There's a certain pleasure in changing your skin, being a chameleon and reinventing who you are. My guest this week on The Sewers of Paris (a podcast of revealing stories about the entertainment that's changed the lives of gay men) is J.P., whose only constant is that he's constantly changing. I met Jay years ago, when he was somewhat notorious online for, among other things, posting frequent pictures of his cats. These days he's doing his best to keep a low profile, though you might be able to spot him at the Applebee's in Queen Anne. Then again, you might not -- J's changed his persona so many times his own friends might have trouble recognizing him.
I love that he's been through so many re-inventions, finding himself embedded in the music or shows or culture of a group, and then moving on to try something new. We may not always have the power to choose the art around us, but we can still choose what art we seek out from there.
Like J says in this week's show, life really is a buffet -- or, if you can tolerate a little musical theater, a cabaret. So my first recommendation this week is Cabaret, the 1972 musical starring Liza Minnelli (or if you like, just the soundtrack). It's a bittersweet glimpse in to the performance underworld of 1931 Berlin, as the national mood grows dark moments before the outbreak of war. The show's based on the novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, which I also recommend -- it's a semi-autobiographical account of Isherwood's own life as a gay man living through dangerous times in the Weimar Republic.
"Life is a cabaret," goes one of the songs in the show. On its own, that refrain sounds like a celebration of life. But in the play, Sally Bowles sings it as a way of willfully blocking out the ugly political clouds gathering around her. That's because she can only ever be what she is: an entertainer, fun and reckless. And as times change, she may not be able to change fast enough to keep up with them.
Jay and I discussed some highly moody teenagers this week, between My So-Called Life and Mean Girls. If that's your kind of thing, I'd like to direct your attention to The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- the movie or the book, whichever medium gives you the most pleasure. It's the story of a cipher named Charlie, a quiet high school student whom few people notice and even fewer understand, himself included. Charlie befriends a girl named Sam and a gay kid named Patrick; the three of them struggle to figure out just who the hell they are, and it is as perfect a capsule of existential teen angst as you could ever hope to find.
Unlike Sally Bowles, Charlie and his friends have only barely begun to create identities for themselves, and over the course of the book, through a painful process of love and mistakes and fighting and humiliation, they start piecing together clues and making decisions about the lives they want to lead. In the end, Charlie writes, "even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there."
Angela Chase would not have said it any differently.