In the film Go Fish, which Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner wrote a decade before getting behind The L-Word, a bunch of Chicago lesbians are playing “I never” in a Wicker Park apartment. The statement is, “I never was having sex and really wanted to change the music.” The women all laugh and drink, as if to say, “We’ve all been there.” Well, haven’t we just.
I was thinking about this because not long ago the Toronto Star had a bunch of (mostly straight) women reminiscing about poor Leonard Cohen, defrauded of his life savings, and his great contribution to their respective love lives.
“I lost my virginity to ‘Suzanne,'” one devotee wrote.
My first thought (after “Lucky Suzanne!”) was: How cool is that? It’s hard to imagine a better song to lose one’s virginity to. But I’m a lesbian, so it took a whole album.
The music associated with successive lovers forms a kind of (sea)bed in the memory, settling into sedimentary layers that are disturbed from time to time. I discovered Leonard Cohen and other Canadian musicians — Daniel Lanois, Joni Mitchell, Cowboy Junkies and the unclassifiable Buffy Sainte-Marie — with my first love in Stoney Creek, Tennessee. From that relationship, I learned that it’s not enough to have music in common if you have nothing else. But it was almost worth being left to suffer through it with, “You Will Be Loved Again.” Not, of course, that I believed that at the time.
Next came a girl called Etheridge, as in Melissa. Except this was before Clinton’s inaugural ball and Melissa was supposedly still in the closet. As, it turned out, was the namesake I was seeing. My Melissa told me she was learning to sing like Madonna. Madonna was attempting to carry a tune in those days, so this impressed me. But I never found out if my girlfriend could really sing because she never opened her mouth around me. Come to think of it, that would be why we stopped dating.
In college, you pretty much live in your bedroom so the line between sex and the rest of life is thin. For a while I dated this girl who would write a paragraph of her paper and then jump up to play the same classic song, again and again. When she was really drunk, she thought we were Jim and Pamela Morrison. She laid a rich layer of musical sediment in the form of a tape made from a stash of 45s. (These vinyl singles were a way of downloading singles, except you had to pay for them and it involved leaving your bedroom.) It was a world of discovery: Gladys Knight And The Pips, Mama Cass, Elton John.
I’d never felt so gay. Too bad she wasn’t. The tape went the way of her letters and pictures, and the music was the only thing I ever missed. But to paraphrase The Beatles’ “In My Life,” no lover could compare to the one I have now, a gay man prancing around in a beautiful woman’s body.
It’s all divas now. She once taught an entire class of Sicilian teenagers English by having them memorize every last obscene word of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” I imagine the students shrieking with delight while their parents and godparents rue the day they ever let them go. Even as I write this, she’s blasting Robbie Williams’ “Have You Met Miss Jones?” from the stereo.
If it’s not some queen, it’s back to the 1950s with Doris Day. Miss Day seems to be a particular favourite with women and men of my acquaintance — because the lyrics coming from the mouth of this Rock Hudson beard are just so disgusting. Which doesn’t stop girlfriend from improvising to “Move Over Darling.” Imagine “Our hips shouldn’t touch/ You’re really too butch (in a Yorkshire accent, this rhymes)/ That cream on your thighs/ Is no big surprise any more/ ‘Cause you’ve tooled me before.”
The ’50s have a lot to answer to queer people for, but they did give us rock and roll. Without Calamity Jane and the songs from Desert Hearts whole parties of mullet-headed lesbians would have nothing at all to dance to.
I never thought I’d live with someone whose seven-year-old singing aspirations were crushed by the realization that she couldn’t sing like Shirley Bassey. When we went to the last Pride And Remembrance Run and they played Cher and Tom Jones for the warm-up, she practically lifted off the ground.
Oh, I try to inject some acoustic folk-rock because I’m just a fuzzy-legged dyke from the ’70s. Lesbians may have gone all glam and Hollywood now, but the Clinton-era doubt still remains: Is what we do really “sex” at all? If not, I have yet to lose my virginity. Next time I’ll try for Suzanne.