When Johnny Comes Marching Homo
I’m continuing my seemingly never ending task of transferring my LPs to the mp3 format. As I’ve written before it’s been both a torturous and rewarding process; it’s years of accumulation, and a walk down memory lane of my past musical obsessions. About 15 years ago I started collecting Johnny Mathis albums, starting with Johnny Mathis' Greatest Hits. I’ve gone through this obsession before with a number of musical artists: Henry Mancini, Jo Stafford, Jack Jones, Anita Kerr, Rod McKuen, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Montovani, Farrante and Teicher, Peggy Lee. I have nearly everything they recorded. As a dear friend Sally, a former librarian, once told me: God save us from the completists.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to be more methodical about the order I would transfer albums; my method had been to go and pull an album at random. However, I wanted a goal to motivate me to clean off a full shelf. I saw that if I transferred all my Mathis albums I would be able to get rid of 50 albums! So for the last two weeks I’ve been listening to Johnny Mathis almost non-stop. He’s sung everything. From as a teenager singing straight jazz, to his 50s lush hits, and then the 70s and 80s, where he covered every conceivable song possible. If it charted Johnny covered it, sometimes with better results than the original.
Around the same time I started buying his albums I was deejaying at the now defunct Artful Dodger. There was a strange period where lounge music made a short comeback on the club scene. I was working for This American Life and was getting a reputation as someone with a big and eclectic record collection, and the owner called me up and asked me if I’d like to spin records on Friday nights. I could play anything I wanted to play, and I did. Even to the point where I could clear the bar and have the bartender, Mindy, begging me to turn off Bing Crosby’s version of “Hey Jude”. But the owner liked me, and for a while it was fantastic to be able to play my favorite songs on a huge sound system. I did this for almost two years. At times, however the real deejay would be late and my shift would spill over from the after work drinking crowd to the 20-something college crowd. Then things would get ugly. I remember once a drunken, blond girl came up to me and told me to play some 80s music. “Like what?” I asked, “I don’t have any of Ronald Reagan’s albums with me.” “I want to hear “I Will Survive”, she slurred. Luckily, I had Johnny Mathis’ album “Different Kinda Different”. So I played “I Will Survive” but by Johnny. She came running up to me screaming how I sucked because this wasn’t even the real version. The fun of being a deejay sort of died that night.
Click here to hear: I Will Survive.
The amazing thing about Johnny Mathis is that he survived in the entertainment business for 50 years being black, a homosexual and a tenor. I was surprised to hear that in 1982 he officially came out of the gay closet and for his honesty was greeted with death threats. He has since not talked about his sexual orientation. Throughout his career he seemed to never deny who he was, but sort of floated above it, giving out clues to his lifestyle on his album covers.
Johnny in a steam bath sort of pose.
Johnny hanging out with his pot smoking and gaily moustached friends.
Can you imagine Jack Jones or Robert Goulet having a similar photo on a back of their albums?
So kudos to Johnny. One of the best. He's still touring and I think he sounds better than ever. His high vibrato has mellowed; he is still handsome, and one of the few living giants of musical history of the 20th Century.
Addendum: I've a funny story I just remembered concerning a Mathis song. When I was dating Jimmy Doyle, I was driving around with Johnny's album "Killing Me Softly" (see above cover) playing on the cassette deck. The song "Killing Me Softly with Her (His) Song" came on. Jimmy contemptuously sneered and said, "This is awful. How can he sing this song? This is about Roberta Flack seeing Don McLean and being so moved by him that she had to write this song. How can he sing this song when it's obviously he doesn't have an idea what the song means?" I pulled the car over to the curb, looked at him and in a serious tone said, "He's singing about Barbra".
Note: I'm thinking of expanding this blog to include Podcasting. Any advice from anyone; I know nothing about it. Suggestions?