It’s Not Where You Start: Let Go (Canto de Ossanha)

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start

Ever since I saw this clip, in the documentary Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years, I’ve been obsessed with this song. It turns out I had heard it before — Rosemary Clooney & John Pizzarelli covered it on their album Brazil — but their version doesn’t have any of Mitzi’s fire. (Astrud Gilberto did a great version, though.)

Of course, the only reason I rented the Mitzi Gaynor DVD was because I was going to see Mitzi Gaynor live and in person, doing her one-woman-show (which was basically a club act with extra patter) at a theater in Boca. My parents are retirees, which means they have fulfilled the ultimate dream of their lives: they are snowbirds. For the goyim in the audience, “snowbirds” are what Jews call their parents (and grandparents) who spend summers in the north and winters in Florida. This means that when I go to visit them, I am often treated to shows aimed at their demographic, both on the condo circuit and beyond. 

Mitzi was in the latter category, although I was surprised to see how sparsely attended her show was. Sure, she hasn’t done anything in the spotlight for a good 30 years or so. And she can’t really dance any more… or sing particularly well. But she can still land a joke and few women of any age can wear a Bob Mackie gown the way Mitzi can, even in her 80s.

I wasn’t the youngest person in the audience — there were at least a couple of grandchildren out for a special night with their grandmothers. But I was probably the youngest person in the audience who was familiar with Mitzi’s work, and possibly the only person in the audience who owned the CD soundtracks to at least four of her films.

This is not an unusual position for me. My tastes have always been a bit mature for my age — remember my story about wanting to sing Buddy’s Blues from Follies in a fifth-grade concert? And I (like many gay men) have a special fondness for old dames. I’ve managed to see quite a few of them do their “my life in songs and stories” thing (Carol Channing, Chita Rivera, Elaine Stritch) and even more of them in concert or theatrical shows (Angela Lansbury, Lauren Bacall, Rosemary Clooney, Barbara Cook, Liza Minnelli, and the list could go on and on). And then there was the four-hour parade-of-broads tribute to Nanette Fabray on her 80th birthday, but that may be another post some day.

I’m not sure I’ve ever taken a step back to examine this fascination. Some of can simply be filed under “they don’t make ‘em like that any more.” These women all have a star quality that is palpable in their presence. There are younger performers who have what we used to call “it” — Audra MacDonald being at the front of the line. But with younger performers, there’s not the urgency to see them lest I miss my chance. (Lord knows that’s the only way I can explain making a day trip to NY to see Deuce from $125 seats.)

But I think there’s also an element of wanting to understand their secrets. When I watch an older performer — particularly when she’s performing as herself, telling her own stories and singing her own songs — it feels like a moment of receiving their wisdom. In ancient texts we read about tribes gathering around their elders to honor them and learn from them. Maybe this is the gay postmodern version of that ancient impulse.

What are your secrets, Mitzi Gaynor? What do you know that can help me lead a better, more productive, more fulfilling life?

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