Jan 19, 2018

Bobby Darin: Dream Lover of the 1950s

Bobby Darin (1936-1973) grew up in East Harlem, New York.  His first foray into the music business was as a songwriter, paired with future radio great Don Kirshner.  But he hit the big time in 1958 with "Splish Splash" (I Was Taking a Bath), a humorous take on the teen dance crazes of the era.

Splish, splash, I was taking a bath
On about a Saturday night

Bing, bang
I saw the whole gang
Dancin' on my living room rug.
Flip flop
They was doin' the bop
All the teens had the dancin' bug.

He illustrated the song with a nude, censored photo of himself in the shower, a rarity in 1958.

More songs, humorous, romantic, and just weird, appeared, six albums in 1960 alone.  Perhaps the weirdest is "Mack the Knife," about a murderer:

Now on the sidewalk, sunny morning,
Lies a body just oozin' life,
And someone's sneakin' 'round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

Well, at least it's not heterosexist.

In the 1960s Bobby moved into moved into jazz, country-western, and folk, became a dramatic actor, and ran a successful music publishing company.

In 1960 he married Sandra Dee, the star of Gidget (1959), a gay icon and role model to young lesbians of the era, here being wooed by James Darin (no relation) and some other beach hunks.

The couple divorced in 1967, leaving a son, Dodd.

Bobby was married again, briefly, in 1973.

He was politically liberal, and heavily involved in the campaign to elect Robert F. Kennedy as president.

There's not much evidence of Bobby being gay in real life.  The 2004 biopic Beyond the Sea, starring Kevin Spacey, contains a few gay jokes:

Sandra tells Bobby that if he thinks acting is so easy, he should try kissing Troy Donahue (who was rumored to be gay).  Bobby smiles, as if he's considering it.

But that may be a take on Kevin Spacey himself.

On the other hand, most of Bobby's songs drop pronouns, and could apply equally to male and female lovers:

You're the reason I'm living
You're the breath that I take
You're the stars in my heaven
You're the sun when I wake.

The nude photo is on Tales of West Hollywood.

See also: Ricky Nelson

Jan 17, 2018

Men of Steel

Superman is the most recognizable superhero in the world, a perennial favorite in comics, movies, and tv shows.  And for cosplay.

You can buy a superman costume, complete with built-in muscles.

Or you can provide your own.

Come to think of it, muscles aren't really necessary.  It's the red, yellow, and blue outfit that does the trick.

Although no one said that it had to be blue.  A black muscle shirt with the red-and-yellow "S" logo is fine.

Or the red-and-yellow "S" logo on a bare chest.

More after the break.

Jan 16, 2018

Out Our Way: Teenagers Before Girl-Craziness

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I was jealous of the comics they got across the river in Davenport, Iowa.  They got Peanuts, we got Winthrop.  They got The Wizard of Id, we got Apartment 3-G.  I sort of liked Alley Oop and Prince Valiant, but what was up with the single-panel strip, Out Our Way? 

 It was about an unnamed family -- mom, young adult daughter, teenage son, younger son -- drawn in grotesquely realistic detail.

They spoke in nearly incomprehensible slang and had bizarre customs. There was an "ice box" instead of a refrigerator, a gigantic radio instead of a tv.  They bathed in a tub in the kitchen.

The older son had a job, though he looked barely fifteen.

Confused, repelled, yet fascinated, I tried to decipher the strips day after day, week after week.  The world they portrayed was vastly different than the world I knew.

Boys in my world were always fully clothed, except in locker rooms, but in Out Our Way, they stripped down for baths and for bed and to swim.  They were naked in front of each other!  They displayed a remarkable physicality, an awareness of the way their bodies looked and felt and moved.

Boys in my world did not touch each other, except during sports matches and fights. We were expected to find physical contact abhorrent.  But in Out Our Way, boys un-selfconsciously pressed against each other, draped their legs over each other's bodies, hugged, slept in the same bed

In my world, every trait, interest, and concern was gender-polarized.  Boys carried their books at their waist, girls across their chest.  Boys said "p.e." but "gym class," and girls "gym" but "p.e. class."  And the punishment for transgression was severe. But in Our Our Way, boys un-selfconsciously wore dresses.  The teenager performed "women's work," cooked (in an apron), cleaned, tended to his young brother.

Boys in my world were expected to groan with longing over the girls who walked in slow-motion across the schoolyard, their long hair blowing in the wind. They were expected to evaluate the hotness of actresses on tv, discuss breasts and bras, and claim innumerable sexual conquests.  But boys in Out Our Way never displayed the slightest heterosexual interest.  Instead, they consistently mocked the silliness of heterosexual romance.

What sort of world was this?

Many years later, I found that the comics I read in the 1960s were reruns from the 1930s and 1940s,  and even then, many had been nostalgic, evoking the author J.R. Williams' childhood at the turn of the century.

I was gazing into a time capsule, into a era when heterosexual desire was expected to appear at the end of adolescence, not at the beginning, so teenage boys were free from the "What girl do you like?" chant.