Fact: I fucking LOVE Judy Garland.
Hey – have you ever wanted a perfect soundtrack to accompany your rainy Los Angeles evening where the large drops of water outside are pouring down so hard that they’re slowly trickling into your apartment ceiling from a hole in your porch gutter but your landlord can’t do anything to fix it until the rain stops which at this point may never happen so instead you’re just gonna watch the water build up into a sort of ceiling hole bubble while humming a melancholy song?
Well then Side 3 of the Judy Garland At Carnegie Hall vinyl is the record for you!
It has everything you need. Come Rain and Come Shine, A Foggy Day (“Do you all like a foggy day? I do,” she coos), Stormy FUCKING Weather. For those inclined to have a happier resolve (I’m not but whatevs) you can always flip to Side 4 and get your fill of Somewhere Over The Rainbow – if only to be reminded that yes, indeed, the rain will eventually stop, and, sure, I guess happy little bluebirds do fly.
It’s safe to say that Judy Garland has been following me around my whole life. That’s what it’s felt like anyway – that she’s been right there, behind me, lurking… poking out at times when I’ve needed her, bringing me out of my gloom and doom and taking me back to a fake nostalgia I never existed in; a time when she was alive and (sort of) well. The only problem is: Judy Garland is not alive. In fact, she was gone long before I was even born.
And isn’t that the oddest things about loving the greats? My whole life I’ve grown up feeling like I’ve truly known someone who could never have possibly known me. Not that I’m so cocky to believe Judy Garland and I would have been BFFs under different circumstances, it’s more that, well…
It means I’m in love with a ghost.
So be it. I deeply love and connect with a ghost. A ghost thought. A thought of an idea of a ghost person. An idea of a ghost person thought whom I can’t help but pretend is my dear friend.
I don’t think I have anyone else in my life quite like that. Sure there were some old timey black-and-white movie greats I’ve discovered in adulthood – Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant (Why yes that is the cast of Philadelphia Story, gumshoe.) – and greats I learned of in childhood – Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney (Yes, the cast of White Christmas, super sleuth.) – but Judy, my Judy, was the one I gravitated to through it all – relatively evenly for all of my life, and not just for seasonal viewing.
The love may come from a blend of universal childhood favorite Wizard of Oz (minus the actual Wizard. Flying monkeys I can handle. Big floating yelling head? Get the fuck out of here with that scary nonsense!) mixed with the swash buckling bite of her 1960s TV show, with interviews that only an adult who reads between the passive aggressive lines can wholly appreciate.
My favorite Judy Garland movie is Meet Me In St. Louis. I love her mature singing voice, her ornery attitude, her comedic timing, and, most importantly, her bangs. I love that movie so much that I will put up with the annoying child actor who plays Tootie just so I can hear Judy’s rendition of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and The Boy Next Door. I think that movie is when Judy was at her best. It was then that she met and married director Vincente Minnelli, and of course because of that coupling we got Liza. (Hot take: I am so happy the world has Liza.)
Perhaps my favorite fun fact about that relationship is the engagement ring Vincente gave Judy. It was a pink pearl set in a giant, obnoxious, (ah-hem UGLY), black onyx casing.
I loved that ring. It reeked of marriage doom.
Judy Garland was married five times.
She died at age 47 of an accidental drug overdose.
The thing I have to be careful about when it comes to loving Judy is while I certainly idolize and devour and connect to the hallow sadness that accompanies all of her comedic performances, I have to be sure not to romanticize her tragedy. I have to remind myself that her slow fade into darkness was not the reason she is interesting. Though, you must admit, that is part of what made her interesting.
It’s what makes all idols interesting.
No, no in fact, I should be disappointed that her life ended the way it did. There ought to have been a time where Judy Garland really turned it around. If she had, then maybe I could have met in her in real life. Wouldn’t that have been something?
Maybe I could have met her and she would have met me and I would have loved her and she would have hated me and then that would have been that and I would not have spent my entire life worshipping a thought of a ghost.
But we love to worship ghosts, don’t we? There’s something we can control about them. After all, they have a beginning middle and end. They have a Side 3 for when it rains and a Side 4 when you need the pick me up. They are there when you need them, with no new information to later disrupt your admiration. They can’t do anything new to fuck up your love.
And yet their ghostliness allows them to move through you with ease. Nothing can make me well up in crocodile tears like the final chorus of “San Francisco” or smile until my face hurts like the convo Judy and young Barbra have about how much they hate each other.
Judy makes me feel feelings. She makes me feel my own feelings. She makes me feel like I have depth and insight like she did… when she was alive.
But she’s very dead and I don’t want to be her. I don’t want to replicate her life choices. I’m thrilled my wedding ring is not black onyx. I’m thankful I am scared of pills. I never want to jokingly tell anyone how much I hate them. My bangs kinda suck.
But, truth be told, I worry that in order to have what it takes to be as moving or as interesting or as influential as someone like Judy Garland (Frances Ethel Gumm if we’re fact checking), it means I need to have a whiff of tragedy in my own story.
It seems like every time Judy comes out of the shadows – let’s be honest, she’s coming in on a trolley – it’s during a period where I’m in a deep state of worry that I don’t matter.
And I want to matter. I so want to matter.
This is a very common and yet complex fear of all creative people. This hypothesis that in order to be something great, you also have to be something that sucks. You cannot possibly be great and okay at the same time.
I’m not immune to this complex. How can I be when it appears to have been true since the dawn of storytelling? How many fucking A Star Is Borns need to be made to confirm that this is the way it is?? Happy is mediocre! Broken is important!
(And YES I know Judy was in the 1954 version of a Star Is Born and YES I know she didn’t win the Oscar in a huge upset and YES I know they even had a camera crew at the hospital where she had just given birth to her son so she could accept the Oscar on air at the hospital but she didn’t win and that is very sad but that is also showbiz, kid.)
There’s a moment in Judy At Carnegie Hall, right near the final song, where she proudly proclaims that she will “sing them all and we’ll sing all night!” It’s my favorite part of the album, even though I know fully well that what she’s actually saying is she doesn’t want to get off the stage. She doesn’t want to go back to her real life.
Why do I revel in her misery? Can I not? Can we not?
I love Judy because as my ghost friend I can always choose to find her at her happiest AND her greatest. She makes it seem possible, even if for her it wasn’t. And in the weirdest of ways, her popping up always gets me out of my worried melancholy.
Judy Garland inspires me to find the balance of being okay and being great. It’s a noble quest, one I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to find – but at least I’ll not be alone.
Judy’s with me, baby.
She’s with me always.
Come rain or come shine.
– One L
“Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that’s the trouble with me.” – Judy Garland, Meet Me In St. Louis