By Jane Barnes
What is pop, anyway? Animated movies? Musclemen dramas? Otherworldly (we wish) wars? Or current music mumbled by “them” in a soft voice? Maybe it’s jeans or red hair or little girl feminist millennials discovering fashion trends that went out in 1970. Maybe pop in my squirrelly youth was Johnny Mathis, gladiator movies, strawberry Cokes from green glass bottles. Fifties full skirts? Flavored ice cream with bubblegum names?
It sure wasn’t being bisexual or even sexual in my day, though many friends twisted and turned in VW bugs hoping and failing to stay unpregnant. Maternity clothes were made to cover the tummy, not to be flattering, and maternity itself was shameful. The rubber broke! (rubber = condom). In California then you rode to Reno in the back seat of your parents’ yellow Chevrolet and got hitched whether you still liked the guy or not.
Singers, that’s it? After not recognizing any singers, I turn on my Fire Stick and there is a person on MSNBC called Johnny Depp, surely a pop star and bad boy. Bad boy in a court of law? Let’s not minimize this. Pop star beating up his girlfriend, Amber Heard, who wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post about domestic abuse, not naming Depp, though everyone knew. Is that pop? He called her vile things and wished the worst on her and was that pop culture? He’s suing for $50 mil and she for $100. It’s not she vs. he. It’s sexism and violence vs. basic rights.
Any woman (one in three or more) who’s cowered in a corner while a man screams insults knows this. Harmed by kitchen equipment—the frying pan or a steak knife. What have you. Yes, booze plays a large part, getting “wasted” like a big boy, and eventually behaving outside the law while under the influence. But real recovery from that insanity is owning your behavior. Is it pop to say you’re sorry and then act like you meant it? Or not?
What about the Ukraine? Big bad Putin with his outmoded army trying to obliterate a lovely democracy? Bullying in the extreme. “I have more testosterone [read: money] than you (having stolen it from the people).” Meanwhile Zelensky’s fabulous, highly ironic, deeply bittersweet TV series, Servant of the People, is pop, right? Comedy may be pop, I don’t know. Lady Gaga? Yes. Pop! With a conscience and social responsibility to go from meat dress to jazz love songs!
In the fifties I listened to rock an’ roll on the San Francisco radio station from my hick town in northern California—from Elvis to R.E.S.P.E.C.T., and they had more to say than just about love songs—though love songs they were. Then gays (and I) came out and so did many singers. Cris Williamson was folk: is folk pop? Singer Rodriguez or his shadow, Bob Dylan?
I love jazz, experimental/atonal, classical (medieval thru John Cage) so that leaves country and pop, and rap of course with less music, more words, and BLM and nonbinary girls and other crucial matters. I listen to remote jazz stations, and go to concerts of my bestie Gordon, New York composer, who plays far “above” what I might call pop: electric organ, violin, piano, and carefully-placed shouts. Set designer Christine has a pitch-perfect, flute-like voice. She was in a pop band. And I was once in a viola da gamba consort (quartet) and we consorted with pop music in 1500-1600 for dancing.
My bad guy neighbor swings into his driveway with his radio blasting pop or grunge or something, after the bars have closed. The boys upstairs sometimes thump to something I don’t recognize, and Alexa plays the same Grieg on Amazon music when I ask for classical.
I think I’ll press on the mic button on my Fire Stick remote tonight and ask Alexa to play me some pop. And maybe Google will show me pop clothes. Is that vintage wear or something else? Maybe having a unisex haircut and red Buddha thread bracelets and a ripped white T? I just got the boy haircut from Dina, the hardworking Albanian. Her choice not mine. So, did she make me pass for 25? Look like pop star Katy Perry? (No, dear, you are almost 80!).
Please, you adorable bi-lettes, explain this to me! Is being out bi pop? What about bi-ing old? Then I’ve made it. Know it. Got it.
Jane Barnes is a New York City poet and novelist who has had work in 60 magazines and nine anthologies, lesbian and (finally) bi. Poems about Emily Dickinson are forthcoming in Wrongdoing Magazine, and Gay and Lesbian Review. She should be working on her Paris novel set in 1927.