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The Flirtations (group)
Anyway they made up the scam in the morning and bad it in the college. You doctor, Peter and I both are caveats and we both internal doubly, so we're at his reputation, and of course I skim to Mr. Ah, no, I engineer I was the defacto injured of the plane, since Elliot Pilshaw and I emigrated it, and then Will make, and I selected almost all of the us.
While this assertion may seem silly, stereotypical, or even preposterous, I want to entertain the possibility that The Flirtations were, in a meaningful sense, a girl group. Pilshaw and Grogan left the group for personal and musical reasons, and the remaining members recruited Cliff Townsend whose bass voice anchored their sound by providing much needed lower frequencies. With a Latino Font and an African American Townsendthe group could now call itself diverse and multicultural. This quintet recorded a self-titled debut record in Georgia native Jimmy Rutland joined the group soon thereafter, and this second quintet stayed together untilwhen Callen succumbed to AIDS-related illness.
Townsend was fired from the group inand Font left a few months later. Arterton and Rutland reformed as a quartet with lesbian singer Suede and bass Steve Langley, who was fired under the auspice of musical aesthetics but who maintains that his race played a role in this decision. As a trio, Arterton, Rutland, and Suede recorded one album together before disbanding in SLIDE A typical girl group was a small vocal ensemble of adolescent singers who wore matching costumes, executed stylized choreography, and sang about topics pertinent to teenage experience: Few girl groups wrote their own music, relying instead on arrangements of existing songs.
This, coupled with a perceived absence of instrumental musical virtuosity and a general 2 climate of misogyny, has led critics and scholars to devalue or ignore the genre. However, Warwick and Stras recoup girl groups as important musical feminist foremothers whose influence can be heard in generations of women singers, and as I will show, The Flirtations. Girl groups tended to focus on the group rather than an individual singer, whether by wearing matching costumes, staging call-and-response scenarios, or using block chord textures that deemphasized a star singer. Their exuberant vocal style differed from the controlled technique of contemporary singers like Doris Day and Julie Andrews or the overt sensuality of Connie Francis and Peggy Lee.
With their voices placed in the chest and throat and often using wide vowel sounds, girl group singers sounded like girls. David Halperin characterizes gay male culture by its relationship to the artifacts of straight culture. Broadway, 3 American songbook, barbershop, African American and Puerto Rican song, protest music, folk, rock, and of course, girl group pop. Non-hierarchal ideals shaped the way the Flirts conducted life on and off the stage. They would not sing songs to which any member objected for either personal or political reasons. VIDEO Offstage, they rallied to help Callen as his health declined by carrying luggage and giving him time to rest or to administer drug infusions and by collectively deciding to pay his full salary even as his condition meant he performed less often.
The Flirtations utilized girlspeak vocables; however, they extended the play with language in specifically queer directions that were definitely NOT interested in sexual innocence The flirtations gay group and respectability. And as the song progresses, the words change from dreamy infatuation to explicit safe sex fantasies. Clothing and choreography were important markers of the girl group genre, and this is a point at which aspects of the comparison between The Flirts and girl groups begin to break down. For while girl groups wore matching outfits and were discussed in terms of sameness and interchangeability, boy band members often expressed their individual personalities though costumes and behavior.
For instance, To take just one famous example whose career overlapped with some of the girl groups Warwick discusses, The Beatles may have dressed in matching suits and mop tops early in their career, but John, Paul, George, and Ringo each had their own persona, evidenced by the fact that the most casual fan can name all four members. These personality demarcations occur visually, through the clothes each members wears in publicity photos, in live performances, interviews, and in music videos. Although they sometimes wore coordinated outfits, The Flirts rarely dressed in identical costumes.
Arterton and Townsend both remembered him as a spunky, energetic, little brother type who added pizzazz with his choreography and by designing their hot pink logo. But we were able to find someone, basically while we were standing around in the studio, to play piano on it, and he did just a fantastic job. That was Bobby Blume and in several of his friends performed in a revue of his songs. The show ran to good reviews and I love that there were several solo performances by Michael Callen, including this one, called "When This Fever Breaks. I'm going to jump ahead just a bit chronologically to cover a solo performance by Michael, and it was in the AIDS film "Zero Patience," from In it he had a small role, as Miss HIV and there was a short song called "Scheherazade Tell a Story ," and also a longer version, and you'll hear both.
