My very first introduction to the great Lena Horne was as Glinda the Good in the film version of “The Wiz”. There she floated in that silver gown like Lady Liberty as dressed by her gay cousin, surrounded by all those shimmering stars and little black babies hanging from fishing wire or whatever (not even Lady Gaga has yet surpassed such innovative utilization of props.) And then the voice! “Believe in Yourself” was the song. I’d never heard anything like it.
I’ve been listening to a lotta' Lena since the news of her passing this week (The lights of Broadway were dimmed last night in her honor.) It’s made me happy; it’s made me sad; it’s also got me thinking… Lo, how our standards hath fallen! Remember the days when Lena was “the next Ella”? When Barbra was “the next Judy”? Or even when Celine was “the next Barbra”? (I don’t remember any of it; I’m far too young. But I figured you would.)
Then eventually, we started getting into some mucky territory when Britney Spears became “the next Madonna” and Christina Aguilera was appointed successor to Whitney and Mariah, who at the time were otherwise engaged (Mariah with buying new bras and Whitney with crack.) I, of course, jumped on the fagwagon and to this day remain a faithful and closeted fan of both Mickey Mouse Club alumni (I'm actually living for the release of Xtina's new album in June! I can't wait to be disappointed by it.) But to me, it was at the start of the Brit/Christina era when the flame of the passing torch began to grow dim. Inspiriation and god-given gift were replaced by mimicry and overproduction, and cheap vocal acrobatics became the Soul of a new generation.
It makes me a tad nervous that our tastes will only continue to dilute as amateur YouTubers and potential American Idols continue to be regarded as muses by upcoming performers. And I’m not just talking about the tween demographic, either. This new accessibility to stardom and overexposure knows no age limits. Now I see shows like Entertainment Tonight making proclamations like, “97-year-old paraplegic bag lady with nodes from 'Britain's Got Talent' could be the next Susan Boyle!” Are you kidding me? I never want to hear the words "the next Susan Boyle". I still have indigestion from the first. And is this really the new scale on which we’ve come to weigh the value of celebrity? I’ve got news for you: Susan Boyle is a marginally talented, overweight, middle-aged lunch lady who, metaphorically speaking, won the fame lottery… We are ALL the next Susan Boyle. And shitting is the next farting.
I know I’m getting kvetchy and I’ve most likely offended you by hating on Susan Boyle and British paraplegic bag ladies with nodes, so I’ll leave you now. I’m gonna go get some lunch…or as Entertainment Tonight might spin it, “my next big puke!”
Here. Watch some brilliance and black babies.