Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stars and bars. . . forever

When I stumbled upon this video - well, actually, I didn't stumble because, triggered by my reflections on Vladimir Horowitz, I was deliberately trying to scare up some of his playing - I could not stop laughing, gasping, and just sitting in awe. This is one quirkily fabulous piece of music, a transformation of the ultimate American marching tune into an elegant Chopin-esque processional. I'm not sure when this was recorded, but it's certain Horowitz already had total command of it (he wrote the transcript himself, of course, and no one else dared tinker with it after that).

I thought of this one because of an interview I saw, so long ago that it appeared in my memory as grainy and bleached, like a dream or a bad colour TV. That's because, according to that resurrective/great gettin'-up mornin' of YouTube, it appeared on 60 Minutes in 1977. Mike Wallace, obviously fascinated with his subject matter, begs and pleads "Vlodya" to play his infamous version of the Sousa march, The Stars and Stripes Forever. At first he resists, insisting he has forgotten it (which he largely has), but finally he caves and goes over to the piano and just pounds the hell out of it, his foot jammed on the loud pedal, but somehow it still sounds elegant and impressive.

Horowitz went on and on until he fell over with age, and made lots of mistakes in concert, but couldn't seem to stop. I promise you, I won't get into his friend "xxxxx xxxxxx" and his own premature retirement from the stage. It interests me that Horowitz suffered so much from depression and substance abuse, and it saddens me too. This Wiki entry seems like a variation on the theme I dealt with a few posts ago about Who's Gay in Hollywood:

Personal life

In 1933, in a civil ceremony, Horowitz married Toscanini's daughter Wanda. Although Horowitz was Jewish and Wanda Catholic, this was not an issue, as neither was observant. As Wanda knew no Russian and Horowitz knew very little Italian, their primary language became French. They had one child, Sonia Toscanini Horowitz (1934–1975). It has never been determined whether her death, from a drug overdose, was accidental or a suicide.[1]

Despite his marriage, there were persistent rumors of Horowitz's homosexuality.[7] Arthur Rubinstein said of Horowitz that "Everyone knew and accepted him as a homosexual."[21] David Dubal wrote that in his years with Horowitz, there was no evidence that the octogenarian was sexually active, but that "there was no doubt he was powerfully attracted to the male body and was most likely often sexually frustrated throughout his life."[22] Dubal observed that Horowitz sublimated a strong instinctual sexuality into a powerful erotic undercurrent which was communicated in his piano playing.[23] Horowitz, who denied being homosexual,[24] once joked "There are three kinds of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual pianists, and bad pianists."[25]

In the 1940s, Horowitz began seeing a psychiatrist. According to sources, this was an attempt to alter his sexual orientation.[26][27] In the 1960s and again in the 1970s, the pianist underwent electroshock treatment for depression.[28]

In 1982, Horowitz began using prescribed anti-depressant medications; there are reports that he was drinking alcohol as well.[1] Consequently, his playing underwent a perceptible decline during this period.[1] The pianist’s 1983 performances in the United States and Japan were marred by memory lapses and a loss of physical control. (At the latter, one Japanese critic likened Horowitz to a "precious antique vase that is cracked.") He stopped playing in public for the next two years.


Blogger's comments. Because Horowitz had more performing lives than a cat, he did emerge triumphant (again!) and play for a few more years to cataclysmic applause, mistakes and all. But isn't it sad that he felt so ashamed, or threatened by his homosexual side that he couldn't act on it, at least not without the terror of being discovered?

This goes on. We haven't solved it, friends. We think we have, which somehow makes it worse. Homophobia slithers around underground now, while on the surface of things we accept being gay as an inherent orientation (though some would say it's a "lifestyle choice"). 

But if you're any sort of religious fundamentalist, you probably believe it's a sin or an aberration. My feeling is that sexual orientation is hard-wired, and most of us are hard-wired to "tend" one way or another. This doesn't mean there is no heterosexual element in a homosexual orientation. Or the reverse. Maybe, like in Brokeback Mountain, same-sex attractions can spring up, seemingly out of nowhere. "I ain't queer," one of those adorable cowpokes (sorry) said in that movie. "Neither am I," Jake Gyllenhaal replied. I'd love to test out that "neither am I" theory with him, preferably in a sleeping bag out on the lone prai-riee (but then, there is the little matter of those Victorian women in corsets).

Can I confess something? Do you care? Since few people read this, I think I can safely say that for the most part I like and love men. Most of my close friends have been men (though admittedly, about 1/3 of them gay men). I like the way men smell and their low chesty voices and scratchy faces and the way they tower over me. I love their hands, especially their lack of tri-color nail polish with every other finger a different color.

Hard-wired, I think. Once in a while though, when I see, usually, a picture of a woman, or someone doing something adorable, or - what is it, anyway? Usually something very fleeting - I can't even think of an example now - and I think: my God, I can see how someone could fall in love with her. So does this make me queer-ish, or a part-time lesbian, or bisexual, or what?

As I get older I give less of a fuck because I am not, at this point, going to run off with a girl or a woman just because I wonder if I am queer-ish and want to test it out. I think women would be as hard to live with as men, but they wouldn't smell right to me. I don't want someone who looks too much like me, for one thing. I can go look in the mirror if I want to be appalled.

And going off with a woman - "going gay", a friend of mine calls it, with some annoyance - would be sexual infidelity just as surely as crawling into a sleeping bag with Jake Gyllenhaal on Brokeback Mountain.

And as far as I am concerned, neither possibility is about to happen any time soon.


  1. I can go look in the mirror if I want to be appalled. Me, too. At least we're not narcissists...are we?

  2. I had a whole series of pictures of Pinky Lee, and only that last b & w one made the cut. Pinky Lee??

    "O look, look in the mirror
    O look in your distress
    Life remains a blessing,
    Although you cannot bless."