Sunday, August 24, 2008

Birthday Artistes

Here's another fairly amazing Birthday Trifecta. The only common thread I can see is a certain talent to amuse, although I suppose it's possible, however unlikely, that they all slept with Al Jolson.

Ladies first, and Ruby Keeler certainly did; she even went the extra mile and married him.

It almost ruined her, even as it made her a national name, and in later interviews she preferred not mentioning him. Sometimes I think it's too bad she's most remembered for her dated tapping and appealingly awkward emoting ("Gee, Mr. Kent - That'd be swell!") on film. She was a stage star, first and last, and tapped her way through her last triumph, in 1971's No, No, Nanette revival.

Next up: Elvis. Costello, that is. To those of us who came of age in 1980 or so, the Real Elvis.

I suppose he shares some of Ruby's geeky charm, but from angry young Attractions frontman to Mr. Diana Krall, he's kept moving on. Madonna gets the all credit for continually reinventing herself, but Costello does it without the hoopla, and in ways that are actually artistically invigorating, meaning he's always This Year's Model.

His collaboration with the divine Anne Sofie von Otter, For the Stars, redeems the whole idea of pop-classical crossover. Buy it now.

And last, the Great American Artist.

No snark possible; Leonard Bernstein was the real deal, and even, as here, in his seventies, a not inconsiderable Attraction himself.

"Polymath" hardly starts to describe a man who was a teacher, composer, conductor, author, activist, philanthropist, and lifelong enfant terrible. Nor does something reductive like "man of contradictions" adequately sum someone so egocentric and all-embracing, so joyous and so dark, so profoundly (and in the best way) moral and so hedonistic.

And no, I don't really think he slept with Al Jolson. Although, God knows, it would have been an interesting night...


  1. Just seeing that Elvis cover makes me want to dance again, like I was wearing red shoes.

  2. Like you, I bet, I had 'em, and yes, I felt like the angels did want to wear 'em...