2019, Take a Seat

I’m thinking of 2019 as the year of the bad breakup.  It was miserable, endless and painful and yet it had a few high points where you got some revenge and even won several arguments.

No, that’s not a particularly healthy way to think.  But it is satisfying and harmless if you only indulge at the end of the year.  Like a pizza dinner with fries on the side and a chocolate anything for dessert.  Or sex with the wrong person.

Yeah, I said it.

No one really wants to look back on a year such as this one but as 2019 comes to a close a handful of moments might be worth remembering.  That is aside from teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg taking every one of us over forty out to the virtual woodshed for destroying the planet over the last 30 years.

Some moments are in a class by themselves and have far more meaning than the off year in which they occurred.

And with that:

THE CHAIR’S BEST OF LIST:

The Finger Point Seen Round the World

On point

Say what you will about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi but her total domination of the Electoral College POTUS who thinks He’s King in 2019 was one dependable, if sporadic, joy to behold.  This was typified by that October still photo Trump tweeted of her dressing down the sort of prez over his Syrian policy with her words AND her finger with the attempted shaming caption, Nervous Nancy’s Unhinged Meltdown!

Only he could never imagine she would embrace an image where she was confronting a table full of clueless straight white men who could barely look her in the face, make it her Twitter cover photo and in turn have it embraced as THE symbol of female empowerment and popular resistance to the patriarchy heard round the world.

AND you thought she couldn’t top last year’s meme of her leaving the White House in that red coat and oversized sunglasses…

The Strangest and Best TV Special that Shouldn’t Exist but Does

How did this get made?

Netflix’s John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch is exhibit A in defense of Netflix because it’s hard to imagine it would get green lit by or as widely seen on any other platform in the world.

But how to describe it?

Well, see, there’s this smart comic named John Mulaney (Note: Co-creator of SNL’s Stefon) who had an Emmy winning Netflix special last year and thought for his fellow-up he’d mix it up with a group of musical theatre pre-teens he gets to sing, dance and emote with in a post-modern remix version of the eighties kids shows Electric Company and Zoom!

This, of course, sells everything about the program way, way, waaaaay short.

Intrigued, confused, weirded out? All of the above.

Suffice it to say any show that features The Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Broadway’s Andrew De Shields and moviedom’s star Jake Gyllenhaal singing along to Mulaney-penned or approved original material with youngsters who have much better voices than they do is worth seeing.

If that doesn’t grab you how about a young guy warbling Sascha’s Dad Does Drag, another singing, Grandma’s Got A Boyfriend or a young woman getting to wear David Byrne’s iconic big suit while dueting Pay Attention with him?

No?

What about Jake in a colorful xylophone jacket having a sweaty nervous breakdown as he desperately and unsuccessfully tries to convince us of the places where he is sure music sprang from.

Are you sure I’m not on drugs?

Be honest.  You like to watch….don’t you?

The Unforgettable Performance

Clang, clang, clang goes the Oscar?

Judy Garland is likely the most imitated performer in the history of show business.  Or at least in every gay bar across the world, which is, let’s face it, where all of show business sprang from.

That is why Renee Zellweger’s incredible performance in title role of Judy, a film that chronicles Garland’s final musical comeback towards the end of her life, is such an achievement (see my post about that here).

It’s not so much that she delivers a carbon copy imitation.  It’s more that she manages to evoke the very tremulous essence of the vulnerable performer and turn her into a recognizable brew of strengths and weaknesses that each of us can relate to.

… and she did indeed #tehehe

On paper this might have seemed like a disaster, especially since there is nowhere to hide when half the film is shot in close-ups and two-shots of you either alone or pulling focus from others by just being you (nee Her).  That Zellweger manages to pull this off (and then some) in a film that will likely win her the competitive best actress Oscar that eluded the real Judy is sweet.  Even sweeter for her is the fact that it has vaulted her right back on top of contemporary Hollywood after the tongue waggers-that-be delighted some years ago in categorizing her as already past her prime before she even turned 50.

Tee-hee.  Hee.

Best Shirtless Brad Pitt Moment

You’re Welcome

He’s 56 years old and it was in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.  Without CGI.  That is all.

