A number of years ago, a writer called Suzy Boyt published a memoir called My Judy Garland Life. She and I were working for Weekend FT then: she as a columnist and I as a fashion correspondent. I recall meeting her at a party and attempting to share my enthusiasm for Garland and it was most definitely not welcome. Neither were my Liza Minnelli anecdotes because Liza had refused to entertain Ms Boyt.
Anyway, this being a daughter of Lucien Freud, My Judy Garland Life was reviewed everywhere, serialised in the nationals and given a reading on BBC Radio 4. Perhaps unfairly and with a bit of a chip-on-shoulder, I have a special circle of hell for the hereditary system in media whereby Corens, Snows, Winklemans etc walk into a similar career as their parents.
Of course, like Liza, some of the kids have talent regardless of the gene pool such as restaurant critic Giles Coren and US Vogue editor Anna Wintour whose father Charles edited the London Evening Standard. Still, my antennae is finely tuned to unfair advantage though much good it does to be chippy about it. Like many media historians, I look with wonder at the BBC’s love affair with head curator of Historic Royal Palaces Lucy Worsley. When, one wonders, does she find the time for her day job when she’s making back-to-back light entertainment for Auntie?
But back to Miss Boyt’s Judy Garland Life. In short, she didn’t really have one over and above empathising and fan worshipping one of the greatest talents of the 20th century. The gays, by contrast, have always felt a connection with Garland. It was the night of her death in 1969 that sparked the Stonewall Riots in New York. My favourite Judy anecdote was about the end of her career when promoters couldn’t insure her for concert appearances.
One particular impresario rang Garland at the Plaza and had the temerity to say, ‘do you know how difficult it is to work with Judy Garland?’ Monkey quick, she snapped back ‘Oh really! And do you know how difficult it is to BE Judy Garland?’ The gays got Garland and she got them … so much so that she married one or two. The connection is obvious: triumph and tragedy, self-destruction and reincarnation, laughs and tears, love and loss. All the essentials for drama queens can be found in Judy Garland’s life.
So though I am kicking myself that Ms Boyt came-up with that brilliant title and wrote the book, I’d like to think that my Judy Garland life has stronger claim. Unlike Garland, I dodged the bullet of the prescription drugs that would eventually kill Judy in an accidental overdose. But on every other level we are as one. Judy married five times – a record I’m on course to match in all but name – she liked a few sips, a lot of laughs and worked like a Trojan. Shake hands!
I am in awe of performers because I am not a natural one and lack the confidence to get up on stage alone and give it. I could quite confidently say Judy Garland was the greatest. Her friends in show business – Sinatra, Ella, Streisand, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jnr. – acknowledged that, on top of her game, Judy was unsurpassable.
As you know, I’m still not feeling 100% so have been convalescing in Derbyshire and chain-watching Madonna’s live tours on YouTube. You’ve listened to me burbling on about how I lost Madonna during her Hard Candy and MDNA albums and tours. I couldn’t take the rap collaborations, offensive gangsta lyrics, constant references to disco drugs and the gratuitous use of guns, sex and satanism in Madonna’s videos.
However, I decided to watch Hard Candy and MDNA and concluded that Madonna is the greatest live performer of her generation. Nobody can touch her choreography, her dancers, her glittering back catalogue and the creative vision to reinvent and innovate. Being a natural dominatrix and show-off Leo, Madonna is a natural centre stage. Being a control freak helps to produce flawless set piece dances one after the other. Dedication to the audience sees Madonna sing live throughout however rough around the edges.
I am now gagging to see Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour when it comes to the O2 in London in December. That show is to me like going to The Lido or Moulin Rouge but on a stadium scale. The final sequence with Madonna in a crystal shimmy dress, black elbow-length gloves dripping in Swarovski, fishnets and a bowler hat is a masterclass in glamazonian attitude and pure talent.
Nobody works as hard as Madonna on the road. I’d imagine it is simple for a Nicki Minaj to put a few feathers, pasties and a G-string on and shout dreck into a microphone while her backing dancers gyrate like pole dancers. Lady Gaga appears to work hard and does have a pure voice when you get beyond the lobster hats and meat dresses. Beyonce is, as they used to describe Ava Gardner, a beautiful animal. She’s really a dancer who can carry a tune.
Jury’s out on Katy Perry for me. She seems a bit too Trixie Mattel for my liking: a beautiful doll of a girl with Playboy bunny boobs and cartoon costumes. The pop is bubblegum and I don’t think will stand-up to scrutiny as Madonna’s work actually has. My money as the successor to Madonna is Taylor Swift. She is the full package, she is intelligent, she’s got social media in its place and Taylor is a true musician not a glove puppet for sinister producers. The lady has potential to last.