John Arterton: Ah, yeah, I guess I was the defacto leader of the group, since Elliot Pilshaw and I started it, and then Elliot left, and I wrote almost all of the arrangements. And at one point around or so we went to a lawyer, an entertainment lawyer, who said we could continue to operate as a collective but if you really wanted to keep the group functioning for a long, long time it might be better to make it a corporation, which we did and I became the sole owner of the corporation, I guess. How was material picked for the group to perform? Well, there were two main things. We didn't want anyone to have to sing words that he didn't agree with, so we had to have complete consensus on every song that we picked.
And we wanted every song to have some kind of lyrical contribution to the theme of what we were doing. So sometimes songs took on special meaning because we were gay men in the height of the AIDS crisis, so we could sing "My Buddy" or "I'll Be Seeing You" and it would take on a significance, and there were other songs that we sang that were directly kind of political, and songs that talk about other causes that were similar to our cause, and then songs that we thought would just be entertaining. There's something political about taking a song that everyone has heard and either changing the pronouns or changing the situation so that it becomes an obviously gay kind of parody song.
I was kind of surprised to realize that the Flirts only recorded one of Michael's songs, "Living in Wartime. Ah, let's see That would be the obvious one for you to do. Do you have any funny stories about Michael being in the group? Oh, my God, how much time do you have? Well, it's hard to pick one. Michael was so funny that he kept us entertained all the time. He just had a very funny way of being in the world. He could really laugh at his illness. I remember towards the end and he had an infection in his foot that he couldn't shake, and I remember him saying, "Oh, I fought AIDS all these years and now my damn foot's going to kill me!
Was his humor witty or self-deprecating or campy or I would say When we would go to a college campus and then sing a concert and then go out afterwards to dinner or something with some of the kids from the college group, he would love to just sort of scandalize the undergraduates by asking questions about their sex lives. But he did it with such a smile on his face and he would just giggle. And if there were people in the group, and there were, who at some point told a story about something that had happened to them, especially in a sexual situation, Michael would at the drop of a hat in the middle of a dinner say, "ah, so, Cliff, tell me about that time in Central Park when the police officer When did Michael stop performing with the Flirts?
It was the Spring of there was a March on Washington and we gave a series of free concerts in Washington that weekend, and we also sang on the stage there, and we had some wonderful gay and lesbian performers come out and sing one last time with Michael I remember we were doing some concerts up in Provincetown and Michael came up and sat in the audience and watched us sing. And Michael was very functional, very much into therapy and into not letting things go, so towards the end of his life we came to Provincetown and we had some group therapy sessions, with a therapist, and we all got the opportunity to tell Michael how we missed him, how we loved him, and he got to do the same to us.
So, was April 93 when he stopped touring with the group or did he stop a little before that? He had in the last year before that he had done fewer and fewer appearances with us but he was still pretty much with us when his health would allow. Yeah, what I'm basing that question on is that I saw the group in Houston, but I don't remember what year it was. I do remember that I was aware that Michael still alive, but not well enough to tour. Ah, yeah, I would have no idea. Can you tell me about recording that song? About when was it done and was that the last recording with Michael?
Yes, it was the last recording with Michael. It was done I believe in the Spring ofMichael died in December of that year. It was recorded in New York City, and Michael had kind of retired from the group in that Spring and had stopped touring with us. And it might have even been early Summer. I believe he was living in Los Angeles at that time but came back to New York, cause Richard was producing the album there. And it was It's such an important song that I wanted to get some other artists talking about it, and it was one of the songs I asked Holly Near to tell me about when we interviewed in Holly Near: Michael Callen was one of the founders and singers in a gay men's group called The Flirtations, and one of the songs that Michael loved and sang, he had written with two other writers [Peter Allen and Marsha Malamet] Thank you, I was having a brain pause there.
