are some who say these attempts at ‘queering’ the past is a sort of revisionist desperation – what difference does it make, right?Was Gershwin gay? We’ll never know for sure – possible relevant documents were destroyed to protect his reputation – an act that happened to many creative people. Now that, to me, is the criminal offence.
That Bowie Feeling
The shoes didn’t fit quite right. The toe of one rubbed against his foot while the back of the other cut into his ankle. They were comfortable enough to Chip but his Dad’s warning words kept coming back to him ‘Never wear some else’s old shoes.’
He looked down at them. They had heavy soles, at least an inch thick with an even higher heel. The pale blue suede uppers were detailed with yellow thread and sparkly patent leather red stars that were cool to his finger-tips.
The red laces were new, he had bought them for these shoes. He had seen the shoes in the thrift shop window three weeks ago and had made a trip to see them nearly everyday since in hopes they would still be here when he had money to buy them.
He pulled the laces tight and stood up. More than an inch taller there was a whole new world for him to survey. He reached up and ran his hand over some slithery satin blouses he couldn’t have reached before. He couldn’t feel the floor as he took his first tentative steps. The heels stayed firm and he did not topple over.
The shoes were a direct line to a time he never experienced, the glam rock seventies. It was as if he had just stepped into the shoes of his idol David Bowie and now had a chance of becoming his idol. He flipped up the collar of his denim jacket and it seemed to flare up into a lace ruff.
The clerk put Chip’s tattered black Converse in a plastic grocery bag. Chip knew he’d be needing those safe comfortable runners once he neared home. He wasn’t prepared to fling this latest step away from his family in their face.
Chip was disappointed that he couldn’t see the reflection of him in those shoes in shop windows. There seemed to be no sidewalk beneath his feet. The stars on the shoes had him walking on air. Never had the sun felt so warm, never had the air brushed his hair quite this way as it bounced with each of his steps. Never had a blister formed so quickly on his heel.
As he walked he couldn’t help stopping every now and then just to look down at the wondrous shoes. He was going to be a Aladdin Sane, just watch him now.
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