Priceless Mean Girls Moment

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French president Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled together at this year’s NATO summit dishing Electoral POTUS Donald Trump and it made us ALL feel better about being human.

Oh, OF COURSE NO ONE IS CONDONING GOSSIP OR BITCHY BEHAVIOR!!

Still, Mean Girls was a best-selling book, a hit movie, and a Broadway musical that ran for almost two years and will likely be playing at a city near you in 2020 so there must be something to it.

We all know Regina George would make Electoral POTUS cry.

Sure, the best strategy with a know-nothing bully is not stooping to their level.  But we all need to blow off steam, and preferably where they are in close enough proximity to know that you HATE them!!!!

Not to mention, the message must have gotten through.  Trump promptly left the summit early just a day later in a huff, knowing he was not wanted.

Wait….you feel bad?  Really???????

Because his latest revenge against Trudeau, hot off the presses:  Trump and his son, Donald Trump, Jr., tweeting that it was the Canadian Prime Minister who was responsible for Sr’s cameo in Home Alone: 2 (1992) getting cut from Canadian television over this year’s Christmas holidays.

As if!!!

Best Joyous Hate Watching

Will you ever forget…the very first moment in 2019….that you saw…….the trailer to……the movie version of………CATS????

The fake fur, the pointy ears, the strange facial expressions and inhuman semi-sexual gyrations.  It delivered everything and more…or less.  Universal recently took the historic step of actually announcing that after a week in release it was redoing some of the special effects and issuing new versions of the print to the thousands of theatres it was playing.

Our response to that is:  PLEASE DON’T.

Nailed it!

Don’t change a frame for those of us who are waiting to stream it…along with a side of magic mushr—well, something.

And this just in from the gift that keeps on giving:  Dame Judy Dench was only just a handful of days ago quoted as saying her cat, Old Deuteronomy, is…transgender!

Please don’t make it stop.  Now OR forever.

And finally – THE Prophetic Musical Moment

Taylor Swift was much more than a regrettable 2019 supporting turn in Cats.  Sure, her You Need To Calm Down record and video is a song about LGBTQ equality and acceptance.  On the surface.  But in a sense, isn’t it also the overriding message to all of us when we reflect on the entire year and strategize for what’s inevitably to come in 2020??

Taylor Swift – “You Need to Calm Down”

Want more Chair 2019 takes? Dip into our archive and find gems like: The Chair Sees Hadestown with Hillary Clinton (plus Woke-lahoma review), Farewell Dear Rhoda, Paul Rudd Refuses to Age, Prince George Can Dance If He Wants To!, and lots of love for When They See Us, Fosse/Verdon, USand more.

LGBTay-Tay

When Taylor Swift gave a surprise performance of her new anti-hate song, You Need to Calm Down, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the modern LGTBTQ movement at the very place where it started – NYC’s Stonewall Inn – it made an impact.

After all, the 29 year-old singer/songwriter is one of the best-selling recording artists of all-time with over 50 million album sales and 150 million in single digital downloads.  She’s won 10 Grammys, was included in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters back in 2015 and has appeared three times in Time’s 100 most influential people, including 2019.

She’s a goddamn icon

Whether you are fan, frenemy, enemy or simply indifferent, it is undeniable that once Tay-Tay sets her sights on, or music to, a subject she carries an indefinable weight towards changing hearts and, more importantly, minds on said subject.

As a gay man of a certain age I do not take any support for granted, especially hers, and finally understand that each small and large gesture are essential building blocks forward.

A TS lyric like, shade never made anybody less gay in a song heard internationally more times than any of us likely ever will be, can’t move the needle alone.  Still, it can certainly be the single straw that breaks the back of hate in all sorts of different people for all sorts of different reasons.

YAY TAY TAY

At this point it might be worth remembering that it was on the day Judy Garland died that a group of trans people, gay men and drag queens stood up to police harassment en masse at the Stonewall Inn and birthed the modern gay liberation movement.

The fact that they rioted in the streets of Greenwich Village for several days, refusing to be targeted where they lived, did not happen just because a gay icon was gone, as the history books like to simplify.

