Among the goals since the beginning of this blog has been to try to hit all the “marks,” so to speak, as far as creative heroes whose work has impacted me in ways I carry around to the present day. I’ve been meaning for some time to get around to one of those who multitasked in the entertainment category, Barbra Streisand; I think the occasion of her 70th birthday this month is more than perfect timing.
It’s a vivid childhood memory; everyone has one, a moment when a movie star or pop star or whatever star is etched in your mind in a way you understand is permanent. Such it was with me at the age of nine, seeing Funny Girl for the first time in a dark and cavernous 1960s movie theater, like so many that disappeared with the advent of the multiplex. I was mesmerized by what I saw (and heard) on the huge screen; so much so, I stayed for a second showing (guess I was spared the typical kid’s ADD), despite its clocking in at nearly three hours – with intermission.
As the encomiums for this real legend (not a throwaway description here) follow in April, I think of Streisand as such a constant along the road of life, with unbound admiration for her artistic courage, tenaciousness, and passion. But most of all the talent.
For singers, some say, it’s all in the “phrasing.” The imagination with which an artist interprets this line or another in a song, and stamps it forever. The great ones, like Streisand (and Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald as two other examples), can approach a piece sung a thousand times before and still manage to freshly shape a lyric in a new and surprising way.
In Streisand’s case, I always think of a live version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” that appears on her album One Voice from 1986. A line from the song (and not the only one), “Losing my timing this late in my career,” was made inimitably hers just by the spontaneous shift of a note upwards on… “my career.” Lyrics are like palette colors that only she can choose to highlight, and when the genius hits her. It remains for me the definitive version of “Clowns” – bar(bra) none.
The introduction to Streisand that was Funny Girl led to more chapters along the way, of course, and adolescence was no exception. As a teenager, The Way We Were, co-starring the Brad Pitt of his day, Robert Redford, gave hope that intelligence and conviction, more than just looks, could go a long way in capturing Prince Charming (at least temporarily).
And many years later, I finally had the opportunity to see her live, on her last concert tour in the mid-2000s. It was a full-circle moment.
An exceptional journey, a similar one I think I can safely say won’t likely be replicated by any of the nine-year-olds of today. I doubt they’ll be lucky enough to experience a treasure of the likes and longevity of a Streisand, which comes along only rarely in a century.