Today in the way back machine, inside my David head I'm listening to the Essential Barbra Streisand on my sparkling PSB M4U!s---pristine audio/flac....and it is beyond transportive. This was the music of my childhood. We Jews could claim very little growing up. I of course grew up thinking that everyone I loved was Jewish. The Beatles: Jewish. Ed Sullivan: Jewish. John Glenn: Jewish. I was an idiot.
But in our house, on our record player next to the bird cage that housed Pepe and Gigi our parakeets who loved to fly around the apartment and crap all over the living room drapes, there was always some kind of sublime music playing. Broadway cast albums whose liner notes I long ago memorized. Al Jolson (I LOVED The Jolson Story growing up). And Streisand---who was in a class all her own. She really was a Jewess so therefore we KNEW her. She was our girl. She was one of our tribe who had succeeded with a set of pipes that only God could have loaned her. She was the ugly duckling whose voice was SO gorgeous it somehow made her unbearably beautiful. Our longing was her longing. Her loss was our loss. Her daffiness was our daffiness. When she was on TV, say on The Judy Garland Show, it was like she was visiting us personally. The Jewish New York household of the 1950s survived on true grit, bakery cake, coffee and Streisand. This was our version of the contemporary Synagogue and man were we observant. We got to be defiant when she sang "Don't Rain On My Parade." We were hushed when she sang about "People." We danced in our underwear when she sang "Happy Days Are Here Again." Funny Girl was about us. Hello Dolly? Us. It was an invisible code that bound us together. We didn't have to actually be in Central Park for her concert to be there and we certainly didn't have to be gay to get her. She was the next Garland, that was clear, and Judy sanctioned her on her show.
Those were the days when Liberace was on TV and so was Nat King Cole. They entertained us. Once again me the idiot: Nat King Cole: Jewish. Liberace: I have no idea what the hell that was. But I liked him because there was something defiant and bold about him in a very classy, polite way. He was daring to be himself in a way I had never seen before. I liked him. So maybe he was Jewish.
Ah, but Streisand. Our Barbra. I'm sure this is exactly how Liverpuddlians felt about their Beatle boys. I think we handpick our aliens growing up: those who somehow skate along the fringe of our known universe and somehow touch everyone's soul in the process.
Streisand was never one of us in the conventional way. She was a Goddess; other worldly. So imagine my wow when I met her years later -- in her house in Los Angeles.
I was pitching and writing movies and my then-partner Bob Kosberg got me a meeting to pitch directly to her. She had a compound of houses on Carolwood in Bel Air. The kind of place where you stood in front of a massive stone gate and told the intercom who you were. And just like that my name had currency: the big stone gate opened, Open Sesame style and some invisible person who worked behind the scene, whisked me away to one of the houses that was on the property which was completely dedicated to publicity.
I sat there for awhile, nervous beyond nervous. I knew that God exists because I had met him through her and now I was about to meet her, so theoretically I was going to meet God. Again, some artful, mime-like person hustled me off, through a small forest of trees and led me to the big house where I was deposited in the sun room. There were all these little mannequin-like statues scattered about, on display, wearing clothes that she had designed for Yentl. First up came the pre-interview by her manager Cis Corman. The rules were clear: no personal conversation. No personal questions. Be quick and direct. That's all I remember because my heart was thumping SO loudly that all I heard was the sound of my head's inner bongos. And then... suddenly... in walked Barbra.
She was wearing white cashmere pants and matching sweater that made her eyes BLUE and I was immediately turned on by her. She was... sexy. She somehow made it to the couch like she had been delivered aboard an invisible moving sidewalk and there I was inches from her, practically knee to knee. And in that very moment I forgot every single thing that Cis Corman had said and the first thing out of my mouth was: "So... you working?"
She laughed. I told her that I was working with her ex-husband Elliot Gould on a sitcom, I had met her son several times and I was doing a pilot with Don Johnson -- who was her current boyfriend and my mentor was Gail Parent (the funniest woman on any planet) who had written "The Main Event." Then I said, "You know what's weird? I close my eyes (I did) and I'm sitting in my underwear listening to the Central Park album -- and now I open them -- and you know what I'm realizing? I don't know you. You're a complete stranger." Silence. Then:
She laughed and said most everyone said that to her. And yet -- I did know her. I knew her Brooklyn. I knew her New York. I knew her knishes. I knew her pickles. I knew her lower east side. I knew all the songs that she and I sang in shul. I knew all the girls who looked just like her at Camp Diana-Dalmaqua. She was no stranger. And then: business.
Somehow I began to pitch my idea and she cut me off in 20 seconds and critiqued and rejected it before I ever got to the essence of what I was really pitching. I was in truth pitching an anti-Hollywood story that was SO smart and original -- and never got any of it out of my mouth because she thought that she intuited where I was going and could not wait to bash it. I let her because, well, she was POWERFUL. And that's the thing. When you engage celebrities -- like I had done with John Travolta and Kevin Costner when they were both JOHN TRAVOLOTA and KEVIN COSTNER -- if they said yes to your pitch, as they both did in my case, your life CHANGES. You become 3-D visible to the Hollywood community. You have meaning. You are anointed by association. You now have STAR power. And man can you milk that cow until it's dry. You get mileage plus out of that flavor of Kool Aid. I'll write about John another time (I actually stayed at his house: good story).
But Barb, was done with my story... but I think because I was so sweet and normal and borderline idiotic and therefore HUMAN, she asked me if I had anything else to pitch and even though I did, I told her no, I just wanted to go. It was like over eating at the celebrity buffet. You can only eat so much before you implode.
So I scampered off pretty much with all the grace of a six-year-old girl who had to pee desperately. I remember tearing out of there, and driving my orange VW bug home to West L.A. like I as a NASCAR driver on his fourth line of coke. But to this day, I still feel the EFFECT of that moment with her. Because for maybe five minutes or so... she was mine. There was no one else on the planet who had her attention or focus. She was looking at ME. Listening to ME... like I was me listening to one of her records. I can't imagine feeling that way about anyone else in my life -- other than The Beatles (I pray to the alter of Pope John Paul George Ringo). The Beatles lifted the dark gray cloud of a November assassination and brought us into the LIGHT with melody and merry I want to hold your hand clapping. It was like Planet Teenager was receiving a signal just for US. Happiness was coming.
Once upon a time certain stars did that for us. They lit our way like a real up there in the sky star. Their twinkle had meaning and soul. They offered us hope. A way out of our day to day dance that we did by rote as if we had learned our every way to sober and sometimes somber move at an Arthur Murray Studio.
I miss those days. I miss the feeling that God was in the timbre and lyric of our most majestic of performers. I miss it so much that just thinking about it reminds how lost I have felt without that connection. I miss those electronic visitations that somehow managed to penetrate my always waiting and always receptive soul.
And all it took to reach us was just the right note.