Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dollars and Scents

It seems these days that if we are told someone is a star and they are put on stage with enough back up dancers to make a Broadway producer green with envy people accept the performer as a star. This appears to hold true even if the performer in question is nearly or completely talentless. Put on stage alone this absence would be obvious, but, distract the audience with glitz, glam and occasionally pyrotechnics and this talent deficiency disappears.

The performer than uses the cynical, media created fame to launch a clothing line, promote make up, sell cars or other commodities and, for some, market their own "signature" fragrance, soon available at a department store, Walgreen's or CVS near you. I  think back to Joni Mitchell, with just her, her remarkable songwriting skills, her voice and her guitar. Janis Joplin, the ravaged, soulful voice backed up by a revolving door of stoned musicians. The Beatles or The Who, English lads with instruments they actually played. To be fair Keith Moon did not play the drums so much as beat the crap out of them on a routine basis. The thought of them, as well as any number of other rock musicians of the past, indulging in the crass commercialism practiced today is virtually unimaginable. Although their style sense may have been copied by seemingly countless fans they were not promoted by the musicians themselves. They were too busy making music, experimenting with sound, being true creative artists.

Not that they were completely unconcerned about money. The producers of the Woodstock festival tell a story of how 2 of Saturday night's headline bands were not going to play unless paid with a certified check. It was clear at that time to the band's managers that the festival promoters had no cash to pay the performers. They managed to get the check,  using a helicopter to ferry their banker to the bank as the roads were completely blocked by the cars of festival goers and the bands performed. Eventually the legendary festival did make a profit due to the income from album sales and the release of the landmark movie, but times were apparently tight that August weekend in New York.

But let us return our attention back to the musical money whores of today. So far as scents go we probably have Liz Taylor and her "White Diamonds" perfume to blame, although I am perhaps willing to give her a pass since she was, after all, Elizabeth Taylor. Today celebrity scents seem ubiquitous. A coworker told me that on a recent trip to North Carolina he walked into a chain drug store and found himself confronted with an entire wall of celebrity scents. Beyonce has a scent, Cher has a scent, Miley Cyrus has a scent. This last one puzzles me. What would a Miley Cyrus scent be? Perhaps a mixture of the subtle aromas of hay seed and a yeast infection? Justin Bieber has a scent. Does it smell like pot? Would I spend money to douse myself in a smell I spent a large part of my teenage years attempting to cover up?

There are still performers of substance. Paloma Faith, Pixie Lott or 2 Cellos come to mind. Several years ago I fell in love with the elegant, slightly world weary album made by Elton John and Leon Russell. Excepting of course Mr. John and Mr. Russell, if their names ever became big enough to market a scent would they? Or would they, like musicians of the past, be content with enriching our lives with quality music, while we, smelling like ourselves, relax and enjoy.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Making My Way

I have known over the years a number of gay men who came to understand and accept their sexuality latter in life than I. Many have children, sometimes, in the  case of men my age, grandchildren. I sometimes wonder what my own life would have been like had I not experienced the discovery of my sexual orientation in my late teens. Certainly some of the choices I made would have been different. Some of these decisions, many of which would be considered risky, if not foolhardy, by less adventuresome individuals than I were influenced by the knowledge that I was responsible for no one but my self. The decision to move to Chicago without out a job or contacts here, the decision to open my own business, perhaps even the decision to eshew a college education might have never been made had I not been traveling a road on my own.

College, at the time during which I would have gone, was unaffordable for me, student loans being nonexistent at the time. Although later I had jobs that had college class tuition reimbursement plans I saw no point in them. They, during that time, would have done nothing to advance me personally or professionally. I was free to pursue the existence of a club kid, a bare sustenance, freewheeling lifestyle, because there was just me. Having no wife, no children, no responsibilities other that keeping the rent paid and lights on allowed me to spend my early adult years playful and financially carefree.

I almost certainly would never have pulled up stakes and moved to Chicago to take a stab at a career in the theatre if I had had the responsibility of a family. My plans did not bear fruit, I knew that was a possibility at the time, but, again, because my responsibilities began and ended with myself I could make a decision some might consider ill thought out. I, however, had I not taken the chance, would have experienced regret, a nagging question of  "what if I", something I have always vowed to avoid.

I might have never embarked on the path of business owner. Run on a shoestring, undercapitalized, the venture left me deep in debt and near bankruptcy. Again, I refused to accept "what if I". I took the chance because I had responsibility for no one but myself.

People have sometimes asked, "Didn't you want children?" As far back as I can remember I never considered it. Some people, including gay men and women, desire the traditional home and family. I have a home. It is modest in size and 9 floors above the street. I have a family, my partner and our family of friends, relations and in laws. I have had, off and on, children in my life. Nieces, nephews and the children of friends. My life has been rich, satisfying and full of adventure. Certainly nontraditional, not right for everyone, but right for me.

