The youtube playlist containing all of my videos (in order) lives HERE
In my final, I drew inspiration from my favorite drag artists in New York and Chicago. I pulled from all parts of queer influences from my projects, which allowed me to create the initial concept for the performances.
The Music That Shaped Me:
How Music Can Influence Our Being
Post graduation, my friends and I wondered if there would be a swell of people coming out. It seemed like the right time- my high school seemed to be a welcoming place, and to an extent, it was, if you fit a certain mold. But it was incredibly lonely, what with our out-as-queer population landing just under ten. I never tried to date anyone until we graduated, and I finally worked up the courage to ask out a friend of a friend, whose name was Jack. It was monumental. I was terrified, and I got to the bagel shop where we planned on meeting about half an hour early. He was late, too, and I had downed an entire coffee by the time he arrived, causing me to shake a bit. When we ordered our bagels, I found out he was vegetarian and quickly changed my order, because I thought it would be a good idea. The date was horrible. We didn’t relate much at all. In a desperate attempt to try again, I sent him a text to go on a second date, and he never replied. I went home and listened to Adele’s 19 over and over again, kicking myself for being so stupid. “Chasing Pavements” spoke to my soul like no song had done before.
Why do I relate to these songs about romantic love and heartbreak if I’ve never been in a relationship before? Of course, we all can emotionally empathize with tones, but there’s something different with my personal relationship to movement. Perhaps the development of my identity as an effeminate gay man has conditioned me to expect heartbreak itself- thus meaning without actual experience, I search for the representation I need to educate myself, creating an image for myself of what a relationship should be, and furthermore, how far away I am from it.
To find one’s self represented, when one isn’t in the minority, is easy. To be straight and cis and white is to see yourself everywhere– in books, TV, movies, music, or any consumable media. To focus specifically on sexuality, there was hardly representation, or media for that matter, of homosexuals in America pre-WWII. It wasn’t until 1951’s secret establishment of the Mattachine Society- “a small group of homosexuals, influenced by communist ideology, [organizing for] the defense of their rights as citizens”- and subsequent dissolution into smaller, less communist groups, that homosexuals began to organize, albeit in the shadows. Continuing on into the 60’s, the distribution of semi-subtle pulp novellas featuring queer themes and plots begin to further unify people into the queer diaspora, continuing with representation in politics in the 70’s, with figures like Harvey Milk and the first, and lesser known, Kathy Kozachenko from Ann Arbor, Michigan. From there on, the queer peoples of America begin to show in groups such as ACT UP, and to today’s VOICES4. Despite this history lesson, there is still tame representation of queer peoples in media. White gay men have begun to get fair shots, but one does not encapsulate all. The struggle to find a representational figure in the general fiction consumer media is still, well, a struggle. I had discovered myself in history, the idea of homosexuality as a rebellion. Strong, Femme men who were ready to be the strongest queer peoples they could be. I had found myself in people like Harvey Milk, or Peter Staley. But there was still an issue- I wasn’t finding myself in fictionalized media. The closest I could get was a woman who shared the same attractions as me. I seemed to seek the pronoun itself rather than message. If someone was singing about some boy- I would immediately relate in a deeper psychological sense, as well as enjoy that song more. Representation is approximated in this case- for lack of identification in these songs, I immediately associated with whoever was singing about some boy. And those songs happened to be sad breakup songs.
Like I assume many others did with the internet as a child, I would hide in my room with a clunky, early PC laptop and watch youtube clips of boys kissing. This was when I was maybe ten years old, barley out of 5th grade. Whenever I’d be overwhelmed, or when I heard someone approaching, I’d close the window, clear the history, and pull open a word document I kept on the desktop that had a bunch of shapes I had organized into a picture of a house. There was some kind of shame in this, but it wasn’t something that anyone can articulate correctly. Like hot embers being prodded by an even hotter lightning bolt. I was searching for some kind of recognition. I didn’t know at the time, but I was looking for a relationship that matched with my personal attractions. I had always been made fun of for singing along to “I Can Hear the Bells” from Hairspray, because that was a girl song. Why was I singing about Link Larkin if I was a boy too? The lyrics literally talk about Tracy’s fantasy marriage. And I had just seen the musical movie too. What little gay boy wouldn’t want to marry Zac Efron? I thought at the time it might have been because it’s just a great song, but the very fact that the pronouns match my romantic orientation is not a coincidence.