And when Michael was dying he had AIDS and had been surviving for quite a long time, but when he knew he was on his way out he decided he wanted to do a recording of all of the songs that he could imagine doing if he had a longer lifetime. So he called in all his friends to help him with this recording, and I loved his version of "Love Don't Need a Reason," so kind of to honor him after his death we did a version of it and on the recording it started out with Michael's voice singing, and then I pick up the song, after the first phrase or two.
And that particular intro by Michael can only be found on Holly's recording. Who wrote the words and who wrote the music, or how was it broken down? Marsha Malamet: Ah, funny story. You know, Peter and I both are composers and we both play piano, so we're at his house, and of course I defer to Mr. There was no way I was going to sit at the piano and just sit there and have Peter throw out a note or two. I wanted him to be comfortable and, and you know, it was Peter Allen, so he sat and Michael threw out lyrics and he worked on it, and then as the premier gentleman that he is, he got up and he said, "okay, Marsha, you take over.
It was just very generous of him. So he got up and I sat at the piano and I started noodling too, and I continued what he brought in. So, it was really a collaboration. That was how we wrote it, and it came very quickly. It was one of the fastest songs I've ever written. And from there, I don't know how the AIDS Walk people found out about it, but it was the theme song for the first one. When you finished did you three realize the masterpiece it was? You know, you feel it, you know it, but you never know when it comes to an audience response. We knew we had something beautiful, and I don't know if we went to how important it would be and to this day I have stories about how it's changed people's lives.
However at that moment we were just pretty jazzed about writing a really good song, as songwriters feel when the really nail it, and we nailed it, and that's really it but to project how important the song would be and how it would be this theme song or ten or eleven AIDS Walks. And then of course people have recorded it, gay choruses all over the world have recorded it, Barbara Cook has recorded it, Holly Near. There's like choruses and artists that have recorded the song. So we didn't know. We knew we had something beautiful, but we didn't know it would take on a life of its own.
Do you have any stories about what you have noticed about the impact of the song? So I'll never forget Well, we sang it, we did it, Michael sang it, and afterwards we were standing around waiting for our lift, or talking with people, and this one young guy comes up to us, and he was in tears, and he said to Michael, "do you know how you saved my life with this song? I was almost in tears. And he proceeded to tell us the story about how his parents rejected him and he had to go to a clinic in some other city to be treated. And he asked his parents to listen to this song. It really got to them, and they brought him back home, and he was with his family then.
So when you hear stories like that And it helped them because of this song. It was pretty heavy, it was pretty deep. And that was the first time that I witnessed something like that. You know, after Michael died I started singing it. They used to call me to do it. I sang it at Sheep Meadow Park in front of like 25, people. And again, people came up to me afterwards and "oh that song," and it was sort of like a calling card, for love. That's the way I see it, of understanding, compassion and of love. It never ceases to amaze me how art and this song, in particular, could really move people and change the way they feel and think about something.
George Callen - Innocence Ruling Yes, that is a wow hearing. Do they all client?.
It just boggles the mind, foirtations I guess in that moment when we wrote it, we flirtatikns hit the homerun. And you know, I have to say, I haven't written many perfect songs, but that song is. I always miss Michael and the songs that we wrote will live on for sure, for sure. And it's like his energy, his passion, his intelligence He was so bigger than life. Every time I think of him I have such amazing memories, such incredible memories. He was bigger than life and he affected people in his legacy, you hear people talk about him in such glorious terms, and it's true.
He was one of a kind.
Gay group flirtations The
Elliot is another very talented composer, scorer, and we were all friends, and Elliot's gay, so the three of us were gay, so "hey, let's sit down and write a song. I would say it was just up for us. Either Michael or I wrote the beginnings of it, and then we brought it in to Elliot to finish it and to demo it, as Elliot had a little studio in his apartment. So he became the producer. And I think this gentlemen, Ernest Kohl, recorded it as a disco song, no less. I know, I have it. So, you never know, people are dancing to it so it's all cool.
