Last night at the 92nd Street Y, the security man at the metal detector was saying, “Pacemaker? Pacemaker? Pacemaker?” And then a good number of men would skip around the security line and its potentially heartbeat-disrupting EMF. This was important because everyone there was amazingly, astoundingly old! Like, median age 80. They were going to see a night of songs with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, hosted by adorable film critic and bon vivant Rex Reed, and starring former “Dukes of Hazzard” star Tom Wopat and also Lucille Ball’s daughter!
Rex, having assembled quite an enormous number songs that Gershwin wrote without his composing brother George, provided the narration for the evening. In two acts! A lot of songs! He made many jokes about the 1940s that were beyond any understanding I could possibly have had. Also he got 78-year-old Polly Bergen out of her alleged retirement (she guest-starred on “The Sopranos” and then on “Desperate Housewives” recently) for a couple of songs, and he played the straight man while she talked about living next door to Ira Gershwin in Beverly Hills (he used to steal her cat Tinkerbell!). Also Lucy and Desi lived across the street then.
There are quite a few notable things about this evening, apart from the fact that it felt like being at services during Yamim Noraim except literally everyone‘s children and grandchildren had abdicated.
1. Rex-who I cannot stress enough was insanely entertaining and wonderful to watch-introduced a hot young new jazz singer “from the coast,” by which he means L.A., named Kurt Reichenbach. Kurt is making his New York solo debut this weekend as a jazz crooner, and is surely 45 if he is a day. (To be fair, this made him the second-youngest man in the room.) I disliked him intensely, in part because of his fakey jazzy mannerisms, but also he was wearing a terrible, awful double-breasted jacket with terrible pants that made him look like a chicken wrapped with bacon around its middle, and a bad tie and not good shoes. That is easily fixed! It is just that no one has taken him shopping in this decade, a problem many straight men have. Perhaps he is very poor. (Perhaps I also dislike him because he dislikes the Los Angeles Times, though I only discovered this after the show.)
Kurt was also a problem for me in that there are excellent jazz interpreters in New York City, working downtown, such as Julian Fleisher, who is currently appearing in previews for Stephen Merritt’s new musical of “Coraline.” If you want a hot young jazzman, you needn’t look further than Joe’s Pub. Of course you cannot do so if you are not looking south of Feinstein’s. (N.B. Welcome to the gayest paragraph I have ever written.)
2. One of the lesser reasons that the cabaret is dying, beside the fact that to the young ear the arrangements of jazz in the particular manner done last night all sound identical, is because of the impossible fake syrupy style of performing. Now, Tom Wopat is a pro beyond belief. He is kind of great! But even I can’t bear to watch him turn to the jazz five-piece and snap his fingers and nod his head approvingly. Like, hey, we’re swingin’ now! And the big stagey smiley thing with a lady duet partner? These are conventions that do not play. They are faux and parodic! They are tired and unchanged for many decades now.
And yet. Are the stage conventions of the boy emo bands, or Celine Dion, or Lady Gaga, or any genre people really, any less cliched and silly? No! And to our children, their disparate varieties of hair-flipping and pouting and microphone-tossing will undoubtedly look as sad and ridiculous as these jazz moves.
And when complaining about cabaret song arrangement all sounding the same, boy oh boy, would Tom Wopat ever say that about, um, Kool Moe Dee or whoever. Bel Biv Devoe. Heh. Boyz 2 Men.
3. It is sad and concerning that the jazz and the cabaret are dying! This is very good and important history and music both, at least the latter when done and delivered right. And that no one under 50 basically knows anything about it or cares at all is somehow disturbing.
In this way, Rex’s oral history narration had the sense of a spiritual leader reminding a lost tribe of stories they had forgotten. Every time a big name was mentioned, there was an audible “ooh” from the audience. (This happened like dozens of times!) Yet they already knew that Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern wrote the songs for Rita Hayworth in “Cover Girl”! And but: oooh. It was like we were all lost Jews in the wilderness who’d forgotten everything. Maybe we are.
4. I have been thinking about Rex Reed quite a bit. He is an incredibly harsh critic, untamed in his denunciations (“Pure, undiluted crap!” says Rex Reed!), and sometimes he wishes someone would kill various directors.
This, in addition to being rather entertaining, also exposes as a falsehood everything people say about the Internet and the young writers and how everyone is so angry and untrammeled today.
But what Rex also has is enthusiasms. As in, I do not see the kids today putting together highly-informative 2.5 hour long guided tours of the life and times of their idols, in this case Ira Gershwin, and dishing about what Betty Grable said to whom about Jack Warner in 19xx.
I guess if the cancer or the government doesn’t get me first, I can look forward to decades hence, when the young Keith Gessens (Just kidding! But you know what I mean: the Tumblsphere) and Perez Hiltons are in their 50s and 60s and they are presenting evenings of the lesser-known work of electroclash superstars of Williamsburg in the 1990s in front of us old people. Katy Perry, or her daughter, who I hope will probably be named Catty Perry, or maybe Chatty Perry, will be there, in a shimmery dress, and we’ll think her gams still look hot. And the young people will be like Oh this tired dreck is so tired. And then everyone will forget that too. And then probably someone will unknowingly reinvent a hot new sound and they will call it jazz!