However, it would not be overreach to write that when that final straw dropped on that specific day, a bunch of us were extremely pissed off, much more so than usual.  Just like you don’t throw a lit match onto a gas station or sass your Mom and Dad just after they’ve gotten home from a double shift at work. There are limits to what any of us will tolerate on a very bad day.

Even Joan has limits #nowirehangers

You can’t blame it on the sass or the match or the day or the shift.   It takes the combination of some or all of those elements (and more) to fuel the uncontrollable fire that was sure to come once all the kindling fell into place in exactly the right (or wrong) way.

It was in thinking about all of the above that it became undeniable that a week had just passed where all three of the new mainstream films and TV series I had just consumed for the first time centered specifically on members of the LGBTQ community.  This would have been unthinkable just two or three decades ago not because my tastes had changed but due to the fact that no one was making this much openly gay content back then for mass consumption.

Not even Charles Nelson Reilly was technically “out”

There was Halston, a feature length documentary on the gay designer of Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat, Liza Minnelli’s sparkly stage outfits and just about some part of every trendy female fashionista’s wardrobe back in the 1970s.

Then scrolling on Netflix was Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story.  This was a hard look at the celebratory life and tragic death of young gay man credited as the greatest makeup artist who ever lived.  A guy who worked with every female supermodel of his era, including Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, and then segued to work with the likes of Cher, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Gwyneth Paltrow and Andie McDowell.

The master at work

This was all before branching out to create best-selling books and makeup lines and

dedicating his own time and money to mentor other young, forgotten gay kids, many of whom came from the same small homophobic home towns he himself had grown up in.

Watching his adopted father’s account of how the young Kevin had to drop out of high school at the age of 15 after several of the school bullies tried to run him down with their truck was enough to make any viewer question if anything has really changed at all.

Of course, this would be foolish thinking since his very own path to international fame as a proudly out gay man occurred years after the Stonewall Riots and the rise of a very un-publicly gay designer like Halston.

and certainly after Keith Haring’s “Heritage of Pride” Logo from the 80s

It is on the wings of countless real life people that Kevin was able to rise just a little bit more and the memorable gay characters of contemporary fiction emerge.  That is why watching Netflix’s just released 10-part limited streaming series, Tales of the City, based on Armistead Maupin’s best-selling books of 1970s, 80s and beyond San Francisco, seems a perfect cultural bridge to a 2019 public, yet now somehow almost routine, LGBTQ ally like Taylor Swift.I can recall devouring those Tales novels when I first came out because it was the first time I saw the gay and straight worlds melded together into the one more integrated, albeit messier, world that I lived in.

BONUS Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis together again!

Sure, it was a somewhat idealized world but it spoke to my reality closer than anything I had come across up to that point, straight or gay.  Good as the early PBS miniseries (based on the first two books) was back in the early 1990s I can recall how disappointing it felt to have it viewed as both exotic and controversial when it was first broadcast during the AIDS era.   So much so that the PBS network declined to do any more movies/shows based on the next books, which were finally produced by Showtime but gained far less attention.

For those of us still around, and for so many others, it is therefore a partial triumph of both endurance and history that the gay-themed issues tackled in the latest Tales on Netflix are today barely controversial – only merely reflective of where the world is now.  Far more potent is how the middle-aged (Note: ahem) characters of my generation co-exist with the younger out(er) and proud(er) generation after them and how they all grapple with the full history of those left from the still older generation that came before either of them saw the light of day.

Kinda like the feeling I get when I see this guy out on the trail with his husband #PeteforAmerica

It is in this more full depiction of the many inroads and detours taken in the full path to get here that these newest Tales really soars.  This is done through expert performances from the likes of Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney and Ellen Page as trans, straight and gay/bisexual characters, respectively, of different ages whose many stylized stories not only naturally but casually intersect with a core truth of not only how it was but how we would want it to be.  Perhaps, in some ways, how it now is for all of us.  Or, well, more of us.

This new Tales miniseries is memory piece of today that is built on the past but exists clearly in the present as it consistently looks towards the future.  It is not unlike what Taylor Swift does when she comes fully out as a straight LGBTQ ally in 2019 and uses her celebrity and talents to boldly admonish all current and future homophobes in a fun but clearly commercial pop song pointedly entitled You Better Calm Down.

Taylor Swift – “You Need to Calm Down”