Did you write any other songs with Michael, and were they recorded? Nope, it was those four. Wow, three classics out of four. Not bad, I'll take those odds any day. Just he alone, you talk about living your truth. That guy lived his truth, to the nth degree. So out there, and proud of who he was, and so full of life, and full of love I mean, he had rage but he also coupled with the rage was the love and the passion for his people, for being gay, for the struggle, for his friends, he was just a very unique, brilliant And to recap about "Legacy," that was an extraordinary double CD release of 29 songs, most of which were recorded during Michael's last year, They were later mastered, with the CD being released in From the album is a beautiful song called "Mother Mother.
So we arranged to record the song in San Francisco in June of The flirtations gay group, and Michael loved the music and the singing of Cris Williamson, and he also just adored Holly Near, who he had gotten to know a little bit, and Michael would have been a lesbian given half the chance, anyway And Holly happened to be performing her one-woman show in San Francisco at that time, and that's why we did this in San Francisco and Cris happened to be around. It was around gay pride. Anyway they made up the arrangement in the morning and sang it in the afternoon. And it's just so beautiful I can't stand it. One thing I particularly love is Arnold had to go fly somewhere at the end of the session and he had a cab waiting for him.
And he was dashing out the door and he said, "just a minute," and he came back and did this little vocal improv that's over the form in the middle of the song, and I just wish I had mixed it louder because it's so beautiful. I should mention also that Holly's piano player, John Bucchino, also sings on that song and does a wonderful job. And he had this wonderful, incredible energy for the duration of the take and then immediately just sort of deflate, and even be like lying down in the booth for a while. I have a couple more songs from "Legacy," and happen to have comments from the other performers involved talking about them. Michael recorded his song "Do Not Turn Away.
You played on several of the tracks that ended up Michael Callen's "Legacy" album. What was your relationship with Michael? John Bucchino: He was just one of the realest people I ever met in my life. I adored him, I mean, he was an extraordinary human being, really powerful, really charismatic, and passionate and committed to of course gay rights and AIDS education and. God, what an extraordinary fellow. So I was thrilled when he was well, first of all he recorded a song of mine called "Do Not Turn Away," which I had written when my brother was dying. Yeah, I was going to ask you what inspired that song. Well, my brother was dying. My mom my brother had a partner for about eleven years, so he was a member of our family as well.
My parents have always been completely supportive and wonderful. Both my brother and sister and I are all gay, so it's sort of three out of three in our family, and my parents have been wonderful. My brother was still alive and my mom had gone to an AIDS support group with his partner, and after this meeting she called me in tears, because she said that there was this beautiful year-old boy who had got up and told the group that when he came out to his parents and told them that he was gay and he had AIDS, they kicked him out of the house, and wouldn't have anything to do with him. And she was sobbing, I mean, it just broke her heart, she couldn't imagine how parents could to that to a child, and that's what prompted me to write the song.
And Michael gorgeously recorded it. And again, the song is called "Do Not Turn Away. The recording of this next one was finished after Michael's death, and Michael had left a request that the humorous song "Two Men Dance the Tango" be a duet with UK singer Tom Robinson. First we'll hear from Richard Dworkin, and then Tom Robinson. And I had wanted the Flirtations to sing the song with him, but for some reason they didn't want to sing the song with him. And then he wanted me to sing the song with him, and I just thought there should be a real singer singing it with him.
And eventually I got the idea to ask Tom Robinson. One of the last things Mike and I talked about was asking Tom to do it, and Mike said, "yeah, that sounded like a pretty good idea. Tom Robinson: One poignant moment of my career was getting to sing a duet posthumously with Michael Callen, on "Two Men Dance the Tango. But to hear his voice in the headphones when I was dueting with him was a nice and reassuring thing. I only met him the once on the occasion of my last band gig in New York inand didn't realize until after having met him what a kind of important figure he was, both musically and in the name of activism.
And I promised to let you hear a song from the show, but first I want to share more of the interview. Michael had such an extraordinary voice, I wonder if it is a bit intimidating for actors to sing those songs. I think it probably is. Part of the idea of this production is that everybody involved is my age. And for the most part no one was familiar with Michael coming into it, so they're kind of meeting Michael, the story and his music at the same time. And where Michael had an amazing falsetto that, a range that was astounding and I think that what we're looking at is trying to find ways to have these actors make this music their own, while honoring Michael's sound.
