The Judy Gene
One of the things about having a blog with a mission statement no more complicated than “We’re gay. We judge. That’s what we do.” means that we have a fairly wide open set of topics to discuss. It also means an endless supply of suggestions from readers – for which we are entirely grateful, by the way. One that keeps coming up (presumably because we’re walking cliches) is “When are you two bitches going to get to Judy?”
Here’s the thing: While we recognize her enormous talent as an entertainer (it’d be damn near impossible not to) and we also recognize her importance as a cultural figure to the gay community, we, neither of us, have the Judy gene. Shocking, we know.
Seriously, we’re right on the cusp of the generational divide in the gay community when it comes to Judy. A couple years younger than us and they have no time for her except as the punchline to a joke; a couple years older than us and you’re getting into Blessed-Virgin-Mary-shrine territory. We’re old enough to appreciate the cultural effect she’s had amongst our brethren but young enough to question why such a mess would ever be held up as something to admire.
Yes, we’ve seen the movies and heard the recordings and we’re prepared to say that not only was her talent unprecedented but that she’s clearly one of the top vocalists of the 20th century and probably the top female vocalist, full stop. But honeys, we literally cannot sit still watching her. She’s just too agitating and way too much of an emotional investment.
Of course, that’s exactly what her acolytes would say is so captivating about her and maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s impossible to separate Judy the performer from Judy the Hot Mess. Maybe her fragility and pain are what raises her above other people with similar talents.
Of course, this forces the question: who has similar talents to Judy Garland? She really was singular, kittens. A vibrato that could demolish buildings packed into a tiny little drug-addicted body, topped off with a face which, while not exactly pretty, was nonetheless riveting because every single fleeting moment of pain registered gloriously on it. When you watch her perform – especially on stage – you can see how hard she’s working. Like she’s digging ditches or something. Other performers adopted a more polished persona and made it look effortless but dammit, Judy was going to let you know that this was literally killing her so you bastards better love her for it.
And from that angle, yeah we can see it. She’s certainly something to behold and even admire on some strange level. Bottom line though, she was a walking disaster almost her entire life and while her legion of biographers have more than made the point that most of that wasn’t her fault, “talented victim” is just not something we respond to when it comes to our icons. We’re the Madonna generation. Sure, she can’t hold a candle to Miss Garland in the talent sweepstakes, but she was always in control of herself and her career. Or at least, she did a damn good job of promoting that image.
And that’s probably the divide right there. Judy is a classic pre-feminism female figure and Madonna is a classic post-feminism figure. Since the rise of feminism was of a piece with the rise of gay rights, it would seem to make sense that gay men who grew up post-feminism (like us) would discard earlier victimized female gay icons for more empowered, less tragic ones. Or maybe we’re talking out our asses. Certainly, we’ve fallen into the trap that imposes more relevance and meaning on to poor Judy’s life than she ever probably wanted.
We feel like we’re being sacrilegious here. Seriously. Like we’re pissing on a picture of Mother Theresa or something. Still, it feels kind of liberating to say it. We just don’t like Judy. We tried, but she’s just not for us.