". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I'm playing hooky this morning. A little before 9:00 a.m. I'm going to lock myself in the bedroom with coffee and chocolate, turn on the Oprah Winfrey show (which I haven't seen in at least 10 years), and watch as Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford reunite to reminisce about the making of The Way We Were. Oh, yes, and Barbra's going to sing.

I have been a Barbra Streisand fan since I was a little girl. One of my older sisters had a couple of her albums, and one in particular made an impression on me from the first moment I heard it. It was the live recording of her fundraising concert for presidential candidate George McGovern at the Forum in Los Angeles in 1972. I remember listening to that album over and over, to the point that not only could I sing all the songs but could recite the banter between the songs and the monologue verbatim. I was too young to even understand what I was saying. Some of the comedy related to smoking pot and taking pills, but nonetheless I laughed when the audience laughed, pretending that I understood. There was just something about Barbra that struck a chord in me even then, at the age of 8, and as I followed her career in succeeding years I identified with her more and more. It was the whole ugly duckling turned into a swan thing: it was irresistible to someone like me who strongly felt herself to be squarely in the ugly duckling camp.

And then there was that voice. THAT VOICE. I had never heard anything like it and still never have. Her voice is now showing its age, and it makes me think about my own reaction to people like Frank Sinatra, who when I first heard him sing in his later years, made me wonder, "What's the big deal?" Now I realize that the big deal is how he sang and performed when he was young. That's what his fans never forgot, what they still saw in him even as he got older.

It is hard for me to believe that Barbra Streisand is almost 70 years old. I don't follow her career that closely anymore. I don't buy her records (although sometimes someone buys one for me). I can't abide her politics. I was alerted to this Oprah appearance by some friends who know what a fan I once was. There was a time that I bought every Streisand album, saw every Streisand movie (multiple times), read all the Streisand biographies, subscribed to her fan magazine, wrote fan letters, kept a scrapbook of clippings, and even bought music so I could learn to play her songs on the piano. I attribute all my listening to her old albums as giving me a deep appreciation for the music of the 1930s and 40s. When my friends in high school were listening to Journey and Boston I was still listening to Barbra. I couldn't tell you a thing about who Steve Perry was dating, but I could tell you Barbra Streisand's birthday (April 24, 1942), the name of her dog, the nightclub that launched her career, and what school she attended in Brooklyn. And I could sing every song from every one of her albums from memory. (Don't think I can still do that one!)

I'm getting on in years now, too, and I don't have time for such things. And I guess I've matured beyond my adolescent obsession because if I had more leisure time there are other things I would choose to do. But Barbra helped me through some pretty rough spots in my pre-teen and teen years, and for that I am grateful. So maybe one of these days when Trevor and Caitlin are married and Evan is in college and I don't know what to do with myself, I will spend a few weeks playing all those old LPs, watching all the old movies, and revisiting a pivotal element of my childhood. Until then, I'll catch the occasional Oprah appearance and spend a little time remembering the way Barbra and I both once were.

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