But in no way are they doing impersonations, or really trying, either in the way that they're personifying themselves, or the way that they're singing are they really trying to impersonate Michael. About how many songs are in the show? There are twelve songs in the show, and then some other songs are represented through underscoring, so really about sixteen of Michael's songs are there. And everything within the show Michael did write as well, whether or not he did that with a partner, like Marsha Malamet or Peter Allen, or he wrote it on his own, but songs like "Where the Boys Are" and other cover songs aren't in the show JD: Will the show include any previously unrecorded songs?
It will, actually. I wish that I could include so many more, because there is a whole album of "Legacy" that was never released. So there are about twelve songs that have never been heard by the public, and we're fortunate to be including "Street Singer," which is a song that Michael wrote very early, sometime between and We've taken the song and utilized it as a retrospective of his life, so that when it's introduced Michael's moved to California I know this is hard to predict with a musical in workshop status, but what do you see as a timetable goal for future performances?
Right now what we're looking at is another round of work-shopping in June or July, with the idea that fundraising for a full performance would commence at that time, and that full performance schedule would happen in the Fall of this year, Fall or early Winter. Talk about the cast for a moment. Well, we've been working with many different people. Three of these actors have been with the cast since my first draft of the show, and sat around the living room reading it, Jonathan Whitton, Rob Maitner, and Steven Stratford, and these three have been so helpful in developing the show.
They come from a variety of different places. Jonathan Whitton is a cabaret singer of some import here in New York. Do the all sing? They all sing, yes, it's one of these archetypes, if you will, or types of Michael is the most artistic of them, or the one who is the singer-songwriter, the one who doesn't want to talk about condom use but wants to make music. He does the majority of the singing. But here are times throughout the show that they all sing together. Some songs like "On the Other Side" are made into duets, where we have Michael starting this performance at the Duplex and then having it kind of escape into an other world, where we bring another character in and "On the Other Side" is brought to life theatrically.
I mean, it's such a picture that you have right away, the idea of being interested in someone across the platform, whether that be cruising for sex, or whether that be real genuine interest, but having this tunnel between you that doesn't allow for true connection or to really reach, cause by the time someone ran to the other side of the platform, maybe the other guy's train has already come. And so "On the Other Side" captures a moment where I think in this production Michael is beginning to look for connection outside of promiscuity, for lack of a better word, that he was enjoying at the time. I thank Jim Bredeson for allowing me to share a performance of that song, captured in a workshop setting, and it features the voices of John Berno and Jonathan Whitton.
It was really made up of a bunch of Michael Callens. Ron Romanovsky talks about that session. Ron Romanovsky Comments It came out beautifully because we got Michael Callen to come in and sing on that one. Originally we were going to get a whole choir, but we ended up overdubbing Michael's voice, and he did such a beautiful job. We just used him and we were pretty pleased with how it came out beautifully.
Roughly how many people were in the Michael Callen choir. You mean how many of him did we use? I think it's three or four. We just overdubbed it, and he did all the harmonies, and they were all done, and it was all done on the fly, it wasn't arranged beforehand. We just made it up as we went along in the studio. It was really an amazing day. We spend the whole day just doing that recording, and it just kept getting better and better, and Michael was unbelievably tireless. He worked so hard on that, and enjoyed it, I think.
He had an incredible voice, it just soared. It was very effective on that song. That was another of his rare appearances on the recordings of others. I mentioned in Part 1 that this part would include some surprises, and here is a very special one. As you may have gathered during Michael's last year he recorded about 40 songs and 29 were used in the "Legacy" album. Richard Dworkin is graciously allowing me to premier one of the unreleased songs, and I am so honored. This was a gay bathhouse that was open from untilalmost a hundred years.
Nine patrons died in the fire. Michael Callen - Innocence Dying Yes, that is a wow moment. I think that's the most I've ever had on one show. And I thank you for listening. The closing song is a powerful one. He and David Lasley were among those providing backups.