In 1977 my entire family took a springtime vacation in England. It was the Queen's Silver Jubilee, and if I weren't so young, I might have noticed it was one of the most depressed and spectacular years to visit Britain. Because my ageing grandfather was with us, we took buses or taxis almost everywhere, avoiding the "Tube" and so I missed out on all the punks.
Why a new musical was on our agenda, I have no idea. Knowing my brother's and father's appreciation for Agatha Christie, you'd think we would have front row seats for The Mousetrap or something. But they had made this trip the year before without me, and had already seen it.
Brief synopsis: A successful Broadway producer briefly satisfies his need to dominate and control by pressing those auditioning for non-acting roles to reveal their most deeply personal and humiliating life stories. Songs by Marvin Hamlisch!
In hindsight, my mother was mortified. I do not know which was more embarrassing, subjecting her nine year-old son or her eighty year-old father to songs about tits, masturbation and "the life". Probably that she was sitting right between us. Poor mom.
As for me, most of what was truly shocking flew right over my head. When the kid has his first orgasm and misdiagnoses it as gonorrhea, well shit, I didn't know what either of those words meant. And listening to a woman sing about tits and ass was nothing, because by that point in the show, I was so charged from how revealing the women's leotards were, giving voice to it was merely hilarious.
What sticks with me was the one gay character (wait for it) named Paul. He is the one who describes when he was "outed" performing in a drag act at which his parents show up as a surprise. To this boy, that one story gave me entirely the wrong impression -- reinforcing the already dominant point of view at the time that being gay was something to be ashamed of, something exotic and interesting, but something to keep hidden at all costs.
And then Paul, the gay one, blows out a previously injured knee. So he loses, basically, the gay one loses. Pathetic. Maybe it was the memory of this that sent me into such a rage watching Rent. The most flamboyantly gay character, Angel, is the only one who actually dies, the straight, hot chick lives another day. The gay one always gets it.
For anyone familiar with the show, you know that Paul is not the only gay character in the show. He's not even the only character who talks openly about being gay, but he was the only one to speak so clearly about it as to make me understand what he was saying. Even Greg, for some reason, didn't stick in my memory, and he is such a queen, girlfriend.
The other day, the boy (7) and the girl (9) and I were heading into the pool, and we ran into a friend of the girl's from Girl Camp heading out. This friend was with her two moms, and after introductions and farewells, the boy asked if there was a dad. My girl said, "nope."
The boy thought for a moment and concluded, "They must have done that with the gay marriage."
Things are not more complicated today. They are more clear.
Marvin Hamlisch died August 6, 2012.