Posted by: ritagone | December 4, 2013

Me and the Funny Girl

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I claim to have discovered Barbra Streisand.

I realize I have an attachment to her.  I think it’s because we are contemporaries; she’s two years older than I am, so her career was taking off just when my life was doing the same as a young college student.  As I was finding my footing, discovering who I was, along came Streisand, a brash, bold Jewish girl from Brooklyn who wouldn’t change the way she looked, didn’t get a nose job because she was concerned that it would affect the way she sang. And boy, the way she sang!!  When she was launched on the Broadway stage and on television via The Jack Paar Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, I claimed a kinship with her: after all, we were both Jewish, both young and ready to take on the world.

So of course I followed her career and her life, even though I realize she didn’t follow mine.  Her movies, her CD’s, her TV appearances were all a part of my ‘60’s and ‘70’s and ‘80’s.  When she made the film “The Way We Were” with Robert Redford, I took it personally; after all, it was the story of a Jewish girl who married a gentile boy.  What could be closer to home for me and Michael…except that we stayed together while Hubbell and Katie tragically didn’t.  And still today, I brush that lock off of Michael’s forehead (with some difficulty, granted, due to a receding hairline), and the sadness and pathos of the film come back to us with infinite clarity, as if we were watching it in 1973, with a new baby and a new career for Michael and all of life looming before us.  It is an iconic movie for us, and every year or so we take it out and watch it once again.  (Okay, okay, so I force him to sit and watch it with me.)

So now I’m watching her perform at a concert in her hometown of Brooklyn in 2012, which is televised on PBS, and the camera pans across the audience.  And what strikes me as amazing is the emotion on the faces of individuals as they watch her sing.  Why, it’s as if they feel the same way I do about her, as if they discovered her, have tracked her career for all these decades, have a proprietary interest in her life and history.  Who are these people who feel this way, just because she’s back singing in Brookyn?  And what is it about her that makes them think they have a firmer hold on her than I do, when I know for a fact that she’s mine, all mine?

After all, I went to her final concert a few years ago.  I was there when she said good-bye to an audience for the last time.  People were weeping then, as they were weeping in the Brooklyn audience now.  Never mind that she seems to do a farewell tour every few years, and never mind that her voice isn’t what it used to be.  And pay no attention to the fact that at 71 her moves on stage are a bit sporadic and risky.  She makes me nervous when she moves around the stage, and I’m sure those who planned this latest concert had the same concern, because there are railings everywhere.  She’s not as sure-footed as she used to be.  But then, who of us is anymore at or near that age?  That’s the problem with aging along with your celebrity.  As she’s gotten old, so have I.  So has Michael.  We’re partners in aging.  Which makes it all the more poignant.  I can look at her and see how the decades have changed Barbra.  I can look in the mirror and see the same for myself.

And she must represent the same kind of emotional attachment to so many watching her in those audiences.  People who relate to a song, a movie, a phrase, an experience that for them is iconic and symbolic of their past as it was for me.  The constant cutting to the audience and shots of people literally weeping represented a generation so touched by this woman and what she represented that the director knew to take advantage of it, bring it into the mix of the show.  It was a smart emotional move.

For me, it was the chutzpah, the brazenness with which she conquered the world.  “Take me as I am,” she said, “or not at all.”  And because she was so talented, we took her the way she was, willingly, and loved her.  And some of us who felt our bodies or faces weren’t perfect could relate to her oh so well because she gave us permission to be imperfect and relish it.

It was also the bravado with which she approached directing, an arena usually reserved at that time for men.  And not only did she jump in, but she did it masterfully, as she did everything, pushing herself to perfection, pushing everyone around her to the same, expecting the best work, because that was what she herself delivered in everything she did.  You might get angry at her nerve, but you had to admire her energy and her desire to do a great job.

So my emotional attachment to Barbra Streisand is a little insight into what pre-teens and teens today experience with the likes of Justin Bieber (I shudder as I write this, but I must be honest), and I can understand the relationship they feel to their icon because of what I feel toward mine.

The difference is: I’ve been attached to mine for 50 years now.  Come back and see me when Justin Bieber is still tintillating hearts in 2063, and we’ll talk.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to watch what happens to Barbra because she’s intertwined in my life and my emotions, for better or worse.  Yes, yes, I can live without her, just as I know she can live without me.  There’s nothing psycho going on here, I can assure you.  But there is something wonderful about plain old nostalgia and fond memory, and when I hear the strains of  “The Way We Were,” that wonderful song with so much heart and such an emotional message, I feel the need to run and find Michael and run my fingers through his hair.

And that’s not such a bad thing for Barbra Streisand to cause to happen.

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