My La La Land
A Movie Review - Sort Of
I wasn’t excited about seeing the movie, "La La Land." For all its accolades, I thought it looked pretty lame. I really did not get the point. Try as I might, I could not grasp the inner dialogue of the movie, even after I saw it. It wasn’t until I had watched the whole thing that I realized how close it was to my own life. I kept thinking, “How did they know?” About Lee and me. About our aspirations? Our passion for music? Our love affair?
I met Lee in college. 1962. We met in music theory class. He pursued me, and I felt flattered after a year of few dates and no significant lover. I sang in the choir and madrigals. He played alto sax in the jazz band. When we went classical, I sang in Handel’s Messiah and he hauled out his clarinet. Music was our beat.
Lee was a slim, dark-haired Jewish boy with startling blue eyes. I could feel my father coil up a little when he found out we were dating. That was the first time I really noticed my parents prejudice. My mother was worse.
“You can’t marry the guy,” she said.
“Since when did we become the Arian race?” I asked. “He plays a mean sax.”
And he was a mean kisser. I decided to stick with him.
Lee played in a pickup band in the L.A. area – dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and an occasional real gig in a club downtown. I went along. It was my chance to try out pop and dance tunes.
“We need a vocalist,” Lee said. “Someone pretty to offset our ugly selves.”
Craig was not happy. “ Not her. Miss Goody Two Shoes.”
“Let’s try her out,” Larry said. Larry loved me.
The band was made up of typical ‘60’s cool cats from college and from the area. Craig played piano. He was our long-haired hippie. Larry killed the bari sax. Mike and Charlie filled out the roster on the bass and drums. Conversation among them always came to who was the greatest jazz artist of all time. As I recall Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane were mentioned. I know these jazz greats didn’t lose sleep over our opinion of them. Well, not my opinion for sure. I was heading for the Met. Jazz didn’t interest me. But Lee did.
What grabbed me in "La La Land" was the scene at Griffith Park. Griffith Park was voted a best make out spot in L.A. Obviously, the young director, Damien Chazelle, knew that. In fact, now that I’ve had time to think it over, Griffith Park could stand for all that was romantic about L.A. The view of the city is incredible. We spent hours just lolling on the grass or checking out the planetarium stars.
I have to admit, the park was magic for me. Nights snugged in Lee’s back seat, kissing until our lips hurt. Staring out at the panorama of sky and stars for miles. It did take me a few weeks to like the song, “City of Stars.” But once in my head, it wouldn’t go away.
Lee and I talked for hours about where we wanted to be in five, maybe ten years.
Though we didn't dance through the park, we did experiment with how far we could go without losing my virginity. I was a 21-year-old virgin in the ‘60’s -- a rare find. We "wrestled" with the problem but I won. I think.
Lee’s band boys told him to dump me. “She’s such a prude,” Craig said. “I feel nervous smoking a joint around her. I’m afraid she’ll tell her mother on us.” Sadly, Craig met a cocaine he didn't like and died near the end of our time together. My one thought was, I prefer prude to dead, but I didn’t tell Lee that. Showing great character, Lee stuck with me.
In "La La Land," the lovers drift apart. They move on to new lives. Mia achieves her ambition to become a recognized actress and marries the picture-perfect Hollywood husband. Sebastian (Seb) starts his own club which allows him to play the jazz he loves. They each went where destiny led them, as we all do.
Lee’s and my parting was less romantic. Lee got married to a school teacher, taught in the L.A. Schools, and gave up his ambition to play bigger venues. I sang at the L.A. Music Center for a season, eventually met my husband, and headed for New York. My best East Coast gig was singing in a TV Christmas special in an upstate monastery where the cameraman kept focusing his lens on my nine-month pregnant stomach. I felt so not like the Virgin Mary.
Lee and I began to email about 2002. Turns out he had two daughters, Jennifer and Elisa. I had two daughters, Jennifer and Elizabeth. We enjoyed the coincidence. We reminisced and I realized he remembered much less than I did about our romance. He kept writing, “Oh, yea? I don’t remember that.” Is that a male thing? I thought. Or an old man thing? I almost felt like I was just a passing acquaintance. Seemed I was just one lover in his past.
To me, he was the first real love of my life.