How do we begin to empathize with a concept that is separate from our own experiences? For one, friendships and listening to the point of view of others might help, but there needs to be a deeper seeded portion too. The concept of libertarian paternalism is a political practice in which public and private institutions can subliminally influence the individual or public while maintaining an illusion of freedom of thought. Meaning, one can believe that their ideas and ethics are purely of their own, but in reality, they have been molded and shaped by the expressions of independent parties. An innocent example, innocent meaning not necessarily nefarious, would be something like a child watching Sesame Street and learning the benefit of sharing. On the other hand, a nefarious example would be the social conditioning of society through film media’s depiction of people of color to discredit their experiences, lives, ethics, etc. However, if we define a private institution as, say, a record company, that means our experiences can be shaped from messages we’ve heard in seemingly independent media, such as music. Music inspires people to take leaps, act differently, all through audio waves and lyricism. Therefore, a record company can willingly drive the idea of loneliness or other ethics into anyone who listens to the music they put out, given that they continue to listen. With the amount of music that premiers per day, and the repetition of songs that exist in the realm of sad songs, it will continue well on, most likely to the end of time itself.
I come from an incredibly musical family. My father, who is currently a lawyer, always loved playing piano or trumpet or flute in his childhood, and he couldn’t forgive himself for giving it up. So, my siblings and I were tossed into piano lessons regardless of interest. My mother is incredibly charismatic, and has a background in improv comedy and acting, so at her suggestion, and later reinforcement from my sister, all three children began to act as well. Thus began our obsession with music. Now, my dad rarely played anything other than classical music, which heavily carries emotional tone rather than methodic messaging, but when he did, he enjoyed indie folk from the 70’s-00’s. My mom enjoyed the same. And so, I began to learn Joni Mitchell and Carole King on the guitar. It definitely effected my music taste, leading me down a bass track to the most iconic female vocalists of all time.
Now, to say that I’m sad because of sad music is completely incorrect. There’s so many things that make me sad. There’s my emotional drive to push people away, for fear of them hurting me, or me hurting them, or being scared of them, or something or other. But the music is what drives it home. Music has a strange power to annunciate the emotions already within us. In Love Actually, the use of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now is devastating- Emma Thompson’s character has a confirmation of her husband’s infidelity when she receives Mitchell’s Blue instead of a gold necklace. The way the music manipulates us through tonal frequencies and scales is staggering. Her usage of alternative modal bases allows for deeper, and more sophisticated notes surrounding a tonal center. It’s devilishly used in movies to exploit our pathos, because music is inherently emotional. So as Thompson cries, alone in her bedroom as her husband opens Christmas gifts in the next room, we cry with her, as Joni Mitchell’s deep voice on “Both Sides Now” and the harmonic string section throw us fully into the embarrassment and pain of a destroyed marriage.
The music choices that define my taste are quite clear to a category. Sad music about heartbreak, sung by women. That’s how the fascination began- early exposure and engrained exposure to the lyrics, messages, and singers themselves- began to sit within me, due to the semi-sinister ideas of libertarian paternalism, and the desire for the bare minimum of a matching pronoun. Why do I relate to this sad music if I’ve never been in a relationship? Because this music is formulated to. In a search for finding recognition of my own identity and method of romantic relation, I found this pocket of music that emphasizes heartbreak and the tearful goodbyes of a love never started. It’s like that music was written for me.
Meeker, Martin. 2001. “Behind the Mask of Respectability: Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10 (1): 78-116. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.newschool.edu/stable/3704790.
Wojcik, Pamela Robertson. 2013. “Menus for Men . . . Or what have You; CONSUMING GAY MALE CULTURE IN LOU RAND HOGANS THE GAY DETECTIVE AND THE GAY COOKBOOK.” In 1960s Gay Pulp Fiction, 120-142: University of Massachusetts Press. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.newschool.edu/stable/j.ctt5vkb6j.8.
Hanna, Jason. “Libertarian Paternalism, Manipulation, and the Shaping of Preferences.” Social Theory and Practice 41, no. 4 (2015): 618-43. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.newschool.edu/stable/24575752.
Whitesell, Lloyd. 2002. “Harmonic Palette in Early Joni Mitchell.” Popular Music 21 (2): 173-193. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.newschool.edu/stable/853681.
Love Actually, Richard Curtis, US, UK, Universal, 2003
“AFTERWORD:; Negotiating Gay Subjectivity.” 2015. In Gay Voluntary Associations in New York, edited by Moshe Shokeid, 200-206: University of Pennsylvania Press. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.newschool.edu/stable/j.ctt9qh400.14.
Burris, Sidney. 2002. “Loneliness.” The Georgia Review 56 (3): 757-766. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.newschool.edu/stable/41402065.