Sometimes I do ponder "what if I" had chosen a more traditional path. It is the only time I ask myself that question.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Trivial Pursuits - A Short History of Men's Swim Wear

Summer, although lackluster this year, was upon me and I found myself frequenting the beach hanging out with the friends I have acquired there over the years. There is, in Chicago,a gay beach. Even though not officially designated as such, gay men are the predominant species there. Over the years we have managed to maintain our hold on this stretch of land. One way we have accomplished this is our choice of swim and sun wear. Bikinis and speedos abound. Sometimes even a thong or g string are on display. Sometimes these are sported by men with the appropriate physical attributes to suit this brief attire, sometimes not. I recall on the gay cruise on which I embarked and which sparked the formation of my blog, one particular man. He had to paraphrase Sondheim "A pauch and a pouch and a pension". He seemed to be always on the deck by the pool clad in a speedo style suit, his ample belly hanging over it's drawstring waist stretching it to it's maximum capacity. I found myself on that trip thinking that, although I admired his moxie, I did not particularly wish to see his moxie.

The men whose company I keep at the beach tend to be of my vintage. Some a bit older, some a bit younger. More that one has a past which includes children. It is always interesting to me to encounter men like these as I have been aware and open with my sexuality since the age of 17. We have discussed life experience, politics and theatre. We share thoughts and exchange ideas. I like to thing that at times we resemble a somewhat sandy Algonquin Round Table. One of the subjects we have discussed, presumably because the inspiration lies splayed about on the sand around us, is the evolution of men's "bathing attire."

In the early years of the 20th century tans were considered unfashionable bordering on vulgar. They suggested that one worked outdoors, a most ungenteel aspiration. Beach photos from that era show the women in long skirts, long sleeve blouses and hats designed to preserve their almost vampire like complexions. Men, when they were so bold as to don the swim suits of the day, clad themselves in modified tank suits. Although some of the racier styles bared the arms and shoulders, others had short sleeves and pants that came almost, if not below, the knees. In many of these photos this look is complemented by a boater as men were obliged, whenever practical, to wear a hat when out of doors; which was courteously removed when coming inside. As time passed the legs became shorter and bared arms became the norm. By the 30's as swimming developed into more of a sport, the chest was also bared and the brief style of bathing suit was born which allowed greater freedom of movement. These early suits were made of wool which was not only uncomfortably hot and itchy but also sagged and became heavy when wet.

As science evolved rubber was incorporated with other fabrics which not only made the suits more comfortable but also allowed a more tight fitting and sleeker silhouette. Nylon spurred development of lighter weight suits. The basic box cut style remained as a main stay of men's swim wear for several decades.

The 70's issued in the age of the speedo. Thanks to the miracle of spandex, tight, brief, form fitting swim suits could be spied on nearly every beach and around every pool in America. Short shorts and skimpy, sometimes even see through mesh, shirts were also in fashion as men appeared to revel in revealing the ultra thin physiques in vogue during that decade.

In the 80's, as more muscular bodies came into fashion, swim wear remained, thankfully, on the small side. One even encountered the occasional "Greek" or "Rio back" bikini. Street and club wear of the time clung to the new gym built bodies revealing every hard earned ripple and bulge. In one James Bond movie of the period the ubertall, uberblond villain sported, on his uberdefined swimmer's body, the tiniest of bright blue bikinis. This style continued into the 90's.

Then, for a reason I've never understood, a new male modesty began to take over. The bikini and boxcut gave way to the board short, long, almost to the knee and almost completely useless for swimming. Even the speedos, which made the Summer Olympics such a tantalizing feast of eye candy, were replaced with body covering "shark suits", which, although, giving the swimmer greater speed, made the observation of the swimmer lose much of it's allure. We were left with only the long rise, small, snug suits worn by divers and water polo players. The legs of wrestling singlets were lenghtened, against the objections of the wrestlers themselves who said the shorter legs were better suited to their sport.

This modesty has become enforced in certain situations. A friend of ours was informed at a water park that his suit was inappropriate. They made wear board shorts they kept on hand for scantily clad miscreants such as he. The women, meanwhile, slid down the water slides in the skimpiest suits imaginable. Men still daring to were speedos are called a variety of unflattering names.

By contrast, as men's beachwear has begun to cover more and more over the last 2 decades, the posing suits worn by competitive bodybuilders have grown smaller and smaller. Some are almost at the male stripper g string level. I have heard that in some European competitions, Europeans have always been less body phobic that Americans, posing suits have been done away with altogether, putting  all of the gym built "assets" of the participants on full display.

Perhaps someday the pendulum will swing back and the heterosexual American male will once again move towards more revealing, and frankly, for swimming, more practical trunks. Then again, with the burgeoning obesity crisis in the U.S., some things might best be left as they are.